Through the centuries Christians have been called upon to give a reason or defense for their faith.1 Since the Scriptures lay at the very foundation of their faith in Christ, it has been incumbent upon Christian apologists to provide evidence for the inspiration of the Bible.
It is one thing to claim divine inspiration for the Bible and quite another to provide evidence to confirm that claim. Before examining the supporting evidence for the inspiration of Scripture, let us summarize precisely what it is that inspiration claims.
The inspiration of the Bible is not to be confused with a poetic inspiration. Inspiration as applied to the Bible refers to the God-given authority of its teachings for the thought and life of the believer.
Biblical Description of Inspiration
The word inspiration means God-breathed, and it refers to the the process by which the Scriptures or writings were invested with divine authority for doctrine and practice.2 It is the writings which are said to be inspired. The writers, however, were Spirit moved to record their messages. Hence, when viewed as a total process, inspiration is what occurs when Spirit-moved writers record God-breathed writings. Three elements are contained in this total process of inspiration: the divine causality, the prophetic agency, and the resultant written authority.
The Three Elements in Inspiration
The first element in inspiration is God’s causality. God is the Prime Mover by whose promptings the prophets were led to write. The ultimate origin of inspired writings is the desire of the Divine to communicate with man. The second factor is the prophetic agency. The Word of God comes through men of God. God employs the instrumentality of human personality to convey His message. Finally, the written prophetic utterance is invested with divine authority. The prophet’s words are God’s Word.
The Characteristics of an Inspired Writing
The first characteristic of inspiration is implied in the fact that it is an inspired writing; namely, it is verbal. The very words of the prophets were God-given, not by dictation but by the Spirit-directed employment of the prophet’s own vocabulary and style. Inspiration also claims to be plenary (full). No part of Scripture is without divine inspiration. Paul wrote, “All scripture is inspired by God.”
In addition, inspiration implies the inerrancy of the teaching of the original documents (called autographs). Whatever God utters is true and without error, and the Bible is said to be an utterance of God. Finally, inspiration results in the divine authority of the Scriptures. The teaching of Scripture is binding on the believer for faith and practice.
Inspiration is not something merely attributed to the Bible by Christians; it is something the Bible claims for itself. There are literally hundreds of references within the Bible about its divine origin.
The Inspiration of the Old Testament
The Old Testament claims to be a prophetic writing. The familiar “thus says the Lord” fills its pages. False prophets and their works were excluded from the house of the Lord. Those prophecies which proved to be from God were preserved in a sacred place. This growing collection of sacred writings was recognized and even quoted by later prophets as the Word of God.
Jesus and the New Testament writers held these writings in the same high esteem; they claimed them to be the unbreakable, authoritative, and inspired Word of God. By numerous references to the Old Testament as a whole, to its basic sections, and to almost every Old Testament book, the New Testament writers overwhelmingly attested to the claim of divine inspiration for the Old Testament.
The Inspiration of the New Testament
The apostolic writings were boldly described in the same authoritative terms which denoted the Old Testament as the Word of God. They were called “scripture,” “prophecy,” etc. Every book in the New Testament contains some claim to divine authority. The New Testament church read, circulated, collected, and quoted the New Testament books right along with the inspired Scriptures of the Old Testament.
The contemporaries and immediate successors of the apostolic age recognized the divine origin of the New Testament writings along with the Old. With only heretical exceptions, all of the great Fathers of the Christian church from the earliest times held to the divine inspiration of the New Testament. In brief, there is continuous claim for the inspiration of both Old and New Testaments from the time of their composition to the present. In modern times this claim has been seriously challenged by many from inside and outside Christendom. This challenge calls for substantiation of the claim for inspiration of the Bible.
Support For the Claim of Inspiration
Defenders of the Christian faith have responded to this challenge in sundry ways. Some have transformed Christianity into a rational system, others have claimed belief in it because it is “absurd,” but the great mass of informed Christians through the centuries have avoided either rationalism or fideism. Claiming neither absolute finality nor complete skepticism, Christian apologists have given “a reason for the hope that is in them.” The following is a summary of evidence for the biblical doctrine of inspiration.
Internal Evidence of Inspiration
There are two lines of evidence to be considered on the inspiration of the Bible: the evidence flowing from within Scripture itself (called internal evidence) and the coming from outside of it (known as external evidence). There are several lines of internal evidence which have been presented.
Some have claimed that the Bible speaks, like a lion’s roar, with its own convincing authority. As Jesus astonished the crowds, “for he taught them as one who had authority,“3 even so the “thus says the Lord” of Scripture speaks for itself. When the voice spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, it was evident to him that it was the voice of God.4
The word of Scripture need not be defended; they need only to be heeded to know they are the words of God. The most convincing way to demonstrate the authority of a lion is to let it loose. Likewise, the inspiration of the Bible does not need to be defended; rather, the teachings of the Bible need to be expounded. It is argued that God can speak most effectively for Himself. The Bible can vindicate its own authority once its voice is heard.
