How does one evaluate the truthfulness of the Bible? What separates the Bible from all other books merely created by the ingenuity of man?
First, let me be clear on what is being claimed about the Bible. The claim being made is not that the Bible is merely a historical word, although it is historically accurate. The claim is not merely that the Bible is unique, although among books there is none like it. The claim is not merely that the Bible is supported by the genius of humanity in the social sciences such as psychology and sociology or in the physical sciences like chemistry, biology, archeology, physics, or forensics. The claim is not merely that the Bible is a book of fascinating literary genius containing poetry, history, science, mathematics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, law, philosophy and, of course, theology. The claim is not merely that the Bible is factually accurate, logically coherent or that its truths correspond to real historical events. The claim being made reaches up to a level beyond these, a level that puts the Bible in a category all its own. The monumental claim being made is that the Bible is divine!
Testing this claim involves some rigorous examination. An individual will travel down two pathways that often crisscross back and forth in examining the evidence. One track will be examining evidence that justifies the conclusion that the Bible is divine. The other track will examine claims that attempt to prove that the Bible is not divine and therefore false (falsification). Being fair minded we don’t want to assume the Bible is true without considering the evidence in its favor. Likewise, we don’t want to assume it is false without giving the text a fair hearing. We want to follow the evidence where it leads.
In handling the evidence of the Bible it is important to know the nature of evidence under consideration. Consider archeological evidence for a moment. In Mark 12:13ff the Pharisees and Herodians are trying to trap Jesus in his speech. They ask him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not” (Mark 12:14)? Jesus aware of the hypocrisy responds,
“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:15-17).
Archaeologically one can find silver denarius coins from this time with imprints of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus. These findings affirm distinct facts that support Jesus’s account, facts like: (1) a denarius was a form of money used in that day and age, and (2) that the denarius had Caesar’s likeness imprinted on the coin.
Let’s now put this archaeological evidence in context. Does this archeological evidence definitively prove that the Bible is divine? This evidence certainly affirms elements of Jesus’s account. Notice we are simultaneously traveling down two intersecting lines of evidence, one verbal—Jesus words and one physical—an archaeological find. Both lines of evidence intersect. From Jesus’s words themselves we know he wasn’t speaking in figurative language or using parables. Rather he was speaking literally—“bring me a denarius” (Mark 12:15). From the physical archaeological evidence we see details that correspond to Jesus’s account. They affirm that Jesus’s words were coherent. That is they agree with literal circumstances of that day and age.
What can we conclude? In light of archaeology the Bible here passes a negative test for truth, but not a positive test for truth. If the Bible is true, we would certainly expect archaeology to support it. However, archaeology alone does not prove the Bible to be divine. Archaeology can confirm many things that are not divine. While archaeology is helpful in verifying a litany of physical details in the Bible, it is at best a negative test for its truthfulness and not a positive test.