Christianity and the church stand or fall on the reliability of Scripture. As a reformed-ish Southern Baptist, I hold to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. This means when I read, study, teach, or preach the Bible, I believe I am seeing, hearing, speaking, and proclaiming the very word of God. The entirety of my faith and knowledge of God, truly the only way that I know God, flows from the river of the Bible. This grand Book is more than a masterpiece of human literature (though not less). The evangelical view of the Bible is that it is God’s self-revelation, and therefore entirely authoritative for the Christian’s life and the church’s practice.
Along with this view is the clear implication that if the Bible is not true, or if it is manipulated, then the entirety of the Christian faith falls apart. While the existential work of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection are the rockbed of Christianity, the truth of which would not be diminished if the Bible did not exist, the testimony to this historical reality is absolutely crucial for the work of Christ to benefit us. The only way for us to know God is for God to reveal himself to us. He does so through the person of Christ and the Scriptures.
Without the Scriptures, we would have no ground to stand on, and truly, we would have nothing to say, and our faith would be non-existent. But because we believe God has clearly spoken in the Bible, we cannot keep quiet. The ultimate question for all Christians is this: Can you trust the Bible?
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, reformer John Calvin once wrote, “So far as human reason goes, sufficiently firm proofs are at hand to establish the credibility of Scripture.” He proceeded to give thirteen reasons the Scriptures are worthy of our full trust and devotion. Hopefully this summation of his discussion will help give you greater confidence in the message of the Book you will read and share this week.
1. The Superiority of the Message
Calvin stated, “Scripture is superior to all human wisdom.” According to Calvin, Scripture is uniquely majestic and impressive. Contrary to popular criticisms, the Bible is not contradictory, which makes its unifying message both awe-inspiring and divine. The “heavenly” nature of Scripture is found in the fact that over the course of thousands of years, through various cultures, and from the pens of a great variety of men, the Bible carries a unifying message and theme. This is simply amazing.
Calvin marvels at the fact that though the language of Scripture is plain enough to be understood by all, its majesty is found in the “grandeur of subjects,” not language. In other words, we do not stand in awe of Scripture because it possesses the literary eloquence of a Victorian novel, but because “the force of the truth of Sacred Scripture is manifestly too powerful to need the art of words.”
2. The Decisive Content of Scripture
Calvin admits that great portions of Scripture, especially the prophets, possessed an eloquence of speaking that “yields nothing to secular writers.” But, no matter the style, whether beautiful poetry or rugged prophecy, the “majesty of the Spirit will be evident everywhere.”
3. The Great Antiquity of Scripture
The message of the Bible extends backward of some thousands of years. It is no mere coincidence that the message of Scripture has been passed down so many years. We are well to marvel at such antiquity.
4. The Truthfulness of Scripture (as shown by Moses)
Calvin argues that Moses is a great example of the truthfulness of Scripture due to how personally involved he was in his writings in the Pentateuch. For example, the best way for Moses to leave a personal legacy would be for him to establish the priesthood from his sons. But he doesn’t do this. The priesthood is established through Aaron. Why? Because that was the word of the Lord.
5. & 6. The Strengthening Nature of Miracles
There are numerous miracles recorded in Scripture. We often take them for granted. But for Calvin, they serve as a source to strengthen Scripture’s own claim to inerrancy. Moses and other writers would have a lot of nerve to testify to a miracle that didn’t happen to those who would know whether or not the event was true or not. For people who came out against Moses so often, testifying to a false miracle would have definitely incurred the wrath of Israel.
7. & 8. The Fulfillment of Prophecies
Calvin also argues that it is hard to argue against something that existentially proves itself to be valid and true. This is especially true when the fulfilled prophecy is contrary to what Calvin calls “human expectation.” He asks, “When David was anointed by Samuel, what visible reason was there for the transference of the kingly power?” None of us would naturally assume that lowly David would be not just the next king, but the king from who the ultimate King would come. However, this is the testimony of Scripture, and when such un-expectations are fulfilled, we must marvel at its reliability.