Evidence Of the Testimony of the Holy Spirit
Closely allied with the evidence of the self-vindicating authority of Scripture is the witness of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is confirmed to the children of God by the Spirit of God. The inner witness of God in the heart of the believer as he reads the Bible is evidence of its divine origin. The Holy Spirit not only bears witness to the believer that he is a child of God5 but that the Bible is the Word of God.6
The same Spirit who communicated the truth of God also confirms to the believer that the Bible is the Word of God. From the earliest centuries it has been the consensus of the Christian community in which the Spirit operates that the books of the Bible are the Word of God. God’s Word is thus confirmed by God’s Spirit.
The Transforming Ability of the Bible
Another so called internal evidence is the ability of the Bible to convert the unbeliever and to build up the believer in the faith. Hebrews says, “The word of God is alive and active, sharper than a two-edged sword…“7
Untold thousands have experienced this power. Drug addicts have been cured by it; derelicts have been transformed; hate has been turned to love by reading it. Believers grow by studying it.8 The sorrowing are comforted, the sinners are rebuked, and the negligent are exhorted by the Scriptures. God’s Word possesses the dynamic, transforming power of God. God vindicates the Bible’s authority by its evangelistic and edifying powers.
Evidence From the Unity of the Bible
A more formal evidence of the Bible’s inspiration is its unity. Comprised as it is of sixty-six books, written over a period of some fifteen hundred years by nearly forty authors in several languages containing hundreds of topics, it is more than accidental that the Bible possesses an amazing unity of theme – Jesus Christ. One problem – sin – and one solution – the Saviour – unify its pages from Genesis to Revelation.
Compared to a medical manual written amid such variety, the Bible shows marked evidence of divine unity. This is an especially valid point in view of the fact that no one person or group of men put the Bible together. Books were added as they were written by the prophets. They were collected simply because they were considered inspired.
It is only later reflection, both by the prophets themselves9 and later generations, which has discovered that the Bible is really one book whose “chapters” were written by men who had no explicit knowledge of the overall structure. Their role could be compared to that of different men writing chapters of a novel for which none of them have even an overall outline. Whatever unity the book has must come from beyond them.
External Evidences of the Bible’s Inspiration
The internal evidence of inspiration is mostly subjective in nature. It relates to what the believer sees or feels in his experience with the Bible. With the possible exception of the last mentioned evidence, the unity of the Bible, these internal evidences are available only on the inside of Christianity. The nonbeliever does not hear the voice of God, nor sense the witness of the Holy Spirit, nor feel the edifying power of Scripture in his life. Unless he steps by faith to the inside, these evidences will have little if any convincing effect on his life.
This is where the external evidence plays a crucial role. It serves as sign posts indicating where the “inside” really is. It is public witness to something very unusual, which serves to draw attention to the voice of God in Scripture.
Evidence From the Historicity of the Bible
Much of the Bible is historical and as such is subject to verification. There are two main lines of support for biblical history: archaeological artifacts and specifically written documents. With respect to the first, no archaeological find has ever invalidated a biblical teaching. On the contrary, as Donald J. Wiseman wrote, “The geography of Bible lands and visible remains of antiquity were gradually recorded until today more than 25,000 sites within this region and dating to Old Testament times, in their broadest sense, have been located.“10
In fact, much of the earlier criticism of the Bible has been decisively overturned by archaeological discoveries which have demonstrated the existence of writing in Moses’ day, the history of chronology of the kings of Israel, and even the existence of the Hittites, a people once know only from the Bible.
The more widely publicized discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls illustrates a point less well known; namely, that there are thousands of manuscripts for both Old and New Testaments, compared with a handful of many great secular classics. This makes the Bible the best documented book from the ancient world.
While no historical find is a direct evidence of any spiritual claim in the Bible, such as the claim to be divinely inspired, yet the historicity of the Bible does provide indirect verification of the claim of inspiration. For confirmation of the Bible’s accuracy in factual matters lends credibility to its claims when speaking of other subjects. Jesus said, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?“11
Evidence From the Testimony of Christ
In connection with the foregoing evidence for the historicity of the biblical documents is the evidence of the testimony of Christ. Since the New Testament has been documented as historical, and since these same historical documents provide us with the teaching of Christ about the inspiration of the Bible, one needs only to assume the truthfulness of Christ in order to argue for the inspiration of the Bible.
If Christ possesses any kind of authority or integrity as a religious teacher, then the Scriptures are inspired. For He taught that they were God’s Word. In order to falsify this contention, one must reject the authority of Jesus to make pronouncements on the subject of inspiration. The evidence from Scripture conclusively reveals that Jesus held to the full divine authority of the Scriptures.
Indications from the gospel record, with ample historical backing, show that Jesus was a man of integrity and truth. The argument, then, is this: if what Jesus taught is true, and Jesus taught that the Bible is inspired, then it follows that it is true that the Bible is inspired of God.
The evidence from prophecy. Another forceful external testimony to the inspiration of Scripture is the fact of fulfilled prophecy. According to Deuteronomy 18, a prophet was false if he made predictions which were never fulfilled. No unconditional prophecy of the Bible about events to the present day has gone unfilled. Hundreds of predictions, some of them given hundreds of years in advance, have been literally fulfilled.
