Explore God: “Is the Bible Reliable?”

This is the sixth study on the Explore God Chicago 2019 series. The Explore God Chicago 2019 is a Community Outreach Initiative that seeks to answer seven important questions about God, faith, and purpose. You can find these seven important questions here. Previous studies on this series dealt with the following questions:

1. “Does Life Have a Purpose?”

2. “Is there a God?”

3. “Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?”

4. “Is Christianity Too Narrow?”

5. “Is Jesus Really God?”

Today I address the sixth question in this series: “Is the Bible Reliable?”

The Bible has an important place in the life and proclamation of the church. Various Christian denominations have adopted a statement of faith that begins with a declaration about the nature and authority of the Bible for the believer. One such statement on Scripture appears in “The Baptist Faith and Message” of the Southern Baptist Convention. The statement on the Bible says:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

An Introduction to the Bible

The Bible is the book of the church. Christians everywhere recognize that the Bible is the Word of God. The Bible is the authority in matters of faith and a guide for daily living. For Christians, this book which presents God’s revelation of himself to human beings is divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is the record of God’s dealing with Israel. The Old Testament is also a record of the mighty acts of God on behalf of his people. For this reason, Christians believe that the Old Testament is sacred scripture, with a special message for today’s church.

The New Testament introduces Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah of Israel and declares that he is God in human form. The four gospels introduce the person of Christ and his teachings. The book of Acts and the letters of the apostles speak about the early Christians and the spread of teachings of Christ throughout the first century world.

The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word biblia, a word which means “books.” The Greek word is plural, indicating that the Bible is a collection of books, written by several authors over a period of more than 1,000 years. The Bible is divided into two sections. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek. The word “Testament” comes from a Hebrew word, by the way of Greek, which means “covenant.” The name “Old Testament” reflects the Christian’s belief that the promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 was fulfilled in Jesus.

There are 66 books in the Bible: 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. There are 1189 chapters in the Bible. There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament and 260 chapters in the New Testament. There are 31,103 verses in both the Old and New Testaments.

Affirmations about the Bible

The people of Israel loved their Scriptures. They believed that their Bible, the Torah, was God’s teaching designed to help Israel to be the people of God and to live a godly life in the world. To the Israelites, the Torah was given to them to make them wise and guide them through life. When God commissioned Joshua to be the new leader of Israel, God told Joshua: “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do” (Joshua 1:8 NLT).

The psalmist describes his love for this book of instruction,

The instructions of the LORD are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The commandments of the LORD are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are clear, giving insight for living. Reverence for the LORD is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the LORD are true; each one is fair. They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb. They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them (Psalm 19:7-11 NLT).

When the apostle Paul wrote to his assistant Timothy, Paul emphasized the importance of the Scripture as a guide to believers to help them live their daily lives. Paul wrote to Timothy,

You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17 NLT).

The Reliability of the Bible

Many people question the reliability of the Bible. Since the Bible was written over a period of 1,000 years, since the last book was written 2,000 years ago, and since the Bible was written by people who lived in a different culture and spoke a different language, people today struggle with the message of the Bible and whether the Bible is a reliable document.

Three important factors can assure people of the reliability of the Bible. The first factor is the concept of inspiration. Inspiration is the action of God, leading to the writing and preservation of the revealed word into what is called the Bible. Inspiration is the leading of men and women by the Spirit of God to write and interpret the events in the life of Israel so that these events might be transmitted to future generations.

The second factor is the concept of revelation. Revelation is the process by which God made himself known to the people of Israel through visions, through the spoken word, and through his mighty deeds performed on their behalf. The Bible is a series of books in which men and women give a written witness to this encounter with God.

Most Christians believe that men and women wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they encountered God in their everyday living. They wrote letters, oracles, songs, hymns, poems, proverbs, and God used their writings to reveal himself to them and to us.

The third factor is the study and preservation of biblical manuscripts. We do not have any of the original manuscripts of any book of the Bible. Until 1947, the oldest complete manuscripts of the Old Testament available were dated to 900 A.D. These manuscripts were written and preserved by a group of Jewish scribes called the Masoretes. The text preserved by these scribes is called the Masoretic Text (or the MT).

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 at Qumran, a place where a group of people called the Essenes lived. The manuscripts are dated to 150-100 B.C. Every book of the Old Testament, except Esther, was found at Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls are important in the study of the text of the Old Testament because they are one thousand years older than the text of the Masoretes.

Over the centuries, thousands of scholars have worked hard to study the surviving manuscripts of the Bible. After the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, scholars compared them with other manuscripts and they discovered that the scribes who copied the manuscripts did so faithfully and thus, they were able to demonstrate the reliability of the existing manuscripts. Although the Bible was written more than 2,000 years ago, scholars have concluded that the manuscripts written in Hebrew and Greek preserved the ancient religious and historical traditions of Israel and of the Christian church.

Conclusion

Some people struggle with the relevancy of the Bible because, as they read the Bible, they discover within its pages a message that is inspiring, teachings that are profound, and words that speak to their hearts and to their spiritual condition. But, at the same time they also find many things that are strange, teachings that seem to be irrelevant, and actions and behaviors that offend their moral sensibilities. Some of the reading of the Old Testament may not be edifying. Some of the things that God does seem to contradict the teachings of Christ. Thus, some people tend to reject the Bible as irrelevant or offensive. Such a view, however, does not reflect the views of the earlier Christians.

Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God. This description of the Bible includes the ideas of authority and reliability of the Bible. From the beginning, Christians believed that the Bible was reliable in its teaching about God, Christ, and the Christian life. Christians believe that, although the Bible was written by men, the true author of the Bible is God. This means that the authors of the biblical books wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit of God in order to communicate God’s will to men and women of all ages. The divine author of the Bible spoke through the human authors of the Bible.

The supreme revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ validates the authority of the Bible. This is what the author of the book of Hebrews says: “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

All we know about God, all we know about Jesus, faith, and life after death comes from the Bible. This is the reason the Bible continues to be relevant in the twenty-first century. The Bible speaks about eternal issues, the issues of life and death. The reliability of the Bible is based on how the teachings of the Old Testament find fulfillment in the person and ministry of Christ.

The Bible then reveals God’s principles that are relevant in its application to daily life. The reliability of the Bible can be found in the concept of inspiration, of revelation, and in the study of the manuscripts. However, the reliability of the Bible is not imposed upon people, but it is discovered when people take its teaching seriously and allow the Bible’s teaching to change their lives. A transformed life is the best affirmation that the Bible is reliable to teach people what is true and to help them realize what is wrong in their lives. Th teaching of the Bible corrects people when they are wrong and teaches them to do what is right (2 Timothy 3:16).

Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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