The Bible is the best-selling book of all time. A staggering 100 million copies are printed every year, and it is estimated that worldwide there are nearly 8 billion in print. The text of the Bible has been published in 450 different languages, the New Testament portion in 1,400 languages, and the Gospel of Mark in 2,370 languages. And these figures do not include the many digital versions of the Bible that millions of people view online. Clearly this is a book that people are interested in—and their fascination only seems to keep growing.
The Bible is a book that makes big claims and promises. It says it is a message from God—a revelation of the kind mentioned previously, telling us of himself and his purposes for us. And it declares that it has enduring value and relevance, as explained in Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”
It has been called an owner’s manual for people—a book written through the inspiration of our Maker as a guide to help us live in a way that honors him and that works out for our own good as well. Second Timothy 3:16 explains, “All Scripture is ... useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”
The problem is that there are a number of other religious books also claiming to be inspired by God. What sets the Bible apart, giving us confidence that it really is what it claims to be—God’s revelation—and that it alone best “corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right”?
Much could be said in answer to that question, but here’s a brief summary of some of the Bible’s unique attributes:
Even though it was written over a span of one-and-a-half millennia by more than forty authors, in several different languages, and addressing hundreds of topics, it displays an uncanny uniformity in its message. This degree of consistency is hard enough to achieve within a single book by a lone author—but when you add the complexity of multiple writers, from multiple countries, in multiple languages, over multiple centuries, dealing with multiple problems and situations, the Bible’s incredible cohesion and unified message are nothing short of astounding.
The Old Testament record of God’s activity in the world and among his people has been substantiated over and over by secular history and archaeological discoveries.
The accounts in the Bible, and particularly those in the New Testament, are based primarily on direct, eyewitness testimony. As the apostle John wrote, “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” (1 John 1:1). Other parts were compiled by writers who interacted with the actual eyewitnesses.
This includes careful and conscientious historians like Luke, who made a point of explaining his research methodology at the beginning of his biography of Jesus: “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account . . . so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
In addition, the New Testament is confirmed at various points by early Jewish, Greek, and Roman historians, as well as second-generation disciples who affirmed its accuracy both in terms of authorship and content.
The typical non-biblical ancient writing has a very small number of surviving manuscript copies, and most of those date to hundreds of years after the original document was written.
A good example is Caesar’s Gallic Wars, of which we have only ten surviving manuscript copies, the earliest dating a full 1,000 years after the original was written. Another is the writings of Tacitus, of which we have a total of about twenty full or partial copies, with a time gap between the original writings and the earliest copies of 1,100 years. Yet these historical works are still considered to be essentially reliable.
That being the case, when you consider that for the New Testament we have 5,700 manuscript or partial manuscript copies in Greek alone (and about 20,000 more in other languages), and the earliest fragment goes back to within a few decades of the original writing, you begin to understand that there is simply no comparison between it and other works of antiquity—and that the Bible we read today is an accurate copy of the original writings.
Literally thousands of details in the Bible, including references to specific people, places, and events, have been proved accurate through modern archaeological excavations and study.
Sir William M. Ramsay of Oxford University, one of the great archaeologists of the last century, started out as a staunch skeptic, doubting many of the details recorded in the New Testament. Specifically, he thought Luke was foolish in his storytelling because he named so many specific names, locations, and dates. These specifics would be easy to check out and refute—assuming, as Ramsay did at the beginning, that they were not actually true. But over his thirty years of study, research, and excavation, Ramsay increasingly realized that Luke’s writings in both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were accurate records
of the events and details they reported. He later summarized his findings in this way: “Luke is a historian of the first rank...This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
Also, renowned archaeologist Nelson Glueck, who was once featured on the cover of Time Magazine because of his extraordinary work, concluded, “No archaeological discovery has ever controverted a single biblical reference.” No other “holy book” outside of the Bible has ever earned such overwhelming support and affirmation—or given us so many reasons to be confident in its integrity as we read.
The Bible gives powerful evidence that it was supernaturally inspired through numerous detailed prophecies that were recorded earlier and then fulfilled to the letter centuries later; through its record of miracles done by a number of Old Testament prophets as well as New Testament apostles—and especially by Jesus himself (including those performed in the presence of skeptics and opponents who never disputed their authenticity).
There is also its clear “ring of truth” that countless readers have affirmed over the centuries. They report that as they read the Bible, it speaks to the exact thing they’re going through—making them feel like God is talking directly to them.
It’s an interesting observation, given that the Bible says in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Also, Jesus told us in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
The truths written in the Bible, when accepted and lived out by ordinary people, have impacted millions of lives throughout the millennia—mine being one of them.
In addition, almost all major advances in Western civilization have come about because people read, believed, and acted upon the Bible’s message.
Its positive influence is unrivaled in human history. Great social movements such as the abolition of slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, sanctity of life, care for the poor, and the rule of law instead of dictatorial tyranny have been energized by those steeped in biblical teaching.
These are just a few of the countless reasons we can trust the Bible's accuracy as a reliable source of wisdom and truth for our lives today.
Mark Mittelberg is a bestselling author, speaker, outreach strategist, and the Executive Director of The Center for American Evangelism, in partnership with Houston Baptist University. He is the bestselling author of multiple books, including Becoming a Contagious Christian with Lee Strobel and Bill Hybels. All together, his published pieces have sold a combined total of nearly three million copies. Mark and his wife Heidi have two grown children, and live near Denver, Colorado. You can connect with him on twitter.
Editor's note: Mark will be speaking with us for our IGNITE Tour in 2016 in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth, Texas. More details to come in coming weeks.