How would you defend the authority of Scripture?

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24 Theological Questions Front Page

Theological Question #2

One of the most foundationally important issues when it comes to any religious or theological belief system is the understanding of where the authority for one’s belief originates. Catholics look to the traditions and history of the church, but Protestants (and more specifically, Evangelicals) recognize the Bible as the sole authority for matters of faith. Here are a few key reasons I personally believe in the complete authority of Scripture over every other human or institution.

Textual Accuracy

The textual accuracy of the Bible is unmatched by any document in human history. The NT far outstrips all other documents in antiquity both for the abundance of ancient manuscripts and the relatively small number of discrepancies between them. In fact, the earliest known New Testament manuscript comes from the Gospel of John and it dates from within 50 years of its authorship.

Comparatively, the earliest manuscript of Josephus (an ancient Jewish/Roman historian) dates from roughly 1000 years after its origin, and the earliest known copy of Homer’s Odyssey dates from nearly 900 years after its origin.

The story of the OT is nowhere near that of the NT, but its textual history is still far beyond that of any other ancient document. We have many fewer manuscripts of the OT, but they not only outnumber all other ancient documents, they also agree with each other with more than 90% accuracy.

On top of it all, when the whole Bible is considered a few things are true:

  • When spelling changes and other minor errors are factored out, the discrepancies among biblical manuscripts amount to less than 5% of the total.
  • Among the significant discrepancies, none of them impact any important theological truth.

Historical Accuracy

The Bible is unique among ancient spiritual documents in that it records a great deal of verifiable history. Names of people groups, geographical information, natural phenomena, events with dates, and even stories of events concerning the surrounding nations. Many of these claims are recorded with such accuracy that they can be cross referenced with the historical records of other civilizations to produce accurate dates within months or even days.

What is most remarkable is that in nearly every case where the Bible has made a claim that can be verified through modern methods of archaeology, those claims have been confirmed. In fact, there have been a number of instances where the Bible has made a claim that anthropologists and archaeologists have doubted only to discover through additional research that the Biblical record was in fact right on target. There still is one or two issues outstanding where the best archaeology seems to disagree with the best biblical scholarship, but a clear determination can’t yet be made.

Intrabiblical claims (NT about the OT including Jesus’ testimony)

Many ancient documents make claims about themselves, but what sets the Bible apart is the fact that it was compiled by many authors who make claims regarding the authority of the other authors.

  • David, in Psalm 119 especially, highlights the authority of the “Law” or the first five books of the Old Testament. Moses authored those.
  • The Prophets of the Old Testament spoke of the power of God at work in the life and writings of David.
  • The later prophets confirmed the word of the earlier prophets.
  • Jesus confirmed the authority of the entire Old Testament by claiming that it would last until heaven and earth passed away and also that it all pointed to his own ministry.
  • The early apostles confirmed the earlier writings about Jesus by quoting from them.
  • The apostle Paul spoke about the authority of “all Scripture.”
  • The apostle Peter spoke about the authority of the ancient prophecies in the same breath as talking about the authority of Paul’s writings.

While the Qu’ran might declare itself to be the only authoritative Scripture, it is still the word of Mohammed about his own writings. The Bible is the word of one author about the authority of the others.

Spiritual History

No book throughout human history has proven to be as spiritually effective as the Bible has. Wherever the Bible has been translated into the common language of the people it has left a trail of dramatically transformed lives. It has been the number one best seller of all time not because of a slick marketing campaign or because of the American penchant for creating and buying new editions each month but because of its relevance across all barriers of language, culture, and time.

The Bible has nearly universal appeal and has proven to be the spiritual book par excellence of all time.

Personal Experience

None of these claims would have personal appeal to me unless they were backed up by the simple truth of the Bible making a difference in my own life—and that, it has done.

From the practical advice on how to live and the spiritual claims of how to be right with God to the intellectual stimulation of the historical records, the Bible is without a doubt, the best book I have ever read, and it continues to be so in my life. It is the first book I recommend to anyone who is interested in spiritual things, and I am convinced that it will make a difference in the life of anyone who reads it with an open heart and a little bit of guidance from someone who is familiar with its contents.

Conclusions

  • The text of the Bible has been accurately transmitted from antiquity to today.
  • The historically verifiable content of the Bible has been consistently confirmed by scientific inquiry.
  • The spiritual content of the Bible has changed the lives of people in every culture where it has been read.
  • The practical advice of the Bible has also been successful regardless of culture.
  • The Bible itself claims it is the authoritative word of the God who Created all things.

Because of these things, I have given the Bible the place of ultimate authority in my life and will continue to propose that others do the same.

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