In an old episode of the Simpsons, Lisa asks her neighbor Ned, “How do we know the guys who wrote the Bible just didn’t make all that stuff up?”
According to a Gallup poll, taken a little over a year ago, fewer than one in four Americans (24%) now believe the Bible is "the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word," similar to the 26% who view it as "a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man." This is the first time in Gallup's four-decade trend that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism.
Meanwhile, about half of Americans – a proportion largely unchanged over the years – fall in the middle, saying the Bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally.
Given that I’m in the “actual word of God” camp, let me give you the two primary reasons I believe the Bible.
The Best Historical Text
First, I believe what the Bible says is true for the same reason I believe other historical books are correct in what they report.
The legal / forensic method and its principles are used to judge the validity of any historical text, with it all coming down to the accounts that were (hopefully) faithfully and accurately recorded by eyewitnesses who can be trusted.
There are three primary tests historians use to determine if the text before them passes muster.
First is the bibliographical test that asks how reliable the manuscripts are and how early is the dating. When that spotlight is shined on the New Testament, it rises above all other historical texts: tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts that can be extensively compared to confirm reliability and the earliest dating to its recorded events of any historical book.
The second test is the internal evidence test, which concerns itself with whether there are multiple attestations of the events in question and if those accounts are free of contradictions (i.e. do they match). Again, when the dust settles, the New Testament is found in the winner’s circle.
Remember that there was no New Testament during the time of Jesus, and instead what you had were the multiple biographies of Jesus circulating as well as Paul’s and other apostle’s letters – all of which agree on every major fact and chronicled event and all of which were written closer to the actual occurrences that any other book of history.
As to contradictions or manuscript variants, the overwhelming majority of variants are inconsequential, consisting of spelling and numerical differences that can’t be translated in certain manuscripts, sentence word order changes, etc. This leads scholars like Neil Lightfoot to say, “The conclusion is that practically all of the variations found among the manuscripts do not affect our present text. Although a few textual problems remain, these are explained in the footnotes of most recent translations.”
The third and final historiographical test is the external evidence test that asks if evidence outside the document corroborates the text. Again, the New Testament is green-lighted because countless archaeological discoveries validate the historicity of the Bible as do works such as Robert Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament, which chronicles what non-biblical writers had to say about Jesus.
So, when it comes to passing the key historiographical tests for trustworthiness, Scripture is the best of the best. Because of that, I believe what it says is true.
The Best Witness
Even though the Bible crushes its competition where standard tests of historicity are concerned, many still reject its truth claims.
On the surface, some say they deny Scripture because of the many miracles it records (i.e. they are anti-supernaturalists). However, below that surface, most discard the Bible because it is commissive, that is, it demands we make a commitment to what it declares. Or, as philosopher Søren Kierkegaard put it: “Truth is subjectivity” (i.e. you must subject yourself to it).
The fact is that Scripture itself tells us in several key passages why people reject the Bible. For example, In Romans 8, Paul says: “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (vs. 5-7, emphasis mine).
Paul states the same thing in 1 Corinthians: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (2:14, emphasis mine).
The Bible is clear on the reason why people stiff-arm God’s Word – it’s because all of us are initially born and live in a state of spiritual death and are ‘naturally’ both blind and hostile to God and His truth.
So then how did I and many others come to believe and accept the Bible?
Paul tells us: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . .For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. . . .By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord”” (1 Cor. 18, 21-24, 30).
How did the Bible go from something I couldn’t care less about to being absolutely precious to me and something that I deeply trust? That was all God’s doing.
It wasn’t because I am smarter, more spiritual, etc., but rather it was because God saved me and gifted me with the Holy Spirit who serves as my best witness to Scripture, constantly convincing me of its truth.
In the End
Those who reject the Bible naturally balk at such a statement and cling to claims of contradictions, disbelief in miracles, and supposed textual changes over the years. But I can tell you that’s simply not true. The historical evidence for Scripture’s reliability is rock solid.
The fact is, belief is a matter of the will. History has shown that we are amazing in our ability to reject evidence in favor of what we like or don’t like. As Blaise Pascal put it: “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”
So why do I believe the Bible? I trust Scripture because it passes all the historiographical tests for ancient texts with flying colors, but also because the Holy Spirit, who has been gifted to me by God, opened both my heart and mind to the Word and unceasingly testifies to its truth.
Robin Schumacher is a software executive and Christian apologist who has written many apologetic articles, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at various apologetic events. He holds a Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament.