The Bible is undoubtedly the most popular book in the world. It has far outsold every other writing in human history. Each year around 20-million copies of the good book are sold in the United States alone.
Last year, the Gideons managed to globally distribute 59,460,000 copies of the New Testament. In the past 50 years, close to 4-billion copies of the Bible have been sold worldwide. Chances are, you own a Bible or two, but have you ever stopped to consider why so many people believe the Bible to be true?
A few years back, professor Voddie Baucham gave a lecture in which he outlined his reasons for believing the Bible. According to Baucham, it was not because he was raised in a Christian household. His mother was a Buddhist, so his belief in the Bible did not stem from influences in childhood.
Baucham said he believes in the Bible because he chooses to. Now, before anyone dismisses his choice has mere wishful thinking, I’d like you to consider why he made that choice. Baucham states his reason as follows:
I choose to believe the Bible because it is a reliable collection of historical documents written down by eyewitnesses, during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report to us supernatural events that took place in fulfilment of specific prophecies and claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin.
The basis of was Baucham is saying is found in 2 Peter 1:16 and the verses that follow:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 12 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
First, the Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents. The writers were not following fanciful stories, but rather, matters of historical events. Luke put it this way in the prologue to his Gospel:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
Second, the Bible was written down by eyewitnesses, during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. The historical events detailed within the Bible were written down by people who witnessed the events with their own eyes. As Peter states in verse 16, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” What we have in the Bible is corroborating eyewitness testimony.
John makes a similar claim in his first letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
Furthermore, these eyewitness testimonies were recorded during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. This is important because when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, for instance, there were over 300 eyewitnesses, at least, to the resurrection of Jesus who were still alive.
Third, the testimony recorded in the Bible is reliable. It’s often said, the Bible has been altered or that over-zealous monks took it upon themselves to change the written testimony.
But according to Baucham, this would be an impossible task, requiring three incredible levels of conspiracy.
Conspiracy level #1: When it comes to the New Testament, there are over 6-thousand manuscripts or portions of manuscripts that have survived until today. Furthermore, while the surviving manuscripts may not be the original autographs, Baucham points out that we can get as early as A.D. 120 with some of the surviving copies.
That sort of manuscript evidence is staggering when you compare the figure with other historical documents widely accepted by today’s historians.
When it comes to Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the earliest remaining copy was written 900 years after the original. The earliest surviving writings of Aristotle were written 1,400 years after his death. In contrast, we have access to copies of the New Testament that were written within decades of the originals.
So, what does that mean for our conspiracy theorists? According to Baucham, if over-zealous monks wanted to change the Bible, they would need to gather together at least 6,000 manuscripts, change all of them, not show their ink-work, return them, and never tell anybody about what they did.
As impossible as that task would have been, it doesn’t stop there.
Conspiracy level #2: In the first few centuries, not every Christian in the world spoke Greek. Early on, the Bible was also translated in Syriac, Coptic, and Latin. That means, if over-zealous monks wanted to change the Bible, they would not only have to track down more than 6,000 manuscripts, change them, not show their ink-work, and return them without anybody knowing, they’d also have to track down and alter every single translated copy of the Bible.
Conspiracy level #3: Not only would these over-zealous monks have to alter every copy and translation of the Bible, they’d also have to alter every other written citation. The early church fathers often cited the Bible in their writings. In fact, scholars have suggested that if all we had of the New Testament was the citations in the writings of the early church fathers, we could reconstruct over 95 per cent of the New Testament.
Fourth, the eyewitnesses report supernatural events. The Gospels are full of accounts of supernatural occurrences. Jesus healed the sick, he cured diseases, he walked on water and raised the dead. These things were not done in secret, but publicly. The Gospels tell us that thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of people sought after Jesus primarily because he had the ability to heal the sick and dying.
Even if the events were recorded a generation or two after they took place, it would be completely possible to disprove the claims. All these things occurred in a specific place, at specific times, and involved specific people who could verify any of the claims.
The greatest miracle recorded in the Bible is undoubtedly the resurrection of Jesus. And even that Paul claims was witnessed by over 300 people at the time he penned his letter to the church in Corinth.
Fifth, and finally, these supernatural events took place in fulfilment of specific prophecies. Baucham points out that when the Bible speaks prophetically, it’s not in vague Nostradamus-type claims. We’re talking about clear, specific prophecies. A perfect example of a specific prophecy being fulfilled in historical events can be witnessed during Jesus’ crucifixion.
In Mark 15:34 we’re told at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Victims of crucifixion often died from suffocation. With their arms stretched out above their head, the victim must either lift his body off the nails in his feed or pull himself up from the nails in his hands. Crucifixion is a long, torturous, and painful death.
The whole method is designed to make it hard to breathe. How much more difficult would it be to speak? Everything Jesus said is worth listening to, but here it cost him greatly. He did not whisper this in a small voice. But, as Mark said, “he cried out with a loud voice.”
So, what is Jesus saying? At this time, the Bible did not have chapters and verses. If you wanted to refer to a chapter of the Bible, you would cite the first line. If you wanted to direct people to Psalm 22, for instance, you would say: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus is directing us to Psalm 22, a song which was written hundreds of years prior to his death. But in that moment, everyone who was familiar with that particular song, who was witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus would have had the sudden realisation that what they were in fact witnessing was the fulfilment of specific prophecy.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
(Psalms 22:1–31 ESV)
When it comes to historical events, we’re required to use an evidentiary method similar to a courtroom. The question is, “Do we have any eyewitnesses?”
There’s simply no external evidence that would argue against the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God, and everything within suggests it is. The intelligent position in all of this is to believe what the Bible says.
The only issue people really have is that once you accept the Bible as the Word of God, it now holds a claim on your life. Once you accept the Scriptures as true, you’re forced to admit that you’re accountable to the God’s whose word it is. And that’s where the real objection is.
It’s a reliable collection of historical documents, written down by eyewitnesses, during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report to us supernatural events that took place in fulfilment of specific prophecies and claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin.