Rebellion Against the Bible?
While various strains of Christianity put differing weight on tradition and non-canonical texts, the Bible is indisputably the single most important piece of evidence for Christianity and for discovering how to live a Christian life. More than anything else, the Bible is the fundamental basis of the Christian faith. The Bible is of paramount importance not only because it provides a basis for a Christian’s faith, but also because it contains the living words of God by which a Christian can find true life through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Even outside of Christian circles, the Bible’s importance is unquestioned – for better or for worse its content has impacted the western world, and by extension all human history, in a profound manner. It is the most-owned book both all-time and in the present day and has been translated into over a thousand languages.
For most Christians and explorers of Christianity, whether to accept the validity of the Bible is a key question in their spiritual journeys. In this article, I seek to introduce some of the evidence that can be used to know what the Bible says is true—how a Christian or explorer of Christianity can have confidence that it is not some gigantic fraud or fabrication. This short article aims to give an overview of the most common arguments for the validity of the Bible. This is not a comprehensive investigation and by no means will prove the historicity of the Bible one way or the other. However, I hope the reader will find time to examine the evidence that I introduce and point towards, and investigate what the meaning of the Bible.
There are four general strains of reasoning that argue for the reliability of the Bible: internal consistency, archaeological evidence, manuscript evidence, and logical extrapolation from history. Again, I will only briefly introduce each main area of evidence concerning reliability.
The first issue concerning the trustworthiness of the Bible is its internal consistency. If the Bible disagrees with itself, then there is no point in examining external historical evidence as to whether the Bible’s claims may be true.
At first glance, it may seem like the Bible may never be internally consistent. Many scholars agree that the Bible was written by more than 40 authors over a period of 1500 years. The authors came from different walks of life—different occupations, different social classes, different educations. They included kings, tax collectors, and fishermen. Many of them never met each other. However, their writings are consistent in the message conveyed in their content. All contain the same overarching themes that emphasize loving God alone and living according to his commands. They speak of God as a creator who loves his creation but is also fair and just and will not tolerate sin. Among the more persuasive displays of unity are the Messianic prophecies throughout the Old Testament texts that were fulfilled by Jesus’ coming. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Other prophecies concern his birthplace (Bethlehem), his hometown (Nazareth), his genealogy (of Judah and of David), and many others including arguably the most important ones the Jewish rejection of Jesus and Christ’s being a servant through his suffering. Of course there are scholars who are non- Christians and so necessarily doubt the prophecies, so if you are interested I suggest looking into the work of George Davis.
A second argument for the Bible is from the evidence of the manuscripts. Many people have a high degree of bias against the Bible simply because it is a religious text. I have heard it argued that there is little evidence for the continued accuracy of the manuscripts of the Bible as they were passed down many generations. Doubtlessly, skeptics say, the modern Bible contains many errors and changes from the original texts. Truly, though, the persistence of the content of the manuscripts of the New Testament is unparalleled by any other ancient text. For example there are at least 10 times the number of copies of the New Testament manuscript than manuscripts of Aristotle, Sophocles, and Homer. And those New Testament manuscripts are dated closer to the estimated date of authorship than those other famous ancient texts. Furthermore, the 5000 New Testament manuscripts are over 99 percent similar in words—scribes have not taken liberties with the texts. Even so, people believe in the historical accuracy of the copies of other ancient texts much more readily than that of the Biblical texts.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was important because these scrolls were evidence suggesting the preservation of the Old Testament texts as well. Found in the caves ten miles south of Jerusalem, those manuscripts were preserved in jars for over 2000 years and include the book of Isaiah and some Psalms. The scrolls’ seamless similarity with the more modern manuscripts shows just how well the Old Testament texts were preserved over thousands of years.
A third issue regarding the trustworthiness of the Bible is the historicity of Biblical events. It’s a common myth that Biblical events are only reported within the Bible itself and so have little to no verifiability. The argument goes that there are no outside sources of evidence that corroborate the historical events in the Bible. And since the Bible is a religious book, how could one know the Bible is not a product of man’s imagination – a gigantic, albeit internally consistent, myth? Perhaps the strongest talking point of biblical historicity skeptics is the lack of corroborating archaeological evidence of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. Biblical historian Jeffrey Sheler notes, “Inscriptions from ancient Egypt contain no mention of Hebrew slaves, of the devastating plagues that the Bible says preceded their release, or of the destruction of the pharaoh’s army during the Israelites’ miraculous crossing of the Red Sea…There is not even any indication, outside of the Bible, that Moses existed” (Sheler, 76-77). Sheler argues that while it is true that there is almost no extra-biblical evidence for this event, the lack of evidence does not necessarily indicate the events did not actually happen. In fact, it’s not surprising that Egyptian inscriptions, which were generally advertisements of the kingdom’s strength and greatness, do not mention the event where Egypt gets devastated by its slaves and the great Egyptian army gets humiliated. Nevertheless, Egypt’s case of missing evidence that we might expect is really more of an exception than the rule.
