We finished our 3 year study in the Gospel of Mark by examining the oft-dismissed ending of Mark 16:9-20 in the message, Handle with Care. While I sketched-out the rationale as to why Mark 16:9-20 might not be part of the original autographs, I think it is important to extend the conversation by asking a few more questions to examine the authenticity and, therefore, the authority of the entire Bible. Although there are problems with some passages due to scribal error, stylistic or grammatical adjustments that inspires criticism from skeptics, there are excellent reasons to believe that what we have in the Bible is worth believing to be true.
How can I have confidence in the New Testament?
One way we can gain confidence in the content of the New Testament is by using the same means by which scholars gain confidence in the reliability of any other historic document. How do we know that Homer’s Iliad was actually written by Homer and not some mystery person? When’s the last time a professor questioned the legitimacy of Plato’s Republic or the philosophical teaching of Aristotle? It is through using what has been called the “bibliographical test” that the writing of Homer, along with the teachings of Plato and Aristotle has found their legitimacy in universities around the world. The bibliographical test compares (1. date a document was written with (2) the earliest surviving copy and (3. the time span between the original with the copy. One of the key factors in this process is the amount of copies along with the accuracy in similarities of what the copies communicate. In other words, the more similarity between the copies to the original or (if the original is not available), how closely all the copies communicate the same message will convey the level of confidence a reader can have that what they are reading is authentic as to the intent of the original author. When we employ this test, we find that the New Testament is in a league all its own as the following graph represents.
Given the evidence, it is easy to see why Dr. F.F. Bruce, former Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester, asserted of the New Testament: “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.” Professor Bruce further comments, “The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the [best] evidence for many writings of classical writers, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”
Literary Work? Yes. But Divinely Inspired..?
Confidence that the Bible is more than credible according to literary standards is one thing, but the claim of the Bible having a divine origin is another level entirely. So, why do we believe that the Bible is from God? Generally, the word used to describe this dimension of Scripture relates to both the divinely inspired documents (see 2 Tim 3:16) as being the product of divinely inspired authors (see 2 Pet 1:21). The combination of both would point to God being the source or origin of what is recorded in Scripture. The writers were not mere copyists or transcribers (think dictation) but were guided and controlled by the Holy Spirit to write what we today would call, “Scripture.” It’s important to remember that this standard would only apply to the original manuscripts, not the copies or later translations.
The term for this dynamic is that the Bible is “verbally inspired.” This means that the very words of the Bible, not just the ideas or concepts, were inspired. The following is a small selection of explicit claims of Divine inspiration.
Let’s Start at the Beginning
In the very beginning of the Bible we find the “Word” of God being employed through the act of creation: “And God said” (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11,14, 20, 24, 26, 29).
Samuel claims inspiration when he says: “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me…” (2 Samuel 23:2-3).
Prophets such as Jeremiah convey information that was considered to have originated with the Lord: “… in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years” (Daniel 9:2).
What Did Jesus Christ Believe?
Jesus believed in inspiration when He cited God’s Word when being tempted:“It is written…” (Matthew 5:4, 7, 10). In other words, Jesus believed His citation of Old Testament Scripture was sourced via inspiration from God and, therefore, reliable to place His hope in as He resisted the advances of the Enemy.
Jesus believed that God’s inspired Word was unbreakable and would accomplish what it communicated. This quality could only be possible if God authored the message: “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).
What Did the Apostle Peter Believe?
The Apostle Peter distinguishes between mere teaching and divine inspiration in the Old Testament: “… knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
Peter also cited the New Testament writings of the Apostle Paul to be on par with the Divine Inspiration contained in the Old Testament when he said: “… just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
What did the Apostle Paul Teach?
The Apostle Paul put his hope in a coming resurrection on the basis of what is written in Scripture: “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:14-15).
To Paul, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is true not only because it happened but it a real sense the resurrection occurred because it was the inspired word or degree of God that could not, not happen: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
What about Scribal Error?
Greek Scholar A.T. Robertson said that any material affected by scribal mistakes would only relate to a “thousandth part of the entire text.” Robertson affirmed that the New Testament is 99.9% free from real concern. Philip Schaff estimated that of the thousands of variations in all the manuscripts known in his day (1900’s), only 50 were of real significance and of these not one affected ‘an article of faith.’” Additionally, we know which parts of the Bible are in question and it is open for anyone to examine. In other words, there is nothing to hide.
You Can Trust the Bible.
When the bibliographical test is applied to the writings of the Bible, it is clear to see that no other literary document in the history of mankind displays a level of trustworthiness as to the content contained in the Bible. In addition, the Bible makes explicit claims of Divine inspiration that sets it apart from mere literature. When coupled with other corresponding evidences such as prophecy, archeology, etc. There is simply no reason to not believe that the truth contained in the Bible is all we need to both know who God is, who we are, and everything else we might need to live a Godward life.