November 30th, 2011
Fact or Fiction
Across the ages, many have debated over the authenticity of the Bible. Since its birth, many have sought to destroy the Bible. Many have persistently argued that this ancient document is riddled with errors, while young and old have died for its preservation and unwaveringly defended its contents. Being written over a span of about 1,500 years, on three continents (Asia, Africa, & Europe), and in three separate languages (Hebrew, Greek, & Aramaic), the Bible stands out as a much different document than any other, religious or otherwise. Over forty authors penned this book. Sixty-six smaller books comprise this one large Book, these divided into the Old and New Testament. About 4 billion copies of the Bible are in print with approximately 150 million copies selling per year, making it the best-selling book of all time. This Book has been translated into over 2,000 languages, far exceeding the translating of any other book (Cahill, 2005). Other books have gained and lost popularity, have been discovered and been forgotten, have been published to be published no more, but the Bible has stood the test of time. The immense controversy over the Bible and the uniqueness of this Book is enough to get our attention and motivate us to investigate its claims.
All throughout its pages, the Bible claims that its authorship is from God. Though the pens of ordinary men were used, each one of its many writers attests to be speaking from God. Over 3,000 times, statements such as “thus says the Lord” are written. Second Timothy 3:16 declares, “All Scripture is breathed out by God (English Standard Version).” Second Peter 1:20-21 says, “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Is there any substantial evidence for these bold claims? Is not the Bible just a religious book that some choose to put their faith in, traditional literature passed down to succeeding generations, or as even some say, a book full of fairy tales?
When confronted with the historical evidence of this Book, it is hard to deny that it has more proof of reliability than any other ancient manuscript. Historians draw conclusions about the accurateness of a document according the bibliographic test. This test is based on the amount of time between an original and copies and how many copies exist of that document. The less time between the original and the copies and the more copies of that document by multiple people increases the reliability of the document. Today, over 24,000 copies of the books of the New Testament have been discovered, the earliest of which were copied 25 years following the original (Wile, 2000). The historical accounts of Cornelius Tacitus are considered exceptionally accurate, giving us much of the present knowledge that we have about the Roman Empire. We have 21 copies of his works, the earliest of which was copied nearly 1,000 years after the original (Wile, 2000). Homer’s Iliad, another document that we consider very trustworthy, is the only document that compares most closely to the Bible; we have 643 copies of Homer’s Iliad with the earliest of those being written 500 years after the original (Cahill, 2005).
While New Testament copies have been found in abundance, copies of Old Testament books have been harder to find. This is due to the fact that, according to Jewish custom, sacred writings were buried once they became worn out (Sheler, 1999). However, the Old Testament proves to be more reliable than any of its contemporary documents (according to the bibliographic test). Additionally, the parchments that have been found of the Old Testament have given extraordinary evidence of the authenticity of the Bible. In 1949, Bedouin shepherds near the Israeli Dead Sea discovered caves containing at least 500 ancient books, many of which were books of the Old Testament. One of the largest books of the Old Testament, Isaiah, was one of the scrolls discovered. This scroll was dated 125 B.C. Though over 1,000 years had passed, this scroll was shown to reflect the standard Hebrew Bible of 1949, word for word, over 95 percent of the time. The other 5 percent were generally made up of obvious slips of the pen and differing spellings (Wile, 2000).
Outside historical documents, which have been established as being reliable and unbiased, bear witness to the Bible’s accuracy. Seventeen secular historians wrote about Jesus Christ of Nazareth being killed by crucifixion just as the Bible testifies (Cahill, 2005). Such historians as Josephus, Cornelius Tacitus, Thallus, and Phlegon record events that directly correlate and are consistent with the Bible’s historical content. In his historical accounts, Cornelius Tacitus brings up particular cities and rulers that the Bible tells of. Josephus not only records Jesus Christ’s death but that it was at the command of Pontius Pilate and tells of Christ’s resurrection from the dead (both of which the Bible records). Josephus also tells of rulers and cities mentioned in the Bible, as well as the life and execution of John the Baptist and the life Christ’s brother, James. As recorded in the Bible in Matthew 27: 45, Thallus and Phlegon both tell of how darkness covered the land at Jesus Christ’s death (Wile, 2000). According to the evidence, the Bible we have today remains faithful to the original eyewitness accounts recorded in the Bible and reflects the reality of the historical events going on at the time.
