Have you ever wondered whether the Bible is the inspired Word of God and can be taken literally—meaning in its plain and obvious sense?
Back in 1963, two out of three Americans asked by the Gallup polling organization said they believed "the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word." But now, Gallup polls show that only one in three believe the same thing—an alarming drop! And the percentage of people in other countries who believe the Bible is the Word of God is generally much lower.
What's going on?
Associated Press religious writer Richard Ostling points out part of the problem: "Liberal-minded university and seminary professors have labored long to lure Americans away from reading their Bible as strictly literal history. They sometimes complain that few pay heed. But Gallup Poll data suggest the professors have indeed had an impact" (Associated Press, March 27, 2000).
Also, most movies and TV programs about the Bible have quite a liberal slant and could easily cast doubt on its validity.
If someone challenged you to prove that the Bible is true and that it should be taken literally, could you do it? Could you give them several clear proofs?
There is an easy way to do it if you read on.
Skeptics abound and the Bible itself tells us we should be ready to give an answer to those who ask about our faith. As the apostle Peter said, "... Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15, emphasis added throughout).
So what are some of the main proofs that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and should be taken literally? Let's take a look at five of these principal proofs.
The unity of the Bible
This first proof that the Bible is inspired was provided by Jesus Christ Himself when He said, "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). This means that what the Bible says is true and has a basic unity of thought and principles that cannot be broken or contradicted.
Why is this significant?
According to the traditional chronology for the writing of all the biblical books, it took around 1,500 years to complete the Bible—a very long time.
Imagine, for comparison's sake, that a collection of several dozen books about the historical, cultural and religious heritage of a people began to be written around the year A.D. 500, a few years after the collapse of the Roman Empire. These books would then have been completed 1,500 years later—in our day. Also, some 40 different authors would have been involved over this long span and their language and thought would have reflected their changing surroundings and conditions.
Could someone seriously believe that these authors would be able to maintain an essential unity of thought and principles through all that time? If they did, it certainly would be unprecedented in world history!
If there is something the history of this world's religious literature shows, it's that values and principles change over time. Even within his own lifetime, an author normally undergoes notable changes in his system of values. His writings reflect his ideas and thoughts according to his stage in life. It's interesting to note how different his ideas are as a young man compared to when he grows old. This pattern is common and well-known.
Yet when the Bible is analyzed in this way, we find it is strikingly different. Although its books were written by about 40 authors spanning some 1,500 years, they all maintain an amazing consistency. From Genesis to Revelation, the major themes never change. History progresses, but the themes of love, faith, obedience, mercy and a loving and righteous God intent on redeeming a disobedient mankind do not change. This unity of thought and principles is unique in the world's literary history.
After a decades-long study of the religious books of the East, M. Montier-Williams, a professor of Sanskrit, compared them with the Bible: "Pile them, if you will, on the left side of your study table, but place your own Bible on the right side ... [There is] a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and forever" (quoted by Sidney Collett, All About the Bible, 1972, pp. 314-315).
Regarding the unity of the Bible, consider the first writer in the Bible, Moses. Although a Hebrew by birth, he lived in the midst of a thriving Egyptian culture. He was reared in Pharaoh's court and "was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds" (Acts 7:22).
It would be natural to imagine that his writings would be heavily influenced by Egyptian thinking—yet they aren't. Instead they reflect thoughts and principles that after more than 3,000 years still have an enormous impact on most of the world's religious and social values.
Consider, for example, what Moses wrote about health and sickness. One medical doctor writes: "From the record we discover that Moses had so much faith in God's regulations that he did not incorporate a single current [Egyptian] medical misconception into the inspired instructions ... The divine instructions were not only devoid of harmful practices, but had many detailed positive recommendations" (Dr. S.I. McMillen, None of These Diseases, 1972, p. 10).
This fact is remarkable enough, but what makes the Bible unique is that all the other authors that come later faithfully reflect the same values, in spite of their different backgrounds, culture and language.
These writers would consist of people from the most diverse backgrounds. Amos was a sheepbreeder and fruit caretaker. David was a shepherd who became a mighty king. Others, such as Daniel and Nehemiah, held high positions in foreign governments. In the New Testament, the writers consist of several former fishermen (Peter and John), a tax collector (Matthew), a physician (Luke) and several others of different professions.
What is the principal theme in the Bible? It's simple: God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
From the beginning, the Bible reveals God as creating mankind not on a capricious whim, but to be His own beloved children. God is reproducing Himself through human beings and developing a family relationship as their Father (see Genesis 1:26; 5:1-2; 2 Corinthians 6:18). He lovingly placed them in a beautiful garden paradise, instructed them to populate the earth and to exercise proper care and dominion over it (Genesis 1:28; 2:8).
Yet, as a loving parent, God also has to correct mankind when it veers too far off course, and that also is shown throughout the Bible. Nevertheless, the final chapters of Revelation show that God will ultimately triumph in bringing many sons to glory and will wipe away the tears of His children, promising there will be no more death, sorrow or crying (Revelation 21:4).
