Is the Bible True – How Do We Know?

Is the Bible True – How Do We Know? -

All of your words are truth. Every one of your righteous ordinances endures forever. Psalm 119:160

How can we know that the Bible is true? This page is the second of six parts based on an excellent series my church is running, called "The God Questions".

This series is based on the book ‘The God Questions: Exploring Life’s Great Questions About God.’ by Hal Seed and Dan Grider. Some of the study questions are drawn from the Study Guide in the back of that book.

The six questions are:

  1. Is God Real?
  2. Is the Bible True?
  3. Do all Roads Lead to Heaven?
  4. How Can a Good God Allow Suffering?
  5. Which is Right: Evolution or Creation?
  6. What Happens When I Die?

Important NOTICE: This page is currently still in draft form. I'll fix it up a lot more soon, editing it and completing it...

You can hear and download the sermons in .mp3 format, and the PDF study outlines for the series, from Springwood Baptist Church using the link below. They are listed in reverse order, from the latest/most recent at the top of the page, and the first in the series at the end of the page.

Important CREDIT: Most of this web page is based on the first sermon of the series, "Is the Bible True?" by Rev. Noel Wraight, with a few other things I've thrown into the mix.

The Bible is God actually speaking to us, in words. When Christians read the Bible, we think of it as God's voice actually talking to us, in the present, since that's the way that God speaks to us in actual words — through his Word that has been given to us and handed down through the ages.

But how do we know that this is at all true?

People Are Interested in Truth

For people who aren't already of Christian faith, why is this a question someone would be interested in? Why would anyone care if is the Bible true? In many cases people don't seem to care, and they just basically write it off as false.

There are two reasons why we should care, and why people want to know is it true:

1. People Crave Understanding

People crave understanding. Every single human being wants to know things — about the world, how it came to be, how we're supposed to live, and the purpose of our life on Earth. Children naturally crave to learn. And even adults often still retain some of that natural interest and curiosity in the basic nature of things, and the meaning of life.

The Bible says a lot about itself in Psalm 119. If you want to start anywhere in the Bible to read about the Bible itself, read Psalm 119.

All of your words are truth. Every one of your righteous ordinances endures forever.

The entrance of your words gives light. It gives understanding to the simple.

You are my hiding place and my shield. I hope in your word.

The purpose of scripture (i.e. the Bible) is to give us that understanding — about life, about God, and ultimately about his son Jesus Christ.

2. What If God Actually Was Real, and Could Speak To Us?

People actually do want to hear from God. Even those who don't believe in God would be open to hear from him — if he exists.

All the words of scripture come from God. God has spoken them into being.

All these words in the Bible are as if they are from God's lips. This gives the scriptures a personal aspect. God is speaking directly to us. When I read the Bible, I can hear God speaking directly to me, he's there with me, present. There's a closeness — this isn't just some great big guy going "these are my words.. listen." There's a personal feeling of the warmth of relationship in God speaking these words to me.

From infancy, you have known the sacred writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.

Every writing inspired by God {literally, God-breathed} is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction which is in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

So, Is the Bible True?

One of the claims the Bible has about itself is that every word is faultless. The Bible isn't a scientific textbook. It doesn't have much to say about rocket science, or brain surgery. You can't pick it up and use it to tell you how to build a spacecraft. It's not a biology textbook that describes the mating habits of South American sloths. It's not supposed to contain every piece of information about everything that exists in the universe (which would require a book almost as big as the universe).

But does it match up with things we know about science? Does it speak into that, or does it contradict? Over and over, we see that it doesn't contradict — the Bible actually agrees with scientific understanding. Or as we'll see, sometimes it's ahead of scientific understanding.

Even though people like to match faith and science, science is always changing. Because we always get new advancements, new understandings. So what we once thought we knew was true, science discounts and then proves something else.

But the scripture says that it's not just faultless, but it also remains true over the ages.

For example, for years and years, much of humanity thought the Earth was flat. But in scripture, the Earth is mentioned as a circle:

[It is] he who sits above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants of it are as grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in.

What held the Earth up? Most cultures had something like a giant mythical elephant, sitting on a giant turtle, or some equivalent of that. But the Bible tells us otherwise:

He stretches out the north over empty space, And hangs the earth on nothing.

The water cycle was not understood by science until a few hundred years ago. Yet the Bible explains it:

For he draws up the drops of water, Which distill in rain from his vapor, Which the skies pour down And drop on man abundantly. Yes, can any understand the spreading of the clouds, And the thunderings of his pavilion?

