By John F. Walvoord
Why Believe the Bible?
Though Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God, it is obvious that the world as a whole does not pay attention to what the Bible says. So why should we pay attention to what the Bible says?
What is Faith?
A nineteenth-century philosopher by the name of Comte held that we should believe only what we can observe personally. Though advanced as a practical philosophy, it is impossible to live with this definition of faith. Everyone in his daily life is constantly believing and acting upon certain facts that are not necessarily proved.
For instance, if we drive a car across a bridge, how do we know by observation that the bridge will not break down? If we board an airplane for a flight to a distant city, how do we know whether the thousands of workers who put the plane together did a good job, whether the mechanics properly checked the plane, whether enough fuel has been added, and whether the flight crew is competent to fly the plane? We have been able to observe none of these factors, and yet we board a plane with a good deal of confidence. In everyday life, faith is a part of the way we live.
But faith is not a totally irrational step. After driving over many bridges and observing others doing the same, we assume that bridges are constructed safely. After flying thousands of miles, we assume that those involved in the process of flying have done their duty well. Though we have only partial knowledge, we believe it is sufficient upon which to base our faith.
In coming to the Bible, we do not have all the proofs that the Bible is the Word of God, but we have many that are quite sufficient. A study of the Bible not only provides an object of faith, something to believe in, but gives us many reasons why we should believe what the Bible states. The answer to why we believe the Bible involves many facts that together provide an intelligent basis for believing the Bible to be a supernatural statement of truth. The Bible itself claims to be a supernatural book that God produced through human authors.
The Bible Inspired of the Holy Spirit
The authors of the Bible do not claim to be men of supernatural knowledge, and they freely admit that God is the source of their information. This is brought out in a central text that states, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The claim in this statement is that all Scripture, that is, all the “holy Scriptures” (2 Tim. 3:15), comes from God, who guided the men who wrote it. This was a supernatural process that human minds cannot understand, but the practical effect was that the writers wrote what was their thinking, but their thinking was so guided by God that the very words they used to express the truth were exactly what God wanted them to use.
Because of this, the Scriptures are effective in teaching spiritual truth about God, about morals, about salvation, and about our future hope. The Scriptures are capable of rebuking those who are not obeying its commands. The Scriptures also provide correction. They answer the question, How can a person who is not doing the will of God correct his life and make it correspond to the will of God? They also provide training, or schooling, in righteous living as well as teach all the truth about God, His righteousness, His justification, and the righteousness that He can provide for a Christian. The end result is that the man of God as he studies the Bible will be equipped thoroughly, as the Scripture states, for every good work into which God leads him.
The process of inspiration is beyond our understanding. In reading Scripture, however, it becomes evident that inspiration does not hinder human expressions. As illustrated in many Psalms, the Scriptures record the thinking of the psalmist, even his doubts and his fears. They state his struggles. All of this, however, is by divine design, and what is written accurately portrays the situation and helps one to understand something of the spiritual struggles that every godly person goes through. This also explains how various sources of information can be used sometimes by direct revelation from God, as would be the case in regard to creation and in regard to eternity future or in regard to history as to whether an account of history is accurate or not. Inspiration would assure that God would correct any mistake in recording history and in any other writing that might be used as a basis for information, such as the genealogies and other facts that related to Israel written by the scribes in the Old Testament. In all these cases, inspiration guarantees that what they wrote was accurate and true and that God would supernaturally correct any mistakes that otherwise might appear.
Inspiration does not deter a human author from expressing his own personality and his own vocabulary. For instance, Luke, who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, used medical terms because he was a doctor and showed insight into illnesses that other portions of Scripture might not demonstrate. God allowed this but guided him so that what he wrote was exactly what God wanted to be recorded. In other words, even if the author had freedom to express himself, God guided him in such a way that he never expressed what God did not want to be written; he did not leave out anything that God wanted to be recorded; and he did not state anything as true that was, as a matter of fact, not true. In defining the doctrine of inspiration, we may conclude that God supernaturally directed the writers of Scripture without excluding their human intelligence, their individuality, their style of writing, their personal feelings, or other human factors so that His own complete and coherent message to man was written in perfect accuracy with the result that the very words of Scripture bear the authority of divine authorship.
