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How Trustworthy is the Bible?

One semester during Pres’ undergraduate studies, he had a brilliant, neo-orthodox theology professor; well, he was intellectually brilliant, yes, but he was spiritually dulled by liberalism. One day Pres came to me and said, "Dad, you know I’m committed to God’s Word. I believe that it is inerrant and inspired. But my professor is posing questions that I can’t answer. What he says makes so much sense, it’s planting seeds of doubt in me as to the validity of God’s Word. Can you help me?"

My heart felt like a stone. My first response was anger–what right does this guy have to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of trusting students enrolled in his classes by trusting parents? I got alone with God and desperately cried out to Him: Lord, help. I can’t match this man’s brilliance, but I know that You can. Please, Sir, show me what to say to Pres. And protect him, Lord.

What He showed me led Pres away from the Deceiver’s trap and set his feet back on the Solid Rock. I drew on a piece of paper a line depicting a scale from zero to one hundred, and we used this to represent the spectrum of all Pres sought to know about God. "Pres, let’s say you’re fairly confident that you have around 95% of your questions about God answered"; and I drew a bracket covering the diagram from 0 to 95. "Now, this professor is sowing seeds of doubt in the 5% area where you’re more vulnerable. In your zeal to discover more truth about God–and because of your perfectionistic flesh patterns–you are setting your mind on the 5% you don’t understand while virtually ignoring the 95% that you do understand. Your goal is noble: to increase your knowledge of God and His Word. But because you are not setting your mind on the truth which God has already taught you, your retention level is regressing from 95% to 90%, then to 88% and so on. The Deceiver’s goal is to keep doing this to you until your faith becomes so weak that he can completely undermine your walk with Christ.

Praise God that Pres went on to earn a degree in ancient history, picking up many hours of theology along the way and objectively maintaining a steady trust in the validity of God’s Word. But there are many brothers and sisters who have not been so diligent. Jim Halls–one of the pioneers of Forest Home Conference Center in California–once told me that when Billy Graham was a budding young evangelist, a dear friend of his named Chuck Templeton was acclaimed as the man who would one day lead the world in revival. Chuck was a brilliant and powerful young preacher who felt that he and Billy should enroll at Princeton Seminary for their polish and preparation. He felt they needed to avail themselves of the best of modern scholarship, and then he and Billy would team up and "take the world for Christ."

But Billy sensed a checking in his spirit and declined. It wasn’t until some years later that Chuck began to share with Billy some of his newly acquired liberal views of scripture. Like Pres’ professor, he was very persuasive. Young Billy became troubled and confused, praying for hours out on those pine-covered conference grounds at Forest Home. A plaque now marks the tree where he knelt and made the same choice that every Christian must eventually come to grips with: He told God that despite the fact that he didn’t have all the answers and that there were portions of scripture that were confusing to him, he would continue to believe that the Bible was His inspired, inerrant Word. The record speaks for Billy’s choice. Chuck Templeton has long since dropped out of the ministry and into obscurity, his Christian life a shipwreck.1

So how trustworthy is the Bible anyway? How accurate is it? Have we Christians built our lives upon a book that is highly suspect?

F.F. Bruce–the great New Testament scholar and Professor of Biblical Criticism–has, among others, documented the remarkable accuracy of the New Testament by comparing its earliest manuscripts (considering both their accuracy and number) with other ancient writings and their respective manuscripts. By comparing the lag times between the earliest manuscripts of each work, he came to the same conclusion that anyone who makes the comparison must reach: The Bible is the most accurate ancient historical text known to mankind. "The History of Thucydides (460-428 B.C.) is known to us from eight manuscripts," Prof. Bruce wrote, "[with] the earliest belonging to around AD 900… The same is true to the History of Herodotus (488-428 B.C.), yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt [just] because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals. But how different is the situation of the New Testament in this respect! In addition to the two excellent manuscripts of the fourth century… which are the earliest of some thousands known to us, considerable fragments remain of copies of books of the New Testament dated from 100 or 200 years earlier still!" 2

Paul’s letters were written in the middle part of the first century A.D., with the Gospel’s both overlapping and following shortly thereafter. The earliest complete manuscripts we have of the New Testament date between 250-400 A.D., some 150 to 300 years following the originals. Now, this may seem like a large gap to us; but in fact, this gap is hundreds of years less than any other recorded ancient writings.

Ancient Writing:Gap Between Original Manuscript and the Oldest Existing CopyNumber of Copies in Existence:Caesar’s account of his wars1000 years10Plato’s writings1200 years7Aristotle’s writings1400 years5The New Testament150-300 years13000 3

Look at the chart: Pretty impressive. 13,000 copies, and all of them hundreds of years closer to the original manuscripts than those of Caesar, Plato or Aristotle! Yet amazingly, most modern scholars–who would be scandalized at any suggestion that the writings of Caesar, Plato or Aristotle were questionable or mythical–totally abandon their objective approach to truth-seeking and ignore entirely the overwhelming empirical evidence of the New Testment’s authenticity: they scoff at it as a bogus fabrication, attacking its accuracy and "textual variations." But Sir Frederick Kenyon, a New Testament scholar and former world-renowned director of the British Museum, once wrote, "No unbiased scholar would deny that the [New Testament] text that has come down to us is substantially sound." 4 And the team of William Nix and Norman Geisler, after searching out any questionable passages in the New Testament and comparing their number with those found in Homer’s Iliad, found that only one-half of 1 percent of New Testament words are in question as to their original form, compared to 5 percent in the Iliad. 5

