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What Is the Bible and How Do We Know It's True

The Influence of the Bible

I believe that one of the most influential decisions we will make in our lives is what we believe about God and the Bible. How we apply these beliefs to our lives plays a significant role in who we are and how we view and interact with the world. Yet many people make this decision without ever reading the Bible or understanding what it tells us about who God really is. Even Christians can find our Bible intimidating and hard to understand.

The purpose of this article is to lay a foundation of faith based on the truth of the Bible by looking at how solid our foundation is.

Faith is a cornerstone of our salvation, and while it is true that God is bigger and more than our minds can comprehend, our faith is not blind. There is logic and reason behind our claims that the Bible, our best source of our knowledge of God and mankind, can be trusted as our source of absolute truth.

The purpose of this study is to help us understand our Bible and give us the confidence in what we believe to share the gospel without fear, to have a new appreciation for the deep love that God has for us, to give us the desire to embrace and obey it every day in our lives and to protect us from those who want to lead us astray or challenge us with claims that what we believe is nothing but myth and magic.


The Bible is God’s written Word to us, it holds within its pages everything God wants us to know about who He is, ourselves, and our lives. It claims to be the ultimate source of truth, wisdom, and the knowledge of God, it holds the key to a personal relationship with him and a life of inner peace and fulfillment. But how do we know it’s true?

To answer this question, we will look at what the Bible says about itself, how it came to be, how it survives the test of time and remains as relevant today as it was when it was written, the proof of fulfilled prophesies, and how it stands up to centuries of criticism.

What does the Bible say about itself?

Can anyone tell me what the Bible says about itself? (2 minutes)

2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and for training in righteousness.”

2 Peter 1:21 – For prophesy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Acts 17:11 – Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they …examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Isaiah 40:8 – the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God will stand forever.

Hebrews 4:12 – For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirt, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 – for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.


Mention the 3 “what’s” of inductive Bible study, then go over observation (what does it say about God, about people, what does it want me to do) and as we look at each verse, remind them to ask themselves, for our purposes today, what does this say about the Bible, then take a moment to silently look over the list and pray to see if there is anything God wants them to notice or to do going forward (2 minutes)

Ask, does anyone want to share? (1 – 2 minutes)

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The Bible’s very existence is a miracle

Imagine trying to write a book with a single story using more than 40 different authors and contributors. It will take 1500 years to write this book so most of your authors won’t know each other and sometimes there will be hundreds of years when no one contributes. Your writers are very different from each other, some are rich, some are poor, they speak different languages and live on different continents. Some of them are well educated, and others are not. You will have kings, fishermen, doctors, priests, soldiers, song writers, lawyers and businessmen, criminals, wine tasters and government officials contribute. Everyone can write in whatever style they want so some will write poetry, others write letters, some write history or law books, and many will even write prophesy and correctly predict the future. With all this variety, your book must still have one consistent story or message and be in perfect harmony without a single true contradiction. This book must also withstand the test of time, surviving unchanged for thousands and thousands of years, and remaining as relevant today as it was when it was first written. Not only that, but it must also show itself to be true under centuries of criticism and scrutiny, with an answer for every apparent contradiction and tough question asked by thousands of hard-hearted sceptics who are determined and desperate to prove it false.

This is exactly how the Bible came to be.

It was written by roughly 40 authors from all walks of life over 1500 years in three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, from the continents of Africa (Moses writes law from Egypt), Asia (both the books written in Israel and during captivity in Babylon), and Europe (Paul writes from Rome).

It is a miracle that in spite of all the diversity that went into the Bible, it still tells a single story, has a central theme, and comes together as one complete volume. The center of that story is Jesus Christ and later we will look at how every part of the Bible is about Him.

Let’s take a quick look at the careers and lives of some of the Authors…

Play matching game (at end of document) (2 minutes)


The Bible is upheld by fulfilled Prophesy

Regardless of their day jobs, every contributor of the Bible, including the apostles, was considered a prophet, a proven spokesman for God through the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:21 – For prophesy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

One of the best proofs that we have that the Bible is true is the fulfillment of the prophesies they made. These men spoke of events in their near future, their distant future, and the end times. In addition to the miracles or signs that God gave them to confirm that they were truly speaking for him, the words He gave them about their immediate or near future helped their communities recognize that they were true prophets and not false.

