6

Simple question: How do Christians who believe that the Bible was supernaturally inspired by God justify their position? What are the strongest arguments for the belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God? Do these arguments apply to the entire Bible as a whole (and therefore, they are tied to a specific canon) or do they apply to specific books (as in "we have compelling evidence that this specific book or subset of books was/were supernaturally inspired")?

To avoid opinionated answers, I would prefer an overview of the arguments that tend to be used more often by Christian apologists.

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  • 2 Timothy 3:16? See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inspiration.
    – Matthew
    Jul 3 at 20:05
  • 1
    @Matthew - quoting 2 Timothy 3:16 is like saying "the Bible is true because the Bible says that the Bible is true", which would be a circular, and thus not very compelling, argument. Jul 3 at 20:13
  • 1
    Well, you asked for evidence that the Bible is inspired by God, not that it is "generally accurate". If you already accept that it is "generally accurate", then the fact that it claims to be inspired seems to me to be a strong argument. If you don't already accept general veracity, then the arguments for that may be different (or at least, more diverse). But there's a reason I left a comment and not an answer; it was just a suggestion where you might start looking.
    – Matthew
    Jul 4 at 1:54
  • @Matthew - what do you mean by "generally accurate"? Are you distinguishing between natural and supernatural claims when you measure "general accuracy"? Is the Bible generally accurate in its supernatural claims? Jul 4 at 2:20
  • @Matthew - I agree with Spirit Realm Investigator that to resort to 2 Timothy 3:16 as argument in favor of inspiration is circular. But I also believe that the Wikipedia article presents, more or less, all that we can say on the matter. Jul 4 at 15:39
5

The strongest, if not the only, argument is prophecy fulfilled. Prophecy is a prediction, a forth-telling of something to happen in the future.

Matthew's book alone, for example, lists about 27 fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament about Jesus Christ's fulfillments.

This site asserts there's been about 2,000 of 2,500 prophecies already fulfilled.

This site details 12 Old Testament prophecies already fulfilled, including Daniel's about Messiah.

The Old Testament in fact prophesied about Jesus. This site speaks about 47 fulfilled prophecies.

No religion, save one, has the God who knows the future, who was willing to share it, have it written down exactly, and who took pains to get it fulfilled. Christianity is the sole exception.

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  • 1
    I respectfully disagree that prophecy fulfilled is the strongest or only argument. The argument in the last paragraph above could also be made by adherents of Islam (you & I would disagree with their argument, but this is beside the point). Jul 4 at 18:15
  • To be fair, prophecy remains a meaningdul argument - which is a principal reason why opponents of the Bible go to great lengths to adjust chronology and claim that any books--with prophecies with painfully obvious fulfillment--were written after the events they prophesied. Jul 4 at 18:19
  • @HoldToTheRod - what other arguments do you have in mind? Jul 4 at 19:44
  • 1
    @SpiritRealmInvestigator I'm mulling an answer to this one...6 different arguments come to mind as the most common (prophecy among them); but you ask interesting questions faster than I can keep up =). If I don't get around to writing an answer I'll send you a link to the video on my channel covering my thoughts. Jul 4 at 21:51
  • 1
    @coderworks apologies, confused JW and 7thDayAdventist. I've restated here. Prophecy is something more than an educated guess that comes to pass; it claims to be inspired by, if not the voice of, God Almighty. In addition to Islam, IIRC adherents of LDS and 7thDay Adventists believe their leaders were prophets. For example, jesus-islam.org/questions/coran-contient-propheties-accomplies Their "prophecies" pale in compare to the thousands in the Bible
    – SLM
    Jul 5 at 18:45
4

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.


6 Arguments


1. Archeology

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 reliable
  • C: The claims of the Bible that cannot be tested should be taken to be reliable

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 reliable

--

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.

--

3. Prophecy

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 16:13)

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.


Evaluation


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.

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  • This article on whether Native Americans descended from a lost Jewish tribe, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetics_and_the_Book_of_Mormon, says this, "There is generally no direct support amongst mainstream historians and archaeologists for the historicity of the Book of Mormon." Jul 6 at 11:33
  • @MikeBorden ... we're a bit off-topic here, perhaps you'd like to open a separate question on this? If not, this article is relevant to you inquiry, addressing from both spiritual & scientific angles. Jul 6 at 14:21
  • 1
    @HoldToTheRod - separate question asked :-) Jul 7 at 6:14
  • I'd argue pt 1 doesn't support the divine inspiration of the bible. A history book can make the same claim with archaeology or other nonfiction books, so having historic backing doesn't mean divine inspiration
    – depperm
    Jul 12 at 0:19
  • Why do you take point 1. Archeology rather than history generally, if I may ask? I have never heard anyone argue "the bible's archeological claims are wrong" but I have heard many argue "the history presented in the bible is wrong".
    – Mr. Boy
    Sep 14 at 20:30
4

Others cited fulfilled prophecy, which I will not dispute, as it has provided a significant boost to my faith at times when I needed it. However, it was another supernatural feature of the Bible that even more powerfully touched my life as new Christian.

If a person learns a new truth and understands it with their mind, it can help them. Mathematics helps you do engineering. Philosophical truths can help a person form a better ethical system. Psychological truths can help identify past traumas as the cause of current emotional problems and enable healing and progress toward wholeness.

What about truths that you DON’T understand?

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29, NIV)

I was delivered from powerful emotional problems after being exposed to Bible verses that I could not understand until years later - sometimes decades!

