|This book is based on discussions the author had with her four sons.
HOW DO WE KNOW THAT THE
BIBLE IS A RELIABLE SOURCE?
GOOD QUESTION! AND THE ANSWER TO IT IS CRITICAL! Christians say the Bible is the authority for everything they claim to believe. But how can we be sure that God really told certain people what to write down – that they didn't just make it all up? And, if the words they wrote were given to them by God, are the texts we now have accurate versions of what they originally wrote? If we can't find answers to both of these questions, could it be possible that we are just victims of a giant hoax?
Fortunately, there is much evidence to uphold the integrity of the Bible, proving that it is not only a reliable document but also more than just the product of human minds and human hands. Let's start by examining the Bible in the light of history and archaeology.
THE EVIDENTCE OF HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL ACCURACY
Once, several years ago, I got very upset with Ben for leaving the back gate open and letting the dog out. He tried, but there was no way he could convince me that he had closed the gate and that our tiny Boston terrier had gotten out on his own. The evidence proved otherwise.
"King couldn't have reached the latch even if the turned his water bucket over, dragged it to the gate, and stood on it," I reasoned a little sarcastically. "Plus, event if he had done all that, somehow he would have had to remove the metal pin form the slot before he could lift the latch. It's impossible," I concluded. Ben was insistent that he had acted responsibly by closing the gate. I was convinced that he had been careless…until the next day when I put King in the backyard myself. I shut the gate and put the pin in the latch. Less than a half hour later he was scratching at the front door. I was baffled. I put him back in the yard again and watched from the window. What I saw astonished me. The little critter pulled himself up on the chain link fence like a monkey, removed the pin with his teeth, and pushed on the latch with his pug nose. The gate swung open. Sure enough, he was able to set himself free. I was amazed, but as incredible as it was, I could no longer doubt Ben's story.
The same thing happens over and over with people, places, and events mentioned in the Bible. Scholars insist, "they never existed," or "that couldn't have happened," or "the biblical time frame is historically incorrect." But over and over, archaeological discoveries prove otherwise. Everything that has been discovered, uncovered, and checked out shows that the biblical account is accurate. Often it's amazing, but seldom do the archaeological findings leave any doubt.
Take for example the Hittite Empire mention several times in the Old Testament (see Genesis 10:15; 23:10; Judges 1:26; 1 Samuel 26:6, Ezekiel 16:3). Scholars refused to believe that such an empire ever existed because it was mentioned nowhere else in history. Then, in 1906, the Hittite capital was unearthed.
For years scholars questioned the accuracy of Daniel chapter 5, in which Belshazzar is named as the king of Babylon. All their archaeological records said that Nabonidus was king at the time. There was no reference whatsoever to any King Belshazzar anywhere – until 1965 when three inscribed stone slabs were discovered in Haran. They cleared up the problem showing that King Nabonidus had assigned kingly duties to his son Belshazzar while he went off to fight the Persians. The dates showed clearly that this took place during the time that Daniel wrote.
Luke's gospel account of Lysanias as the "tetrarch of Abilene" (Luke 3:1) was highly criticized until archaeologists recently found two Greek inscriptions that prove Lysanias really was the tetrarch of Abilene from A.D. 14 to A.D. 29.
Most of the New Testament was written between A.D. 14 and A.D. 70, and all of it was completed before the end of the first century. Many eyewitnesses to the accounts were still alive when the books were first circulated. They could have easily challenged any fictitious accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. Instead, extrabiblical writings by early Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources verify the major details of the New Testament. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian and commander of Jewish forces in Galilee an A.D. 66, made specific references to the baptisms that John the Baptist preformed in the Jordan River and his death at the hands of Herod. He spoke of Jesus Christ and James in his writings. He also mentions the Pharisees and Sadducees, Annas and Caiaphas (whom Jesus stood before when He was on trial), and the Roman emperors who are written about in the Gospels and the book of Acts. Governors and satirists, as well as historians, wrote about Jesus Christ. A description of his death was included in a personal letter (preserved in the British Museum) from an imprisoned Syrian to his son around A.D. 73.
No archaeological finding has ever contradicted the biblical account. On the contrary, archaeological studies continue to authenticate and validate the historically and accuracy of the Bible. Let's look at some other evidence that validate the Bible as a reliable source.
