Is the Bible the Word of God? How Does Prophecy Establish that the Bible is From God?

                 Prophecy is one of the greatest lines of evidence in proving that the Bible is from God.   Prophetic utterances should be differentiated from wishful thinking, chance circumstances, lucky guesses, or hunches that just happen to come true.  Also, prophesy should be differentiated from a selective rewriting of history whereby individuals are shaping the present to fulfill the past.  People arrive at the conclusion that the message is Divine when they realize that the most reasonable power that links knowledge of an event and the transpiring of that event is God himself.  When the details and lines of history are carefully considered the reader is left like Nicodemus–no man could do these things unless he is from God (cf. John 3:1-2), or Thomas – My Lord and My God (cf. John 20:28)!

                The motive of the prophet is another element worth considering in prophecy.  The prophet’s motivation was to glorify God and they diligently proclaimed the Law of Moses to draw people back to God.  Occasionally, a prophet would foretell the future.  When prophets foretold things that came to pass immediately in their days, they were trusted (cf. Deut. 18:20-22).  These events were readily distinguishable from chance happenings or the work of magicians.  Most of what comes down to us from prophets is teaching instead of foretelling.  However, the elements that foretell are of tremendous benefit in proving the Bible is indeed from God.   

                Further, we want to make sure that we listen to the testimony of the prophet and carefully consider their motive.   Not every prophet then was a true one.  In being an objective listener or reader today, it is certainly reasonable to be open to the possibility that the prophecy was and now is false.   When Jesus spoke with his disciples he said “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:9).  Elsewhere the Bible reads “many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  Carefully eliminating false prophecies from true ones is a virtuous enterprise. If the prophecies of Daniel, Joel, or Isaiah were false, what exactly was there immediate motivation?  Generally, lies are told for some immediate fulfillment, perhaps fame, notoriety, or maybe even some material gain of some sort.   For those who disbelieve in the words of Daniel, Isaiah or Joel, what possible motive would they have had to lie about something hundreds of years in the future?  This is not to argue that lying about the future is impossible.  Rather, when you couple the impeccable character, unrelenting faithfulness, and trust worthiness of the prophet along with our 20/20 vision of the historical fulfillment of their testimony a Divine conclusion is most reasonable. 

                Let’s consider the example of John the Baptist.  Consider the prophecy made and fulfilled about his coming.  God reveals his coming through Isaiah and Malachi.  Approximate 740 years prior to the first century, Isaiah prophesied that “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (Whitcomb n.p.; Is. 40:3).  When one reads “a voice” they may think that this is a bit general and not specific in identifying precisely who that particular voice was that was yet to come.  Isaiah’s prophecy is specific in that it identifies a singular voice, but not exactly who it would be.    Consider another prophetic line of evidence.

                Malachi who prophesied approximately 300 years after Isaiah prophesied “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me” (Whitcomb n.p.; Mal 3:1).  Also, Malachi prophesied “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Mal. 4:5).  Prior to the first century we know that a singular voice is coming and that it will be like Elijah.

               When the first century comes, John the Baptist is identified as the precise fulfillment of these prophecies.  Luke records that John the Baptist was like unto Elijah in that he was going before Christ “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).  Jesus likens John to Elijah (Matt. 11:13-14).  John himself, when pressured by the Jews, admits he was not “the prophet,” referring to Jesus (John 1:19, 21).  Rather, he was the voice of the one crying in the wilderness concerning the Christ who was to come (John 1:19-23).  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all affirm that John the Baptist was the one who fulfilled what Isaiah spoke of so many years before (Matt. 3:3, Mark 1:1-3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23).  

                 How does this prove that the Bible is from God?  Historically, the record of the witnesses comes down to us intact.  They were not selectively rewriting history.  In person John’s life singularly fulfilled what Isaiah and Malachi spoke of hundreds of year prior.  The trustworthy Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Jesus all confirm what God had revealed.  Indeed no man could know these things unless he was from God.  

