The Authority and Infallibility of the Bible
(This material was taken from the workbook, “Prove All Things” from the Overcoming Life Series Study Series)
by Betty Miller
The Bible Is Our Standard
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:16,17
The Holy Bible was written by more than 40 human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit over a period of about 14 to 18 centuries. According to the above scripture all of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The word “inspired” in Greek is theopneustos, which means “God-breathed.” The Apostle Peter wrote that holy men composed the books of the Bible as they were “moved” by the Holy Spirit. Also the Apostle Paul wrote to his student Timothy that all Scripture was given by inspiration of God. The authors of the Bible wrote spontaneously using their own minds and experiences while influenced and directed by God.
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20,21).
The Two Parts of the Bible
The Bible is divided into two parts: the Old Testament with 39 books and the New Testament with 27 books. It was written in two different time periods. The New Testament was written over a period of about 60 years, following the death and resurrection of Christ. The Old Testament was written from the time of Moses up to about four hundred years before Jesus was born, when the “book” (scroll) of Malachi was written. Malachi was the last book to be written in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament was written in the original Hebrew language, with some chapters in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek with a few additional phrases from Aramaic, the commonly spoken Judean language of the day.
The word “testament” is the King James-era English word for “covenant,” or today what we might call a “contract.” Therefore, the books of the Bible are divided according to the two blood covenants God has made with mankind. The Old Covenant was made between Abraham and God (Genesis 15) and covered Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob, the natural race of Israel. The New Covenant was made with Jesus as both parties, God and man; the sacrifice; and the mediator. A mediator is someone like an attorney who works out the clauses to a contract with both parties.
The new covenant covers members of all races who will accept Jesus as Savior and Lord by faith. The new covenant fulfilled the promise of the old (Hebrews 8:6) and, ratified by the blood of Jesus, extended God’s plan for reconciling man to Himself to cover all races, nations, and cultures (Galatians 3:28,29).
“Testament” or “covenant” also can mean what we today call a will–a last will and testament. So in that sense, the new covenant is the spiritual way in which Jesus left (willed) all of the blessings of Abraham (Galatians 3:14) to those who become born again under the new covenant and are also children of Abraham (Galatians 7). In addition, He willed to us redemption for our (Adamic) sin natures that enables us to become new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) and have eternal life with God, the Father.
God always has dealt with man through relationships. Adam and Eve were in a personal relationship with God before they fell into sin. In every age afterwards down to Abraham, God had at least one man (such as Noah) who would come into a relationship with Him and through whom He could execute His plan for the redemption of man.
With Abraham, God “cut” a blood covenant to cover Abraham and his descendants until Jesus would come (Genesis 15:8-21). The ten commandments and the other health, civil, and religious statutes that were given to Israel some four hundred years after the Abrahamic covenant spelled out certain principles God laid down for them to live by and which the Israelites were to obey because of the covenant. This became known as “the Law,” which actually was the details of how the covenant would work in the nation and in their lives.
The Law was God’s Word for that period and the standard by which man lived in order to receive the blessings or curses of the covenant. In any covenant, there are “assets” or good things that go with keeping it. Breaking a covenant or contract, on the other hand, means trouble, which in Bible terms is called receiving curses. However, Paul made it very clear that the Law never took the place of the Promise (the covenant) to Abraham. Jesus was the “promised seed of Abraham” who was to inherit all of the promises, so through Jesus, all those who are born again also inherit these promises of blessings (Galatians 3:29).
People became a part of the old covenant by being a member of the people of Israel through faith and obedience to God, whether they were born into one of the tribes or whether they joined themselves to one of the tribes (Deuteronomy 4:6,13,34; Exodus 12:19; and Isaiah 56:3-5). Reading the Old Testament books carefully will show that, even then, the attitude of the heart was more important than legalistically keeping the Law and more important even than being born into Israel (1 Samuel 15:22).
Under the New Covenant, the Law or God’s standards are “written on our hearts” (Romans 2:15), which means we have the Holy Spirit within us to remind us of right and wrong. Once we are saved, we have the power to overcome sin through the Holy Spirit and can receive the blessings of Abraham under the new covenant (Galatians 3:14). This is called “living under grace.”
However, since the time of Adam and Eve, God has dealt with mankind in two ways: love and mercy (grace) when one seeks Him or wrath and judgment for those who reject Him. Grace can be defined as “undeserved favor.” Also, it is the ability to keep the law, which is called “divine enablement.” Grace gives us power over sin, according to Romans 6:14, because we now have the “Covenant Maker” within us.
Grace does not mean being able to break the law and get away with it. Grace does not mean that God looks the other way when we sin. It does mean that if we fail and break the law, forgiveness is immediately ours when we repent. The blood of Jesus already covers us. We can still overcome, although we may not yet perfectly be conformed to His image. We have the power or grace to become the sons of God (John 1:12).