The time, city and nature of Christ’s birth were foretold in the Old Testament, as were dozens of other things about His life, death, and resurrection.12 Other prophecies, such as the education and communication explosion, the repatriation of Israel, and the rebuilding of Palestine are being fulfilled today.13
There are other books which claim divine inspiration, such as the Koran and parts of the Veda. But none of these books contain predictive prophecy. As a result, fulfilled prophecy is a strong indication of the the divine authority of the Bible.
Evidence From the Influence of the Bible
No book has been more widely disseminated and has more broadly influenced the course of world events than has the Bible. The Bible has been translated into more languages, has been published in more copies, has influenced more thought, inspired more art, and motivated more discoveries than any other book. The Bible has been translated into over one thousand languages representing more than ninety percent of the world’s population. It has been published in some billions of copies. There are no close seconds in the all-time best-seller list.
The influence of the Bible and its teaching in the Western world is clear for all who study history. And the influential role of the West in the course of world events is equally clear. Civilization has been influenced more by the Judeo-Christian Scriptures than by any other book or combination of books in the world.
No great moral or religious work in the world exceeds the depth of morality in the principle of Christian love, and none has a more lofty spiritual concept than the biblical view of God. The Bible presents the highest ideals known to men which have molded civilization.
The Indestructibility of the Bible
Despite its importance (or maybe because of it), the Bible has suffered more vicious attacks than would be expected to be made on such a book. But the Bible has withstood all its attackers. Diocletian attempted to exterminate it (c. A.D. 303), and yet it is the most widely published book in the world today. Biblical critics once regarded much of it as mythological, but archaeology has established it as historical. Antagonists have attacked its teaching as primitive, but moralists urge that its teaching on love be applied to modern society.
Skeptics have cast doubt on its authenticity, and yet more men are convinced of its truth today than ever. Attacks continue to arise from science, psychology, and political movements, but the Bible remains undaunted. Like the wall four-feet hight and four-feet wide, blowing at it seems to accomplish nothing. The Bible remains just as strong after the attack. Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.“14
Evidence From the Integrity of the Authors
There are no good reasons to suppose that the authors of Scripture were not honest and sincere men. From everything that is known of their lives, and even their deaths for what they believed, they were utterly convinced that God had spoken to them. What shall we make of men – over five hundred of them15 – who claim as evidence for the divine authority of their message that they saw the Jesus of Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate, alive and well? What shall we make of the claim that they saw Him on about a half-dozen occasions over a period of a month and a half?
That they talked with Him, ate with Him saw His wounds, and handled Him, and even the most skeptical among them fell at His feet and cried, “My Lord and my God!“16 It stretches one’s credulity to believe that they were all drugged or deluded, especially in view of the number and nature of the encounters and its lasting effect on them. But granting their basic integrity, we are confronted with an unusual phenomenon of men – hundreds of them – facing death with the claim that God had given them the authority to speak and write.
When men of sanity and noted integrity claim divine inspiration and offer as evidence that they have communicated with the resurrected Christ, then men of good will who seek the truth must take notice. In brief, the honesty of the biblical writers vouches for the divine authority of their writings.
Other arguments have been offered for the Bible’s inspiration, but the main weight of the case here will rest on these. Do these arguments prove that the Bible is inspired? No, these are not proofs with rationally inescapable conclusions. Even an amateur philosopher can devise ways to avoid the logic of the arguments.
Even if they did prove the inspiration of the Bible, it would not necessarily follow that they would persuade it to the satisfaction of all. Rather, they are evidences, testimonies, or witnesses. As witnesses they must be cross-examined and evaluated as a whole. Then, in the jury room of one’s own soul a decision must be made – a decision which is based not on rationally inescapable proofs but on evidence which is “beyond reasonable doubt.”
Perhaps all that need be added here is that if the Bible were on trial and we were part of a jury called upon for a verdict, based on a comprehensive examination of the claim and alleged credentials of the Bible to be inspired, we would be compelled to vote that it is “guilty of being inspired as charged.” The reader too must decide. For those who tend to be indecisive, one is reminded of the words of Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.“17
In other words, if the Bible – with its clear cut claim to be inspired, with its incomparable characteristics and multiple credentials – is not inspired, then to what else can we turn? It has the words of eternal life.
1 1 Peter 3:15. 2 2 Timothy 3:16-17. 3 Mark 1:22. 4 Job 38.
5 Romans 8:16. 6 2 Peter 1:20-21. 7 Hebrews 4:12.
8 1 Peter 2:2. 9 e.g. 1 Peter 1:10,11.
10 Donald J. Wiseman, “Archaeological Confirmation of the Old Testament,” Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F.H. Henry.
11 John 3:12. 12 Date: Daniel 9; City: Micah 5:2; Nature of Christ’s Birth: Isaiah 7:14 13 Education & Communication Explosion: Daniel 12:4; Repatriation of Israel & Rebuilding of Palestine: Isaiah 61:4. 14 Mark 13:31. 15 1 Corinthians 15:6.
16 John 20:28. 17 John 6:68.