THE EVIDENCE OF UNITY
Suppose all four of you got in a fight – not that this has ever really happened before. (Yeah, right!) As part of you punishment, suppose I asked each of you to sit down and write a two-page paper describing what happened. How similar do you think those accounts would be? I imagine I would have at least two different versions of who started the fight, three different accounts of why, and four different analyses of who won the fight and who should be punished the most. I'm sure very little unity of opinion would exist in any of those two-page papers.
Well, the Bible was written over a period of 1,500 years, in 66 volumes, by more that 40 different people from widely varied backgrounds, living on three different continents (Europe, Asia and North Africa), using three different languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic). Yet despite this incredible diversity, and often while dealing with controversial subject material, they wrote in complete accord. There is one harmonious, consistent message from the beginning to the end – the redemption of humanity by God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is an incredible feat!
Just think about it. Moses was a well-educated political leader. Joshua was a military general. Solomon was a king, Daniel a prime minister, and Ezra a priest. Amos herded goats, Peter caught fish, and Matthew collected taxes. There was a shepherd, a doctor and a rabbi. They were rich, poor, young, old, educated, and uneducated. They were from all walks of life. Ye the main theme and continuous message of the entire Bible is salvation through Jesus Christ. It cannot be explained that so many different personalities, living in so many different cultures, at such vastly different times, wrote in such complete accord, except as Peter explains it in 2 Peter 1:21, NASB: "Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." No, this feat would not have been possible if one and the same God had not inspired them.
You know, I can't even get all four of you to agree on where we should go out for dinner. That's why we usually end up at a food court in the mall where there are lots of options!
THE EVIDENCE OF FULFILLED PROPHECY
Did you know that about one quarter of the Bible was unfulfilled prophecy at the time it was written? Yet everything happened, or is happening, just the way the Bible predicted it would. In the book of Genesis, Abraham was promised that his descendants would never be wiped out. Today the Arabs (descendants of his first son, Ishmael) and the Jews (descendants of his second son, Ishmael) are still distinct people. However, there are no Edomites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, or Canaanites. Did you ever wonder why? It's because the Bible promises in Genesis 12:2-3 that anyone who curses the Israelites will be cursed by God. These people, who harassed and tortured the seed of Abraham, have been wiped out of existence along with Adolph Hitler, his Third Reich, and many more.
Daniel predicted the rise and fall of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome long before they ever took place. Ezekiel, writing during the sixth century B.C., prophesied the destruction of the city of Tyre (see Ezekiel 26), which took place in 332 B.C. At the time of Ezekiel's prediction, Tyre was a prominent Phoenician seaport. Part of the city was on the mainland and part was built on an island a half mile off the coast. Ezekiel prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would besiege the city and destroy it, that many nations would come against it, that the ruins would be scraped from the site and thrown into the sea, leaving nothing but a pare rock where fishermen would spread their nets. He said the city would never be rebuilt. Every detail of Ezekiel's prophecy was fulfilled. Nebuchadnezzar besieged the mainland city for thirteen years starting in 586 B.C., and finally destroyed it. The island city remained intact, however, until Alexander the Great came along in 332 B.C. and overthrew it. The only way he could get to it, though, was by building a causeway from the ruins and debris of the mainland site. To do this he scraped away the rocks and threw them into the water. Sure enough, he left the old site a bare rock just as Ezekiel said. Today fishermen really do spread their nets there to dry. Dad has been there and seen them.
More the three hundred prophecies were made in the Old Testament concerning the coming of a Messiah, which were literally fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Since the Old Testament was translated into Greek around 250 B.C., the Hebrew Bible had to be completed before this time. Therefore, all the prophecies about the Messiah were written several hundred years before Christ actually showed up on earth.
The Old Testament predicted that Jesus would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). It predicted that He would be a descendant of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), of the house of David (2 Samuel 7:12). It even pinpointed his birthplace a Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). It was prophesied that His ministry would be one of preaching (Isaiah 61:1-3) and healing (Isaiah 35:3-6), and that He would speak in parables (Psalm 78:2-4). His triumphal entry on a colt was foretold (Zechariah 9:9), as well as His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13). The facts that He would be abandoned by His disciples (Zechariah 13:6-7), then beaten and spit on (Isaiah 50:6), mocked (Psalm 22:7-8), that His hands an feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16), that He would be crucified with criminals (Isaiah 52:12), offered gall mixed with vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21), and have lots cast for His clothing (Psalm 22:18) were all Old Testament predictions. None of His bones were broken (Psalm 22:17), yet His side was pierced (Zechariah 12:10) just as the prophecy forecast. Then He was buried with the wealthy (Isaiah 53:9).