Examples of these are:

(ask for ideas)

-Moses told the Israelites the God was going to get them out of Egypt and slavery. Exodus 3:16 – 17; 4:29 - 31

-Samuel told Saul his father’s donkeys were found, his father was worried about him, and all that would happen as Saul returned home. 1 Samuel 10: 1 – 16. All of Israel recognized that Samuel was a prophet of the LORD because He let none of Samuels words “fall to the ground”. 1 Sam 3:19

-Isaiah, Jeremiah and others told of the Jewish exile, which occurred in their lifetime

- Ezekiel, while in exile, told of the things that were happening back in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 8

-Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar what his dreams meant. Daniel 4

There are also over 300 prophesies in the old testament that have been fulfilled by Jesus during his time here on earth. Many of them have to do with his birth and are events that he would not have been able to manipulate into coming true in an effort to trick us into thinking He was not who he said he was.

Some examples of these are:

(ask for ideas)

-He would be from the tribe of Judah -Genesis 49:10 - Luke 3:33 and Matt 1:2 – 3

-Where he would be born - Micah 5:2 - Matt 2:1

-Born of a virgin -Isaiah 7:14 -Matt 1:18 and Luke 1:26 – 35

-Slaughter of infants -Jer. 31:15 -Matt 2: 16 – 18

Escape to Egypt -Hos. 11:1 -Mt. 2:14

The Bible stands up to the Test of Time

No ancient manuscript, including the Bible, has an original copy, called autographs, still in existence today, so the way to evaluate if a book has remained true to its original, is to look at how close to the actual events are the copies we do have, how many copies are there to compare to each other, and how much are our copies different than the earlier ones.

The interval between the historical events and the written evidence is far better for the New Testament than any other manuscript.

Compare this to other ancient manuscripts:

The oldest copy of Homer’s Iliad dates 500 years after the original

The first account of Buddha’s life was written 700 years after his death

The earliest copy of Caesars work is dated 950 years after being written

Plato’s earliest copy is 1250 years after the original.

Aristotle’s Poetics – 1400 years

We have copies of the bible that are dated between 50 - 100 years of being written, within a lifetime of eyewitnesses and close enough for people to recognize if they were not authentic.

The bible has survived in spite of extreme persecution. We could do a whole class on the persecutions Christians and the Bible have gone through, but I’ll just touch on it today.

At times during the first centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Roman government was hostile to the new faith and went to great extent to get rid of every evidence of the books and letters of the Bible. They would have loved to be able to prove them untrue. The worst persecutions against the bible were from the Emperor Diocletian who ruled from 284-316. Ancient historian Eusebius tells us that, "royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches be leveled to the ground and the Scriptures destroyed by fire" (Church History, Book VIII, Ch. 1). Diocletian went on to say that if one had a copy of the Scriptures and did not surrender it to be burned, if it were discovered, he would be killed. Furthermore, if any other should know of one who had a copy of the Scriptures, and did not report it, he also would be killed. During this time many, many copies of the Bible were burned, copies laboriously written in longhand.

The Indestructibility of the Bible (truthmagazine.com)

American Evangelist and Creationist Harry Rimmer wrote in his booklet 7 Wonders of the Wonderful World -“After this edict had been in force for two years, Diocletian boasted, "I have completely exterminated the Christian writings from the face of the earth!" (Rimmer, Seven Wonders of the Wonderful Word, p. 15). He also wrote, "Men have died on the gallows for reading it, and have been burned at the stake for owning it. Tortures too fiendish to describe have been visited upon delicate women and tender children for looking on its pages. Yet in spite of the strongest forces that Hell could unleash and in the face of the animosity of tyrants and despots, there are more Bibles in the earth today than there are copies of any other book ever written by the hand of man!"

If the Bible wasn’t true, its enemies would have been quick to point out the errors instead of going to such lengths to eradicate it. Instead, early Christians faced death if they were caught with just a small portion of a copy of these scriptures. If they didn’t believe that what they had was the absolute truth, they would not have sacrificed their lives or even put their families in danger just to have a piece of these precious words in their homes.

People died to preserve it, yet the authenticity of the Bible remains under constant attack, while no one questions the authority of any of these other works.

