What I Believe About Scripture
There is a book, written by at least forty different authors, writing in three languages over nearly fourteen hundred years, in dozens of genres, which is so unique that it has one name in every human language: “The Book.” The most translated; most widely printed book in human history; an epic tale of human depravity and redemption: all these are accurate descriptions, but none capture the Bible’s greatest claim to fame. The most amazing fact about this book is that its human authors, working and living independently of each other in different cultural settings, point to God as the true Author of their Book.
Scripture makes amazing claims for itself; it claims to be directly inspired by God (literally, “God-breathed” – 2 Timothy 3:16) and that not a “jot or tittle” (a translation of a technical Hebrew term; think “mark the size and weight of a comma”) of it will be allowed to fade from human knowledge. It claims to contain all rules and guidelines for human life – to be a “user’s guide,” if you will – and to narrate human history from creation to eternity.
I believe these claims are true, not only because the Bible tells me so, but also because the external and internal evidence supports this conclusion. What do I mean? I mean that history, archeology, linguistic studies, and other evidence from outside the Bible supports the Bibles claims, and that the evidence which can be drawn directly from the Bible itself strengthens its claims, as well.
As for external evidence, even atheist scholars – including those who have remained atheists – have acknowledged the integrity of the book’s claims as compared to the record of history. No archeological find yet has directly contradicted the Bible, despite the numerous hoaxes and other
highly questionable materials that occasionally make headlines. In fact,
some academic theories which have challenged Scripture have eventually had to be
modified, because the evidence no longer supported those theories. As an
example, take the origin of writing. Western scholarship once held that the
Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, could not have been written by
Moses for the simple reason that writing had not been invented by the time of
Moses. This is now known to be false; writing was invented thousands of years earlier and would certainly have been known to the ancient Hebrews, especially in Egypt, the leading society of the time. That does not, of course, prove Moses did write
anything; it only proves that one theory claiming he didn’t is false.
As for internal evidence, consider the fact that the Bible, despite being authored by at least forty individuals, writing in vastly different times and cultures, is remarkably self-consistent. Despite rapid changes in ancient powers and the huge land area described (reaching from central Africa into Europe, and at least as far east as the Persian Gulf), the biblical account uses contemporary terminology and naming quite accurately. What makes this noteworthy is the realization that, if a biblical story was written at a time different from its supposed date or by individuals only remotely connected to the events, many of the names and terms used would not have been available. For example, the names of the Babylonian kings at the time of the exile were long thought to be incorrect, inventions of the biblical authors. This is because some of these names were known only in very small areas, and their memory died quickly after the kings themselves. In fact, many of these names were forgotten for more than two thousand years. Only recently have some of the details of the period been re-discovered, evidence that the authors of the biblical stories from that period actually lived through the events described. (As a modern example, consider the word “tubular.” If you wanted to act out a scene in California in the 1980′s, this word would take on meanings which we don’t give to it today and which it didn’t have in the 1960′s. This
example is familiar because of the speed of communications and travel
available today; in an ancient society where few people were literate or ever
traveled more than a day’s walk from home, this use of the word would have
disappeared in the same place it arose, and it is likely no one would have
known about it twenty years later. The sheer number of contemporary words in
the Bible adds evidence of its authenticity (that is, evidence that it was
written when the events were taking place).
[Note: This is not a complete discussion of these isssues, at all. For a more thorough discussion, see Josh McDowell's
The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict,
which deals with literally thousands of pieces of evidence for the Bible's
accuracy and authenticity.]
