Non-Christians are aware that Christians believe the Bible. However, many do not know why Christians believe the Bible.
The sad reality is that even Christians are often not equipped to defend their belief in the Bible; which has two major consequences:
- First, Christians who cannot defend their belief in the Bible reinforce the stereotype that Christians blindly believe things taught to them.
- Second, Christians who cannot defend their belief in the Bible often disregard or even abandon their belief in Christianity.
Here is a quote that has influenced me and how I respond to the question ‘Why the Bible?’
“I choose to believe the Bible because it is a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies, and they claim to be divine rather than human in origin” - Voddie Baucham
The Bible is comprised of 66 books written by around 40 authors over a period of approximately 1500 years.
- The Old Testament, which accounts for the first 39 books, was written at different intervals between 1450 BC and 425 BC.
- The New Testament, which accounts for the remaining 27 books, was written at different intervals between 45 AD and 90 AD.
In a sense, Christianity rests on the writings of the New Testament, and because we do not have the original autographs, we have to determine whether the New Testament manuscripts available to us are textually reliable.
To put the textual reliability of the New Testament manuscripts into context, it helps to examine the evidence for other ancient works. (The Bibliographical Test)
- Homer’s Iliad was written around 800 BC, and the earliest extant copy is from around 400 BC; which indicates a time lapse of approximately 400 years. We now have 1757 manuscripts altogether.
- Herodotus’ History was written around 480-425 BC, and the earliest extant copy is from around 1000 AD; which indicates a time lapse of approximately 1350 years. We now have 109 manuscripts altogether.
- Caesar’s Gallic Wars was written around 100-44 BC, and the earliest extant copy is from around 900 AD; which indicates a time lapse of approximately 950 years. We now have 251 manuscripts altogether.
If those ancient works are considered to be textually reliable, there are greater reasons to trust that the New Testament writings are textually reliable. Scholars Dr. Bruce Metzger and Dr. Bart Ehrman have come to the same conclusion looking at the evidence. It is worth noting that Dr. Bart Ehrman is a prominent atheist New Testament scholar.
In contrast with these figures [of other ancient works], the textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by a wealth of material. Furthermore, the work of many ancient authors has been preserved only in manuscripts that date from the Middle Ages (sometimes the late Middle Ages), far removed from the time at which they lived and wrote. On the contrary, the time between the composition of the books of the New Testament and the earliest extant copies is relatively brief. Instead of a lapse of a millennium or more, as is the case of not a few classical authors, several papyrus manuscripts of portions of the New Testament are extant that were copied within a century or so after the composition of the original documents. (Metzger & Ehrman, 2005)
The following is a quick overview of why the New Testament writings are reliable:
- The New Testament was written around 45-90 AD, and the earliest extant copies that cover the entire New Testament are the Codex Vaticanus (325-350 AD) and the Codex Sinaiticus (330-360 AD); which indicates a comparatively insignificant time lapse of approximately 300 years. Yet, that 300-year gap vanishes when earlier manuscripts are factored into the equation.
- We now have over 5800 Greek manuscripts for the New Testament, which is important because the New Testament was originally written in Greek. We have also recovered over 10,000 Latin manuscripts for the New Testament; the earliest fragments covering a substantial amount of the New Testament. Furthermore, over 9300 manuscripts have been found in other languages, which means over 25,100 manuscripts for the New Testament have been recovered altogether.
- The large quantity of manuscripts has allowed scholars to compare and contrast various manuscripts (textual criticism) in order to accurately render the New Testament. Only about 400 words out of 138,020 words (0.3%) are in doubt amongst the Greek manuscripts, and the differences are not significant.
- There are two primary manuscript groupings for the Greek manuscripts. The (1) Alexandrian text-type manuscripts are earlier and thus more accurate than the (2) Byzantine text-type manuscripts that come later. When we go with the rendering of the Alexandrian text-type manuscripts, the 400 words are clarified (Link).
- Translations like the KJV are based on the Textus Receptus which relies on select 12th century Byzantine text-type manuscripts. There is technically also the Majority Text which relies primarily on Byzantine text-type manuscripts (because the majority of the Greek manuscripts are Byzantine text-type manuscripts). However, modern translations like the NASB are based on the Critical Text/Eclectic Text which relies primarily on Alexandrian text-type manuscripts (because they are earlier and thus more accurate).
