Why Do Christians Trust the Bible?

Andrew Bunt
Articles 6 mins

Here at Living Out, we are committed to understanding and applying the Bible’s teaching on sexuality in our own lives, and we want to help others to do the same.

But why go to the Bible for guidance about our sexuality? Why do Christians trust the Bible? And what about all the problems like the made-up stories, the errors and contradictions, and the mistakes introduced through centuries of copying? Here are some quick answers to those important questions.

Jesus trusted the Bible

The primary reason why Christians trust the Bible and treat it as our source of authority is that this is exactly what Jesus did. Importantly, this is seen in Jesus’ teaching about sexuality and marriage.

In Matthew 19, when the Pharisees try to test Jesus by asking him a question about marriage and divorce, Jesus refers them back to their Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament). He knows that the right place to find an answer to their question is in the Bible because the Bible can be trusted, and the Bible is God’s word.

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees shows that he believed every part of the Bible to be God’s word, not just those moments when the direct speech of God is recorded.

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees shows that he believed every part of the Bible to be God’s word, not just those moments when the direct speech of God is recorded.

Hearing the Pharisees’ question, Jesus replies, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning male and female’ – that is, God – said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?’ (Matthew 19:4-5). What’s so important here is that Jesus quotes the words of the narrator in Genesis 2 (‘Therefore a man shall leave…’) and identifies them as God’s own words. Jesus shows us that the Bible is the authority for his followers because the Bible is God’s word.

This means that for anyone who believes Jesus is who he says he is and that he rose from the dead – and there are lots of good reasons to believe that he did – the Bible must be accepted as God’s word and as our authority for life. Ultimately, both trusting in Jesus and trusting the Bible are the result of the Holy Spirit working in the heart of a person. This means that if we are struggling to do either, we can pray and ask the Spirit to help us.  

Objections to trusting the Bible

But aren’t there good reasons to believe that the Bible isn’t trustworthy?

While this is a common view, it’s usually assumed rather than proven. The evidence actually supports the idea that the Bible is trustworthy.

Isn’t the Bible just a collection of made-up stories?

Many people believe that the stories in the Bible that present themselves as records of historical events were written long after the events are claimed to have happened and are largely fabricated. However, there is little evidence to support this view and lots of evidence that the Bible offers records of events that did actually happen. Often the details of stories – things like names, knowledge of geography, and cultural and religious practices – can be shown to be to be accurate to the period claimed and not to later periods, making it highly unlikely that a later author could have fabricated the story so accurately. In a similar way, parallels from other cultures show the plausibility of biblical accounts. Archaeology also offers some confirmation of the biblical account, although archaeological evidence is always open to multiple interpretations. When it comes to the New Testament, there is strong evidence that the Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts.

Hasn’t the Bible been corrupted through hundreds of years of copying?

There is actually good evidence to believe that the biblical text has been accurately passed down over the centuries.

The oldest complete Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament come from Jewish scribes in the 10th century AD, but we have copies of many parts of the Old Testament that were copied 1000 years earlier. Comparison of the two shows that the text has barely changed even over these many years of copying. This is because the Jewish scribes had incredibly rigorous systems for ensuring and checking the accuracy of their manuscripts.

No other ancient text has so many ancient copies from so close to the date of composition.

For the New Testament, we have thousands of partial or complete Greek manuscripts, some dating to the second century AD, and the vast majority of the New Testament can be found in quotations in other Christian writings from the first few centuries of the Christian era. No other ancient text has so many ancient copies from so close to the date of composition. Even though there are many small variations within these copies, the large number of textual witnesses allows scholars to reconstruct the original text with high levels of confidence about its accuracy.

Isn’t the Bible full of contradictions and errors?

This view is commonly held, and yet when asked to give a specific example, many people wouldn’t be able to do so.

In most cases, what seems like a contradiction or error is quickly solved once the wider context, the purpose of the text, and other details are known. Sometimes they are the result of small errors introduced through manuscript copying, but in these cases scholars (specialists known as textual critics) can usually determine the original reading and how the error or contradiction has entered the text through comparison of different versions. This means the error is in our copies, not the original text, and is easily identifiable.

Even when a contradiction isn’t easily explained, this doesn’t necessarily mean the Bible isn’t trustworthy. We encounter ideas or reports that might seem confused or even contradictory all the time, but we trust them because we trust the source. In this sense, we usually put the burden of proof on the one claiming there is an unexplainable contradiction. The reality is, if there is any way the contradiction could possibly be explained, then it isn’t clear evidence that the Bible is not trustworthy. This type of very difficult contradiction is rare in the Bible, but even when they do occur, they can’t establish that the Bible can’t be trusted as there are always various ways the potential contradiction could be explained.

The Bible can be trusted

Christians trust the Bible because Jesus trusted it and identified it as God’s word. But this isn’t blind trust. It is based on good evidence that the text we read today faithfully reflects what was originally written and that the original texts are accurate and trustworthy.

To explore this topic more, take a look at some of these resources:

Introductory

Advanced

  • K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003).
  • Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel (Westminster John Knox Press, 2015).
  • Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans, 2008).