It makes me wonder, is the Bible that important to me? Would I be willing to die just to read a small part of it?

What about the number of copies that exist and how they compare to each other and what we have in our hands today?

-The Bible is over 25 times more accurate than the Iliad, which is considered one of the most accurate ancient texts and has the second most ancient copies at 643(with 190 containing the complete work).

-There is no single account of Buddha’s life that is agreed upon by all Buddhist traditions nor are there any consolidated works. Experts have practically given up trying to decipher truth from legend.

The Encyclopedia Brittanica states No single version of the life of the Buddha would be accepted by all Buddhist traditions. For more than a century, scholars have focused on the life of the Buddha, with the earliest investigations attempting to isolate and identify historical elements amid the many legends. Because of the centuries that had passed between the actual life and the composition of what might be termed a full biography, most scholars abandoned this line of inquiry as unfruitful…. In short, the efforts of scholars have shifted from an attempt to derive authentic information about the life of the Buddha to an effort to trace stages in and the motivations for the development of his biography.

What follows is an account of the life of the Buddha that is well-known, yet synthetic, bringing together some of the more famous events from various accounts of his life, which often describe and interpret these events differently.

- there are 10 copies of Caesar’s Gaelic Wars

-7 copies of Plato

-Aristotle’s Poetics has only 5 copies

There are over 25,000 ancient copies or partial copies of the New Testament, with almost 5800 of them in the original Greek, and 10s of thousands Hebrew OT manuscripts throughout the world (10,000 from Cairo synagogue alone), including copies that date back into the 2nd century BC and fragments that go back to the 3rd century BC. When they are compared to the Bible we have today, they are almost the same. The differences that are found are mostly spelling variations, word order and synonyms. There are a few differences that are a little more extensive, but none that effect the main meaning or message of the Bible.

Have someone look up John 5:4

This is an example of a verse that is in some ancient manuscripts but not all of them, so that casts doubt on whether these were original inspired words from God, or if they are an added note to explain the thought behind the following statement in verse 7. Our bible’s today handle these discrepancies with footnotes, and you can see how it has no impact on the message of the bible or the foundation of our faith.

It is important to recognize that the ancient manuscripts of the Bible are not complete collections like the one you hold in your hands today, some have only survived as small fragments while others consist of over 100 pages.

The earliest transcripts of the New Testament were written on papyrus, which seems to only last in dry climate and being brittle, breaks easily. Many of these documents have been found in Egypt, either in ancient garbage dumps or purchased from Egyptian dealers. We have about 88 of these manuscripts covering the content of most of the New Testament and written within the first two hundred years of the originals.

After the “conversion” of the emperor Constantine, Christians were permitted to freely copy their scriptures so later manuscripts are more numerous and extensive. Our earliest and most complete copies of both the Old and New Testament date back to the early 4th century. They were written on vellum or parchment which held up better over time. However as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt and we can take for granted what we don’t work for, the following stories give us some examples of why it we may not have not found a totally complete ancient collection of all of our scriptures in one manuscript…

During the 1800’s German Count Tischendorf, while visiting the monastary of St. Catherine discovered leaves of vellum containing 4 books of the Old Testament (1 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, and Esther). These 43 pages were taken to the University Library in Leipzig, Germany. As good as this discovery was, his claims that he found them in a basket of scraps that the monks were using to light their fires, is heartbreaking. On a later visit, the monastery steward presented him an almost complete copy of the scriptures, including a majority of the Old Testament and mostly all of the New. This second manuscript, from about 340 A.D. is currently one of our most complete and accurate Greek manuscripts.

Another extensive manuscript we can thank Tischendorf for originally contained both the Old and New Testaments. However, early theologian St. Ephraem had erased the original scriptures and written over them with his own sermons. Tischendorf was able to dicipher the original writing with chemical reactivation. Only 209 pages have survived and are located in the national library in Paris.


Perhaps the most remarkable find of ancient texts are the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. The story, as I heard it said they were found by a young shepherd boy who was throwing rocks into the caves in the hills while out looking for his lost goats. When the sound of breaking glass caught his attention, he went for a closer look and falling into the cave, found several jars containing leather scrolls. Since then, over 11 caves have been discovered with thousands of manuscripts. 40% of them represent the Hebrew Old Testament.

