The Holy Bible is the single authoritative set of documents for the Christian worldview. Without the Bible, there is no solidarity among people who call themselves Christians. Without the Bible, there is no basis for the Christian faith. Coincidently, both Judaism and Islam are also entirely dependent on the Existence of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. The relationship between Christianity and the Bible is complete and utter dependence. This can be relatable even down to the local church level. If a local church considers any other document to have authority over the life of the person and of the church, then that church must not be a church. Church by-laws do not have the authority that Scripture has. The only reason we have them is because they are required to operate according to human laws and required to protect the church from breaking certain laws of the state. The Book of Mormon has no authority. False translations of Scripture bear no authority. Personal preference and philosophies have no authority. Tradition also bears no authority compared with the Bible. Some of these things may be important to consider, but it is the Bible alone that is the authority for the Christian because it is the Bible alone that is considered to be the inspired word of the living God.
The Holy Bible is composed of two sections: the Old Testament, which came from the Hebrew nation, and the New Testament, which came from the earliest followers of Jesus Christ. Here, we will discuss the authenticity of both sections and the reliability of both sections. We will ask whether or not the Bible is a good historical document, and whether or not there are any contradictions present within the text of the Bible.
What the Bible claims about itself
Before we dive in, though, we should know what Scripture claims to be. This is by no means a comprehensive look at everything the Bible claims or every reference suggesting these things, but this will suffice for our current and brief study.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (HCSB)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Isaiah 40:8 (HCSB)
“The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”
John 5:39 (HCSB)
“You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.”
According to just these verses, if the Bible is true then it is the only word that has been inspired by God. There can be no other. To add to it or to take away from it would be to dishonor God, who chose to inspire this collection of documents and no other. To consider any other document to carry the authority of God would also be to dishonor God, who, again, chose to inspire the collections of documents found in the Bible and no other. This is especially so, since Timothy referred specifically to the Old Testament as he wrote his letter. The only reason the New Testament has any authority is because it is a record of the outworking of what had been predicted in the Old Testament. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament has no meaning.
Timothy also mentions that Scripture is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness. This means that if the Bible is true, it is beneficial for teaching, for training and for correction. When we work this out, we have to realize that preaching, if it is not also teaching, is worthless. This is why I am so dedicated to teaching the whole council of Scripture and to walking through books at a time. To receive a random verse of Scripture out of context and listen to the predispositions of any preacher through that text is actually dangerous for the church.
I read a recent news article from the Babylon Bee, which delivers Christian satire, that claimed a pastor had a revolutionary message to deliver during the Christmas season. The title was, “Jesus is the Greatest Gift of All.” 1 What is ironic about it is that this is the type of message we hear in most churches around Christmas time. It is the type of message that is expected. If we hear virtually the same message every year, we are guilty of not exploring the whole council of Scripture. The same is true when we only teach popular passages or popular topics. The church that doesn’t walk through all of Scripture in some manner does not benefit from the holistic teaching of Scripture. The Bible is beneficial only for those who would be corrected by it.
The Bible also admits its own limitations. We cannot be saved just by our knowledge of the Bible. Only Christ has the authority to save us and so it is only by faith in Him that we can be saved. The Bible does, though, claim to equip us for every good work. That means if the Bible is true, then we are not equipped for every good work if we do not live according to the text of the Bible. Without God’s Word, we are unequipped to live holy lives clothed in good works that actually honor God.
Considering these things, it becomes very important for us to know that we are justified in believing that the Holy Bible is both authentic and reliable.
Essentially, authenticity is accuracy of source. We might ask questions like, “Was the document truly written by the person or people to whom it is attributed?” and, “Was it written during the proper timeframe?” Most of the time, authenticity for any document is impossible to prove conclusively. I know I am writing this lesson, but I could never prove beyond any suspicion that I have written this lesson after it is published. All we can do for any document, especially one of antiquity, is prove that it is more likely authentic than not.
