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III. How We Got the Bible

The Reliability of the Bible

(Most of the material in this section is adapted from a chapter in I’m Glad You Asked by Kenneth Boa and Larry Moody (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1982). Consult this book for answers to the twelve basic objections to Christianity.)

A host of questions can surface when the issue of the accuracy of the Bible is raised:

Isn’t the Bible full of contradictions and errors?

The Bible has been copied and translated so many times--hasn’t this process led to errors?

How can you be sure that the Bible is the same now as when it was written?

Didn’t the church arbitrarily decide which books should be included in the Bible and which books should be rejected?

So many people have different interpretations of the Bible--what makes you think that yours is correct?

How can you place your faith in a book that condones genocide and slavery?

Doesn’t the Bible make a number of claims that are scientifically inaccurate?

In most cases, those who reject the reliability of the Bible do so because of false impressions they have gained from sources other than the Bible. Most people’s knowledge about the Bible is derived almost completely from second-, third-, and fourth-hand sources. It is not surprising, then, that so many people think that the Bible says, “God helps those who help themselves,” or, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Many are also convinced that the Scriptures teach that the earth is flat or that it is the center of the universe. Another common misconception is that the books of the New Testament were written centuries after the events they describe or that our earliest New Testament manuscripts go back only to the fourth or fifth centuries A.D. Also, most people have somehow been given the impression that the English Bible is a translation of a translation of a translation (etc.) of the original, and that fresh errors were introduced in each stage of the process. College courses often undermine the authority of the Bible by falsely claiming that the Old Testament is merely a derivative of earlier Babylonian and Assyrian myths and law codes. People frequently say that the Bible is loaded with contradictions, but very few can think of any when asked. The few who can will usually mention the stock objections they were taught, like the two “contradictory” creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2. It is a rare person who has personally examined the text to see if the alleged contradiction is really there.

In many cases, when someone says, “I don’t believe the Bible,” it is helpful to ask, “Do you understand the message of the Bible? Many will acknowledge that they do not, and those who think they do will almost invariably present a distorted picture. You can graciously point this out and say, “I think that you owe it to yourself to have a correct picture of the basic message of the Bible before you decide to accept or reject it.” This can open the door to a clear presentation of the Gospel, and the discussion can go from there. This approach is most appropriate when the objection to the Bible is vague or being used as a smokescreen. If a person has honest intellectual difficulties about the Bible, give direct answers whenever possible. The information in this section is designed to help you do this.

The Reliability of the Biblical Documents

This can be demonstrated by combining three lines of evidence: the bibliographic test, the internal test, and the external test. The first test examines the biblical manuscripts, the second test deals with the claims made by the biblical authors, and the third test looks to outside confirmation of biblical content.

The Bibliographic Test

This test examines the transmission of the text of the Old and New Testaments from the original autographs to the present day. The three aspects of this test are the quantity, quality, and time span of the manuscripts.

1. The quantity of manuscripts

In the case of the Old Testament, there is a small number of Hebrew manuscripts, because the Jewish scribes ceremonially buried imperfect and worn manuscripts. Many ancient manuscripts were also lost or destroyed during Israel’s turbulent history. Also, the Old Testament text was standardized by the Masoretic Jews by the sixth century A.D., and all manuscripts that deviated from the Masoretic Text were evidently eliminated. But the existing Hebrew manuscripts are supplemented by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint (a third-century B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Targums (ancient paraphrases of the Old Testament), as well as the Talmud (teachings and commentaries related to the Hebrew Scriptures).

The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, about 8,000 Latin manuscripts, and another 1,000 manuscripts in other languages (Syriac, Coptic, etc.). In addition to this extraordinary number, there are tens of thousands of citations of New Testament passages by the early church fathers. In contrast, the typical number of existing manuscript copies for any of the works of the Greek and Latin authors, such as Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, or Tacitus, ranges from one to 20.

2. The quality of manuscripts

Because of the great reverence the Jewish scribes held toward the Scriptures, they exercised extreme care in making new copies of the Hebrew Bible. The entire scribal process was specified in meticulous detail to minimize the possibility of even the slightest error. The number of letters, words, and lines were counted, and the middle letters of the Pentateuch and the Old Testament were determined. If a single mistake was discovered, the entire manuscript would be destroyed. As a result of this extreme care, the quality of the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible surpasses all other ancient manuscripts. The 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provided a significant check on this, because these Hebrew scrolls antedate the earliest Masoretic Old Testament manuscripts by about 1,000 years. But in spite of this time span, the number of variant readings between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text is quite small, and most of these are variations in spelling and style. While the quality of the Old Testament manuscripts is excellent, that of the New Testament is very good--considerably better than the manuscript quality of other ancient documents. Because of the thousands of New Testament manuscripts, there are many variant readings, but these variants are actually used by scholars to reconstruct the original readings by determining which variant best explains the others in any given passage. Some of these variant readings crept into the manuscripts because of visual errors in copying or because of auditory errors when a group of scribes copied manuscripts that were read aloud. Other errors resulted from faulty writing, memory, and judgment, and still others from well-meaning scribes who thought they were correcting the text. Nevertheless, only a small number of these differences affect the sense of the passages, and only a fraction of these have any real consequences. Furthermore, no variant readings are significant enough to call into question any of the doctrines of the New Testament. The New Testament can be regarded as 99.5 percent pure, and the correct readings for the remaining 0.5 percent can often be ascertained with a fair degree of probability by the practice of textual criticism.

