In response to a previous post, a friend of mine asked, “How can you know that the Bible is true, that it is inspired by God, or that it is inerrant, without appealing to the Bible as the source for these claims?”
My friend was pointing out that Christians tend to make a circular claim: We know the Bible is true because it is God’s word–We know it is God’s word because it says it is–God wouldn’t lie.
Of course, this answer fails to address the unbeliever’s question: “What if someone else wrote the Bible and only claimed it was from God?”
In an only slightly more sophisticated evasion, some Christians respond, “If it is God’s word, then there can be no higher truth by which to judge it.” They argue that it is presumptive to even question the truth of the Bible or the Christian worldview–because this would set human reason as the judge of truth.
In so arguing, they misunderstand the role of reason. Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). Jesus calls us to judge for ourselves, and to judge correctly. When a man uses his own reason and observations, this does not presume on God. He calls us to trust in his word–which means to reason and to conclude it is reliable.
As my friend points out, it is fallacious to appeal to the authority of the Bible as the reason for believing it. The authority of the Bible is the very point in question!
So why believe the Bible? Evidence.
The Bible makes claims about the actions of God, and we must ask if there is reason to believe the claims are true. We need to evaluate the Bible without presupposing its truth. How can we verify the claims of the Bible? The same way we would evaluate any other historical presentation.
For example, how would we evaluate the reliability of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War?
-Do outside sources corroborate the presentation?
-Is the account internally consistent?
-Who does the author claim to be, and is his claim plausible?
-Are the events plausible?
-Does the account include miracles?
-Does the account declare itself to be fact or fiction?
-In his style does the author seem to be writing an earnest account, or a mythology?
-Does the author make any claims that are falsifiable?
-If so, would other people have been motivated to disprove his claims?
-Does the author have any suspicious motivations?
-Do other sources give information about the reliability of the author?
-Are the locations and cultural details accurate for the period?
-Did people throughout history cite the book as credible?
-What basis did they give for their evaluation?
-Does modern archeology confirm the people and events described?
It takes a lot of work to evaluate reliability of an ancient document. We treat the book as testimony. No one dismisses a witness for saying, “I’m telling the truth.” But neither does such a statement validate the witness’s reliability.
Two questions in closing:
1) On these criteria, how does the Bible measure up?
2) Should I add more criteria?