On March 16th of this year (2021), the day after Pam and I talked about this class, Israel announced the discovery of additional dead sea scrolls, the first in 60 years. These tiny fragments represent a Greek translation of part of the Minor Prophets. Experts have been able to piece together Nahum 1:5 and Zechariah 8: 16 - 17. This, being a translation rather than a Hebrew copy, these tiny fragments show some small but significant differences from the Septuagint, the standard Greek Translation widely accepted by the Jews. We will talk about why translations are so different in a later lesson. One major difference is the preservation of the Hebrew script for the name of God. (the Tetragrammaton, the revered four-letter name of God).

https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/122723.jpg?w=940

Pass out handout.

The Bible stands up to arguments against it

The Bible is full of Contradictions.

This is what we are all afraid of, right?

Someone telling us that we are dumb for believing the Bible because it is full of contradiction. Or someone telling us it is wrong because science disproves it.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was a time of great wisdom, it was a time of great foolishness…” (Charles Dickens, Tale of 2 Cities). WAIT! Stop the presses, burn the books, don’t let the children read them, Dickens is clearly a liar and cannot be trusted! His book is full of contradictions, only the foolish would read him, oh the indecency, oh the horror, oh what are we going to do?

Well, Yes, the words are contradictory…but is it really a contradiction? Can it all be true?

It can and it is, and the same goes for the contradictions in the Bible

Generations of people who do not want to acknowledge God have tried to prove the bible wrong without success. It is easy for someone who does not want to believe the Bible to say that it is full of contradictions. Usually this is just a vague idea of something they think they may have heard somewhere or a repeated idea of what they have been taught in college, by their parents or someone they know, heard, or read about. I like to tell the person that says this that I don’t know of any true contradictions in the Bible and ask them to show me what they are talking about. Very few of them can actually come up with something that might indicate that the Bible is a lie. (And yes, anyone with kids should be aware that most colleges are aggressively anti Bible, and it’s never to early to prepare them to face the hostility their faith will encounter.)

We should all be aware that the Bible does contain what appears to be contradictions or discrepancies on a surface level reading, but none of them actually affect the truth it tells. One of my favorite things to do is to debunk supposed Bible contradictions. For thousands of years people have been searching for ways to disprove the Bible and every single contradiction or falsity that they have come up with has been resolved by understanding the context or culture it was written in.

For example, there are many discrepancies throughout the gospels. But when you realize that these are four different eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, it will become clear that the discrepancies are what makes the accounts authentic and not a pre-rehearsed tale. Any interviewer will tell you that they expect different people to recall different things about an event based on their perspective. Some will give more details about one thing and others will skip things all together.

For example, If says Matthew says there was one angel at Jesus’ tomb, but John sees two, can we not say both are right? If there were two, then one was certainly there. Perhaps John was more observant, or Matthew didn’t bother to count.

So, when asked “how did Judas die? Matthew can say he hanged himself (Matt 27:5) while Luke can give the extra details that he burst open, and his guts fell out (Acts 1:18) and both can be correct. Matthew is telling us how Judas attempted to kill himself and Luke gives us the results. So, we can imagine the rope or tree branch breaking and him tumbling to the rocky field below.

Another common source of supposed contradictions is found in the names of people. We see this a lot in the Old Testament Kings of Israel. Just like people today can have the same name as someone else, and one person can have several different names or nicknames, the same was true in Bible times.

We see this a lot with the kings of Israel and Judah and other places in both the New and Old Testaments. Joash and Jehoash, Azariah and Uzziah, Joram and Jehoram, are among the combinations that are used interchangeably for the same person in 2 Kings alone.

I could spend a lot more time on this topic but let me say that there are many other variations in scriptures that can be cleared up by recognizing that the accounts were written in different styles, time periods, to different audiences, and for different purposes. Context is King when we are looking at the Bible, and we must be careful not to assume that we know what is said if we haven’t fully understood the context it was written in.

