Can We Trust the Bible?

Howard Hendricks  and William Hendricks
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After captivating an audience at Yale University, the late novelist Ayn Rand was asked by a reporter, “What’s wrong with the modern world?”

Without a moment’s hesitation she replied, “Never before has the world been so desperately asking for answers to crucial questions, and never before has the world been so frantically committed to the idea that no answers are possible. To paraphrase the Bible, the modern attitude is, ‘Father, forgive us, for we know not what we are doing—and please don’t tell us!’”

That’s very perceptive for an acknowledged agnostic. Many of us want a word from God, but we don’t want the Word of God. We know enough to own a Bible but not enough for the Bible to own us. We pay the Bible lip service, but we fail to give it “life service.” In a world where the only absolute is that there are no absolutes, there is little room left for the authoritative Word of God as revealed in the Bible.

The question is, can we trust the Bible? Is it credible? Is it reliable? Is it determinative for life in our time? Consider what Scripture says about itself.

The Bible Is a Unit

If you’ve ever studied some complex or controversial subject in depth, you know the frustration of trying to find two or three authorities who agree on any and all points. It basically never happens.

The Bible stands in marked contrast; it is unique in that its parts conspire to form a unified whole. You see, the Bible is not only one Book, it is sixty-six books collected in one volume. These sixty-six separate documents were written over a period of more than sixteen hundred years by more than forty human authors who came from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“The Bible is the Word of God in such a way that when the Bible speaks, God speaks.”

B. B. Warfield

Yet the Bible is a single unit, bound together by the theme of God and His relationship to humankind. Each book, section, paragraph, and verse works together with the others to reveal God’s truth. That’s why Scripture is best understood by relating its individual parts to the integrated whole.

The Bible Is God’s Revelation

The Bible presents itself as revealed truth from God. The word it uses for “revelation” actually means “unveiling,” like pulling back a curtain to show what is behind it. In Scripture, God has revealed things that would otherwise not be known at all. He has unveiled that which is absolutely true—not speculated, not conjectured, not hypothesized. It is truth that is entirely consistent—never controverted, compromised, or contradicted by other parts of the revelation.

The Bible Is Inspired by God

The great theologian B. B. Warfield said, “The Bible is the Word of God in such a way that when the Bible speaks, God speaks.” That’s a good description of inspiration. The reason we call the Bible the Word of God is because it is indeed the very words that God wanted communicated.

Of course, some have a problem with this concept because the Bible was penned by human authors. If they were “inspired” it was only as great artists are “inspired” to produce great art.

But that’s not what the Bible means by inspiration. Remember 2 Timothy 3:16–17? “All Scripture is inspired by God.” The word translated “inspired” means “God-breathed.” It conveys the idea of God “breathing out” the Scriptures. And since the word for “breath” can also be translated “spirit,” we can easily see the work of the Holy Spirit as He superintended the writing.

So what part did the human authors play? God supernaturally used them to pen the words, without compromising the perfection, integrity, or purity of the finish ed product. It’s a case of dual authorship. As Charles Ryrie puts it, “God superintended the human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded, without error, His revelation to man in the words of the original manuscripts.”

Peter used a brilliant word picture to describe this arrangement when he wrote that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). The word moved is the same word used to describe a ship moving along under the power of a blowing wind. The biblical writers were guided in their writing to go where God wanted them to go and to produce what God wanted them to produce. Without question, their personalities, writing styles, perspectives, and distinctives are reflected in their words. But their accounts are more than the words of men—they are the Word of God.

Have you heard of the Jesus Project? Certain scholars doubt the reliability of the words of Jesus recorded in the four gospels. So they meet annually to discuss those texts. For each statement ascribed to Christ, they vote on the relative merits of whether Jesus actually said the words or whether the New Testament writers put them in His mouth.

The vote can go one of four ways: The group may decide that Jesus’ words are “red,” indicating that He definitely spoke them. On the other hand, the scholars may label them “black” if they believe that He definitely did not say them. In the middle are “pink” (Jesus probably spoke them, though there is some question), and “gray” (Jesus probably did not speak them, though it is possible that He might have).

What is the purpose of this exercise? A spokesperson says the group wants to strengthen people’s faith by letting them know what is reliable and what is not. I don’t know how such a project strikes you, but it seems ludicrous to me— to say nothing of dangerous. How is it that a committee of doubters living two thousand years after the fact feels qualified to pass judgment on the authority of Scripture? I guess they hold to “inspiration by consensus.”

I prefer inspiration by the Holy Spirit. The text of the Bible is not the musings of men but a supernatural product, the very Word of God.

The Bible Is Inerrant

In order to be authoritative, the Bible must be true, that is, without error. As someone has noted, “Either the Bible is without error in all, or it is not without error at all.” There’s really no middle ground. A “partially inerrant” Bible is an errant Bible.

“Inerrancy” means without error—containing no mistakes or errors in the original writings, and having no errors in any area whatsoever. That’s a tough concept for our generation. We tend to be relativists, for whom nothing can be true in an absolute sense. Furthermore, our culture would have us believe that modern science has left the Bible far behind.

The reality is that Scripture has withstood the test of pure science. Indeed, many of the most eminent, learned scientists of our day are taking a “third” look at Scripture in light of recent developments and discoveries.

Believing in an error-free Bible does not mean that we take every statement in a wooden, rigidly literal way. Scripture often speaks in figurative language. Furthermore, we accept that there have been errors in transmission of the Bible from copy to copy, over the years (though surprisingly few).

Nevertheless, the Bible bears witness to its own inerrancy. The most powerful witness is the Lord Jesus Himself. In Matthew 4:1–11, He emphasizes that the actual written words of Scripture can be trusted, not just the ideas they contain. In Matthew 5:17–18, He extends the absolute reliability of the text all the way to individual letters, and even the parts of letters.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus referred to portions of Scripture questioned by some “authorities” today. There’s no hint that He regarded them as anything other than accurate, reliable, and true. (In Matthew alone, see 8:4; 10:15; 12:17, 40; 19:3–5; and 24:38–39.)

Inerrancy means that we have a Bible that is completely trustworthy, reliable, and without error in its original form. As we study it, we can eagerly anticipate answers to the questions that are essential.

For Further Reading:

Living by the Book

by Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks

For every person who draws strength and direction from the Bible, there are many more who struggle with it. Some call it a long book with fine...

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