One ancient account of the number of stars in the sky gave a total of 1300 stars in the sky. Other ancient records have similar numbers of about a thousand. The most would be a few thousand, since that's the most anyone can see without a telescope. But scripture says the numbers of stars is countless.

It took a very long time before Western medical science discovered the ideas of germs and of washing things, and quarantining sick patients (to prevent the transmission of germs). In fact the first person to do that in modern times was ridiculed and ostracised — and lost his job as a doctor over it. The other doctors, thinking of themselves as "scientific", refused to believe in his ideas of hygiene.

Yet the Bible, written thousands of years before modern science discovered these things, gives very clear and specific instructions about cleanliness, washing, quarantining of sick patients, and the treatment and disposal of infected items.

Historical Accuracy Of The Bible

Many people assume because the Bible has been copied over and over, that we can't assume it was true. But the scribes were so "OCD" about how they did it, it was in fact copied extremely accurately.

From AD 100 to 500, the people responsible for this were called the (12:50 in the sermon)Talmidim (students/disciples). They had extremely complex laws for copying the scriptures. (i.e. the Torah). It had to be written on specifically prepared skins, from clean animals, and fastened with strings taken from clean animals. Each skin had to contain a certain number of columns. Each column had to have between 48 and 60 lines, and be 30 letters wide.

The spacing between the consonants, and sections, and books was precise, and was measured by hairs (or threads). The ink had to be prepared with a specific recipe. The transcriber could not deviate from the original in any manner, and no words could be written in from memory. So even if this was the 2000th time you'd written it out, you couldn't just write what you knew came next, you had to look at the page.

The person making the copy had to wash their whole body before beginning. They had to be in full Jewish dress. They had to wipe their pen each time they wrote the word "God", and then they had to wash their whole body again once they wrote God's covenant name, YHWH.

(14:12 in the sermon) Then from about 500 to 900 AD. A group called the Masoretes oversaw the Torah. And they took even more elaborate means of ensuring the transcriptional accuracy. They numbered the verses, and words and letters of each book. They calculated the midpoint of each verse. (A special marker is used to indicate this point in the middle of each verse in the Hebrew originals, as I learned this year in Biblical Hebrew class at Bible College. It looks like a short upside down tuning fork. You can see it here in the Hebrew version of Genesis 1).

So when a scroll was complete, an independent source would come and count the words and syllables forward, and backwards, and from the middle of the text in each direction, and make sure that the exact number had been preserved. Proof reading had to be done within 30 days of a completed manuscript. Up to two mistakes on a page could be corrected. But three mistakes meant the whole manuscript was condemned, and they had to destroy it.

How Well Did They Do?

Prior to 1947, the oldest Hebrew manuscript was from the 9th century. But in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. That enabled us to check the accuracy of the manuscripts we had from the 9th century, from ones that we had from about 100 BC. When they were compared to those 1000 years later, an amazing 95% of the text is identical.

And of the other 5% there are only minor variations, like spelling, like how in English we can spell "honour" or "honor", with no change to the meaning. There's only a few where a word was added or changed, but again the meaning was not changed whatsoever.

Photographic reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, the best preserved of the biblical scrolls found at Qumran. It contains the entire Book of Isaiah in Hebrew, apart from some small damaged parts.

Photographic reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, the best preserved of the biblical scrolls found at Qumran. It contains the entire Book of Isaiah in Hebrew, apart from some small damaged parts. This manuscript was probably written by a scribe of the Jewish sect of the Essenes around the second century BC. It is therefore over a 1000 years older than the oldest Masoretic manuscripts. Photo by Ardon Bar Hama / Website of The Israel Museum / Wikipedia.

So when it comes to the reliability of the ancient manuscripts, the copying was done very meticulously.

What about the Bible translations in other languages (like English)? In most cases, every translation is done from the original languages — Hebrew, Greek, and a few very short sections in Aramaic.

The Number and Age of Ancient Manuscripts of the Scriptures

What about the evidence we have for the Bible's accuracy, based on the number and the age of surviving original manuscripts, compared to other famous historical authors and documents?

This was the most impressive part of the original live sermon. Noel set up a desk, with a timeline of years, written in large black writing you could read from across the room. He compared different famous historical works on the basis of the number of years between when they were first written and the earliest surviving written recordings we still have of them — and the number of copies that we have of those documents.

