Virtually every Christian doctrine has faced some form of doubt or challenge, but nothing has been consistently questioned as Scripture itself. In recent times, the prime questioning has been toward the Bible's historical reliability and truthfulness. These are significant questions that deserve attention, not only to answer a wondering world but also to strengthen our forming faith.
The Bible is Based on Eyewitness Accounts
Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, wrote just 30 years after the resurrection of Jesus that, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16).
Peter maintained that he and others did not make up a “myth” about Jesus, but were in fact eyewitness to all that Jesus said and did during his earthly ministry. Consider these four reasons why Peter’s claim is right.
The Timing is Too Early to be a Myth
Scholars generally agree that the majority of the New Testament was written just 30-60 years after Jesus’ earthly ministry. In fact, Philippians, which was written about 27 later, contains a hymn that was sung by the early church which declared Jesus to be the resurrected Son of God (Philippians 2:5-7). Further, Furthermore, the writers of the New Testament refer to people and events that were contemporary. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, which was written about 25 some years after Jesus that Peter, James, and over 500 people still alive saw Jesus alive. He tells the Corinthian church that if they have questions about the life and resurrection of Jesus to go talk to them about what they saw.
The Content is Too Counterproductive to be a Myth
If the New Testament writers were trying to build a strong movement in their cultural moment through their writings, they certainly did not do it well. There are many things they would not have included if they were composing a myth. The Jewish world would have been offended at the claim that Jesus was God as it was blasphemous to the Jews. The Greco-Roman world would have been offended by Jesus asking God if there was a way to avoid the crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane.
On every page of the Gospels it seems as if the apostles, the leaders of the movement, were trying to do a Three Stooges impersonation. Further, women were given incredible dignity to the point that they were the first people to carry the message of Jesus’ resurrection to the world. If the New Testament writers were writing a Jewish or Greco-Roman myth with credibility, women would certainly have not played such a crucial role.
The Literary Form is Too Detailed to be a Myth
The concept of “historical fiction” is relatively modern. Other works of literature contemporary to the New Testament (+-500 years) that were myths like The Iliad or Beowulf do not resemble the writings of the New Testament. Consider CS Lewis on the literary form of the New Testament: “I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, and myths all of my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this. Of the gospel texts there are only two possible views: either this is historical reportage or else some unknown ancient writer without known predecessors or successors suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic realistic narrative. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned how to read.”
Further, there are seemingly random details all throughout the Gospels that suggest they were given from eyewitness testimony. For example, Mark 4:36 reports, “And other boats were with him.” This sort of minor detail would most likely not have been included unless it came from an eyewitness (most likely Peter), who was remembering what he saw.
Message was Too Costly to be a Myth
The New Testament writers were all killed horrifically because they held to the content of their writings to the end. Blaise Pascal famously said, “I believe the witnesses who have their throats cut.” They had nothing to gain and everything to lose.
The common argument against this particular point is that they made it up they made up stories about Jesus, and then died for it. The reasoning goes, “Well, lots of people die for a lie: David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, suicide bombers, and terrorists.” That’s true, but no one dies for something they know to be a lie.
Before he started Prison Fellowship, Chuck Colson, was one of Richard Nixon’s hatchet man in Watergate. Right before the Watergate scandal broke, the six men who were involved got together in a room and got their story straight. They swore to each other that they would stick to the lie because if one person cracked then the whole operation would be exposed. Colson said he looked around that room and saw serious, tough men -- former special ops commandos and CIA operatives. He said they swore to each other that nobody would break. Within 3 weeks they had all cracked. All of them. Reflecting on this episode, Chuck Colson would often say, “The idea that uneducated, untrained fishermen would maintain this lie under the most intense pressure imaginable until the day they were killed for it is utterly inconceivable.”
The Bible is from God Himself
The “What We Believe” page of The Heights website states that, “We believe that the Bible, including 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament, is “breathed out by God” and is without error in its original forms. The Bible has God for its author and salvation for its end. Its content is wholly centered on the Lord Jesus Christ and no portion of Scripture can be rightly understood until it leads to Him.”
The Bible is Inspired from God
To believe that the Bible is “breathed out by God” is to assume the theological concept of inspiration. In keeping with the language of many Protestant confessions, the Gallic Confession (1559) succinctly declared that Scripture is inspired by God Himself: “We believe that the Word contained in these books [the Bible] has proceeded from God…” In essence, what those persecuted French Huguenots staked their very lives on was the commitment that what the Bible proclaims, God declares. For them, and the rest of historical Protestants, the Bible was not simply a human product subject to revision or dismissal, but a divine revelation that stands above human judgment.
