Tuesday, May 22, 2007

FAQ 2: Why trust the Bible?

The question of authority is a massive one, for those who are Christians and for those who aren't. Where is truth to be found? Whom should I trust? What is 'pure' information, and what is spin?

The question is particularly acute when it comes to the Christian claim to know about God. It is not that claiming to know about God per se is particularly problematic as a concept: many people of many different religions and philosophies make the claim. The problem is that the Christian stubbornly refuses to base their knowledge of God on anything other than a very old book. Indeed, they base their claim to know that God exists on this self-same book. Most problematic, they base their claim to that God can be known through this book on this book. (Still following?) The more philosophically inclined will notice at once that this is a circular argument, so called because it goes in circles:

"why should I believe in God?"
"the Bible says so."
"why should I believe what the Bible says?"
"because the Bible come from God."
"why should I believe in God?"
...and so on and so on, ad infinitum, or at the very least ad boredom.

The thing is, this is the right thing for the Christian to say. As soon as they give any other reason for believing the Bible than "the Bible comes from God", they launch themselves on to a sea of uncertainty and relativity.

What answers, after all, might they give?

Perhaps that the Bible changes lives? But demonstrably so do many books for which much less exalted claims are made.

Perhaps that the Bible is very old? Indeed. But so is Homer, and no-one shapes their lives by him. (I hope).

Perhaps that archaeological evidence backs up the Bible? Maybe it does, but it has to be said that there is no archaelogical evidence for anything directly supernatural, and so this line of argument would most naturally lead us to say there is some truth in the Bible but probably not much.

No, the Christian trusts the Bible because it comes from God, and they know it comes from God because it tells them so.

So I can give lots of reasons why I think you should look at the Bible - some external (like archaeology) and some internal (like the fact that it simply makes sense). But if you look at it seriously, read it carefully, and find that it is not from God, there is nothing I can do except tell you to read it again. If that seems like a dead end, I propose that there is no other way to go.

Like my previous question, this one also comes down to the concept of revelation. If God has revealed himself in history - in the real world of time and space - and if he still reveals himself through the record contained in the Bible, then and only then we might know something about God. If not, then nothing we can do can get us that knowledge - all we will have is guesswork.

Of course, for the Christian this foundational point is not in fact circular. It is circular in terms of its human logic, but it is also the point at which God actually speaks, breaking in to the circle from outside with his powerful word, which grips us and compels us to hear him. And thence comes certainty, and from nowhere else.


  1. Yes.

    If you try to prove that the Bible is God's word by appealing to other sources, then you're effectively saying that those other sources - history, philosophy, are higher authorities than the Bible, and so it wouldn't be the word of God, because by definition, that is the highest authority there is.

    The testimony of history etc. is a reflection of what one would expect to be the case if the Bible were the word of God, not proof.

    The reason people don't believe the Bible is because through their sin they are deaf to God's voice. They need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

    These words of Jesus are helpful I think:

    "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority."

    (John 7.17 - oh look, I'm arguing from the Bible again)

    Application: get on with doing what the Bible says (repent and believe) and you will know whether it is true or not.

  2. Amen and amen.

    Though I think it's helpful at some point to deal with questions like "Has the Bible been changed over the years?", "Why weren't other gospels included?", and so on firstly because the questions are often being genuinely asked, and secondly because there's so much misinformation out there.

    But you're quite right to say these things are not the basis on which we believe the Bible.

    Why believe the Bible? Jesus says so.

  3. The reason for writing this post was that I am aware of having (unwittingly) told untruths in the past. I distinctly remember someone asking me why I believed the Bible. I said it was because Jesus believed it, and I believed Jesus because of (non-Biblical) evidence for the resurrection.

    But on reflection, I clearly believe in the resurrection only because it is taught in the Bible - so I had lied. And the reason was that I didn't trust the Bible to authenticate itself. Or perhaps that I feared the guy I was talking to would think I was stupid.

    I wonder how many other errors emerge from difficulties in evangelism?