I’m not the sort of person who enjoys crouching underneath picnic tables.
On this particular afternoon, however, my family and I were enjoying lunch in a beautiful park when my wife suddenly yelled, “Get down!” and dived beneath the table. She spoke and moved with such authority that we all followed suit.
“Why in the world did you do that?” we asked her.
“A man is pointing a gun at us,” she said.
I looked and saw a man pointing a long-lensed camera in our direction. He’d been trying to take our picture.
Some time after this, on a drive in the mountains, we passed a young boy burning trash beside his house. “Turn around,” my wife said, “That boy is in trouble!”
“Sure,” I muttered, “and the man in the park was going to shoot us, too.”
But I turned the car around and drove back just in time to see the boy run out of the house with his arms full of blankets.
“Please help!” he yelled. We grabbed blankets and worked feverishly to smother the fire.
“Thank you,” the boy told us after the fire had been extinguished.
“Without your help, there’s no way I could have saved both the house and the forest.”
Sometimes my wife is right; sometimes she’s wrong. It seems that’s true of every human authority—parents, government, the church. Are there any exceptions? Is there any truly trustworthy authority?
Many Christians believe the Bible to be just such an authority. They look to it for counsel, comfort, and meaning. They see it as the one sure source of guidance in a perplexing, confusing, and ever-changing world. However, many other people wonder whether such an ancient book can speak to our postmodern world.
“It’s a good Book,” they say, “but you can’t take it too seriously.” Should we take the Bible seriously? Can we trust it all the time?
What does the Bible claim itself? The apostle Paul wrote to the young minister Timothy, “The holy Scriptures … 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” (2 Timothy 3:15, 16).
The Bible, Paul wrote, “is God-breathed.” We would say “inspired.”
This means that the Bible is not just a collection of merely human opinions. No, Paul claims that God actually spoke through human beings—that He watched over them so that what they wrote would be a faithful representation of what He wanted to say to us. That’s quite a claim.
Paul also said, “[It] is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training.” The Bible, in other words, gives us practical advice on how we should live. It reveals the kind of lifestyle that God knows is best for us.
And Paul said that Scripture is “able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” If there’s something you need to know in order to be saved, it’s in the Bible. Nothing important, nothing vital, has been left out.
If it’s something that claims to be inspired by God, a sure guide to the good life and is all you need to know in order to be saved, then you can’t say, “It’s a good book, but not something you should take seriously.” If the Bible’s claims are true, then it is something we should take seriously. But if its claims are not true, then it’s hardly a good Book. To the contrary, if the Bible isn’t what it claims to be, it’s downright dangerous.
So, how can we tell whether the Bible is what it claims to be? We can hardly look for the kind of proof that comes from a test tube when we’re dealing with matters of salvation and eternal life. What kind of experiment could we set up that would answer this question? Where, then, do we look for evidence?
There are non—biblical witnesses to the truth of Scripture. Archaeology, for instance, confirms the basic outlines of biblical history. Look up the word “Hittite” in the 1860 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica and you’ll find only a few lines, which say that they were a legendary people mentioned only in the Bible. But when scholars learned to read Egyptian hieroglyphics, they found a whole new world of documents that repeatedly mentioned the Hittites. Archaeology has proven that the Hittites existed—just as the Bible said they did. It has confirmed the basic contours of the Bible story.
Still more evidence of the Bible’s reliability comes from its fulfilled prophecies. Jesus, for example, told His disciples about the destruction of Jerusalem many years before it occurred (see Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). This and many other fulfilled prophecies provide another reason why believers through the ages have trusted the Scriptures.
Yet external matters such as archaeology and prophecy cannot really prove the Bible’s claims to be true. The Bible, after all, claims to be more than accurate history. It claims to do more than predict the future. The Bible claims to be able to make us wise for salvation. How could we ever prove such a claim in the scientific way of proving things?
For the Bible, the proof must be in experience. Human lives are the only experiment that can actually test the claims of Scripture. There are two ways this test can work. One is to see the effects of the Bible’s message in the lives of others.
I think of a man who was literally a drunk in the gutter. One night he staggered into a meeting where the Word of God was being preached. Hearing that Word gave him a new vision for his life. It put him in touch with a new source of power. He is now the pastor of a large church.
However, while the experience of others may be enough to arouse our interest, only our own personal experience can really convince us of the Scripture’s truth. Only as we come to the Bible, understand its message and take it into our hearts can we tell whether it’s true. Only then can we know whether there is really a God of grace. Only then can we know if this God can give us meaning, hope and confidence. The ultimate proof that the Bible is what it claims to be, you see, can never come secondhand.
That’s why you must try this experiment yourself. Read the Bible—the story of Jesus in Mark, for instance. Pray that God will speak to you. “Listen” while you read. Then and only then will you find that even though every earthly authority is wrong at least part of the time, when it comes to the most important issues of life—meaning, purpose, salvation, and destiny—you really can trust the Bible, and the God who stands behind it.
This article originally appeared on Signs of the Times magazine, January, 2010.