However, inspiration does not imply that in God’s declaration, the proclamation was emptied of the personality of the writer. Neither does the doctrine of inspiration understand the Bible as simply a divine transcription where the human authors were merely puppet scribes. King David, the Prophet Jeremiah, and the Apostle Paul all retained their unique identities and styles as God worked within them through his providential and supernatural activity to ensure that what they wrote is his word.
The Bible is Inerrant Because it is from God
Proverbs 30:5 states that “every word of God proves true.” Hebrews 6:18 states, “it is impossible for God to lie.”
If Scripture is inspired from God, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture understands that though the Bible was written by fallen men, God so ordained its inspiration that no mistakes were made. Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything.
The Bible is Authoritative Because it is from God
If the Bible is from God and contains no mistakes because it is from God, it is authoritative and the standard by which we judge everything else. Everyone has a standard. For many, it is a personal sense of what is right and wrong. In our cultural moment, there is a tendency to read the Bible and judge it by our own experiences and perceptions.
However, cultural judgments on what is right and true are always changing. Consider something dumb you did in high school or college. It probably felt right at the time, but now you are most likely wondering, “What was I thinking?”
The Bible is the only authoritative standard. It is God’s truth, given from heaven.
The Bible is Clear Because it is from God
In 1522 while dining with a Catholic scholar, the great Bible translator and reformer William Tyndale said, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than he will.” Tyndale, and Reformers like him, believed that popes, plowboys, and all stations in between can understand and access the Bible. Thus, Scripture is clear and enables all individuals, regardless of their level of theological education, to read the Bible and accurately comprehend its message, not just pastors or highly experienced Christians.
 Benjamin Warfield’s defense against alternative theories of inspiration such as the natural theory, the dynamic theory, the neo-orthodoxy theory, and the mechanical theory is helpful yet cumbersome, and thus suited for a footnote. However, a summary of his particular defenses are worth comprehending as they answer the most common questions regarding the doctrine of inspiration in the local church.
- The Natural Theory of Inspiration views the Bible as a purely human book with no meaningful divine inspiration. It denies supernatural intervention and attributes the Bible's origin and authority solely to human factors. Warfield argued that simply attributing the divine nature of the Bible to the superior natural capacity of the biblical writers inadequate. He argues that while some biblical authors had higher literary training, most were blue collar laborers like shepherds, fishermen, or tax collectors. The natural theory that suggests the biblical authors were geniuses who articulated moral and religious insight that has stood for thousands of years is not likely.
- The Dynamic Theory of Inspiration views the Bible as a divinely inspired, human book. It sees God working through the personalities, backgrounds, and styles of the human authors, and the result is a text that is both fully human and fully divine. While this theory seems compelling, Warfield argued that it actually creates a false dichotomy between the human and divine aspects of Scripture. It fails to explain the coherence and unity of Scripture, suggesting that different authors had varying levels of inspiration. Further, it contradicts Scripture's own claims of being directly from God.
- The Neo-Orthodoxy Theory of Inspiration, also known as the Dialectical Theory, views the Bible as a divinely inspired book only when the Holy Spirit uses it to create faith in a person. In other words, the Bible contains the Word of God rather than actually being the Word of God and is the location of the encounter with God rather than being the source of objective truth from God. Warfield argued that this created too heavy of a reliance on individual experience and interpretation, which could lead to subjective and inconsistent understandings of Scripture. He also noted that this view lacks a clear understanding of the nature of God's revelation and the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the Scriptures.
- The Mechanical Theory of Inspiration, also known as the Dictation Theory, views the Bible as a divinely inspired book because the Holy Spirit dictated the words to human authors as passive instruments without any consideration for their styles or personality. Warfield argued that this view fails to account for the unique literary styles and perspectives of the biblical writers, and overlooks the fact that God worked through the personalities and experiences of these writers to produce the Scriptures.
These alternative theories of the doctrine of inspiration fail to account for the historical and scriptural evidence and are thus far less compelling than the Warfield’s conclusion of the traditional, orthodox view of the doctrine of verbal, emphasizing the inspiration of each word, and the plenary, emphasizing the full and complete inspiration of the entire Bible, inspiration of Scripture. Summarily, Warfield writes, "We may then lay it down as a fixed principle that plenary inspiration extends to the very words of Scripture; that the very words, and not merely the thoughts or the concepts, are inspired; and that inspiration extends equally and fully to all parts of the autographs, from the historical narratives and the psalms and proverbs, through the prophets and the gospels, to the Epistles and the Apocalypse. Inspiration extends, in a word, to the whole Bible, and extends equally to every part of it." Warfield, B. B. "Inspiration and Authority of the Bible." In The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, edited by Ethelbert D. Warfield, 1:136-204. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2003.