There are a great many reasons to trust that the Bible is God's divinely inspired and inerrant Word. To those who question whether this is so, we say: "Good for you!" The Bible itself tells us to "prove all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and gives us the example of the Bereans who were counted "more noble" than others because they "searched the scriptures daily [to see] whether those things were so." (Acts 17:11) We encourage every person to, with all sincerity and humility, search the teachings of the Bible until you are fully persuaded in your own mind concerning what is written there.
Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." (Matt. 7:7-8) The Lord also said that the man who builds his house upon the Rock is the one who "dug deep" to do so (Luke 6:48).
I have known a number of people in my walk with God who occupy their time reading every book and article that questions the validity of scripture; books that say "the Bible was written by men," and therefore is subject to flaws, etc. Meanwhile, these same people never bother to read works which present arguments to the contrary – and there are many such works available, if one is truly searching for answers. Yes, there are a number of seeming contradictions in the Bible, which serious students will tell you are not contradictions at all. Many of the twists and turns are there quite intentionally. As it is written:
"It is the glory of God to conceal a thing:but the honor of kings is to search out a matter." (Proverbs 25:2)
Some of my favorite Christians are those who do not at all shy away from arguments against the scriptures, but are all too happy to rush toward them with full confidence that God's word will prevail. Real faith is not "blind" as some critics suppose, but tests and proves all things for the sake of the truth. Let us begin by examining a few key pieces of historical evidence.
Dead Sea Scrolls
When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, many scholars and skeptics believed that once the scrolls were revealed, it would expose that the Bible had been dramatically changed over the centuries. But as it turned out, the very reverse was the case. The scrolls discovered at Qumran are dated about 100 B.C. and turned out to be nearly identical to the writings of the Old Testament that we have today. While there are, admittedly, some variations in a few words and letters of the text, all scholars agree that none of these variations change the meaning of the words in question. As the Dead Sea Scrolls pre-date the time of Christ and the apostles, it is very likely that our version of the Old Testament is exactly what they were reading in their day.
The Jewish historian, Josephus, describes the dedication of the Jewish people to the precise, unchanging preservation of the scriptures:
"We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures. For, although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew from the day of his birth to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them."
"Time and again ere now, the sight has been witnessed of prisoners enduring tortures and death in every form in the theaters, rather than utter a single word against the Laws and the allied documents." (Source: Contender Ministries
article: Archaeology & the Bible: The Dead Sea Scrolls).
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls certainly confirms Josephus' description beyond a reasonable doubt. While modern science and archaeology seem to be working overtime to cast doubts on the Word of God, their efforts always backfire and give fuel to the fires of faith. If anything, the modern discoveries dug up out of the earth seem to be the fulfillment of God's promise:
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God … I will show wonders in the heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath …" (Acts 2:17,19)
The fossils and ancient remains (i.e. "signs in the earth") found by modern archaeologists, while often intended to disprove the Biblical record, only succeed in supporting it. Time and time again, the shadows of historical doubt are overcome by the light of discovery. A classic example is the ancient city of Nineveh, written of throughout the Bible, especially in the OT books of Jonah and Nahum. As one author writes, "It wasn't until 1850 that Nineveh was discovered by archaeologists. It is interesting to read liberal commentaries from before 1850 because they had problems with believing the books of Jonah and Nahum because there was no record of Nineveh." (Source: bible.org article: 'Nahum' by Hampton Keathley IV Th.M.)
Many arguments against the Bible are based on information that has not yet been found. One will say, "Well, we haven't found a record of this city, or of that king, and so it (or he) probably didn't exist!" Then in time a discovery is made, and the doubtful speculation is proven to be false. This has been the repeated history of archaeology and the Bible throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, the Bible continues to be the chief resource of the archaeological and scientific communities when researching the ancient world.