Because the work of inspiration is supernatural, how it was accomplished cannot be completely analyzed, but some help is afforded by the statement of 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The figure of speech is of a man in a boat who was traveling to a destination. While he has human freedom within the boat to move around, when the boat arrives, he arrives at the destination. He has been carried by the boat from where he was to where he is going. Likewise, the writers of Scripture, while they had freedom within limits to express themselves, were carried along in such a way that their product was supernatural, and it was the absolute truth, which God wanted them to record in the way and words that He wanted. It is only natural that people attempt to limit the extent of inspiration, and that unbelievers challenge its supernatural character.
In the history of the church various theories of inspiration have arisen. The orthodox position has been that inspiration is verbal and plenary, meaning that it extends to the words and that it is full in its extent. As this was sometimes misrepresented, additional words have been used to describe inspiration; it is not only verbal but infallible and inerrant. In other words, the Bible never affirms to be true something that is actually not true.
In attempting to discuss the issue, some have offered other solutions to the doctrine of inspiration. It has been suggested that inspiration is mechanical, or dictation, and God actually dictated the Scripture. This, however, is not what the Bible teaches, as the Scriptures freely record the author’s thoughts, his aspirations, his prayers, and his praise, and other expressions of himself in his human situation. If it were dictated, this would have no meaning and would actually be false. Still another attempt at explaining inspiration is that God gave the concept but the writers were free to express it in their own way. This, obviously, would open the door to many inaccuracies and misunderstandings and is not what the Scripture teaches. It is very clear in Scripture that the very words of Scripture are inspired by God.
Some offer the idea that inspiration is partial, that is, that it may extend to spiritual truth but not to historic or geographic matters. This, again, is not what the Bible teaches and is not an accurate description of inspiration. A purely naturalistic view of inspiration is, of course, that the Bible is just a natural book, but this leaves entirely unexplained the many proofs of its supernatural character as evidenced in the way it was written and in the extent of its revelation. In modern times another concept has been offered. Proponents of this view assert that while the Bible itself is not inspired, the reader is guided as he reads what God wants him to understand from the Scriptures. This is the so-called neo-orthodox position. This, however, is impossible to substantiate, as no two people will come up with exactly the same concepts, or truths, if they are allowed to put their personal interpretation on each text. Accordingly, the only view that the Bible supports and that really answers the problem of inspiration is the concept that while the Bible was written by human authors who had human characteristics, the very words of Scripture were fully inspired by God, so that they are infallible, that is, they never will fail, and they are inerrant, that is, they will never affirm as true something that is false. The statements of Scripture, however, are subject to proofs, and there are abundant proofs that what the Bible claims is substantiated by its contents.
The Testimony of Jesus Concerning Inspiration of Scripture
One of the most dynamic and important reasons for believing in the inspiration of Scripture is that Jesus Christ affirmed this view again and again. In Matthew 5:18 Christ said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” In making this statement, Christ is offering the most complete definition of how far inspiration extends. According to Christ, it not only extends to the words but to the letters and even to the smallest part of a letter that would affect the meaning. In the Hebrew, one little stroke, like an English apostrophe, was the letter “yodh.” This is the smallest letter. In other cases, simply adding an additional stroke to a letter would change its meaning. This can be illustrated in the English in the capital letter “F.” If another horizontal line is added at the bottom of the letter, it becomes “E.” This is what Christ meant when He said that the smallest part of a letter has meaning. If this is the case, then the Scriptures as a whole must be true because Christ declared the Scriptures were true to the smallest letter and the smallest part of a letter that would change the meaning. Believing the Scriptures becomes believing the words of Christ Himself.
