On trusting the bible—but first trusting God.

Whenever Christian apologists write a book on their favorite subject, they either begin by explaining how they know God exists, or why the bible is absolutely trustworthy. It kinda depends on which of the two they consider the higher authority: God, because he inspired the bible; or bible, because it informs us about God.

Custom dictates God should come first, so he does come first in most apologetics books. But not all of ’em, ’cause not every apologist hews to custom. And to be blunt, a number of apologists are total bibliolaters, so they insist it’s vital we establish the bible as an absolute before we can even quote it as an authority.

Thing is, how do we prove the bible’s absolutely trustworthy? Well, here are the answers one apologist offers.

  • Look how many ancient copies of the bible there are! Way more than other books, or contemporary books. That’s gotta mean something.
  • Lookit all the statements the scriptures say about themselves, or other scriptures.
  • Lookit all the contemporary ancient accounts which jibe with the bible. Or all the archeological discoveries which also jibe with the bible. That makes it historical, doesn’t it?
  • Lookit the precise, careful processes the Masoretic Jews and Christian monk copyists used to make sure our copies of the bible are precise duplicates.
  • Lookit how closely the first-century Dead Sea Scrolls line up with the medieval Masoretic texts: Man those Masoretes did a good job of bible preservation.
  • Lookit all the ancient Christians who quote bible—proving not just that there were bibles back then, but since their quotes match the copies of the bible we have, it’s clearly survived down to us intact.

But in these “proofs,” apologists kinda miss the forest for the trees.

Why do skeptics doubt bible? Because they doubt Christians. They doubt Christianity. They doubt our form of Christianity. They doubt God. They doubt all the things which point to bible; stands to reason they’re gonna doubt bible too. Especially since they’ve largely never even read the bible, haven’t a clue what it says, and don’t care enough to bother finding out.

So while apologists are busy trying to explain how the Masoretes invented checksums so they could make sure they precisely copied bible line-for-line, skeptics are busy not caring. So the Old Testament isn’t full of scribal errors. Big whoop. They still think the Old Testament is irrelevant, because they don’t believe the God it describes is even real.

Get it? So, first things first. Before you start discussing the bible’s trustworthiness with anyone, make sure you’re not boring someone who already has their mind made up in the opposite direction.

Which ranks higher: Bible or God?

Like I said, Christian apologists are gonna base a lot of their arguments on bible. Specifically proof texts which defend their points. It’s gonna be the foundation for a lot of their reasoning—so when you build on a foundation, you’d better confirm the foundation is stable. There’d better be some rebar in that concrete, or it’s gonna crack a lot, and pretty much turn into gravel.

But honestly, I don’t focus on the foundation. I focus on the retaining wall. As architects will tell you, the way you make a building earthquake-proof is to not put all your trust in a foundation, ’cause an earthquake’s gonna shake it. You put it in your building’s framework. In smaller buildings like a house, you put a lot of it in the one wall which supports all the other walls. In masonry, you usually put it in your cornerstone.

Not for nothing did the scriptures allude to Jesus as “the head stone of the corner,” Ps 118.22 KJV “the head of the corner,” Mk 12.10 KJV or as Paul put it,

Ephesians 2.19-22 KJV
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

Yeah the apostles and prophets who wrote the bible are our foundation, but Jesus himself keeps the building up.

So when I talk to skeptics, I base as many propositions as I can upon my personal experiences with the living God. On what I’ve seen with my eyes, what I’ve heard with my ears and heart, what my hands have handled. 1Jn 1.1 Y’know, like the apostles did. I use the scriptures to confirm these experiences are valid, same as the ancient Christians did… but I still keep referring to my God-experiences.

Other apologists do it the other way round. They were taught to trust bible more than their God-experiences. Problem is, prioritizing bible over personal experience makes no sense to pagans. They think it means we’re denying reality. And to a degree, they’re not wrong. When we reject God-experiences because we think the bible tells us otherwise, you do realize we’re not following God anymore. We’ve gone another way. The wrong way.

Once I started pointing to my God-experiences, I found certain skeptics really grow irritated with me. Y’see, antichrists have learned all these tactics for debunking the bible, specifically so they can win debates with Christians. We Christians foolishly assume we’re better-prepared than they, walk right into their traps, and instead of sharing Jesus we spend the next three hours defending bible. Whereas in sharing my God-experiences instead, I don’t spring any of their traps. It utterly confounds them; it’s like I’m not playing their game properly. Well I’m not. I’m not here to debate abstractions; I’m here to testify.

Proving the bible is reliable helps convince us Christians to trust it more. That’s why we learn why the bible’s reliable. That’s the only reason why. Learning this stuff so we can convince naysayers it’s reliable? Waste of time. Even if you convince them the bible is well-copied and ancient and historically accurate, they’ll only believe it’s a reliable myth.

Like Homer’s poetry. Ever read the Iliad and Odyssey? Now let’s say these epics were reliably copied, and historically accurate—there really was an Achilles and Odysseus and Hector and Priam, and Troy did get destroyed, and Odysseus did take years to get home. You gonna believe in Zeus now, and worship him? Heck no. Same with pagans who doubt the bible: Its reliability doesn’t do what you’re hoping it will.

So first things first. Show ’em God is real. Show ’em Christ Jesus is the only true way to God. Then they might acknowledge bible.

