IS THE BIBLE TRUE?

The Bible and Archaeology

Archaeology is the recovery and study of the material remains of past people’s lives and activities. It involves the excavation and systematic study of their tools, weapons, cookware, inscriptions and other objects and remains. Biblical archaeology is a smaller subset of the broader field of archaeology, limited
to the study of ancient civilizations in the ancient Middle East, the geographical setting of the events recorded in the Bible.

Modern biblical archaeology is a fascinating and sometimes controversial subject. Its aim, in general, is to compare the findings of archaeology to the writings of the Bible. Biblical archaeologists seek to establish the historicity, or the lack thereof, of the people, places and events of the Bible.

For many centuries the events of the Bible were accepted as a true history. The great sagas of the Bible were approved as accurate down to the smallest details. However, with the arrival of the “Enlightenment” of the 17th and 18th centuries, this outlook began to change.

Scholars began to exalt human reason and scientific exploration above the Bible, mounting a frontal attack on Scripture.

Biblical heroes and other towering personalities, as well as their experiences as recorded in Scripture, came to be considered by many scholars as mere myths. The existence of mighty empires, some of which were recorded in the Bible as having ruled for centuries, was doubted or even denied. Skepticism became the rule of the day among “critical” scholars.

Where previous generations had taken the Bible at face value, now a supposedly enlightened generation viewed it with doubt. The net effect was to deal a staggering blow to the credibility of the Bible in the minds of many people.

Earlier, when the Bible was translated into several languages in the post-Reformation era after the comparative illiteracy of the Middle Ages, the Bible had become for many people their one and only textbook of ancient history. They regarded it as the unerring Word of God.

But, after the tinkering of critical scholars, the Bible began to be viewed as suspect by many historians. Englishman Arnold Toynbee summed up their view when he referred to the Old Testament as merely “human compositions of varying degrees of religious and historical merit.” He further stated that those who accepted it as factual “set a religious premium on an obstinate stupidity” (A Study of History, Vol. 10, 1957, p. 260).

Given this mind-set, archaeologists who sought to excavate and evaluate the ruins of past ages and to report the credibility of the Bible in an honest manner faced an uphill struggle. The field of science in general had grown biased against the Bible, with some archaeologists themselves among the leading critics.

The testimony of history

Sir William Ramsay, an English historian and prolific writer, was a product of a mid-19th-century education and of this pervasive antibiblical bias. He believed the historical accounts in the book of Acts had been written not in the time of the apostolic Church, but considerably later—in the mid-second century. If this were true, the biblical book of Acts could not have been written by Luke, the traveling companion of the apostle Paul, and could only be a fabricated history.

Luke claimed to have been with Paul as the two men trudged over the cobblestoned roads of the Roman Empire. He wrote as one who watched as Paul was used by God to bring a young convert back to life after a fatal fall (Acts 20:8-12). Ramsay was skeptical of the historicity of Luke and the historical record of Acts and set out to disprove it.

After many years of detailed study of the archaeological evidence, Ramsay came to a disconcerting conclusion: The historical and archaeological evidence came down solidly in favor of Luke’s having written the book of Acts in the first century, during the time of the apostles. Rather than Luke being a historical fraud, Ramsay concluded that there are “reasons for placing the author of Acts among the historians of the first rank” (St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, 1925, p. 4).

Ramsay became convinced of Luke’s reliability because Luke wrote about the work of the early Church as it was intertwined with secular events and personalities of the day. In Luke’s Gospel account we are introduced to Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, Augustus and other political players. In Acts we meet an even larger assemblage, including Sergius Paulus, Gallio, Felix, Festus and Herod Agrippa I and II.

Luke not only writes about these people, but he mentions details, sometimes relatively minute facts, about them. “One of the most remarkable tokens of [Luke’s] accuracy is his sure familiarity with the proper titles of all the notable persons who are mentioned … Cyprus, for example, which was an imperial province until 22 BC, became a senatorial province in that year, and was therefore governed no longer by an imperial legate but by a proconsul. And so, when Paul and Barnabas arrived in Cyprus about AD 47, it was the proconsul Sergius Paulus whom they met ” (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? 1981, pp. 82-83).

Luke mentions other particulars about the offices and titles of officials of the Roman Empire. In every case he gets it right, as confirmed by archaeological discoveries many centuries later. As Ramsay discovered, to show such accuracy required that the author be well versed at the time in the intricacies of politics of the day over a wide region—with no readily accessible reference works to check. Few of us could do as well if quizzed about the exact official titles of national and international political figures today.