3. The time span of manuscripts

Apart from some fragments, the earliest Masoretic manuscript of the Old Testament is dated at A.D. 895. This is due to the systematic destruction of worn manuscripts by the Masoretic scribes. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from 250 B.C. to A.D. 70 drastically reduced the time span from the writing of the Old Testament books to our earliest copies of them. The time span of the New Testament manuscripts is exceptional. The manuscripts written on papyrus came from the second and third centuries A.D. The John Rylands Fragment (P52) of the Gospel of John is dated at A.D. 117-38, only a few decades after the Gospel was written. The Bodmer Papyri are dated from A.D. 175- 225, and the Chester Beatty Papyri date from about A.D. 250. The time span for most of the New Testament is less than 200 years (and some books are within 100 years) from the date of authorship to the date of our earliest manuscripts. This can be sharply contrasted with the average gap of over 1,000 years between the composition and the earliest copy of the writings of other ancient authors.

To summarize the bibliographic test, the Old and New Testaments enjoy far greater manuscript attestation in terms of quantity, quality, and time span than any other ancient documents. It is especially interesting to make specific comparisons between the New Testament and other writings:









ca. 850 B.C.





ca. 450 B.C.

ca. A.D. 900

About 1,350


not enough copies


ca. 440 B.C.

ca. A.D. 1100

About 1,500


not enough copies


ca. 420 B.C.

ca. A.D. 900

About 1,300 years


not enough copies


ca. 380 B.C.

ca. A.D. 900

About 1,300 years




ca. 350 B.C.

ca. A.D. 1100

About 1,400 years




ca. 60 B.C.

ca. A.D. 900

About 950 years




ca. 50 B.C.

ca. A.D. 1500

About 1,600 years



the Livy

ca. 10 B.C.





ca. A.D. 100

ca. A.D. 1100

About 1,000 years



New Testament

ca. A.D. 60

ca. A.D. 130

About 100 years




The Internal Test

The second test of the reliability of the biblical documents asks, “What claims does the Bible make about itself?” This may appear to be circular reasoning. It sounds like we are using the testimony of the Bible to prove that the Bible is true. But we are really examining the truth claims of the various authors of the Bible and allowing them to speak for themselves. (Remember that the Bible is not one book but many books woven together.) This provides significant evidence that must not be ignored.

A number of biblical authors claim that their accounts are primary, not secondary. That is, much of the Bible was written by men who were eyewitnesses of the events they recorded. John wrote in his Gospel, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe” (John 19:35; see 21:24). In his first epistle, John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life . . . that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (1 John 1:1,3). Peter makes the same point abundantly clear: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16; also see Acts 2:22; 1 Pet. 5:1). The independent eyewitness accounts in the New Testament of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were written by men who were intimately acquainted with Jesus Christ. Their gospels and epistles reveal their integrity and complete commitment to the truth, and they maintained their testimony even through persecution and martyrdom. All the evidence inside and outside the New Testament runs contrary to the claim made by form criticism that the early church distorted the life and teachings of Christ. Most of the New Testament was written between A.D. 47 and 70, and all of it was complete before the end of the first century. There simply was not enough time for myths about Christ to be created and propagated. And the multitudes of eyewitnesses who were alive when the New Testament books began to be circulated would have challenged blatant historical fabrications about the life of Christ. The Bible places great stress on accurate historical details, and this is especially obvious in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Luke’s two-part masterpiece (see his prologue in Luke 1:1-4).

The External Test

Because the Scriptures continually refer to historical events, they are verifiable; their accuracy can be checked by external evidence. Notice, for example, the chronological details in the prologue to Jeremiah (1:1-3) and in Luke 3:1-2. Ezekiel 1:2 allows us to date Ezekiel’s first vision of God to the day (July 31, 592 B.C.). The historicity of Jesus Christ is well-established by early Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources, and these extrabiblical writings affirm the major details of the New Testament portrait of the Lord. The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus made specific references to John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and James in his Antiquities of the Jews. In this work, Josephus gave us many background details about the Herods, the Sadducees and Pharisees, the high priests like Annas and Caiaphas, and the Roman emperors mentioned in the gospels and Acts. We find another early secular reference to Jesus in a letter written a little after A.D. 73 by an imprisoned Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion. This letter to his son compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Christ. Other first- and secondcentury writers who mention Christ include the Roman historians Cornelius Tacitus (Annals) and Suetonius (Life of Claudius, Lives of the Caesars), the Roman governor Pliny the Younger (Epistles), and the Greek satirist Lucian (On the Death of Peregrine). Jesus is also mentioned a number of times in the Jewish Talmud. The Old and New Testaments make abundant references to nations, kings, battles, cities, mountains, rivers, buildings, treaties, customs, economics, politics, dates, etc. Because the historical narratives of the Bible are so specific, many of its details are open to archaeological investigation. The section above on archaeology and the Bible shows that while archaeology does not prove the authority of the Bible, it has provided external confirmation of hundreds of biblical statements. Higher criticism in the nineteenth century made many damaging claims that would completely overthrow the integrity of the Bible, but the explosion of archaeological knowledge in the twentieth century reversed almost all of these claims. Noted archaeologists such as William F. Albright, Nelson Glueck, and G. Ernest Wright developed a great respect for the historical accuracy of the Scriptures as a result of their work.