Whitcomb, John. Chart of Old Testament Patriarchs and Judges. Chicago: Moody Press, 1968.

Analyzing the Bible's Truthfulness in Light of Archeology

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.  

Is the Bible the Word of God? – A Look at Textual Variants (Part 2)

Have you ever heard people say that the Bible is full of errors?  What do you think of this claim?  Are they right?

Last week we made the case that textual variants (or differences) should not be described as errors. The word “error” carries with it the idea of the wording being false, misleading, untrue, or corrupted.  Generally, most people would not take a spelling mishap as a justifiable reason to dismiss an entire work as inauthentic or corrupt especially given the fact that these copies were made by hand.  (See the illustration in Textual Variants Part 1). 

It is important to approach the text and multiple copies with an honest even-handed reasonable approach and let the evidence lead where it may.  If a copy proves to be corrupt, so be it.  If a copy confirms what is written, so be it.  It is important for people to understand that faith in the Bible does not rest on a shred of evidence, a thread of truth, a speculative hope or a mere wish that the text is true.  It would be most unreasonable to wish that the text is true and then go on to believe that it is true.  We must be able to differentiate fact from fiction.  Faith does not a rest on a preponderance of evidence.  That is, evidence that seems more likely than not.  Faith in the word of God isn’t a second guess or a wish based on unprovable assumptions. Rather, faith in the Bible rests on a mountain of evidence based upon millions of pages of data.

We must be clear that confidence in the Bible does not rest on a line of reasoning that assumes the word of God is true and then therefore believes it to be true.  This is circular and dishonest.   Creative writers abound and simply making a claim of Divine origin certainly does not establish Divine origin.  God allows his word to be tested.  The Bible says “Examine all things; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21, NET).  Examining the text itself is a worthwhile endeavor that increases faith for “every word of God proves true” (Prov. 30:5, ESV).

The study of variants is within a realm of larger study known as textual criticism.  Textual criticism is divided into higher criticism (also known as historical criticism) and lower criticism.  This higher and lower is not one of superior versus inferior methodology; rather it represents the angle with which the critic views the text.  Higher critics examine the text from a high birds-eye view where they examine the author and dating of a New Testament book.  Lower critics examine the text with a magnifying-glass-in-hand, looking at the precise wording of the text itself (Lightfoot 88).  A study of variants falls within the purview of a lower critic.

Bible translators are precise on types of variants that copyists or scribes make.  Sometimes a word might be copied twice, what is known as dittography. Sometimes if similarly spelled words were close in proximity in a line of text, the copyist might jump from one group of letters to the next omitting a portion of the text. This is known as homoeoarcton or homeoteleuton (Metzger xvii).   Hundreds of copies of each New Testament book give certainty that the Greek renderings and subsequent English wording are accurate and intact.

Consider the numbers for a moment.  Skeptics might be fond of pointing out that there are 400,000 variants while only 140,000 words in the New Testament.  That amounts to two or three variants for every word in the New Testament (Wallace 26).  People might wonder how the text could reasonably be trusted as authentic or credible when there are so many variants.  The answer to this rests in understanding these numbers in their context. 

First, understand there are so many variants because there are so many copies.  In fact the number of Greek manuscripts amounts to 5,600 and growing.  Second, understand that the New Testament is a document of history and has to be treated like one.  Consider the historicity of Homer’s Ilead  that dates from approximately 800 BC with 643 copies (McDowell 38).  Very few doubt the historicity of the Ilead, yet many dismiss the New Testament.  Comparatively speaking from a historical perspective, the New Testament has in excess of 20,000 handwritten manuscripts in languages such as Greek, Latic, Coptic, Syriac, Georgian, Gothic, Ethiopian and Armenian (Wallace 28).   Relatively, this equates to thousands of pages of data, thousands of pages that confirm the accuracy of the New Testament.  Third, understand that the New Testament rests on millions of pages of supporting data!   With 5,600 + Greek manuscripts (MSS), 20,000+ total MSS, with an average MSS with more than 450 pages, with hundreds of witnesses for every New Testament book, with 2.6 million pages of text and more than 1 million quotations of the New Testament by the church fathers, the New Testament among every work of human history stands on a mountain of historical evidence (Wallace 27-28).   