Archaeological evidence tends to support the Bible. Sheler concludes because of the plethora of evidence that the Bible is indeed a reliable historical document. One among many pieces of significant pieces of archaeological evidence leading to that conclusion was the discovery of remains of the Hittite civilization. The Hittites are repeatedly mentioned as a substantial civilization in the Old Testament, with one verse even putting the people on par with Egypt: “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us” (2 Ki 7:6). For a long time, non-Christian scholars argued that there was no extra-biblical evidence for the existence of the Hittites. People argued that this was evidence against the veracity of the Bible. But, in the 19th century, the ancient Hittite capital Hattusa was discovered and excavated in modern day Turkey. Extrabibilical evidence for the existence of a broader Hittite civilization was subsequently found, including a tablet that recorded a treaty between the Egyptians and the Hittites. Other archeological discoveries have been made recently which continue to provide evidence for the truth of various parts of the Biblical record.
Logical Extrapolation from History
A final major argument for the Bible’s veracity is logical inference from history. It is a historical fact that Christians since the beginning of Christianity have died and in some places continue to die as martyrs for their faith. If what these martyrs believe, the Bible, is not true, then Christian martyrdom is only for the foolish. However, it is true that members of other religions similarly have been and are still martyred for their beliefs. That people would die for their beliefs by no means validates their beliefs.
Yet, Christian martyrdom is substantially different from those of other religions. The earliest Christian believers – the very propagators of the Christian faith – were martyred for their beliefs. Most notably, Jesus himself died. Neither Mohammad, Buddha, nor Confucius did the same.
If the very earliest Christians were fabricating a religion and knew they were fabricating the religion, it is rather dubious assumption that they would be willing to go all the way to die for their fake religion. One could argue that these early martyrs were insane, but further examination suggests lunacy is unlikely. For instance, the Apostle Paul, who was the author of almost half of the New Testament, was almost certainly quite sane. In Philippians 3, he describes his credentials as a Jewish Pharisee, most highly educated among the Jews, elite of the elite. The account of Acts describes him as a prominent member of the Jewish community before his conversion to Christianity. That such an educated, respected and well-taught man would be willing to suffer and die for his unshakeable belief in Jesus Christ creates a credible witness to the truth of his belief. At the very least, one must agree that any belief worth dying for is a belief worth examination, but even more so if the first believers willingly gave up their lives for it. This argumentation is further explored in CS Lewis’ book Mere Christianity.
There are many arguments for and against the historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible. I think it is impossible to find perfect evidence for one particular side. However, it is true that the Bible is a monumentally important text to mankind. People have died for the words in that holy book, and thousands of people of the faith have had profound impacts on the course of human history.
As Harvard students, the responsibility to seek the truth – Veritas – is heavy. If millions of people profess that the Christian faith is true, then it deserves investigation.
1 Some Christians (notably Catholics) might say that church tradition is also, perhaps even equally, important to the Christian life. I do not dispute that. What I mean here is that broadly, throughout all Christendom, the Bible is the most preeminent and the most unifying factor.
2 “The Worldwide Status of Bible Translation (2012).” Wycliffe.org. Wycliffe Bible Translators, 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <http://www.wycliffe.org/About/Statistics.aspx>.
3 Unfortunately, even in this introductory form I am not able to address all aspects of Biblical reliability. For instance canonicity of the bible is unaddressed here–what if some arbitrary group of people came together to put together selected texts that would be coherent the way the Bible is?
4 “When Was The Bible Written?” AllAboutTruth.org. AllAboutTruth, n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <http://www.allabouttruth.org/when-was-the-biblewritten-
5 The theological discipline which concerns the overarching themes of the bible is called systematic theology. See Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology for a well-regarded example.
6 Reinckens, Rick. “Messianic Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus
Christ.” Messianic Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus Christ. God On The Net, 1998. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <http://www.godonthe.net/evidence/messiah.htm>.
7 David, George T.B. Fulfilled Prophecies That Prove the Bible, Philadelphia: Million Testaments Campaign, 1931. Print.
8 “Manuscript Evidence for Superior New Testament Reliability.” |Accuracy of the New Testament. Christian Apologetics &
Research Ministry, n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <http://carm.org/manuscriptevidence>.
9 Sheler, Jeffery L. Is the Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of Scripture.
New York: HarperCollins, 1999. 125-33. Print.
10 “Hittite.” AllAboutArchaeology.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013. <http://www.allaboutarchaeology.org/hittite-faq.htm>.
11 And gloriously was raised again!
12 Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-31
Dabin Hwang ’15 is a Neurobiology concentrator in Winthrop House. He is a staff writer for the Ichthus.
Tags: apologetics, Bible, CS Lewis, historicity, history, love, religion, truth