Conclusion Concerning Reliability

The Old and New Testaments pass the bibliographic, internal, and external tests like no other ancient books. Most professional archaeologists and historians acknowledge the historicity of the Bible and yet many theologians still embrace prearchaeological critical theories about the Bible. The evidence strongly supports the accuracy of the Bible in relation to history and culture, but in many cases it has been overlooked or rejected because of philosophical presuppositions that run contrary to the Scriptures. This leads to a double standard: critics approach secular literature with one standard but wrongly use a different standard when they examine the Bible. Those who discard the Bible as historically untrustworthy must realize that the same standard would force them to eliminate almost all ancient literature.

We have already seen that Christ cannot be dismissed as a mythical creation of the early church. The evidence supports the historical reliability of the gospel accounts about Jesus. Because of this, a solid case can be built for the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection, in turn, authenticates Jesus’ divine claims about Himself. Because Jesus is God, His testimony concerning the Scriptures is true, and He bore witness to the complete authority of the Word of God. Thus, the historical reliability of the New Testament affirms the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrected Christ affirms the divine authority of the Scriptures.

Uniqueness of the Bible

The argument for the reliability of the biblical documents demonstrates that the Bible is trustworthy. The case is strengthened even more by the uniqueness of the Bible and the beneficial effects of the Bible.

The uniqueness of the Bible supports its claim to be the revealed Word of God. We saw at the beginning of this Companion that the Bible is unique in its production, preservation, proclamations, and product.

The Bible is unique in its production. It is a unity out of diversity, not just an anthology of stories, poetry, and letters. The Bible is a harmonious and continuous message from beginning to end, a self-consistent whole whose main theme is the person and work of Jesus Christ. The scarlet thread of redemption runs from Genesis to Revelation. But consider the incredible diversity which produced such a unity! (1) Diversity of authors. There were more than 40 authors who contributed to the Bible, including a king, a herdsman, a fisherman, and a tax collector. They cover the range from educated to uneducated, from rich to poor. The Bible was written in three languages on three continents under all types of conditions. (2) Time span. The Bible was written over a span of about 1,500 to 1,800 years. (3) Literary form. The Bible includes narrative history, poetry, biography, drama, exposition, letters, parables, prophecies, sermons, narrative stories, and wisdom literature. In spite of this diversity and the controversial topics addressed in the Bible, the books of the Bible can be interwoven into a composite whole. If ten people with similar backgrounds were selected today to write independently on a few controversial topics, the composite result would probably look like a crazy quilt of contradictory concepts.

The Bible is unique in its preservation. We have just seen how the quantity, quality, and time span of the biblical manuscripts set them apart from other ancient literature. The Scriptures have survived through time, persecution, and criticism. There have been numerous attempts to burn, ban, and systematically eliminate the Bible, but all have failed. Critics have often sounded its death knell, but the corpse never stays put. The Bible has been subjected to more abuse, perversion, destructive criticism, and pure hate than any other book. Yet it is an anvil that has worn out many hammers; it continues to stand the test of time while its critics are refuted and forgotten. No other book has enjoyed such popularity--the Bible has been copied and circulated far more extensively than any other book in human history. It has been translated into more languages than any other literature as well (portions now exist in over 1,700 languages).

The Bible is unique in its proclamations. Its prophetic character stands alone in its content, completeness, detail, and accuracy. More than one fourth of the Bible was prophetic at the time of writing. The Bible;s sweeping scope is also unparalleled as it boldly moves from eternity to eternity and touches the heights of heaven and the depths of hell. It is a progressive revelation which outlines God’s plan of the ages for all creatures, including men and angels. Its revelation of God as the triune, infinite, and personal God is unique, and so is its message about man (originally created perfect; the fall; man’s sinfulness) and salvation (faith in Christ, not human merit; directly confronts and solves the problem of sin; God Himself became a man and died to redeem sinners). The Bible’s strong historical emphasis also sets it apart from the scriptures of other religions.

Beneficial Effects of the Bible

The Bible is unique in its product. The message of the Bible has shaped the course of history, thought, and culture in a way unparalleled by any other book. Its influence on the philosophy, morality, law, politics, art, music, literature, education, and religion of Western civilization is beyond estimation. It has also had a phenomenal impact on the lives of untold millions of people through the centuries. Its redemptive message has consistently given help, joy, and meaning to everyone who has personally embraced it.

The German poet Goethe wrote, “Belief in the Bible, the fruit of deep meditation, has served me as the guide of my moral and literary life. I have found it a capital safely invested, and richly productive of interest.” The great philosopher Immanuel Kant claimed, “The existence of the Bible, as a book for the people, is the greatest benefit which the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.” And the English philosopher John Locke wrote, “It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter.”

Even if a person acknowledges the reliability of the Bible, he may still have some specific intellectual problems that must be cleared up before he can embrace the authority of the Bible. Most of these obstacles fit in the following seven categories: the problem of inspiration, science and the Bible, ethical problems in the Bible, apparent errors, canonicity, the miracles in the Bible, and interpretation. We will look at the last of these in the section on interpreting the Bible (section V).

