The Bible is a collection of specific books, or written documents, which are considered by Christians to be the authoritative Word of God. These documents were written by over forty different authors who came from various levels of society. They wrote in their own languages, Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. The dating of these books covers about 1500 years up to the end of the first century AD. When initially written, these documents were separate books or manuscripts, but since the fifth century they have been considered together as one collection under the name Bible, from the Greek “Biblia”, which means “books”.1
The Bible is “inspired” by God
During the centuries involved in the use and collection of these documents by various Hebrew and Christian leaders, including the leaders of ancient Israel and the apostles of the first century AD, these leaders and their communities of believers recognized that the writings of particular Hebrew authors and prophets were especially authoritative and worthy of being cited as “holy writings” or “Scripture”. The reasons for giving these writings such authority and honor included their antiquity, use, orthodoxy, and adaptability. Paul made it clear that there was another standard for authoritative “Scripture” when he referred to the set of Hebrew writings in the Old Testament as being “God breathed”, which is the meaning of the Greek word “Theopneustos” that Paul used in his instructions to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16 (in the New Testament) when he gave Timothy some guidance regarding what written resources he should use in his ministry with Christian congregations. So the standard of being “inspired” by God himself was clarified in the process of determining what writings were to be regarded as having authority by Christians, and a standard of apostolicity was also added later to enable some writings of the Christian era, including the writings of Paul himself, to be recognized as having the authority of God himself. Because these books of the Bible have been especially “God-breathed” into existence by their authors as well as for other reasons, they were and now are referred to as “Scripture”, God’s Holy Word. But not all basic Christian church bodies recognize the same set of documents as their approved canon or list of Scriptures. Although Protestant Christians recognize the commonly published and circulated 39 books of the Hebrew Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament as the 66 books of “Scripture” in their cannon, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes 46 books in its Old Testment set of documents and the commonly accepted 27 documents of the New Testament as their approved canon of the “Scriptures”, and the canons of “Scriptures” for the Greek Orthodox and Ethiopian churches of the Eastern branches of Christianity are different from each of the other established canons with 81 documents in their sets of recognized “Scriptures”.2 So Christians today are personally still faced with Timothy’s challenge of discerning among many written documents about God and his Son Jesus and their will and instructions for us human creatures what written words and books are “inspired” and what ones are apparently not “inspired” or for other reasons are not recognized as being authoritative.
This process of inspiration; can best be explained in the meaning of these two words, “plenary” and “verbal”. “‘Plenary’, a term meaning ‘full’ or ‘complete’, means that each book, chapter, and paragraph of the Bible is equally derived from God. Verbal inspiration emphasizes the truth that the wording of the text, as well as the ideas conveyed, is supernaturally inspired by God through the Holy Spirit.”3
Another important term in understanding this process is the term “inerrancy”. It is used “to convey the view that the Bible’s teaching is true on everything of which it speaks. The Bible is not just a useful body of human ideas. It makes clear the mind of God Himself.”4 The apostle Peter makes this point very strongly in his second letter to the early Christians when he wrote: “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” (2 Peter 2:20–21).5
This process of inspiration is demonstrated and recognized in the amazing unity of these books, in the harmonious agreement between the messages of these documents. In spite of the personal difference between the authors, the different times in which they wrote, the different literary styles that they used, and the different languages that they used, these books/documents/writings have a unity and harmony in their content that marked them as coming from one source, God, and they should be regarded as Scripture.
Josh McDowell in his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, quotes F.F. Bruce in regard to this matter: “‘...the Bible is not simply an anthology; there is a unity which binds the whole together. An anthology is compiled by anthologist, but no anthologist compiled the Bible.’”6
The organization of the Bible
There are two basic divisions in this collection: the Old Testament of thirty-nine books and the New Testament of twenty-seven books. The Old Testament consists of these three parts: 1. The Law (Torah), which are the first five books of the Bible that are reported to have been written by Moses; 2. The Prophets, which includes the books of Joshua, Judges, The Books of Samuel, the Books of Kings, and the writings of the major prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and those of the twelve minor prophets like Amos and Jonah; 3. The Hagiographa, (holy writings), which include the Psalms and Proverbs, Job, and the rest of these Old Testament documents. The New Testament also has three parts: 1. the Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the book of Acts; 2. the Epistles, which are letters to various Christian congregations and leaders; 3. the Revelation, a book of prophecy.7
Some of these books are histories of events in the lives of individuals, the Hebrew patriarchs, kingdoms, and the nation of ancient Israel. Others like Leviticus and parts of Exodus, are statements of rules and regulations for worship and proper behavior. Some are hymns, like the book of Psalms, or a poem, like The Song of Songs (the book of Solomon). Some are extensive words of warning regarding God’s impending judgments against those who continue to disobey His commandments or descriptive announcements of Israel’s coming Messiah, like the books of many of the prophets.
