How Can We Trust the Bible?
To answer this question, I want to show you three things. First, this question cannot be asked or answered apart from certain presuppositions and assumptions on both sides of the debate, and I’ll explain what I mean by that. Second, as an artifact of history, the Bible can absolutely be trusted. And third, in a worldview that doesn't allow for the existence of God, the question itself is absurd and dishonest.
One thing that will help us frame our answer is the idea of “worldview.” For anyone unfamiliar with that term, it simply means the lens through which a person interprets life and experiences. Everyone has a set of underlying presuppositions that govern the way that they understand things like knowledge, truth, purpose, origins and morality. Even if you don’t have a worldview that you can readily define, you do still have one. Any given worldview has an ultimate authority. An ultimate authority is just whatever you appeal to in order to validate that which you hold to be true. For the atheist, agnostic, or naturalist, that ultimate authority is usually something like logic, rationality, or empiricism. For example, you’ve probably heard someone say, “Unless you can physically prove to me that God is real, I won’t believe in Him.” The ultimate authority in that statement is sense perception. “If I don’t see it, I won’t believe it.” As Christians, we hold that God—and, thus, the Word through which He reveals Himself—is our ultimate authority. We ground our claims in His absolute and objective standards and this is the lens through which we interpret all of life.
“How can we trust the Bible?” must be answered on two different levels. If you are asking me if we can trust it as an artifact of history, if it was written where it says it was written, by the authors it claims to be written by, or whether what we have today is an accurate representation of what was originally written, then yes. The Bible can absolutely be trusted. There is overwhelming empirical, logical, and rational evidence to support that claim. It passes, with flying colors, every test by which the veracity of all ancient documents are judged. The Bible is composed of 66 books by over 40 different authors, many of whom never met one another. It was written over the span of more than 1500 years on 3 continents, in 3 languages, telling one consistent story of God’s redemptive purposes for mankind. It tells of historical figures, events and places that are corroborated by other historical and archaeological sources. Much of it was written by eyewitnesses and during the lifetime of many other eyewitnesses who could have easily discredited its recorded events if they were untrue. It tells of supernatural events and prophecies which defy mathematical probability. We have over 5000 of the NT manuscripts in the original language, some of which date back to within 30 years of the original. We have over 18,000 other manuscripts. In light of this massive number of documents, we would naturally expect the presence of textual variants, yet less than 1% of all of those variants are viable and meaningful and there are no essential doctrines of the faith that rely on anything in that 1%. Most are spelling and punctuation. This itself is miraculous and unparalleled in all documents from antiquity. The Bible stands far above all other ancient documents in every sense.
Now, if you’re asking me if we can trust the Bible to be the word of God, that is a different question. This is a philosophical question. Back to what I mentioned about worldviews: in a worldview that allows for the existence of God, and particularly the God of the Bible, we can absolutely trust the Bible to be the revelation of God. In this sense, it is self-authenticating by its very attributes— namely, its efficacy and power, its unity and harmony, and the nature of its content and its self-attestation. In speaking of self-attestation, I’m not saying that the Bible is true because it says that it is true, but that the Bible does claim to be the Word of God and provides compelling evidence that this is so. Many unbelievers would say that you can’t use any evidence from the Bible to prove that the Bible is true because that would be begging the question. However, we don’t apply that same standard to any other piece of literature. No one picks up Winston Churchill’s autobiography (that says, “By Winston Churchill”) and claims, “well, we can’t take that into account in determining whether or not Churchill wrote it.” The self-attestation of his authorship might not be conclusive evidence, but it is evidence. And all historians would take that evidence into account. When we read that the Bible claims to be the word of God, assuming we have a worldview that doesn’t preclude that carte blanche, then the scientific question is, “does this book have the internal qualities to support that claim?” I say unequivocally, yes.
Lastly, on the topic of worldview, in a naturalistic/materialistic worldview, the very question of whether or not the Bible is the word of God is fallacious. If your worldview does not allow for God and immaterial realities, then you're asking someone to prove something while assuming that it cannot be proven. That is not science. Those holding to such a worldview will not be convinced by any amount or type of evidence because they will interpret that evidence through a worldview which precludes the possibility of their own being wrong. Let me illustrate this. There is an example that I once heard that goes like this. If we were in a room of mixed company, believers and atheists and an atheist made the all-too-common statement “if God is real why doesn’t He just reveal Himself in a way for all to see and then I will believe!” Suppose the believers took him up on his challenge and all prayed, in the atheists’ hearing, that God would cause a particular piece of furniture to rise from the ground, hover for five minutes and then fall. And suppose that very thing happened. What would every believer in the room say? “See God has answered our prayers!” And what would every atheist in the room say? “There has to be a natural explanation for this.” You see, it’s not a matter of evidence. It’s a matter of starting points. A matter of worldview. The evidence cannot be examined by the atheist apart from his pre-commitment to naturalism. It is this worldview that we challenge. But that’s another article.
For those asking this question, my advice to you would be to read the Bible and ask yourself if the Bible’s view of reality and the world we live in is more intelligible than your own underlying presuppositions. I think you’ll find that it is.
Nick Judd is the Kids Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is also the co-host of the "Everyday Apologetics" podcast. Nick is passionate about growing people in their knowledge of the Word of God and in their ability to defend it in the midst of a culture fighting against truth.
- Common Objections to Christianity, The Bible (or “Scripture”)