Many other instances illustrate that Christ affirmed the Scripture. In John 10:35 Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken,” which indicates in the context that the very word of Scripture is accurate. In the gospel of Matthew a number of Scriptures are cited, claiming quotations from the Old Testament and affirming the accuracy of Scripture (Matt. 1:22-23; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 15:7-9; 21:4-5, 42). In Matthew 22:29 Jesus asserted that the Sadducees were in error about their denial of resurrection. He stated, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” In Matthew 26:31-56 Jesus again asserts that Scripture is being fulfilled accurately. In Matthew 27:9, when Judas took thirty pieces of silver to betray Christ, there is an allusion to Jeremiah 18:1-4 and Jeremiah 19:1-3. Then in Matthew 27:10 Judas used the money to buy a potter’s field, foreshadowed in Zechariah 11:12-13. In still another passage, in Matthew 27:35, the gospel writer mentions those who crucified Christ and divided up His clothes by casting lots, alluding to Psalm 22:18 where it states, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” Psalm 22 in its entirety refers to the death of Christ on the cross and contains many allusions to what would be fulfilled when Christ died.
In a similar way, the other gospels as well as the rest of the New Testament consistently support the concept that the Bible is inspired by God and, therefore, is a reliable source of divine revelation.
In His teaching Jesus frequently alluded to the Old Testament and quoted it as a reliable source of information. In Matthew 12:40, for instance, He cites the story of Jonah as an illustration of the fact that He would be in the tomb three days and three nights, putting His stamp of approval on Jonah and its divinely inspired record.
In Matthew 24:15 He talks about “the prophet Daniel” and “the abomination that causes desolation,” referring to Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 12:11. Whenever Jesus quoted the Old Testament, even though He was going to add truth to what the Old Testament revealed, He would, nevertheless, affirm the fact that the Old Testament Scriptures were inspired by God.
Though the New Testament was not written while Christ was still on earth, He predicted that the disciples would receive truth from God and would be able to have a supernatural memory concerning the things that happened, as Christ stated in John 16:12-13. The New Testament writers, like those of the Old Testament, were fully aware of the fact that they were being guided by God. In the New Testament 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes Luke 10:7 as equally inspired as the Old Testament passage of Deuteronomy 25:4. Because Christ so completely put His stamp of approval on the Old Testament and predicted that the New Testament would be of God as well, a denial of the written Word of God becomes a denial of the incarnate Word of God.
Internal Evidence for Inspiration of the Bible
Even a casual reading of the Bible will reveal numerous texts where the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God. According to His commands in Deuteronomy, for instance, God says through Moses, “Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you” (Dent. 6:17). Accordingly, all the instruction preceding and following this passage is equated as a command from God Himself.
An illustration of the power and character of the Word of God is found in Psalm 19:7-11: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
In this passage the Bible is declared to be perfect, trustworthy, wise, right, radiant, pure, sure, righteous, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey, capable of warning, and greatly rewarding for those who obey it. These qualities do not exist in ordinary literature but characterize the perfection of biblical revelation.
There are many other passages of similar character that in one way or another reflect the Word of God throughout Scripture (Josh. 1:8; 8:32-35; 2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 1:2; 12:6; 93:5; 119:9, 11, 18, 89-93, 97-100, 104-105, 130; Prov. 30:5-6; Isa. 55:10-11; Jer. 15:16; 23:29; Dan. 10:21; Matt. 5:17-19; 22:29; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; John 2:22; 5:24; 10:35; Acts 17:11; Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 2:13; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 3:15-16; Rev. 1:2; 22:18). The Bible makes these tremendous claims of being the very Word of God. Thousands of earnest Christians who have examined the Scriptures have found that these claims are fully justified and supportive of all the facts known to us.
