There are multiple trails of evidence that the Bible is not just a human book. This page is just a quick overview; each of these areas has been the subject of many entire books!
Complexity and Coherence
For starters, here are some statistics: The Bible is a large book: my hard-copy of the New American Standard translation has 888 pages of small print. It consists of 66 separate writings, written by about 40 human authors in three languages over a 1500-year time span. It contains literary types from histories to letters, from poems to prophecies 1 2 3 4. However, it tells one consistent story of God’s character and His interaction with mankind. How could humans have collaborated like that?
The Bible contains predictions (“prophecies”) of events before they happen. There are points where God says He is doing this specifically so that when the events come to pass they will be seen as His work (Isaiah 46:9a-11b, Ezekiel 33:33, John 13:19).
Some of these predictions are amazingly detailed, and are given decades, even centuries, before the events. One example is the naming of Cyrus of Persia as the ruler who would release the Israelites from their exile in Babylon. The prediction was written by Isaiah 5, who died about 680 B.C.; the fulfillment was recorded by Ezra, and dated to the first year of Cyrus the Persian 6. History tells us that Cyrus the Great was born in about 590 B.C. (100 years after Isaiah died), and conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. 7 How could Isaiah have known what a yet-to-be-born ruler would do over one hundred years later?
(There are those who say that the prediction was not written by Isaiah, but by someone who lived after the return from exile. However, their circular reasoning is that it couldn’t have been by Isaiah, because real fulfilled prophecy is not possible, so it can’t be a real fulfilled prophecy, because it wasn’t written by Isaiah!)
Even more spectacular are the prophecies of the “Messiah“, God’s specially-appointed rescuer to right all the world’s wrongs, and how Jesus exactly fulfills each of them. The first Messianic prophecy is given just three chapters into the Bible, in Genesis 3:15. Speaking to the deceptive serpent in the Garden of Eden, God says “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” So, immediately after the world has gone wrong, God says that someone will make it right, but not without some suffering first. Later Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus include:
- Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
- Born within 490 years after the decree to rebuild the temple (after the Babylonian exile), and then killed (Daniel 9:25-26a)
- Manner of death: Compare Matthew 27:35-43, John 19:23-25, and John 19:34-35 to Psalm 22:7-8, Psalm 22:14-18 and Zechariah 12:10.
- Raised from death after three days (Psalm 16:10, John 2:19-22)
- many others
Jesus referred back to these prophecies, (Luke 24:44, Luke 24:27) as did His followers (Acts 3:18, Acts 13:27). Many of these are not the kind of things that a later generation could artificially set up: Who decides where they will be born, or that soldiers will gamble for their clothing?
Provenance and Accuracy
People sometimes question the accuracy of the Bible, especially the New Testament. There is internal evidence that it was written by honest men, including that it sometimes says things that would not have come naturally in the 1st century. Anyone making up the Resurrection, for instance, would not have had women be the first witnesses (Luke 24:22-23). In that culture, the testimony of a woman did not count. There is evidence that it was written by the real eyewitnesses, as they repeatedly claim to be (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1-3, Acts 10:39-41, Acts 3:14-15). Would several men risk their lives to write lies, in a place and time where any number of people had motive and opportunity to call them out?
Concerning the textual accuracy of the Bible, there is more evidence that our current translations are accurate renditions of the original than for any other ancient writing (including Plato, Aristotle, and Homer among others). For instance, we have about 640 copies of Homer’s “Illiad”, with the oldest being from about 500 years after the event. By contrast, we have over 5800 copies of the New Testament, dating back to within less than 100 years after Jesus lived 8 9 10. Would any human book have that many copies so well preserved over centuries, despite entire governments being determined to erase it?
Concerning historical accuracy, evidence continues to accumulate that when the Bible makes an assertion – mentions a person, title, people group, or place – it proves to be correct. There are numerous times that someone has said “Aha, the Bible is wrong about this” only to have later archeological evidence say otherwise 11. Does any other ancient document make so many falsifiable claims, without having any of them proven false?
Choice of What to Include
There’s a misconception that some powerful church council looked at a huge list of writings, and chose which ones to put into the Bible (New Testament, especially). It’s really more the reverse: Individual early churches were receiving documents from the leaders who had actually been with Jesus, passing them around, and trusting them as authoritative word from God well before there was any official list. The church councils documented which writings had passed the real-world test so that imposters could be avoided. They insisted that only information directly connected to Jesus’ original followers and in line with their consistent message would be considered authoritative 12 13. Has any other collection of religious writings been vetted that thoroughly?
I don’t have space in this short article (and don’t have the expertise, either!) to go into all the details on all these topics. Hopefully this has given at least a taste of the evidence that is available for further research. As you find questions or challenges, though, please be honest and fair. However far anyone digs into the Bible’s trustworthiness, they should put the same effort toward digging in to any alternative that they are considering. That should hold true of any worldview or faith tradition: If you are basing your life (and afterlife!) on it, then it should be willing and able to stand up to scrutiny.
Footnotes and Scripture References
- It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! and he will perform all My desire.’ and he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’ (Isaiah 44:28)
- Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:2-3)