One question that seems to be forefront in the minds of many is less about what the Bible says and more about why we should believe it. After all, there are a lot of books out there that people believe are holy and inspire us to better living. The Bible also contains accounts of a lot of things that seem kind of hard to believe or understand as true history, nonetheless Truth with a capital T. But why do people say that the Bible, specifically, out of all of these other books, is the very Word of God? It was written by at least 40 different human authors, so how could it possibly be the Word of God? And if it’s not the Word of God, why should we care what it says any more than any other book?
I’ll give you a line of reasoning as to why we believe the Bible is actually the Word of God.
The Bible says that it’s the Word of God. At face value, this doesn’t seem to mean much. I could say that I’m Christopher Columbus, but that doesn’t make it true. But the books of the Bible repeatedly claim to be recording the very words of God Himself. This is explicit, implicit, and assumed. Throughout the Law and the Prophets (in what most know as the Old Testament), the words “Thus says the Lord”, or “declares the Lord”, or some other variation, appears 419 times. When we take all of the Scriptures (Old and New Testament) into account, these types of statements appear more than 3,800 times. These statements are always followed by or preceded by sentences or paragraphs that we are being told are actual words of God Himself, and we are to understand them in the same way that we understand quotes from people that we read in newspapers or other books or writings. This implies that the Prophets writing these words were hearing them in some tangible way directly from God, they were in a sense God’s reporters. If there were a ‘red-letter’ version of the Old and New Testaments (where words spoken by Yahweh or Jesus Christ were highlighted in red), most of the 66 books in the Bible would light up like a Christmas tree. It is clear that in the Old Testament the writers assume that previous writers who came before them had actually been writing the words of God.
In the New Testament, it is more than an assumption. The Apostle Paul clearly states this in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (ESV). When the Apostle Paul says “All Scripture” from his first-century context, he is referring to the entire Old Testament (the Jewish Scriptures in his day) as well as likely some of the Gospels which had already been written and circulated by the end of his life, and which he borrowed from regularly in his own teaching and writing. The Apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, said this of The Apostle Paul: “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (ESV, emphasis mine). Peter straight out tells us that Paul’s words were “Scripture” just like “the other Scriptures”. And Paul tells us that “All Scripture” is God-breathed, meaning the very words are breathed out of God’s mouth by God. So whether or not all of these people are right when they say that these are the very words of God, I think it’s very clear that they certainly believed it themselves. That’s the first point.
Jesus says it is the Word of God. Jesus went through His entire life and ministry quoting the Old Testament and helping the people in His day to understand it more accurately. During His ministry (as recorded in the Gospels), Jesus either quoted from or referred to every book in our Old Testament except the book of Ruth (and Ruth was written by one of His ancestors, the great-grandmother of King David). When Jesus quoted the Prophets, He took their claims very literally and He also held to the idea that the words they said were words of God. Now, if you believe Jesus was who He said He was (the Son of God, or more appropriately in this case God the Son, an integral part of the Trinity), then He should know whether or not these were the Words of God because He is God. So, once again, Jesus saying He is God or the Son of God doesn’t make it any more true than me saying I am Christopher Columbus. And by that I mean that just the saying it doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t make it false either. It has to be true for other reasons. However, many other things about Jesus and His life seem to line up with the idea that He was much more than a man. If Jesus is who He says He is, then His take on the Scriptures and whether or not they are the words of God is pretty authoritative. So can we prove that Jesus was who He said He was? If we apply the same rules to the writings we have that we apply regarding, say, the existence and emperorship of Julius Ceasar, or the occurrence of the Peloponnesian War, or any other fact we wish to establish from antiquity, then the answer is a resounding yes. Speaking from a strictly historical perspective, we have all of the data we need to determine some key things about Jesus that set Him apart in such ways from every other historical figure so as to make us think hard about His words and His claims. And that leads up to the next point.
Most historians agree that the basic facts of Jesus’ life and ministry as portrayed in the Gospels are historically accurate. This includes secular historians, atheistic historians, in fact just about all historians. These are the same guys who tell us about the lives of characters such as Julius Ceasar and Napolean Bonaparte and Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. And they use the same criteria to establish their historical facts. And what they all largely agree on are the following: Jesus was born about 4 BC in Bethlehem, He claimed to be the Son of God (or a god), He claimed to be a king, He caused upset in Jerusalem and some other parts of the Roman Empire, some (though not all) agree that He was a miracle worker (Josephus, a Jewish historian, says He was a ‘worker of wonders’), He was crucified on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem, He died, He was buried in a tomb that was meant for a rich man, and 3 days later the tomb was empty. That’s not where it stops. They also substantially agree that hundreds, if not thousands of individuals claimed that they saw Him again alive after He had died. Some of these people wrote about seeing Him alive after He had died, others are included in written accounts. In the book of Acts, we find that even officials in the Roman government as high up as Marcus Antonius Felix (who was a governor of Judea from 52 – 58 AD, about a decade after these things had taken place, and a good friend and confidant to the Roman Emperor Claudius) did not deny knowledge of these things and that they had taken place, because as Paul states “these things did not happen in a corner” (Acts 26:26), meaning they were prime time news for years, like the OJ Simpson trial. Now none of this definitively proves to the skeptic that Jesus was who He said He was, but, to put it plainly, we have more historical evidence that Jesus said and did these things than we have that Julius Ceasar ever existed, or that George Washington was ever a general in the Colonial Army. Yet we don’t question those things, and we do question this.
So to sum up, some good reasons to think that the Bible really contains the Words of God are the following: The Bible itself says it is the word of God, Jesus and the apostles said it was the word of God, and history bears out that Jesus knew what He was talking about when He made these claims. These are good reasons. And if we have good reason to think that the Bible actually contains the words and thoughts of God Himself, we need to take those words very seriously.