It would have been humanly impossible for anyone to engineer a feat fulfilling even a quarter of these predictions – a fact which points not only to Jesus Christ as the true Messiah, put also to the Old Testament, written centuries before, as the inspired and reliable Word of God.
THE EVIDENCE OF MANUSCRIPT INTEGRITY
Many people mistakenly think that the Bible we have today is the end of a long succession of translations (Hebrew to Greek; Greek to Latin; Latin to German; German to English; English to whatever). They figure each one probably lost something in the translation, ruining the integrity of the text. You've played the "whisper game" before. By the time "I had a ham sandwich on white bread for lunch" is whispered from ear to ear more than five times it becomes totally distorted. It turns out something like "I have an Arab sand, which John might rent for a bunch."
Well, this is not what took place with the Bible. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, except for a little Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. The English Bible we use today were translated directly form those original languages – not some intermediary one.
We do not have the original manuscripts for any of the books of the Bible. However, we do have a huge number of early copies of the originals. And the time span between the date the original was written and the date of the earliest copy we now have is extremely short. We have over 14,000 copies of early New Testament writings, with some of them having been copied less then one hundred years after the original was written.
Compare this with Plato's writings. The earliest manuscripts we have of his were copied 1,200 years after the original was written and there are only seven such manuscripts. Aristotle's works were written 1,400 years before the existing copies, and we have only five of these manuscripts. Yet no one questions the fact that the books we now read really contain the actual words of Plato and Aristotle. (See what your English teacher says when you bring this up! On second thought, maybe that's not such a good idea.) Demosthenes, Euripides, Sophocles, Thucydides, Caesar, and on and on – none of the writers' works are anywhere close to as accurately preserved as the words of our Bible, both Old and New Testaments.
The Jewish scribes who copied the biblical manuscripts went to extreme measures to be sure their copies were 100 percent accurate. They were meticulous in copying and counting each letter, word and line. If a manuscript was off by just one letter, or a single mistake was discovered, the entire manuscript was burned. Scholars, who do this kind of stuff for a living, judge the copies we have of our New Testament to be 99.5 percent accurate –more accurate than any other ancient, widely accepted works of literature. Critics who discard the Bible as an unproven manuscript, or as historically untrustworthy, refuse to apply the same standards to it that they do to other ancient writings.
THE EVIDENCE OF CHANGED LIVES
But it was men who chose which books to include in the Bible and which ones to discard, right? This is a question often posed by critics of the Bible. It is true that it wasn't until A.D. 393 at the council of Hippo, and A.D. 397, at the council of Carthage, that the New Testament text as a whole was solidified. But was it really up to these early chichi fathers to choose which books to leave in and which ones to take out? No, the criteria for selection were highly objective. The books had to be written or sanctioned by an apostle – one of the Twelve minus Judas, plus Paul – to whom Jesus had spoken directly, they had to be written during the first century and used by the early churches, and they had to be consistent with apostolic doctrine. The men attending these councils didn't choose which h books remained. They just observed. They noticed that God used certain books and not others in the lives of believers. The ones that met the criteria, and that God was obviously using to change hearts and lives, were put together in one unit called the Bible. So it was God, working in people's lives, who actually determined which books should be included.
Think about the process in our everyday lives. We had an old 8-track tape player hidden away in our family room closet. I won't throw it away because one day it might be considered an antique. When I was a teenager, it was the hottest new thing to hit the shelves of the big, new department store in town. But it took only a few years for it to become obsolete. Newer and better tape players came along, then CD players., and soon 8-tracks were a thing of the past. Manufacturers stopped making them completely. Why? Because nobody bought them anymore. Why did they stop buying them? Because they no longer had any validity. They did nothing to help people in their daily lives. They didn't work nearly as well as the newer, more modern inventions.
Ah, but look at that safety pin – the one holding your backpack together. Do you know how long safety pins have been around? A long, long time. As a matter of fact, they were patented in 1849 by Walter Hunt of New York. Why is a simple little invention like the safety pin still around after 150 years, while mush more intricate inventions, like 8-track players, became passé in less the n five years? Because safety pins continue to work and have validity in people's lives.
