Op-Ed for Thursday, March 5 (’15)
Many people give reasons to not trust the Bible. I only need four in order to fully trust it. I’ll break with convention and blow the tension up front, giving you all four reasons, then taking each in turn.
I trust the Bible because…
- Historical Verification proves it trustworthy
- Aesthetic Beauty proves it trustworthy
- Theological Precision proves it trustworthy
- the Witness of the Holy Spirit proves it trustworthy
Now, each in turn. I hope by the end of the article, your faith (if you have it) is strengthened and, if you do not believe the Bible is truly God’s Word worthy of your trust, you will reconsider your position.
Historical Verification Proves it Trustworthy
There are two main historically verifiable ways that help prove the trustworthiness of the Bible: the age and accuracy of the manuscripts we have in question, and the witness of those early manuscripts to apostolic authorship. In other words, we have very early (old) papers that talk about the books we think of as “The Bible”, and when it comes to the New Testament books, we have good reason to think the people who claim to have written them or served as primary sources for them really did. These were the guys who were there. They were witnesses.
I could give some detail under each of these. The first point (age of manuscripts) is so hotly debated among certain schools of scholarship, perhaps I do you, dear reader, a disservice by not including information here. However, I could not say it better than C. E. Hill has in his 250-ish page book Who Chose the Gospels: Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy. In that book, Hill convincingly shows how most of what we know as the New Testament has extremely early proof for its extremely early completion. Especially the four Gospels, the religious liberals’ (or a-religious people’s) favorite books to date well into the 3rd or 4th century (think Dan Brown here).
If you think the Bible is a load of junk, read Hill’s book. If you think Emperor Constantine “created” the church’s Bible, read Hill’s book. If you think we don’t have any historical evidence for a Bible like we have today—that it was just some historical conspiracy—read Hill’s book. If you only read one book this year, read Hill’s book. Yes, it’s that good. He is a critical, careful, and completely thorough scholar. It staggers my mind that liberal schools of thought refuse to engage Hill’s work as often as they do. They are fools not to do so. You should not neglect it, either! So, read his book, and you’ll see that the Bible’s 66 (Protestant) books are historically verifiable and have solid attestation to apostolic authorship or witness.
Aesthetic Beauty Proves it Trustworthy
For some, this may be the hardest one to stomach. While highly unusual in arguments about the Bible nowadays, it was once quite common to appeal to the beauty and aesthetic quality, especially it’s symmetry, when proving the Bible’s Divine authorship to opponents of Christianity. Somewhere along the line, this dropped from favor. Consider, though, that Justin Matyr, Tertullian, and Ireneus all appealed to aesthetics when arguing against pagan and Jewish opponents of Christianity.
It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are, for, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds [cf. Ez 37:9], while the Church is scattered throughout all the world…it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh (quoted from Hill, 35-36 who quotes from Against Heresies 3.11.8).
Making an aesthetic argument, as Hill says, “…is not one of logical necessity but of aesthetic necessity, of harmony, beauty, or proportion” (37).
This wasn’t uncommon among the ancient pagans, either. (Give evidence). Moreover, in current philosophies—especially among certain branches of science most of us never know exist—the search for the all-encompassing “God-Particle” that brings mathematical harmony, i.e., aesthetic beauty, is considered a valid search. We are just made for this, aren’t we? Or evolved for this, as your boat may float…. My point is, humans have an inherent attraction to find aesthetic beauty, harmony, order, in a way that shows a greater purpose or meaning. I remember seeing and article in 1996’s Reader’s Digest of Denzel Washington. The article showed his perfectly symmetrical face (supposedly). “Now here was a beautiful man!”
I don’t necessarily attach the same significance to “four” Gospels as the older church Fathers, and I’m not staring at models or actors or such because I think they’re symmetrically perfect, but I do see a different aesthetic quality, harmony, and order in the Bible.
