Jesus Christ and His followers were fearless when it came to proclaiming God’s Word. What gave them such boldness and self-assuredness? They knew without a shadow of doubt the eternal power and absolute trustworthiness of each word in scripture. They also knew that the Holy Spirit went before them, impressing hearers with the truth of His Word.
You’re sharing the gospel and out of the blue you’re asked, “How do you know the Bible is true?” How would you answer?
If you’ve read much on the subject, you’ve probably come across long lists of “proofs”—amazing prophecies, archaeological discoveries, and the like. Yet this emphasis can get some important points backward, if the Bible is to be our guide.
Jesus Christ’s own conversations shed light on the correct approach. Through His often-surprising responses, we see that Christ’s goal was to honor God’s Word and expose His hearers’ pride and their failure to submit to the Father’s unquestionable authority.
While the Bible doesn’t give a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all formula for defending itself, it does give us all the guidelines we need. After all, God gave us the Scripture so we could be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
First, Understand the Root Problem: Unbelief, Not Ignorance
God tells us in bold terms the root problem. It’s not the nonbelievers’ view of the Book; it’s their view of the Author. All people already know God because He is clearly seen in His creation, and His moral law is also written on their hearts (Romans 1:20, 2:15). But they “suppress,” or hold down, the truth in unrighteousness because their proud hearts are rebellious and they do not want to submit to the truth (Romans 1:18,1:21–23, 2:14–15).
When people reject the Bible’s historical accounts of Creation and a global Flood, for example, Peter says they are “willfully” ignorant (2 Peter 3:5). It’s not a matter of evidence; they just don’t want to be convinced.
So it is a mistake to proceed as though the main problem is a lack of knowledge. Your hearers have a heart problem. They have rejected the God of the Bible even before they begin to consider whether His Word could be true.
Second, Rely on God’s Spirit and God’s Word to Convince Hearers
Modern intellectuals are no different from the proud Greeks of Paul’s day, who lived “in the futility of their thinking.” They were “
darkened in their understanding . . . because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:17–18).
How do you break through the darkness? It’s not enough to demolish their wrong beliefs by cold, hard logic. Blind men cannot see the truth except with new sight given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Thankfully, God’s Spirit is already at work convicting sinners of their unbelief, using His Word as His primary tool. By relying on the Scripture’s own claims, rather than your wisdom or clever arguments, God empowers His words to convict hearts and point them to Christ (see John 16:12–15 and Hebrews 4:12).
Knowing this, the apostle Paul did not rely on “persuasive words of human wisdom” to overwhelm his listeners with intellectual arguments, which they might not even grasp (1 Corinthians 2:4). Instead, Paul spoke plainly to sinners “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that their faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).
Yet God does not demand blind faith. Our faith is reasonable. In fact, it is the only logical and reasonable choice available to mankind. And explaining that simple fact is the secret to a biblical defense of the Bible.
Third, the Bible Is—and Must Be—Its Own Ultimate Proof
JESUS INDICATED THAT THE BIBLE GIVES ENOUGH INFORMATION SO THAT EVERYONE CAN KNOW THE TRUTH.
Jesus indicated that the Bible gives enough information so that everyone can know the truth and no other resource is better. “
If they do not hear Moses and the prophets,” Jesus told His Jewish listeners, “
neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Even though Jesus was not addressing Gentiles, His words are based on a universal truth: the Bible is—and should be—our most persuasive tool.
How Do We Know Anything Is True?
Even though lots of other evidences confirm the Bible (and you should discuss them), your conversations aren’t likely to get very far unless you address the deeper question: “How do you know anything is true?”
When debating ultimate questions, everyone must eventually appeal to an ultimate standard. We can’t keep appealing to a higher and higher standard because the stairs must end somewhere.
Even secular logicians recognize this problem. Every philosophical system must start with presuppositions—starting points or assumptions— that cannot be proven from anything more basic, but are accepted up–front as the foundation for all subsequent reasoning.
The Bible claims to be this ultimate standard of truth, the “Word” given by the Almighty Creator God (see “2. Claims of Divine Authorship,” pp. 56–57). Most people point to one of three standards: their own personal opinion, public consensus, or great moral literature. But that is not an option if the Bible is true.
An appeal to any other standard, such as the opinions of people, automatically means you must reject the Bible as your ultimate standard. Don’t miss this point; it’s worth repeating! (Once you point this out, most people will recognize the problem.)
How Do We Choose the Correct “Ultimate Standard”?
Since we must appeal to some ultimate standard, the next question is how to determine the right one.
One—and only one—logical solution is available. The standard itself must be “self-attesting” and “self-authenticating.” In other words, it must speak for itself and defend itself in such a way that it (1) passes all its own standards of truth and (2) gives a foundation for successfully interpreting all other claims to truth.
