Is the Bible true?

I’ll never forget Hills Leadership College classes in Evangelism with John Cannone. His ‘Every Believer Evangelism’ seminar manual was entitled ‘The Confidence Builder’, and had a landmark session for me on ‘The Bible as a sound basis for faith’.

While affirming that the Bible speaks for itself, Cannone outlined seven external ‘witnesses’ that together counteract the accusations launched by our contemporary era against the Bible’s reliability as a source of truth. I’ve still got the lecture notes. He moves from the witness of the Bible’s uniqueness to the witness of the Biblical manuscripts themselves. He follows with sections on the witness of archeology, science, prophecy, mathematics and then finally, the witness of the Bible’s survival.

I remembered all this one day late last year when my son Elijah came to me and asked a quite unforgettable question: ‘how do we know the Bible's not tricking us’? And with this question came a whole heap of other questions for my 6 year-old-boy: Who wrote the Bible? Has the story been changed over time?

After my initial surprise [I don’t think I asked too many questions as a 6 year old?] I began recalling to mind a whole heap of stuff I first got from Cannone. But I hadn’t revisited his material since as a 17 year old his lecture first filled me with emboldened evangelical zeal. So going back over the notes, now more than 15 years later, I must say I was quite disappointed. They were brief, lacking key details and didn’t even include references!

I thought I’d better do a bit better than that with my boy. Perhaps a trip to the State Library together might be in order.

Elijah loves ‘research’ [he first got that from Steve Irwin, would you believe it?] So we agreed together to begin looking into where the Bible came from and then work from there. At the Library we found and began reading through some kids' books about the ancient world, which languages they spoke and what they wrote on. Elijah is pretty kinesthetic, so he automatically went to trying to create lookalike ancient writing tablets and that sort of thing. In the end we made a whole heap of fun ‘replicas’ of archeological finds such as our own miniature stone tablet, an ancient parchment scroll, some carved Hebrew script on a clay [wood] tablet, and a ‘rare’ pottery fragment that had the name ‘Jesus’ visible inscribed on it in faint ancient Greek.

We had a lot of fun. But our quest wasn't over. We headed back to the library where Elijah discovered some more great kids' books that helped laying a great foundation for approaching this subject, and I found in the adult's section one book on his very original question.

Jeffery Sheler’s Is the Bible true? describes how modern debates and discoveries affirm the essence of the Scriptures. Sheler is a journalist [religion correspondent] who employs his craft to siphon through the ‘claims and counterclaims’ of contemporary arguments, and manages to separate Bible history from Bible ‘hysteria’. This book, just sitting on the shelf at our own state library, has this to say about it in its extended info:

Description (full):

Can the Bible still be regarded as an authentic and credible historical document? In this "excellent overview" (Booklist), Jeffery L. Sheler separates Bible history from Bible hysteria, shattering myths on both sides of the religious divide. His authoritative investigation touches on hot-button issues including: dramatic archaeological finds that both verify and challenge the Bible's history; ancient texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls that profoundly influence our understanding of the Bible; and the modern quest to discover the truth about Jesus' life and teachings. This fascinating account of scandal and scholarship, debate and discovery affirms the Bible's reliability as a historical witness and a testimony of timeless faith.

Author info:

Jeffery L. Sheler is an award-winning journalist and has been a religion writer at U.S. News & World Report for some years. He is a correspondent for PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and lives in Washington, D.C.

Suffice it to say I recommend this as a really good read for anyone who hasn’t yet dug beneath the surface of our assumptions about archeological ‘proof’ of the Bible’s truth. I’m thankful for the confidence I got from Cannone in my late teens, I really am. But interestingly, it wasn’t enough.

I’m glad I knew about the discovery of the Ebla tablets in my early Christian life, and what controversies they finished forever. They had recorded the 5 cities cited in Genesis 14, confirming the Bible’s account as historically reliable, confirming that writing and a judicial system existed before Moses. Archeology had ‘proven’ certain biblical subjects to be correct: Genesis’ ancestry of Israel derived from Mesopotamia; the building of the Tower of Babel; the existence of the Patriarchs; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the fall of the walls of Jericho; King Solomon’s building projects; the geography of the NT, and much more.

But somehow I think I might have subconsciously inferred that archeology had ‘proven the Bible’ itself to be true. Has archeology established proof for the Israelites slavery in Egypt? What about their great Exit from Egypt? What about their desert wandering through the desert? Archeological digs have unearthed no hard proof of any of these pivotal claims of the biblical narrative. And even if they had, what evidence might we find for the cloud that led them by day, or the pillar of fire that accompanied them by night? What can archeology do to ‘prove’ the miracles of Moses or of those of Jesus for that matter?

So is the Bible true, and how can we know either way? Why Jeffery Sheler’s book is helpful for beginning to approach this question, is that it educates us about the role of archeology in establishing the elements of historical record in the first place, while at the same time distinguishing for us what can be known from these sources from what can reliably be trusted as ‘truth’. In the end, we should not expect ‘truth’ to necessarily be ‘provable’ as such. [Can you prove today even what took place yesterday in your life in its entirety? Nonetheless, does this lack of evidence make your best account of yesterday untrue of itself?]

But while clinically balanced, Sheler does convincingly, and remarkably, show that modern debates and discoveries do in fact affirm [give weight, or support] the essence of what the Scriptures say throughout. This is confidence building; this is the encouragement we need as modern [or postmodern?] Christians.

Our quest still isn’t over. Now I’ve got to work out how on earth I summarise what I’ve learned for Elijah. And maybe then I need to dig up some of that old-time Josh MacDowell and see if I can fill in a few of those details that I’ve apparently been missing for some time.

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