Criticism of the Bible Has Been Proven Wrong
Some critics of the Bible say it is simply a collection of man’s writings. Others believe it is a great “literary masterpiece,” but not the “Word of God.” Those are the people who do not believe there is a God. Others believe God’s Word is in the Bible but that the entire Bible is not God’s Word. However, scholars have proven that the Bible is accurate in its depiction of historical events that have been documented elsewhere, so the rest of it should be considered true as well, in spite of the critics. On the other hand, even if none of the Bible had any secular evidence, we still should believe it rather than the world’s knowledge, because it is the Word of God and is reliable.
Why Should the Bible be Trusted?
Reliability depends on the accuracy of a document. There are three tests for determining the accuracy of any document. They are:
- The Bibliographical Test (the accuracy of the copies that are compared, although there is a time span between them and the originals).
- The Internal Test of Reliability (the author verifies or disqualifies himself by known factual inaccuracies or contradictions).
- The External Evidence Test of Reliability (the document is authentic in regard to historical and archeological evidence or other writings).
The Bible passes all three of these tests. Research into formerly unknown languages and excavations by noted archeologists have shown over and over that historical events recorded in the Bible really happened. Westerners exploring the Middle East for the past one hundred and fifty years and Israeli archeologists since the 1950s have proved the Bible is fact, not fiction. There can be no doubt that archeology has confirmed the accuracy of the Old Testament’s historical accounts, in spite of the great skepticism expressed toward the Bible by scholars of the “higher criticism” school (which began with German theologians in the 1700s).
For example, critics said no such place as Sela, the rock fortress (the capital of Seir, home of Esau and the Edomites), existed. From shortly after the time of Jesus until the early 1800s, no one except wandering Arab tribes knew where it was. Then Anglo-Swiss explorer Johann L. Burckhardt risked his very life by disguising himself as an Arab in 1812 and was taken into a hidden valley to a huge rock fortress with only one narrow way in or out. Once again, the Bible was shown to be more accurate than secular history. Today, we know this place as Petra.¹
Another example is the excavation of Shushan, which lies some 200 miles east of Babylon. It was the capital of ancient Elam (Susiana) and, later, the winter capital of the Persian kings. Sushan was the scene of many Biblical events in the time of Daniel, Nehemiah, and Queen Esther and King Ahasuerus. When archeologists uncovered the floor of the throne room, they found a pavement of red and blue and black and white marble, just as had been described in the book of Esther (Esther 1:6).²
The Bible is unique in that it has survived over the centuries with very little corruption to the text. Compared to other ancient manuscripts, the Bible is the most accurately preserved text in existence. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1948 has shown the world that, if all of the books of the Bible are as accurate as Isaiah–the scroll they have pieced together and dated to 100 B.C.–then there have been extremely few changes since at least a hundred years before Christ. What differences exist between modern versions and the ancient manuscript found in a cave above the Dead Sea are minor ones that make no difference to the text itself and have affected no Church doctrines.
Most disputes among church scholars and theologians involve the interpretation of the words in the Bible, not the words themselves. It makes sense that if the Bible is the very Word of God, it would be the most persecuted book in history. And indeed it has!
French philosopher, Voltaire, predicted in 1778 that within a hundred years, Christianity and the Bible would be swept away! In the days of the French Revolution, the 1790s, a comprehensive effort was made to burn all of the copies of the Bible in the country (the Roman Catholic Latin translation) and thousands of Bibles were burned. However, Voltaire died and is only a name in the history books. Today, more copies of the Bible exist today worldwide than ever before.
The Bible is unique, and it has been proven reliable. One thing that proves it is Holy Spirit-inspired is the fact that, in spite of the diverse human authors having lived across almost two millennia, the theme of the Bible is the same. Although the writing styles vary, the unity of all of the books of the Bible taken together are as if one person wrote them. And One Person did–the Holy Spirit.
Translation of the Bible
Compared to other ancient manuscripts, the Bible is accepted as being the most accurately preserved text.³ The Jewish people preserved the Old Testament manuscripts as no other ancient written documents have been preserved. In fact, most of the other writings from Bible times have been found only in the past few hundred years on clay tablets.
About three hundred years before Jesus was born, the Jewish religious leaders authorized the first translation from the original Hebrew scrolls of the Old Testament. According to Jewish tradition, 72 rabbis and scribes made up a committee which translated the Hebrew into Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire, in 70 or 72 days. This translation is called the Septuagint, from the Greek word for “seventy.”
About the year A.D. 500, a group of Jewish scribes called “Masoretes” (so named from the word masora, which means “to hand down” authoritative traditions) took upon themselves the task of ensuring the accurate transmission of the Old Testament to future generations. Located at a school near Tiberias, they established strict rules to be followed by all copyists. No word or letter could be written from memory. The scribe had to look attentively at each word and pronounce it before writing it down. Even the words and letters of each section were counted, and if these did not add up to the newly made copy, that section was discarded and copying started over.