Authenticity is not synonymous with reliability, and so we will treat them in two different sections. If a document is not authentic, though, it cannot be reliable as a source. Reliability depends on authenticity, but not everything that is authentic is reliable. As we apply this to our thinking about the Holy Bible, we must realize that if it is not authentic, it cannot be reliable.
It is more difficult to track the authenticity of the Old Testament than the New because it is a much more ancient set of documents. Essentially, we got the Old Testament canon by adopting what had been passed down through the Israelite nation for centuries and what was already accepted by them as Hebrew Scripture. It had been passed down and accepted as Israel’s history and culture. This speaks volumes of authenticity because the people by whom Hebrew Scripture was developed are still around, existing even as a national people. The Old Testament canon was completed by around 435 B.C. and the oldest manuscripts currently date back to 150 B.C. (from both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Greek Septuagint). The current oldest and complete manuscripts date back to the 4th Century C.E.
When compared, no significant differences are found between the oldest and newest manuscripts. This means that it is more likely that even the most recent manuscripts are accurate representations of the autographs (the original documents). Added to this, there is no textual or historical evidence to suggest that the Old Testament is not authentic.
While a proper study would require us to walk through the documents in the Old Testament and measure the authenticity of each work by considering the authorship and date of each one, this is sufficient for our current purpose. With the given information, we can conclude that the current Old Testament is more likely authentic than not.
The authenticity of the New Testament is more readily traced because it is more recent than the Old Testament. Please keep in mind, we are not yet exploring reliability, only authenticity. All of the documents within the New Testament were written within the First Century C.E. Before any New Testament book was considered to be a part of the New Testament, it endured rigorous textual criticism. While we don’t have the time to discuss every component of textual criticism, there is one condition that the books had to meet before they were considered to be Scripture by the early church. That condition is known as apostolicity. Apostolicity is simply this: the autograph had to be produced by a someone who knew the incarnate Christ or someone who followed a follower of the incarnate Christ. This means that the books with the greatest degree of question are Hebrews (which was believed to be written by Paul but is now questioned by scholars), and Mark, which was written by a disciple of Peter (we don’t know if Mark ever met Christ in the flesh). Any questionable material was not accepted into the canon, and many works were rejected by both the early church fathers, modern day Protestants, and Catholics (Though the Orthodox and Catholic traditions have added what was not in the Hebrew Scriptures to the Old Testament.
The earliest list of books included in the New Testament canon surfaced in A.D. 367 and included all of the books that are in the canon today; about 250 years after the documents in the New Testament were written. This means that the collection had been in circulation long enough for its contents to actually be questioned. The copying and distribution of the New Testament, then, occurred very shortly after the autographs were produced. There was not much time for edits to be made or for details to be changed.
Added to this, the earliest manuscripts date to between A.D. 125-200. This means the generation that saw the autographs would have still been alive and any edits would have been discovered. There are no significant variations between these earliest manuscripts and the latest manuscripts that we have available today. There was also not enough time for mythology to develop within the text. Furthermore, there is no textual or historical evidence to support the claim that the New Testament manuscripts are not authentic. Therefore, the New Testament manuscripts are most likely authentic.
The Whole Bible
When it comes to the authenticity of the whole of the Bible, we can consider the number of manuscripts. There are more than 20,000 ancient manuscripts that have been discovered and examined critically. The earliest manuscripts are dated to about 100 years after the autograph and no autographs are available. Remember, we are still not talking about reliability. There are other texts that are considered by even the most critical scholar to be authentic. Caesar’s Gallic Wars, for instance, only has 10 manuscripts that have been discovered and the earliest manuscript is dated to about 1,000 years after the autograph is presumed to have been produced. Similarly, Aristotle’s Poetics only have about 5 manuscripts that have been discovered, and the earliest manuscript is dated to about 1,400 years after the autographs are presumed to have been produced. This means that both of these ancient documents, that are considered by most scholars to be authentic, have much less textual evidence supporting their authenticity than does the Bible. This will be the case with virtually any other document of antiquity.