- Passages such as the longer ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20), the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), Philip's response to the Ethiopian eunuch wanting to be baptized (Acts 8:37), the Comma Johanneum referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (1 John 5:7) are ones that commonly come up in conversations. A list of such verses removed or boxed in modern translations can be found in Wikipedia (Link).
- Muslims and adherents of other false religions or pseudo-Christian cults will claim the New Testament is corrupt using the passages mentioned above. Yet, we know exactly what was added because of textual criticism and none of the additions affect the essential Christian beliefs according to Dr. Bart Ehrman.
- In addition to the earliest New Testament manuscripts (many partial manuscripts predate Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus), there are other sources such as quotes from the ancient Church Fathers that would allow us to almost reconstruct the entire New Testament. As Metzger and Ehrman (2005) put it, “So extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.“
Dr. Bart Ehrman has written a book called Misquoting Jesus in which he attempts to cast doubt on the Bible. He uses the 400,000 textual variants stat wildly out of context. However, in the appendix of the book, he himself admits the textual reliability of the New Testament. I’ll link a short article that demonstrates Dr. Bart Ehrman’s double-faced approach (Link).
Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions – he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not – we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement – maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands. The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. (Ehrman, 2005)
It should be mentioned that the total number of variations among the manuscripts is quite large, a fact typically emphasized by critics, something like 300,000-400,000. The vast majority of these deal with minor misspellings and common errors easily correctable through textual analysis and so they affect nothing. Even the small numbers of what can be termed significant variants are not important for any matter of Christian doctrine or practice. Besides, these numbers are hardly surprising given the number of manuscripts and centuries involved. For example, if there were 20 variations in each of the 5,800 Greek New Testament manuscripts we now possess it would be almost 120,000 variants.
Excerpted from Dr. John Welton's article on jashow.org (Link)
To those who are misled into believing that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, the accounts of Matthew and John are eyewitness accounts given that they were amongst the 12 disciples. The account of Mark seems to have been written using the eyewitness account of the disciple Peter (Acts 12:12-14, 1 Peter 5:13). Furthermore, the account of Luke specifically mentions that it was written after investigating eyewitness accounts (Luke 1:1-4). The following articles by Cold Case Christianity are helpful (Link) (Link) (Link). The following articles by CrossExamined.org are also helpful (Link) (Link) (Link) (Link).
Some claim that the New Testament’s intended message got corrupted early on. If that was the case, we should expect to find denials of corrupted texts, especially since the alleged corruptions were written during the lifetime of eyewitnesses and people who personally knew eyewitnesses. Yet, instead of finding evidence that the New Testament was corrupted, we find eyewitness accounts that corroborate each other.
Beyond the textual reliability of the New Testament writings, I believe the Bible is credible because it reports supernatural events that took place in fulfilment of specific prophecies. Prophecies, in this context, refers to the foretelling of future events by means of divine inspiration.
The Old Testament was written between 1450 to 425 BC, and Jesus lived on earth roughly between 3 BC and 31 AD. Amazingly, there are predictions in the Old Testament being fulfilled centuries later in the life of Jesus; some of which I share below with the first quote from the Old Testament and the second quote from the New Testament:
The Messiah would be born of a virgin.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, NASB)
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:25, NASB)
The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity. (Micah 5:2, NASB)
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, (Matthew 2:1, NASB)
The Messiah would be preceded by a messenger.
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3, NASB)
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2, NASB)
The Messiah would be rejected by His own people.
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:3, NASB)
No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? (John 7:48, NASB)
The Messiah would be betrayed by a close friend.
Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9, NASB)
But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48, NASB)
The Messiah would have his side pierced.
I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10, NASB)
“But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” (John 19:34, NASB)
The Messiah would be crucified.
For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:16-18, NASB)
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be”; this was to fulfill the Scripture: “They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.” (John 19:23-24, NASB)
The Messiah would rise from the dead.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. (Psalm 16:10, NASB)
As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore He also says in another Psalm, ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.’ “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay. (Acts 13: 34-37, NASB)
These are just a few examples of prophecies concerning the life of Jesus, but the one prophetic passage I think every Christian should remember is Isaiah 53.
Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 53, NASB)
Isaiah 53 tells us about the Messiah, and it is not hard to see how the passage, written long before Jesus’ earthly life, accurately depicts the rejection, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus. The fact that Jesus perfectly fulfilled Old Testament prophecies could not have been a matter of coincidence or manipulation. Some claim that Jesus and his disciples conspired to make it seem like Old Testament prophecies were being fulfilled, however, this is highly unlikely.
