In week 1 of our new series, we spoke about the historical reliability of the Resurrection. You can listen to the sermon from your church here. Along with questions about the reliability of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, many people have questions about the historical reliability of the Bible in general. The following is content we used to include in our Midtown Class that discusses how confident you can be in the historical reliability of the Scriptural texts.
Why Should I Trust the Bible is Accurate?
Some people struggle in trusting the early copies of each original book of the Bible are trustworthy. To help bolster your confidence in the early copies I would like to simply compare the New Testament books with various other books that are widely read and accepted in Western literature. In so doing I want to show you how trustworthy the earliest copies of the Bible are because we have so many manuscripts, and those manuscripts are so close to the original writings of the New Testament. We will look at two general tests for determining the historicity of any ancient text: the bibliographical test (number and quality of manuscripts), and the internal test (the consistency of the text to not contradict itself).
You can find our blog outlining test #1: The Bibliographical Test here.
Test #2 – The Internal Test
This test of the Bible’s accuracy is indeed important because each book is a witness to a body of truth and much like a legal case in our day if a witness were to contradict themselves then their testimony should not be deemed trustworthy. The following are a few simple examples that illustrate the amazing internal unity of the Bible.
To understand how important the internal test is, we first have to understand exactly what kind of a book the Bible is. Lots of people think the Bible is just one big book. But that’s not very accurate, in fact, it's more of a small library. The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written by around forty authors over the rough time span of sixteen hundred years. The authors are a very diverse group representing Kings, peasants, doctors, farmers and fishermen amongst many others. Not only were the authors diverse, but so were the locations it was written, the books of the Bible are written from both prisons and palaces, spanning three different continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe.
In conclusion, the bible is a multicultural, multi-genre, multi-authored book written to and received by equally diverse audiences.
In light of all that, the Bible is overwhelmingly, unbelievably consistent. Imagine organizing forty authors on three different continents with widely varying backgrounds and historical contexts over the course of sixteen hundred years to write sixty-six books centered on one topic. And you have to organize this project with no phone, no internet and absolutely no physical ability to talk or collaborate. The probability is much higher that the Bible would be a random, scattershot, disorganized and chaotic mess.
And instead, it’s beautifully, dare I say miraculously consistent. To showcase the astonishing continuity of the Bible, German Lutheran Pastor, Christoph Römhild, and American tech wiz, Chris Harrison, made a chart to visually represent the consistency of the Bible. They connected different color lines to show the 63,779 cross references and internal consistencies in the Bible. There is no other book in human history that displays this kind of internal consistency over centuries and centuries of production. One might be almost tempted to think that the Bible is supernaturally inspired or something.
But what about the contradictions?
Our modern minds say, ok ok, that’s impressive… but isn’t the Bible full of contradictions? With this in mind, atheist Sam Harris created his own chart with what he claims are 475 contradictions. It’s important to note that the vast majority of these aren’t contradictions at all, and even the ones that seem like they are, really aren’t. They require a bit of study and interpretative work, but they all have explanations. But it’s also important to acknowledge the scope of internal consistency compared to the scope of Harris’ supposed contradictions.
To depict these two charts as being the same size is pretty disingenuous. Even if we temporarily ignore the fact that all of these supposed contradictions have been dealt with before, we should also consider how vastly different the two numbers, 63,779 and 475 really are. To show the scale of those two numbers together the charts would looks like this:
You may be thinking to yourself, wait a minute. I don’t see anything. Exactly. Lets zoom it in for you although the comparison does stretch the limits of my computer’s graphics card:
That almost imperceptible red smudge inside that red circle is what we’re talking about here. However, if you really wrestle with the idea of Bible contradictions, I recommend The Big Book of Bible Difficulties which deals with all of these in detail. If you don’t have time for an entire textbook, let me give you a few examples of the supposed contradictions Mr. Harris is stuck on:
- Joshua 7 says Achan is the son of Carmi. However, Joshua 22 says Achan is the son of Zerah. That’s a definite contradiction, right? Well to figure this one out, we have to know that the Hebrew word for son can mean any male descendant. Son, grandson, great grandson, etc. In this case, Achan is Zerah’s great grandson.
- The four gospels all say there was a sign on the cross above Jesus that said, King of the Jews. But they each record it slightly different:
- “The King of the Jews.” (Mark 15:2)
- “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:38)
- “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37)
- “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19)
We can all agree that these recordings are slightly different. And we can also reasonably agree that in no way are these viable historical contradictions.
And the internal test doesn’t just include internal consistency. It also includes an astounding amount of prophecy that accurately predicted real events in history. Neither Islam, nor any other world religion or cult can present any specific prophecies concerning the coming of their prophets. However in the Bible, we see hundreds of fulfilled prophecies extending hundreds, and sometimes over a thousand years into the future. Consider the few following prophecies and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ:
1. Born of a woman (Gen. 3:15 cf. Matt. 1:20; Gal. 4:4)
2. Descendant of Abraham (Gen. 22:18 cf. Matt. 1:1; Gal. 3:16)
3. Born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14 cf. Matt. 1:18)
4. Born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2 cf. Luke 2:1–7)
5. Prophesied by the forerunner John the Baptist (Isa. 40; Mal. 3:1 cf. John 1:19–52)
6. Rejected by his own people (Isa. 53 cf. John 1)
7. Presented as a king riding a donkey (Zech. 9:9 cf. Luke 19:35–37)
8. Betrayed by a friend (Ps. 41:9 cf. Matt. 26:50)
9. Betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12 cf. 26:15)
10. Blood money thrown on temple floor & used to buy a potter's field (Zech. 11:13 cf. Matt. 27:5–7) Note: the temple was destroyed in 70 AD so the Messiah must have come prior to then.
11. Crucified (Ps. 22:16 cf. Luke 23:33) Note: crucifixion didn’t exist until hundreds of years after Psalms was written.
12. Crucified with thieves (Isa. 53:12 cf. Matt. 27:38)
13. Forsaken by God (Ps. 22:1 cf. Matt. 27:46)
14. Lots cast for His clothing (Ps. 22:18 cf. John 19:23)
15. Buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa. 53:9 cf. Matt. 27:57)
16. Resurrected & exalted (Ps. 16:10, Isa. 52:13, 53:10–12 cf. Acts 2:25–32)
17. Ascended into heaven (Ps. 68:18 cf. Acts 1:8, Eph. 4:8).
The Bible is clearly a book of history and not just philosophy because it continually promises concrete historical events that in time come to pass exactly as promised.
These promises show the divine inspiration of the Bible and their fulfillment proves that there is a God who rules over human history and brings events to pass just as He ordains them. Because of these facts, we can trust the internal consistency of the Bible to be a chorus of faithful witnesses who sing together in harmony.