The collection of documents we call the Holy Bible, then, actually have more textual and historical evidence supporting their authenticity than almost any other historical or literary work in antiquity. Just the evidence mentioned here is so powerful that if we decide or claim that the Bible is not authentic, then we must also decide or claim that any other historical or literary work in antiquity is not authentic. If we do anything else, then we are contradictory in the way that we approach scholarship. Furthermore, the shear number of years over which the Bible was written (1500 years) supports the authentic nature of the collection as a whole.
Here I have to add a side note. Any scholastic institution that refuses to teach the Bible must refuse to teach all history and literature because the Bible has surpassed all other literary and historical work regarding its authenticity. Even in secular schools, this becomes a historical and a literary matter, not a matter of mere religion. The Bible is the most important book to teach at any institution that hopes to actually educate concerning history and literature, and I think that scares some people. Without teaching the Bible, education is mediocre at best. The Bible must be taught well if we hope to be well-educated people. When the ten commandments are displayed on state property, they can be displayed on a historical, civic and literary basis, not on a religious one. The Ten Commandments, then, cannot be removed because they are religious, for they are historically, civically, and literarily displayed.
That being said, we can move to asking whether or not the Bible is actually reliable. Reliability is essentially the accuracy of truth claims present in any document. The Bible makes certain claims regarding reality and we want to know if we are justified in believing what the Bible claims. Here, there is a great danger. There are many people who call themselves Christians who will say something to the effect of, “I believes this because the Bible tells me so!” That may be good, but the follow up question is always going to be, “Well, how can I know that I can actually believe the Bible?” We live in a culture where all authority is questioned and where people are skeptical of everything. If we hear someone make a claim, we want to know that we can trust them before we actually believe them. The same is true with the Bible, especially for those who are not already believers. They want to know that they can trust the claims made in the Bible. So, we should also strive to know that we are justified in believing the claims within the Biblical text.
When we talk about Biblical reliability, or the reliability of any document for that matter, we look at three things: authenticity (which has already been discussed), coherency (whether a document is internally sound or self-contradictory), and consistency (whether a document paints an accurate picture of the world or not).
We will begin this section by observing the Bible’s consistency. Does it paint an accurate picture of the world we live in? First of all, in every account and in every story, the Bible accurately describes the major eras throughout human history. In fact, the stories in the Bible seem to directly parallel the major eras in human history. Hebrew structures have been found in Egypt. In fact, a tomb that is believed to be Joseph’s tomb was discovered. Inside is a statue of a man with red hair and with a coat of many colors. There were also Hebrew housing divisions in the same city. Egyptian hieroglyphs tell the story of foreign rulers who were in the land and who were driven out around the time of the Exodus. The Egyptians referred to these foreign rulers the Hyksos. Added to this, Roman persecution is evident in the historical records just as described in the Bible until A.D. 313, when the Edict of Milan was signed (which outlawed the persecution of Christians). There are even possible sites that have been discovered for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and these sites were covered in a layer of ash. While this is not a comprehensive look at the evidence, we can see that the Bible is accurate regarding many major historical events. As historical evidence is considered, the realization should be made that no event in the Bible has ever been disproven; not even a worldwide flood as described in the text. Again, we must remember the difficulty of proving or disproving any worldview and especially any historical event (refer to session 1: introduction and worldview).
While there are many instances where the Bible has been authenticated by archaeological evidence, that is not the case with every event in the Bible. Not every event in the Bible has archaeological evidence to support it. When we encounter these, we can know that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. After all, some scientists still try to prove darwinian evolution even though it has not and cannot be observed. There are many good scientists who also spend their time looking for extraterrestrial life even though there is no apparent evidence to support the existence of extraterrestrial life. If the Bible is accurate in what it has described and that has also been attested to in archaeology, and has not been disproven on any account, then it is most likely believable in the events that have not been attested to archaeologically.
