Evidence For The Inspiration And Historicity of The Bible
The Bible claims that it is entirely inspired and authoritative; “ALL scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). As an evangelical Christian I believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and timelessly authoritative in its entirety. But I don’t hold onto this view blindly; there is significant evidence that supports such a high view of the scriptures. Let me briefly outline some of that evidence.
- INTERNAL CONSISTENCY
The Bible was written over a period of approximately 1,600 years, by over 40 different authors from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds. Yet despite this, it exhibits an internal consistency that is beyond remarkable – it is miraculous! I often say to my Biblical Studies classes that if I sent them to watch a football match and each student had to write a report of the match, the resulting collage of reports would almost certainly contain discrepancies, inconsistencies and contradictions. Such is our fallible human nature. But the Bible contains no major inconsistencies. (Claims, by sceptics, of internal contradictions, arise because of an inadequate understanding of the differences between the two covenants). Despite the diversity of authorship and time periods, the Bible speaks with a cohesive, unified voice. This is only possible because of the miraculous inspiration of the Holy Spirit as He guided the writers to record God’s message to mankind.
- FULFILLED PROPHECY
In his “Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecies”, J. Barton Payne lists 1817 predictive prophecies in the Bible. While some of these are still awaiting fulfilment, as they are predictions regarding the end times, the rest were fulfilled in precise detail, often centuries after the prediction. 191 of these prophecies are messianic. They predicted the precise nature of Christ’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection. For example, 700 years before Christ, Isaiah made the seemingly outrageous prediction that the Messiah would be born to a virgin (Isa 7:14). Micah predicted that he would be born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2). Moses, writing 1,500 years before Christ, predicted that he would be from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10). Furthermore, Isaiah predicted his rejection and death at the hands of the Jewish leaders (Isa 53). Even more remarkably, Psalm 22 predicted Christ’s death by crucifixion, including the piercing of his hands and feet, yet this was written centuries before the Romans had even invented crucifixion! Other extraordinary predictions include the piercing of his side with a spear (Zech 12:10); the casting of lots for his clothing (Psa 22:18); the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas to betray him (Zech 11:12-13); that Jesus would be beaten and spat upon (Mic 5:1); that he would be given wine vinegar to drink as he died (Psa 22:15-16); and that he would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa 53:9). Most extraordinary of all, Daniel even predicted the exact year of Christ’s death (Dan 9:24-26) [See Footnote 1 for full explanation].1 These are just a small selection of the hundreds of extraordinarily precise predictions in the Bible, made centuries before their fulfilment. The following table of Old Testament prophecies and their New Testament fulfilment is further evidence of the miraculous nature of this book:
Renowned mathematician, Professor Peter Stoner, in his classic book, “Science Speaks”[i], calculates the statistical probability of just 8 of these messianic prophecies being fulfilled by chance in the life of one man. Based on conservative estimates, he calculates the probability as 1 in 1017, or 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. That’s one in one hundred quadrillion! This, represents 1 million times more than the total number of people who have ever lived! Quite simply, this is a statistical impossibility in the real world. (See Appendix 1 for a detailed explanation of Stoner’s calculations). Of course, this is the probability of only 8 prophecies being fulfilled. But there were 191 messianic prophecies that Jesus fulfilled! It has been estimated that the statistical probability of all 191 prophecies being fulfilled by chance in the life of one man is 1 x 10157. To give you an idea of how stupendously large this number is, the number of atoms in the entire universe is 1080.
These fulfilled predictive prophecies of the Bible provide powerful evidence for the Bible’s supernatural inspiration; they declare that this is no ordinary book.
- TRANSCRIPTION RELIABILITY
Liberals and sceptics claim that the transcription of the Bible through the ages was fraught with errors, so that we can have no confidence that the words that are printed today are what was originally written.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 11 Qumran Caves in 1946 (and some in 1956) put a significant dent in that argument! These scrolls are widely regarded as the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century, and include the oldest known Biblical manuscripts, dating back over 2,000 years.