The Gospels in the New Testament are documents that record the preaching (the “good news”, which is the meaning of the term “gospel”) of the early Christian preachers/teachers regarding the life and ministry and teachings of Jesus. The book of Acts is an historic record of the ministries of some of the primary apostles who established the early Christian congregations throughout the Roman Empire. The Epistles are letters from some of these apostles, like Peter and Paul, to these congregations and their fellow ministers in regard to various problems that they encountered as they sought to clarify and to summarize the doctrines and beliefs that were important for these early Christians and for those that were to come from their churches.
Some of these writings, like the books of Daniel and Revelation, are unique descriptions of future events that are inspired by God to selected writers in order to encourage and guide those who are seeking to worship and to serve God in their lives in what they should expect to see happening in future times and how they should be prepared for these events.
So the Bible is an historic record of God’s revelation to humanity. It is a collection of his rules and regulations for how his created human beings are to conduct themselves in loving worship and service; as such, it is an owner’s manual. It contains the special story of Jesus, God’s savior to the world, and God’s appealing invitation to accept his grace through faith in Jesus, his Son. It is also a curriculum for personal and collective study in living a life of faith in relationship to God, to other believers, and to non-Christians.
These books or documents were not initially written with chapter and verse numbers provided by their authors. This system of organization and numbering was added much latter to aid in referencing various parts of these documents and particular statements that could be thus cited and studied. Stephen Langton “divided the Bible into the modern chapter divisions (ca 1227).”8 This is why in the study of the Bible and any of its statements it is important to consider the organization of this collection of documents and the specific context of any verse or verses.
The reliability of the Bible
Although none of the original manuscripts of the Bible are in existence today, the historic accuracy and integrity of the copies of these writings that were made during the early centuries of their use and collection demonstrate that they are reliable statements of God’s truth. This factor regarding the reliability of the Bible has been thoroughly examined in accord with these three tests for all historical documents: bibliographical evidence, internal evidence, and external evidence.9
The bibliographic evidence examines the number of copies that are in existence for any document and the time interval that apparently exists between the copies and the original. According to Josh McDowell, there are 24,633 copies of the New Testament manuscripts in existence while the next most numerous collection of copies for any ancient documents is that for Homer’s Iliad of which there are 643 copies in existence.10 According to a chart that has been prepared by Josh McDowell, the Iliad was written in 900 B.C. and its earliest copy is dated 500 years later at 400 B.C. while the documents of the New Testament were written from 40-100 A.D. with the earliest copy of some of its manuscripts being dated at 125 A.D, which is only a span of 25 years.11
In light of this evidence, Sir Frederic G. Kenyon says, “The interval then between the dates of the original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”12
In regard to any textual variations between copies of the New Testament documents, Josh McDowell quotes Benjamin B. Warfield and Richard Bentley with this evaluation: “the facts show that the great majority of the New Testament ‘has been transmitted to us with no, or next to no, variation; and even in the most corrupt form in which it has ever appeared, to use the oft-quoted words of Richard Bentley’; “the real text of the sacred writers is competently exact;...nor is one article of faith or moral precept either perverted or lost...choose as awkwardly as you will, choose the worst by design, out of the whole lump of readings.””13
In regard to the reliability of the Old Testament, Josh McDowell quotes Robert Dick Wilson from his book A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament. In it he says: “‘In 144 cases of transliteration from Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Moabite into Hebrew and in 40 cases of the opposite, or 184 in all, the evidence shows that for 2300 to 3900 years the text of the proper names in the Hebrew Bible has been transmitted with the most minute accuracy.... There are about forty of these kings living from 2000 B.C. to 400 B.C. Each appears in chronological order...with reference to the kings of the same country and with respect to the kings of other countries...no stronger evidence for the substantial accuracy of the Old Testament records could possibly be imagined that this collection of kings. Mathematically, it is one chance in 750,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 that this accuracy is mere circumstance.... The proof that the copies of the original documents have been handed down with substantial correctness for more than 2,000 years cannot be denied.’”14
In regard to the internal test for the reliability of the Scriptures, Josh McDowell refers to the testimony of the New Testament writers themselves that they “wrote as eyewitnesses or from first-hand information”.15 But he also strengthens his point with this quote from F.F. Bruce that adds the fact that these documents were also subject to the critical review and evaluation of their accuracy by non-believers: “‘And it was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, “We are witnesses of these things,” but also, “As you yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22)”.’”16
