I'll offer a survey of 6 arguments I have seen used to establish that the Bible is inspired. Subsequent to this, I'll offer my own evaluation of the merit of these arguments--if you'd like to derive your own conclusions, skip the "Evaluation" part of this post.
Many defend the Bible on the basis that so many of its historical claims have been validated by archeology. Sir William Ramsay did this specifically with the book of Acts and it transformed him from atheist to believer.
There are number of organizations, publications, and websites dedicated to demonstrating the Bible's consistency with the archeological record. I find the presentations of Paul Maier (emeritus professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University) to be particularly engaging--an interesting example here
To formulate this argument formally, however, a little more information is needed. The argument often looks like this:
The Inductive argument:
- P1: The claims of the Bible that can be tested are shown to be
- C: The claims of the Bible that cannot be tested should be taken to
If this sounds far-fetched, it is important to note that this inductive analysis is used for the study of all ancient writings.
Followed by the deductive argument:
- P1: The claims of the Bible should be taken to be reliable (P1 + C of
the inductive argument)
- P2: The Bible claims to be inspired
- C: The claim that the Bible is inspired should be taken to be
2. Eyewitness Authorship
This argument is much more effective for the New Testament than for the Old, and the argument is most compelling when applied to the canonical Gospels and Acts. There are numerous lines of evidence that have been proposed to demonstrate that these documents were written:
- By eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses AND
- In a time and place where eyewitnesses could call out any attempts at palpable fraud by the authors
I am in the process of creating a video series Who, When, and Why - The Writing of the Gospels, which uses the Synoptic Problem as a vehicle for establishing when the Synoptic Gospels were written (I'll probably do a bonus video on John at some point), and that the authors were in a position to know what they were talking about.
Spoiler for those interested: I contend on the basis of Roman & Jewish history, source criticism, linguistic analysis, and the testimonies of two of the sages of Alexandria (Clement & Origen), that the Gospel of Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew in the 40s of the first century.
Here is a sample argument for the Gospel of Matthew (similar arguments could be made for the writings of Mark & Luke):
- P1 - The Gospel of Matthew (GoM) was written by an author who knew the facts about the events he described
- P2 - Information in the GoM is either truthful or fabricated
- P3 - The GoM was written at a time when prominent eyewitnesses could have called out a fabrication
- P4 - If prominent eyewitnesses had called the GoM out for fabricated claims, the document never would have achieved successful, monumental distribution as a trusted source
- P5 - Prominent eyewitnesses were willing to die for the claims of the Christian faith
- P6 - People do not sacrifice their lives for a known fraud (though there are cases where people have done so for an unknown fraud)
- P7 - The GoM did achieve successful, monumental distribution as a trusted source
- C1 - Therefore, prominent eyewitnesses did not call the GoM out for fraud
- C2 - Therefore, the author of the GoM did not fabricate his claims
Once we establish that the claims of the Gospels are true, the method used above (see section on Archeology) is applicable for an argument for inspiration.
What about the OT?
If the Gospels + Acts are reliable documents this is a major vote of confidence for the Old Testament.
What about the rest of the NT?
I won't abuse space on this question to pursue arguments for each of the remaining books of the NT. I do suggest, however, that using the history and patristic writings of just the first 2 centuries after Easter, it is possible to make a reasoned historical case for 26 of the 27 books of the NT. Something for another post.
SLM's post has already provided a review of the case for Biblical inspiration on the basis of prophecy. If Biblical writers claimed to speak in the name of God, and those prophecies came true, this is convincing evidence to many that they did indeed speak in the name of God.
Identifying a true prophet by the veracity of his predictions has a pedigree going all the way back to the Torah. Jesus specifically taught "by their fruits ye shall know them." I would not go so far as to claim that prophecy is the only relevant fruit of a prophet--but it certainly is a common one.
4. The Historical Argument for the Resurrection
William Lane Craig is noteworthy for his work on this subject. His approach is to establish a set of minimal historical facts--facts that even many skeptics have acknowledged on the basis of purely secular analysis--and then show that the resurrection is the best explanation of those facts.
Minimal facts he frequently uses:
- Jesus was put to death by crucifixion and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea
- The Sunday following His crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty by a group of His women followers
- Multiple disciples had experiences with Jesus after His death--these experiences included individual and group events
- Jesus' followers came to believe sincerely that God had raised Jesus from the dead
Craig then proceeds to show why alternative explanations of the resurrection are inadequate.
One of Craig's debates detailing these points is archived here.
This would not single-handedly establish the inspiration of the entire Bible, but it would establish the reliability of numerous prophecies and eyewitness accounts. Perhaps most significantly, it would establish the single most significant claim of the entire Bible: Jesus the Christ died, was buried, and rose again.
5. Private inspiration
Numerous individuals, myself included, have claimed to receive the witness of the Holy Ghost in their study of the Bible.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send
in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to
your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into
all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall
hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. (John
As noted on another post, If we want to have an accurate understanding of the scriptures, there is no better teacher than the one who inspired it - the Holy Spirit.
If God speaks through the Holy Spirit and manifests the truth of what someone has read, this is an epistemologically significant endorsement.
6. Public revelation
If God speaks through an authorized representative and indicates that the Bible is inspired, the claim is solid as long as the spokesperson is reliable.
