A natural question for us is this: How do we know the Bible is a reliable source of knowing God and truth?
The author and apologist, Josh McDowell, said this: “A basic definition of history for me is ‘a knowledge of the past based on testimony.’”
We rely on the sources who were close to the historical events themselves to tell us what we know or believe about those events.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg address delivered in 1863. It was heard by people who were there. It was copied by Lincoln, and we have 5 manuscripts today.
The Titanic’s last moments as it sank on April 15, 1912, are told to us by survivors. Some research at the site of the sinking confirms their stories.
No one would have believed that the Reds won the world series in 1990 without the stories and proof that technology gives us.
At the end of the day, all we have to go on is the reliability of testimonies that history gives us. Surprisingly or not so surprisingly, the reliability of the Bible is supported by a great deal of external historical testimony.
One of the best places to start is with the author and historian, Luke. Luke writes a narrative of Jesus’ life, called the book of Luke in the NT, and the book Acts of Apostles. At one point it was thought that Luke was wrong on several of his historical references (therefore proving that the Bible isn’t reliable). Look…
It was argued at one time that, Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, may never have existed in Jesus’ day as the Gospel writers say. Only a few later written references mentioning Pilate’s name existed but there was nothing concrete from his time. Clearly Luke was wrong that such a man played a role in the execution of Jesus in approx. 33 AD.
However, in 1961 an Italian archaeologist found an inscription on a stone slab from the time of Jesus’ life. The readable portions translated as this: Pontius Pilate; Prefect (or governor) of Judea. For 2000 years critics thought Luke was wrong. Turns out he was right.
So, what if people outside of the Bible helped to prove Bible credibility? People who weren’t believers in Jesus or who were hostile toward Christians? That would be more compelling…
Celsus (175 AD) was a Roman historian quite hostile to the Gospels, but in his criticism, he unknowingly affirms and reinforces the authors and their content. His writing is extensive. He makes up these stories about Jesus but confirms the earliest Christian beliefs about Jesus’s virgin birth, his early upbringing in Egypt, and his ability to perform miracles.
“(Jesus) he came from a Jewish village and from a poor country woman who made her living by spinning… she was driven out by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, when she was convicted of adultery… after she had been driven out by her husband, and while she was wandering disgracefully, she secretly bore Jesus… because (Jesus) was poor he hired himself out as a laborer in Egypt, and there learned certain magical powers which the Egyptians are proud to have. He returned full of pride in these powers, and gave himself the title of God…”
Cornelius Tacitus was known for his analysis and examination of historical documents and is among the most trusted of ancient historians. In his Annals of 116AD, he describes Emperor Nero’s response to the great fire in Rome and Nero’s claim that the Christians were to blame:
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called "Christians" by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…”
All of these claims are ancient and rooted in the earliest years of the Christian movement. These beliefs were widespread too early for legend to form as they circulated within 50 years of Jesus’ death while eye-witnesses were still alive.
The Bible can be trusted as the inspired Word of God. Be aware! It isn’t something intended for study, memorization, or knowledge-building. God intends his Word to penetrate our hearts, form our identity in Christ, and move us boldly into the world to live like Jesus! White Oak: let’s go and do likewise!
Lead Pastor, White Oak Christian Church