Accuracy: a test of credibility

Such fine details of the historical setting make the Bible interesting, but they also put an author, such as Luke, to the test—and the Bible along with him. If he makes a mistake in his reporting, then his work loses credibility. How does Luke survive the test?

F.F. Bruce, professor of biblical studies, says of Luke’s work: “A writer who thus relates his story to the wider context of world history is courting trouble if he is not careful; he affords his critical readers so many opportunities for testing his accuracy. Luke takes this risk, and stands the test admirably” (p. 82).

Some scholars maintain that Luke was wrong in his report of a Roman census around the time of the birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 2:1-3). They argued that Quirinius was not governor at this time because he was given this position several years later. Critics also argued that there was no census then and that Joseph and Mary were therefore not required to return to their native Bethlehem at the time.

Later archaeological evidence, however, showed that Quirinius served two terms as an important Roman administrator in the region and that the events described by Luke were indeed possible (Bruce,
pp. 86-87). Indeed, Luke tells us that Jesus was born at the time of the “first census” under Quirinius (verse 2, NIV), strongly indicating that Quirinius conducted a census in both his first and second administrations in the area. It turned out that those who had challenged the biblical account had done so without all the facts.

Professor Bruce goes on to observe that, when we see Luke’s habitual accuracy demonstrated in details that have been historically verified, there is ample reason to accept his credibility in general. And indeed, archaeological discoveries have repeatedly supported Luke’s accuracy and attention to detail.

Much yet to be discovered

A relatively small part of the remains of the biblical world has been excavated. Of some 5,000 known sites of archaeological significance in the Holy Land, only about 350 have been excavated, and of these only about 2 to 3 percent have been extensively excavated—and excavation of as little as 4 percent of a site is considered extensive. Of those that have been excavated, it is a fact that the entire Bible holds a remarkable track record of accuracy when compared with the finds unearthed through archaeology.

As professor Walter Kaiser Jr. wrote, “Biblical archaeology has greatly enhanced the study of the biblical texts and their history” (The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? 2001, p. 97). He also stated: “The facts, from whatever source, when fully known have consistently provided uncanny confirmation for the details of Old Testament persons, peoples and places by means of the artifactual, stratigraphical and epigraphic remains [and] evidence uncovered” (ibid., p. 108).

Much of the Old Testament came under heavy assault from the guns of the anti-inspiration scholars when the winds of doubt swept through the 19th century. Speaking of this time and its effects, archaeologist Kenneth Kitchen wrote: “Time and again in Old Testament studies, we are told that ‘history knows of no such person’ as, say, Abraham or Moses, or … the battles of Genesis 14, for example. However such phrases are totally misleading. They simply cover the ignorance not of ‘history’ personified but of the person making this claim” (The Bible in Its World: The Bible and Archaeology Today, 1978, p. 48)

Dr. Kitchen’s statement shows that the historicity of Old Testament personalities and their worlds cannot be buried. It is important to note that scholars at one time doubted the existence of empires, of entire populations and of many of the Bible’s central characters. In the face of a growing mountain of evidence, skeptics have many times been forced to recant their earlier claims.

Evidence supports biblical accounts of the patriarchs.

For example, some critical scholars have questioned the existence of the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They rejected the biblical view because no clear archaeological evidence was known to exist.

Yet the biblical documents describe Abraham and his world in considerable detail. The specific customs of this society as described in Genesis 15-16 are, in fact, attested to in tablets found at Nuzi, near the city of Asshur in Assyria. The documents “pertain to matters such as inheritance and property rights, slavery, adoption, and the like” (Eugene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 1996, pp. 38-39).

Some scholars once claimed that the unusual events described in these two chapters of Genesis, such as the episode of Abraham fathering a child for his wife Sarah by her handmaiden, Hagar, were fabricated. The same scholars had to back down when the Nuzi tablets demonstrated that such surrogate practices were commonplace in the culture of that time when a woman was infertile.

Similarly, Genesis 37:28 tells us that Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave for 20 shekels of silver. Clay tablets discovered in the region dating to the 18th and 19th centuries B.C., the time in which Joseph lived, show that the going price for slaves at the time was indeed 20 shekels.

By later centuries, however, the price of slaves had increased greatly. In the eighth century B.C., it had risen to 50 to 60 shekels. By the fifth to fourth centuries B.C., the price was 90 to 120 shekels (Kenneth Kitchen, “The Patriarchal Age: Myth or History?” Biblical Archaeology Review, March-April 1995, p. 52).

Had a Jewish scribe dreamed up the story of Joseph in the sixth century B.C., as many biblical critics argue, why wasn’t Joseph’s price given as 90 to 120 shekels? If the story was fabricated more than a thousand years after it supposedly happened, how did the author know the selling price of a slave a thousand years earlier? The obvious answer is that the Genesis story is an accurate account of contemporary events.

What about the Exodus?

Many skeptical scholars and archaeologists have disputed the biblical record of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt because no confirmed physical evidence outside of the Bible has been found to bear witness to these events. They believe that these stories were invented many centuries later.

The truthfulness of the Exodus is important to the authenticity of the Bible because it is obvious that the event was considered to be of monumental importance in the establishment of Israel as a nation. The Israelites looked back on this event as the foundation of their faith. Many biblical passages testify as to how important they considered it to be. Either a people known as Israel existed, dwelt in Egypt and left there or we simply cannot trust the Bible.

Professor Kitchen offers a sound explanation as to why there is little physical evidence of Israel’s dwelling in Egypt. “The [Nile] Delta [where Israel dwelt] is an alluvial fan of mud deposited through many millennia by the annual flooding of the Nile; it has no source of stone within it … The mud hovels of brickfield slaves and humble cultivators have long since gone back to their mud origins, never to be seen again.

“Even stone structures (such as temples) hardly survive, in striking contrast to sites in the cliff-enclosed valley of Upper Egypt to the south … Scarce wonder that practically no written records of any extent have been retrieved from Delta sites reduced to brick mounds … with even great temples reduced to heaps of tumbled stones” (On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, p. 246).

Dr. Kitchen also explains why no records regarding the Exodus are to be found among Egyptian historical inscriptions and records: “As pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of foreign slaves (with loss of a full chariot squadron) would ever have been memorialized by any king, in temples in the Delta or anywhere else” (ibid.).

In other words, the proud Egyptians, who were the greatest military power of the world in that day, would not have left a record of a complete and total humbling of their pretentious leader and the destruction of his army. In fact, the Bible stands alone among ancient writings of the region in recording the military defeats of its own nation. The vain leaders of that era boasted about their triumphs and victories, but never chose to record their humbling defeats.


Events and people verified by archaeology

Some make the claim that Israel was not a significant power during the days of the Egyptian dynasties. They believe Israel was no more than a loose amalgamation of impotent tribes.

The objective evidence, however, points to a different conclusion. An ancient object that intertwines biblical and Egyptian history was discovered by the archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie in 1896. It is known as the Israel Stele because “it contains the earliest known mention of Israel ” (ibid., p. 26). This black granite stele contains boastful inscriptions commissioned by Pharaoh Merenptah about his victories in battles and refers to Israel being “laid waste.” The stele dates from 1207 B.C. (Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1990, p. 27).

Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan after the Exodus is recorded in Scripture as well. The Bible provides place names that figure prominently in the journey, with Numbers 33 supplying a detailed listing of sites on the route. Detractors have disputed the historical record, denying that these settlements existed at this early period in history because archaeological remains have not been found for the time in question.

One of these is the settlement of Dibon, in what is now southern Jordan (Numbers 33:45). No archaeological remains have been found at that site that date earlier than the ninth century B.C. Does this mean there was no city there when the people of Israel traversed the area?

Recently some scholars have seen the need to recant their claim that Dibon could not have existed at the time of the Exodus. Egyptian records verify the existence of Dibon during this time. Lists of ancient Egyptian routes mention Dibon as a stop along one of the routes through that area.

Not only did Dibon exist in that day, but it was significant enough to occupy the attention of Ramses II, who “sacked the city in the course of a military campaign in Moab” soon afterward (Charles Krahmalkov, “Exodus Itinerary Confirmed by Egyptian Evidence,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1994, p. 58).

The city of Hebron also figured in the Israelite conquest of Canaan. “So Joshua went …, and all Israel with him, to Hebron; and they fought against it” (Joshua 10:36). Although some critics have asserted that no city existed at Hebron during this time, the Egyptian map lists tell otherwise. A list of cities that Ramses II ordered to be carved on a temple wall in Amon lists Hebron (Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1994, p. 60). Archaeology at the site itself also confirms that it was a fortified, thriving city since the time of Abraham (September-October 2005, pp. 24-33, 70).

André Lemaire, an expert in ancient inscriptions, notes that some scholars have gone so far as to maintain that “nothing in the Bible before the Babylonian exile can lay claim to any historical accuracy” (“‘House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May-June 1994, pp. 31-32). Yet time after time scholars have had to backtrack from earlier statements as additional archaeological evidence has come to light.

An example of this was the Hittites, for a long time known only from the biblical record. “Until the discovery of the Hittite empire at the beginning of the last century, the ‘Hittites’ mentioned in Genesis 10:15 as descendants of Canaan were unknown … But in 1906 Hugo Winckler began excavating a site known as ancient Hattusha … in what we today call Turkey. As a result a people whose existence was seriously doubted previously is well documented with literally tens of thousands of clay tablets” (Walter Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? 2001, p. 102).

