I’ve always been one to accept things pretty easily. Butler is the best university in America (and I knew that one was true even before the back-to-back trips to the NCAA National Championship game!). Thirsty Scholar has the best chai latte in Indianapolis. The Cubs will never win the World Series (sorry, Cubs fans- I’ll always be a Cincinnati girl at heart). I blindly believed all these things the first time I heard them and later found them to be true.
But what about more serious matters? What about matters of faith? I was recently faced with this issue when a professor asked me how I can know the Bible is real and true. How can I trust that this compilation of letters, stories, and writings is so true that I base my entire faith on it?
I understand that this opens up a lot of other questions. The Bible is so old, how could I ever know who wrote it? How do I know it hasn’t been changed over time? Just because something was true a thousand years ago, does that mean that it still applies today? How can I be sure that there aren’t more books that have yet to be found? The list could go on for pages.
I’m going to be real with you: I felt some fear as I began to search for these answers. The Bible has always been true to me. I have believed it is God’s Word since I was a kid. What if going down this path showed me that I was believing a lie this whole time? What if I can’t trust the Bible? That reality would definitely change a few things.
Thankfully, God is not afraid of such questions. God can handle my fear. God can handle my doubt. And he did. And he showed me three reasons why I can trust that the Bible is his final, ultimately authoritative, and relevant Word.
1. It’s what God’s word tells us
The best place to start in trying to figure out the Bible is … the Bible. In one sense, it is "a" book; in another, it's 66 books written over about 1500 years. How do the human authors of the various books of Scripture view the other books? Put another way, what does the Bible claim to be? Is it a roadmap for the Christian faith? A book of suggestions for those who want to stay on God’s good side?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 gives us a clear picture of Scripture:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
These words were written by Paul to Timothy, a young man he had mentored and encouraged for years. They are among Paul’s final words to his dear friend, encouragement to continue living out the faith that was about to cost him his life. Do you see the significance in that? Paul is about to die for his faith in Jesus, yet he tells Timothy to press on because of the assurance he can have in Scripture. He addresses three main questions:
- What is Scripture? God’s inspired word. To put it another way, the pages of the Bible are literally God speaking to us.
- What is the purpose of Scripture? To teach, to rebuke (reproof), to correct, to train in righteousness. In other words, God’s Word tells us how to live.
- What are the effects of Scripture? When we meditate on God’s words, we are equipped for every good work. Therefore, Bible prepares us for the plans God has for us.
Of course this is only one of many passages that explain what the Bible is. For the sake of time and space, I’m going to stop here. But if you want to go deeper, I suggest starting with 2 Peter 2:19-20 and Hebrews 1:1-2.
2. The Bible makes sense historically
I’m typically not a history buff. But given the importance of the matter, I’m going to geek out for a moment.
First, let’s consider the Old Testament. The 39 books that make up the Old Testament are not a random compilation of whatever ancient text the early Church could find. The books we read today are the same as those that were kept in the temple before its destruction in AD 70. They were the Bible to the Jews of Jesus' day.
Oh, and I suppose it is important to mention that they were accepted by Jesus himself. Jesus was not afraid to debate with the Jewish leaders if he disagreed about something. Therefore, it is significant that when it comes to Scripture, there is agreement over the accepted books. (1)
As for the New Testament, the very earliest Church Fathers were quoting New Testament books with the same authority as the Old in the first generation of Christianity. When people tried to claim other books as deserving the same weight, the early Church didn't arbitrarily pick some texts to become Scripture; they affirmed the books they'd already been using, across time and across the world, as the canon.
The first full list we have is found in a letter from Bishop Athanasius in AD 367. He listed all 27 books, which at the time were accepted across denominations without much pushback. (2) He even included separate references to the Apocrypha, an additional group of books recognized as canonical or near-canonical by the Catholic and Orthodox churches many years later. He acknowledges that these writings can be informative, but they are not the inspired word of God. (3)
Therefore, both the New and Old Testaments have withstood the test of time. If the early Church could accept the canon without much disagreement, Christians today can trust in the Bible’s authority.
3. It makes sense because of God’s character.
Finally, Christians can trust in the Bible because of who God is. Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians:
“Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship of God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is the mystery which has been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:25-27).
God willed to make known the riches of his glory. He didn’t have to do that. And he commissioned Paul to carry out the preaching of the Word for his glory. God made many mysteries known in his Word specifically so that his plans would not be thwarted. Christians can have the same confidence today. God calls his followers to go and “make disciples of all the nations ... teaching them to observe all I commanded you" (Matthew 28:19). He empowers Christians through his Word to fully live out this calling day by day. God
I realize that there are many other questions we could ask about the Bible. However, none of them are strong enough to make me doubt the confidence God gives me through the lenses of Scripture, history, and God’s character. Praise be to God that we can be sure his Word is true!
Frame, John M. The Doctrine of the Word of God. 135.
Frame, John M. The Doctrine of the Word of God. 136.
Brakke, David. “A New Fragment of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter: Heresy, Apocrypha, and the Canon,” Harvard Theological Review, 103 (2010): 47-66.
Image: "Saint Paul Writing His Epistles," probably by Valentin de Boulogne. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.