Can we trust the Bible?

Can we trust the Bible? Sometimes people who are not Christians will say, “You can’t believe the Bible.” “It was all made up by the disciples.” “Jesus never existed.” As Christians, what can we say? What answers can we give? Can we trust the Bible?
That is a big and complicated question. So this morning I am only going to attempt an answer to part of it – the most important part. Can we trust the New Testament, and in particular the four Gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? How can we be sure that what they tell us about Jesus is true?
What the Bible says about itself
Luke 1:1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
The Bible records for us the things Jesus said and did. We can trust what we read because we have the testimony of eyewitnesses, the accounts just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. These eyewitnesses were not only the apostles but also all the other Christians who saw and heard Jesus and were reporting their own experiences. All these people were part of the Early Church and the four Gospels were only accepted by the wider church because all these eyewitnesses agreed they were accurate accounts of Jesus’s life and ministry.
The Bible gives us not only the story of Jesus’s life in the Four Gospels but also all the things the church taught about Him in the different Letters. so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. So we can also trust the many things the Bible teaches us about Jesus, because the churches all agreed that the Four Gospels and Acts and also all the Letters written by Paul and Peter and James and John and others were correct interpretations of the life and teaching of Jesus.
Luke who wrote his gospel and also the book of Acts was himself an eyewitness of the events he records from the second half of Acts when he joined Paul on his missionary journeys. Luke says he carefully investigated all the accounts he could lay his hands on to produce his own summary of the life and teaching of Jesus which we have as Luke’s Gospel.
When it comes to John’s Gospel, I am convinced that the traditions of the Early Church are true and that the author of the Fourth gospel and of the three letters carrying his name was indeed the apostle John. He himself was an eyewitness of the events he recorded. John’s first letter begins like this.
1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
So John himself had seen and heard Jesus. And there is a little section at the end of his Gospel talking about John which was clearly added by somebody else which says this.
John 21 24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
The first Christians trusted John and we can trust John too. Similarly I am also convinced that the Gospel of Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew who witnessed the life and teaching of Jesus for himself.
Mark’s gospel was not written by an apostle, but probably by John Mark who also was a companion of Paul. Mark is mentioned in various Letters written by Paul. Early church traditions written down by church leaders Papias, Irenaeus and Eusabius tell us that Mark faithfully wrote down the sermons of the apostle Peter. There are little bits of Mark’s gospel which only Peter would have known about. Peter passes on greetings from “my son Mark” at the end of his first letter. And people think that Mark himself is mentioned as a unnamed young man who was there when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, and so may well have been an eyewitness to the end of Jesus’s ministry.
So the Gospels give us eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus. Some details we read about Jesus in the Gospels are confirmed for us by archaeology. Then outside of Christian sources, we can read about Jesus and the first Christians in Jewish and Roman writings. Before the end of the first century, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote this.
“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared”.
Very soon after 100 AD the Roman historian Tacitus refers in his Annals to the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of the Early Church by Emperor Nero. At the same time the Roman Governor Pliny wrote a letter talking about the persecution of Christians. As evidence for events which happened 2000 years ago, these are very good historical sources.
The Inspiration of the Bible
The second reason we have as Christians for trusting the Bible is that we believe the Holy Spirit inspired the writers.
2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
All Scripture is “God-breathed”. We don’t mean that God dictated the words we read in the Bible to the people who wrote them down. What we mean is that God the Holy Spirit was at work in the writers so that what was written was what God wanted to be written.
The Bible is inspired by God. Inspiration is not the SOURCE of the Bible’s authority for us. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Those words have authority and power in our lives precisely because Jesus said them. The fact that the gospel-writer was inspired when he wrote down John 11:25 is secondary. The authority comes from the Lord Jesus Christ who spoke those words.