The Problem of Inspiration

A person may grant the reliability of the biblical documents but balk at the idea that they are divinely inspired. The Bible’s repeated claim of verbal inspiration by God does not by itself prove such inspiration any more than similar claims made by the Koran or the Book of Mormon prove the inspiration of those books. But if all other lines of evidence point consistently to the reliability of the Bible, the Bible’s selftestimony of divine inspiration must be taken seriously. Similarly, if Jesus Christ fulfilled hundreds of messianic prophecies and rose from the dead, His testimony concerning Himself and the Bible cannot be lightly dismissed.

1. Biblical Claims

Referring to “The law and the prophets” (Luke 16:16), Jesus made this unqualified statement: “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17). He said that “all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44), and that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35; also see Matt. 4:4; 5:17- 18; 15:4). Paul also affirmed that the Scriptures are “God-breathed” (inspired): “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16; also see 1 Cor. 2:13; Gal. 3:16). Peter referred to this divine-human nature of Scripture when he wrote, “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21; also see 3:16).

2. Fulfilled Prophecy

No other book in the world contains the kind of specific prophecies found all throughout the pages of the Bible. There is no comparison, for example, between the Oracles of Nostradamus and the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ. Other so-called prophecies are so vague and cryptic that they could be “fulfilled” in any number of ways. But the prophecies of the Old Testament are often so detailed that their fulfillments were obvious--so clear, in fact, that many critics have attempted to assign later dates to some of these prophets (e.g., Isaiah 40-66 and Daniel) to make the prophecies come after the events. The Old Testament prophets gave both short- and long-term prophecies, so that the undisputed fulfillment of the short-term predictions would authenticate the validity of the long-term predictions which could not be verified for many years. Thus, God designed fulfilled prophecy to be an open demonstration of the divine origin of the Scriptures.

Messianic prophecy

Messianic prophecy is quite specific, yet it was all written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament was translated into Greek around 250 B.C. (the Septuagint), so it is obvious that the Hebrew Bible was written before this time. When these messianic prophecies are combined, the prophetic doorway becomes so narrow that only one person can fit through. Some 300 Old Testament predictions were literally fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ, and these messianic predictions make no sense apart from His life. A messianic impostor might have been able to engineer the fulfillment of a few of these prophecies, but the vast majority would be beyond his reach. Jesus’ sinless character, miraculous ministry, and resurrection could be matched by none other than the Messiah. Jesus knew the Scriptures thoroughly and frequently claimed that the whole Hebrew Bible (“the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms,” Luke 24:44) pointed ahead to Him. “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27; also see Matt. 5:17; 11:10; 21:42; 26:56; Luke 4:20-21; 22:37; John 5:39,46-47; 15:25). The New Testament writers likewise claim that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament messianic prophecies. “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2-3; also see Acts 2:24-36; 3:18; 8:32-35; 10:43; 13:29; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Heb. 1:8-9,13; 10:5-17; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; 2:6-8). The most explicit and powerful of all messianic prophecies is Isaiah 52:13-53:12, written seven centuries before the birth of Christ. This song of the Suffering Servant reveals that Messiah would suffer sinlessly (53:4-6,9), silently (53:7), and as a substitute to bear the sins of others (53:5-6,8,10-12). Messiah will be scourged, pierced, “cut off from the land of the living,” and placed in a rich man’s grave at His death. But after His death He will be “exalted and extolled” (52:13). This is a clear portrait of the rejection, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. (Jewish scholars since the twelfth century have attempted to identify the Servant of this passage with Israel, but the nation is distinguished from the Servant in 53:8, and Israel never suffered sinlessly nor silently as this Servant does.) The following list of Old Testament predictions and New Testament fulfillments regarding the life of Christ demonstrate how thoroughly His coming was foretold:

1. Born of a woman (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4:4).

2. Born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25).

3. A descendant of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:18; Matt. 1:1; Gal. 3:16).

4. From the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; Luke 3:23,33).

5. Of the house of David (2 Sam. 7:12; Jer. 23:5; Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32).

6. Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:1; Luke 2:4-7).

7. His way prepared by a forerunner (Isa. 40:3-5; Mal. 3:1; Matt. 3:1-3; Luke 3:3-6).

8. Anointed by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2; Matt. 3:16-17).

9. Preaching ministry (Isa. 61:1-3; Luke 4:17-21).

10. Speaking in parables (Ps. 78:2-4; Matt. 13:34-35).

11. Healing ministry (Isa. 35:5-6; Matt. 9:35).

12. A prophet (Deut. 18:18; John 6:14; Acts 3:20-22).

13. A priest (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 5:5-6).

14. Time of His appearance and death (Dan. 9:24-27: Luke 19:44).

15. Triumphal entry (Zech. 9:9; John 12:12-16).

16. Betrayal price (Zech. 11:12-13; Matt. 26:15; 27:7-10).

17. Abandoned by His disciples (Zech. 13:6-7; Matt. 26:31; Mark 14:50).

18. Silent before His accusers (Isa. 53:7; Matt. 27:12-14).

19. Beaten and spat upon (Isa. 50:6; Matt. 26:67).

20. Mocked (Ps. 22:7-8; Luke 23:35).

21. Hands and feet pierced (Ps. 22:16; John 19:16-18).

22. Crucified with transgressors (Isa. 53:12; Mark 15:27-28).

23. Lots cast for His garments (Ps. 22:18; John 19:23-24).

24. Cry from the cross (Ps 22:1; Matt. 27:46).

25. No bones broken (Ps. 34:20; John 19:31-36).

26. Pierced in His side (Zech. 12:10; John 19:34,37).

27. Buried with the rich (Isa. 53:9; Matt. 27:57-60).

28. Resurrection and exaltation (Ps. 16:10; Isa. 52:13; 53:10-12; Acts 2:25-32).

29. Ascension into heaven (Ps. 68:18; Acts 1:9; Eph. 4:8).

30. Seated at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1; Heb. 1:3).

General prophecy

Nonmessianic or general prophecy also supports the supernatural origin of the Scriptures. In many cases these prophecies are so graphic and accurate that higher criticism has assigned dates to some books and portions of books that are later than those claimed by the books themselves, because they assume that such prophecy is not possible. The accumulating evidence is generally in favor of the earlier dates, but even if we grant the later dates, many powerful examples of prediction and fulfillment in Old Testament prophecy remain.