There are a variety of claims that take this form:
- Some accept the creeds produced by the early church councils as authoritative--including, for example, the Synod of Hippo, which established an authoritative Christian canon (for some--others did not accept this decision).
- Some denominations claim to have leaders with priesthood handed down by the apostles (The Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) who can speak authoritatively on the matter
- Some accept the Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy
- Some hold that statements like 2 Tim. 3:16 or 1 Nephi 13:23-34 represent the mind of God on the matter and establish the inspiration of the Bible
If Almighty God has said the Bible is inspired, that's a pretty tough source to beat.
I find all of these arguments interesting. I do not, however, weight them all equally. I also have made no attempt to define "supernatural inspiration", as I don't think a lengthy review of the existing disagreements on this topic would be helpful in addressing the heart of the OP's question.
You may have already noticed the noteworthy shortcoming of the first 4 arguments: none of them delimit or establish a canon. Thus, while they may demonstrate the reliability--and indeed possibly the divine origin--of the specific book under consideration, you'd need to run this analysis for every book (all 66 of the Bible + the Apocrypha + countless others) in order to delimit a canon.
The challenge in trying to argue for the whole Bible at once is that "the Bible" is never defined by the Bible. I have made extensive arguments on my own channel for the reliability of the Gospel of Matthew. Unfortunately, this doesn't do anything for our evaluation of the book of Obadiah.
If we rely only on the first 4 arguments, we have an extraordinarily fragmented project to be undertaken. And how could we ever be sure there wasn't a 67th book out there somewhere with scriptural authority--unless we assume in advance God would never allow that to happen? (I know some who are willing to make that assumption; I personally am not) To argue that we must have the right Bible (BTW, Protestant, Catholic, or other?) because God revealed the 66 book Bible and He would not allow something He revealed to be lost--is to argue in a circle.
I do not mean to be harsh on the first 4 arguments. To the handful who have visited the links to my own work, or who have had to endure one of my discussions of Roman history on the Hermeneutics site, you know I find this fascinating. I will, however, offer a brief, incremental critique of the arguments:
Archeology: P1 of the deductive argument must play a little fast and loose with the conclusion of the inductive argument. Should all claims of a text be trusted if some of them can be validated? Furthermore, archeology is constantly rediscovering itself (it's supposed to do that) -- this foundation is more unstable than I would care to rest eternity on.
Eyewitness Authorship: I happen to believe the authorship attribution of the Gospels is very solid, and that all 4 (+Acts) were written before AD 70. I do not claim, however, that a case this strong can be made for all of the other 61 books of the Protestant Bible or the various lists of Apocrypha.
Prophecy: this is neither unique to the Bible specifically nor Christianity in general. There have been many historical figures--religious and secular--that have made predictions of the future, and there are cogent supporters who will show you why their predictions were true. I would not build a case on prophecy alone.
It is noteworthy, of course, that many secular critics of the Bible have gone to great lengths to establish--anytime a Biblical book makes a prophecy so painfully clear they can't deny it--that the book in question was written after the event it purports to prophecy. I explore the philosophical shortcomings of this skeptical approach in this post on Hermeneutics.
Historical Arguments for the Resurrection: I believe this case is well-argued. It just doesn't establish the inspiration of the full Bible. It's also an abductive argument (inference to the best explanation), which leaves itself open to future competing hypotheses.
Private inspiration: Let's say for sake of argument that there is an omniscient God who does not lie. He can reason in the absolute (He can rule out all competing possibilities). We cannot reason in the absolute.
100% certainty is a philosophically nebulous term. But we can at least compare relative certainties. If there is such a Being as I've described, information learned from Him would be epistemologically superior to anything learned from sources that cannot reason in the absolute (e.g. other people, our own studies).
So if the claim of learning something by inspiration from God is true (I recognize many believe it is not), that would be the most secure statement epistemologically possible for a non-omniscient being (such as you or me) to make.
There remains significant value in being able to "check" one's ability to receive inspiration accurately. This argument always requires a dose of humility--it means acknowledging that we do not know everything. We act on the information we do have.
Public revelation: if it's reliable, this is an excellent source. The trouble is, we push everything back one level--now we have to go through the same exercise we just did with respect to the Bible with this other source. I happen to believe it is a worthwhile exercise, and that this specifically provides the "check" discussed under "private inspiration".
Conclusion: my personal views
(this part is different, skip if you detest my personal views)
My personal belief in the inspiration of the Bible is founded on arguments 5 & 6 (though I do not believe all of the sources I cited, rather, I offered a survey of views).
I see value in the other arguments, but I would never use them as my foundation. Perhaps they are effectively described as a "flying buttress" to beliefs already built atop something else.
Those who already know that I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints probably see where I'm going here. I believe the Book of Mormon is true based upon revelation from God (my thoughts here). The Book of Mormon testifies of the Bible (e.g. 1 Nephi 13:23-24, Mormon 7:9), so if the Book of Mormon is true you get a two-for-one testimony from God--the Bible is also inspired.
These views are described further on my channel in:
Separately, I also have received the inspiration of the Holy Ghost many times while reading from the Bible, and my confidence in this treasured book comes from God. I believe there is wisdom in trusting in the Lord rather than merely leaning upon human understanding (see Proverbs 3:5-6). As much as I appreciate the words of those who study rocks, when it comes to eternity, my confidence rests in what has been revealed to me by the One who made the rocks.