For a book to be trustworthy it must not contradict itself but must be consistent from page to page. Many people across the years have questioned the consistency of the Bible. Upon examining the Bible, many seeming contradictions can be found. However, as we will see, when willing to research the text in question, many of the apparent contradictions vanish. Dr. Jay L. Wile (2000) says,
The vast majority of apparent contradictions in the Bible can be simply cleared away by examining linguistic, cultural, and literary context…Even apparent contradictions that do not have ironclad explanations are not enough to keep a document from passing the internal test [verification of a historical document’s internally consistency]. The contradiction itself must be indisputable. (pp. 118-119)
One of the many “contradictions” that has been resolved by examining surrounding context deals with seeming conflicting dates of the reign of Israeli king, Jehoram. It is a commonly used example of the unreliability of the Scriptures. Second Kings 1:17 says that Jehoram became king in the second year of the ruler preceding him, while Second Kings 8: 16 simultaneously declares that Jehoram became king in the fifth year of the proceeding ruler. Not only does 2 Kings record incongruous dates but also differing kings that supposedly reigned directly before Jehoram. When examining the historical context, we see that Israel was divided into two kingdoms at that time. When they divided, one portion of Israel took on the dating system of the surrounding land while the other maintained their previous method of dating the reigns of the kings. Further, in those days when a king was experiencing a threat to his reign, he would bring his son to the throne as a coregent ruler (this was true in the king’s reign proceeding Jehoram). Thus, Jehoram would have been king in both the second and fifth year of the proceeding rulers just as the Bible declares: first as coregent and second as sole ruler (Tackett, 2006)! Biblical scholar, theologian, educator and author Dr Gleason Archer (as cited in Cahill, 2005) says,
As I have dealt with one apparent discrepancy after another and have studied the alleged contradictions between the biblical record and the evidence of linguistics, archaeology, or science, my confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture has been repeatedly verified and strengthened. (p. 64)
The Bible itself provides a test to validate its own authenticity. Deuteronomy 18: 22 says that if someone claims to be speaking from God and what he says is not fulfilled, he is not sent from God. Isaiah 46: 9b-10 says, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘May counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” Does this prove true when examining the prophecies of Scripture? Ezekiel 26:3-21 prophesies the downfall of a prominent and prosperous city named Tyre, foretelling that many nations would rise up against Tyre and tear it down to bare rock. The passage even calls the Babylonian leader by name (Nebuchadnezzar) who would destroy the mainland of Tyre. Ezekiel also foretold that this city would not be rebuilt, become a place where fishermen lay out their nets to dry, and that the debris of Tyre would be thrown into the ocean. This city was considered impregnable at that time, but according to history, what was predicted in Ezekiel, came true down to the minutest detail (Wile, 2000). Extensive evidence points toward the fact that this prophecy (as well as each one of the Biblical prophecies) was written far before their fulfillment. It would have been impossible for these prophets to make up such precise predictions and have such impeccable accuracy in their fulfillment outside of God revealing it to them.