So the bible has a lot of ancient copies.

Christian apologists love to point out how many ancient manuscripts there are of the bible. ’Cause there are tens of thousands. The New Testament is the most-copied book in antiquity. There are way more ancient copies of the NT than any other ancient book; way more by far. Josh McDowell loves to point out less than 700 ancient copies of the Iliad exist, compared with 24,000 ancient copies of the NT. Evidence That Demands a Verdict vol. 1, c. 4

How does this prove the bible’s reliable? It doesn’t really.

It does prove the bible was popular. As it would be, with Christians. There were a lot of us, and any Christian who could afford to get the bible copied, did. After all, it’s foundational to our religion. Whereas the Iliad is an old pagan poem about a religion which, for centuries, competed with Christianity for followers and power… so it stands to reason Christians wouldn’t be so keen on preserving it. Wasn’t till Greco-Roman paganism was extinct that Christians finally felt the Iliad was safe to read, and wouldn’t convert anyone to Zeusism.

Likewise the billions of bibles published today, in every language we can find, only proves the bible’s popular. Not reliable.

Yet I’ve heard apologists claim this volume implies reliability—and that’s a logical fallacy, an argument which sounds profound but really isn’t. Don’t we keep trying to teach our teenagers that popular doesn’t mean true?

So the bible has very few textual variants.

Christian apologists also love to point out how few textual variants we find in the ancient manuscripts of both Old and New Testaments. Certainly fewer than most ancient books… considering how few copies of ancient books there are.

Certainly fewer than even more recent books. The three earliest copies of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet are extremely different from one another. There’s the First Quarto (published 1603), the Second Quarto (1604), and the First Folio (1623), and they line up for the most part… but they also have some really big differences between them. You may not know this, ’cause if you’ve ever read Hamlet or seen it performed, what you read or saw was a version of the play edited together by textual scholars. Sometimes the scholars were trying to figure out what Shakespeare originally had in the play… and just as often, like the Textus Receptus, they just wanted to make sure all the variants got included. Especially their favorites.

Textual scholars are way more responsible when it comes to today’s original-language editions of the bible. But the most ancient bibles aren’t anywhere near as different from one another as the earliest copies of Hamlet. Take the two oldest copies of the bible there are and compare them: You’ll find very little difference between them. Heck, take copies from the Middle Ages—the result of centuries of making copies of copies of copies of copies of copies—and you’ll find less than 15 percent difference between them. That’s better than the two quartos of Hamlet, both of which were published during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

For that, the Masoretes and monks deserve a lot of credit for making sure so very few errors crept into their copies. (And we Christians will also give the Holy Spirit a lot of credit for getting ’em to preserve his bible.)

But here’s the thing: Of course there were very few variants in ancient bibles. They were made by devout Jews and Christians, who considered these texts the very word of God, and put supreme importance on making sure these were exact copies. Hence they went to so much trouble to make sure no mistakes slipped in. As opposed to someone who was just reprinting Hamlet, which—though a brilliant play—ain’t holy scripture.

Despite how few textual variants there were, any textual variant makes people doubt the bible’s reliability. And no, we can’t just pretend they don’t exist, like KJV-worshipers will. We know better. Antichrists definitely know better. So even though the bible is remarkably well-preserved, how do we know which verses oughta be in there, and which verses oughta be tucked into the footnotes?

Real simple: Look at the oldest ancient manuscripts.

  • If words or verses are missing in all those copies, they weren’t in the originals; they don’t belong in the bible.
  • If they’re missing in most of those copies, put ’em in brackets or the footnotes.
  • If they’re missing in few of those copies, put ’em in the text, but include a footnote saying they’re not in every ancient copy.
  • And if they’re not missing anywhere, it’s all good.

Again: This doesn’t prove the bible’s the authentic word of God. It only makes reasonably sure our original-language bibles are as close to the original texts as possible. Textual criticism isn’t that difficult a science. It only seems impressive and hard ’cause the scholars are dealing with ancient manuscripts and languages. But relax; they know what they’re doing.

So historians and scholars like it.

Christian apologists also love to point out how historians and scholars consider the bible to be a valid, authoritative, useful historical document. After all, it does contain the history of the ancient Hebrews and Christians, and is confirmed many times over by archaeology.

But there’s two problems with making a fuss over this. Yes, historians and scholars consider the bible historical. Now, does it mean they’ve taken its claims about God seriously, and became Christians? For a number of ’em no. They’re still pagans and skeptics. (Or devout Jews and Muslims.) They may take the bible’s history seriously, and use the bible to find archeological sites. But if they don’t wanna believe in Jesus, they’re not gonna. They’re gonna consider the God parts mythology, and the rest useful. Same as we do the Iliad.

Secondly, “Well historians and scholars consider it valid” doesn’t work on skeptical pagans. They don’t care what historians, scholars, scientists, linguists, researchers, and theologians think. They don’t believe in it; that’s all they care about.

Y’notice I keep coming back to the same conclusion: The bible’s a really impressive, very unique book. It has a long, interesting history. Does this prove it true and reliable? No. Does this convince pagans to trust it? No. When they say, “I don’t even believe in the bible,” we’re not gonna win them over by pointing to how neat it is. We gotta introduce them to Jesus. Only then will the bible become anything relevant to them.

Save the stats for us bible nerds who already like the bible.