We have seen that the Bible has been meticulously transmitted and accurately translated so that what we hold in our hands today is extremely faithful to the original texts. But how do we know that the original texts are true? And how do we validate the Bible’s claim that it is the Word of God?
How do we assess the accuracy of any ancient historical document? We could compare the text with what actually happened historically. But how do we know what actually happened historically? We know this from ancient historical documents. So there is at least some unavoidable circularity to such issues. Yet, not all ancient documents are equal. Some are more authentic than others; they were written closer in time to the events they describe and they have more copies than others. Generally, we judge the less authentic documents by comparing them with the more authentic documents. Eyewitness reports naturally carry more weight than second-hand accounts. When different documents with different authors agree on the details of historical events, we can have confidence that the events were recorded with accuracy.
For the most part, when an ancient text records an historical event with detail, and we find no other texts that dispute the details, we accept the record as accurate. If it were not, it would have been refuted by other literature at the time and would not likely be copied. Consider this hypothetical example. Suppose I wanted to rewrite history and claim that George W. Bush did not actually become president of the United States, but that Al Gore was president from 2001-2009. Imagine that I wrote a book that supposedly documented all the fictional details of Gore’s presidency. Would this book become accepted history? Of course not. The hundreds of millions of citizens who lived during the period of 2001-2009 would not be fooled because their own experiences have informed them otherwise. No doubt people would speak out against the book and publish refutations.
Such a book of false history would clash with all the historically accurate literature, and would certainly not catch on. On the chance that a copy of this book survived until the next century, future historians would not be fooled by it. They would see that the book contradicted the far more numerous and well-established literature from the time period. By the same logic, it would be totally unreasonable to think that the history recorded in, for example, 2 Chronicles is simply made up. The people who lived at the time would have spoken out against any false claims. False tales of history would not show agreement with other records.
The Bible is not merely a single book, but a collection of books. And these books written by various authors show agreement in historical details. The historical event recorded in 2 Kings 20:1-11 is also recorded in Isaiah 38:1-8 and 2 Chronicles 32:24. Three different authors recorded this fascinating part of history, each emphasizing different details and yet with full agreement. There can be no reasonable doubt that this is an accurate account. Since the Bible is the most authenticated collection of books of antiquity, if the Bible were not accurate, then we couldn’t trust any other ancient document, and we could know nothing about the ancient world.
People sometimes appeal to ancient documents beyond Scripture as evidence that the Bible is true, and yes, there are many such documents. The Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) confirmed a number of biblical claims, such as the impressive fortifications of ancient Babylon. The historian Flavius Josephus confirmed many of the events of the Bible by drawing from other documents available at the time, and he was an eyewitness to the events of the early church. His publications included references to Jesus. Many other examples are available.
These documents do verify biblical history. But there is a certain impropriety in using such documents to judge the accuracy of the Bible, since the Bible is far more authenticated than those documents. Josephus researched and compiled the ancient literature surrounding events of the Old Testament, but unlike the biblical authors he was not an eyewitness to those events. Furthermore, the oldest extant manuscripts of Josephus date to the tenth and eleventh centuries, a thousand years after the texts were originally written, whereas the earliest New Testament documents date to within one hundred years of the original autographs. To be rational, we therefore ought to judge the accuracy of these less authentic works by comparing them to the Bible.
Archeology is another tool that has repeatedly confirmed the accuracy of the Bible. Archeological discoveries continue to be a source of embarrassment to Bible critics. The five cities of the plains mentioned in Genesis 14:2 were once regarded as myths by the critics, until the discovery of the Ebla Atlas in 1975. These tablets listed several geographic locations including two of the cities of the plains: Admah and Sodom. Since then, Sodom and Gomorrah have been located and excavated. The evidence clearly shows their destruction by fire, just as the Bible states (Genesis 19:24, 28). Many other discoveries confirm the events listed in Scripture: the Battle of Jericho, the Battle of Ai, and so forth. We plan to cover these topics in greater depth in future articles. The bottom line is that we have every reason to trust the history recorded in the Bible, and no reason whatsoever to doubt it.
But does the historical accuracy of the Bible prove that it is divinely inspired? After all, there are other historical documents that are accurate that are not divinely inspired. Of course, those other documents don’t generally claim to be inspired. The Bible does. But how can we know that the claim is true?
First, we should ask what the claim to inspiration actually means, because many people misunderstand the issue. We often use the word “inspired” to indicate an emotional stirring or an intellectual seed that prompts us do something. A person having visited the majestic Rocky Mountains might be “inspired” to write a song about them, or create a painting of them. The emotional experience prompts the person to do something, but that something proceeds from his or her own thoughts and ideas. This is not what the Bible means by “inspiration.”
One of the Bible’s claims to its own inspiration is found in 2 Timothy 3:16 which states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The Greek word that is here translated “inspired” is “theopneustos” and literally means “God-breathed.” This word picture indicates that every writing of Scripture is as the breath of God; it is as if it had been spoken by His own mouth (Matthew 4:4). As such, every passage of Scripture is fully endorsed by God. Hence, the Bible is rightly called the “Word of God” (e.g. Hebrews 13:7, 4:12; Philippians 1:14; Acts 4:31, 6:2,7, 8:14, 11:1, 13:5,7,46, 17:13). Since the Bible is God’s Word, it is exactly what He wants it to be, as if He had spoken it Himself. This is why it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
Yet, God used men to write His Word. How does that work? The Bible itself gives a description of this process in 2 Peter 1:21 which states, “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The Greek word here translated “moved” is “phero” and might most literally be translated as “carried along.” It is the same word used to describe the way a sailing ship is carried along by the wind (e.g. Acts 27:17). So, God used men to write exactly what He wanted them to write as these men were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit. That’s not a problem for an all-powerful God.