  • Before I became a Christian, I engaged in a discussion of the Bible with a believer. I told him I didn’t understand the Bible. One of his friends shared with me 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter on love. Weeks later I became a Christian.
  • Galatians 2:20-21 freed me from the fear of death weeks after I was asked to memorize it.
  • I left early from a religious retreat where we studied Philippians because I couldn’t understand it. That book uses the words joy, rejoice or rejoicing 14 times. Weeks later a years long depression started to recede. For a whole month I was filled with joy - and I didn’t know the cause for decades!
  • Studying Psalms and Isaiah for a few months delivered me from persistent nightmares.

Not only does the Bible have supernatural power to heal people emotionally using words that they do not understand, it can also heal people physically using words that they can. About fifteen years ago, I lost all hearing in my left ear. After a month of steroids and medical attention, I saw no improvement. The doctor told me he could not determine the cause of my hearing loss He said it was likely that I would lose hearing in my other ear, too. Retiring to the waiting room, I pulled out my Bible and a card with a Bible-in-a-year reading program. According to that plan, which I did not draw up myself, the verse for the day was from Exodus 4.

Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:10-12, NIV)

I have checked. Nowhere else in the Bible does it say that God makes people deaf. The doctor did not know why I was deaf, but God did. Suddenly I knew I was not alone in that waiting room and was at peace. I had no idea whether God would heal me or not, but still I stopped praying for healing and trusted that whatever God had in store for me, it was for my good.

Two days later my hearing returned.

My experience is not universal among Christians, but I know or have read of many people with their own stories of how the Word healed them miraculously.

A third way that the Bible proves its supernatural nature is through facilitating the inter-connectedness of the church. Many times I have heard the pastor preach on a passage or a church member pray aloud through a verse that I was meditating on the previous day - or even during the moments before they read it! On one occasion, the preacher cited three seemingly unrelated passages from different books of the Bible all of which I had been reflecting during the previous week. When this happens, you have evidence that both you and the other person are hearing from the same Holy Spirit. This is one way that the Word joins us into one body.

The Bible is miraculous today (through healing and communication) and tomorrow (through prophecy).

0

What are the strongest arguments for the belief that the Bible was supernaturally inspired by God?

How do Christians who believe that the Bible was supernaturally inspired by God justify their position? What are the strongest arguments for the belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God? Do these arguments apply to the entire Bible as a whole (and therefore, they are tied to a specific canon) or do they apply to specific books (as in "we have compelling evidence that this specific book or subset of books was/were supernaturally inspired")?

First of all faith is a gift from God that we receive from the Almighty. Not everyone receives this gift!

One may equally ask: ”Why do Christian have to justify our faith that the Bible is inspired by God in the first place!”

For those who do not believe, there can be no positive argument the Bible is inspired by God, we do not need proofs. We believe it, while others do not. For those who do not believe, no proofs will be accepted.

We can not even agree on a fixed canon amongst ourselves, so how can we make a compelling argue in defence of the fact that we believe that the Bible is actually inspired by God.

Not many non-believers ever have a St. Augustine moment of ”take and read”!

“But when a deep consideration had from the secret bottom of my soul drawn together and heaped up all my misery in the sight of my heart; there arose a mighty storm, bringing a mighty shower of tears. Which that I might pour forth wholly, in its natural expressions, I rose from Alypius: solitude was suggested to me as fitter for the business of weeping; so I retired so far that even his presence could not be a burden to me. Thus was it then with me, and he perceived something of it; for something I suppose I had spoken, wherein the tones of my voice appeared choked with weeping, and so had risen up.

He then remained where we were sitting, most extremely astonished. I cast myself down I know not how, under a certain fig-tree, giving full vent to my tears; and the floods of mine eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to Thee. And, not indeed in these words, yet to this purpose, spake I much unto Thee: and Thou, O Lord, how long? how long, Lord, wilt Thou be angry, for ever? Remember not our former iniquities, for I felt that I was held by them. I sent up these sorrowful words: How long, how long, “tomorrow, and tomorrow?” Why not now? why not is there this hour an end to my uncleanness?

So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating. ‘Take up and read; Take up and read.’ [’Tolle, lege! Tolle, lege!’] Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find…

Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence.’ [Romans 13:14-15] No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” - Tolle Lege, Take and read…

Christendom may have to rethink the words of Jesus if we want non-believers to accept that the Bible is truly inspired by God.

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. - John 17:21

The following articles may be of some inspiration to some:

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  • 1
    I really like this answer, but probably not for the same reasons you do
    – depperm
    Jul 12 at 0:25
0

This answer deals just the with the books of the New Testament.

In John's gospel, we read of Jesus speaking to the Twelve when he says:

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26 (NIV)

And then, later in the same conversation:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. John 16:12-13 (NIV)

If we are willing to grant that John's gospel is historically accurate, we can see that the Twelve (soon to be Eleven) are given the follow gifts through the Holy Spirit:

  • The supernatural ability to recall the events of Jesus' life
  • New teaching from God, which Jesus had not yet revealed to them

In Acts 9, we see that Paul is added to this list of people:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man [Paul] is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. Acts 9:15 (NIV)

This is confirmed by the Eleven:

As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised,just as Peter had been to the circumcised.For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. Galatians 2:6-9

and

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:15-16

We therefore have a list of 12 people who Jesus himself has stated will be given spiritually inspired teaching from God.

Every book in the New Testament is written by either:

  • One of the above 12 people:
    • Matthew, John, Romans-Philemon, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Revelation
  • Someone the early church believed was writing with the approval of one of those 12
    • Luke, Acts, Hebrews (unless you believe Paul wrote it), Jude

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