Can We Really Trust the Bible?

IMG_2314Pretty much everyone believes that the Bible is a big deal for the Christian faith. For some who find its contents unbelievable or even offensive, the Bible is the reason that they don’t want to believe. Others would like to explain parts of it away to leave Christianity seemingly more in step with our modern world. And then there are those who find that life only really makes sense when seen through the lens of biblical truth. Whatever our opinion of Christianity, what we think about the Bible tends to be an extremely important factor in the discussion.

For my own part, I’d go so far as to say that if we remove the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible from the conversation we’ll eventually arrive at something other than Christianity. We might have some kind of religion, but it won’t be the faith that Christians have ascribed to for almost 2000 years.

So the question of whether we can actually trust the Bible is both fair and crucial. One way or another, the answer has serious consequences.

But offering an answer in any kind of depth takes a bit of time and effort—far more than can easily be put in a single blog post. Maybe a series of inconsistent occasional posts is a better way to approach it. And even taking that route, we’ll likely only provide an introduction to several of the important issues.

With that said, where to start? How about with what the Bible itself says about its content?

After all, if the Bible tells us we have reasons to doubt its credibility, then we’d probably be on solid ground in doing so. And if it claims otherwise, we at least need to wrestle with that one way or the other.

Consider a couple of passages that speak directly to this discussion:

2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Peter 1:20-21: Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The major point to make from these (and many other) passages is that the Bible presents God himself as its ultimate author. Yes, human beings wrote down the words. But the claim is that, in some mysterious way—one that didn’t eliminate their distinct personalities or discount their particular circumstances—God wrote all of it through them.

If true, this claim has enormous ramifications. For one, if the eternal, all-powerful, all-wise, holy, loving, truthful creator and sustainer of the entire universe speaks, it’s reasonable to think we can trust what we hear. In fact, that’s another thing that Bible tells us at multiple points. For example:

Proverbs 30:5: Every word of God is flawless…

Psalm 12:6: And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.

John 17:17: [Jesus praying] Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

(See also Psalms 19 and 119, etc.)

According to the Bible’s own testimony then, we can’t simply dismiss something that we read in the Bible by saying things like “yes, but we know so much more about how things work than they did then” or “(insert biblical author here) couldn’t possibly have predicted how society would change.” Because while each of the human authors of the Bible was finite and fallible, its ultimate author isn’t. He’s unencumbered by ignorance and sees every end from its beginning with perfect clarity. His judgment is infallible and his communication skills are impeccable.

Again, these are all claims that you find within the Bible. But we should note that they’re claims that none of the biblical authors—despite the time and distance separating their various contributions—ever seems to challenge. And for that matter, none of the gospels present Jesus treating other portions of the Bible as anything but trustworthy and authoritative.

So yes, we still need to consider several other questions and whether or not they should undermine our trust in the Bible. But one thing we can’t easily do is to say the Bible itself claims to be anything but the very words of God.

2 Comments

  1. Kyle H. said:

    It doesn’t seem to me that the Bible’s self-testimony has much, if any, evidential value. For those who already trust the Bible, reminding them of what the Bible says about itself just tells them what they already believe. For those who disbelieve the Bible, or are at least struggling with doubt about its trustworthiness, the Bible’s self-testimony does nothing because they are already doubting or disbelieving the Bible’s testimony.

    From what I can tell though, this post is going to be part of a series that gives a cumulative case for the Bible’s trustworthiness. That, I think, will be interesting.

    I’m not saying the Bible’s self-testimony is not important. It’s good to bring up to those who tend to pick and choose what parts of the Bible to consider authoritative, for example. It looks like you are addressing that audience as well. But I’m wondering if the post should have been named something along the lines of “What does the Bible Say about Itself?” rather than “Can We Trust the Bible?”, because the Bible’s self-testimony doesn’t seem to adequately answer that second question to most people.

  2. Nathan Tiemeyer said:

    Kyle, a few thoughts in response:

    1. While it’s far from the only important factor, I disagree that the Bible’s self-testimony isn’t relevant for those struggling with doubt about its trustworthiness. And I would say the same holds true for those who just don’t know what they think. We evaluate any text/testimony based on both internal and external evidence. My admittedly modest goal in this particular post was to look at the internal facet of the discussion (and only part of it at that). In that regard, if authors or witnesses give us one reason or another to doubt the authority or truthfulness of what they say, that should be a factor in how we consider their claims. For example, one way the biblical authors could have done this is to explicitly or implicitly communicate something to the effect of, “we’re just fallible human beings writing solely on our own,” or “this may not be appropriate or as relevant for a future age” or “approach what we’ve written like you would Plutarch, Shakespeare, or the Harry Potter books.” In effect, the Bible’s claims give us no internal encouragement to hedge our bets when reading its content. Instead, they actually raise the bar in demanding our attention. Yes, there still is the matter of whether we have other good reasons to trust these claims (a fact that I alluded to at the end of my post). But I’m convinced we don’t have an option of saying something like, “The Bible never claims to be infallible/inerrant/authoritative/etc., so we can rule that out right from the start.” And since many people are less familiar with the Bible and its content than we once were in our culture (and within the church as well), I think that’s an important, fundamental point to note.

    2. This is merely the same point I would make in regard to a question like, “Is Jesus God?” If he never claimed to be, well, that would certainly change the discussion. But if we have witnesses that say he did, that’s a different ballgame. Of course we still have to weigh those claims. But they’re certainly relevant to the discussion.

    3. As for the title of the post: as I’ve tried to express with the above comments, I think “what the Bible has to say about itself” is fundamentally tied up with the question of “can we trust the Bible?” I agree, as you say, that “the Bible’s self-testimony doesn’t seem to adequately answer that second question to most people.” But I’m simply claiming it’s a (fundamental) piece of the argument, not the sum total. And, as you noted, I mentioned that this was likely the first of an occasional series…

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