External Evidence for the Inspiration of the Bible
The evidences of the inspiration of the Bible are found in many areas, and they serve to support the claims of the internal evidence. One of the important evidences for the inspiration of the Bible is found in the continuity of scriptural revelation from Genesis to Revelation. Though written by different authors, each of them independent as far as their own contribution was concerned, biblical truth and revelation can be traced through book after book, culminating in the book of Revelation. This, obviously, points to the fact that somebody guided the writers so that what they wrote would not contradict previous writers or be a problem to those who followed and that their writings would harmonize with the grand truth being revealed. Though the authors lived in different times, came from different backgrounds, and spoke different languages, the unity of their presentation is an indisputable evidence for the Bible’s inspiration. No other book of multiple authorship can claim what the Bible claims about its unity of revelation.
In its broad sweep of revelation the Scripture also goes far beyond the ingenuity or knowledge of humankind as it speaks of eternity past and eternity future, and it does so with facts that are beyond human investigation. Accordingly, the Scriptures record creation before people were created. The Bible describes the history of the world with prophetic revelation concerning the destiny of human events. Because about a fourth of the Bible was prophetic when it was written and half of these prophecies have been literally fulfilled, it follows that the prophecies relating to events still future will have that same accuracy and literal fulfillment as prophecies in the past. In the light of modern discoveries that are unfolding new aspects of our created world, it is amazing that the Bible, written so long ago, still fits in naturally and intelligently with all the important truths of science that are substantiated and has supernaturally influenced millions of those who have read its pages. No other book has ever been written that has had a wider circulation in more languages, in more cultures, and in more periods of human history than the Bible. Today, as in former years, millions of copies of the Bible are being distributed. As translators reduce languages to writing, the Bible, or portions of it, continues to be translated for the benefit of people of diverse language backgrounds.
The influence of the Bible has not simply been social, though it has affected the morality and spirituality of those with whom it has come in contact, but the Bible has also demonstrated its ability to transform lives. Millions of people read its pages and come to faith in Christ. They testify to the fact of their new birth, a new understanding of the written truth, and a new comprehension of God’s plan and purpose for them in the present and in the future.
The influence of the Bible also has in specific ways brought morality and purity of life into focus. The Bible has cleansing power in that its Scriptures point the way to the grace of God and His plan of forgiveness for those who come to Him through faith in Christ. The cleansing aspect of the Scripture was mentioned by Christ in His high priestly prayer at the conclusion of the Upper Room Discourse, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible is the final answer for those who are seeking the answers to the question of what is right and what is wrong. The Bible is also a remarkable piece of literature, embracing such wide subjects, including knowledge about God, knowledge about people, knowledge about human history, knowledge about morality, knowledge about divine purpose, and knowledge about future plans for the human race and the created world. No other book embraces so many different kinds of literature, such as history, theology, poetry, drama, prophecy, and philosophy.
The Bible also deals with the real world, a world of sin and death, a world of divine judgment, and a world of human attainment and human failure. The Bible does not gloss over man’s shortcomings, nor does it present the problems without solutions. The Bible is a reliable source of information concerning man’s present life as well as the content of his hope in the world to come.
More so than any other book, the Bible exalts Jesus Christ as God’s Son, and the constant references to Him in one way or another throughout Scripture provide a portrait of Jesus that no human author could write unaided by the Spirit of God. Throughout Scripture all aspects of Jesus Christ are manifest, including His eternity, His deity, His role as Creator, His incarnation, His future as the Son of David, and His ultimate place of honor in the Godhead. In the gospels Jesus is presented in Matthew as King; in Mark as the servant of the Lord; in Luke as a godly man; and in John as the Son of God. Though the emphasis is different in each of the four gospels, each equally testified to His deity, His humanity, and His possession of the infinite attributes of God. No other book could present so accurately and with such finality the person and work of Jesus Christ as is recorded in Scripture itself.