The same is true about science. People say that science disproves the Bible, but that is not true. The Bible is not a book of science and should not be read as one. Here again, context is important. For example, Christians and Science like to argue about how old the earth is. But the Bible doesn’t actually tell us how old it is. Christians around the world passionately get into this debate with both non-Christians and other Christians. Unfortunately, the passion often turns nasty when someone doesn’t agree, turning people away from Christ, and each other. The best thing to say here might be “it really doesn’t matter how old the earth is, What the Bible says is that God created it and that is the important thing to focus on.”

And if anyone tries to argue that the Bible tells us that the earth is young while science claims it must be a billion years old, I would ask them this... If God can build age into man, Adam and Eve were both full grown adults, then why can’t he build age into the earth? Who’s to say that he didn’t create a 10 billion year old mountain, 10 thousand years ago?

The Bible is not a book of science, but when it speaks about something scientific it is not wrong. For example, long before Columbus went to sail around the world, the Bible told us that “He(God) sits enthroned above the circle of the earth… Isaiah 40.

If you know of any contradictions that you would like to address, please put them in the question box and we can talk about them at the end of the study.

The Bible is relevant and changes lives, then and now

Finally, the truth of the Bible is found in its amazing power to change the lives of both those who lived in the time it was written and those who read it centuries later.

-Moses – Murderer to leader, angry to humble

-Josiah – changed his leadership -2 Kings 22:11

-Nation of Israel, when Ezra reads – Nehemiah 8 & 9

-Saul to Paul

-Get stories of changed lives today

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Graft below Also from CARM - Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability | carm.org

New Testament manuscripts far outweigh the others in quantity.2

Author

Date
Written

Earliest Copy

Approximate Time Span between original & copy

Number of Copies

Accuracy of Copies

Lucretius

died 55 or 53 B.C.

1100 yrs

2

—-

Pliny

A.D. 61-113

A.D. 850

750 yrs

7

—-

Plato

427-347 B.C.

A.D. 900

1200 yrs

7

—-

Demosthenes

4th Cent. B.C.

A.D. 1100

800 yrs

8

—-

Herodotus

480-425 B.C.

A.D. 900

1300 yrs

8

—-

Suetonius

A.D. 75-160

A.D. 950

800 yrs

8

—-

Thucydides

460-400 B.C.

A.D. 900

1300 yrs

8

—-

Euripides

480-406 B.C.

A.D. 1100

1300 yrs

9

—-

Aristophanes

450-385 B.C.

A.D. 900

1200

10

—-

Caesar

100-44 B.C.

A.D. 900

1000

10

—-

Livy

59 BC-AD 17

—-

???

20

—-

Tacitus

circa A.D. 100

A.D. 1100

1000 yrs

20

—-

Aristotle

384-322 B.C.

A.D. 1100

1400

49

—-

Sophocles

496-406 B.C.

A.D. 1000

1400 yrs

193

—-

Homer (Iliad)

900 B.C.

400 B.C.

500 yrs

643

95%

New
Testament

1st Cent. A.D. (A.D. 50-100)

2nd Cent. A.D.
(c. A.D. 130 f.)

less than 100 years

5600

99.5%

Faithfacts https://www.faithfacts.org/search-for-truth/questions-of-christians/how-do-you-know-that-the-bible-is-true

BlueLetterBible The Uniqueness of Scripture (blueletterbible.org)

Buddha | Biography, Teachings, Influence, & Facts | Britannica

The Institute for Creation Research (icr.org)

Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability | carm.org

The Institute for Creation Research (icr.org)

The Earliest New Testament Manuscripts (bible.ca)

An Interview with Daniel B. Wallace on the New Testament Manuscripts (thegospelcoalition.org)

The Earliest New Testament Manuscripts – Bible Archaeology Report

Thompson Chain Reference Bible

What the Bible says about itself


2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and for training in righteousness.”

2 Peter 1:21 – For prophesy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Acts 17:11 – Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they …examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Isaiah 40:8 – the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God will stand forever.

Hebrews 4:12 – For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirt, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 – for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

How to understand the Bible

Pray

Look at context

Ask - What does it say?

-What does it mean?

-What does it mean to me?

For this exercise, we will look at the question “What does it say?” and specifically ask ourselves:

-What does this say about God? About People, About the Bible?

Take a moment and after asking God what he wants you to know, read each verse to yourselves with the above questions in mind. Is there anything God wants you to see or do? Anything that sticks out to you?






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