The Bible is like a telescope. If a man looks through his telescope, then he sees the worlds beyond; but if he looks at his telescope, then he does not see anything but that. The Bible is a thing to be looked through, to see that which is beyond; but most people only look at it; and so they see only the dead letter. - Phillips Brooks
The Bible as an Historical Document
Let's begin by looking at the Bible from a purely historical perspective. At this point, we do not consider that there is anything special or holy about this book, rather, we are interested in it in the same way that we would be interested in any ancient document. We want to know if it is reliable and if there any reason to think that the events it records could actually have happened.
From this study, we first conclude that there is good reason to think that the Bible has been preserved well over the years. What we have in our New Testament today, apart from being in English rather than the original Greek, is very close to the original work of the authors nearly twenty centuries ago. (Please see "Are The Gospels We Have Close the Originals?" for more details)
Furthermore, from our study of the Bible as an historical document, we can reach another conclusion. It was clearly not the author's intention to write fables or fiction. We cannot say for certain that they were telling the truth, but a study of their work leaves us with no doubt that they want us to believe what they are saying. Peter tells us "these are not myths", while John says "I saw...I touched...I heard...." The introduction to Luke's Gospel and the book of Acts make it clear that Luke intended to recount events as they happened. They do not expect us to see their work as fiction. (Please see "Were the Gospel Accounts Just Myths or Fables?" for more details)
Finally, we can conclude that the documents were written soon enough after the alleged events that it is possible for them to be factual. The first three Gospels were likely written less than 30 years after Christ's death, while some of Paul's letters were written quite a bit before that. Drafts and early copies of the documents were likely circulating before that, perhaps as soon as 20 years after Christ's death. We cannot dismiss the documents on the grounds that they were written too long after the events. It is possible for them to be accurate. (For details on this conclusion, please read "Could the Gospel Accounts Be Accurate?")
Please bear in mind, we are still a very long way from saying the Bible is inerrant and inspired. We are saying something much simpler, which is that the Bible we have today is very close to the originals, that the authors want us to see this work as factual and that by looking at the time line, it's possible for these accounts to be accurate. However, to reach a conclusion about the truth of the Gospel accounts, we have to look to outside evidence. The Bible cannot tell us is if the events really happened, and we cannot rule out the possibility that the authors were lying or mistaken.
Evidence Outside the Bible
There is sufficient evidence outside of the Bible for us to know with some certainty the events which took place after the death of Christ. We can verify the life and death of Christ, some of Paul's travels, the persecution and death of early Christians, the rise of Christianity in Rome and the subsequent attempts by the Emperor to stamp it out (Please see "Evidence of Jesus Outside the Bible" for details). We know that virtually all of Christ's apostles spent the rest of their lives committed to spreading the good news of the Gospel, and almost all of them were martyred. (Roman Catholic tradition holds that John was the only one of the twelve apostles who was not martyred. The Romans tried many ways to kill him and were not successful.)
If the resurrection of Christ did not happen, the apostles would be the only ones who could know with any certainty. If it was a hoax, it was the apostles who perpetrated it. If it was a lie, it was the apostles who created it. Conversely, if the resurrection really happened, then it was the apostles who first watched Him die, rise again and then walk in their midst for forty days. There can be little doubt that these twelve men knew for certain whether Christ rose again or He did not. Yet, we know that each and every one of them spent their entire lives and indeed even gave their lives in order to spread the news of Jesus Christ.
Looking ahead further, we know that for the next century after Jesus' death, Christians would continue to believe in the risen Christ despite the fact that it would very likely result in death. One hundred years is a short enough time that early Christians would have had an opportunity to at least meet one of the hundreds of people who had personally walked and talked with the risen Lord. The testimony of those early Christians, those who knew the fact of the resurrection for truth or a lie, was so persuasive that it would convince people to risk their very lives. Their testimony would endure for two thousand years and affect over a billion lives. Could it all have been a lie? (Please see "Did Jesus Christ Really Rise from The Dead?" for more details.)