The Testimony of Fulfilled Prophecy
Though many facts presented in the Bible are not subject to checking or to proof as they depend upon the authority of God and His inspiration of the Scriptures, the Bible also records hundreds of prophecies of the future in a definite and specific way that sets it apart from any other book on religion that attempts to predict the future. As half of the prophecies of the Bible have been fulfilled, it provides a student of Scripture with an accurate insight into how prophecies yet to be fulfilled will be enacted. In the Old Testament the first prophecy of Scripture given to Adam and Eve—that they would die if they chose to eat the forbidden fruit—was literally fulfilled. When they sinned they became sinners who were spiritually dead, and eventually they died physically. The prophecy that God would provide salvation that would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15) was fulfilled by Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and who ultimately will crush Satan and cast him into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). The prediction of the curse on the ground (Gen. 3:17-19) has been literally fulfilled throughout history as man has struggled to provide food for himself and for his family. Throughout Scripture God predicted future events, such as the flood in the time of Noah (Gen. 6-8), an event now history.
Most of the tremendous promises given to Abraham have already been fulfilled. As stated in Genesis 12:1-3, a great nation has come from Abraham; his name is great; he has been a blessing; those who have cursed him have been cursed; and all peoples on earth have been blessed through the death of Christ and His provision of salvation. These great and extensive promises given so long ago are still in the process of being fulfilled.
The record of prophecies and their fulfillment would occupy hundreds of pages if recorded in a book, but each prophecy literally fulfilled is another testimony that when the Bible speaks, it speaks authoritatively and accurately.
In the case of Christ on earth, in His life, death, and resurrection, hundreds of prophecies were fulfilled concerning His person, concerning His attributes, concerning His words, concerning matters of His birth and of His death and of His resurrection. These prophecies have been literally fulfilled and give us intelligent ground for believing that prophecies yet unfulfilled will be fulfilled in God’s time.
Problems with the Doctrine of Inspiration of the Bible
Because those who do not desire to submit to the Bible and its claims have sought every possible evidence that the Bible is not true, certain problems have emerged, all of which have been answered satisfactorily by Christian scholars.
One of the common problems is the fact that we do not have the original Scripture writings, and what we call our Bible is a translation from copies of the original. This, at first glance, would seem to introduce an element of error in the Bible as there are thousands of small variations in extant copies of the Bible. However, when these variations are studied, it is found that practically none of them affect the doctrine of Scripture, and that in cases where the teaching of a passage is obscure, other passages that are clear make it evident what the truth of God is. For all practical purposes, the Bible as we have it, even in its translated form, can be used as if it were the very Word of God. Though the original copies of Scripture do not exist, we have many copies of the Old Testament and thousands of copies of portions of the New Testament. As these are compared in what is called “lower criticism,” or the attempt to determine the original text, it is possible with great accuracy to determine what the original writings stated.
An illustration of this is the book of Daniel. Until our twentieth century the most recent copy of Daniel came from a period of six hundred years after Christ. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, a copy of Daniel was found that was written a hundred years before Christ. As we compare these two versions, recorded some seven hundred years apart, and, undoubtedly, through the pens of many copiers, we find, amazingly, that there is practically no difference. Those who copied the Scriptures did so with such care that any small item that might have crept in becomes irrelevant as far as the truth is concerned.
The same is true of the book of Isaiah. The copy found in the Dead Sea Scrolls was much more ancient than any previous copy and yet it showed practically no variation with later versions. Accordingly, the accusation that we cannot believe the Bible because we do not have the original writings is just as wrong as saying that in a textbook where the Declaration of Independence is recorded we cannot believe it because we do not have the original document in our hands. In any publication small variations creep in, but the variations are so small that we can take for granted that any reputable book quoting an ancient document is doing so accurately. Actually, the Bible is the most accurate ancient writing in existence.
For centuries so-called contradictions in the Bible have been examined. This is especially apparent in the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—which give parallel accounts of Jesus and the wording is not identical. Scholars have gone over this for centuries, and the result of the best scholarship is the conclusion that no one knows enough to contradict what the Bible says. Because Jesus undoubtedly repeated His messages again and again and many of the statements in Scripture are condensations of much longer messages, it is obvious that the human author is given some freedom in restating the material. The important fact is that the Holy Spirit guided in all of this, and what was written down is absolutely true and reveals God’s truth.