The Jewish scribes had the responsibility for copying the old scrolls as they became cracked and not able to be used. Modern scholars have discovered several hundred copying errors, but most of those were made after the time of Jesus by monks who copied the early scrolls and codex manuscripts. The first scrolls were animal skins scraped thin and made into pages that were bound side by side and rolled up. Later, scrolls were papyrus pages. Papyrus was made out of reeds found along the Nile River and pounded to a pulp then dried in the sun. It was the first “paper.” Codex manuscripts were sheets of papyrus put together in book form, instead of as scrolls.
The majority of scholars agree, however, that the miscopied words do not involve major Bible doctrines. The biggest area of confusion, which involves history, not doctrines, seems to be in the use of numbers. For example, did the Philistines send 3,000 war chariots to one battle or 30,000?
No other book has been so scrutinized, sifted for error, criticized, and even vilified and attacked on such a massive scale as the Bible. Yet, it is still read and loved by millions.
The Purpose and Theme of the Bible
The Bible’s main purpose is to reveal the plan of redemption and salvation for mankind. All Scripture should be studied in this light. Even when the judgment of God is mentioned, it is with the purpose of bringing deliverance to mankind. One of the Bible’s purposes is that of warning man, individually or corporately, to avoid the consequences of judgment — God’s wrath. If he so chooses, he can escape Hell and go to Heaven.
When studied in the light of God’s purpose to redeem man through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, nothing in the Bible can put us into the bondage of legalism (the keeping of laws in an effort to please God). Law is not the theme of the Bible, but redemption through the grace of God.
People are brought into the bondage of legalism when they stop studying the Word of God with the idea of redemption and salvation in mind. Many people come under bondage, not through reading the Word, but through what someone else has said “the Word says,” quoting only a portion of Scripture or quoting a particular interpretation of that verse.
The law reveals our sins, but God’s grace points us to Jesus and His blood to cover and atone for our sins, if we will only receive Him and be born again.
Many people want to throw out the Old Testament, except as interesting Bible stories and history. However, the Old and the New work together (1 Corinthians 10:11). The Old Testament was not erased; the New was simply built upon it. The redemption plan is told in the Old Testament by “types and shadows.” People who were indirect examples of Jesus and the kinds of things He was to do when He came were used as these types and shadows. Also, literal prophecies that directly speak of Jesus fall into this category (Hebrews 10:1)
For example, the temple in the Old Testament was a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit and was a literal building. Under the new covenant, the spirits of those who are born again become God’s dwelling place, individually and collectively. Therefore the New Testament speaks of the bodies of Christians as “the temples of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16). So the temple that was a building to the Israelites, and later to the Jews, was a shadow, a “picture,” of a time to come when man himself could become God’s “house” or “temple.”
Another example is the word virgin in New Testament typology, which means the holy and pure Bride of Christ (born again believers, or the Body of Christ), who has not had intercourse with the world. To those who are not Christians, things like this will not make sense. That is why Paul wrote that the natural mind cannot understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The redemption plan is told in the New Testament through the reports of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection (Hebrews 9:15). Therefore, the Bible’s main purpose is to reveal the plan of redemption and salvation for man, which also is the theme of the entire Bible (Luke 24:27,44). The Old Testament was the written preparation for His coming (Isaiah 40:3). The gospels portray the manifestation of His coming (John 1:29). The Acts of the Apostles is the propagation of His purpose (Acts 1:8). And the epistles, the letters by several of the apostles to various early churches, presented the knowledge, or explanation, of the mystery of Christ and the hope of glory to Gentiles, those formerly alienated from God.
The Revelation of Jesus to the Apostle John tells us of the consummation of God’s plan, of its successful conclusion in victory, just as Genesis tells us of the beginning being marred by sin. Each part of the Bible needs the others to be complete. Therefore, the Old Testament was the preparation for the Lord’s coming; the gospels were the manifestation of the Lord’s coming; Acts was the propagation of the Lord’s Gospel; the epistles were the explanation of the Lord’s Gospel, and Revelation tells of the consummation of the Lord’s Gospel. “Paradise lost” in Genesis becomes “paradise regained” in the Book of Revelation.
¹Williams, Walter G. Archaeology in Biblical Research (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1965), p. 55.
²Thompson, Frank Charles, Editor. The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, New International Version (Indianapolis/Grand Rapids: B. B. Kirkbride Bible Co., Inc. and The Zondervan Corporation, 3rd printing, 1984), “Archeological Supplement,” #4437, pp. 1692, 1693.
³Comfort, Philip Wesley, edit. The Origin of the Bible (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992), “Texts and Manuscripts of the Old Testament” by Mark R. Norton, pp. 152,153. Also, Lightfoot, Neil R. How We Got the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2nd Ed., 1988), pp. 91-93.