Another group whose existence was not known outside of the Bible until recently is a people called the Horites. Genesis 36:20-21 states that they were the sons of Seir the Horite. The biblical record was vindicated when “late in 1995 came word that the capital city of the Horites, Urkesh, had been discovered buried beneath the modern Syrian town of Tell Mozan, some 400 miles northeast of Damascus, on the border with Turkey …

“The three hundred acre site has already yielded over six hundred items with some form of writing, often on drawn figures on clay seals … This most dramatic find again demonstrates that the text of the Old Testament is extremely reliable” (Kaiser, pp. 103-104).

Does archaeology prove the Bible?

What should we say about the biblical record thus far? The skeptic can always point to elements that have yet to be specifically verified. But we should never forget that specific parts of the Bible assuredly have been upheld by archaeological discoveries. The burden of proof is on the skeptics. In the wake of such evidence as that shown in this chapter and available in many other sources, it is up to them to prove their case.

Frank Gaebelein, an eminently qualified author and general editor of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, has remarked that “the attitude of suspended judgment toward Bible difficulties … is constantly being vindicated, as archaeology has solved one Biblical problem after another, and as painstaking re-examination of discrepancies has finally led to answers” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1979, Vol. 1, p. 31).

Dr. Steven Ortiz, codirector of excavations at the site of biblical Gezer, commented in a 2007 Internet interview that “serious scholars, even if they’re not believers, even if they don’t think this [the Bible] is a sacred text, still consider it to be history because things match up so well.” Dr. Aren Maeir, excavation director at the ancient Philistine city of Gath, in another 2007 Internet interview said simply, “You can’t do archaeology in the land of Israel without the Bible.”

In view of the real evidence, the doubter might do well to reconsider his position and commit his life to serving God. If he waits until every tiny issue is resolved in his own mind, he might ignore or reject a call from God Himself. He could be depriving himself of the blessings available to those who have committed themselves to learning and following God’s way of life.

The objective use of archaeology has demonstrated the truthfulness and technical accuracy of the Bible. This chapter has demonstrated some of the factual evidence that verifies the biblical record. More will continue to be discovered.

As archaeologist Nelson Glueck concluded: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper valuation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries” (Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev, 1959, p. 31).

The Bible is the inspired Word of God, and its accuracy continues to be validated by the spade of archaeology. (If you’d like to learn more, download our reprint series titled http://www.ucg.org/booklets/

The Bible and Archaeology

Can You Prove the Bible Is True?

Belief in the Bible as the inspired and accurate Word of God is plunging. Here are some simple proofs you can use to show that the Bible is indeed what it claims to be—the very Word of God.

Have you ever wondered whether the Bible is the inspired Word of God and can be taken literally—meaning in its plain and obvious sense?

Back in 1963, two out of three Americans asked by the Gallup polling organization said they believed “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.” But now, Gallup polls show that only one in three believe the same thing—an alarming drop! And the percentage of people in other countries who believe the Bible is the Word of God is generally much lower.

What’s going on?

Associated Press religious writer Richard Ostling points out part of the problem: “Liberal-minded university and seminary professors have labored long to lure Americans away from reading their Bible as strictly literal history. They sometimes complain that few pay heed. But Gallup Poll data suggest the professors have indeed had an impact” (Associated Press, March 27, 2000).

Also, most movies and TV programs about the Bible have quite a liberal slant and could easily cast doubt on its validity.

If someone challenged you to prove that the Bible is true and that it should be taken literally, could you do it? Could you give them several clear proofs?

There is an easy way to do it if you read on.

Skeptics abound and the Bible itself tells us we should be ready to give an answer to those who ask about our faith. As the apostle Peter said, “… Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, emphasis added throughout).

So what are some of the main proofs that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and should be taken literally? Let’s take a look at five of these principal proofs.

The unity of the Bible

This first proof that the Bible is inspired was provided by Jesus Christ Himself when He said, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). This means that what the Bible says is true and has a basic unity of thought and principles that cannot be broken or contradicted.

Why is this significant?

According to the traditional chronology for the writing of all the biblical books, it took around 1,500 years to complete the Bible—a very long time.

Imagine, for comparison’s sake, that a collection of several dozen books about the historical, cultural and religious heritage of a people began to be written around the year A.D. 500, a few years after the collapse of the Roman Empire. These books would then have been completed 1,500 years later—in our day. Also, some 40 different authors would have been involved over this long span and their language and thought would have reflected their changing surroundings and conditions.