The Bible also accurately describes the imperfect state of the world and of people. Where the Bible has made predictions and those predictions have come to pass, those predictions in the Bible have been accurate. There are anywhere from 1,800-2,500 predictions made in the Bible depending on how those predictions are counted. 1,200-2,000 of them have been fulfilled without any deviation. If the Bible is accurate in its record of history and accurate in the predictions that it has made, then the Bible is most likely consistent with reality.
So, the Bible is consistent to every degree that it has been tested and is testable. Does the Bible contain contradictions? Does it contradict itself?
There are about 40 different human authors spanning 1,500 years. All of these human authors throughout these 1,500 years tell the same story and that story does not change. Despite many attempts, no legitimate contradictions have been found within the collection of documents that together make up the Holy Bible.
In order to better understand the types of details that are proposed as contradictions by some, we can explore the Biblical text. We can read Matthew 28:1-8 and Luke 24:1-10. It is the account from two Gospels regarding the discovery of the empty tomb. In Matthew’s Gospel, one angel is recorded as descending from heaven and rolling away the stone. In Luke’s Gospel, there are two men in dazzling clothing who suddenly appear. There is no record of these men or angels rolling away the stone or descending from heaven. Are there any contradictions? Some would insist that there are. If angels appear visually to be men, then both are accurate descriptions. If there are two, then there must also be one. In order for there to be a contradiction regarding the number of angels present, the text would have to read, “There was one and only one angel.” When details are absent from one account, it does not mean that those details are not accurate. Rarely do we remember all of the details when we are recalling a story. There are no contradictions, here.
This is the case with virtually every proposed contradiction in the text of Scripture. Either this, or people have misread the text of Scripture. Difference is not disjunction. The reality is, most people who try to point out Biblical contradictions only point out differences in the recounting of events. The Bible is internally coherent, and this means the Bible is most likely both authentic and reliable. It also outshines every other historical and literary document in antiquity because it is more sound and is more attested to than any other document. On top of this, the Bible has withstood centuries of close and critical examination to a degree that no other document in human history has. It has withstood even the test of time.
Here is what this means for us and for every other person on the face of the planet: It is actually more reasonable to live according to the Bible than according to any other law or philosophy. In fact, if we want to know God, the Bible is the most likely set of documents to reveal God rightly. Consequently, the Bible is also the most important book to invest time in reading. Finally, it is reasonable for anyone to make the Bible his or her authority for life on this earth. There is one limitation, though. The Bible cannot save people or provide eternal life. Only Jesus Christ can do that.
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Belcher, Bradly. “Proving the authenticity of the Old Testament.” The Budapest Times. 2012.
“The Manuscripts.” The Institute for Creation Research. http://www.icr.org/bible-manuscripts/.
Rowell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Teology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
Allen, Matthew. “The Earliest New Testament Manuscripts.” Bible.ca. 2013.
M. Bietak, Avaris and Piramesse: Archaelogical Exploration in the Eastern Nile Delta. London: The British Academy, 1986
Ekeke, Emeka C. “PERSECUTION AND MARTYRDOM OF CHRISTIANS IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE FROM AD54 TO 100: A LESSON FOR THE 21ST CENTURY CHURCH.” European Scientific Journal, 8, vol 16 (2012): 175-90.
Wood, B. “The Discovery of the sin cities of sodom and Gomorrah.” Bible and Spade. 12, vol 3 (1999): 67-80.
Jackson, Wayne. “How Many Prophecies Are in the Bible?” Christian Courier.
Ross, Hugh. “Fulfilled Prophecy: Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible.” Reasons to Believe. 2003
1“Preacher Revolutionizes Evangelical Thought With ‘Jesus Is The Greatest Gift Of All’ Christmas Sermon.” The Babylon Bee. 2016.