Can we Believe What We Read in Scripture?
The idea that “what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me” can lead a person to the conclusion that the moral truths from the Bible are all just a matter of opinion. But this conclusion simply reveals our confusion over the concepts of truth and belief.
We are all entitled to our own beliefs, which describe the way we subjectively think the world is. Truth, however, objectively describes the state of the world. Thus, our beliefs can be relative, but truth cannot.
So it makes no sense to say, “It’s true for you, but not for me.” Truth doesn’t change; only our perception of it changes.
The sky, for example, might look baby blue to you, but robin blue to me. We can stridently argue our personal belief all day long, confident we’re right, but once we pull out the color wheel, the true color would be revealed. At least as long as the color wheel is rightly viewed as objective truth.
Similarly, many people argue over the “truth” of Scripture. Can the Bible, they ask, really be trusted to be from God? After all, wasn’t it written by a bunch of writers over a long period of time? Surely the Bible is merely these men’s take on life, rather than God really speaking?
Is Scripture the “Word” of God?
God, indeed, chose to use more than forty different writers, from every walk of life, over a span of fifteen hundred years, to convey his objective truth.
We’re talking statesmen, masters, servants, tentmakers, tax collectors, shepherds, soldiers, poets, prophets, a physician, monarchs, and rough and tumble fishermen. Some of the writers wrote from despair, others joy. Some during times of certainty and conviction, others during periods of confusion and doubt. And they wrote in a variety of places: a palace, a prison, the wilderness, a dungeon, on a hillside, and on an island in exile.
Each brought differing talents and educational levels. Each brought his unique personality. Each brought his unique perspective of life. Each was 100 percent human. But the writers cited God as the author of Scripture, not themselves. They acknowledged that they were merely conduits that God used to highlight His message.
God chose Israel’s King David, for example, to record valuable lessons on failings, sin, suffering, loss, repentance, and forgiveness. David, you will remember, enjoyed great victories in his life when he wholeheartedly sought after God. But he also endured miserable failures and suffering because of his murder, adultery, and other sin. David’s most important message to us might be that God’s love for us is unconditional and unfailing, and that God willingly offers us forgiveness when we ask.
Moses’ personal experiences uniquely prepared him to be God’s spokesman for the first five books of the Bible. Brought up as a prince in the halls of Egyptian power, Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He was just the man God needed to lead the children of Israel from their Egyptian bondage into the Promised Land, and communicate God’s expectations of how God’s people would differentiate their conduct from the rest of the world’s.
The apostle Paul’s background and life experiences — including his tenure as a tenacious and ruthless enemy of Christ — also were effectively used by God to spell out the amazing message of love, grace, and salvation through Jesus. Paul wrote many of his New Testament letters from prison. No matter the hardship he faced, Paul’s allegiance to Christ never wavered. He knew that he knew that he knew that he served the Risen Lord.
God even used Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, to show us that wisdom is a useless gift if we don’t choose to use it. Now that’s a sad story there! I can’t even image how Solomon, who was given the privilege of personally hearing from God, chose to also worship many of the foreign gods that his 700 wives worshipped. That’s major stupidness right there, people!
How kind of God to provide us with written documents that showcase His heart and mind. With this unique partnership between God and human writers, the sixty-six books of the Bible can rightly be called the “Word of God.” We can rest assured that the contents of the Bible have been vetted and are valid.
The Measuring Rod of the Canon
At first, the Gospel message was spread by the disciples by word of mouth. But once the apostles’ writings began to be circulated, the Gospel message was transformed into a ministry of multiplication that fueled the spread of Christ’s message exponentially. Believers receiving these writings knew they had come from men who had known Jesus personally or were considered authorities on Him and His teachings.
Over the next two hundred years, the fledging church experienced explosive multiplicative growth, quadrupling every generation for five consecutive generations. We’re talking millions of believers! Again, it was the writing of the apostles, or men close to and endorsed by them, that each group believed were supernaturally guided by God to reveal the teachings and truth about Jesus.
From biblical and church history, we find at least four measurements that guided early church leaders in determining which Scriptures were authentic. This discovery process led to the inclusion of a certain group of books commonly referred to as the canon of Scripture. Canon comes from the Greek word kanon, meaning “measuring rod” or “rule.” The four measurements that had to be met:
- The writing was authored by an apostle or prophet of God or by someone closely connected with one or more of the apostles or prophets.
- The writings clearly evidenced the confirming power and presence of God.
- The message was consistent with other recognized Scripture.
- The writing was widely accepted by the Church from an early date.
Were there other writings that could have been included? Sure. But many were rejected because they contradicted the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and Paul’s epistles. Some of the contradictory teachings included the idea of multiple creators, that salvation is assured by “spiritual knowledge,” and that ignorance is at the root of humanity’s problem.The most definitive recognition that the whole of the Old Testament was God-breathed came from none other than Jesus himself. He quoted and repeatedly taught from the Old Testament.
Is the Bible the only teaching that God uses to reach us? No. Many writers have since penned songs, books, and other media that speak to our personal issues. But we can know with certainty that the Bible, the basis of our Christian belief, is objectively true. To know Scripture is to know when we’re living life according to God’s truth.
God’s Word Endures Despite Persecution
Many attempts have been made to destroy the Bible, but it has survived even amid great persecution. In AD 303, for example, the Roman emperor Diocletian issued an edict to stop Christians from worshipping and to destroy their Scriptures. Twenty-five years later, the historic irony of this event was noted by Eusebius, a fourth-century historian, when he recorded that the Roman emperor Constantine ordered fifty copies of the Scriptures to be prepared at the government’s expense.
Voltaire, the esteemed eighteenth-century French writer and skeptic, predicted that within a hundred years of his time, Christianity would be but a footnote in history. But it was Voltaire who ended up the footnote. God’s Word continues to inspire millions.
H. L. Hastings, the noted nineteenth-century scholar and writer puts the Bible’s unsinkability this way: “Infidels for eighteen hundred years have been refuting and overthrowing this book, and yet it stands today as solid as a rock. Its circulation increases, and it is more loved and cherished and read today than ever before. Infidels, with all their assaults, make about as much impression on this book as a man with a tack hammer would on the Pyramids of Egypt … If this book had not been the book of God, men would have destroyed it long ago. Emperors and popes, kings and priests, princes and rulers have all tried their hand at it; they die and the book still lives.”
If this book had not been the book of God, men would have destroyed it long ago. That one line, in particular, stands out to me. Because our God is the creator of the universe, nothing He creates can ever be stamped out. Perhaps one reason the Bible has endured until now is so that YOU have the chance to read it. So whynot crack open your Bible (you have at least one lying around, right?) and begin to hear what God wants to say to YOU.
Thought to Ponder
As cultural tolerance grows, it becomes more important that our beliefs about life be based on the solid rock of God’s Scriptures. It’s time to get serious about knowing God’s Word. If you don’t know how God views your daily struggles, you will never understand the depth of love, compassion, and grace He has for you. You will never know the power and comfort His word can give you when you need it most. This week, give God a chance to speak to you through His Word. You might start with one of our daily devotionals.
This blog post has been adapted from the book The Beauty of Intolerance, by Josh and Sean McDowell. To purchase a copy of this and other helpful resources, please visit our Store page.