Ezekiel’s prediction of the destruction of Tyre (Ezek. 26) claims to have been given in the sixth century B.C., but higher critics date it in the fifth century B.C. According to this prophecy, Nebuchadnezzar would besiege and destroy the city (26:7-11), many nations would come against it (26:3), the ruins would be scraped from the site and thrown into the sea, leaving a bare rock (26:4,12,19), the site would become a place for fishermen to spread their nets (26:5,14), and the city would never be built again (26:13-14). These specific predictions have been fulfilled in surprising detail. The ancient city of Tyre was a prominent Phoenician seaport that consisted of two parts, one on the mainland at the coast, and the other on an island about a half mile off the coast. Nebuchadnezzar besieged the mainland city for 13 years (585-573 B.C.) and finally destroyed it, but the island city remained intact. This remaining portion continued until Alexander the Great overthrew it in 333 B.C. by building a causeway from the coast to the island. To build this causeway, he literally scraped the ruins and debris from the old mainland site (26:4) and threw them “in the midst of the water” (26:12). This left the old site “like the top of a rock” (26:4). “Many nations” (26:3) came against the restored island city, including the Seleucids, the Ptolemies, the Romans, the Moslems, and the Crusaders. But the mainland city was never rebuilt (26:14), and today it remains a bare rock upon which fishermen spread their nets to dry (26:5,14).

Other remarkable examples of the accuracy of Old Testament prophecies include the details about the overthrow of Nineveh (Nahum 1-3), Babylon (Isa. 13-14; Jer. 51), Ammon and Moab (Jer. 48-49; Ezek. 25), Philistia (Jer. 47; Zeph. 2), Edom (Isa. 34; Jer. 49; Ezek. 25; 35), Memphis and Thebes (Ezek. 30), and the desolation and restoration of Palestine (Lev. 26; Ezek. 36).

The biblical claims for its divine inspiration, combined with the forceful evidence of fulfilled messianic and general prophecy, make a strong case for the inspiration of Scripture, especially when these lines of evidence are built upon the case for the historical reliability of the biblical documents developed earlier in this section.

The Problem of Science and the Bible

The most frequently raised scientific issue is the question of evolution. Everyone who believes the Bible accepts the fact that God is the Creator of the universe. But while evangelicals agree on the who, they do not all agree on the how of creation. Many believe that this is a young earth and that the six days of creation in Genesis 1 are 24-hour days. Others believe that these days are figurative, and that God directly intervened at various points in the long evolutionary process. The question here is not who is right, but how to deal with the issue of evolution when the non-Christian raises it as an objection to the existence of God or the reliability of the Genesis creation account. The most basic issue is nontheistic evolution versus creation by God, not the age of the earth.

The nontheistic evolutionary model assumes that nonliving systems generated life by means of time plus chance, and that microevolution (small changes) leads to macroevolution (large changes, as in the microbe-to-man theory). The philosophical problem with this model is that it makes the effects (complexity, life, intelligence, personality) greater than the causes (disorder, nonlife, random interactions and mutations, and impersonal events).

There are also scientific problems with nontheistic evolution. It offers no workable mechanism that will account for the first living cell, let alone the complexity of the human brain.

The chemical production of a first living cell would have to follow this sequence: (1) Random atoms must be formed into amino acids. (2) These amino acids must link together to form chains (polypeptides). (3) These chains must become long (hundreds of amino acids) and they must form in an ordered sequence, since there are 20 kinds of amino acids. This will produce a simple protein molecule. (4) More complex proteins must be produced. (5) Very long and highly ordered molecular chains known as DNA must be formed and maintained. (6) An enormously complex chemical factory must be produced, complete with special protein formations, enzymes, DNA, RNA, ribosomes, a cell wall, etc. This single cell must be able to reproduce itself and carry on all the functions of life. Without a rational ordering agent, every step but the first would require nothing short of a statistical miracle, even under the most ideal circumstances. Many people argue that, given enough time, even the most improbable events become probable. This sounds reasonable only until specific numbers are used. Consider George Bernard Shaw’s argument that if a million monkeys constantly typed on a million typewriters for a long enough time, one of them would eventually pound out a Shakespearean play. Assume a million monkeys typing 24 hours a day at 100 words a minute on typewriters with 40 keys. If each word of the play contained four letters, the first word would be typed by one of the monkeys in about 12 seconds. However, it would require about five days to get the first two words (eight letters) on one of the typewriters. How long would it take to get the first four words? About 100 billion years! No one could imagine the amount of time which would be required to produce the first scene.