At this point, we need to take a leap of some logic and some faith and decide between two alternatives. We must decide that the apostles lived and died for something they knew to be false, or we must decide that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
If you choose to believe that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then you may at this point close the book on Christianity and walk away, for there is nothing more it can offer you. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then it is all a lie and of no use to you whatsoever.
Implications of A Risen Christ
If Jesus did rise from the dead, then we must face the many implications of that fact. We must face the truth that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God, for none other than God could have performed such a miracle. Once we have arrived at this conclusion, it is just a small jump forward to say that God would want this incredible moment in history to be recorded faithfully and accurately. It seems reasonable that God would not go to all the effort of having Jesus come to earth, teach us and rise from the dead only to leave the documenting of that event in mortal hands. By faith, Christians believe that God worked through the authors to ensure that we have received all the important words that Jesus spoke.
Once we accept that Jesus Christ is the Son of God by examining the evidence both inside and outside the Bible, it seems only natural to accept at this point that the Bible is a very special book unlike any other is history, for it tells His story.
What about the Old Testament?
And so, through a mixture of investigation, induction and faith, we can arrive at the conclusion that what Jesus said and did is faithfully documented in the Gospels. But what of the rest of the Bible? It is too much of a jump in logic to believe that all of the Bible is accurate just because Jesus rose from the dead. We will need to approach from a different angle.
If we want to know anything about anything, including the truth of the rest of the Bible, we can take Jesus at His word, for surely we can trust the opinion of the Son Of God. One may raise the objection of circular reason, but we are beyond that now. It is no longer circular reasoning to use Jesus' words to determine these facts since we established His authority through a different route, not through the Bible itself. It is perfectly valid at this point to use the Bible to defend other parts of itself once we have already ascertained that the Gospels are accurate.
What did Jesus say about the Old Testament? It is interesting to note that on several occasions, Jesus made reference to those parts of the Bible with which people have the most difficulty or find least likely to be true. Jesus spoke factually about Adam in the Garden and Jonah in the belly of the great fish. Jesus spoke of Moses, Elijah and Noah as living people, not as literary characters. There is nothing in any of His words which suggests that Jesus thinks these events are allegorical or fictional. At one point, Jesus makes a parallel between Jonah and His resurrection, so it would seem that they are both true or both fables, for Jesus would not likely parallel something factual with something literary.
When quoting the old testament, never once does Jesus claim that anything written there is outdated or no longer in force. Jesus speaks of fulfilling prophecy and the law, not abolishing it. It is because the law has been fulfilled that we no longer practice circumcision or animal sacrifice, not because Jesus said those things were wrong. For example, in the wilderness when the Devil quotes old testament, rather than telling the Devil to "stop quoting that old-testament nonsense", Jesus defends himself by quoting the Old Testament, but does not take it out of context as the Devil does. Jesus does not say, "That stuff does not apply anymore," or "forget all those fables." Instead, Jesus explains that everything in the scripture is valid and that He has come to fulfill what what was written.
What About the Rest of the New Testament?
In one respect, Jesus put His stamp on the scripture which was to be written about Him after His death. John 14:26 says, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." In this way, Jesus was letting the apostles know that their future teaching and writing would not be their own, for the Holy Spirit would work through them to ensure Jesus' teaching was preserved. We also know that the apostles felt that their own writing was inspired and held the same authority as earlier, Old Testament Scripture, for Peter refers to Paul's letters as "scripture" using the same Greek word which is used to describe the sacred Jewish texts.
Not Just A Book
It took us a while to get here, but I hope that even if you do not agree with all the conclusions in this article, you will see that it is not just blind faith which underlies the Christian view of Scripture. Through a process of investigation, deduction and logic, we can reach a conclusion about who Jesus was. The conclusion of Jesus' divinity helps us to see that the Bible, which tells us the great miracle and good news of Jesus, is very special. If Jesus Christ is the Son of God, then surely his biography is much more than just a book.
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