Why Should We Believe the Bible?
Do you ever get annoyed when you go to the bank and you are served by a new teller who doesn’t know you, and she (he?) asks for an ID card or she has to trot out to the back and check your signature? Or perhaps the teller at the next desk might lean over and say, "Yes, that’s OK" or "He’s him." Well, of course I’m him! Am I myself not the best proof that I am—and that I am me? But no, I’m not good enough for the bank. It has to be somebody else’s word or a record somewhere or some bit of plastic! Before the teller will believe I am who I say I am and will part with the money, she needs an authorization from somebody higher up or some other bit of proof.
And that question comes up also with the Bible. Who will tell us that the Bible is what it says it is? On what or whose authority shall we believe it is the Word of God? Who will verify that fact? Who will prove it? There are three approaches we could take to this question.
1. We could believe it is the Word of God on the authority of the church.
That is the way the Roman Catholic Church answers the question. John O’Brien, in his book The Faith of Millions, says, "The declaration of the Catholic Church that the books of the NT are all inspired by God constitutes the sole authority for the universal belief of both Catholics and Protestants in their inspired character." He has obviously never read the Belgic Confession, which plainly denies that in just so many words:
We [Protestants at any rate] receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they carry the evidence thereof within themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled. (Art. 5)
But this all goes back to that basic teaching of Rome that it was the church that produced the Bible and not the Bible the church. Closely connected with that is the teaching that it is not so much the Bible that is infallible; rather, it is the church that is infallible. In Roman Catholic thinking, the church is a higher authority than the Bible, and therefore we should believe the Bible is the Word of God because the Church says it is the Word of God. That is pretty much what is going on when that other teller who knows me leans over and tells the new one he should believe that is my signature—because someone who knows me says it is.
Well, we should never despise what the church has believed for centuries. Indeed the Westminster Confession says: "We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture" (1.5).
Yet both the Westminster and the Belgic confessions tell us that that kind of reasoning is not good enough, and the reason it is not good enough is because, in the end, it puts the word of the church and her very human and fallible officers above the Word of God. But we are actually to trust in God, not man. So then, we still have our question: Why should we believe the Bible? Another way we might approach the problem is this:
2. We could believe it is the Word of God on the authority of its own excellence.
The Westminster Confession continues:
And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God. (1.5)
So, for instance, in regard to "the heavenliness of the matter," what about Genesis 1 and 2 about the creation of the world? How could any mere man tell us about that? Some time ago I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, in which he talked about scientists seeking an ultimate theory of the universe. He said, "Our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in." I must say I was pleased to hear him admit that when it comes to how the world got here, whether you believe the earth is supported on an infinite tower of tortoises or held up by superstrings (whatever they are—old-fashioned skyhooks, I suppose), "both theories lack observational evidence"—which is simply a highfalutin way of saying what God said to Job, "Were you there, Job?" So whether we believe in creation or evolution, no one was there to see it. And, of course, it can’t be done again to find out. But the Bible speaks quite authoritatively about the whole business and simply says, "God did it."
Still thinking about this "heavenly content of its teaching," think now of the last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21 and 22. There we read about a new heavens and a new earth, and a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God to earth, and peace and righteousness ruling the new earth. Why should we ever believe peace and righteousness will rule the earth? It never has before. Usually we put that kind of writing on the shelf with the brothers Grimm or Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels; or we look for cities coming down to earth from elsewhere in Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew. Yet the Bible talks about this sort of thing quite seriously. And it begs the question: how would its author know? Unless you really want to take von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods seriously, cannot only God talk about this sort of thing?
The Confession also speaks about "the consent of all the parts." In other words, it is one story and all the bits tie in together. Its plot is well constructed, there are no loose ends, and it rises to a proper climax. This is a bit like studying an anonymous book that someone thought might just be a long-lost Tolstoy and said, "Yep, that’s just how Tolstoy would write; it must be Tolstoy." The Belgic Confession talks about this aspect from another angle. It says, "The very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in the Scriptures are being fulfilled" (Art. 5). Or at least, they ought to be able to see it—all the prophecies about the coming of Christ, for instance.
And what about "the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation"? Would man ever have dreamed up grace—that salvation is completely the work of God, and that there is absolutely nothing we can or may do to save ourselves? Not likely. For that is actually the essence of our sin. The idea of grace cuts completely against the grain of our whole nature. The very fact that Christianity is the only religion in the world that has a true and thoroughgoing concept of grace is proof, surely, that the Bible is the very Word of God.
Indeed, we should believe the Bible is the Word of God because of its "many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof." On the other hand, who is to say it is excellent? By whose standard are we judging it? All this is, in a way, not so different from doing what some others do. I have a little book called The Inspiration of the Scriptures Scientifically Demonstrated, by a certain Ivan Panin. Among the bits of evidence that scientifically demonstrate the Bible to be inspired by God is this from Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"; in the Hebrew it has seven words and twenty-eight letters (4x the magical 7). On that score, replies O. T. Allis, so also is the United States Constitution inspired; its first seven words are "We the people of the United States," and they contain twenty-eight letters (4x7). No less than the profound statement most of us make every Sunday, "I would like another cup of coffee," also contains twenty-eight letters (4x7).
And so we could go on. But it is all a bit like checking the records already in the bank. If I go to another bank, they will accept that I am who I say I am because of the signature on my VISA card or by taking some details and then phoning my local branch in Wairau Road and checking them with their records here. They believe I am John Rogers because they have other evidence to prove it. But make no mistake; they judge who I am on their terms, not mine. But should we do that with God? Should we believe him because he meets conditions we look for in a God, or in a book from God? We come then to the third approach, the one we should use.