This predates the earliest previous manuscripts by 1,000 years. Significantly, when the older manuscripts are compared to the later ones, only very slight differences in spelling and grammar are indicated. The Dead Sea Scrolls pose a major problem to the hypothesis of textual unreliability.
Furthermore, we have historical records which detail the meticulous way in which Bible manuscripts were copied by Old Testament scribes. Manuscripts were copied by professional scribes, who had to implement a rigorous copying regime. Each new page of a copied manuscript had to be verified by counting the total number of letters on the new page and matching it with the total number of letters on the original page. If the new copy was out by only one letter, it was destroyed, and the copying of that page was recommenced. In this way, the scribes ensured that errors did not creep in to their Holy Scriptures. This methodical procedure is unique in the history of our world. No other culture at any other time in history followed such stringent procedures in ensuring the accurate transmission of a literary work.
We can have great confidence that the Bible that we hold in our hands today has not changed over time. The words we read are the very words that the writers penned so long ago.
I want to ask you an important question. Do you believe in an all-powerful God who is able to communicate a clear, unequivocal message to mankind? Is the God you believe in powerful enough to protect the writing of the His Word from error, to ensure that the Bible that we hold in our hands today is the Bible he intended us to receive? Because if you hold the view that the Bible contains error and uninspired human interpolations, then whoever it is whom you call “God” is not really God at all – because He can’t even get the transmission of a book right!
- ARCHAEOLOGICAL VERIFICATION
In his work, “Biblical Archaeology: Factual Evidence to Support the Historicity of the Bible”, Dr Paul L. Maier writes,
“Ever since scientific archaeology started a century and a half ago, the consistent pattern has been this: the hard evidence from the ground has borne out the biblical record again and again — and again. The Bible has nothing to fear from the spade.”
Dr Maier cites many examples of archaeological discoveries proving the Bible right and its critics wrong. For example, at the beginning of last century, the Hittites were unknown outside of the Bible, and historians claimed that this was an example of the Bible’s fanciful nature. However, in 1906, a Hittite city was uncovered east of Ankara, Turkey, along with manuscripts that provide detailed descriptions of Hittite culture. There are literally dozens of similar examples – where critics claimed that something in the Bible was unhistorical, only to have their criticism overturned by subsequent archaeological discoveries which validated the Biblical account. Here are some other examples of events, places or people mentioned in the Bible that were once doubted by historians, only to have these doubts subsequently overturned by archaeological verification:
- The Biblical cities of Haran, Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Shechem, Samaria, Shiloh, Gezer, Gibeah, Beth Shemesh, Beth Shean, Beersheba and Lachish;
- Shishak’s Invasion of Judah (1 Kings 14);
- The Moabite Stone (2 Kings 3);
- Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (2 Kings 9–10);
- Burial Plaque of King Uzziah (2 Chron 26);
- Hezekiah’s Siloam Tunnel Inscription (2 Kings 20);
- The Sennacherib Prism (2 Kings 18-19);
- The Cylinder of Cyrus the Great (2 Chron 36:23)
- VALIDATION BY HOSTILE OR DISINTERESTED WITNESSES
Many of the miraculous events mentioned in the Bible are also recorded by ancient writers who were either disinterested or hostile towards Christianity. For example, a number of ancient Roman historians mention details of the life and crucifixion of Jesus:
- Cornelius Tacitus (112 A.D.)
- Suetonius (120 A.D.)
- Pliny the Younger (112 A.D.)
- Thallus (52 A.D.)
- Philegon (67 A.D.)
- Mara Bar-Serapion (73 A.D.)
Thallus, for example mentions the earthquake and the supernatural darkness that descended on the land as Jesus was being crucified, thus verifying the Gospel’s description of this supernatural event.
Even more impressive is the fact that the Jews, who were enemies of Jesus and his new-found movement, verified the miracles of Jesus that are recorded in the Bible.
The Jewish Talmud, one of the sacred texts of the Jews which was being written at the time of Christ, mentions the miracles of Jesus on 14 separate occasions! The Talmud could not deny these miracles, because they had been witnessed by literally thousands of people. Instead, the Talmud attributes Jesus’ miracles to the power of the devil, and denounces Jesus as a sorcerer.
