Why Trust an Ancient Book?

Why trust a book? One might trust a person, or a group, but a book? Especially one that was written between 3500 and 2000 years ago. And isn’t even really a book, but rather a collection of writings by over 40 different authors (most of whom didn’t know each other), in three languages, in cultures much different from mine. 

But many do. The book is the Bible and a large number of people trust it completely.

What does it mean to “trust” the Bible? For several it means to believe that what it says is not only the words of the human authors but also, in a wonderful way, the Word of God; to study it diligently using the best tools of modern scholarship; to find its core teachings and universal truths; and to base our lives on its teachings.

Now, why would anyone do such a thing: “trust” the writings in an ancient book?

Three reasons:

First of all, because the writings in the Bible are based in history, in reality. They are not just disembodied myths and legends.

Take the reality of Jesus, for instance. There are a number of references to him from extra-biblical, non-Christian sources writing around the time of Jesus and the early Church. If we didn’t have the Bible at all, we would still know from other sources that: Jesus existed (Tacitus, Josephus, Pliny, and others); he was executed in Judea during the period when Tiberius was Emperor (A.D. 14-37) and Pontius Pilate was governor (A.D. 26-36) (Tacitus); his movement spread from Judea to Rome (Tacitus); his followers worshipped him as (a) god (Pliny); he was called “the Christ” (Josephus); his followers were called “Christians” (Tacitus, Pliny); and his brother was James (Josephus). 

Of course, we do have the New Testament, which fills in the rest of the story about Jesus: his birth, his life, his miracles and teachings, his death and resurrection, and the meaning of all of those events. And this from eyewitnesses like John and Matthew and people who were mentored by eyewitnesses such as Mark and Luke. 

Most scholars, even critical ones, agree that the four Gospels were written, based on eyewitness accounts plus oral tradition, within 30 and at the most 60 years of Jesus’ death. Does that sound like a long time?  I remember vividly an event that happened over 50 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1963: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  I was 14 years old at the time. And I can still tell you every single detail of that weekend, where I was, when it was, how I responded, etc. I can tell you about the shooting on Friday afternoon, the shock that night and the next day, the assassination of the suspected shooter Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby on Sunday morning, the funeral on Monday with the riderless horse, the brave and beautiful First Lady in her black mourning dress, etc. I’ll never, ever forget it.   (Anyone who was 10 years old or older on Sept. 11, 2001 will likely have similar life-long memories of the details from that fateful day).

So if the events of a shooting in Dallas over 50 years ago are seared into my brain, how much more would the memory of spending three years with a great teacher and healer who slowly revealed himself to be God incarnate, who died and rose again, be seared into the brains of the Gospel writers.  And there were enough contemporaries still alive to make sure that they didn’t make all that stuff up.

The second reason I trust the Bible is more personal, and thus I suppose more subjective. But it’s an irrefutable fact of my life that when I read the Bible I sense that there is more than the “voice” of the human author speaking to me, but also the voice of God. I sense the presence of God with me, speaking to me, as I read and study.  That makes the Bible different from other literature that I read, even great literature. And it’s not just me. Millions of people of every nationality, ethnicity, tribe, and tongue over the past 2000 years have said the same thing about their experience of reading the Bible.

But the fact that the Bible is based in historical reality, and the fact that I have experienced God speaking to me and working in my life as I studied and obeyed the Bible, are not the main reasons why I trust it. I trust the Bible because I am a follower of Jesus.

I became a full follower of Jesus towards the end of my freshman year in college, almost 50 years ago. Since then He has proven to be my savior, my Lord, my commander, my friend, my example, my helper, my kicker-in-the-butt, my comforter, my everything. As his follower, I want to have the same opinions, the same beliefs, that he had. And he trusted the Bible. He believed that the Old Testament was true, as he said on numerous occasions (i.e. Matt. 5:17-19).  He fulfilled it, he lived it out, and he even reinterpreted it in the Sermon on the Mount to go deeper into its real meaning.  And, speaking through his Apostle Paul, he talked about how the Bible, the Scripture, is “breathed” by God and useful for many wonderful things (II Tim. 3:16). So Jesus, the incarnate Word, the living Word, affirmed the written Word. 

And, finally, I believe the Bible because I believe in Jesus. Yes, there is historical foundation for the truth of the Bible. Yes, millions and millions of people of every race and tongue over the past 2000 years, including me, have affirmed the Bible as the Word of God and claimed that God spoke to us in it. But the most compelling reason for me to trust the Bible is because I am a follower of Jesus, and He trusted it. And when I read it and study it, I meet Him.  That’s the best thing in life.

If you would like to pursue this further, find and join a Bible study group on your campus, a group that believes the Bible but studies it objectively and is open to questions and discussions.