The Bible is different from every other book, because God wrote it (2Tim 3:16-17). Since every word of it proceeded from the mouth of God, the Bible is without error in everything that it affirms (Matt 4:4). It speaks perfectly and reliably about its own divine origin, God’s work of creation, the events of world history, the accomplishments of the Cross, and the power of the risen Christ to save all who trust Him. Every word of it is “firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89, ESV).
Skeptics reject this claim, because they assume that the Bible must be subject to the higher authority of their own reasoning. The critic asks, “How do you know the Bible is true?” When the believer responds, “Because it is the Word of God,” he asks again, “But how do you know the Bible is the Word of God?” When the Christian answers, “Because it is true,” the critic pounces: “That’s circular reasoning! You’re assuming what you’re trying to prove.”
Unlike every other writing, however, the Bible remains unruffled by this ambush, because it is not a dead letter dependent on human reasoning for its validity. Instead, God’s Word is “living and active, [and] sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12, ESV). The Spirit of God Who wrote the Bible illuminates its meaning and proves its truths (2Peter 1:21; John 16:13). The Word of God is, thus, self-authenticating; it contains within itself the proof of its divine origin, and thus requires no additional proof.
Therefore, we don’t do apologetics because the authority of Scripture depends on it; it doesn’t. The self-authenticating Word of God is not subject to any higher authority. We do not use external sources to confirm the accuracy of the Bible; instead, we use the Bible to confirm the accuracy of external sources. The self-sustaining power of God’s Word makes it impervious to skeptical arguments; it breaks down unbelief before apologetic questions have even been answered. Despite their protests and denials, people intuitively recognize God’s voice when they hear it. Even when the preacher’s arguments stumble, God’s Word still breaks through to the coldest heart.
Then why explore apologetics? Because the Bible shows that it is helpful; it is neither necessary nor sufficient, but helpful. Peter’s message on Pentecost is a model of combining self-authenticating Scripture with historically verifiable facts about the miracles, the death, and the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:22-28). In His first letter, Peter later wrote, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1Peter 3:15, ESV). Paul reasoned from the Scriptures (e.g., Acts 17:2) and asserted to Felix that the gospel is a message of “true and rational words,” for the historical events behind it did not transpire in some obscure corner (Acts 26:26). Although the Bible looks after itself, apologetics intrigues and engages people who otherwise might not be open to the message. Tactically, we can clear initial stumbling blocks from the sinner’s path by showing him the accuracy of Scripture and the reasonableness of faith.
Marshalling evidence from history, archeology, and science makes a compelling case for the truthfulness of Scripture, and skillful arguments that destroy skeptical claims are a credit to the gospel. If we demonstrate that God’s Word is precisely true in thousands of historical details, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that its claims in non-verifiable matters are equally correct. But all the evidence and arguments together only raise the probability that the Bible is true to a very high degree. At the end of the day, the conviction that the Bible is absolutely true comes from the Bible itself: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17, ESV).
Christianity is a Historical Faith
The factual accuracy of the Biblical narrative is crucial, because the Christian faith is a historical faith; it records what God has done in history. Unlike other faiths, Christian doctrines depend on real historical events. Spiritual truths, which cannot be empirically verified, are yoked to physical truths, which can be empirically verified. For example, the doctrine of the impeccability of Christ depends on the fact of His virgin conception, and the doctrine of salvation depends on the fact of His death and resurrection. These events must have literally occurred for the doctrines to be true.
Much of what the Bible says can be tested—historically, geographically, scientifically—and the claims of Scripture always pass the test. Only divine inspiration can account for this incredible accuracy: “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18, KJV). The following examples give a taste of the vast cornucopia of historical evidence that validates the Bible’s accuracy.
The Hittites occupied the region of Anatolia (also known as Asia Minor—modern Turkey) as far back as the time of Abraham. According to Genesis 10, they were the descendants of Heth, son of Canaan, son of Ham, son of Noah (Gen 10:1-6). The Old Testament mentions the Hittites 46 times, and identifies them as adversaries of Israel. For generations, however, skeptics doubted the existence of the Hittites, because there was no record of them outside the Bible. Then in 1884 AD, the Irish missionary William Wright discovered their writings near modern Boghazkoi, Turkey, and in 1906, the German archaeologist Hugo Winckler identified local ruins as their ancient capital, Hattusa. Eventually, their language was deciphered from a trove of over 10,000 clay tablets. Today, the University of Chicago offers a doctorate in Hittite Studies.
