Without question: The Bible is an extraordinary book. No other work has caused a similar stir in world history. The Bible was and is loved and hated, printed and destroyed, distributed and banned. But does a book, the oldest of which is almost 3,500 years old, still have something to say to modern contemporaries? How trustworthy is the tradition? In plain language: is the Bible human thought or God’s Word?
Klaus Schmidt, a New Testament scholar and former Bible translator, gives eight reasons why he trusts the Bible:
Unique in creation and unity
How is a book usually made? An author decides to write a book: he collects material, divides, writes, changes and lets print. If a book has multiple authors, it becomes more complicated: editorial discussions are needed, plans for the layout and content of the book are made, the material is split up.
There were more than 40 authors in the Bible who, with few exceptions, did not know each other. They could not even know each other because they wrote the book over a period of about 1,500 years (about 1,400 BC-95 AD). The authors came from different milieus and cultures. They were by profession politician (Daniel), soldier (Joshua), king (David, Solomon), fisherman (Peter), doctor (Luke), customs officer (Matthew) or Jewish scholar (Paul). One wrote in his palace, another in the desert and the third in prison. Her writings were written in three continents (Africa, Asia, Europe) and in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek). Within a short time after their writing, they were recognized by the recipients as the authoritative word of God and respected as such. They were so much revered that they were even willing to give their lives for it.
Particularly interesting: Although the scribes could not agree, a common thread runs from the first book of Moses to Revelation. Where scribes report on the same events, they often complement each other by illuminating the story from different angles. Where does this harmony come from in the Bible? Who drew the thread from the first to the last book?
Unique in its tradition
I am often asked, “How do you know that today we have the text that was written two or three millennia ago? Before the invention of printing by Gutenberg in 1455, the books had to be written off by hand. Is not it likely that more and more adulterations have come into the text? »
A special area of theological research deals exclusively with what the original text of the Bible may have looked like. These experts confirm the reliability of biblical tradition. For there are more manuscripts of the Bible than of ten arbitrarily selected classical works together. If you have five or ten manuscripts from an ancient work, this work is considered well documented. For example, only ten manuscripts have been handed down from Caesar’s Gallic War (“De Bello Gallico”) – the earliest around 900 AD. However, we know more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts from the New Testament alone, plus thousands of manuscripts of translations and thousands quotes from authors of early church history. There are fewer manuscripts of the Old Testament, but these have been handed down more carefully. Until the time of humanism in the 15th century, the tradition was in the hands of the Jews (Masoreten), who put a strict system on a faithful copy of the text according to a strict system.
The accuracy of the text is accordingly striking: in the New Testament there are a maximum of ten to twenty verses, of which one does not know exactly what they are. As a rule, however, the theological content is not touched thereby. In secular classical works, in comparison, often hundreds of places are unclear and disfigured. In terms of tradition, the Bible is absolutely trustworthy.
Unique in its distribution
No other book in the history of the world has received such a spread or has been translated so frequently. Already at 200 BC The first translation of the Old Testament into Greek, the so-called “Septuagint”, was published in the 6th century BC.
Today, Bibles and Bible parts are available in over 2,000 languages and dialects, and no second book is even close to the Bible in terms of sales. Whether Homer, Thomas Aquinas, Shakespeare, Goethe or popular modern authors – the Bible surpasses the circulation number many times over.
This dissemination is all the more amazing because the Bible was pursued in parallel like no other book in world history. Under Roman emperors, in the Middle Ages and in the modern times there were and bible bans.For example, in 1199 Pope Innocent III forbade, in 1229 at the Synod of Toulouse and in 1233 at the Synod of Béziers, the laity to possess and read the Bible in the vernacular. At the Synod of Tarragona (1234) everyone was declared a heretic who did not deliver a Bible translation to his bishop within eight days. And yet this book has not been eradicated.
Unique in its timeliness
When a book is so old, one should suspect that the content has little to do with our lives today. In fact, millions of Christians today testify that their lives have been changed after engaging with the Bible – and thus with the one the Bible speaks of. The laws of entire nations have been significantly influenced by the Bible. Through its impulses in the Reformation, this book has turned the world upside down. Even the German constitution would be inconceivable without the Bible. For centuries, people of all ages across the class have found help and encouragement in the Bible.
High quality witnesses
The Bible also earns our trust in the quality of the witnesses. The New Testament writers are considered trustworthy because they wrote about what they had heard and seen, or about what they were handed down first-hand (see 1 John 1: 1). You can rightly say, “We are witnesses to these things.” Because many observers were still alive and Christianity had many enemies among Jews and Romans, the writers could not afford inaccuracies – not to mention deliberate distortions of the facts! And, some times, New Testament writers may even point out that readers can verify the truthfulness of their testimony, such as Paul in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15. Consequently, the New Testament must be considered a first-century, competent primary source.
Incoming future forecasts
The Bible contains over 3,000 predictions of various kinds: regarding individual peoples, Israel, specific individuals, and cities. For example, the prophet Ezekiel hundreds of years ago predicted that the city of Tire would be destroyed and the ruins thrown into the sea, never to be rebuilt (Ezekiel 26). It happened the same way: Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city, and later Alexander the Great used the ruins to build a causeway to an offshore island. This dam can still be visited today as a silent witness of biblical prophecy.
In a special way, the Bible also reports on prophecies relating to the Messiah Jesus. Thus, Isaiah 52:13, Isaiah 53:12, and Psalm 22 reproduce details of his cruel death by crucifixion – centuries before this terrible form of execution was ever used by the Romans.
Satisfied prophecy is something that does not exist in other literature in this form. For Christians, it is an indication that God himself is behind the Bible. Other religions, such as Islam, can not refer to fulfilled prophecies.
Archeology and history
The historical reliability of the reports has also been proven many times. Again and again one has to reproach the Bible that their reporting here and there is historically inaccurate or wrong. Just one example is mentioned here as representative of many: In the book of Daniel is reported in chapter 5 that Daniel was invited to a celebration of King Belshazzar to decipher a mysterious writing. When Daniel deciphered this scripture, Belshazzar offered him third place in his kingdom.
For a long time, critics assumed that the Bible misrepresented here. The Babylonian king should have been named after Nabonid. The doubt in the biblical account persisted until one discovered a very interesting stone. On it a prayer was engraved for a “long life for Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar”. Several decades ago Egyptian texts were found, which prove that Nabonid often traveled and then gave his royal dignity to his son Belshazzar. So the Bible tells us exactly in the book of Daniel. We have similar examples in great numbers in both the Old and the New Testaments.
The strongest argument for the reliability of the Bible, however, is still on a completely different level: in the very real experience of a living relationship with the one who stands behind the Bible – to God Himself.
Anyone who gets involved with the thoughts of the Bible can learn from the Holy Spirit that there is a living God behind Scripture. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) once said, “I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions and that we need only persistently and humbly ask to get the answer from it.”
Not only in this day and age, when things start to falter, it is important to have a basis that is absolutely trustworthy. God’s word has always provided this foundation to people by leading them into relationship with their Creator. Through faith in Jesus Christ, which is the fulfillment of the whole Scripture and God’s Word in human form, truth can gain space in every life. The Bible prefers to prove itself in the middle of life.
Author: Klaus Schmidt, former Bible translator of the Geneva Bible Society, is Director of the Evangelical Society for Germany (EC) and lecturer at the Theological Seminar Rhineland (TSR), where he was rector for many years. Married to Waltraud, father of two sons and passionate motorcycle touring rider.
Can one still believe the Bible today? (German Language)
Picture and text: New life