Why Do You Trust the Bible?
Can you explain to someone why you believe the Bible? I don’t mean explain it to your Sunday School class, your small group, or your Christian mom. I mean, could you explain to someone who is a total skeptic—doesn’t believe in God, Jesus, Jonah, or the big fish—why you think that everything the Bible says is true?
That’s not an easy question, is it? And the trouble isn’t that Christians don’t have their reasons. We do, and many of them are very good ones. Archaeological evidence backs up the truth claims of the Bible; it has “the ring of truth” to it; it’s the Word of God; you just have to believe it on faith.
Of course, none of those reasons for believing the Bible are wrong or bad. It’s just that none of them are likely to hold much water with most of the people with whom we live and work and interact in our daily lives. The fact is, most of the world around us finds it very strange to hear that otherwise seemingly well-adjusted, put-together people would stake their lives on and put their trust in a book like the Bible. To put it bluntly, it sounds crazy to them.
Playing Defense Is Not Enough
Under that kind of pressure, there’s always a temptation for Christians to retreat into a defensive, apologetic (in the bad way) crouch when it comes to their belief in the Bible—either side-stepping the question entirely, or engaging the conversation with the goal of convincing unbelievers not that it’s right to believe the Bible, but that it’s simply OK to believe it, that it doesn’t make us quite as weird as maybe they thought.
But here’s the thing: as Christians, we’re not in the business simply of playing defense for our “crazy” beliefs, just getting people to leave us alone so we can get on with “practicing our religion” in the privacy of our homes. Quite to the contrary, we are actually in the business—and on the mission—of declaring to a sinful, rebellious world that the King has offered mercy and forgiveness through his own life, death, and resurrection from the grave.
...as Christians, we’re not in the business simply of playing defense for our “crazy” beliefs, just getting people to leave us alone so we can get on with “practicing our religion” in the privacy of our homes.
If that’s true, then it’s not enough to play defense when it comes to the truth and trustworthiness of the Bible. If we’re going to declare the gospel of Jesus to a world that rejects him outright, we’re going to have to start by asserting the truth of the book which tells us about him in the first place—the Bible.
So how do you do that in a world that simply doesn’t take the Bible seriously? How do you turn the tables so that you’re not simply defending your belief in the Bible, but actually pressing the truth of the Bible against the skepticism of an unbelieving world?
Obviously, I can’t take the time here to lay out an entire case. But let me give you four quick thoughts on the shape such a case would take—a case that doesn’t just play defense, but actually tries to push the ball down the field.
1. Don’t Quit Before the Game Starts
In other words, don’t admit that while most of the world operates in the realm of reason and logic, belief in the Bible is a “religious” matter that you “just have to take on faith.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Christians use that line when they get pushed into a conversational corner. The questions come hard and fast, they’re on the ropes, and they finally just throw up their hands and say, “Well I just believe it on faith!” And of course that’s the match for the skeptic. He shrugs, walks away, and says, “Oh. You just believe it on faith. I see. That means you don’t really have any good reasons at all.”
In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter tells us always to be prepared “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” That phrase doesn’t mean “be defensive.” It means to make a case—that is, to give reasons for your faith (including your belief in the Bible) that will press back on the person questioning you. In other words, Peter is telling us to be ready to make a case to the world not just for why it’s alright for us to believe the Bible, but for why they should believe it, too! And that means not relegating belief in the Bible to the merely “religious,” but rather making a case based on reason, evidence, and logic that will have the potential to unsettle even the most hardened skeptic.
2. Get Behind Your Presuppositions
Let’s face it. Most of the people around us don’t believe the bedrock truths that we Christians hold to be most precious and most foundational to our lives. They don’t believe in God, they don’t believe Jesus was the Son of God, they don’t believe he was resurrected from the dead, they don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God or even special in any way, and most of them don’t even believe there’s anything spiritual about the world.
What that means is that if your case for the truth of the Bible begins from those premises, you’re going to have a hard time convincing a skeptical friend to accept it. Now that’s not to say those beliefs aren’t what finally lock down our belief in the Bible as the Word of God; they are. Ultimately, we believe the Bible because Jesus believed the Bible, and we believe Jesus because he rose from the dead. But when you’re talking to a skeptic and trying to get him or her to take the Bible seriously, it usually doesn’t work to start by stipulating that there is a God and that Jesus rose from the dead; people aren’t typically going to be very willing to spot us 20 points in a 21-point game!
Instead, you’ll have to do some work to get behind your own presuppositions, building a case for the trustworthiness of the Bible that begins with the beliefs we all (most of us, anyway) hold to be true. That’s the kind of case I try to lay out in Why Trust the Bible?—one that gets behind all the presuppositions a skeptic might label “uniquely Christian,” and that starts from the very beginning. In other words, it’s a case that lays out reasons for believing the Bible that will not just be confirming for people who already believe it, but also challenging to people who don’t.
3. Know the Basics, But Not Everything
Sometimes the issues involved in making a “case for the Bible” can appear so overwhelming that it seems like you’ll never be able to get your head around them. The reality, however, is that you don’t have to know everything that fills the thousands of pages that have been written about the truth of the Bible in order to be able to make a good, confident case of your own. You just need to know the basic kinds of questions people tend to ask, and then get your head around a good answer to those.
The key is learning how to confront, understand, and answer some of the main objections people make to the historical reliability of the Bible. The goal is always pressing the reliability of the Bible on them, step by step, turning the question from “Why do I believe the Bible?” to “Why do you not believe it?”
4. Rest on the Resurrection
In the end, the truth of the Bible rests on the identity and authority of Jesus. And Jesus’s identity and authority rests on the fact that he rose from the dead. Ultimately, that’s why we trust the Bible—because Jesus, the resurrected one, defined it, believed it, and authorized it.
When you’re talking with skeptics, that’s a crucial point to remember. Yes, there are arguments to be made regarding the accuracy of translations and manuscripts, the content of the canon, even the trustworthiness of the authors themselves. But those kinds of arguments will only get you so far. The real question—the question to which the Bible itself points us again and again—is “Did Jesus rise from the dead, or did he not?” If he didn’t, then it finally doesn’t much matter whether the Bible is historically reliable because it would have been shown to be inaccurate on the most important question it itself raises.
But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then that fact has enormous implications for how we look at the Bible. Then, it’s not nearly enough to stop at saying, “The Bible is historically reliable.” At that point—because Jesus, the resurrected one, endorsed the Old Testament as the very Word of God and authorized the New as his own Word—we have to say the Bible is far more than just reliable. We have to say that it’s—from start to finish—the very Word of God.
Are You Ready?
Here’s the point: in a world and society that’s turning decisively against the Christian faith, it’s crucial that we as Christians be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. And, as part of what it means to be faithful to the disciple-making mission Jesus entrusted to us, the reasons we offer must not simply be personally satisfying to us, but ones that also confront, press, and challenge those who consider us fools.
So what do you think? Could you, right now, make such a case for the trustworthiness of the Bible?
Why do you trust the Bible?
This article is adapted from Why Trust the Bible? by Greg Gilbert.