Over the course of two millenia no other book has influenced societies and cultures like the Bible, yet no other book has faced the barrage of attacks it has. It has formed the bedrock of morality for many and provided the framework for the constitutions of many a country. But this same book has been abused, misused and misquoted to push the parochial agenda of many. As a result of this many have argued that we do away with the Bible, some have even surmised that it is a book of myths and fables that has outlived its purpose. But what is the Bible? Is it a record of history or myth and what makes this book such a powerful force? Join us as we seek to explore these questions in the first episode of our series HOLY WRIT; “Breathed by God”.
WHAT IS THE BIBLE?
The word Bible is derived from the Greek word “biblos” which basically means books or records. As the name suggests the Bible in itself is a library of books; 66 books to be precise. These books are extraordinary works of literature in their own right. They fall within different literary genres. In the books of the Bible we have historical narratives, legal documents, poetry, epistles (letters), and a genre of literature that is not too familiar with us; “apocalyptic literature”. The Bible is composed of two major blocks; The Old testament and The New testament. The two blocks were put together by 40 different authors over the span of about a 1400 year period. These authors were of diverse backgrounds. For example Moses was trained in the household of Egypt, David was a shepherd boy who became a king, Daniel was a Jewish exile in Babylon, Matthew was a tax collector, Luke was a Medical doctor etc. Not only were their backgrounds distinctively different, they wrote in different epochs of time. Between Moses and David is a 400 year gap, David and Isaiah about three hundred years. Even between the old and new testament is a 400 year gap known as the intertestamental period. The interesting thing in all of this is that even though they wrote years apart and never compared notes, these writers tell one coherent story and point to one central figure. It contains prophecies that are distinct and accurate. No other book can boast of such uniqueness.
WHAT’S THE BIG STORY? / WHAT IS THE BIBLE ALL ABOUT?
These books collectively tell the history of the world, then narrow down to the origins and history of the nation of Israel and finally coalesce into the story of one man, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. The New Testament is based on one central figure and one central event. Jesus Christ and his resurrection. The rest of the teachings of the New Testament and the Bible as a whole are just the logical out-workings of the reality of this fact. As such one of the easiest ways to prove the credibility of this strange book is to trace the historicity of its key figure. After all, when most of the authors of the Bible wrote they considered themselves as chroniclers of historical events.
IS IT TRUE THOUGH? / HOW ACCURATE IS THE BIBLE?
If we take a look at the Gospels and particularly the Gospel of Luke, we are presented with a lot of historical markers. The story of Jesus is placed in its appropriate historical context. Jesus is not a figment of their imagination but a man who lived, died and was subsequently brought back to life.
First let’s look at Luke’s purpose for writing;
Dedication to Theophilus
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
When Luke set out to write he was on a fact finding mission. At the time of his writing, there were oral traditions passed down concerning Jesus and his teachings which were consistent with his time but Luke sought out to get the truth and put it in an orderly manner. It is no wonder that in his gospel we get one of the most detailed accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
Look at how Luke intentionally points out the exact time frame. All one has to do is track the history.
We see another use of historical markers in the gospel of Matthew ( and the bible is replete with them), when he retells the story surrounding the escape of Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus when they were fleeing Herod.
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.
Beyond the historical markers are the writers’ appeal to eyewitness accounts. Let’s be honest, if I was going to invent one of the most absurd stories ever heard in the history of humanity, I wouldn’t rely on the testimony of human beings who have shown to be self preserving and will cave under pressure. Also the psychological profile of liars show them to be self preserving but these preachers and eyewitnesses held firm to their convictions of the truth even to the point of death.
2 Peter 1:16
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
Paul appeals to eyewitness statements when defending the resurrection of Christ,
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
Why is all this important you may ask? If the Christian message was a lie and the writers were inventing a story they would have been made out to be liars in the first century and the Christian movement would have died a natural death.
Also most scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed. In a 2011 review of the state of modern scholarship, Bart Ehrman, who is himself a secular agnostic, wrote: “He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or no Christian agrees”. Also famed historian Michael Grant asserts that if conventional standards of historical textual criticism are applied to the New Testament, “we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personalities whose reality as historical figures is never questioned”. That is to say if we are to reject the existence of Jesus, then we need to do away with figures like Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar etc. Such a feat is to erase the history of humanity itself.
BREATHED BY GOD? / WRITTEN BY MEN BUT CARRIES POWER? HOW CAN A BOOK WRITTEN BY MEN CARRY SO MUCH AUTHORITY?
If all the Bible is, is an accurate record of historical events, teachings and prophecies leading to one man, why does it carry so much authority and transformative power? How do we explain the conversion experiences of people who opposed the Christian message like Saul of Tarsus who later became a Preacher and apostle, James (brother of Jesus) who became a Pillar in the early church, and the entire Roman empire becoming the central hub of Christianity, after years of persecution? Or like Lee Strobel, who after years of being an atheist, converts to Christianity after leading an investigative mission into the accuracy of the Bible?
The answer that the biblical authors give is that all of scripture is inspired by God.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The Greek word Paul uses here is quite an interesting one. It is the word “theopneustos”. It’s literal meaning is “God-breathed”. The closest we come to its meaning in our language is the word “inspire”.
But what do the biblical authors mean when they say scripture is inspired or God-breathed? To the biblical authors inspiration is beyond the mental stimulation or feeling to do something creative. Biblical inspiration is the guiding superintending work of God in moving men to write and record history, prophecies, songs and teachings, so that even though they wrote in their own language, culture and context what they recorded for us is the word of God safe for all generations without error. The apostle Peter put it this way;
2 Peter 1:20-21
knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
This is what makes the Bible unique. This is what gives it transformative power. It is the word of God passed down to us through the words of men. And it bears all the marks you’d expect of a book that is divinely inspired. First, the history is accurate. Additionally, time gaps between the human authors did not affect the coherence of the overall narrative of scripture because there was one overall author writing the story. “Holy men of God wrote as they were moved by God”. Also we see the accuracy of the prophecies. All one has to do is investigate the precision and accuracy of biblical prophecies as it pertains to history as a whole and Jesus in particular and the only logical conclusion is “this can only be God”.
Lastly the Bible promises to change the life of its adherents and throughout the course of human history no other book has radically transformed the lives of its readers like the bible has. It lives up to its expectations and delivers on its promises. The Bible is radically unique, it is divine, it IS BREATHED BY GOD.
- Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: a Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004),p285.
- Michael Grant, Jesus (Rigel Publications, 2004), p200.
Further reading on historicity of Jesus;
- Testimonium Flavium, Book 18. Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus (A.D 36-c.100)
- Tacitus, Annals 15.44, in Tacitus V: Annals Books 13–16,