Could someone seriously believe that these authors would be able to maintain an essential unity of thought and principles through all that time? If they did, it certainly would be unprecedented in world history!

If there is something the history of this world’s religious literature shows, it’s that values and principles change over time. Even within his own lifetime, an author normally undergoes notable changes in his system of values. His writings reflect his ideas and thoughts according to his stage in life. It’s interesting to note how different his ideas are as a young man compared to when he grows old. This pattern is common and well-known.

Yet when the Bible is analyzed in this way, we find it is strikingly different. Although its books were written by about 40 authors spanning some 1,500 years, they all maintain an amazing consistency. From Genesis to Revelation, the major themes never change. History progresses, but the themes of love, faith, obedience, mercy and a loving and righteous God intent on redeeming a disobedient mankind do not change. This unity of thought and principles is unique in the world’s literary history.

After a decades-long study of the religious books of the East, M. Montier-Williams, a professor of Sanskrit, compared them with the Bible: “Pile them, if you will, on the left side of your study table, but place your own Bible on the right side … [There is] a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and forever” (quoted by Sidney Collett, All About the Bible, 1972, pp. 314-315)

Regarding the unity of the Bible, consider the first writer in the Bible, Moses. Although a Hebrew by birth, he lived in the midst of a thriving Egyptian culture. He was reared in Pharaoh’s court and “was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22).

It would be natural to imagine that his writings would be heavily influenced by Egyptian thinking—yet they aren’t. Instead they reflect thoughts and principles that after more than 3,000 years still have an enormous impact on most of the world’s religious and social values.

Consider, for example, what Moses wrote about health and sickness. One medical doctor writes: “From the record we discover that Moses had so much faith in God’s regulations that he did not incorporate a single current [Egyptian] medical misconception into the inspired instructions … The divine instructions were not only devoid of harmful practices, but had many detailed positive recommendations” (Dr. S.I. McMillen,None of These Diseases

This fact is remarkable enough, but what makes the Bible unique is that all the other authors that come later faithfully reflect the same values, in spite of their different backgrounds, culture and language.

These writers would consist of people from the most diverse backgrounds. Amos was a sheepbreeder and fruit caretaker. David was a shepherd who became a mighty king. Others, such as Daniel and Nehemiah, held high positions in foreign governments. In the New Testament, the writers consist of several former fishermen (Peter and John), a tax collector (Matthew), a physician (Luke) and several others of different professions.

What is the principal theme in the Bible? It’s simple: God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

From the beginning, the Bible reveals God as creating mankind not on a capricious whim, but to be His own beloved children. God is reproducing Himself through human beings and developing a family relationship as their Father (see Genesis 1:26; 5:1-2; 2 Corinthians 6:18). He lovingly placed them in a beautiful garden paradise, instructed them to populate the earth and to exercise proper care and dominion over it (Genesis 1:28; 2:8).

Yet, as a loving parent, God also has to correct mankind when it veers too far off course, and that also is shown throughout the Bible. Nevertheless, the final chapters of Revelation show that God will ultimately triumph in bringing many sons to glory and will wipe away the tears of His children, promising there will be no more death, sorrow or crying (Revelation 21:4).

One of the foremost Bible scholars of the past century, F.F. Bruce, wrote: “The Bible is not simply an anthology [a collection of books]; there is a unity which binds the whole together … Any part of the human body can only be properly explained in reference to the whole body. And any part of the Bible can only be properly explained in reference to the whole Bible” (The Books and the Parchments: How We Got Our English Bible, 1984, pp. 88-89).

The apostle Paul sums up the underlying unity of the Bible when he says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Bible is non-mythical

Another striking difference between the Bible and other religious works is the absence of mythical stories and legends. While many will surely debate this, we should consider the following.

Other creation accounts in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America include such mythological scenarios as gods feuding and cutting up other gods to form the heavens and the earth. The religious works of the Greeks described the earth being held up by the god Atlas, while in India, the Hindu religion pictured the earth as supported on the backs of eight huge elephants.

Yet the Bible describes God hanging the earth “on nothing” (Job 26:7). This was written millennia before Isaac Newton discovered the invisible laws of gravity that showed the earth truly is suspended “on nothing.”

In contrast to every other ancient creation account, the Bible pictures the creation of the earth in a very scientific manner. In Genesis 1, the continents are lifted from the seas. Then vegetation is created and, later, animal life—all reproducing “according to its kind”—recognizing fixed genetic laws. Finally we have the creation of man and woman, all done in a dignified and godly manner, without mythological adornments.

