Can we trust the bible to be true and accurate?
The Bible claims to be interested in history - offering a reliable account of what happened.
Here for example is Luke’s justification of his writing his life of Jesus:
‘Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.‘
A historian looks for original sources of information--people who were personally involved in the events being described. Luke doesn't claim to be an eyewitness himself, but he had carefully interviewed many who were. As the apostle Paul's traveling companion, Luke must have met many such sources. The Gospel of Luke is the first of a two-part work; the book of Acts continues the story.
Here are some expert comments which deserve thinking about:
"There is much more evidence for the New Testament than for other ancient writings of comparable date" (Professor F.F.Bruce)
"In spite of the numerous possibilities of error, the New Testament is probably the most trustworthy piece of writing that has survived from antiquity." (M.C.Tenney)
"Whatever our view of it (Mark’s Gospel) may be, it remains, for good or ill, the most important document in the history of the world, an unrivalled source of information, a corner stone..But the doubter is entitled to ask- "Is it true?" I cannot prove it, I can only testify to it...Week after week, year after year, I have been sitting down in front of this Gospel seeking to penetrate it, to keep my mind open to it. I can only say that this exercise has only served to reinforce a conviction that in this Gospel we are in the presence of historical, elemental truth." (Stuart Blanch-former Archbishop of York)
The Bible claims to be more than history - it is an account of God working in the world to bring people back into a right relationship with himself through his Son Jesus Christ.
So John, the follower of Jesus ,writes about his work:
‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’
This also puts miracles in their proper place. These are not magical tricks or the weird and unexplained of the X-files variety. They are purposeful actions which testify to God’s compassion and power in the person of Jesus. If Jesus is the Creator in his world then, as with any author, he has both the right and the power to change the story in order to achieve his higher purposes, not in a capricious way (as often in fairy tales), but in a way which is consistent with his character and plans. This is what we find in the Gospels. The miracles are often very restrained and unadorned - unlike those we find in myths.They do ring true.
The apostle Paul speaking about both the Old and New Testament writes:
‘The holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 Timothy 3:15
Their origin is ultimately divine (God-breathed) through human writers.Their purpose is to introduce us to the true and living God so we might know him personally and savingly through his Son.
But the historical basis is vitally important.
For example, the apostle Paul writes just 20 years after Jesus had died:
‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.’
1 Corinthians 15:3
If Jesus had not lived,died and risen from the dead - then Paul’s claim for the Christian message would not make sense. It cannot be claimed that ‘Jesus died for our sins’ if, in fact, he had not died! Christianity is a historical religion - centred on a person living in our world - Jesus of Nazareth. It is not a set of abstract ideas - but based on real events which have changed the world for ever.
How does it fit together?Here is Jesus‘ lieutenant Peter speaking:
‘Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven’
1 Peter 1:4
In other words, the Bible is a unity - the Old Testament looking forward to Jesus and the New Testament looking back to him.
This is the way Dr Christopher Chevase puts it: ‘The Bible is the portrait of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospels are the Figure itself in the portrait.The Old Testament is the background leading up to the divine Figure, pointing towards it and absolutely necessary to the composition as a whole. The Letters serve as the dress and accoutrements of the Figure, explaining and describing it. Then while by our Bible reading we study the portrait as a great whole, the miracle happens, the figure comes to life, and stepping down from the canvas of the written word the everlasting Christ of the Emmaus story becomes himself our Bible teacher, to interpret to us in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’
A tip-read it for yourself - maybe start with Mark or John. ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.’-read it for yourself - maybe start with Mark or John. ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.’