The Bible Is Reliable

One of Billy Graham’s early crises of faith was over whether he could totally trust the Bible. After much struggle he prayed to God, “I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”[1] Graham’s conclusion sets a good example for us.

While the Bible is fully defensible, like God himself it need not answer all our questions and doubts. And we have no right to judge Scripture. “In controversies of religion or matters of faith, we can not admit any other judge than God Himself, pronouncing by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what is to be avoided.”[2] Like the aural words of the prophets the Bible is simply and truly the Gods word written.[3] The prophets didn’t invite hearers to deliberate over whether their words were true. They were proclaimers, declarers of what God had spoken to them. This is how we should receive every Word of God.

Why does this matter? Too often in apologetics Scripture is set aside until it is proven to be reliable. But the reliability of Scripture is not the goal of our argument; it is the foundation. Christian apologetics “is to be more than a meaningless discussion about the that of God’s existence and is to consider what kind of God exists”— and to do that, we need to listen to the Bible.[4]  Even the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus must be interpreted by Scripture “before they can avail as redemptive facts to us.”[5] Scripture “stands before us as that light in terms of which all the facts of the created universe must be interpreted.”[6]

Still, “The Bible is both the foundation upon which our defense must be built and one of our beliefs which must be defended.”[7] Let’s think about how this is so.

How Can We Trust the Bible?

There are at least four categories of evidence by which Scripture reveals itself to be God’s word.

First, consider the internal evidence. The Bible reads like no other book. “The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity, by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God.”[8] It shouldn’t surprise us that the Bible’s longest chapter by far is a poem praising God’s word, as the delight of all who know it (Ps. 119:24).

Second, consider the historical evidence. True prophets were known by their words coming true (Deut. 18:21–22). When John the Baptist asked if Jesus was “the one” he responded by describing how in him the works promised by God were being done.[9] The Bible is filled with amazingly specific prophecies that have come true. As promised, Cyrus sent God’s people back to Jerusalem to build the temple (Is. 44:28; 45:1), Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), and those who executed Messiah cast lots for his clothes (Ps. 22:18). “Even the blind themselves are able to see that the things predicted in [the Scriptures] do happen.”[10]

Third, consider the experiential evidence. “The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God … by their light and power to convince and convert sinners” and “to comfort and build up believers unto salvation.”[11] Scripture tells what we know to be true—that we are sinners who have offended a holy God. It also tells how we might be healed—by trusting in God’s Son Jesus; that message is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). God’s “living and active” (Heb. 4:12) word promises to and actually does make people new.

Fourth, consider the spiritual evidence. “The Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God.”[12] “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11). The Spirit testifies to the authority of the Scriptures by healing us of our natural blindness to spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:13) and “testifying in our hearts that they are from God.”[13] In 2 Kings 22, “When the book of the law was found in Josiah’s time, it was read in the ears of all the people and recognized at once as authoritative.”[14]No one remembered that it was God’s word. God’s Spirit convinced them immediately that the law was divine. When I call my children on the phone I don’t have to prove to them that it is really me. They know my voice. So it is when God’s children hear the Scriptures (John 10:4).

The Bible is God’s word. You can’t defend the faith without that conviction. Worse, without that conviction you cannot have true faith.

But what about those who don't believe it?

How Should We Respond to Critics?

Here are five common objections to the Bible and suggested responses.

1. “Church made up the Bible!”

The story of how the parts of the Bible became one book is much more organic than Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code suggests. Within half a century after the last book of the New Testament was written most Bible books were recognized as authoritative. By 379 the Council of Carthage publicly confessed what the church had long believed: that the sixty-six books of the Bible are the written word of God. The church does not determine Scripture’s books but “receives and approves” them as canonical.[15]

2. “The Bible contains factual errors!”

Critics once claimed that the Hittites never existed and that Moses couldn’t have written the Pentateuch since writing had not yet been invented. Since then archaeology has amply disproved these and countless other allegations against the Bible. Still, to require external validation of every biblical fact reveals an unreasonable negative bias.