There were several examples. Noel used small piles of A4 paper representing how many copies there were (most of them were a handful, up to a few hundred at most). For most of them there were hundreds of years between the actual events and the dates of the earliest surviving manuscripts.

Then, he wheeled in a trolley with about six full boxes of reams of reflex paper. Over a metre high. And explained that just the New Testament alone has 24,000 original copies, dating as early as a few decades after the originals. So it's the most verifiable ancient document there is, by a massive factor.

For examples (I'll go over these later and add links and more info and sources):

Caesar. Not many people challenge the reality of Caesar — his existence, and what he did. But the gap between when those historical documents were first written, to the earliest surviving written manuscripts we have, is 1000 years. And we only have 10 copies (which are, at best, copies that were made 1000 years after the original writings).

Tacitus. 900 years gap, 20 copies.

Plato, 1200 years gap, and only 7 copies.

Thucydides, 1300 years, and 8 copies.

Herodotus 1300 years and 8 copies.

Aristotle 1400 years , 49 copies. Not many people doubt the existence of Aristotle, or what he said.

Homer's Iliad. (Not Homer Simpson) — 500 years and 643 copies [some other estimates are higher, more like 1,500 copies].

Now enter the New Testament. There's a gap of just 20-80 years (depending on which part of the NT). And we have 24,000 copies of the manuscripts.

This overwhelming quantity of New Testament documents is appreciated even more when we realize that the Diocletian persecution of AD 303 sought to eradicate Christianity, including all of its churches and historical writings. The persecution's failure to do so is underscored by the United Bible Society's estimates that, since 1815, an unbelievable four billion Bibles have been published worldwide

It's interesting how many non-believers discount the Bible as historical evidence for anything. Yet they easily believe many other ancient documents — of which there exists as little as literally thousands of times less copies of, and the surviving copies were transcribed many times longer after the originals were written, when compared to the Bible.

The Bible and Archaeology

Archaeology doesn't contradict the Bible, it supports it.

There's a famous archaeologist [name and reference to be added soon] who said in all his studies, not once did he find an example where archaeology contradicted scripture.

But that wasn't always the way.

For example, the Hittites. Before 1906, there was no record of the Hittites. No-one had ever heard of them — apart from in the Old Testament where there's a lot of info about them, and how God's people interacted with them. For centuries people used the compete absence of any other sources pointing to the Hittites as "proof" that the Bible was false, and just made up like a work of fiction.

But in 1906, people discovered tablets that spoke about the Hittites empire. And from those, they could pinpoint some areas to dig. They dug, and found a capital city, and a many other cities that were part of the Hittite empire.

And Belshazzar in Daniel, until 1956, there was no non-Biblical source of information about him. So again, people pointed to that as evidence the Bible was inaccurate. [20 mins into the sermon approx.] But in 1956, they discovered a tablet which spoke about Belshazzar.

Other Secular Sources that Verify the Bible

Joshephus, Tacitus, Pliny were not believers, not Christians. They wrote of Jesus and his crucifixion. They speak of the Christians' belief that Jesus rose again, and of people speaking about how they witnessed that event.

See here for more about this. (External link.)

Many of these eyewitnesses (who are recorded in history as being eyewitnesses) later willingly gave up their own lives to execution, rather than deny what they saw and believed about the resurrected Jesus Christ. Why would they have done that, if the story was fake?

Unlike modern believers, who generally rely on a combination of third-party evidence and their own faith, inspired by God's Holy Spirit — the original disciples (and other followers) of Jesus were actually there at the time. So they would have known for sure, one way or another, on the basis of their own experience. And they were prepared to go to the grave, under horrendous conditions of torture and execution, rather than deny what they saw.

Often the above idea is dismissed by non-believers on the grounds that there are many other "martyrs", such as Al-Qaeda suicide bombers. However these weren't basing their convictions on themselves being eyewitnesses to a supernatural event like the resurrection of a dead person. And in most cases they're acting violently, and trying (and often succeeding) to kill many others in their suicidal attacks. And in many cases their suicidal attacks don't involve extended periods of suffering and torture for themselves, just a quick death.

And their actions are coming much more from a military type of mindset than a sacrificial and loving one. In a great many respects their motivations and actions are identical to military soldiers, for example the Japanese Kamikaze pilots of World War II. This is a lot different to allowing yourself to be tortured to death, while at the same time acting peacefully, and maintaining a loving attitude of blessing and praying for those who are persecuting you to death.

