Why Believe the Bible?

There are two ways to go about discussing the authenticity and trustworthiness of the Bible.  There’s the apologetic view, which seeks to prove the reliability of the Bible through external proofs and historical evidence.  Things like:

  • Not one major doctrine of orthodox Christianity rests on a disputed or uncertain translation of the Bible’s original languages. The many English translations actually help us to determine the original meaning by giving us different nuances of each text.
  • While we don’t have originals of scripture, we have many copies written in the original languages, and those copies aren’t far removed in time from the originals. And the fact that we have so many copies enables us – similar in this way to the many English translations – to ascertain with confidence what the originals said and where any copying errors or additions are.
  • The books included in the canon were recognized as authoritative long before the fourth century councils officially made them so. The respective councils that approved the canon never spoke of ‘choosing’ the books, they ‘received’ them.  And the books that were excluded weren’t considered authoritative by any serious scholar, and were in almost all cases written a century or two after the originals.  It wasn’t a matter of excluding otherwise reliable books that didn’t match the message the councils wanted the Bible to convey.  The books – in the vast majority of cases – were already recognized, the councils just made their place in the canon official.

This is useful in defending the Bible to unbelievers and skeptics.

Then there’s the scriptural view, which explores what the Bible says about itself and what we know about its writings that give us confidence that what we hold to be the word of God actually is.  It’s this second perspective that we’ll explore in this lesson.

To do this, we’ll examine II Peter 1:16-21.  We’ll then take what we learn there about the scriptures and see if we can prove it by looking at the entire Bible.  That means that while our lesson text is specifically II Peter, you could also say it’s the whole Bible.

The context of the II Peter passage is this:  Peter discusses in verses 5-9 characteristics that should be true of us since God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (vs 3), and since we’re now partakers of His divine nature (vs 4).  Verses 10 and 11 summarize his message – we must examine our lives to make sure these precepts exist because they ensure that we won’t fall away, and if we don’t fall away then our entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied.

Our text jumps off from verse 11.  To reinforce his message, Peter wants to show that Christ’s promised return is genuine.  For if we know that Christ really is coming back, then the urgency of Peter’s commands in verses 5-10 goes way up, AND the promise of verse 11 becomes much more real (if Christ returns, we know that we’ll be with Him in eternity).  As he builds his case, he tells us something about how God’s word came to be and why we can believe it.

Peter’s first proof is that he’s actually seen Jesus in His glorified state.  He tells his readers that he and the other apostles (we) didn’t just make up fables when they claimed that Jesus would come back – they were actual eyewitnesses to Jesus’ glory.  When did this happen?  When Jesus was transfigured on top of the mountain and appeared in glory with Moses and Elijah.  Peter, James, and John were there (Matt 17:1-13).  They not only saw Jesus in glory, they also heard God say from heaven, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.”

Since they actually saw this and heard this, they know that Jesus will come back.  They essentially saw a preview of Jesus in His glorified state; therefore, they know what Christ said about His return is true.  And that means that others who read or hear the apostles’ claims about Christ’s return can be sure too.  They aren’t just making this up – it’s a first-hand account.

That means the apostles were eyewitnesses to the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the glorification of Christ.  Everything they say and write about those things can be trusted because they write firsthand.  They aren’t just passing along myths and exaggerated tales – they saw everything.  And if their accounts are true, then everything about life and godliness that they write about is true too.

Peter now ties the transfiguration to the Old Testament, albeit in a somewhat hard-to-understand way.  Either he means that the transfiguration gives further proof that the prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah and His coming are true, OR the prophecies of the Old Testament give an even surer proof (than the transfiguration) of the second coming.  Either way, the message is that the transfiguration and the Old Testament are in one accord – they both offer proof that Jesus really is coming back.

It’s notable that Jesus wasn’t glorified alone on the mount.  He appeared with Moses and Elijah – arguably the two most influential prophets of the Old Testament (and somehow the apostles knew the two were Moses and Elijah even though they had no idea what they looked like).  Why they appeared with Christ may have to do with how their lives pointed to the coming Messiah.  Shortly before Israel entered Canaan, God promised that He would someday raise up a prophet like Moses who would speak God’s words to them (Deut 18:15-19).  And in Malachi’s time, God promised that Elijah would return before the day of the Lord (Mal 4:5 – a reference to John the Baptist).  So their appearance on the mount of transfiguration connects Christ to the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to Him.

