For Christmas 2016, I thought I’d take a little different take on the reason for the season- the birth of Jesus. Was there really a virgin birth? Were there really angels? And how do we know any of it is true?
To answer these questions (and many others), we need to examine the broader context of what the Bible is, where it came from, how it was established, who wrote it, and why. Really, what’s so special about it? And who cares?
This article is intended to be a brief overview, and I’ll follow-up with additional articles. Let me start with what I believe about Scripture: I believe it’s a revelation about, not only who we are, where we come from and where we’re going- but our relationship to the creator of the universe. And that brings us to Christmas, where we see that relationship become personal. God becomes a child and dwells among us.
At this time of the year I think it’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit: maybe we’re excited to have some time off work or school, shopping for gifts, decorating the house, opening gifts, feasting, and spending time with family and friends. But we know the reason for celebrating Christmas is much more, especially for those who find the holidays a difficult time of the year. I love the explanation Linus gives Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas: an angel appeared to the shepherds and said,
“Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy. Which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.”
Matthew 1:18-25 provides some background to this event as an Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
A reasonable person may then ask, then, how can we know if any of this is true, and why should we believe it?
The simple answer is because it’s recorded in God’s word, and God’s word is true. Such a response, of course, is based on the assumption that God does exist and has revealed himself in his word. But this type of response surely won’t satisfy a skeptic, atheist, non-theist, or someone who adheres to another religion.
To explain why I believe Scripture is God’s word and revelation to man, let’s consider what we know about it. The standard Bible contains sixty-six books written by different authors beginning nearly 3,500 years ago. Now one criticism of Scripture is the claim that the Bible was written by ancient man (not God), and they didn’t understand the scientific origin of the universe like we do today, so they made up stories to explain the unknown. Further, we don’t even have the original manuscripts, so we can’t know exactly what they wrote and what has been changed.
The problem with this criticism is that it assumes God doesn’t exist, and even if he did, the writers couldn’t have communicated with him. So now we’re faced with sorting out competing assumptions. How can we tell if Scripture is from God or from man?
In traditional Christianity, we believe God exists, and that he inspired the writers of Scripture in various ways; he spoke to some directly, audibly and personally, some through dreams and visions, others through the Holy Spirit, and still others through angels or messengers. The writers of Scripture testify to this, and we may either accept or deny their testimony.
Now a skeptic may point out that you can’t gullibly believe everything you hear, and that these Bible stories are crazy- like a talking snake! So why accept a story just because someone said it’s true?
Consider the Exodus. There were well over one million Israelites who left Egypt, and they would have witnessed some of the miracles that convinced Pharaoh to allow them to leave, and they would have walked through the parted Red Sea and witness many other miracles described in the book. So there was plenty opportunity for the miracles to be denied, and we have no record of any such denials, or any evidence that these denials were covered-up. Many of the miracles recorded in the Bible were observed by crowds. They weren’t done in a vacuum, preventing any substantiation of the claims. One reason why Jesus was so popular is because people spread the word of his miracles, and some were even called before the officials to account for their healing on the Sabbath.
So how does Scripture gain its authority, and why believe it’s from God? 2 Timothy 3:16 provides an explanation. It says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. This means the Bible wasn’t written merely by human beings, but that God inspired them to write it. All of it. To say that Scripture is God-breathed means that God gave them the words to write, or what they wrote was from God, not their own personal opinions. Therefore, we elevate Scripture above any human writing, and consider it to be the infallible Word of God.
Okay, so what evidence is there to substantiate this claim?
I’d suggest there’s plenty of evidence ranging from archaeology, science, fulfilled prophecy, personal experience, the unity of Scripture, miracles, and its preservation.
There’s overwhelming archaeological evidence confirming the historicity of Scripture. We’ve been able to substantiate claims about the Exodus, Jericho, the existence of King David, King Solomon, King Belshazzar, and many other Biblical references.
Jesus himself fulfilled prophecies about the coming Messiah that no one else could. These prophecies include a virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), the way he’d suffer and die (pierced hands and feet, no broken bones, divided his cloths and cast lots for his garment in Psalm 22, Psalm 34:20), and even the cost of his betrayal (30 pieces of silver according to Zechariah 11:12-13). Other prophecies fulfilled in Scripture include the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25-26), the second destruction of Jerusalem, the destruction of Babylon (Isaiah 44:28-45:13), and the Jewish exile (Isaiah 11:11-13, Jeremiah 25:11).
Observational science confirms the Bible. Genesis 1:20-25 tells us that God created animals to reproduce after their kind, and this is exactly what we observe. We don’t see one organism evolving into different kinds of organisms as some have claimed.
Again, the Bible accounts for many miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Skeptics may deny this, but consider that Jesus’ disciples, who were hiding in fear after the crucifixion, suddenly became bold and were ready to face death for spreading the gospel once Jesus was resurrected. Jesus appeared, not only to his disciples, but to over 500 others (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Now I’ve never personally experienced a miracle in the supernatural sense, but I do know people who have. It’s hard to substantiate personal testimony’s like this, but I have no reason to doubt these people.
Unity of Scripture is also important. This means that, even though the Bible was written by over forty different persons over thousands of years, there’s complete unity; the entire Bible, from beginning to end, is about Jesus, his Kingdom, and how we can be part of that Kingdom through his gift of salvation by faith. All of Scripture works to advance this central theme.
And finally, we have the preservation of Scripture, meaning that after thousands of years we still have reliable texts that are very close to the original. Even though the original texts may no longer exist, we can have confidence that what we have is essentially the same because the oldest manuscripts are largely unchanged from the most recent. Whenever older manuscripts are discovered, we find that there are few errors, omissions, additions, or other issues that could damage its authenticity.
There’s much more to cover on this topic, but I hope this brief overview is a good start, and I plan to write more on this in future articles.
If you have a moment, I’d love to get your thoughts and perspective on the Bible, regardless of background.