One of the Bible's most striking features is that it plainly claims to be the inspired word of an Almighty God. We see this in the words of the Apostle Paul, a highly educated Hebrew who wrote, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16). The Apostle Peter wrote that the content of Scripture "never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). To early Church leaders, "inspiration was not an ecstatic overpowering of the writer's consciousness, but rather a high degree of illumination and calm awareness of God's revelation… extending to every word of Scripture" (The Origin of the Bible, Bruce, et al., p. 38). Scripture indicates, and the early Church recognized, that God inspired the biblical writers to use their own minds and their own styles to write what God wanted them to write.
The Bible describes the process of divine inspiration in the way God worked with Moses, "And God spoke all these words… And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord… when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book… Moses commanded the Levites… Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant" (Exodus 20:1; 24:4; Deuteronomy 31:24–26). Centuries later, Ezra and Nehemiah read to the people of Israel from the "Book of the Law of Moses," which was also called "the Book of the Law of God" (Nehemiah 8:1, 18). Jesus acknowledged its divine inspiration when He said, "have you not read in the book of Moses… how God spoke to him" (Mark 12:26). The prophet Jeremiah recorded a similar experience: "The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 'Thus speaks the Lord God of Israel, saying: Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you" (Jeremiah 30:1–2). The phrase, "Thus says the Lord" is used more than 350 times in the Old Testament, clearly implying that the words of Scripture came from God.
As we will see, other religious books may claim divine inspiration like the Bible, yet they lack the specific characteristics that confirm the Bible's authenticity.
Not only does the Bible claim to be divinely inspired, it claims to be the ultimate source of truth, revealed by the one true God. The Apostle John wrote, "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17, KJV). David wrote, "Your law is truth… all Your commandments are truth... The entirety of Your word is truth" (Psalm 119:142, 151, 160). The prophet Isaiah asserted, "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). Isaiah meant that if statements and ideas do not agree with Scripture, we can recognize them as false. The Apostle Paul also calls Scripture "the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
These statements stand in marked contrast to the uncertain words spoken by Pontius Pilate, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). Today, many skeptics and cynics share Pilate's question. Yet the Bible's bold claims show that its writers clearly believed that the words they recorded were absolutely true and inspired by a wise and all-powerful God (see Genesis 17:1; Psalm 86:10; Jude 1:25). What is truth? You need to prove that for yourself!
The Bible repeatedly emphasizes, "the Lord is the true God" (Jeremiah 10:10; see also John 17:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 John 5:20). Scripture records that when the ancient Egyptian priests saw the miracles announced by Moses, and saw their own gods powerless, they concluded: "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:16–19). Daniel records that Nebuchadnezzar, pagan king of Babylon, came to the same conclusion after encountering the God of the Bible: "Truly, your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets" (Daniel 2:47). The Bible records that the Apostle Paul, distressed at seeing Athens "given over to idols," taught superstitious Greek philosophers about the true God (Acts 17:16–34). For more information about the true God of the Bible, request our free booklet, The Real God: Proofs and Promises.
The Bible's clear and unambiguous message is that Scripture is the inspired word of a real God, and is the ultimate source of truth! This is difficult for many today to believe, because we live in a skeptical age where even so-called biblical scholars doubt that the Bible really is God's word. However, the Bible's bold claim that it is the inspired word of an all-powerful God, and is true in its entirety, can be verified in the records of history and the discoveries of archaeology. The evidence is there for anyone willing to look!
Critics Challenge the Bible
Scripture boldly asserts that "the word of our God stands forever" and "the word of the Lord endures forever" (Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25). King David wrote, "His truth endures to all generations" (Psalm 100:5). Yet, down through the centuries, antagonists and critics have tried to undermine, disparage, defy and destroy Scripture, and even mock the God of the Bible. The Bible warns, "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked" (Galatians 6:7). The Old Testament records that during the Assyrian invasion of Judah (ca. 700bc), Sennacherib, a pagan Assyrian king, mocked the God of Israel before king Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:9–19). Shortly thereafter, "the Lord sent an angel who cut down every mighty man of valor… in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he [Sennacherib] returned shamefaced to his own land. And when he had gone into the temple of his god, some of his own offspring struck him down with the sword there" (2 Chronicles 32:21–22).
Historical records confirm that Sennacherib did not conquer Jerusalem, and that his own sons killed him. Secular history does not explain why this occurred. However, the Bible reveals that dire consequences can arise when doubters and critics mock the real God! Next to the exodus from Egypt, this is one of God's most dramatic interventions in Israel's history, and the facts of secular history support the biblical record. Incidentally, the Greek historian Herodotus relates that Sennacherib also suffered an embarrassing setback, with supernatural overtones, when his army invaded Egypt and a swarm of field mice chewed up their weapons, causing him to flee from the field near Pelusium with heavy losses (The Histories, 2:141). This truth of Scripture—that God will not be mocked—stands confirmed.
In the century after the apostles, historical sources confirm that Celsus, an articulate pagan philosopher, created a major stir when he wrote a blistering attack against the Bible and Christianity. Celsus wrote that biblical teachings were "absurd," that the gospel accounts were "a deception" and that anyone who believed in one God was "deluded" (Is the Bible True?, Sheler, p. 9). The Bible survived, and Christianity spread around the world, but few people today have even heard of Celsus! Modern biblical critics who have resurrected Celsus' ideas should remember that his attack on Scripture was answered by an early religious scholar named Origen, whose eight-volume Against Celsus gave a point-by-point rebuttal in defense of the Bible.