One of the foremost Bible scholars of the past century, F.F. Bruce, wrote: "The Bible is not simply an anthology [a collection of books]; there is a unity which binds the whole together ... Any part of the human body can only be properly explained in reference to the whole body. And any part of the Bible can only be properly explained in reference to the whole Bible" (The Books and the Parchments: How We Got Our English Bible, 1984, pp. 88-89).
The apostle Paul sums up the underlying unity of the Bible when he says: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Bible is non-mythical
Another striking difference between the Bible and other religious works is the absence of mythical stories and legends. While many will surely debate this, we should consider the following.
Other creation accounts in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America include such mythological scenarios as gods feuding and cutting up other gods to form the heavens and the earth. The religious works of the Greeks described the earth being held up by the god Atlas, while in India, the Hindu religion pictured the earth as supported on the backs of eight huge elephants.
Yet the Bible describes God hanging the earth "on nothing" (Job 26:7). This was written millennia before Isaac Newton discovered the invisible laws of gravity that showed the earth truly is suspended "on nothing."
In contrast to every other ancient creation account, the Bible pictures the creation of the earth in a very scientific manner. In Genesis 1, the continents are lifted from the seas. Then vegetation is created and, later, animal life—all reproducing "according to its kind"—recognizing fixed genetic laws. Finally we have the creation of man and woman, all done in a dignified and godly manner, without mythological adornments.
The rest of the Bible follows suit. The narratives are historical, faithfully reflecting society and culture as history and archaeology would discover them thousands of years later. And while there may be disputes among archaeologists about certain details of the accounts, there is a general consensus of the Bible's accuracy.
Norman Geisler, professor of theology, summarizes the findings of archaeology: "In every period of Old Testament history, we find that there is good evidence from archaeology that the Scriptures speak the truth. In many instances, the Scriptures even reflect firsthand knowledge of the times and customs it describes. While many have doubted the accuracy of the Bible, time and continued research have consistently demonstrated that the Word of God is better informed than its critics" (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 1998, p. 52).
Not only is the Bible historically accurate, but when it deals with scientific subjects, it is also reliable. This is one of the reasons the Bible can be accepted as a trustworthy document that should be taken literally. Although it was not written as a textbook on history, science, mathematics or medicine, when the writers of Scripture touch on these subjects, they were inspired by God not to make mistakes, but to write what was true—sometimes stating facts that scientific advancement would not reveal or even consider for thousands of years.
Consider, for example, astronomy. Scientists today have discovered evidence that the universe had a beginning, when space, matter and time suddenly appeared from nowhere. This is reminiscent of what Genesis 1:1 says: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
Robert Jastrow, a former NASA director, comments: "A sound explanation may exist for the explosive birth of our Universe; but if it does, science cannot find out what the explanation is. The scientist's pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation.
"This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: 'In the beginning God created heaven and earth.' It is unexpected because science has had such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time" (God and the Astronomers, 1978, p. 116).
The Bible is intact
Of all the ancient works of substantial size, only the Bible comes to us completely intact. This is against all odds and expectations. In comparison, William Shakespeare's plays, written only about 400 years ago, and after the invention of the printing press, are in much worse shape. Shakespeare's original words have been lost in numerous sections, and scholars are left to fill in the blanks as best as they can.
But when it comes to the Bible, its uncanny preservation has permitted it to weather thousands of years of wars, persecutions, fires and invasions, and still remain intact. As author Josh McDowell notes: "Compared with other ancient writings, the Bible has more manuscript evidence to support it than any ten pieces of classical literature combined" (The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1999, p. 9).
How was this amazing task accomplished? The Old Testament text was preserved by Jewish scribes through the centuries. Scholars unanimously praise their faithful copying and transmission of the text.
Professor Bernard Ramm explains: "Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their [scribes] they kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity. Who ever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle or Seneca?" (Protestant Christian Evidences, 1953, pp. 230-231).
What about the New Testament? Here the actual number of preserved manuscripts is so great that it becomes overwhelming.
McDowell writes: "There are more than 5,686 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions, and we have close to, if not more than, 25,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today. No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers ...
"In comparison, Homer's Iliad is second, with only 643 manuscripts that still survive. The first complete preserved text of Homer dates from the thirteenth century" (p. 34, emphasis added).
Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Matthew 24:35). His words have become a prophecy that is still rock-solid in our day. With billions of Bibles in more than 2,000 languages now distributed around the world, God's Word will by no means pass away.
The Bible tells events ahead of time
The fourth proof of the inspiration of the Bible is the way it deals with time—by accurately foretelling what will happen ahead of time. This is also a unique characteristic of the Bible: It boldly proclaims specific historical events to come in the future. No other ancient sacred book dares to deal with time in this way with unmatched results.
