“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). (All verses from the American Standard Version (1901) unless otherwise noted.)
How can a thinking person discover beyond reasonable doubt whether the Bible is the word of God, the one and only standard of faith and truth? One may begin by comparing the Bible’s record of history with what is preserved in ancient records from two or more thousand years ago. Then, are the Bible’s moral principles reasonable and just, and how do they compare with those devised by man? Have any of its prophecies yet failed? Finally, are the remaining prophecies consistent with the loving and righteous God proclaimed in the Bible?
Biblical History is Accurate
About a century ago the world’s cosmologists agreed that the universe had no beginning, consciously contrary to Genesis (and Isaiah 42:5, etc.). Today, satellite measurements of the rate of expansion of the universe compel modern cosmologists to acknowledge that there was a beginning—a “Big Bang,” as some call it. So how did Moses, thirty-five hundred years earlier, know what the great developers of modern astrophysics did not?
In the earliest war recorded in the Bible, Genesis 14 tells us of a great king of Shinar (Sumer) who (with his allies) conquered the West, and fourteen years later Abraham slew him and his allies in a surprise night attack. Now we have archaeological evidence of a king who fits that description, Ur-Nammu, king of Sumer, “abandoned on the battle field like a crushed vessel” (apparently at the end of the Early Bronze Age).
Similarly, the Genesis record of Joseph saving the nations during the seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine apparently explains the peaceful long reign of Amenemes III, and also the fifteen years when the stone quarries at Hamamat were shut down in favor of draining Fayum swampland for farmland.
Again, Moses led Israel out of Egypt evidently at the end of the three-year reign of Yambres Assis (Pharaoh Mayebre Sheshi; 2 Timothy 3:8); as Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt later records, “I have restored that which was ruins, I have raised up that which was unfinished since the Asiatics [Hyksos, including Yannas and Yambres] were in the midst of Avaris [later renamed ‘Rameses’] of the Northland, and the barbarians [Israelites] were in the midst of them, overthrowing that which was made.”
Concerning those who discount the Bible’s historical record (“minimalists”), Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen opens with, “In the last few years increasingly extreme views about the Old Testament writings have been trumpeted loudly and proclaimed ever more widely and stridently … It has been said that ‘political correctness’ has decreed a priori that the Old Testament writings are historically unreliable and of negligible value.”
After more than four hundred pages reviewing the pertinent archaeology, he concludes, “Thus we have a consistent level of good, fact-based correlations right through from circa 2000 BC (with earlier roots) down to 400 BC. In terms of general reliability … the Old Testament comes out remarkably well, so long as its writings and writers are treated fairly and evenhandedly, in line with independent data, open to all. There we stop!”
The Bible is not only consistent with archaeology and ancient history, it also illuminates them.
Moral Principles of the Bible
The Law of Moses (more accurately, the Law God gave to Israel via Moses) is outstanding for its fairness. “Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the sojourner, as for the home-born: for I am Jehovah your God” (Leviticus 24:22, Numbers 15:16). “And thou shalt take no bribe: for a bribe blindeth them that have sight, and perverteth the words [cause] of the righteous” (Exodus 23:8).
The common expression that “everybody is doing it” is no excuse for doing wrong. That was made clear in the ancient law. “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to wrest justice. … Thou shalt not wrest the justice due to thy poor in his cause … neither shalt thou favor a poor man in his cause” (Exodus 23:2,6,3).
While it was permissible to buy a Hebrew bondservant, it was not a lifelong commitment. After six years the servant was free. If the master strikes a bondservant so as to blind an eye or knock out a tooth, the bondservant is immediately free with no further obligation (Exodus 21:2,26).
If a man hurts another, his penalty may not exceed the damage he has caused: “If a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him: breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be rendered unto him” (Leviticus 24:19-20). Yet, if a man kills another accidentally, he could flee to a city of refuge where the case against him might be tried. If found guilty by the congregation of the city, he shall die, but if he is found innocent, he may live safely in the city of refuge as long as the high priest lives (Numbers 35:11-32).
There was to be no escape from judgment or punishment through legal technicalities and loopholes. “According to the tenor of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do” (Deuteronomy 17:11). Perhaps that is why King David said, “Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).
Archaeology has uncovered the earlier Law Codes of Ur-Nammu of Sumer, Eshnunna (a city), and Hammurabi of Babylon. The difference is that the Law of Moses is no respecter of persons.
Jesus summarized the Law: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31).
For fairness, the Law of God found in the Scriptures is unequalled by any code of laws yet made by man.