An illustration of how problems can be solved may be found in the account of the healing of the blind man at Jericho. In the varying accounts as given in Matthew 20:30, Mark 10:46, and Luke 18:35, the accounts differ as to whether there were two blind men or one. The problem also occurs because in the Synoptic Gospels, Luke 18:35 indicates that Jesus was going into Jericho while Mark 10:46 and Luke 19:1 indicate that He was going out of Jericho. How can such a contradiction be resolved?
Scholars have demonstrated that there were actually three Jerichos. One was the Old Testament Jericho, the other was the New Testament Jericho, and the third was the fort of Jericho. Thus, it would be geographically possible for Christ to go in and out of Jericho three times without retracing His steps. When the further detail of the conversion of Zacchaeus is included in the story, it is obvious that he went back to stay in the home of Zacchaeus. Accordingly, there is no contradiction in that all three accounts are correct. Probably the most profound statement issued by outstanding scholars who believe the Bible to be the Word of God is that no one knows enough to prove that the Bible contradicts itself. The problem is always that we do not have all the information, and if we did, we would understand that what is apparently a contradiction is actually in harmony with the truth.
The Testimony of Faith
For most Christians the various arguments in support of the Bible as the Word of God are unnecessary. Their own contact with Scripture in connection with their conversion to Christianity and their faith in Christ and their subsequent fellowship with Christ is in itself evidence that the Bible is true and that its message can be believed. Such faith, however, does not discard intellectual evidences for the Bible as the Scriptures have abundant evidence that they can be believed as the very Word of God. But there is the confirmation of individual Christians who put their trust in God and found their lives transformed, people who have experienced God’s supernatural power as He gives joy and peace through the Holy Spirit. These elements provide truths that are far beyond the ordinary proofs for the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Christians walking with God find that by meditating on Scripture they have fellowship with God and that His truth thrills them and brings them joy and peace in their faith.
1. To what extent is faith necessary to practical living?
2. How do we exercise faith in our daily lives?
3. To what extent is faith rational?
4. To what extent is faith in the Bible justified?
5. What are some of the facts in the Bible that appeal to our faith?
6. What is meant by the inspiration of the Bible?
7. How does the Bible express God’s work in inspiration?
8. To what extent does the Bible rebuke, correct, and reveal God’s will for us?
9. What does the Bible reveal about righteous living and the righteousness which God provides?
10. Is there a human element in the Bible relating to the authors of the Scriptures?
11. Did the human authors of the Bible often express their own personality and feelings?
12. How do you define the inspiration of the Bible in a comprehensive way?
13. How would you illustrate the inspiration of the Bible by a boat carrying a passenger?
14. What is the orthodox position of the inspiration of the Bible?
15. What are some of the wrong definitions of inspiration?
16. To what extent is the truthfulness of the Bible related to the truthfulness of Jesus?
17. To what extent did Jesus claim that the Bible was inspired?
18. What are some of the statements that Christ made concerning the Bible?
19. What are some of the internal evidences that indicate that the Bible is the inspired Word of God?
20. What are some of the external evidences for the inspiration of the Bible?
21. How does the Bible in its revelation go beyond human ingenuity in the knowledge of man?
22. To what extent has the influence of the Bible been widespread?
23. To what extent does the Bible deal with the real world?
24. To what extent does the Bible exalt Jesus Christ?
25. How does the inspiration of the Bible relate to prophecy in the Bible?
26. Have fulfilled prophecies given us any indication of the truthfulness of the Bible?
27. How can we regard the prophecies of the Bible that are not yet fulfilled?
28. How do we solve the problem that we do not have the original Scriptures or writings?
29. To what extent are our present Bibles identical to those that were written by the original author? What are some illustrations of this?
30. How do we solve apparent contradictions in the gospels?
31. How does Jericho illustrate a method of solving contradictions?
32. How does the experience of Christians in trusting God affect their faith in the Bible?
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