The rest of the Bible follows suit. The narratives are historical, faithfully reflecting society and culture as history and archaeology would discover them thousands of years later. And while there may be disputes among archaeologists about certain details of the accounts, there is a general consensus of the Bible’s accuracy.

Norman Geisler, professor of theology, summarizes the findings of archaeology: “In every period of Old Testament history, we find that there is good evidence from archaeology that the Scriptures speak the truth. In many instances, the Scriptures even reflect firsthand knowledge of the times and customs it describes. While many have doubted the accuracy of the Bible, time and continued research have consistently demonstrated that the Word of God is better informed than its critics” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 1998, p. 52).

Not only is the Bible historically accurate, but when it deals with scientific subjects, it is also reliable. This is one of the reasons the Bible can be accepted as a trustworthy document that should be taken literally. Although it was not written as a textbook on history, science, mathematics or medicine, when the writers of Scripture touch on these subjects, they were inspired by God not to make mistakes, but to write what was true—sometimes stating facts that scientific advancement would not reveal or even consider for thousands of years.

Consider, for example, astronomy. Scientists today have discovered evidence that the universe had a beginning, when space, matter and time suddenly appeared from nowhere. This is reminiscent of what Genesis 1:1 says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Robert Jastrow, a former NASA director, comments: “A sound explanation may exist for the explosive birth of our Universe; but if it does, science cannot find out what the explanation is. The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation.

“This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth.’ It is unexpected because science has had such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time” (God and the Astronomers, 1978, p. 116).

The Bible is intact

Of all the ancient works of substantial size, only the Bible comes to us completely intact. This is against all odds and expectations. In comparison, William Shakespeare’s plays, written only about 400 years ago, and after the invention of the printing press, are in much worse shape. Shakespeare’s original words have been lost in numerous sections, and scholars are left to fill in the blanks as best as they can.

But when it comes to the Bible, its uncanny preservation has permitted it to weather thousands of years of wars, persecutions, fires and invasions, and still remain intact. As author Josh McDowell notes: “Compared with other ancient writings, the Bible has more manuscript evidence to support it than any ten pieces of classical literature combined” (The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1999, p. 9).

How was this amazing task accomplished? The Old Testament text was preserved by Jewish scribes through the centuries. Scholars unanimously praise their faithful copying and transmission of the text.

Professor Bernard Ramm explains: “Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their [scribes] they kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity. Who ever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle or Seneca?” (Protestant Christian Evidences, 1953, pp. 230-231).

What about the New Testament? Here the actual number of preserved manuscripts is so great that it becomes overwhelming.

McDowell writes: “There are more than 5,686 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions, and we have close to, if not more than, 25,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today. No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers …

“In comparison, Homer’s Iliad is second, with only 643 manuscripts that still survive. The first complete preserved text of Homer dates from the thirteenth century” (p. 34, emphasis added).

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35). His words have become a prophecy that is still rock-solid in our day. With billions of Bibles in more than 2,000 languages now distributed around the world, God’s Word will by no means pass away.

The Bible tells events ahead of time

The fourth proof of the inspiration of the Bible is the way it deals with time—by accurately foretelling what will happen ahead of time. This is also a unique characteristic of the Bible: It boldly proclaims specific historical events to come in the future. No other ancient sacred book dares to deal with time in this way with unmatched results.

As the book A General Introduction to the Bible says: “No unconditional prophecy of the Bible about events to the present day has gone unfulfilled … Other books claim divine inspiration, such as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and parts of the [Hindu] Veda. But none of those books contains predictive prophecy. As a result, fulfilled prophecy is a strong indication of the unique, divine authority of the Bible” (Norman Geisler and William Nix, 1986, p. 13).

One incredible example of prophecy is found in the book of Isaiah. The date of the book is fixed by its first verse: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”

Through history and archaeology, the dates of these kings are well known—from 767 to 686 B.C., a span of 81 years. Yet, in Isaiah 44, God reveals to Isaiah a coming conqueror who would permit Jerusalem to be rebuilt after its destruction—although in Isaiah’s day Jerusalem was still standing! So here is a prophecy so ahead of its time that only future generations in Jerusalem would first witness the city’s destruction and then its rebuilding!

Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians some 100 years after Isaiah’s day. And work was not begun to reconstruct it until 539 B.C., when the prophesied king conquered Babylon and decreed that the captive Jews be freed and allowed to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple.

In Isaiah 44, God reveals to Isaiah the actual name of the coming conqueror—Cyrus, known in history as Cyrus the Great: “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and He who formed you from the womb: ‘I am the LORD, who makes all things, who stretches out the heavens all alone … who frustrates the signs of the babblers, and drives diviners mad … who says to Jerusalem, “you shall be inhabited,” … who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,’ and to the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid'”‘” (Isaiah 44:24-28).

