Because I work full-time at a secular job instead of full-time for a church, not everyone knows that I am a pastor. The people I work with can usually (hopefully) figure out I am a disciple of Jesus, but they often don’t figure out right away that my theology is fairly conservative. Even when people know that I am a conservative evangelical, they are still surprised to find out that I believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. They are mildly shocked to find out that someone who is well-educated and professionally successful at a very liberal technology company still believes in something that they consider to be uneducated and backward.
The usual response is for them to assume that I only believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture because I grew up in a traditional church and I graduated from a conservative Christian university and seminary. They believe that I am simply unaware of the arguments against the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture or that I have never really considered them. I generally have to explain to them that yes, I have heard all of the arguments and as part of my education I had to carefully consider and debate them.
However, because I consider everyone I speak with a potential disciple of Jesus, I find that explaining my belief in Scripture is a good way to break the ice about being a disciple of Jesus. If they are interested in knowing why I believe in the Bible, I give them the following argument about why I not only believe in the Christian God, but also why I believe that the Christian Bible has been inspired by Him and is His message to us and how it points to Jesus…
First, I believe in God simply because most humans act as if there is a God (and those who don’t we call psychopaths, sociopaths, criminals, and narcissists). Second, I believe in God due to the overwhelming wonder of creation. As Paul wrote:
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15)
What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
When I have asked myself in my darkest hours if I really believe in God, those are the two things that compel me to say Yes, I do.
The next question I have to ask myself is if I believe that God would communicate with the human beings that He created. Given the two reasons that I hold for believing in God, my answer is Yes, He would.
This is where the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture become important. When considering if God has communicated with human beings beyond the wonder of creation and the law written on our hearts, I have to consider all of the people throughout human history who claimed to have spoken for God. I have to ask myself if what they said and/or wrote aligns with what I observe to be true about God and humanity.
Ultimately, I believe that the Christian Bible gives the best representation of who humans really are and who we believe God to be. Only the Bible presents mankind as having been created for greater things which we desire but are unable to attain. Only the Bible presents God as the perfect and good God that we know He should be, but also as the Holy God in whose presence we are unable to stand because of our disobedience. Only the Bible presents God as the author of everything that is good and right in creation, and also explains why humans and creation fall short of the perfection for which we long and expect. Moreover, the Christian Bible alone reveals God’s plan to recreate both creation and mankind back into the perfect state in which He originally created them.
But there is something else in Christian scripture that convinces me that it is God’s message to humanity: Jesus, the person at the center of it all.
Most religions have a messianic figure or prophet(s) who claim to speak for God. Christianity is unique in that Jesus not only claimed to speak for God, He claimed to be God. This is perhaps the most important information that Scripture contains and why inerrancy and inspiration are so important. If Scripture is not inspired and inerrant, then the claim that Jesus is God in human flesh and has come to rescue, redeem, and recreate humanity is spurious.
Interestingly, Paul states that teaching this truth is one of the main purposes of Scripture. He wrote to Timothy:
You have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17)
Scripture doesn’t just reveal to us who God is and who we are, it has the purpose of being our guidebook as we are recreated into the image of God through being conformed to the image of Jesus (for more information on this concept, download the free ebook here or order the full-length book, Recreated to Be Like God here). The Holy Spirit is given as our guide and comforter through the process (John 16:15-26) but He has already recorded for us all of the instructions and information that we need during the process. Peter wrote:
No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (1 Peter 1:20-21)
Yes, it is circular reasoning to say that Scripture is inspired simply because it says it is inspired, and we should never use that argument. However, we can argue that Scripture makes the claim that it is inspired, and we can test that claim by measuring Scripture against what we can observe to be true about God and mankind, and by what Scripture reveals about Jesus.
This then raises the next question that I often hear about the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture: Even if the originals were inspired and inerrant, how can we know that we have an accurate representation of what was originally written?
