Is the Bible trustworthy – Part 1

As we learned in Part One: What is the Bible? – the Bible makes some pretty extraordinary claims about itself.  Here are just a few claims the Scripture makes:

The Bible claims to be the very words of God.
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV

The Bible claims to be true.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17 ESV

The Bible claims to be perfect.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.  Psalm 19:7 ESV

The Bible is to be obeyed.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:22 ESV

The Bible claims to be for all mankind.
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.  Romans 16:25-27 ESV

Can you trust these claims? Many skeptics would say no.  I’m convinced most skeptics of the Bible are skeptics because someone else is.  They’ve heard rumors of contradictions and errors etc., but haven’t done the robust homework of researching the evidence for themselves.

To address the Bible’s trustworthiness let’s begin by clarifying one particular theological term: Inerrancy.   Here is Fellowship Church’s affirmation of the Inerrancy of the Bible:

We believe the Bible is the Word of God; verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writings, and that it is the supreme, final, and infallible authority in doctrine and practice.

Some critics will seize on the statement “without any mixture of error” and say the Bible has several errors.  Wayne Grudem1, a renowned scholar, helps clarify what Inerrancy means and DOES NOT mean:

The definition in simple terms just means that the Bible always tells the truth and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about. This definition does not mean that the Bible tells us every fact there is to know about any one subject, but it affirms that what it does say about any subject is true.  Some qualifications:

1. The Bible can be inerrant and still speak in the ordinary language of everyday speech.

For example, the Bible says in Psalms 113:3 “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!”  Technically speaking we know the sun doesn’t rise and set, but rather the earth orbits around the sun.  In everyday language we might say things like these.  The writers in the Bible do the same.  The fact that they do does not mean the Bible is errant.

2. The Bible can be inerrant and still include loose or free quotations.

The use of quotations varies from culture to culture.  Written Greek at the time of the New Testament had no quotation marks or equivalent kinds of punctuation, and an accurate citation of another person needed to include only a correct representation of the content of what the person said (rather like our indirect quotations): it was not expected to cite each word exactly.

Other critics of the Bible’s inerrancy will point to the lack of surviving original manuscripts.  What’s the point of the inerrancy claim if those manuscripts exist? This is a weak argument because we know what 98-99% of the original manuscripts said.  The vast number of manuscripts we have (over 5,800 Greek New Testament complete or partial manuscripts alone – some dating to the 1stcentury) say the exact same thing.  Matt Waymeyer2 points out how this sets the Bible apart from any other ancient text in history:

“By way of comparison, only ten manuscripts of Caesar’s Gallic Wars exist (the earliest dating 1,000 years after Caesar); only eight manuscripts of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War exist (the earliest dating 1,300 years after Thucydides); only eight manuscripts of Herodotus’ History exist (the earliest dating 1,300 years after Herodotus); and only two manuscripts of Tacitus’ Histories and Annals exist (the earlier dating 700 years after Tacitus). The unparalleled number and early date of the biblical manuscripts makes it clear that the New Testament is easily the most remarkably preserved book of the ancient world.”

It’s also important to note how early first century scholars and historians, such as Josephus viewed the Bible – especially the New Testament. With the exception of a handful of verses every portion of the New Testament is quoted or leveraged as historical and factual in early century writings.3

In part 2 we’ll look at some other reasons we can trust the Bible is trustworthy.

1Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem

2The Inerrancy of Scripture by Tim Challies

3False Gods of Our Time: A Defense of the Christian Faith by Norman Geisler (Chapter 6)

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