Do we have a better word?
I was 31 years old before I ever cracked open a Bible, even though I was raised in a Christian denomination that professed it to be the inspired Word of God. But until that time and despite my religious upbringing, I mostly disregarded my spiritual life, so felt no compulsion to read it. There wasn’t even much, if any, encouragement from my tradition to do so. But if it is a revelation of the God of the universe, and a mirror into our own souls, how unwise are we to ignore it?
The “if” in that last sentence is what I want to concern myself with in this post, because a lack of confidence that the Bible is what it claims to be is a primary reason why many disregard it. Let me make clear at the outset that I have no conclusive evidence to prove the Bible is a reliable historical document, much less God-breathed. But if you think about it, much of what you believe to be true is not proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. George Washington was the first president of the United States. Or was he? Were you around to see him? Can you talk to anyone who was? All we have are written records. Isn’t it possible they are incorrect?
Of course, the preponderance of the evidence for Washington’s presidency is sufficient to persuade us. In the same way, the evidence for the believability of the documents that form our Bible, particularly the New Testament, is strong enough to support the weight of its importance and impact, even though they constitute literally ancient history, written many hundreds of years prior to the founding of our country.
Here then are some of the building blocks that form that strong foundation:
1. Number of manuscripts – No other ancient document even approaches the New Testament in number of ancient manuscript copies. And though there are thousands of variants between the thousands of copies, as one would only expect when a text is copied by hand, none of them affect any major doctrine of the Christian faith. As even agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman admits, “Far and away the most changes are results of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another” (Misquoting Jesus, 55)
2. Early originals and early copies – It is widely accepted that all of the New Testament was written in the first century, and most probably before 70 A.D. by eyewitnesses. The earliest undisputed copy fragment is dated within 75 years of the original and likely within 40. Several nearly complete Bibles date from the fourth century, and a few nearly complete New Testament copies date before 250 A.D.
3. Archeological evidences – The Bible is replete with mentions of specific personages, places and dates, and many of these have been corroborated in archeological discoveries, and none of them have been disproven.
4. Internal consistency – The Bible is actually composed of 66 books written by about 40 different authors over a span of approximately 1500 years. Yet it displays remarkable consistency in its depiction of God and his plan of redemption for mankind.
5. Confirmation from ancient non-Christian sources – There are at least ten non-Christian writers from within 150 years of Jesus’ life that mention him. Some of these could even be considered anti-Christian sources.
6. Biblical references from early Church fathers – Many Church leaders’ writings from the first centuries A.D. quote from the Bible, so much so that roughly half of the New Testament could be reconstructed just from their quotations.
7. Fulfilled prophecy – Numerous events foretold in the Bible have occurred, and none that should have by now have failed to. Some of the more notable fulfilled prophecies are the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the coming and circumstances of the life and death of Jesus the Messiah, and the destruction and rebirth of the nation and land of Israel.
No other religious book is as well-attested and validated by historical and textual scholarship as the Bible. Through my study of it and about it, I have come to know the Person behind it and all through it. As I said, I can’t prove beyond question that the Bible is the revelation of the true God. But other than Creation, has the Creator left us anything else comparable to inform us of himself? Any who claim to be seekers after truth who refuse to honestly examine the historical documents that together comprise the Bible, prove beyond question the falsehood of their claim.
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