Perhaps the most astonishing fulfilled prophecies are those of the life of Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament was written 400 years before Jesus Christ was born, yet 332 Messianic prophecies (foretelling the coming of the Messiah as the promised deliverer) are outlined in the Old Testament, each perfectly fulfilled in the life of Christ. Many predictions are made about the Messiah in Isaiah 53. One particularly stands out as being obscure and seemingly impossible in its fulfillment. Verse 9 of Isaiah 53 states, “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death.” In the New Testament gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), it records that Jesus Christ was crucified next to two criminals. After He died a rich man took Jesus’ body and put it into his own grave. Both prophecies were amazingly fulfilled. When looking at three other Messianic prophecies, Jewish leaders assumed there must be three different prophesied Messiahs. Micah 5:2 said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; Hosea 11: 1 says that the Messiah would come out of Egypt; Matthew 2:23 says that it was foretold that the Messiah would be a Nazarene. How could all three possibly come true in one person? Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1), escaped with his parents to Egypt shortly after His birth (to avoid being killed by King Herod: Matthew 2:13-14), and settled in Nazareth when it was safe for him to return to Israel (Matthew 2:23)! The Bible has foretold numerous historical events and people. Each one’s fulfillment, except those that are yet future, has been confirmed by reliable historical documents of that time as well as many of their recorded fulfillments in the New Testament. A modern magazine (Matthews, 2011) went so far as to say about Biblical prophecy, “Biblical prophecy is different from all other predictions. With incredible detail, forthright clarity, and impeccable accuracy, the Bible has consistently unveiled the future for centuries (p. 60).” Instead of being a far-fetched statement, the evidence confirms this to be remarkably true about the prophecies of the Bible.
The authenticity of many Biblical events and people has been contested over the years by scholars and laymen alike. However, wherever archaeology has been able to be used, it has repeatedly pointed to the truth of the Bible. In 1918 a prominent archaeologist, William F. Albright, declared that the accuracy of Genesis 14 was extremely questionable. He decided that it must have been taken from a legend or been completely made up. Following that time, however, many archaeological findings showed the accuracy of the Genesis 14 account. As the Bible records, the names of the kings and cities who were at war at that time as well as the characteristics of the battle were discovered in tablet writings and other archaeological evidence. As a result, Albright changed his mind about the accuracy of the Genesis 14 account, concluding that was reliable in its details. Later, after seeing even more archeological evidence of the Bible’s accuracy, he went on to say, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament (Wile, 2000).” As of 2005, we have 25,000 archeological discoveries that support the Bible regarding the people, places, and events that are described in both the New and Old Testament (Cahill, 2005). Israeli archaeologist and author of Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, Amihai Mazar (as cited in Wile, 2000) says about the immense archeological evidence supporting the Bible, “The digestion of data uncovered is overwhelming even for professional archaeologists, not to mention scholars of related subjects (p.121).” Archeology indeed gives credibility to the authenticity of the Bible.
Though no spaceships, telescopes or any other modern devices were present in Bible times, the Bible foretold many of our scientific discoveries before we even discovered them, Scientists previously believed that the earth had to be upheld by a visible structure. Some people made hypotheses such as: the earth was upheld by a god named Atlas, that it sat on the backs of elephants, or that it rested a on the back of a turtle. Job 26:7, the oldest book in the Bible (evidence pointing to its origin being in the second millennium B.C.), declares, “He hangs the earth upon nothing”. As we now know, the earth is suspended in air. Before the 1500s, most people believed that the earth was flat. Over 2000 years before, the Bible had recorded that it was round in Isaiah 40:22 when it said, “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth.” At about the same time that scientists believed that there were approximately 1,100 stars in our sky, the Bible recorded that “the host of heaven cannot be numbered (Jeremiah 33:22).” Now that we have the ability look at the heavens through images sent from the Hubble Deep Space Telescope, we know that the number of stars is indeed innumerable. Doctors used to believe that the cure for illness was in blood-letting. Leviticus 17:14 says, “For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life.” We discovered later that blood-letting is actually a very dangerous practice, since our source of life truly is in the blood. Science seems to be one of the specialties of the Bible. Could this be true because the God, who created the earth and thus knows everything about it, directed the writing of Scripture?