The actions and motivations of a soldier are a well-known, and very often repeated part of normal human behaviour within a wartime mindset. The actions and motivations of a truly self-sacrificial martyr, who's blessing those that persecute, torture, and kill them, is something else entirely. It's not a usual human reaction to persecution. It's a reaction that make no sense to most non-believers, and which requires the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit.

The Lack of Even More Non-Christian Historical Accounts

Some people think that the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection can't be true because there aren't even more non-Christian historical accounts of it than the few that there are.

However, keep in mind (and perhaps scroll back up and have another look) at how few surviving copies we have of historical accounts of things like kings, and emperors, and famous philosophers, and even entire empires like the Hittites. Also consider that ancient writings by non-Christians were far more focused on things like kings and emperors than on one tiny, to-them-insignificant religious sect out of many hundreds (or thousands) of other tiny, to-them-insignificant religious sects.

In other words, there was little reason for official Roman record-keepers to write much about Jesus (compared to their Emperor, etc.) And there are very few surviving records, compared to the number of surviving copies of the Bible, even of their emperors.

Also, in those days few people could write. Of those that could, many of them wrote for the Empire (as explained above). And many of the others were religious (and therefore wrote religious documents like the Old and New Testaments). Writing was a big deal, requiring a lot of effort and expense. They didn't have newspapers like we do today, writing about every event that happened.

Plus, several Roman emperors actively sought to destroy Christianity, and all evidence for it — which would have removed much of what non-Christian records there may have been. So it's simply not realistic to expect non-Christians to have written a huge amount about Jesus, and which still survives to this day.

Also, there's a massively big reason (for the lack of even more non-Christian writings about Jesus that date back to the days of Jesus) that many non-believers completely overlook. Keep in mind that these types of non-believers usually discount anything written by Christians as evidence, because "it's biased". However, in those days, not long after the events happened — when there were eyewitnesses, and then later, people who personally knew the eyewitnesses, and then, a bit later, people who personally knew those people — so many of those who were exposed to the facts of Jesus' miracles and resurrection themselves then became Christians. Which leads to the "circular reasoning" problem that anyone who really saw what happened, and then, logically, became a believer, is no longer regarded by many atheists as a credible historical source. Which clearly removes much of the actual evidence from being accepted at all by these types of non-believers.

In fact, you could use that argument to say that anything at all didn't really happen. For example, let's say that Queen Elizabeth I never actually existed. Any records that she did exist were originally written by eyewitnesses who saw her, and therefore they believed she existed, so we must therefore discount those records as being "biased" — since they were believers. Obviously anyone who saw her when she was alive is going to be "a believer" that she existed (just like the eyewitnesses to Jesus' miracles were believers in Jesus). And we're only going to count original evidence that comes from non-believers. Because anyone who believes that she existed is "biased" towards her existence. Any other third-party evidence that she existed must also be based on those biased (and therefore irrelevant) sources. So, according to this logic, Queen Elizabeth the First never actually existed.

That's exactly what happens in a lot of people's minds when they try to explain away the historical evidence for Jesus and for the Bible. The fact that there's far, far more surviving ancient manuscripts full of evidence that supports Christianity than any other historical event is regarded as completely irrelevant — because most of it was written by "believers".

Evidence Inside the Bible Itself

This section is still very rough and I'll fix it up soon...

From the Bible itself, there's things that support that it has to be true. Noel talks about the great many ancient (Old Testament) prophecies that forecast specific details about Jesus. And then the possibility that could have occurred by random chance as being so low as to be essentially zero.

esp prophecies. 332 prophecies about the messiah which have been fulfilled

400-1400 years prior to Jesus' birth.

about where he would be born, how he would be born,

8 prophecies about Jesus, coming from not only the Bible but also in other secular sources.

25:40 the Bible is written over a period of about 1500 years, by 40 different authors. There's 66 books in 3 languages. (mostly two). And yet if you read it and study it, there is such immense cohesion. And particularly, it all converges into the person of Jesus. Even from the creation account to Revelation, you can see words and scriptures that point to Jesus. There's all these stories from the OT and Jesus is the fulfillment of them. Jesus himself says that.


Luke 24 the road to Emmeus. put in quote

prayer starts at ~ 32:17 mins

30:45 find a person you know and read the Bible with them. what do you do?

listen to this part!!!

Also more here (external link).

Cover image by Billion Photos / Shutterstock.

See Also