Similarly, Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian writing shortly after the time of Christ, records this most extraordinary admission in his book, “The Antiquities of The Jews”:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
Sceptics have tried to claim that this paragraph is a later insertion by a Christian scribe, but this claim has no historical evidence to support it. The consensus of respected historians is that this reference to the miracles and resurrection of Jesus, by an enemy of Christianity, is genuine. This is powerful evidence for the Bible’s veracity!
Furthermore, we have the corroborating testimony of contemporary hostile critics who have studied the New Testament accounts. Atheist historian, Neil Carter, makes this comment,[ii]
“I can’t believe I’m feeling the need to do this, but today I’d like to write a brief defence of the historicity of Jesus. When people in the sceptic community argue that Jesus never existed, they are dismissing a large body of work for which they have insufficient appreciation, most often due to the fact that they themselves have never formally studied the subject…. The earliest writings which attest to the existence of Jesus come from the apostle Paul, a leather worker by day and preacher by night … sometime in the mid-50s AD… Paul didn’t invent these stories…”
Even more convincing, there are numerous examples of sceptics and atheists who, in trying to disprove the historicity of the Gospels, have become so convinced of their veracity that they have become Christians themselves!
- Sir William Mitchell Ramsaywas a highly respected archaeologist from Scotland. He set out to prove the historical inaccuracies of Luke and Acts. He spent 15 years researching and digging, only to end up being convinced of the incredible accuracy of the New Testament. He converted to Christianity, and called Luke one of the greatest historians to ever live. He wrote several books on the subject, which have yet to be refuted. His work caused an outcry from atheists because they had been funding his research and were eagerly awaiting his results in disproving the validity of the New Testament.
- Albert Henry Rosswas an English journalist and author who set out to disprove the myth of the resurrection. He was planning on writing a paper called “Jesus – The Last Phase”, but he became converted during the course of his investigations. He wrote the classic book “Who Moved The Stone?” under the pseudonym Frank Morison. The book has led many people to Christ.
- Lee Strobelwas a journalist for the Chicago Tribune who set out to disprove Christianity, focussing on the historicity resurrection story as recorded in the Gospels. The overwhelming historical evidence he uncovered led to his conversion, and he went on to write the famous “The Case For Christ” and several other books in the series, which have led many people to Christ.
- TRANSFORMED LIVES
The Bible claims to be transformative. Here are some examples of its claim:
“All scripture is inspired by God, and is useful [effective] for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)
“For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing even between soul and spirit, joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psa 19:7-8)
The Bible claims, of itself, to be endowed with God’s supernatural power to facilitate profound transformation in the lives of those who read it with an open heart. As an evangelical Christian, myself, I uphold the same high view of Holy Scripture. This collection of ancient writings does not represent the mere speculations of flawed human beings; it bears the stamp of God’s Spirit. It is alive with the breath of God. Millions of Christians testify that this claim has proven true in their own lives. As we read the Bible, God speaks to us, and our lives are transformed. The old adage is true: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. While sceptics may disparage this evidence as being purely subjective, yet, surely, the fact that tens of millions of people testify to the Bible’s life-changing power must be taken into account. In a court of law, just 2 or 3 witnesses providing corroborating subjective evidence is enough to secure a verdict.
The evidence for the divine inspiration and historicity of the Bible is overwhelming! This book is not a speculative work of human imagination. It has the stamp of Almighty God upon it. It has been miraculously transcribed and preserved. It contains an extraordinary number of miraculously fulfilled prophecies. It records the miraculous life and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. And it has the power today to miraculously transform the lives of all who read it with an open heart and open mind. It is a truly miraculous book!
“ALL scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)
HOLY BIBLE, WHOLLY TRUE!
Peter Stoner’s Calculations Regarding Messianic Prophecy
Renowned mathematician, Professor Peter Stoner, in his book, “Science Speaks”, calculated the probability of just 8 Messianic prophecies being fulfilled accidently in the life of Jesus. As you read through these prophecies, you will see that all estimates were calculated as conservatively as possible.