The Four Gospels
While skeptics have debated for years about which should be considered the true gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are consistently shown to be the only first century accounts – even according to early enemies of Christianity:
"...Celsus, a bitter opponent of Christianity who was born early in the second century, referred to the four Gospels as part of the sacred books of Christians and already well-known in his day." (Dave Hunt, In Defense of the Faith pg. 62)
It is ironic that the writings of Celsus, intended to debunk Christianity, are among the leading examples that the four Gospels had already been written by the second century, and were not in contest with other accounts of the life of Christ. As researcher, William Paley puts it:
"It is extremely material to remark, that Celsus not only perpetually referred to the accounts of Christ contained in the four Gospels, but that he referred to no other accounts; that he founded none of his objections to Christianity upon
any thing delivered in spurious Gospels." (Evidence of Christianity, by William Paley, section IX, Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College)
Notice how Paley makes reference to "spurious" gospels which may well have existed by the middle of the second century, but were not looked upon as representative of true Christian belief. This argument was most ably defended by 18th century writer, Dr. Nathaniel Lardner in his Jewish and Heathen Testimonies to the Truth of the Christian Revelation, Volumes 1-4. Paley presents some of his arguments:
"That the books to which Celsus refers were no other than our present Gospels, is made out by his allusions
to various passages still found in these Gospels. Celsus takes notice of the genealogies, which fixes two of
these Gospels; of the precepts, Resist not him that injures you, and if a man strike thee on the one cheek, offer to him the other also; of the woes denounced by Christ; of his predictions; of his saying, That it is impossibleto serve two masters; (Lardner, vol. ii. pp. 276-277.) Of the purple robe, the crown of thorns, and the reed in his hand; of the blood that flowed from the body of Jesus upon the cross, which circumstance is recorded by John alone; and … of the difference in the accounts given of the resurrection by the evangelists, some mentioning two angels at the sepulchre, others only one." (Lardner, vol. ii. pp. 280, 281, & 283.) – taken from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College from an article titled Evidence of Christianity, by William Paley, Section IX.
Paley continues, using the testimonies of the earliest known opponents of the Christian faith, each of whom made repeated references to the four gospels as the accepted testimony of all Christians. In the third century, Porphyry was a central critic of the Bible. Of him, Paley writes:
"What was said of Celsus is true likewise of Porphyry, that it does not appear that he considered any history of Christ except these [four gospels] as having authority with Christians."
Then in the fourth century, the emperor Julian, while refuting the claims of Christians made continual reference to the four gospels in which they believed:
"Julian shows that these were the historical books, and the only historical books, received by Christians as of authority, and as the authentic memoirs of Jesus Christ, of his apostles, and of the doctrines taught by them…. He himself expressly states the early date of these records; he calls them by the names which they now bear. He all along supposes, he nowhere attempts to question, their genuineness."
Paley sums up his argument showing clearly that, in the early centuries, the men who counted themselves as enemies of the Christian faith, and who had the most to gain by questioning the origins of the four gospels, never did so:
"… neither Celsus in the second, Porphyry in the third, nor Julian in the fourth century, suspected the authenticity of these books, or ever insinuated that Christians were mistaken in the authors to whom they ascribed them. Not one of them expressed an opinion upon this subject different from that which was holden by Christians."
(Evidence of Christianity, by William Paley, Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College)
The above paragraph is quite significant, especially as it pertains to Porphyry – because Porphyry specifically questioned the authorship and the date of writing of the Book of Daniel. While his objections are easily overthrown by history, it is important to note that he never attempted such a tactic with the four gospels.
Despite such evidence, the neo-Gnostics have continually tried to shift the dating of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to the early or late second century -- in order to support their contention that there were "many gospels" written about Jesus and that the four gospels embraced by Christianity are no better than the others. The others, of course, are the Gnostic gospels whose teachings have always been rejected by Christians, since the apostle John openly denounced the Gnostic heresies in his epistles to the first century church.
In contrast to the latter-day scholars of the 20th century, who see fit to rewrite history based upon their imaginations, the apostles and early disciples of Jesus maintained that their testimony was based upon eyewitness accounts. As Luke tells us at the beginning of his Gospel:
"Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us …who from the beginning were eyewitnesses" (Luke 1:1-2)
Jesus told His disciples concerning the gospel message: "… ye are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:48) and would later tell them: "… ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) To this day, everywhere the Gospel is preached, it is preached by repeating the witness of the first disciples of Jesus Christ.