References:

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2005. Print.

Lightfood, Niel. How We Got the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003. Print.

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999. Print.

Metzger, Bruce Manning, United Bible Societies. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.). London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994. Print.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001. Print.

Wallace, Daniel, ed. Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011. Print.

Isn't the Bible Full of Errors? – A Look at Textual Variants (Part 1)

Have you ever heard people say that the Bible is full of errors?  What do you think about this claim?  Are they right?

Famous North Carolina Professor Bart Erhman is widely known for his popular books that spew doubt including Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and Orthodox Corruption of the Scripture.   Erhman is a textual scholar trained at the feet of the late Bruce Metzger, one of the leading textual scholars of the New Testament.  Erhman’s works are wildly popular and cast all sort of doubt on the text of the Bible.  While many skeptics are philosophers or scientists, Bart Erhman is actually a New Testament Greek scholar.  His arguments do not go unanswered.   Daniel Wallace, also a Greek scholar, has answered Erhman in a book Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament

Wallace states “Erhman is fond of saying, that that there are more variants in the MSS [manuscripts] that there are words in the NT [New Testament]” (20).  Wallace estimates that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 variants in the New Testament.  Earlier accounting estimate 200,000 variants.[1]  Variants are differences in the text from one copy to the next.  These can be differences of spelling or phrases.  These differences can be intentional or unintentional.  The broad number of variants is essentially an estimate offered by proofers of the original text.  If there is a spelling difference that occurs in 3,000 manuscripts or copies, they would count 3,000 variants.   The more manuscripts that are discovered over time the higher this number will go.  In the absence of the printing press, spell checkers and computers, it seems reasonable to expect people that hand copied the text to make spelling or wording mishaps.  But, should these variants be considered errors? 

Let’s put variants in perspective.  Consider one of the world’s bestselling books J.R. Tolkein’sThe Lord of the Rings.  Estimates run that there are 150 million copies in print.[2]  Let’s say for discussion that in 100 years from now someone collected 20 million copies and started comparing them.  In each successive printing historians or textual critics could probe the writing with questions. What was the precise date of this particular copy? Did the publisher redact (remove) or insert words?  Did the publisher correct spelling errors?  Were sentences changed or refined?  Are their insertions or deletion in the text?  How different are successive editions to the first printed edition?  A textual critic will attempt to answer these questions.

If, for example, the first printing had 10 spelling errors and they recovered 4 million first printings, this would count as 40 million variants.   With a number as large as 40 million we might think the work is corrupt, dismantled and unintelligible. This number on the surface seems inordinately large given that no humans were involved in the actual transcribing of each copy.  But, that’s not the case at all.  The number must be put in context.  We are talking about 10 spelling errors with multiple copies of that error.  There would be no reason to doubt that you had an original writing with this number of copies.  The point is that the message and wording are intact even if the spelling is not 100% accurate.

Let’s consider another example.  Consider if you discovered eight copies of Homer’s ancient writing knows as the Iliad (c. 800 B.C.).  What if copy one said “Let us ask some driest or prophet, or some reader of dreams . . . .”  Copy two read “Let us ask some priesl or prophet, or some reader of dreams . . . .” What if copies three through five read “Let us ask some priest or prophet, or some reader of dreams . . . .”  Would we have any looming doubt on what the actual rendering should be?  This is merely considering five copies.

We have to be careful that we don’t look at every textual variant as "errors" in the sense of being an obstacle to understanding.  The word “error” can mean false or misleading.  Also the word “error” sometimes casts doubt on the trustworthiness of the message or the message bearer.  Generally in modern language and communication we impart understanding with less than pin point precise English perfection.  We typically don’t become highly suspicious of one who writes “there” when meaning “they’re.”   We typically don’t dismiss people as liars, charlatans, or devils of the worst kind when they use “where” when meaning “wear.”   If we lend this courtesy in modern times, should the same courtesy be lent to ancient Biblical copyists who were copying by hand on parchments or animal skins? 

