Sometimes people wonder - couldn’t just any person write a religiously persuasive work, claim it’s from God, gather a following and begin a religion? Absolutely! Religious history is full of just such events. That is why it is so important that we test human spirits to see whether the information they are giving us is from God or not (1 John 4:1). Many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). We should be willing to “test everything; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). Religious teachers can be persuasive and emotionally moving yet be deceptive, failing to tell people the whole truth.
So how do we tell a false prophet from a true prophet? We must compare the words of a teacher with the word of God. If the teaching does not align, we must move onward always putting our faith in the words of God rather than men. Such comparisons are essential to be pleasing to God and not locking step with false teachers.
It is also important for all people to give the Bible a fair hearing and not dismiss it outright before hearing the evidence. We should not dismiss it prejudicially or based upon some preconceived bias. It was the late Simon Greenleaf, Dane Professor of Law, Harvard University, who wrote: “In examining the evidences for the Christian religion, it is essential to the discovery of truth that we bring to the investigation a mind freed, as far as possible, from existing prejudice, and open to conviction. There should be a readiness, on our part, to investigate with candor, to follow the truth wherever it may lead us, and to submit, without reserve or objection, to all the teachings of this religion, if it be found to be of divine origin" (11). Greenleaf’s words would certainly apply toward a fair hearing of the Bible.
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 archeology, geography, higher and lower criticism or science. 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 events in history. The claim being made reaches up to a level far 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!
In Acts 5 the apostles are doing good works, performing miracles and preaching Jesus. Upon hearing this the Jews are outraged and want to kill them (Acts 5:33). Gamaliel, also a Jew, stops the angry mob and draws their attention to two examples of religious leaders who gathered a following, Theudas and Judas the Galilean. Theudus rose up, gathered 400 men after him, and died. His word failed and “all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing” (Acts 5:36). Similarly, Judas the Galilean gathered a religious following, died, and all his followers were scattered (Acts 5:37). His word too failed. Why did so many abandon the words of Theudas and Judas the Galilean? Their words proved unreliable, untrustworthy and false. It contrast to what was disbelieved, Gamaliel urges the Jews not to dismiss the Divine in the case of the Apostles. He states “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39). Surely not every religious teaching is valid, but let us be open and honest enough to examine the evidence, dismiss what is false and clutch with fervor the pure truth of God.
Greenleaf, Simon. The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence. Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 1995, 11.