As the book A General Introduction to the Bible says: "No unconditional prophecy of the Bible about events to the present day has gone unfulfilled ... Other books claim divine inspiration, such as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and parts of the [Hindu] Veda. But none of those books contains predictive prophecy. As a result, fulfilled prophecy is a strong indication of the unique, divine authority of the Bible" (Norman Geisler and William Nix, 1986, p. 13).
One incredible example of prophecy is found in the book of Isaiah. The date of the book is fixed by its first verse: "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah."
Through history and archaeology, the dates of these kings are well known—from 767 to 686 B.C., a span of 81 years. Yet, in Isaiah 44, God reveals to Isaiah a coming conqueror who would permit Jerusalem to be rebuilt after its destruction—although in Isaiah's day Jerusalem was still standing! So here is a prophecy so ahead of its time that only future generations in Jerusalem would first witness the city's destruction and then its rebuilding!
Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians some 100 years after Isaiah's day. And work was not begun to reconstruct it until 539 B.C., when the prophesied king conquered Babylon and decreed that the captive Jews be freed and allowed to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple.
In Isaiah 44, God reveals to Isaiah the actual name of the coming conqueror—Cyrus, known in history as Cyrus the Great: "Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and He who formed you from the womb: 'I am the LORD, who makes all things, who stretches out the heavens all alone ... who frustrates the signs of the babblers, and drives diviners mad ... who says to Jerusalem, "you shall be inhabited," ... who says of Cyrus, "He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, 'You shall be built,' and to the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid'"'" (Isaiah 44:24-28).
This is only one of the hundreds of Bible prophecies that have been confirmed. Dozens of specific prophecies deal with Jesus Christ and were fulfilled in precise detail. No other ancient sacred book even dares to deal with predictive prophecy—making the Bible unique.
Wilbur Smith, professor of the Bible, says about this book: "It is the only volume ever produced by man, or a group of men, in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of One who was to be the Messiah.
"The ancient world had many different devices for determining the future, known as divination, but not in the entire gamut of Greek and Latin literature, even though they use the words prophet and prophecy, can we find any real specific prophecy of a great historic event to come in the distant future, nor any prophecy of a Savior to arise in the human race ...
"Mohammedanism cannot point to any prophecies of the coming of Mohammed uttered hundreds of years before his birth. Neither can the founders of any cult in this country rightly identify any ancient text specifically foretelling their appearance" (The Incomparable Book, 1961, pp. 9-10).
Fulfilled prophecy is proof of the Bible's divine inspiration.
The Bible yields results!
The final proof of the Bible's inspiration is very simple—apply it and it will work for you.
The Bible has yielded fantastic results in the lives of so many, and it can do the same for you. It is a practical book, explaining God's will in virtually every facet of life and how to achieve true success. As U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt remarked, "A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education."
However, reaping its blessings takes faith—an active belief that God's Word is true and that applying it will yield positive results. The Bible puts it this way: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
Thanks to the Bible, we can enjoy so many benefits of Western civilization. As Susan Gallagher and Roger Lundin note: "The Bible is one of the most important documents in the history of civilization not only because of its status as holy, inspired Scripture, but also because of its pervasive influence on Western thought.
"As the predominant world view for at least fourteen centuries, Christianity and its great central text played a major role in the formation of Western culture. Consequently, many literary texts, even those in our post-Christian era, frequently draw on the Bible and Christian tradition" (Literature Through the Eyes of Faith, 1984, p. 120).
Modern science also owes much to the Bible. Philosopher Francis Schaeffer explains: "The rise of modern science did not conflict with what the Bible teaches; indeed, at a crucial point the Scientific Revolution rested upon what the Bible teaches. Both Alfred North Whitehead and J. Robert Oppenheimer have stressed that modern science was born out of the Christian world view ...
"As far as I know, neither of the two men were Christians or claimed to be Christians, yet both were straightforward in acknowledging that modern science was born out of the Christian world view ... In other words, because the early scientists believed that the world was created by a reasonable God, they were not surprised to discover that people could find out something true about nature and the universe on the basis of reason" (How Should We Then Live?, 1976, pp. 132-133).
God says in the Bible that every application of its principles will yield beneficial results. It states: "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Moreover, the impact Jesus Christ has had in millions of lives continues unabated. The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte once said: "I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible terms of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him" (quoted by Frank Mead, The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, 1965, p. 56).
Historian Philip Schaff adds: "This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon. Without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined. Without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet.
"Without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise, than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times" (The Person of Christ, 1913, p. 33).
Yes, the bottom line of proving the Bible true and that it should be taken at face value is simple—it works!
So, if any Bible skeptic comes asking for proofs that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, here is a way to remember these five proofs. Just remember the first key word of the first proof—UNITY—and then each of its letters reveals the first letter of the key words of the rest of the proofs:
U = Unity
N = Non-mythical
I = Intact
T = Time
Y = Yield
With these five proofs in mind, it will be easier for you to believe that the Bible is true and that you should take it in its literal and natural sense. GN