Beginning with the first step, many evolutionists assume a primordial earthly atmosphere with no oxygen so that amino acids could be formed. However, the very atmosphere that could produce them would immediately lead to their destruction (due to ultraviolet light penetrating this oxygen-free atmosphere) unless they were protected. Unfounded assumptions must be multiplied to overcome this problem.

On the next level, let us assume an ideal environment with a primordial soup full of amino acids and the proper catalysts, with just the right temperature and moisture. Some estimate that under these favorable conditions the chances of getting dipeptides (two amino acids bonded) would be about one in 100. But the chances of tripeptide formation would be about one in 10,000. To get a polypeptide of only ten amino acids, the probability would be one chance in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 (100 quintillion). Yet the proteins in the simplest living things have chains of at least 400 amino acids on the average.

To make matters worse, all proteins are built of amino acids that are exclusively “left-handed” in their molecular orientation. Left-handed and right handed amino acids are mirror images of each other, and their chances of formation are about the same. Although both kinds can link with each other, the first living systems must have been built with left-handed components only. Some scientists have evoked natural selection here, but this only applies to systems that can already reproduce themselves. Without an intelligent ordering agent, we have only chance to explain this amazing phenomenon. For a chain of 400 left-handed amino acids, the odds would be roughly equivalent to tossing an ordinary coin and coming up with tails 400 times in a row. The chances for that would be approximately one in 10120 (a 1 followed by 120 zeroes). All this for one protein molecule, and hundreds of similar molecules would be needed in the first living system.

None of this accounts for the fact that the 20 kinds of amino acids operate like letters in an alphabet, and they must link in a meaningful sequence to form a usable protein. A random sequence of amino acids would be utterly useless. DNA is far more complex than any of this, and it too is built out of a highly organized alphabet. The letters are molecules called nucleotides. A cell contains a chain of about three billion pairs of these nucleotides (each gene has about 1,200 nucleotide pairs). The order of these nucleotides or bases is crucial because every triplet of bases along this immense chain is a word. Each word stands for one of the 20 kinds of amino acids. Using these words the DNA can literally create any kind of protein that the cell needs.

The amount of time required to synthesize even one gene (a paragraph of these words) has been calculated by some scientists using absurdly generous assumptions. Using a variation on a well-known illustration, suppose a bird came once every billion years and removed only one atom from a stone the size of the solar system. The amount of time required for the stone to be worn to nothing would be negligible compared to the time needed to create a useful gene by chance, even accounting for chemical affinities and an ideal environment. Shaw’s monkeys would long since have pounded out the words of Shakespeare!

But none of this can compare to the far greater complexity of a living cell. Even the simplest living system would require elaborately coded information, growth, reproduction, stability, adaptability, environmental response, and metabolism. Yet evolutionists demand spontaneous generation of life through chemical interaction because they think the only other option would be a miracle. In reality, a miracle cannot be avoided. The only question is whether life appeared out of the primordial soup or by the living God.

In addition, none of the above considers the fact that every chemical reaction along the way from amino acids to life is reversible. This means that whenever a higher point of complexity is reached, it is unstable compared to its environment and may break down into its components. A polypeptide bond of four amino acids can easily break down into four separate amino acids.

The second law of thermodynamics tells us that all natural processes cause a net increase in entropy (disorder) and a net loss of useful energy. Any system left to itself will decay and degenerate. Free energy from the sun can cause slight increases in complexity, but the breakdown rate soon matches the buildup rate. The only way to build structures as complex as protein is to have an already existing machine that can translate raw energy into a more highly organized form. Solar energy may be plentiful, but it is useless for building complex systems unless such systems already exist. Life comes only from life, complexity only from complexity. Faith in an original spontaneous generation of life goes against all experience and evidence. It has been said that “teleology is a lady without whom no biologist can exist; yet he is ashamed to be seen with her in public.” Design requires a designer, and this is precisely what is lacking in nontheistic evolution. Of course, the subject of evolution entails other matters such as mutations and natural selection, comparative anatomy, the fossil record, and fossil men. These are not trivial matters, but the most basic issue is that the impersonal mechanism of evolution will not by itself produce life or personality. Whether or not God superintended any kind of evolutionary process is an entirely different issue, and those who accept the Genesis creation account are divided on this matter. Scientists who acknowledge the authority of Scripture do not have a uniform view of the age of the earth, and they interpret the fossil evidence and the geological strata in different ways. On the other hand, the speculations of some nontheistic evolutionists sometimes stretch beyond the limits of the scientific method as they conceive scenarios that are clearly contrary to the biblical world view. Forgetting the tentative nature of science, they make confident assertions about the genesis of life and man. But even if a theory demonstrates how something might have happened, this is a far cry from proving that it really did happen this way.

We must also remember that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, but when it does touch on scientific matters, it has proven to be trustworthy. In the past, two problems have contributed to misunderstanding about the scientific validity of the Bible. The first is the erroneous scientific conclusions drawn from the Bible by the church. The most notable error is the teaching that the sun and planets revolve around the earth. Some writers delight in referring to the trial of Galileo for his “heretical” notion that the sun may be the center of the solar system, but the Bible cannot be blamed for this blunder. The second cause of misunderstanding is that the Bible uses phenomenological language. That is, it describes nature as it appears to the eye. Thus, it speaks of sunrises and sunsets (“Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat,” Ps. 19:6). But this does not teach that the sun rotates about the earth any more than today’s scientist means this when he uses the term “sunrise” and “sunset.” Others say that the Bible is in error because it says that pi is equal to 3 instead of 3.14. They base this on 1 Kings 7:23 where a laver ten cubits in diameter is given a circumference of 30 cubits. Comparing 7:23 with 7:26, however, it appears that the circumference was measured by using the inside diameter. The biblical phrase “the four corners of the earth” has been misunderstood to mean that the earth is flat with four literal corners. But Scripture uses this phrase figuratively, referring to all directions (Isa. 11:12; Ezek. 7:2; Rev. 7:1; 20:8).