9. The Transmission of the Law
Similar to his argument from antiquity, Calvin finds tremendous support for the reliability of Scripture in the fact that it was continuously passed down. We must never neglect texts that survive thousands of years. And when texts have been preserved thousands of years and continuously held as authoritative and divine, we would do well to take notice and find reason for reliability.
10. The Preservation of the Law and Prophets
Piggy-backing on his point on transmission, Calvin shows why these texts have survived for millennia. The Scriptures have survived numerous attempts to stomp out Christianity and its sacred writings. This is not an accident, as it is evidence for God’s hand in the preservation of his word. The Scriptures have survived ungodly monarchies, invasions, exiles, dictators, and various persecutions. With Calvin, we should “ponder here how much care the Lord has taken to preserve his Word.”
11. The Character of the New Testament
Calvin says that the New Testament is both simple and heavenly in its character. Calvin claps a thunderbolt of argumentation down on critics of the Scriptures. He essentially says that you cannot honestly come away from the New Testament, particularly John, Paul, and Peter, and deny its heavenly nature. He strongly declares with maybe not-so-convictional-kindness, “Let these dogs deny that the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles; or even let them discredit history. Yet the truth cries out openly that these men who, previously contemptible among common folk, suddenly began to discourse so gloriously of the heavenly mysteries must have been instructed by the Spirit.
12. The Unvarying Testimony of the Church
While the consensus testimony of a body like the Church should not be the primary defense for the reliability for a doctrine, it should definitely not be ignored. Calvin writes, “Since the publication of Scripture, age after age agreed to obey it steadfastly and harmoniously. By countless wondrous means Satan with the whole world has tried either to oppress it or overturn it, to obscure and obliterate it utterly from the memory of men–yet, like the palm, it has risen ever higher and has remained unassailable.”
A bombardment of human arguments against the reliability of Scripture has hit the church, yet it stands firm in its 2,000 year submission to the Bible. The church has remained uninhibited. The church stretches across both time and cultures, but all hold to the supremacy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture. In the words of Calvin, “Such agreement of minds, so disparate and otherwise disagreeing in everything among themselves, ought to move us greatly, since it is clear that this agreement is brought about by nothing else than the divine will.”
13. The Testimony of the Martyrs’ Blood
Calvin’s final reason for the reliability of Scripture is that it is soaked with the blood of martyrs. He writes, “It is no moderate approbation of Scripture that it has been sealed by the blood of so many witnesses, especially when we reflect that they died to render testimony to the faith; not with fanatic excess, but with a firm and constant, yet sober, zeal toward God.” Pascal’s words are apropos: “I believe the witnesses that get their throats cut.” It is one thing to claim to believe a text is inerrant and inspired by God. It is quite another to die for said belief. Countless men and women throughout the history of the church have given and lost their lives for the Scriptures. Though not the primary reason for the Bible’s reliability, it is worth recognizing that people do not intentionally lose their lives for falsehoods. People have been losing their lives for the Bible since the beginning of the church.
Even with these reasons and many more that could accompany them for the reliability of Scripture, I cannot emphasize enough that these facts will not grant you a saving knowledge of God. In the words of Calvin, “yet of themselves these are not strong enough to provide a firm faith, until our Heavenly Father, revealing his majesty there, lifts reverence for Scripture beyond the realm of controversy.” So, if you struggle to trust the Bible or have friends who hesitate to embrace Christ because of doubts over Scripture, you can reason for Scripture’s reliability, but ultimately we must rely on God’s grace to grant true saving faith and confidence in the Bible.
Take courage in your evangelism and defense of Scripture, because as Calvin reminds us, “But those who wish to prove to unbelievers that Scripture is the Word of God are acting foolishly, for only by faith can this be known.”
Mathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba.