The Bible is a unique book, even though it’s not uncommon to find religious writers, even theologians, who minimize the uniqueness of the Bible by placing it on an equal plane with the literature of other religions. So, is the Bible just another “holy book”? Let’s take a look.
There are essentially five major groups of religious writings outside the Bible—the Veda (of Brahmanism), the Tripitaka (of Buddhism), the Zend-Avesta (of Zoroastrianism), the writings of Confucianism ( a philosophy), and the Quran (of Islam). While there are other ancient writings that date from before the composition of the Bible, the Bible claims to contain a comprehensive record of God’s dealing with man from man’s creation—a record passed down from one generation to the next in oral tradition, perhaps along with written material long lost in antiquity. If the message of the Bible is taken at face value, though its composition may not be the oldest of human writings, its truth antedates all other religions, since its story begins with the creation of the world.
The question, “Is the Bible true,” is certainly the most important question anyone could ask. If the Bible is true we are in the midst of a gigantic, cosmic struggle between light and darkness, good and evil; and the outcome, both cosmic and personal, defines our eternal future. Many, perhaps most people today dismiss the Bible as just another collection of religious myths, stories, quasi-history, and religious doctrine; most of which was written by well-meaning, but basically naive people who didn’t have the capacity, means, or motivation to see that their religious beliefs were simply superstition. After all, we have so many contradictory religious writings that most of them can’t be true anyway. What makes the Bible different? For the answer to this question we have to look at the Bible from several different angles. For instance, it’s critically important to know whether or not the Bible is true historically; if it isn’t correct on basic historical fact and geography, there’s not much reason to believe it’s correct on anything else. Second, we need to know if the Bible’s message makes good common sense; anything that violates our common sense isn’t likely to be taken seriously. Third, we need to know whether the supernatural element in the Bible is really believable, and whether it can be verified. Fourth, we need some means of determining whether or not the spiritual truth taught in the Bible is really true. This is, of course, a tall order for one very simple reason: There is no way to verify the supernatural from within the natural realm; nevertheless, it is possible for the supernatural to manifest itself within the natural realm. The real question we must ask is this: Is there anything in the Bible that evidences the existence of the supernatural?
Let’s begin by making some basic observations about the Bible. First, the Bible is the only book that presents a comprehensive and connected history of man’s spiritual condition and needs from the time of his creation to the eternal future. Second, the Bible is the only book to present a comprehensive picture on the nature and purpose of God and his plan for mankind, and the physical universe. Third, the Bible is the only book that provides clear and consistent evidence of its supernatural origin through the record of fulfilled prophecy. Fourth, the Bible is the only ancient book that consistently proves to be the product of a superior (super-normal) intelligence, based on its statements about the physical universe. Fifth, the Bible, though written over fifteen centuries by more than forty different authors, exhibits a singularity of purpose, morality, message, and theology. Features like “types” (a sort of prophetic analogy) demonstrate the interconnectedness of the Bible’s message across many centuries. (“Types” are Old Testament people, events, or objects that were clearly intended to prefigure some New Testament person, event, or truth—for example; the Old Testament sacrifices are a typical prefigurement of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.)
Not only is the book unique, its message is unique also. Some of the fundamental themes that permeate the Bible are: 1) There is one true God, though existing as a trinity of persons. 2) The universe is not eternal—God created it out of nothing. (It’s interesting that modern science has just, within the last seventy-five years, “discovered” the truth that the universe indeed had a beginning. [We now know the universe is expanding in all directions at an incredible pace. If we could simply play the universe’s history in reverse, we would see it shrink into an infinitesimal point and vanish!] 3) God is transcendent, that is, he exists apart from creation, and creation is not part of him (as is intrinsic in pantheism and found in all polytheism). It is interesting that many present-day theoretical cosmologists are forced to admit that only something, or should we say “someone,” infinitely intelligent and completely outside of the universe, could be the ultimate cause of the universe. Most religions in history have overlooked the simple necessity of ultimate transcendent causality and thus proven themselves to be logically deficient. No religion that is wrong about man’s ultimate origin can be right about his present spiritual need, or his future. While modern science has only recently, and reluctantly, admitted the necessity transcendent causal necessity, it was the very first fact recorded in the Bible (Genesis 1:1), and distinctly reaffirmed in the New Testament as the very cornerstone of belief concerning Christ’s qualifications as Savior; for if man needs saving, only a transcendent Creator could save him (John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:16-17). While the Koran accepts the concept of a transcendent God, that idea was recorded in the Old Testament almost two thousand years before the Koran was written, and the idea was most assuredly borrowed from the Hebrew Scriptures. 4) God is perfect in every respect, and His creation was originally made perfect. 5) Man was originally given a free will to choose good or evil. 6) Man did evil by disobeying his Creator and became sinful in both his nature and choices. In this state man is “lost,” separated from God and unable to remedy his fallen situation by his own power. In man’s spiritually dead state, his will is in bondage to sin, and he cannot please God. 7) Man’s sin is passed down from one generation to the next so that all who are born through natural generation are born in this ruined state. 8) God, from eternity, knowing of man’s choice, set a plan in motion to redeem His creation. 9) For thousands of years God prepared man so His plan could be brought about. Through prophecies, types, and pronouncements, God prepared man for His redemptive work. During this time He revealed Himself and His plan in many ways. 10) When the time was right, God sent His only Son into the world to offer Him as a sacrifice so that sinful men could be brought back to God. In fact, God’s plan calls for more than just reconciliation; it calls for adoption, in which those reconciled become members of God’s family. 11) God will someday send His Son, Jesus Christ, to bring to a close the present era and reconcile all things to Himself through the completion of redemption, for the redeemed, and judgment for the rest.