When the Bible makes positive statements about the workings of nature, it is quite accurate, often running contrary to the erroneous concepts that were held in the time it was written. Job 36:27-29 gives an excellent description of the hydrologic cycle of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. The statement about the earth in Job 26:7 was also far ahead of its time: “He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing.” Other biblical statements about astronomy, biology, and medicine (e.g., the quarantine and sanitary laws of Leviticus) are equally remarkable.

Ethical Problems in the Bible

Two of the major ethical difficulties people have with the Bible are genocide and slavery. The Bible presents the greatest set of ethical standards the world has ever known, focusing on love for God and one’s neighbor. This makes God’s genocidal command to utterly destroy the inhabitants of Canaan in Deuteronomy 20:10-18 (cf. Josh. 6:21) especially perplexing. There is no simple solution to this problem, but it can be substantially reduced by looking at it from several biblical perspectives: (1) It is easy to become so earthbound in our view of life that we forget that the author and giver of life has every right to take it away. (2) The sixth commandment is best translated “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13). This did not prohibit the taking of human life in fulfillment of the divine command for social justice in Israel (capital punishment) or for national defense. (3) The command to annihilate another nation (the Canaanites) was completely unique in Israel’s history. (4) Israel at this time was a theocracy, and there is no parallel for this in world history. (5) As a redeemed nation, the children of Israel were to be distinct from all other nations. The idolatry and immorality of the Canaanites would have defiled them if Israel coexisted with them (Deut. 20:18). (6) God used the Israelites as His rod of judgment upon the Canaanites because of their gross immorality and wickedness. Archaeological discoveries confirm that Canaan at this time was overrun with religious prostitution, infant sacrifice, bestiality, and other abominations. Thus, the seeming cruel removal of the unrepentant Canaanites was not unlike the removal of a cancerous tumor.

Concerning the problem of slavery, here are three observations: (1) Slavery as we now understand it is quite different from the kind of slavery permitted in the Bible. Slaves were to be treated with human dignity and respect (Job 31:13-15), and if their masters violated their basic rights or abused them, they were to be set free (Exod. 21:26-27). If a slave ran away from his master, he was not to be mistreated or even returned (Deut. 23:15-16). Slaves were also allowed to participate in Israel’s worship. (2) The institution of this system of slavery was a cultural phenomenon, designed to make the perpetuation of the patriarchal family unit economically feasible. This is foreign to our own culture, but it would be wrong to absolutize our own cultural values. (3) Although the New Testament also allowed for slavery, the epistles make it clear that all believers have an equal standing before the Father (Gal. 3:28). The reality of Christ was to transform every human relationship, and Christian principles cried out against the abuses of slavery. Some people are troubled about the wrath of God and blood sacrifices. God is a God of love and mercy, but He is also a holy and righteous God. These divine attributes are found from Genesis to Revelation, and they are complementary, not contradictory. His love is a holy love, and His wrath is never capricious but always directed against sin and its dehumanizing results. The values of our society have become so diluted and distorted that the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin have become foreign concepts to many. Concerning blood sacrifices, the New Testament makes it clear that they all pointed ahead to Christ, the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world. His crucifixion provided the greatest demonstration of both the love and the wrath of God that will ever be known.

The Problem of Apparent Errors

Almost all of the so-called contradictions in the Bible are due to differences in the perspective of the biblical writers when there is more than one account of a particular event. Close examination consistently reveals that the accounts supplement one another and that they can be harmonized. We see this in the alleged discrepancy in the gospels concerning the number of angels at Jesus’ tomb. Matthew and Mark report that one was there, but Luke and John speak of two. But if two angels were there, certainly one was there, and the one mentioned by Matthew and Mark was evidently more prominent. This is an example of selective reporting (all reporting is selective), and the same thing happens in other places (e.g., Mark and Luke mention only one demoniac who met Jesus near Gadara, but Matthew mentions two).

Another favorite example of a biblical contradiction relates to Genesis 1 and 2. Some claim these are two contradictory creation accounts, but they can be harmonized when we notice two things: (1) Genesis 1 is a general survey of the six days of creation, and Genesis 2 is a more detailed account of the sixth day of creation. (2) The name Elohim is used consistently in Genesis 1, because it emphasizes God’s work as Creator, while the name Yahweh is used throughout Genesis 2 to underline the covenant relationship He establishes with man. There are three basic causes for apparent errors in the Bible: sources, text, and interpretation.

(1) The biblical and extrabiblical sources are incomplete, and this can lead to the appearance of error. The section above on archaeology and the Bible illustrates how the Bible appeared to be in error regarding such things as the Hittite empire, Belshazzar as king of Babylon, and the Philistines in the patriarchal period. Until these biblical statements were confirmed by archaeological discoveries, it appeared that the Bible was in error. The problems were caused by incomplete sources, not biblical deficiency.

