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How do we know the Bible is reliable?

Dr Andy Bannister gives four reasons to trust it ...

The Bible is at the centre of the Christian faith – but how do we know it’s reliable? DR ANDY BANNISTER gives four reasons to trust it

The best-selling book since records began. Banned in many totalitarian countries, yet persecuted Christians risk their lives to obtain it. A tremendous influence on our law, art, philosophy and music.
Purely as literature, the Bible’s impact is unquestionable.

But for all that, sceptics are quick to reject it. “Why trust the Bible?” my atheist friends often ask. Here are four great reasons to read it with an open mind.

First, the manuscripts. The Bible has been subjected to incredible scrutiny over the centuries – analysed, investigated and studied by generations of critical scholars – and has survived largely unscathed. One area where scholars have focused their attention has been the Bible’s manuscripts, looking to see whether the biblical text has been transmitted to us reliably across the centuries.

And the simple answer is: yes, it has. We have thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Bible, some dating from the early second century. When you compare what we have for the Bible with other ancient literature – the poems of Homer, or the Qur’an, for example – we have an embarrassment of riches. Many of these biblical manuscripts are very early: I remember once visiting the British Museum to see Codex Sinaiticus, a manuscript from AD350 that contains the whole New Testament. Manuscripts like these enable us to be confident in the Bible’s text.

A second reason to trust the Bible is the testability of its claims. Consider the four gospels for example. Its authors claim to be writing history – the opening words of Luke’s gospel look very like similar introductions by other ancient historians, for instance. Most scholars would agree that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were trying to record history: in terms of genre, the gospels are Greco-Roman biographies.

When you read the gospels, you discover they’re full of details – dates, times, places, locations, names and so forth. And that means that on many occasions, we can put them to test.

For instance, imagine I claim to be a well-travelled chap and among the destinations I have visited, I list Sydney, Australia. Now you happen to know Sydney (perhaps your sister lives there). And as I regale people with tales of feeding the wild kangaroos that surf the city canals, the more you conclude I’m making everything up. My ignorance gave me away.

In contrast, the gospel writers get huge numbers of facts right about the ancient world, facts we can check. The more detail they get right, the more scholars take them seriously as historians.

Related to this is my third point: the Bible’s relationship with archaeology. Time and again, archaeology has confirmed the biblical writers knew what they were talking about. For example, in John 5:1-2, we read of a pool in Jerusalem, “near the Sheep Gate, with five porticoes”. For years, there was no evidence outside John’s gospel for such a pool, so sceptics questioned John’s reliability. Then in the 1930s, the pool was uncovered by archaeologists.

This is just one of hundreds of examples. Whilst archaeology can’t prove the Bible is true, it does endorse the narratives, showing the biblical writings are historical and thus deserve to be read as carefully as other texts from antiquity.

But there’s one last reason to trust the Bible – namely its existential relevance. More than any other book I know, the Bible describes the human condition very honestly. Other scriptures will tell you that human beings are basically good, kind and decent. The problem is that clashes badly with lived reality.

The Bible, on the other hand, unblinkingly calls out our flaws, diagnoses our condition without flattering us, then tells the story of what God has done, in Jesus, to rescue and redeem us.

And that’s the Bible’s primary goal – to introduce us to Jesus. A Christian’s ultimate trust is not in a book, but in the God whose story it tells. The Bible is not myth, nor legend, nor fable, but history. And because of what God has done, in history, you and I can have a future.   

  • Dr Andy Bannister is the Canadian Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), and is the author of The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (or: The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments). Find out more www.theatheistwhodidntexist.com
     
  • RZIM have also produced the popular Short Answers to Big Questions video series at youtube.com/rzimcanada, including “Why believe the Bible rather than the Qur’an?” and “Is the Bible even true?”

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