But the inspiration of Scripture is the guardian of that authority. We can trust that Jesus really did make all the wonderful promises we read in the Bible, because Matthew and Mark and Luke and John were inspired in their recording of what Jesus said. We can trust that Jesus really did DO all the wonderful things we read about, because the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Gospels. And we can trust that our understanding of who Jesus was and what he accomplished is correct because all the other New Testament writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write exactly what God wants us to read.
So in the New Testament we have the testimony of eyewitnesses about Jesus and the beliefs and understandings of the Early Church. These are guaranteed to be reliable for us as Christians by the work of the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible. But somebody who is not a Christian could well say something like this. Saying we can trust the Bible just because it says it was written by eyewitnesses is circular reasoning. The writers claim they were eyewitnesses but perhaps they were lying. The Bible claims to be inspired by the Holy Spirit but that is not proof that it is. We have to look for proof outside the Bible to convince us that it is true. And we find that proof in the experiences of God which all Christians and churches have had over the centuries.
The experience of Christians
And we find that proof in our own experiences as we encounter God as we ourselves read the Bible. We know the Bible is the Word of God because God has spoken to Christians through the centuries and because God speaks to us today through the Bible. Let me unpack that a bit more.
Churches and Christians through the centuries have recognised the books which we have as our Bible as Holy Scripture. They have agreed that the Gospels are the testimony of eyewitness and that the Letters sum up for us reliably the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles and of the Early Church. Churches and Christians have agreed agree that God has spoken to them through the Bible. They have agreed that they have met Jesus the Living Word through reading this Written Word. We have good reasons to believe the Bible because all the Churches and Christians before us have believed the Bible.
And we believe the Bible because we ourselves have met with Jesus as we have read and understood and believed it. Every occasion we have claimed a promise from Scripture and every occasion that God has answered our prayers is proof that the Bible is true and reliable. Every time God has helped us and comforted us and given us grace and peace and joy and love is proof that the Bible is true and reliable. We believe the Bible because we ourselves have proved in our own experience that it is true.
The apostle John wrote, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John’s Gospel chapter 20 verses 30-31) We trust the Bible because we ourselves have experienced the “life in all its fullness” which Jesus promises to give to everybody who follows Him.
As Paul put it in 2 Timothy 3:15, the holy Scriptures have made us “wise for salvation.” In our own lives the Bible has been useful and effective for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (vv16-17). We have seen it in other Christians and we know in our own lives the difference Jesus makes! But then there is also something else.
The inner witness of the Holy Spirit
More than the cumulative effects of all these experiences which convince us that the Bible is true we also have God the Holy Spirit at work inside us telling us that we can trust the Bible. Theologians call this certainty “the inner witness of the Spirit.” The Westminster Confession of faith was drawn up in the seventeenth century and generally agreed by all Protestant Christians including our Baptist ancestors. The Westminster Confession says this about the Bible.
“We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to a high and revered esteem of the holy scripture, yet, notwithstanding, 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.”
In other words, we believe the Bible because the church through the ages says it is true. But more than that, we also believe the Bible because of the inward work of the Holy Spirit in our own hearts assuring us that the Bible is true. The Holy Spirit inside us gives us a deep certainty that we can trust the Bible. Let me read that again.
“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.”
“The inner witness of the Holy Spirit.” J.B.Phillips wrote that the words of the New Testament “bear the hall-mark of reality and the ring of truth.” Somebody once said, “Start reading the Bible as if it was like any other book and you will soon discover that it is unlike any other book.”
So we believe the Bible because it is the testimony of eyewitnesses and the teaching of the Early Church, guarded for us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We believe the Bible because of the experiences of churches and of Christians through the centuries. We believe the Bible because God keeps speaking to us through the Bible even today. And we believe the Bible because of the “inner witness of the Holy Spirit” in our hearts. And since we believe the Bible – we should read it and study it and commit it to memory and let it shape our lives. Somebody has written this.
“This Book is the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding; its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable.
Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s character. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. Follow its precepts and it will lead you to Calvary, to the empty tomb, to a resurrected life in Christ; yes, to glory itself, for eternity.”
Read the Bible – free gift inside!

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