In regard to the external evidence test for the reliability of Scripture, Josh McDowell cites this quotation from Nelson Glueck, the renowned Jewish archaeologist, “‘It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.’”17 In regard to the historic accuracy of Luke’s writings in the New Testament, Josh McDowell cites this quotation from Sir William Ramsay, who is regarded as one of the greatest archaeologists ever to have lived: “‘Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.’”18
Another test for the reliability of Scripture is to seen in the accuracy of various predictive (prophetic) statements that have been made by some of its specific authors. Josh McDowell describes the nature and importance of such prophetic statements in this quotation from Merrill F. Unger’s definition of a “prophet”: “‘The Bible is very clear that predictive prophecy is a sign of God’s power and glory and presents the supernatural nature of His word. It is not only a demonstration of God’s power, but also of His answer to man’s prayers and needs. Since God reveals the future, a task no man is so capable of doing, we can know that He sees the future and sees all things even before they reach the present. Christians everywhere should rest assured that nothing will occur which the Father has not foreseen.’”19
Moses uses this standard of fulfillment as a test for God’s prophets in his instructions to the tribes of Israel as he prepared them for their entrance into the land of Canaan (see Deuteronomy 18:22). But Moses also taught that a real prophet of God would not urge his people to worship other gods or to teach them doctrines that were in conflict with his commandments (see Deuteronomy 13).
Dr. Hugh Ross says this regarding the fulfillment of biblical prophecies: “Approximately 2500 prophecies appear in the pages of the Bible, about 2000 of which already have been fulfilled to the letter - no errors. (The remaining 500 or so reach into the future and may be seen unfolding as days go by.) Since the probability for any one of these prophecies having been fulfilled by chance averages less than one in ten (figured very conservatively) and since the prophecies are for the most part independent of one another, the odds for all these prophecies having been fulfilled by chance without error is less than one in 102000 (that is 1 with 2000 zeros written after it)!”20
An invitation regarding the Bible
The Bible is the most published widely circulated book in human history. Its documents have been more critically examined and investigated than any others. Although the validity of its message regarding God's love and redemptive activity in the life and sacrificial mission of Jesus cannot be proven, as in a scientific laboratory, the statements of these 40 different authors are reliable and trustworthy. They are accurate in their revelation of God’s nature, power, and wisdom in human history. The Bible is the Word of God. If you are at all open in your attitude to the truth of its message, God’s Holy Spirit will help you to understand its statements and to apply their wisdom and blessings in your life. May God guide and bless you in your study of his written Word.
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1. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003 Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
2. Bruce M. Metzger, “Introduction”, The Bible Through the Ages. (The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. Copyright © 1996), pp. 11-12.
3. Nelson&38217;s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Copyright © 1986).
5. HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
6. Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume I, Historical evidences for the Christian Faith, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Here’s Life Publishers, Inc, San Bernardino, CA 92402 © 1972, 1979 Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc.), p. 17; quotation from F.F. Bruce, “Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament”, Revelation and the Bible, (Edited by Carl Henry, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 88.
7. Easton, op. cit..
8. McDowell, op.cit., p. 28; quotation from Norman L Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), pp. 231, 232.
9. tests cited by C. Sanders, McDowell, op.cit., p. 39.
10. McDowell, op. cit., pp. 39-40.
11. ibid, p 43.
12. Frederic G. Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology, (New York: Harper & Row, 1940,) p. 288.
13. McDowell, op. cit., P 44.
14. ibid, pp. 55-56, quoting from Robert Dick Wilson, A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament, (Chicago; Moody Press, 1959), pp 70, 71, 85.
15. McDowell, ibid, p. 61.
16. ibid, p. 62, quoting F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, (Downers Grove, IL 60515, Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), pp. 33, 44-46.
17. McDowell, op. cit., p. 65, quoting Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert; History of Negev, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publications Society of America, 1969), p. 31.
18. McDowell, op. cit., p. 70, quoting W.M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1962), p. 81.
19. McDowell, op. cit., pp. 268-269, quoting Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. ed., (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), p. 894.
20. Dr. Hugh Ross, Why the Bible Is the Word of God Fulfilled Prophecy: Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible, www.gospeloutreach.net/bible4.html.