The astonishing thing is that God even used the styles and personalities of the men themselves as they penned Scripture. The writings of the Apostle Paul, for example, are somewhat different in style from those of Peter or John. Apparently, God did not circumvent or overpower their own personalities as they penned Scripture; rather He used their personalities. But how could God ensure that these people wrote exactly what He wanted them to write if He let them use their own style? This is easily answered when we remember that God also is the one who gave these author’s their personalities in the first place. The Lord sovereignly controls all of history such that each person gained the exact knowledge and experiences he needed to write exactly what God wanted him to write. That may seem like too much to keep track of for any human – and it is. But it is not a problem for an all-knowing, all-powerful God.
So the inspiration of the Bible means that it is exactly what God planned it to be. What the Bible says is what God says because it is His Word. That’s the claim. But we might then ask, “how do we know that this claim is true?”
The first relevant factor is that it says it is. The Bible claims to be God’s Word. Some critics mindlessly dismiss the claim without realizing their own inconsistency. Critics have written to me and stated something like this, “Dr. Lisle, in your article, you say that the Bible’s claim to be God’s Word is evidence that it is. That’s ridiculous!” Did you catch the inconsistency? They wrote, “Dr. Lisle, in your article…” But how do they know it is my article? They didn’t see me write it! The only evidence they have that I wrote the article is that the article itself claims to have been written by me! And they have accepted that claim, yet they reject the Bible’s claim regarding its authorship!
How do we know who wrote any particular book? Most modern books list their author, often on the front or back cover or even on the spine. And we generally accept that the author of a book is the person that the book itself claims to be its author, without any additional evidence whatsoever. Now I will be the first to acknowledge that this does not – by itself – absolutely prove that the author is who the book claims. But my point is that we generally accept what the book says about its own authorship unless we have compelling evidence to the contrary. And so, rationally, we ought to accept the Bible’s claim that it is the Word of God unless and until we have compelling evidence to the contrary – which I would argue we do not have.
How else could God have indicated that the Bible is His Word except for Him to include that information in the Bible itself? I suppose He could have attached a sticky note to the Bible that endorses it as His Word: “This is my Word. – God.” But then how can we be sure that God wrote the sticky note? He would have to attach another sticky note, “By the way, I also wrote the sticky note. – God.” And then of course we’ll have to ask how we know God wrote the second note; so He will have to add another, and so on forever. So that’s not helpful. Alternatively, God could speak in an audible voice from heaven, “The Bible really is my Word!” But then of course, someone will have to ask, “How do we really know that the voice is God’s?”
Some critics ask, “Why doesn’t God just come to Earth, do some miracles to prove that He is God, and tell us plainly that the Bible is His Word?” Of course, He did just that; people crucified Him. Yes, Jesus endorsed the Bible as the very Word of God and lived by it (Matthew 4:4). He demonstrated that He was who He claimed to be and did so in many ways, including by rising from the dead. That should convince any reasonable person, but it didn’t (Matthew 28:17, Luke 16:30-31). Why? The answer is obvious: most people are not reasonable. People have inherited a sin-nature from Adam and are thus inherently wicked. In our sin we desperately do not want the Bible to be the true Word of God because it is so contrary to the deplorable way we wish to live.
So it makes the most sense for God to include His claim that the Bible is His Word in the Bible itself, which is exactly what He did. Rational people accept such self-attesting claims unless and until there is good evidence to the contrary. But with the Bible, there is no evidence to the contrary. Quite the reverse, many lines of evidence confirm the Bible’s status as the Word of God.
Consider that God used multiple authors from multiple time periods so that their consistency shows that one mind is ultimately behind what they wrote. Since God sovereignly controls history, we would expect that His Word would be uniquely protected above other ancient literature. And we have already seen that this is the case; the Bible is the most authentic work of the ancient world. The Bible contains information that only a God who is beyond time could know, such as the details of future events. For example, in Daniel 2:37-45, the Lord described in advance the next three Empires (the Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires) and their eventual destruction. These are not vague generalities, but detailed accounts of future events. As to historical events, God used primarily eyewitnesses to the events recorded in Scripture so that other eyewitnesses could verify its accuracy.
Furthermore, the Bible makes knowledge possible (Proverbs 1:7). That is, the description of God, man, and the universe that is provided in the Bible is the only one in which human beings can actually know anything about anything. I have written about this in my book The Ultimate Proof of Creation, and will address this topic in greater detail in upcoming articles. The point I want to make here is that it is entirely reasonable to accept the Bible as God’s Word, and entirely unreasonable to reject its self-authenticating claims. The problem is not that the Bible isn’t provable; the problem is that people are not persuadable. Ironically, this too is confirmation of Scripture (Luke 16:30-31; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 1:18-20; John 3:19).
But how do we know for certain which books should be included in the Bible? Can we be certain that none have been left out? And what about other books like the Quran and the book of Mormon that claim to be inspired by God? More to come.
 We do, however, find isolated quotes of Josephus in the earlier writings of other authors.