One complaint people often raise is this: “Why base your faith – not to mention your whole faith – on a book? Even if you do, why just the Bible? Why not also the Qur’an (Muslim), the Book of Mormon, the Vedas, etc?” As for the first question: if there is a God, and He wants anything to do with us, it only makes sense that He would need to communicate with us. That is, we couldn’t find Him – we wouldn’t know where to look or how to communicate with Him. So, let’s say God does communicate, through a voice from the sky. Have you ever played the game “Telephone,” where one person whispers a message to another, who then whispers it to another, and so on, until the last person announces it to the group? It’s hilarious, because the final message rarely resembles the original. Would you really want God’s message relayed this way? God could write His message in the sky, literally, maybe in the constellations. Given mankind’s fondness for writing off the obviously non-random as chance (there will always be people who see luck in a game of chess and will claim that the rise of man derives from countless billions of haphazard molecular combinations which “just happened to work out”), I don’t think God would have seen that as an effective method, either. Besides, the message wouldn’t be available to people in the wrong hemisphere!
No, God chose a book, because it makes sense. It’s easy to maintain the purity of a book – in fact, the Bible versions we have today are translations from the manuscripts in the original languages; these manuscripts are remarkably consistent, with the latest and earliest copies matching up in all but the finest details (think details like “,” versus “.” – more than 95% of copyist errors in different manuscripts result from spelling abnormalities, such as the extension of a line, turning the Hebrew “R” into a “D”, or mistakenly copying a word like “there”
for “their”). It’s easy to pass along – one person can read it as easily as
the next, and it can be made available to anyone, anywhere.
But this doesn’t really answer the question: why put your faith in a book? Let me put it this way: ask everyone around you, experts and the ignorant alike, who makes the best SUV. Some will surely tell you it’s the Ford company; nobody should ever buy a Chevy. Others will tell you the Suburban conquers all, but Fords are worthless. Ask further, and the list will include BMW, Lexus, Kia, Toyota, and more. There’s no one clear stand-out winner. The same happens when we base our beliefs solely on human reason; extremely intelligent people have become and chosen to remain Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and more. Human reason, finite by definition, cannot capture fully the nature of God, who is infinite by definition. We require special revelation – this is a technical term, meaning explicit messages from God, conveyed in unmistakable terms (as opposed to general revelation, which includes natural, non-specific evidence, such as the size of the universe and the complexity of a hummingbird). God chose to use a book, so we have the choice of believing in it or not.
Why this book? Aside from all the evidence touched on above (and outlined more fully in books like McDowell’s), there is the fact that the Bible is the only book to meet the challenge. Other books don’t come close. For example, take the Qur’an: it contradicts itself countless times, forcing Muslim scholars to invent ever-wilder lists of contradictions and make decisions on the level of “which came first, the chicken or the egg.” Even in Arabic (which I’ve studied, by the way, so this is an informed remark) the text is hopelessly scrambled. Why would an omnipotent, omniscient (“all-powerful and all-knowing”) God use archaic, convoluted language with rapidly alternating decrees and revocations to speak to us? It’s very difficult to read the Qur’an and conclude that it has a coherent message, beyond “God is one and Muhammad is his Prophet,” much less that it is really God’s final, all-encompassing missive to mankind. Or take the Book of Mormon, another claimant to the title of “God’s word.” It is supposedly translated from golden plates which were only ever seen by one man, on which was a message in “reformed Eqyptian” (a non-existent language, by the way), which only the finder could translate. The book contradicts the Bible, which it claims to support, and contradicts itself. It makes countless errors of time and place. On top of this, the finder of these tablets, one Joseph Smith, had been convicted of fraud in digging up worthless “relics” for trusting, paying clients. The pedigrees of such books lend them little credibility.
[Note: If you read this last paragraph and took offense, please
contact me so we can discuss this further. I
am making broad statements for the sake of space, but I believe the
evidence supports the claim that the Bible is the word of God and that no
other book can take that title.]
The point is this: all the evidence – and there are mountains of it – supports the claim the Bible makes all along: it is the one, true, book containing the complete Word of God. I believe it tells us the complete story of human history as God sees it; it is the only way we learn about salvation or the truth about the origin and purpose of the human race. As Abraham Lincoln said, it is worth more than all other books put together. It is worth all our efforts to know that book well and follow it in our daily lives.