[1] See pg. 160 of Geisler, Norman and Ron Brooks.  When Skeptics Ask.  Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1990.  Print.   See pg. 96 of Lightfoot, Neil.  How We Got the Bible.  Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books, accessed 6-22-16.  

Does the Bible Die on the Deathbed of a Thousand Qualifications?

The hungry, curious and critical mind needs solid evidence to draw valid and sound conclusions.  In a world with so many different religions, drawing a conclusion that the Bible is Divine can be done with careful thought and consideration.  The critics and objectors often reject this conclusion, but we want to carefully listen to their criticism and consider the objections.   The Bible is true and shines against the unrelenting criticism.  Watching the Bible stand against criticism can strengthen one's faith.

For some the Bible dies on the death bed of a thousand qualifications.  If one thousand qualifications were met, some critics would want one thousand and one qualifications met.  In the study of logic there is a fallacy (a false belief) known as “death by a thousand qualifications.”  This is observed “when a term is used to define something but then there are so many qualifications to the definition as to render the original term meaningless.”[1]   For some the Bible is rejected because so many criticisms are hurled at it and people don’t honestly consider answers to the criticism.  When the criticism is answered, the answer is often thought not good enough. 

The Bible states that there are those who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).  This text shows the knowledge-heart-will connection in the Bible.  For some people the evidence for the Bible will never be sufficient. Why?  For them the Bible dies on a death of a thousand qualifications.  For these, if multiple witnesses confirm the same account they might want one more witness.

This insatiable skeptical attitude was apparent when Jesus was crucified. 

39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying,  42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.  43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God.’”  (emphasis mine, Matthew 27:39-42).

For these individuals to be satisfied with Jesus being the Son of God he should have subjected himself to their notion that he come down from the cross.  For them the countless healings, miracles, virtuous teachings, making and fulfilling multiples prophecies was not enough.  In their estimation and judgment Jesus should have done precisely what they expected.  To do less, in their minds, was evident that Jesus was not the Son of God.  

Do you see the problem?  The problem was not evidence or the lack of available information and subsequently being informed.  Rather the problem was heart disease and a human will that derided an innocent God dying precisely for them.  God help them in their unbelief!

 The availability of evidence or the amount of evidence or the multiple lines of evidence or all the various categories of evidence contained in the Bible will not necessarily make a person care about the gospel.   The heart must listen and care about what it hears (Rom. 10:17).

So, what Biblical evidence would convince you that God’s word is literally breathed out by God and profitable for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16)?  Some will never concede to this conclusion.  Others, like Thomas set the bar high.  Thomas would never believe unless he placed his finger into the mark of the nails and into Jesus’s side (John 20:25).  Jesus consented and urged him “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”   Thomas responded “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).   Jesus replied “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

The words of the Bible are written so that all will believe (John 20:31).  Some will never believe because God to them must meet seemingly a thousand qualifications (cf. Acts 28:28). Some when confronted with Divine evidence will be like Abraham who was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:19). Some will have the boldness of Peter who confidently affirmed to the Gentiles that Jesus’s life of miracles and good works showed that God was with him (Acts 10:38). Some will be like Nicodemus who recognized that no one could do miraculous signs unless God was with him (John 3:1-2ff).  Some will understand that to deny a Divine inference (conclusion) is most unreasonable (John 9:31-32).

One can be a thoughtful, curious, inquisitive, and hungry student of the Bible.  One can weigh the evidence and arrive at Divine conclusion for the Bible.  It is a book beyond mere human invention for so many reasons.  May we be like the Jews who marveled at Christ’s words and be sincere enough to thank God for having revealed himself to us through his word (John 7:15-18).

[1] http://www.mongryl.com/logical.fallacies.html, accessed 8-3-2016.