This is only one of the hundreds of Bible prophecies that have been confirmed. Dozens of specific prophecies deal with Jesus Christ and were fulfilled in precise detail. No other ancient sacred book even dares to deal with predictive prophecy—making the Bible unique.

Wilbur Smith, professor of the Bible, says about this book: “It is the only volume ever produced by man, or a group of men, in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of One who was to be the Messiah.

“The ancient world had many different devices for determining the future, known as divination, but not in the entire gamut of Greek and Latin literature, even though they use the words prophet and prophecy, can we find any real specific prophecy of a great historic event to come in the distant future, nor any prophecy of a Savior to arise in the human race …

“Mohammedanism cannot point to any prophecies of the coming of Mohammed uttered hundreds of years before his birth. Neither can the founders of any cult in this country rightly identify any ancient text specifically foretelling their appearance” (The Incomparable Book, 1961, pp. 9-10).

Fulfilled prophecy is proof of the Bible’s divine inspiration.

The Bible yields results!

The final proof of the Bible’s inspiration is very simple—apply it and it will work for you.

The Bible has yielded fantastic results in the lives of so many, and it can do the same for you. It is a practical book, explaining God’s will in virtually every facet of life and how to achieve true success. As U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt remarked, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”

However, reaping its blessings takes faith—an active belief that God’s Word is true and that applying it will yield positive results. The Bible puts it this way: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Thanks to the Bible, we can enjoy so many benefits of Western civilization. As Susan Gallagher and Roger Lundin note: “The Bible is one of the most important documents in the history of civilization not only because of its status as holy, inspired Scripture, but also because of its pervasive influence on Western thought.

“As the predominant world view for at least fourteen centuries, Christianity and its great central text played a major role in the formation of Western culture. Consequently, many literary texts, even those in our post-Christian era, frequently draw on the Bible and Christian tradition” (Literature Through the Eyes of Faith, 1984, p. 120).

Modern science also owes much to the Bible. Philosopher Francis Schaeffer explains: “The rise of modern science did not conflict with what the Bible teaches; indeed, at a crucial point the Scientific Revolution rested upon what the Bible teaches. Both Alfred North Whitehead and J. Robert Oppenheimer have stressed that modern science was born out of the Christian world view …

“As far as I know, neither of the two men were Christians or claimed to be Christians, yet both were straightforward in acknowledging that modern science was born out of the Christian world view … In other words, because the early scientists believed that the world was created by a reasonable God, they were not surprised to discover that people could find out something true about nature and the universe on the basis of reason” (How Should We Then Live?, 1976, pp. 132-133).

God says in the Bible that every application of its principles will yield beneficial results. It states: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

Moreover, the impact Jesus Christ has had in millions of lives continues unabated. The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte once said: “I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible terms of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him” (quoted by Frank Mead, The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, 1965, p. 56).

Historian Philip Schaff adds: “This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon. Without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined. Without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet.

“Without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise, than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times” (The Person of Christ, 1913, p. 33).

Yes, the bottom line of proving the Bible true and that it should be taken at face value is simple—it works!

So, if any Bible skeptic comes asking for proofs that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, here is a way to remember these five proofs. Just remember the first key word of the first proof—UNITY—and then each of its letters reveals the first letter of the key words of the rest of the proofs:

U = Unity
N = Non-mythical
I = Intact
T = Time
Y = Yield

With these five proofs in mind, it will be easier for you to believe that the Bible is true and that you should take it in its literal and natural sense. GN


Recommended Reading

You’ll find many other fascinating proofs of the inspiration of the Bible in our booklet Is the Bible True?, yours free for the asking. To help you better comprehend the Bible, we’ve prepared a booklet, How to Understand the Bible, also free. And for an in-depth look at the Bible, dive into our monthly Bible Reading Program, offering clear, easy-to-follow commentary that makes the Bible really come alive! You’ll find it at www.ucg.org/brp.

Does the Bible Contain Errors?

Does the Bible contain errors? Often the answer depends on the eye of the beholder. For those determined to undermine Scripture, yes, it does contain errors and no answer will satisfy them. For others, though, careful study and patience usually resolve any problems.