(2) Errors have crept into the biblical text through scribal mistakes and modernization. For example, 1 Kings 4:26 states that “Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots,” but 2 Chronicles 9:25 says that “Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots.” The exaggerated figure in 1 Kings is a common type of scribal error due to similarity in numerical notation (also compare 2 Sam. 10:18 with 1 Chron. 19:18).

(3) Faulty interpretation of the biblical text and extrabiblical data can also cause the appearance of error. The King James Version of 2 Kings 23:29, for example wrongly interpreted the Hebrew text to mean that Pharaoh Neco of Egypt “went up against” the king of Assyria. The text simply says “went up to,” and this agrees with the Assyrian records which say that he went up to aid the Assyrians against the Babylonians. (Keep in mind that our English Bibles are direct translations from the original languages. A comparison of several translations often helps one gain a clearer understanding of the text.)

It would be wrong to say that all biblical discrepancies have been resolved, for a small number of problems still remain. But the increasing historical and archaeological evidence has consistently been in favor of the Scriptures, and these problems should continue to diminish.

The Problem of Canonicity

How can you be sure that the people who decided which books should be included in the Bible were right? Couldn’t the church councils have been mistaken? This objection reflects a misunderstanding about the nature of canonicity. The word canon means rule or standard, and it came to be used of the collection of books that conform to the standard of divine inspiration. Inspiration determines canonicity; the early church simply recognized these inspired books and rejected those books which did not bear the mark of inspiration. Thus, the church discovered the canonical books but did not determine them.

The canonical books of the Old Testament were divided into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44), and these had been recognized long before the time of Christ. Some books like Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon were disputed for certain reasons by a few rabbis, but the rabbinic council at Jamnia in A.D. 90 confirmed these long-recognized books. Some confusion was caused when, at some point, the Apocryphal books were added to the Septuagint, but these were not regarded as canonical by the Jews or the early Christian church. Jewish writers like Philo and Josephus never quoted from them, and neither did Jesus or any of the New Testament writers. It was not until the Council of Trent in 1546 (during the Counter-Reformation) that the Roman Catholic Church gave full canonical status to the Apocrypha.

The Apocryphal books were written more than 200 years after the time of Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet. Unlike the books of the Old Testament, they do not claim to have the prophetic stamp, and they do not manifest the authority and power of God. They are marred by doctrinal errors, subbiblical morality, and historical inaccuracies, and they were not originally received by the people of God. The New Testament canonical books were progressively circulated and collected, and these 27 books were given official recognition by the councils of Hippo (A.D. 393) and Carthage (A.D. 397). All of these books passed the test of apostolic origin (e.g., Mark was an associate of Peter and Luke was an associate of Paul), apostolic date (first century), and apostolic doctrine.

The Problem of Miracles

This relates to the problem of science and the Bible because many object to the miracles of the Bible on scientific grounds. One objection is that miracles violate or contradict natural laws. However, it would be more accurate to say that since miracles are empowered by something higher than nature, they supersede the ordinary processes or laws of nature. Just as an airplane flies because the principle of aerodynamics overcomes the law of gravity, so a higher (supernatural) principle overcomes a lower (natural) principle for the duration of the miracle. Another objection is that miracles would destroy the regularity of nature. The scientific method is built upon the assumption that we live in an orderly universe. But if divine interventions can take place at any time, anything can happen, and order is replaced by confusion. This objection is based on a misunderstanding of the biblical teaching on miracles. The Bible affirms that the universe is orderly because it has been created and sustained by an intelligent Designer. God has instituted what we call the laws of nature, but He is not bound by them. He sometimes chooses to supersede them in order to reveal something about Himself to man. An examination of the Bible, however, shows that these sovereign interventions or miracles are unusual, not commonplace events. In fact, a miracle by its very nature must be a unique event that stands out against a background of ordinary and regular occurrences. Thus, it is just as devastating to the concept of miracles to believe that we are surrounded by them as to say that there are no such things. Because miracles are accomplished by a supernatural agency, there is no natural explanation for how they happen. But our inability to explain them certainly does not mean, therefore, that they cannot take place. The real issue is whether God exists. If so, miracles are possible. Granted the existence of God, the issue is not scientific or philosophical (can miracles happen?), but historical (have miracles happened?). The best historical evidence for miracles is the work of Jesus Christ, especially the miracle of His resurrection from the dead. All the attempts to find naturalistic explanations for the historical facts related to the resurrection have failed. The direct evidence concerning the tomb and the appearances, combined with the circumstantial evidence like the changed lives of the disciples, make a strong case for the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures do not give us details about how God caused the ten plagues to ravage Egypt, nor do they tell us how Jesus turned the water into wine or how He raised the dead. But it is clear that a supernatural agency was involved, and if God created the universe, He is certainly capable of accomplishing these things in the enactment of His redemptive purpose. Thus God could easily appoint a sea creature and arrange to have it near the ship at the time Jonah was thrown into the Mediterranean Sea. There is no basis or need to allegorize the account of Jonah. Certain whales and sharks are capable of swallowing a man whole, and a few people have actually had such an experience and lived to tell about it. (James Bartley, for example, was removed alive from the gullet of a sperm whale in 1891 a day and a half after being swallowed. The whale had overturned Bartley’s harpooning boat and his shipmates presumed he had drowned.) Whether God used an existing creature or created a new one for the purpose of delivering His prophet Jonah is irrelevant, for God has the power to do both.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)

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