If you get this far into a conversation and you are planning on having a longer, more worthwhile conversation with someone about the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, I would encourage you to do your homework and work out your presentation. Above all, be honest and don’t just throw out statements that you don’t necessarily know to be true. Here is a version of the presentation that I give.
The New Testament
I begin with the New Testament and explain that I am doing so because my belief in Scripture ultimately hinges on Jesus, and the New Testament is the record of Jesus and His first century followers. The first misconception that people often have is that the New Testament was written in a vacuum. Written records of important events and people were common in the Greco-Roman world and therefore we would expect there to be a written record of Jesus by His followers. Moreover, Jesus and His followers are mentioned (albeit briefly) in the writings of a few contemporary non-Christian historians.
Additionally, many people mistakenly believe that the New Testament books were the only documents written by the early church. The New Testament books are simply the earliest documents written by the early church and the only ones held by the early church to be written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There is a continuous record of documents that pick up where the New Testament leaves off that quote, reference, and give credence to the books of the New Testament. And yes, there were also documents that were written pseudonymously and were rejected as such by the early church. The early church accepted the 27 books that we have in the New Testament as legitimate and inspired, and rejected the books that were questionable, and there is a historical record of the process.
It has become in vogue to question the legitimacy, date, and authorship (and therefore inspiration) of the accepted 27 books of the New Testament and to argue that the documents rejected by the early church carry equal or even greater weight. But stop and think about the ridiculousness of that argument for a minute. Modern scholars who are 2000 years removed from the facts are claiming to be better judges than the early church as to what the early church knew about the documents of the time. That makes absolutely no sense. The only logical conclusion is that the early church knew which writings were legitimate and which were questionable and sorted it all out in real time.
The next question that comes up is how we know that those 27 books weren’t changed (either accidentally or on purpose) over the last 2000 years. This is where it pays to be honest, because the answer is: yes, there were changes made either accidentally or on purpose at times in some copies of some books. However, those changes were small, insignificant, and were localized. The 27 books of the New Testament were so widely disseminated by the early church that if something was changed it only effected a minority of copies. Because we have so many old copies of the New Testament, we can identify unoriginal material because it is not found in all the copies. So yes, there were changes made and we know exactly what they were, and most modern translations clearly denote these discrepancies.
More importantly, any discrepancies do not affect the overall message of the New Testament. They are minor changes, and it can usually be explained as to how and why they happened. Interestingly, the presence of these minor variations in some copies is actual beneficial. They prove that the copying of the New Testament wasn’t a centralized process that could be controlled and therefore manipulated. The transmission and preservation of the New Testament was an independent decentralized effort that while it allowed minor copying errors and a few instances of purposeful changes to enter into a minority of copies, it also ensured that the majority of the message and the text was unadulterated and preserved.
These minor variations are one of the best arguments for the accuracy of the New Testament. If we can identify these changes, then we can also identify that most of the New Testament text hasn’t been changed. Overall, if the New Testament was transmitted the way we believe it was, then the copies we have are exactly what we would expect to see, and the sheer number of copies allow us to identify and track any changes that were introduced.
This is a good point in the conversation to introduce the Dead Sea Scrolls. These copies (and fragments) of Old Testament books were left in a cave around the time the New Testament books were being written and weren’t discovered until 1947. When the text of these copies was compared to modern copies of the Old Testament, they showed an overall consistency and only minor, inconsequential variations, which is exactly what you would expect to see if the Old Testament had been faithfully preserved and transmitted over the last 2000 years. The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that first century texts can and have been faithfully transmitted over 2000 years, and the known minor variations in the New Testament prove that there was not a central entity making major changes in the overall message and text.
At this point, I tell people that the only reason not to accept the New Testament as an accurate historical record by the purported original authors is that it contains supernatural events which modern audiences find unbelievable. If judged by the standard of all other historical records, the New Testament has far greater support for its accuracy. Therefore, the best explanation is that the authors of the New Testament really believed in what they were writing and that we have an accurate record of what they wrote and believed to be true. The only legitimate question is whether we accept the New Testament as inspired and true, not whether or not the original authors wrote it.