At the beginning of the 4th century, the Roman emperor Diocletian sought to wipe out the Christian religion. He unleashed a terrible persecution of Christians, and commanded that all Bibles be burned. However, within a few short years a new emperor (Constantine) actually ordered the production of 50 Bibles! During the Middle Ages (ca. 500–1500ad), scholars influenced by pagan philosophy taught that scriptural accounts were merely allegories and should not be taken literally. Their allegorical approach assumed that Bible passages hid a deeper meaning, making the literal meaning unimportant. The Bible survived, but this way of thinking also survives today in many theological schools. The allegorical approach is a very subtle way of undermining the Bible's clear message, because it ignores what the Bible actually says.
Secular scholars in the 18th century became enthralled by the apparent power of human reason and the new discoveries of science. Regarding human reason as the ultimate authority, and armed with a bias against the supernatural, these critics began to offer speculative theories about the Bible's supposed origins, apparent contradictions and assumed errors. However, the assumptions and speculations of these critics have not stood the test of time. In fact, some of their bold pronouncements now appear extremely presumptuous and naïve. Toward the end of the 18th century, the French philosopher Voltaire predicted that Christianity would be swept from existence within a century. Yet, 50 years after he died, the Geneva Bible Society produced stacks of Bibles in Voltaire's house on his own press (The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, McDowell, p. 10). The facts of history and the discoveries of archaeology make it plain: secular critics' ill-founded pronouncements and theories are intellectual castles built on hot air.
Evidence from Archaeology
Over the last 200 years, the rise of biblical criticism spawned many confident assertions by scholars who doubted the inspiration of Scripture. Skeptics at first claimed that since there was no evidence outside the Bible of various people and places mentioned in the Bible, the writers of Scripture must have invented them. This approach found fertile ground in "progressive" schools of theology, and in secular academic circles. The press and media fed these ideas to society, furthering doubts about the Bible's credibility. This doubt and skepticism persists today, even though ongoing archaeological discoveries continue to validate the Bible's historical accuracy, and discredit the skeptics' assumptions!
As recently as 1992, some scholars were confidently asserting, "There are no literary criteria for believing David to be more historical than Joshua, Joshua more historical than Abraham, and Abraham more historical than Adam" (see "House of David Built on Sand," Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1994, pp. 54–55). Yet, just one year later, archaeologists digging in upper Galilee discovered a 9th century bc inscription about the "house of David." Jeffrey Sheler, an award-winning journalist and a religion writer for U.S. News & World Report, wrote: "The fragmentary reference to David was a historical bombshell. Never before had the familiar name of Judah's ancient warrior king… been found in the records of antiquity outside the pages of the Bible" (Is the Bible True?, p. 60).
For decades, critics viewed the biblical story of David and Goliath as a fanciful tale of religious fiction. Yet, recently, "archaeologists digging at the purported biblical home of Goliath [Gath, see 1 Samuel 17:4] have unearthed a shard of pottery bearing an inscription of the Philistine's name, a find they claimed lends historical credence to the Bible's tale of David's battle with the giant" (The London Times, November 13, 2005). This is the oldest Philistine inscription ever discovered, dated to 950bc—within 70 years of the biblical narrative.
Doubting scholars for years assumed that "there were no Hittites at the time of Abraham, as there were no records of their existence apart from the Old Testament. They must be a myth" (McDowell, p. 11). However, later "archaeological research… uncovered more than 1,200 years of Hittite civilization" (ibid.). In similar fashion, critics assumed that the biblical patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were fictional figures from Hebrew folklore. Yet cuneiform tablets discovered in the royal archives of the palace of Mari in northern Syria, dating from the start of the second millennium bc (the approximate time of the patriarchs) mention "such names as Abam-ram (Abraham), Jacob-el and Benjamites" (When Skeptics Ask, Geisler & Brooks, pp. 186–187). All these discoveries support the biblical record and refute the charges of critics.
Scholars skeptical of the Bible have noted the similarity between the Genesis creation account and Babylonian clay tablets describing the creation of the world. These scholars have glossed over major differences in the accounts, and suggested that biblical writers simply borrowed their material from other sources. However, the discovery of more that 17,000 clay tablets at Ebla (in modern Syria), dating from 2500bc, has overturned the critics' theories. The Ebla tablets (which predate the Babylonian creation epic by some 600 years) contain "the oldest known creation accounts outside the Bible… The creation tablet is strikingly close to that of Genesis, speaking of one being who created the heavens, moon, stars and earth. Parallels show that the Bible contains the older, less embellished version… They [the Ebla tablets] destroy the critical belief in the evolution of monotheism from supposed earlier polytheism" (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Geisler, p. 208).
There have been dozens of other remarkable discoveries. The Merneptah Stela describes an Egyptian pharaoh conquering Israel (ca. 1200bc). The Black Obelisk from Nimrud pictures Israelite king Jehu bowing before Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. An inscription near Jerusalem refers to "Joseph, son of Caiaphas" (Caiaphas was the high priest in Jerusalem at the time of Christ's crucifixion; see Matthew 26:57). An inscribed stone from first century Caesarea reads, "Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judea" (Pilate was the Roman governor at the time of Jesus' crucifixion; see Matthew 27:2). Such evidence, carved in stone, supports the conclusion that the Bible writers were recording facts and not fiction (see The Signature of God, Jeffrey, pp. 72–74; Is the Bible True?, Sheler, pp. 110–112).
The manner in which archaeology has verified the historical accuracy of the Bible has been nothing short of remarkable! As noted archaeologist Nelson Glueck has written, "it may be clearly stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a single biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible" (Rivers in the Desert, Glueck, p. 136). Glueck's comments echo the words of another prominent archaeologist, William F. Albright, who stated, "There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition… The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries… has been progressively discredited" (Evidence That Demands a Verdict, McDowell, vol. 1, p. 65). The evidence of history and archaeology defies the critics, and supports Scripture!