- The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).The average population of Bethlehem from the time of Micah to the present (1958) divided by the average population of the earth during the same period = 7,150/2,000,000,000 or 2.8×105.
- A messenger will prepare the way for the Messiah (Malachi 3:1). One man in how many, the world over, has had a forerunner (in this case, John the Baptist) to prepare his way?
Estimate: 1 in 1,000 or 1×103.
- The Messiah will enter Jerusalem as a king riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). One man in how many, who has entered Jerusalem as a ruler, has entered riding on a donkey?
Estimate: 1 in 100 or 1×102.
- The Messiah will be betrayed by a friend and suffer wounds in His hands (Zechariah 13:6). One man in how many, the world over, has been betrayed by a friend, resulting in wounds in his hands?
Estimate: 1 in 1,000 or 1×103.
- The Messiah will be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12). Of the people who have been betrayed, one in how many has been betrayed for exactly 30 pieces of silver?
Estimate: 1 in 1,000 or 1×103.
- The betrayal money will be used to purchase a potter’s field (Zechariah 11:13). One man in how many, after receiving a bribe for the betrayal of a friend, has returned the money, had it refused, and then experienced it being used to buy a potter’s field?
Estimate: 1 in 100,000 or 1×105.
- The Messiah will remain silent while He is afflicted (Isaiah 53:7). One man in how many, when he is oppressed and afflicted, though innocent, will make no defence of himself?
Estimate: 1 in 1,000 or 1×103.
- The Messiah will die by having His hands and feet pierced (Psalm 22:16). One man in how any, since the time of David, has been crucified?
Estimate: 1 in 10,000 or 1×104.
Multiplying all these probabilities together produces a number (rounded off) of 1×1028. Dividing this number by an estimate of the number of people who have lived since the time of these prophecies (88 billion) produces a probability of all 8 prophecies being fulfilled accidently in the life of one person. That probability is 1 in 1017 or 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. That’s one in one hundred quadrillion! This, of course, is a statistical impossibility.
- Prediction Of The Year of Christ’s Death
While it wasn’t recognized until after the fact, one of the most precise predictions in Scripture gives the very year in which the Christ would die. Daniel was speaking of both the exile of Israel and the atonement for sin when he recorded a prayer of confession for the sins of his people (9:4–19) and a vision in response in which the angel Gabriel gave to Daniel the following foresight (9:24–26):
Seventy “sevens” are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One [Messiah], the ruler, comes, there will be seven “sevens,” and sixty-two “sevens.” . . . After the sixty-two “sevens,” the Anointed One will be cut off.
The context indicates that Daniel knew he was speaking of years, since he was meditating on the “number of years” that God had revealed to Jeremiah that Jerusalem would lay waste, namely, “seventy years” (vs. 2). God then told Daniel that it would be 7 x 70 (years) before the Messiah would come and be cut off (die).
Artaxerxes ordered Nehemiah “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan. 9:25; cf. Nehemiah 2) in 445/444 b.c. From that year, rather than the earlier date when Cyrus approved only the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1:3), Daniel predicted that it would be 483 years to the time of Christ’s death. Taking the widely accepted date of 33 for the crucifixion (see Hoehner), would be 483 years exactly:
Seven sevens plus sixty-two sevens is 69 x 7 = 483
444 + 33 = 477
Add six years to compensate for the five days in a solar year not in the lunar year followed by Israel (5 x 477 = 2385 days or 6+ years).
477 + 6 = 483 years
This assumes Daniel’s 490 (70 x 7) is not a round number, which is possible. The Bible frequently rounds its numbers (see Bible, Alleged Errors in; Chronology, Problems in the Bible). In either event, Daniel’s prediction takes us to the very time of Christ.
- These are discussed in detail by Dr Paul L. Maier, http://www.equip.org/article/biblical-archaeology-factual-evidence-to-support-the-historicity-of-the-bible/
[i] Peter Stoner, “Science Speaks”, Moody Press, 1958