3. “The Bible’s manuscripts are defective!”

You have probably seen this statement connected to parts of John 8 or Mark 16: “The earliest manuscripts do not include” these verses. And this is true. But there is more to that story. Instead of the prophets’ or apostles’ original writings we have thousands of handwritten copies from which other copies were made. And sometimes scribes made mistakes: skipping, misspelling, or adding words. But overall the New Testament has “survived in purer form than any other great book—a form that is 99.5% pure.”[16] The John 8 and Mark 16 examples are by far the most extreme. Many textual variants are minor and easily resolved. And the Bible has “survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity.”[17]Most ancient books are based on few manuscripts written hundreds of years after the originals. The New Testament alone has 5,000 manuscripts dating from just a few generations after the death of Christ. Most ancient books have few manuscript variants because they have so few manuscripts! Scripture’s “problem” is the opposite.

4. “The Bible contradicts itself!”

But slight anomalies like seemingly incongruent numbering, or apparently contradictory theological expressions[18] arise from uncharitable reading, and are often easily resolved. You will likely never meet a critic of the Bible who has carefully read the entire book with a genuine openness to believe what it says. 

5. “The Bible promotes injustice and immorally!”

The Bible records a lot of bad behavior. It is, after all, a true story about how God is conquering sin! But Scripture never promotes bad behavior. And we don’t even fully understand what we perceive to be bad. Can we prove that God had no good reason to command Israel to destroy the Canaanites? For that matter, how can a critic define “bad” behavior while at the same time arguing against Scripture as the ultimate standard of right and wrong?

*  *  *

One of the most basic truths controlling Christian apologetics is this: argument alone cannot produce belief. None of the “many solid arguments for the authority of Scripture … are of much use if someone doesn’t want to be convinced.”[19]Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still. So the Bible is not a book to be judged, but the gift of divine truth to be gladly received. We learn from its teaching, agree with its reproofs, obey its correction, and submit to its training. Being supernatural we expect it to make us “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17) in Christ. And we should introduce it to others in that same way.

Read the previous posts in this series here.

William Boekestein is pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Related Links

Podcast: "Reforming Apologetics"

"Nature and Apologetics" by Arthur Hunt

"Covenantal Apologetics," review by Stephen Myers

"Reforming Apologetics," review by Ryan McGraw

Defending the Faith by Gabriel Fluhrer

C.S. Lewis: Apologetics for a Postmodern World by Andrew Hoffecker 


[1] Cited in Stroble, The Case for Faith, 11.

[2] Second Helvetic Confession, 2.4.

[3] The Belgic Confession of Faith, 3.

[4] Van Til, Defense, 106.

[5] Warfield, cited in Van Til, Defense, 107.

[6] Van Til, Defense, 107.

[7] Pratt, Every Thought Captive, 4. Emphasis added.

[8] Westminster Larger Catechism, Q/A 4; cf. Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.5.

[9] Compare Isaiah 49:8, 9; 61:1, 2 with Luke 4:17–21, and 7:18–23.

[10] Belgic Confession of Faith, 5.

[11] Westminster Larger Catechism, Q/A 4; cf. Westminster Confession of Faith 1.5.

[12] Westminster Larger Catechism, Q/A 4.

[13] The Belgic Confession of Faith, 5.

[14] Peter Y. De Jong, The Church’s Witness to the World, vol. 1 (Pella, IA.: Pella Publishing, 1960), 113.

[15] Belgic Confession of Faith, 5.

[16] Cited in Joe Coffey, Smooth Stones, 42.

[17] Cited in Joe Coffey, Smooth Stones, 42.

[18] Most numerical discrepancies (compare 1 Chron. 21:5 with 2 Sam. 24:9 or 2 Chron. 36:9 with 2 Kings 24:8), and apparent theological contradictions (compare Rom. 3:28 with James 2:24) are easily reconciled.

[19] John F. MacArthur, Jr., Why Believe the Bible: The Reliability of God’s Word and its Power to Transform Your Life (Glendale, CA.: Regal Books, 1980), 23.