3. We should believe the Bible is the Word of God on the authority of God Himself.
The Westminster Confession speaks about this in an astounding way. It says:
The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. (1.4)
But surely that is simply believing what has to be proved. Isn’t that what we call a circular argument—a bit like building a house on its roof? Let me try to explain first and then I’ll give an illustration. The truth is we all use circular arguments; we all begin by assuming something first. Our Roman Catholic friend begins by assuming that the church is infallible and can therefore tell you that the Bible is God’s Word. In reply to that, he may say that, in fact, he doesn’t assume what he has to prove. Rather, Jesus promised Peter and, therefore, all the popes that he would be infallible. So Mr. Martindale says: "Christ chose the Twelve—whom He called Apostles and sent them as His Father had sent Him, to teach the whole world and to do so under a guarantee, so that those who hear, would be hearing Him, just as those who heard Him, were hearing God."
Now we might not disagree with all of that, but let us ask a simple question: from where did Mr. Martindale get that? He got it from the Bible! (All he has done is step down to the next tortoise.) Actually, when you listen to some of their argumentation, it is hard to know where Roman Catholics begin. They seem to begin sometimes by assuming the Bible is infallible. But when you hear their very plain statements, it is the infallible word of the church from which they really begin.
But also, when we try that second method, believing the Bible because it is such a wonderful book, we are assuming something else as well. And it is usually we Protestants who go wrong here. We assume that we, with our own minds, can study the Bible and make the assessment that it is such an excellent book. This way we assume not that just a few men in the hierarchy of the church are capable of judging what is God’s Word and what is not. This way we assume that every man is capable of judging what is God’s Word and what is not. That is, we assume our own individual human minds can make an infallible judgment about the Word of God. But doesn’t that very Word of God tell us that our minds have been blinded by sin—indeed, that they are dead in sins and hostile toward God (Romans 8)? How can we, by our own unaided reason, say the Bible is excellent? The Bible itself says that what it speaks about is foolishness to the natural man and we cannot understand it. We cannot, by ourselves, say its message of salvation is wonderful because the Bible itself tells us that, to the natural man, the gospel is either folly or a stumbling block.
The fact is that the Bible comes to us, itself claiming to be the Word of God, and only God can prove his own word. Even if man could go some of the way in the right direction, still, shouldn’t we believe God more? First John 5:9 says, "We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son." And that is where we find ourselves in this whole business about the Bible also. We believe the Bible is God’s Word because in it God says it is his Word. To try to do anything else is to accept a lesser testimony and also is to sit in judgment upon God himself. Of course it is a circular argument, but so is every way we look at the question.
Let me try and illustrate what I am getting at with another example. Maybe one day Mom sends little Johnny down to the other end of the house to call little Billy for dinner and little Billy, as little Billys will, retorts, "Who says I have to?" Well, if Johnny is doing it the way we’ve tried to teach ours (with what success we’ll leave at this point!), he will reply, "Mom said so." And that is the end of the argument. But today little Billy got out of bed on the wrong side and he is in a particularly argumentative mood, so he snaps back, "Who says Mom says so?" Now moms and dads have a nasty habit of picking up these sorts of interchanges between their children, and so there, all of a sudden, is Mom in the living flesh in the doorway. And perhaps at this end of the day, with little Billy being what he has been all day today, she is in the livid flesh as well! The funny thing is there is not usually all that much argument after that. Mom, with that kind of a look on her face at that end of that kind of day, is her own incontrovertible evidence.
It is a bit like that with the Word of God. Indeed, God did come in the living flesh, too. And God has never actually stopped doing that sort of thing. He still does it today, even after Jesus has gone back to heaven, only in a different way.
Let me explain again. I have read that there are two ways of understanding what light is. At times, scientists describe light as something that consists of particles—little bits of matter. On the other hand, it can equally validly be explained as rays or waves—a movement of energy, I suppose, rather than bits of solid matter. Imagine that a scientist finally developed a theory that explained light in a way that took account of both sets of evidence, that for seeing light as particles and that for seeing it as waves of energy. Often when we try to bring together two different ideas into one view that comprehends both, the result is not easy to understand. We all know about that. We often struggle to bring together in our minds the idea that behind everything in this world is God; yet God is not in any way to blame for sin and evil. But imagine that a scientist was able to do this with light and wrote a book about it. Chances are the book would not be easy to understand, and there might be two questions that would arise in our minds. First of all, we might ask, Why should we believe what this book says? How do we know the experiments he did were kosher? How do we know he is not pulling the wool over our eyes with what he states as facts upon which he builds his theory? The other question that might arise is, Even before we get to believing it, how can we understand the book? You wouldn’t even dream of believing the book until you understood it. (Although we probably do just that much more than we would ever care to admit!)
The best way of understanding it would be to get the author to come to town to conduct some seminars (at $200/shot, of course) to hear him explain it further. The best way to get your $200 worth out of that seminar would be to read the book thoroughly so you would know the right questions to ask. That is just the way we should look at this question of why we should believe the Bible. If you want to understand the Bible, read it—and read it a lot, because one bit often explains another. But the other thing to do is, as you read it, ask the Author to come and conduct a seminar. For Jesus said, "I will not leave you comfortless, but I will come to you." How? "I will send you another Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, and he will guide you into all truth."
We should believe the Bible is the Word of God because it is the Word of God; otherwise we believe in the word of Man. But we have another problem, a spiritual one. The light of the Word is shining, but we are blind from birth. Paul tells us, "No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God," and therefore "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:11, 14). As the Westminster Confession says, "Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts" (1.5).
In just the same way as only God can verify his Word because he is the highest authority in this universe, so also only God can explain his Word to us and open our spiritual eyes and so enable us to understand it and believe it.
Mr. Rogers is the pastor of North Shore Reformed Church (near Auckland) of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. This article, slightly edited, first appeared in Faith in Focus.