As noted author Josh McDowell explains regarding the Bible: “It is a mistake for the critic to assume…that what has not yet been explained never will be explained. When a scientist comes upon an anomaly in nature, he does not give up further scientific exploration. Rather, he uses the unexplained as a motivation to find an explanation…

“Likewise, the Christian scholar approaches the Bible with the same presumption that what is thus far unexplained is not therefore unexplainable. He or she does not assume that discrepancies are contradictions. And when he encounters something for which he has no explanation, he simply continues to do research, believing that one will eventually be found…

“Like his scientific counterpart, the Bible student has been rewarded for his faith and research. Many difficulties for which scholars once had no answer have yielded to the relentless pursuit of answers through history, archaeology, linguistics, and other disciplines. For example, critics once proposed that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Bible because there was no writing in Moses’ day. Now we know that writing existed a couple of thousand years or more before Moses.

“Likewise, critics once believed that the Bible was wrong in speaking of the Hittite people, since they were totally unknown to historians. Now historians know of their existence by way of a Hittite library found in Turkey. This gives us confidence to believe that biblical difficulties not yet explained do have an explanation, and we need not assume that there is a mistake in the Bible” (The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1999, pp. 46-47).

Contradictions in the Gospels?

As an example of resolving supposed contradictions, let’s consider how the four Gospels record the words that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, ordered to be placed above Jesus’ head at His crucifixion.

Matthew 27:37 reads, “This is Jesus the king of the Jews.”

Mark 15:26 says, “the king of the Jews.”

Luke 23:38 reads, “This is the king of the Jews.”

John 19:19 states, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.”

At first glance it might appear none of the authors copied the words on the sign properly. But, when we read each account, we find every one adds a bit more information to the rest. From John we find that Pilate composed the message. From Luke we have additional information as to why these words are different: The inscription was originally written in three languages, Greek, Latin and Hebrew (Luke 23:38).

So the variation of the wordings logically would have to do with the three languages used as well as the different point of view of each biographer, stressing slightly different aspects of Christ’s life and ministry. Adding up the wording of the different accounts, we see that the complete message recorded by the signs was “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.”

None of the Gospel accounts contradicts the others; they complement each other to provide increased understanding. A helpful tool for studying Christ’s life and ministry is A.T. Robertson’s A Harmony of the Gospels, which provides all four Gospel accounts side by side in chronological order.

Other seeming contradictions in the Bible are related to times and dates. One example of this is that Israel used both a civil and a sacred calendar. The civil year began in the autumn with the month of Tishri, while the sacred year began in the spring with the month of Nisan or Abib. When two writers seem to disagree regarding the timing of a particular event, the seeming discrepancy can be clarified by ascertaining which of the two calendars they are using.

In another matter of timing, John 19:14 seems to disagree with Matthew 27:45. John described events that occurred before the crucifixion and says that they took place at about the “sixth hour.” Matthew agrees with Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44 when he says darkness covered the land after the crucifixion from the sixth to the ninth hours. Is there a real discrepancy between these accounts?

No! The answer lies in the fact that the Jewish state was then under Roman control and John used the Roman reckoning of time, which began at midnight. The “sixth hour” in John’s reckoning was 6:00 in the morning. However, the Jewish method of timekeeping started from that time of the morning, counting it as the first hour of the day. So the sixth hour of the day according to Jewish reckoning was noon.

The crucifixion occurred between the sixth and ninth hours of the day—Jewish time. Thus, the four Gospel accounts do not contradict; instead they complement each other.

Answers may not be readily apparent

What about other scriptural passages that contain apparent discrepancies? Some of these are the result of faulty translations; some Bible translations are simply more accurate than others in rendering particular verses. With other passages the difficulties may be more substantial.

In any case, one should not be alarmed at what appear to be errors in the Bible. There are answers and solutions to these passages that may not be readily apparent. As noted Bible scholar Gleason Archer writes:

“As I have dealt with one apparent discrepancy after another and have studied the alleged contradictions between the biblical record and the evidence of linguistics, archaeology, or science, my confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture has been repeatedly verified and strengthened by the discovery that almost every problem in Scripture that has ever been discovered by man, from ancient times until now, has been dealt with in a completely satisfactory manner by the biblical text itself—or else by objective archaeological information…

“There is a good and sufficient answer in Scripture itself to refute every charge that has ever been leveled against it. But this is only to be expected from the kind of book the Bible asserts itself to be, the inscripturation of the infallible, inerrant Word of the Living God” (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1982, p. 12).

The Bible is the Word of God, and we can depend upon it as the Book that illuminates the pathway to salvation. It is reliable. The apostle Paul wrote that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Jesus said that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

This is a promise from Jesus Christ on which we can rely and in which we can place our complete confidence. So, when we read the Bible, let us be assured that we are indeed reading a book that is inspired of God and contains the full backing of the Eternal God who desires to give us the salvation the book promises us.

A little research with commentaries and other Bible helps can usually resolve Bible difficulties.

 

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