Now you may be thinking, Okay Bill, but everybody knows that the Old Testament, especially the first five books, are riddled with errors since any word-of-mouth communication degenerates as it passes from person to person to person over hundreds of years. Nope. Consider this: According to the biblical record, Methuselah’s life overlapped Adam’s life by 243 years; he also overlapped post-flood Shem by 98 years. Shem then lived until 75 years after Abraham entered Canaan! So the creation account could easily have passed through 1) Adam, 2) Methuselah, and 3) Shem, to 4) Abraham, who could have then recorded it for Moses to "discover" and record.6 That’s four people. And for those who would attack Abraham as just a hillbilly who wore a sheet and carried a stick, let’s look at what type of environment he lived in and what type of person he most likely was.

Archaeological discoveries have revealed that Hammurabi, king of Babylon and contemporary of Abraham, set up many finely polished, diorite obelisks in his principal cities. One of these may be viewed in the Louvre in Paris, and its data would fill a Bible-size book. It records laws dealing with taxes, wages, interest, lending, disputes, marriage, partnership, and public works, as well as the care and building of canals, caravan and canal freight, and passenger service, etc. 7

In Ur, Abraham’s city, the archeologist C.L. Wooley uncovered a schoolroom with 150 exercise tablets, one containing the complete conjugation of a Sumerian verb. (Can you do that with an English verb?) Indeed, in every major city in Babylon there were libraries complete with thousands of volumes: dictionaries, grammar studies, reference works, encyclopedias, works on math, astronomy, geography, religion, politics, etc. Abraham’s was a period of great literary activity. When he visited Egypt, centuries before Moses’ day, there were millions of inscriptions on stone, papyrus and leather to be found there.8 All this as well as the fact that both Abraham and Moses were wealthy men, leaves little doubt that these primary recorders of early biblical history were highly literate individuals.

Anyway, all this to say that information such as this has helped me over the years to solidify my belief that the Bible is an accurate record of God’s acts and ways, and that as Christians we are not brainless fanatics who adhere to a book of fantasy–quite the opposite! I have subsequently chosen to believe that the only intellectually honest posture to take on the Bible is that either all of it is inspired by God, or none of it is. If God is Who He claims to be, then is He not powerful enough to see to it that we have an accurate written record explaining now we can relate to Him through Christ? So, I determine to concentrate on what I do know about God’s Word, not on what I do not, leaving the illumination of that part up to the Holy Spirit’s timing.

And folks, ultimate Truth boils down not to a collection of facts, but to a Person, Jesus (John 14:6). And He will still be Truth long after science has folded up its test tubes and carbon dating. Science draws conclusions based upon empirical data and observed phenomena, which have led to many impressive and enlightening discoveries and developments. Science is a gift from God, but He never intended for it to be used as a tool to either prove or disprove His existence. God speaks for Himself. His creation proves His existence (Romans 1), and while science evolves, God’s Word never changes. The more truth God allows scientists to discover (Dan. 2:21), the more the Bible is validated. And when any contradiction arises between scientific "evidence" and God’s Word, well, I decided years ago to believe God and wait for science to catch up.

The issue of trusting in God and His integrity is what Christianity is all about. God says that without faith it is impossible to please Him. His enemy is a liar, and if I distrust God, I lump Him in with the Deceiver. Faith must always have an object. Do I choose to believe that the Object of my faith has impeccable integrity? Do I demonstrate this by the way I live? Or am I counted with those who view God as suspect? Upon what evidence will I make this most important choice in my life?

Man must choose. Be it because of college professors, thick philosophical books, or the ever-present unanswered questions, man can reject his only opportunity to know the wonderful, loving God of the universe. Or he can say, "Lord, even though I have some questions, Jesus’ dying for me is sufficient to convince me to fall at Your feet and worship You."

Your choice determines your destiny.

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1. A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story, by William Martin (William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York, NY: 1991).
2. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, by F.F. Bruce (Inter-Varsity Press: Downers Grove, IL: 1964).
3. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell (Campus Crusade for Christ: 1972)
4. The Bible and Modern Scholarship, by Frederic Kenyon (John Murray: London: 1948)
5. A General Introduction to the Bible, by Norman Geisler and William Nix (Moody Press: Chicago, IL: 1968)
6. Halley’s Bible Handbook, by Henry Halley (Regency Reference Library: Grand Rapids, MI: 1965)
7. ibid.
8. ibid.

About the Author

Bill founded Lifetime Guarantee Ministries to encourage people to experience the reality of Christ as life. His transparent, humorous, down-to-earth style and sense of humor made him one of the most effective teachers of his time. He communicated with great clarity the full extent of what God accomplished in Christ and what that means for the Christian identity. Although Bill passed away in June 2011, his messages are timeless and will continue to impact generations to come.