We live in a world where things are not always as advertised. We’re told that if we buy a certain lifestyle or vehicle, we will be happy and content people. We’re told drinking a particular product will help us lose weight, or having a particular mobile phone will drastically improve our life. And as we hear these pitches to our minds, hearts, and wallets we have to evaluate if the thing offered delivers on its promises. We are always sifting through presentations to evaluate if what is placed in front of us is true.
If we are honest with ourselves, we sometimes wonder if the Bible is true, or if it’s another gimmick in a long line of bad products. Further, the truthfulness of the Bible means something for our spiritual state. If the Bible is true, then we are confronted with accepting what it says and acting upon that. If the Bible is not true, then we can dismiss, ignore, or even deconstruct the Bible because it is not based on truth. Our relationship with the Bible, in many ways, hinges on the truthfulness of the Bible.
To that end, it’s vital for us to ask if the Bible is true—and then how do we respond to the Bible based on the answer to that question? Let’s examine the evidence that exists to help us determine the truthfulness of the Bible. As we consider the evidence, we should note that we are exploring two aspects of the accuracy of the Bible. First, we are considering the words of the Bible itself and then second, the content of the text as accurate.
Exhibit A: The External Evidence
The external evidence of the Bible is remarkable. Scholars have stated that the Bible was the “most frequently copied and widely circulated books of antiquity.” There are almost 6,000 surviving manuscripts of the New Testament that were copied between the second and fifteenth centuries. With just these copied manuscripts and their consistency with one another alone, a strong case could be made that the words we have in the Bible today were the very words that the authors actually wrote. No other book from the ancient writing has the sheer number of consistently copied manuscripts to match the writings of the New Testament. When you add the number of early translations and the citations in ancient church sermons, worship services, and books, the number of consistent quotations of the New Testament rises exponentially.
All of this tells us that the words of the Bible that we read today are the same words that the early church had and relied upon. The content of the Bible has not changed over the centuries. This is a good start, right?
We’ve weighed the reliability of the writing, but we also must weigh the substance of the Bible itself. Is there evidence that confirms or denies the events of the Bible as they happened? The case for the truthfulness of the Bible is strengthened within the disciplines of archeology and historical documentation. Within the discipline of archeology, the events and people of the Bible have consistently been validated by an archeological study.
For example, there’s confirmation that David really was a king in Israel, that Jericho’s walls fell down, that Babylon conquered and exiled Israel, and a vast number of other historical events recorded in the Bible. Unlike other religious texts, such as the Book of Mormon, you can actually travel to the places listed in the Bible. The archeological evidence to substantiate the Bible is tremendous and worth further investigation than we can cover here.
Equally substantial is the historical documentation of events and people in the Bible. Secular historians that were contemporaries to the events and people of the Bible wrote about Jesus, John the Baptist, Jesus’s brother James, and others. They recorded with accuracy the effects of the movement of the early church, even though they were not followers of Jesus themselves. Over and over again the evidence of the truth of the Bible’s people and events can be found in the historical discipline surrounding the time and culture of the Bible.
We should also not discount what the Bible says about itself because, after all, it’s an historical document that makes claims about people, places, and events. It’s a temptation to look at the works of Plato and assume He was a real person, but immediately discount the existence of Abraham or David or Jesus or Paul. The irony, however, is that we have substantially more manuscripts of the Bible than of Pluto’s works, and our manuscripts are dated much, much closer to the actual events of the Bible than Pluto’s and other Greek writers.
The Internal Evidence
Even with all this external evidence pointing to the validity of the Bible, it would help to look for some internal evidence as well. Does that Bible itself demonstrate that it is true? Several realities about the Bible point to the Bible being a book of truth unlike any other.
First, the Bible writers wrote as eyewitnesses and faithful historians. Luke tells us that he “carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:3–4, CSB). In other words, Luke did the labor of a reasonable, disciplined, and hard-working historian to make sure that what he wrote was credible and true. Peter stated, “We did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16). We can call them liars, or we can assume that they’re truly wanting to convey the truth about what they saw.
A second reality is that the Bible maintains consistency within itself with regard to both teaching and events. The message of the Bible is faithfully consistent and historically accurate within itself. Whenever there is debate or speculation about the consistency of the Bible, the error is always found because of misunderstanding or misinterpretation. This is not to say there are not difficult questions to ask about Bible passages, but you’d be hard–pressed to find half–truths, lies, and contradictions in the Bible. More often, these apparent contradictions are a difference in reporting or storytelling (in the Gospels, for instance)—but they are not lies or mistakes.
Thirdly, the Bible speaks to its own perfection and truth. Jesus affirmed the Bible as true when He said that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35, CSB). He prayed that God would, “Sanctify them [his followers] by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17, CSB). The Psalm writer tells of the truthfulness of the Bible, “The instruction of the LORD is perfect” (Ps. 19:7, CSB).
Ultimately, the accuracy of the Bible is anchored to the character of God Himself. If God is a liar, then His Word can be found to be inaccurate and full of deception. But if God is the very definition of truth, then His Word will only be true. The Bible declares that because God is true, all His words are true. “Every word of God is pure” (Prov. 30:5). “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in an earthen furnace, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6). Because God is truth, His Word is faithful and true (Rev. 22:6).
Responding to the Evidence
It’s one thing to say the Bible is true; it is another to act upon that truth. If the Bible isn’t true, then we can disregard and ignore the Bible without any consequence. We would even be right to critique the Bible as a whole.
However, if the Bible is true, then we are challenged to listen closely to what it says. We are responsible for believing what the Bible says, and acting in a way the Bible commands. If the Bible is true then to do anything otherwise is dangerous and leads to death. As the Scriptures say, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 4:7).
- F.E. Peters quoted in Josh McDowell, Evidence for Christianity (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 60.
- Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 383–385.
- For a further, detailed discussion of this see Josh McDowell, Evidence for Christianity (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006).