The Bible would be obsolete by now – invalid – if it didn’t make a difference; if people's lives weren't continually changed by its message.
THE PROBLEM OF INTERPRETATION
So, suppose the Bible really is the inspired Word of God as it claims to be and the copies we have today are accurate accounts of what was originally written. We still have one more problem –the problem of interpretation. Doesn't every religious denomination interpret the message of the Bible differently?
Actually that is not the case. The fact is that most denominations agree on the foundational truths of the Bible – God, man, sin, and salvation. Most Christians will affirm the Apostles' Creed. When disagreements over interpretation occur, it is usually because inconsistent methods of interpretations are being used. Often people tend to apply their own preconceived ideas instead of letting Scripture speak for itself. Or they struggle over whether to interpret a passage literally (believing it word for work as it is written), or figuratively (accepting that figures of speech, word pictures, or prophecy are being used to make a point).
The truth is that in every case, the interpretation should be made "normally." Most problems of interpretation disappear when the reader asks himself one simple question: what did the original author want his original readers to understand in the situation? Was her writing poetry and therefore painting word pictures for his readers? Was he foretelling the future by trying to explain these future events in terms of present knowledge? Was he using allegories (stories and symbols) to get his point across? The author's original intent would be would be the "normal" interpretation. This makes context a crucial issue in interpretation. Taken out of context, verses can be twisted to mean many different things.
Take for example your opinion that doing homework is a big waste of time. Suppose you e-mailed a classmate tonight and wrote something like: "My English teacher gives us too much homework. Having to sit in my bedroom and write twenty vocabulary cards every night is a real pain in the neck. I would much rather be out playing basket ball." Two hundred years from now if someone unearths your e-mail from with in the bowels of an obsolete thing called a computer, he'll have to decide whether writing vocabulary cards (whatever they were) caused an actual physical malady affecting the neck area, or if you were merely trying to communicate a distaste for this particular exercise. Out of context, it would seem that vocabulary cards should be avoided at all costs or one's health might be in jeopardy. However, taking into account your original reader (a sixth-grade buddy) and checking out the other context clues in the text will no doubt lead the reader to the latter conclusion.
The same process is valid with biblical interpretation. The Bible contains poetry, prophecy, parables, visions, and historical narratives. To interpret a passage correctly, we must understand what type of literature we are dealing with, as well as the context. Factual description must be understood differently from figures of speech, historical narrative differently from Hebrew poetry. It is when we fail to examine the context and understand the type of literature being used that we run into problems of interpretation.
Here's an example. According to Isaiah 11:12, God will gather the scattered people of Judah "from the four corners of the earth" (KJV). This does not imply that Isaiah, inspired by God, really believed that the earth had four corners any more than the author of Leviticus believed that men had four corners on their heads ("Ye shall not round the corners of your heads," 19:27, KJV). This is picturesque language, used in much the same way as biblical writers used the terms "rising of the sun" or "going down of the same" (Psalm 113:3; 19:4-6). We know that the sun does not actually move across the sky, yet today we use similar picturesque or descriptive language ("sunrise" and "sunset") to convey this same phenomenon even in our highly sophisticated weather reports. Unfortunately, some or our early church leaders misinterpreted passages such as these and wound up assuming that the world was flat. They later tried Galileo as a heretic for teaching that the sun is the center of our solar system around which the planets rotate. But we cannot blame the Bible for the erroneous scientific conclusions made by clergymen. We, ourselves, must seek to be consistent and to remain true to the author's intent as we interpret and apply biblical truths to our lives so that we can avoid making similar mistakes.
Numerous attempts have been made over the centuries to burn, ban, and otherwise eliminate the Bible, but all have failed. Critics have continually tried to discredit it. Yet, there it sits on your desk. It has been copied, translated, and circulated more than any other book in history. The continual proof of its historical accuracy; its single, unified message in the midst of extreme diversity; the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies; the reliability of the manuscripts; the fact that for over two millennia it has continued to change lives – these are all evidences the Bible is more, much more, than just a manmade document.
Sticking Up For What I Believe: Answers to the Spiritual Questions Teenagers Ask by Gwendolyn Mitchell Diaz
Copyright © 2002, Gwendolyn Mitchell Diaz
Published by NavPress
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.