The Septuagint or LXX, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was used by Jews and the early church. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran pushed back the scientific dating of the earliest extant Old Testament manuscripts to around 250 BC. Amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls is the Isaiah Scroll which is a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah. It is dated to 356 to 103 BC based on carbon dating, and to 150 to 100 BC based on paleographic dating. Just to emphasize the craziness of the predictions made in Isaiah, looking beyond the earliest extant manuscript, the Book of Isaiah was written around 701 and 681 BC.
Looking at Daniel 9, the angel Gabriel gives a prophecy to Daniel about the 70 sevens. The seventy sevens are split up into the 7 sevens, 62 sevens, and 1 seven. In Daniel 9:25-26, we are told that the 70 sevens would begin once the commandment to restore Jerusalem goes forth. There are a few options, but the most probable option is the decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:1-8) for the rebuilding of Jerusalem which went out in 445 BC. That is when the timer began. We are told that after the 69 sevens (483 years), the Messiah would be revealed. Using the Jews’ custom of a 360-day year, the Messiah would be revealed around 32 AD. (483 x 360 = 173, 880, 173,880 / 365.25 = 476.06, 476.06 - 445 + 1 (no 0 AD) = 32.06). In fulfilment of Isaiah 53’s description of the Messiah, there is one who died for the transgressions and iniquities of others around 31 AD. Oh, and afterwards the temple was destroyed just as predicted in 70 AD.
So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. (Daniel 9:25-26, NASB)
This dramatic prophecy features certain things in very clear and unmistakable terms. First, the Messiah was to be on earth 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Secondly, after his appearance on earth he was to be killed, not for his own sins, but rather for those of others; and the death he would die was to be the death of the penalty of the law. Thirdly, the death of the Messiah had to come sometime before Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed again, which occurred in the year 70 C. E.
Excerpted from jewsforjesus.org (Link)
As Jesus was dying on the cross, He did not waver in His claim to be God. The guarded tomb He was buried in was left empty. If only the Romans and Jews produced the body of Jesus, Christianity would have been quashed. The disciples, and those who saw the resurrected Jesus, went on to die horrific deaths because they preached the Gospel. Many people die for things they believe to be true, but not many would die for something they know is completely false.
Looking at the textually reliable historical documents we have for the New Testament written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses, and seeing how it is backed up by the fulfilment of specific prophecies, I think we should value what was recognized as divinely inspired Scripture by the early church.
What belongs in the New Testament was identified through the process of canonization, and Dr. Michael Licona has a great video explaining that. As for the Old Testament canon, Jesus practically endorsed the Old Testament in Matthew 23:31-35 because Abel is from the first book of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible and is the first Old Testament martyr, and Zechariah is from the last book of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible and is the last Old Testament martyr.
So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (Matthew 23:31-35, NASB)
If a judge punished some crimes but not all crimes, the judge would not be perfectly just because I can imagine someone who punishes all crimes. At the same time, if a judge forgives some crimes but not all crimes, the judge would not be perfectly forgiving because I can imagine someone who forgives all crimes.
We as humans commit so many moral wrongs on a daily basis, and thus the Bible says that even with all our good deeds we are guilty and deserving of punishment before a perfectly holy God. But Jesus, who being God Himself, humbled Himself into the form of man to die on the Cross of Calvary. Jesus paid the cost of perfect justice for our wrongdoings, allowing us to accept His perfect forgiveness.
Your life is not the product of random chance. You are an intricate being created by a God who wants you to experience His love. Love cannot be robotic and therefore love demands the freedom to choose to love or to not love. God gives us free will so we can choose to experience His love.
When we use our free will to reject God, who is the objective point of reference for absolute morality, we are left with evil. God hates evil but He allows it to exist temporarily so that you and I have an opportunity to choose to experience His love eternally.
Those who reject His love will instead suffer eternally because our wrongdoings are against an eternal God who is infinitely holy. We cannot earn our way to God; but we can accept Jesus’ sacrifice, believe in His resurrection, and let His love transform our lives. Truth by nature is exclusive, and Jesus is the only hope we have.
that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; (Romans 10:9, NASB)
The Bible has so much foreshadowing and interconnections, and its message speaks into and transforms the lives of people. The God of the Bible is not dead, He is alive and He is still moving supernaturally today.
If you’ve read this far, please watch at least one of the following short (approximately three-minutes) videos to the end!