After its completion (sometime after the Jewish exiles returned around 450 BC), the Old Testament, as we have it today, was completed. To the Jews (and Jesus), it became known in three divisions: Law (or “Moses”), Prophets (former and latter prophets, the latter being called “The Twelve” [X:XX]), and Writings or, sometimes, the Psalms. This is even mentioned in Scripture. John X:X and Luke 24:
Luke 24:25-27 (from Jesus himself):
O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Again in Luke 24, from Jesus, v.44:
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Lined up according to this division, you can see them here:
<INSERT IMAGE OF TOP OF WAFFLE>
The New Testament, too, shows an incredible symmetry matching the Old. It, too, could be considered to have a three-fold division into Law, Prophet, and Writings. Consider what happens when we lay them out accordingly:
<INSERT IMAGE OF BOTTOM OF WAFFLE>
Remember, essentially, the point of each division:
- Law = God establishing his covenant
- Prophet = God’s lawsuit and evidential papers in his case against his people for covenant violation
- Writings = God’s paperwork explaining how to live after the verdict has been rendered
The following “How To’s” aren’t exactly perfect, but they do a nice job helping to understand the meaning of some Old Testament books. I take each from Paul House’s Old Testament Survey, which we recommend as a good introduction to the Old Testament.
Psalms: how to worship
Job: how to struggle with doubt
Proverbs: how to develop wisdom
Ecclesiastes: how to search for meaning in life
etc., etc., etc.
What part of the New Testament lines up with this Old Testament division of “Writings”? The Epistles. All of them. Each written to address a specific pastoral problem in the churches. Each applying the timeless truths of the following to the struggles of his people to be faithful:
- God’s New Covenant in Christ Jesus (cf. Jer 31)
- God’s lawsuit against the nations and fulfillment of his judicial promise to his people (cf. Psalm 2)
- God’s promise of future permanent and priceless vindication of himself/Name, and his people (cf. 2 Thes 1:5-11).
Isn’t that remarkably symmetrical? Now, I’m not banking my life on symmetry, but it is certainly, (and to me) undeniably a piece of this puzzle.
And why shouldn’t it be?
We are creatures who crave and pursue harmony and order, and according to my worldview, it is precisely because a God of beauty (X:X), harmony (X:X), and order (X:X) made us like himself (X:X)—in his image. Of course he would then speak to us like he himself is: ordered, symmetrically, beautifully. In other words, the Word that claims to be from God is exactly like God claims to be. Hmm.
Theological Precision Proves Its Trustworthy
Some object here on the grounds that (they think) the Bible contradicts itself. For example, see sites like this one. My response to such claims is two-fold:
- Do you really want an answer?
- There really is an answer, but you don’t want it.
No. Really. In my 20 years as a Christian, I’ve never once met someone who would put up a website or list like that and really understood literary interpretation. In fact, I’ll take it a step further: I can’t remember every hearing about, or seeing, someone who made such claims to inconsistency applying the same standards they use to themselves. In short, they have an axe to grind.
To be sure, there are very hard parts of the Bible. However, there are genuine answers to even hard parts—and the answers are more than, “God works in mysterious ways” as the above linked site mentions.
Beyond supposed inconsistencies, however, is the general theological precision of the cohesive message of the Bible. The parts and the whole fit together. This is partly in line with the Aesthetic argument above, but hey, if they shoe fits.
Greg Beale gives the following as the message of Scripture:
Less verbose is this one from Miles Van Pelt:
I can jive with both and both are fair representatives of multiple other summaries from others. From each, and using what we’ve included under the aesthetic argument, you can see how the parts come with the whole for precise explanation of, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, what God wants man to know and obey. How a work written by dozens of different people spanning more than 1,000 years can be so accurately and doctrinally precise is nothing short of amazing. Rather, divine.
The Witness of the Holy Spirit Proves It Is Trustworthy
This is, at the end of the day, more convincing than the other three. Put another way, if all you had was historical proof, aesthetic beauty, and theological precision, you’d have an awfully pretty and accurate book, but that’s about all you’d have.
Without the testimony of the Holy Spirit, such truths can never be recognized.
This is so prevalent a principle in the New Testament, I’ll only include a few quotes for you to consider:
The Natural Man does not… (1 Cor 2:14)
You would receive my testimony, but you are not of the light.