David, the shepherd boy who first gained fame as a musician, and then as the giant slayer, became the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah (2Sam 5:1-3). He wrote many of the Psalms, and the prophetic literature portrays him as an ideal king and the ancestor of the coming Messiah. Yet many Bible critics regarded him as merely a figure of legend, and chose to dismiss several possible references to David on the stele (inscribed stone) set up by the Moabite king Mesha (848 BC), and another reference in the Shishak Temple (925 BC). In 1994, however, archeologists discovered the Tel Dan Stele in northern Galilee, a basalt slab that records the Syrian king Hazael’s boast, “I killed Joram son of Ahab, and Ahaziah, son of Jehoram, of the house of David” (see 2Kings 8:28-29). Elisha had predicted this, and had wept about it (2Kings 8:11-12). By mentioning eight kings in a tight historical setting, this stele places the historicity of David beyond any reasonable doubt. In 1995, Israeli archeologist Eilat Mazar excavated King David’s palace, guided by the Bible’s description (e.g. 2Sam 5:11).
Belshazzar was co-regent of Babylon with his father, King Nabonidus. On the last night of his life, Belshazzar hosted a debauched party in honor of “the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” He, with the other revelers, drank wine from the golden vessels of God’s house. Then the fingers of a human hand wrote his doom on the plaster of the wall, which Daniel interpreted. Belshazzar’s city fell to the Persians on that night in 539 BC, and he was executed. As part of their attack on the Book of Daniel, however, critics scoffed at the story and denied the existence of “Belshazzar.” Then in 1854 AD, archeologist Henry Rawlinson discovered an inscription in Iraq that named Belshazzar as the oldest son and co-regent of King Nabonidus, who frequently left Belshazzar in charge of Babylon while he traveled. This discovery also helped to clarify Daniel 5:29, which states Daniel was elevated to the “third highest ruler in the kingdom.” Belshazzar was not the actual king of Babylon, and thus was not named on the king lists. Instead, the Babylonian tablets describe him as the co-regent and son of Nabonidus—and Belshazzar was in charge of Babylon on that fateful night. Historical research again demonstrated the uncanny accuracy of the Bible.
Sir William Ramsay and the Acts
In the opening verses of his Gospel, Luke states his purpose and describes his methods of historical research. In this prologue, similar to other introductions found in ancient texts, Luke states that he accessed previous written accounts of Jesus’ life, recorded the testimony of eyewitnesses, and then took great care to organize all of this material into an orderly account so that a man named Theophilus might know the truth. Critics, however, long discounted Luke as a competent historian, and rejected much of what he recorded in the book of Luke and the Acts. They scoffed at his references to Lysanius as tetrarch of Abilene (Luke 3:1) and Sergius Paulus as proconsul of Cyprus (Acts 13:7), until excavations proved both claims to be true.
One such critic was Sir William Ramsay, FBA (1851–1939) a Scottish archeologist and New Testament scholar. By his death in 1939, he had become the foremost authority of his day on the history of Asia Minor, and a leading scholar in the study of the New Testament. Early in his career, Ramsay decided to discredit the Bible’s claims by showing that the book of Acts was historically inaccurate. After 30 years of archeological research in the Middle East, however, Ramsay found no historical or geographical mistakes in the book of Acts—a remarkable fact, since in Acts, Luke mentions 32 countries, 54 cities, nine Mediterranean islands, and 95 people by name. Ramsay came to the conclusion that “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy … this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians.”
“Further study … showed that the book [Acts] could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art, and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement”(The Bearing of Recent Discovery, p85). He continues, “I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there [in Acts]. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment…” (p89). When Ramsay turned his attention to Paul’s letters, many of which the critics dismissed as forgeries, he concluded that all thirteen New Testament letters that claimed to have been written by Paul were authentic.
Since Christian doctrine is rooted in history, the great Christian Document must be historically reliable. The Lord Jesus said in John 3:12, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (ESV). Paul reminded the Corinthians that over 500 eyewitnesses verified the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1Cor 15:5-8). Since these historical events have been confirmed, it is reasonable for us to believe the theological claim that hinges on these events: Christ died for our sins. Faith, then, is not leaping into the dark, but confidently standing in the light of verifiable history and in the illumination of reasonable truth: “The hope of eternal life, which God, Who never lies, promised before the ages began, and at the proper time manifested in His Word” (Titus 1:2-3, ESV).