Many have argued the authenticity of the Bible by questioning why certain books were included in our modern Bible and others were not. The early church did not merely close their eyes and randomly choose what books should or should not be included in the Scriptures, nor did they create the Bible by putting in the books they desired for selfish gain. Rather all writings were carefully tested. As the books that are now included in our Bible were written, Israel (Old Testament) and the early churches (New Testament) recognized them as being divinely inspired. For years these books were preserved, circulated, copied, translated, and taught. Later, church councils recognized and accepted these 66 books as being authoritative and “God-breathed.” Thus, the books of the Bible became part of the Canon. Canon means “a measuring rod, or rule; a standard by which something may be evaluated (as quoted in Williams, 1999).” The following were the criteria for accepting the Old Testament books as divine: they must claim divine authorship, be written by men who were recognized as prophets, be consistent with the other books that were unquestionably recognized as divine, speak with the power of God (mainly due to the abundance of fulfilled prophecy contained in them), be immediately accepted as inspired by God and preserved by the people of God, and be attested to by Jesus and the apostles (Williams, 1999). The New Testament also had criteria to meet: the book must be written by an apostle or someone closely associated with an apostle, must have been accepted as divine by the early church, and must be in harmony with other books which have been clearly established as “God-breathed (Nicotra, 2011).” Other books, such as the Apocrypha, were left out of the Canon due to their lack of meeting these criteria as well as other compelling evidence.
One of the amazing qualities of the Bible and one of the reasons the books of the Bible that we have now were included in the Canon, is its remarkable unity. If we would gather over 40 authors, from our current time period, with different backgrounds and stations of life and ask them to write about a single subject (such as who God is), undoubtedly a contradictory and confusing document of differing perspectives would be produced! Yet even with such diversity, the Bible fits together as one coherent whole. The Scriptures continually refer to one another either by quotation or directly alluding to a portion of Scripture. Jesus repeatedly refers to “The Law and the Prophets,” and thus allocating the Old Testament’s divine authority. The four Gospels of the New Testament are each written by four different people and yet all account events and the life of Jesus Christ consistently with one another.
Though there is excellent historical content in the Bible, beautiful poetry, accurate scientific statements, and healthy principles and proverbs for daily life, it is clear that its root intent is not these things. From kings to shepherds, soldiers to fishermen, scholars to prophets, tax collectors to physicians, and statesmen to poets, the writers of Scripture have a unifying theme throughout. They tell of God’s story across time. From the beginning, when man chose to turn away from God (thus severing their relationship with a perfect and holy God), God began to reveal and unfold His plan of restoring that relationship. Through prophecy, law, sacrifice, and analogies throughout the Old Testament, the writers of Scripture consistently prepare for the coming of the Messiah. The New Testament reveals the Messiah in the Person of Jesus Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” After revealing Jesus Christ, the New Testament gives practical instructions to those who follow Him.
Perhaps the biggest issue that raises controversy in the Bible is that it sets Christianity apart from all other religions. Differing from all religions, the Bible shows that the only way to God is by repentance from wrong and faith in Jesus Christ (whereas other religions preach good works as a means of coming to God). The Bible and Jesus Christ Himself claim that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life. In our society of tolerance, saying that there is one right way is considered tremendously offensive and arrogant. We adamantly defend freedom of choice and declare that truth is relative. Does this idea actually work in reality? If we repeatedly and passionately declare that the sky is green, will that make it true? Imagine if we all made our own laws in society! Would it work to teach everyone in math class to find their own answers to the problems without mathematical rules? If we applied these principles of relativity to our daily practical lives, our world would be in utter chaos. The Bible claims that it is the very Word of God and thus ultimate truth. If this is true, we have two choices. We can choose to reject it or believe and live by it. Faith in the authority of the Scriptures and all that they claim is not a blind faith, but one built on much concrete evidence of the authenticity of the Bible’s claims and the accuracy of the Scriptures that we hold in our hands today.
Cahill, M. (2005). One heartbeat away: Your journey into eternity. Rockwall, TX: BDM Publishing.
Matthews, M. (2011, April-June). Can you prove the Bible is true?. Answers, 6(2), 48-64.
Nicotra, V. (2011, December). The Bible: Three theological issues. Voice, 16-19.
Sheler, J. L. (1999). Is the Bible true? How modern debates and discoveries affirm the essence of the Scriptures. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Strobel, L. (1998). The case for Christ: A journalist’s personal investigation of the evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Tackett, D. (Producer, Writer/Director), (2006). The truth project [motion picture]. United States: Focus on the Family.
Wile, J. L. (2000). Exploring creation with general science. Anderson, IN: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc.
Williams, J. B. (1999). From the mind of God to the mind of man: A layman’s guide to how we got our Bible. Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International.