How can we be certain the Bible is what it claims to be—i.e., divinely inspired truth?
If the Bible isn’t true, it doesn’t matter where it came from, or what translation one uses. That means the question of truthfulness is a fundamental issue; everything hangs on that one issue. When we ask people who believe the Bible to be true how they know it’s true, we get a variety of answers. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear the following responses. “My Sunday school teacher, or pastor, told me the Bible is true.” Good for your Sunday school teacher, or pastor! But did he, or she tell you “how” they know the Bible is true, or did you simply accept that opinion uncritically? Another response is: “The Bible says its true.” Okay, but unless you already knew it was true, you couldn’t trust what it says about itself—right? So, how did you know it was true, so you knew you could trust it when it said it was true? Another response is: “The Bible can be proven to be true historically.” It’s true that historical research in many instances confirms the accuracy of the Bible, but can we conclude that the Bible is accurate in spiritual matters simply because it is historically accurate? Aren’t there other books that are historically accurate, but which might not be reliable in spiritual matters? Another response is: “The Bible has been shown to be scientifically accurate.” That‘s true, and it‘s probably much more significant than historical accuracy—though both are important. The reason scientific accuracy is so significant is that it reveals a state of knowledge that could not have been obtained through any ordinary means of discovery available at the time the Bible was written. Another response is: “The Bible accurately predicts the future; since only God knows the future, this attests to his authorship of the Bible.” If you’re looking for material proof of divine revelation, this one is about as good as it gets. We can definitely demonstrate that details about future events were revealed in Scripture with remarkable accuracy. In order for that to have happened, the biblical writers had to obtain this information from somewhere. Unfortunately, there is confusion on this matter that originates from two separate sources: science fiction and literary criticism. Through science fiction many people have accepted the notion that somehow it might be possible to obtain detailed information about the future through purely natural means, such as time-travel; and through biblical literary criticism the false idea that some of what is called “predictive prophecy” was actually written after the fact (i.e., after the events actually happened. (This is referred to as “post-dating.”) Of course there is no serious theoretical basis for time travel, at least not for traveling into the past (we are, of course always traveling into the future); and almost all of the major predictive prophecies of the Bible can be dated from before the events they predicted took place. [For example, in Isaiah 52-53 the prophet made over twenty highly specific prophecies concerning the details of the death of Christ. Most of these details could not have been “self-fulfilled” by Christ since they were initiated and controlled by others who had no knowledge that his death was to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and it is clear that Isaiah’s prophecy was written hundreds of years prior to Christ’s birth. In the collection of Dead Sea manuscripts there is a copy that is almost two hundred years older than Christ, and that is only a copy of much older manuscripts. (Isaiah is believed to date from the eight century B.C.) Actually, there is no evidence that any biblical prophecies were written after the prophesied events occurred—much less, all of them.]
So, we ask the question again, “How can we know the Bible is true?”
The point was made previously that the Bible is historically and scientifically accurate. It’s also true that the Bible records the future with amazing accuracy. These are things we would expect if God is the ultimate source of the Bible, but we must not confuse “characteristics” with “proof.” Ultimately we know the Bible is true because as the Word of God it is a self-authenticating message. What does that mean? It means that when God speaks, those to whom He is speaking will recognize His words. Think of it this way. If you use the Internet for business, you can sign a contract electronically with what is called a “digital signature.” That digital signature contains authenticating information to verify to the one receiving it that the signature is authentic. God, by analogy, does something similar. Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Have you noticed in your reading of the Bible that whenever God spoke to people, they seemed to recognize who was speaking?
God’s communication to man is self-authenticating, meaning that it doesn’t need any logical proofs. However, observational evidence such as mentioned above can be useful in combating false information about the Bible’s reliability. Hebrews 4:12-13 says,
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” [NIV]
God authenticates His Word to those to whom He desires to speak; for the rest, sadly, no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
(Originally published 2005 by Sam A. Smith. Republished 2017)