In modern Christianity, the idea of being a "witness" for Christ carries a different meaning. Today's Christian bears witness to what he or she has learned through faith in God's word and personal experience trusting in Him. But in the days of the apostles, being a witness had a very direct application. They proclaimed to the world those things which they had seen and heard, and said this to all mankind again and again. When the apostles spoke to the Jewish leaders of their day, they said:
"… we are witnesses …. For we cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard ….The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree …. And we are his witnesses of these things …" (Acts 3:15, 4:20, 5:30,32)
In the opening of the Gospel of John we read how "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory" (John 1:14), while the apostle Peter declared to the church that he was "a witness to the sufferings of Christ" (1 Peter 5:1). Peter seems to have some of the strongest and most repeated testimonies about being a literal witness. In his second epistle to the churches, he says:
"For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty." (2 Peter 1:16)
And when Peter spoke at the house of Cornelius and opened the doors of salvation to the Gentiles, he told them:
"… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all these things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up on the third day, and showed him openly; not to all people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead." (Acts 10:38-41)
When the apostle Paul reported the gospel account to the Corinthians, he deemed it important to communicate not only that Jesus was the Messiah according to the scriptures; but that the fulfillment of God's promise through Him was seen by many witnesses. Most of these witnesses were still alive several decades after the crucifixion (about 56 A.D.). Paul wrote: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present …" (1 Corinthians 15:3-6)
John, in his epistle, writes that he and the other disciples not only saw and heard Jesus, but touched Him with their own hands:
"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, of the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it …" (1 John 1:1-2)
The apostles continually went out of their way to tell others that this man, Jesus, whom they knew, was the real and living Savior; One whom they saw, heard, and could touch. As Paul would write to Timothy, "God was manifest in the flesh …" (1Timothy 3:16) In fact, even after Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to the disciples and said to them:
"Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke 24:39)
It's believed that one of the early Gnostic teachings was that Jesus was not really a man, but only a spirit. Some even said that when Jesus walked upon the earth, he left no footprints because he was not flesh and blood. To the apostles, such a teaching was not seen as "a matter of opinion" but a serious violation of the Gospel message. Scholars believe it was this heresy that John was combating when he wrote:
"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." (1 John 4:2-3)
While the Gnostics claimed to be the "true" Christians, it is forever important to remember that they were not eye-witnesses to the life and work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) were all written while those who had seen Jesus were still living. Had these writings contained errors there would surely have been an outcry from the apostles. They were not silent on other issues (i.e. circumcision of the Gentiles, the resurrection, etc.) and there is no reason to think they would have kept quiet if the first century gospels had been phonies or contained bad information. John was alive until at least 90 A.D. and would surely have warned the churches if Matthew, Mark & Luke (which were written beforehand) were flawed in some way. Yet no such warnings exist.
In contrast, the Gnostic gospels, which have received so much recent attention, were written after the first century – and were refuted even as they appeared. The so-called gospels of Thomas, Judas, and Mary Magdalene were all written long after these individuals had died; and could not be records set down by the persons they are ascribed to. In other words, they are not eye-witness accounts.
The Witness of Paul
Modern scholars often accuse the apostle Paul of "changing" the Gospel message, while others suggest that Paul never intended the church to take his writings so seriously; yet these falsehoods are easily refuted by the Scriptures. Paul was very careful with his teachings, which any sincere student of the Bible can recognize. In his letter to the Romans he writes:
"For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient …" (Romans 15:18)
There may be modern evangelists who develop unbiblical teachings to compel people toward faith in Christ and in God, but Paul specifically maintained that he was not given to such things. Again and again, Paul testified that his teachings came directly from Christ Himself.
After Saul of Tarsus (Paul) met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8) and was converted, Ananias said to him: "Brother Saul … The God of our fathers hath chosen thee … For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard." (Acts 22:13-15)
Paul would later reveal what Jesus had said to him during their encounter. Jesus Himself made it clear that Paul was His appointed witness – not for Paul to give his opinion about who he thought God might be, but rather to testify as an eyewitness:
"… I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee …" (Acts 26:16)
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul said clearly that his gospel came not from man, but from God alone; that it was in fact revealed to him by the Lord Jesus Christ:
"But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:11-12)
Furthermore, Paul's testimony was received by the original apostles as being from the Lord. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes:
"… when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave to me … the right hands of fellowship …" (Galatians 2:9)
Paul also appears at the first Jerusalem Council (Acts15:1-35) where he and Barnabas testify alongside Peter, James and the other apostles. Perhaps most importantly, Peter openly confirms Paul as a brother and equates his letters with "the other scriptures," signifying their divine authority:
"And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation, even as our beloved brother, Paul, also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Peter's words are prophetic, considering the manner in which neo-Gnostics and others dispute not only Paul's letters, but the whole Bible. Yet, while critics of the Scriptures come and go, the word of God abides forever (1 Peter 1:23).
"… yea, let God be true, but every man a liar …" (Romans 3:4)
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." (Luke 21:33)