Thus it’s all a whole.  The transfiguration backs up the prophecies, the prophecies reinforce the same message as the transfiguration, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah connects Christ to both.  It all again gives credence to Peter’s words – Christ IS coming back, and our practical obedience is vital and the promise of our ultimate glorification with Christ is sure.

At the end of verse 19, Peter comments on the scripture itself.  He describes it as a lamp shining in a dark place.  This echoes the Psalmist’s claim that God’s word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path (Ps 119:105).  The scripture is our guide in a dark world.  And that guide points us to Christ’s return, when the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.  Christ’s return will change everything, and the certain promise of His return changes everything now.

Peter finishes his case with a statement about how the scriptures were written generally (and here’s where we get to the main point of the text – yes, it’s taken a while, but it was important to establish context).  He says that no author wrote of his own accord.  Everyone who wrote was moved by the Holy Spirit and spoke from God.  While he says this in regard to the Old Testament specifically, we know that it refers to the whole Bible.  Everything in it is God’s word – nothing was written on a whim or on the authority of a human author.  This goes along with Paul’s words to Timothy that all scripture is God-breathed (II Tim 3:16) – what was written was breathed out by the Spirit of God (similar to how God created – Ps 33:6).  The message is God’s – not man’s.

This is the final proof of the coming of Christ.  The Old Testament authors didn’t just make stuff up and put pen to paper.  They wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit – they wrote as God directed.  That means that what they prophesied about Christ is/was true.  The Messiah did come just as they said.  And He will someday come again, just as they said.

So this is Peter’s case:  Christ’s second coming lends urgency to His commands and gives assurance about our eternal home.  We know Christ will return in glory because Peter and others witnessed the glorified Christ at the transfiguration – they essentially saw a preview.  The transfiguration agrees with/gives more credence to the scriptures that predict Christ’s return.  And the scriptures that point to Christ were written by human authors not on their own authority, but through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  So we have confidence that Christ will in fact return which then affects how we live.

Peter’s last statement in verse 21 becomes our point #1 – God’s word isn’t random and isn’t human in origin; God breathed the scriptures through human authors (as both Peter and Paul claim).  The problem with point #1 is that it’s the Bible attesting to itself, and in the end that may not be helpful in giving us confidence that it really IS God’s word.  We’re effectively saying, “To believe the Bible, you first have to believe the Bible.”  So what can we look at that backs up point #1?

We can look at other aspects of the Bible that we know are true.  It’s interesting how Peter describes God’s inspiration in verse 21.  He doesn’t say that God dictated every word – he simply says that human authors spoke from God.  Thus there was room for the author’s vocabulary, perspective and personality to come out in the inspired writing.  God didn’t use human robots to write a standardized story in a standardized form from cover to cover.  He instead accomplished His plan while allowing for individuality.  Each man had a writing style.  Each had a certain perspective.  Some wrote autobiographically – others wrote from what they were told.  But all wrote the word of God as God ultimately wanted it.  Our God is big enough to accomplish His ends through authors writing in their own way (we see this most clearly in the gospels – four writers recounting a similar story but doing it from four different perspectives with four different aims – all of them true and inspired).  And that is a proof of its supernatural origins.  Point #2 is this: There is no way that the large number of authors who wrote the Bible across hundreds of years, each writing in his own way, could write an ongoing story that doesn’t contradict itself across 66 books without God superintending the process.

[As an aside, we also see authors writing unfavorable things about themselves.  One of the things that is true of the Bible is how it presents its heroes warts and all.  And in some cases, it presents the warts of the person writing the story.  If you were Moses, would you write about your cowardice at the burning bush?  If you were Peter giving the account that Mark uses for his gospel, would you include the story of denying Christ three times?  The fact that these and other stories exist point to the supernatural origins of the writing.]

Something else about the many books and authors points to another proof.  The Bible is all one unit.  The whole Bible – all 66 books written by different authors over years and years – revolves around the same message.  The Bible starts with Creation, moves quickly to the fall, and then spends the remainder of the book telling the story of redemption.  From Genesis 3 on, the Bible is all about redemption.