The Old Testament
Again, honesty is important. I admit that we do not have the same written historical record to back up the Old Testament that we have to back up the New Testament. The oldest books of the Old Testament were possibly written around 1450 BC and even though the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated that ancient documents can be preserved faithfully for longer than that amount of time, there is a great amount of debate over when the books of the Old Testament were written and if they have been edited.
However, my belief in the inerrancy and inspiration of the Old Testament depends primarily on my acceptance of the inerrancy and inspiration of the New Testament. Both 2 Timothy 3:15-17 and 1 Peter 1:19-21, which I quoted earlier, referred specifically to the Old Testament. Jesus taught the inspiration and inerrancy of the Old Testament in Matthew 5:17-19 and Luke 16:16-19.
Jesus also referred to the creation of Adam and Eve in Matthew 19:4-6; Noah, the flood, the Ark, and the days before the flood in Matthew 24:37-39; and Jonah in the belly of the whale in Matthew 12:39-41 (three of the most questionable stories in the Old Testament) as if they were real events and real people. Of course, there is the argument that Jesus was simply accommodating the beliefs of His audience and He knew that those events didn’t really happen. But if Jesus was truth incarnate as He claimed to be (John 14:6), why would He allow His audience and followers to believe something that He knew to be untrue when He expressly forbid using half-truths and stated that they come from Satan (Matthew 5:37)? Given the nature of Jesus, the most likely explanation is that He taught those stories as if they were true because He knew them to be true.
Not only did Jesus reference the Old Testament as if it were true, but there are also references throughout the New Testament to stories of the Old Testament (that we now consider unbelievable) as if they were true and as if important theological principles are supported by them. Again, the counter argument is that the authors of these stories believed them to be true and/or were accommodating the beliefs of their audience. But also again, the ultimate author of the New Testament is the Holy Spirit and just as Jesus wouldn’t have propagated half-truths as if they were true, neither would the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17, 15:26, 16:13; 1 John 4:6, 5:6). If the Holy Spirit and Jesus wanted us to know that the hard to believe stories of the Old Testament were just stories, then given His nature, He would have clarified them as such to His original audience.
Again, my acceptance of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Old Testament is based on my belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of the New Testament, which is in turn based on my faith in the divinity of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit. In other words, I don’t expect unbelievers to believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture just because I gave a logical argument as to why I believe them to be true. Moreover, I don’t expect them to suddenly believe in Jesus because I gave a good presentation on how Scripture could be true. But what I do want to do is remove disbelief in Scripture as an impediment to them considering the claims of Jesus. What I want to leave them with is the idea that if Jesus really was God incarnate come to rescue, redeem, and recreated fallen human beings, then it is also perfectly logical that Scripture is inerrant and inspired. I want them to walk away considering whether to become a disciple of Jesus.
Because rather than endlessly debating with an unbeliever about whether the Bible is true or not, I want to talk to them about the teachings of Jesus, who He was and why He came. If an unbeliever absolutely refuses to consider that the teachings of Scripture could be true, then I am probably wasting time arguing with them and I could better spend that time speaking to someone more open to Jesus.
Ultimately, I am not trying to simply convince people that the Bible is inerrant and inspired, nor am I trying to make a disciple of Scripture; I am attempting to make disciples of Jesus. But, to consider being a disciple of Jesus, the person is also going to have to consider the possibility that Scripture is God’s truthful, authoritative guidebook given to help them become more like Jesus.
I have seen the chaos of someone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus but also claims not to accept Scripture as inerrant and inspired. They are at best, “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” At worst, they are unbelievers looking to be associated with Jesus without being willing to take up their cross and abandon all in order to be His disciple. Ultimately, if we expect to make true disciples of Jesus, one of their earliest acts of submission to Jesus will always be submission to Scripture.
Join us April 26-27, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana for the 2023 NATIONAL DISCIPLE MAKING FORUM where the focus will be on The Word: Using Scripture in Discipling Relationships.