Prophecies Still Holding True
Ezekiel 26-28 prophesies judgments against the coastal cities Tyre and Sidon, to the north of Israel. One might suppose that sooner or later destruction would come to each city. However, the destruction of Sidon is prophesied to be of pestilence and blood, but that they would come to know Jehovah. Yet for Tyre (ethnically related to Tiras/Thrace/Troy, to the Etruscans and Rome, and to Carthage) it was to be utter destruction with even the soil to be taken away down to the bare rock, and that area would never be rebuilt. Sidon has often been conquered but survived. In contrast, Tyre was destroyed but built anew on an island half a mile out to sea. If the prophecy looked dubious when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Tyre for 13 years but failed to destroy it, the prophecy was nevertheless fulfilled when Alexander of Macedonia scraped the soil down to the bare rock to build a causeway to the island, and he conquered it. Today, the bare rock is used by fishermen to dry their nets, but it is useful for little else—a continuing fulfillment of this prophecy.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2, represented even in the 2nd-century BC Qumran manuscript 4QDana) foretold that there would be exactly three more empires after Babylon before the kingdom of God would be established in the earth. (By common consent, the four great empires are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece [Macedonia, Ptolemaic Egypt, Seleucid Syria, and Thrace], and Rome.) While Biblical skeptics may dogmatically proclaim that Daniel was not written until about 164 BC (for which archaeological support is conspicuously missing), they can hardly deny that in over twenty more centuries there has been no fifth dominant empire to succeed Rome. The four-beast vision of Daniel 7 also continues to be consistent with world history today. How could Daniel have known these things twenty-five hundred years ago, unless God told him?
Still more outstanding are the prophecies related to Israel. In Deuteronomy 28-30, Moses gave God’s promises to Israel if they would be obedient to His Law. But then he told them they would be disobedient and lose God’s blessings and protection, “and Jehovah will scatter thee among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:64). Moses further promised that still later, “then Jehovah thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither Jehovah thy God hath scattered thee … and Jehovah thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers” (Deuteronomy 30:3,5). The world has seen the Diaspora, with fewer than ten thousand Jews in Palestine as recent as the 1870s. But after eighteen centuries we see the Jews returning to Israel—nearly 6 million now, in our lifetime!
Scripture Given by Inspiration of God
Oxford papyrologist Peter Parsons has mentioned that the Greek New Testament is “the second-best attested work of ancient history.” The Hebrew Old Testament is the best-attested.
To illustrate, most ancient Greek writers are preserved in but a single manuscript, and that with holes in which the researcher must guess what they said. Even the works of Homer have only a bit over a hundred manuscripts. But the Greek New Testament is represented by 3300 manuscripts, while the Latin Vulgate version is represented by perhaps ten thousand. There are hundreds for the Syriac (Aramaic) and dozens for the Egyptian Coptic versions. The more ancient and better manuscripts focus towards a single Greek text, while the more recent and most numerous manuscripts show progressively greater differences.
While the Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts may number only several hundred, they (including a third of the Dead Sea Scrolls) are remarkable for the few, and mostly insignificant differences. They mostly exhibit the usual Masoretic text. (Greater divergences are found in the ancient translations, or versions, of the Old Testament, such as the Greek Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch [with some support from another third of the Dead Sea Scrolls], the Latin, Aramaic, and others.) While the Dead Sea Scrolls are a disappointment to scholars, whose interest is driven by divergences, they are a reassurance to Bible believers.
Inspiration of the Bible
One may ask, “How was the Bible inspired?”
“We did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty … And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn. … For no prophecy was ever brought by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16,19,21, ASV margin). Thus, the prophets had been inspired by God, and the apostles gave a firsthand account of what they had seen of the fulfillment of these prophecies.
The end of your faith is the salvation of souls, “Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them. To whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto you, did they minister these things, which now have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven” (1 Peter 1:9-12).
Unselfishly and at risk to themselves, the faithful prophets foretold Christ’s ransom sacrifice for all, and the development of his bride, the faithful church. The New Testament records how Jesus Christ became that sacrifice and the beginning of the self-sacrificing church. Today, we see the last members of the faithful church growing in the character of Christ. Just as surely will come Christ’s earthly Kingdom to fulfill the last of the inspired prophecies.
“Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That is, the fully consecrated disciple of Christ receives from Scripture both the training and the tools needed for all of his consecrated walk.
The Logical Conclusion
What but an inspired Bible could produce such a combination of accurate history and prophecy, plus the mercy and justice of a loving, righteous, all-wise and all-powerful God? The Bible is our one and only standard of faith and truth.
(1) James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume 2, paragraph 303. (The ten plagues that destroyed Egypt could readily account for the Israelites being described as “barbarians.”)
(2) K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
(3) In the wilderness Moses took two censuses, suggesting a Hebrew population of about 3 million (Numbers 1, 2, 26). In King David’s time the population had perhaps doubled. Today, there are already nearly 6 million Jews in Israel alone, close to 40% of world Jewry already. (What other ethnic group has been expelled from its homeland for even a hundred years and returned to it?)