Start with Adam and Eve.  They sin and bring about the fall of mankind (and presumably live with some regret).  After the fall, God promises Adam and Eve that He’ll eventually send a Redeemer to address the sin they’ve brought into the world (and, amazingly, He promises this BEFORE outlining the penalties of their sin).  They have three sons (that are mentioned – they have many other sons and daughters) – Cain, Abel, and Seth.  Cain kills Abel, and Seth becomes the son of promise.  Seth goes on to have generations of descendants that all follow God in a time where the world becomes more and more ungodly.  His line – after hundreds of years – produces Noah.  In Noah’s time the world is so evil that God destroys it with a flood – only Noah and his three sons and their respective wives survive.  Noah’s three sons are Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  We find out that Shem is the son of promise, so the story follows him and his descendants (the history in Genesis is a funnel – it continually narrows its focus to the line of the future Messiah).  Shem’s line eventually produces Abram.  It’s to Abram – who God renames Abraham – that God promises a great nation and that through that nation He will bless the whole world.

Abraham has two sons – Ishmael and Isaac.  Isaac is the son of promise, so the story follows him.  Isaac has two sons – Esau and Jacob.  Jacob is the son of promise, so the story – again – follows him.  Jacob becomes the first patriarch to have numerous sons that are all considered part of God’s plan for the Messiah.  He has 12 sons, and all are included in the promised nation (named ‘Israel’ after the new name that God gives to Jacob).  Of the 12 sons, however, only one – Judah – is in the line of the Messiah.

The 12 sons of Jacob move to Egypt and it’s there that they become the great nation God promised to Abraham.  They become enslaved in Egypt and God delivers them in the single most important historical event of the Old Testament (because it points to redemption) – the Passover/Exodus.

That brings us to the end of the first section of history and brings us to the Law.  The second half of Exodus and all of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are all about God’s law.  The law tells us two things – one, God’s people can’t come to Him without blood.  If they come into His presence, they have to come with blood.  Why?  Because the penalty of sin is death – blood has to be shed.  The second thing the law mandates is that God’s people have to be set apart from the rest of the world and kept holy.  Why?  Because they are the nation through which the Messiah will come.  So in both cases the law points to redemption.

After Deuteronomy, we return to history.  Israel leaves Egypt and eventually settles in Canaan – the nation’s promised home.  Once there, they go through years of serving God and deserting God, living in harmony with Him and being punished by Him.  They have judges rule them and then they appoint kings over them – Saul, David, Solomon, and Rehoboam.  Rehoboam makes some unfortunate choices and causes the nation to split in two.  Ten tribes form the northern kingdom, and two tribes – Judah and Benjamin – form the South.

The northern kingdom never serves God and eventually gets exiled by Assyria and is never heard from again.  The southern kingdom, however, survives.  It spends time in exile in Babylon, but it returns to the land and keeps the name of God’s people alive.  Why does it survive?  Because Judah is the tribe of the Messiah.

That’s essentially Old Testament history – it’s the record of God intervening in the world to ensure that the line of the Messiah survives.  It’s the story of God working through sinful men to accomplish their redemption.

After the history portion of the Old Testament, we come to the wisdom books – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon.  What are the wisdom books?  They guide us practically in how we’re to live for God.  They teach us about God and His nature; they discuss worship and praise, and show us how to relate to Him and what He expects from us.  What is the recurring theme of the wisdom books?  Redemption – past redemption of Israel from Egypt and future redemption in the coming Messiah – and how that should affect us in daily life.

The final section of the Old Testament is the prophets – major and minor.  The prophets show what happens to God’s people when they forsake God, and predict how in the future God will reconcile His straying people to Himself.  They use the sinfulness of the people to point to God’s future redemption.  They prophesy about the coming of the Messiah and the second coming of the Messiah.  What is their recurring theme?  Redemption.

That wraps up the Old Testament.  What is the New Testament?  It’s the story of redemption accomplished.  The gospels record Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  Acts tells of His ongoing ministry through His Spirit.  And the epistles instruct us how to live in light of that redemption.  The New Testament then ends with John’s vision of Christ’s return when He will bring the redeemed to Himself and culminate history.  The theme of the New Testament?  Redemption.

It’s all one message.  God created, man spoiled, God redeemed.  It’s told from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22.  Why can we trust the Bible?  Because as large as it is and as enormous as the time period it covers is and as many authors as were involved, it all points to one thing – a great and loving God glorified Himself and loved mankind through redeeming it.  That’s point #3.

So can we believe the Bible?  It’s supernatural, it’s uniquely written, it’s unified.  In the end, it’s trustworthy and reliable.  We can use it to know and enjoy our God.  It’s His will in written form and it’s worthy of exhaustive study and complete confidence.

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