Even before modern logicians recognized this limitation to every logical argument, God’s Word had already acknowledged and solved it.
Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, said, “
I am the truth” (John 14:6) and “
God’s word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus claimed to define what truth is, and He said God’s Word is the ultimate judge of truth (John 12:48). No truth exists apart from Him. As the Bible explains it, “
In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). So the Bible clearly claims an exalted position as the ultimate authority.
Moreover, God’s Word concludes that all other standards outside of Christ must be “empty” because they depend on “
the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). For the Bible to appeal to any other authority would be to deny its own place as the ultimate standard. (We don’t need to bludgeon people with this truth, but the rightness of our position should encourage us.)
As it turns out, the only ultimate standard that can be logically self-authenticating is one that exactly matches the unique God of Scripture, who is true, holy, just, eternal, unchanging, and “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). He alone provides a solid foundation for knowledge and attests to His own truthfulness.
Your hearers won’t find an alternative that comes close to matching the biblical God, no matter how hard they try. But you don’t have to belabor this point. (They could spend many lifetimes searching!) A positive proclamation of the reasonableness of the Christian faith is enough to highlight the shortcomings of alternative worldviews.
God Appeals to Himself as the Ultimate Standard
God consistently appeals to His own word as the final authority. A good example is His promise to bless all nations through Abraham. How did He reassure Abraham that His words were true? He appealed to Himself as the highest court of appeal—“By Myself I have sworn” (Genesis 22:16).
Logically God can appeal to nothing higher than to Himself. AsHebrews 6:13 explains, “When God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.”
Later, Christ made a similar claim. When the Roman governor Pilate questioned His authority, Christ appealed to His own authority: “
For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”
Then Christ added, “
Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Nobody recognizes His authority except those who are “of the truth”—those who first listen to Him! Christ didn’t even try to convince Pilate. Instead, He stated the truth as it really was and left Pilate to consider the weight of His words.
Pilate responded cynically, “What is truth?” but then, apparently moved by Christ’s words, he went out to tell the waiting crowd that he found no fault in Christ. The Son of God’s words had effectively spoken on His behalf.
An Appeal to the Bible Is Not Arbitrary
The Bible repeatedly claims to be God’s Word, the ultimate source of all truth, and it rejects all other claimants (again, see pp. 56–57). The Bible offers no neutral ground, which is the only reasonable demand from a source that claims to be the truth above all others.
The Scripture also says it was inspired by a God who sees everything, knows everything, communicates perfectly, and always tells the truth. In fact, He strongly desires to share the truth (see “1. God’s Character,” pp. 55–56). So choosing such an ultimate standard is not arbitrary!
The Bible is also consistent with itself, as any correct standard must be (see “3. Unity of the Bible,” pp. 58–59). Furthermore, it provides a robust foundation for correctly interpreting the world around us (see “5. Scientific Accuracy,” pp. 61–62). Despite centuries of merciless attacks upon its accuracy, the Bible has consistently proven to be true (see “6. Archaeological Finds,” pp. 62–63).
Fourth, Explain Other Evidences
ALTHOUGH GOD’S OWN ASSERTION IS THE ULTIMATE PROOF, IT IS PROPER AND BIBLICAL TO SEEK ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE.
Although God’s own assertion is the ultimate proof of the Bible, God encourages us to corroborate His testimony. Jesus did not expect His hearers to accept His testimony merely on His say-so. He said, “
If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true” (John 5:31–32).
According to Jewish law, two or three witnesses were required to establish the truth of a matter in court (Deuteronomy 19:15). It is proper and biblical to seek additional evidence.
Jesus gave several other witnesses to the truth of His claims. For one, he mentioned John the Baptist, who was considered a prophet of the highest integrity among the Jews. But Jesus said He had a higher testimony than John’s: “
I have greater witness than that of John” (John 5:34–36). Jesus cited these primary evidences to corroborate His claims:
- His many miracles and other works (John 5:36)
- The testimony of His Father, who spoke audibly from heaven at His baptism (John 5:36–37)
- The witness of the Scriptures (John 5:39)
- His coming bodily Resurrection (John 2:22)
- The witness of the Holy Spirit, which continues to this day (John 15:26).
We weren’t present to hear John’s testimony, or to hear the Father speak from heaven, or to see Christ’s miracles and His resurrected body. Yet God gives us “
a more sure word” (2 Peter 1:18–19, point 3 above) and the ongoing witness of the Spirit (point 5).
God understands our spiritual blindness, especially with regard to heavenly things, which we can’t see. Lots of other amazing evidences confirm Scripture. For example, any book inspired by a holy, righteous God should be error free. And that’s just what we find.
God talks about earthly things, which we can see (see John 3:10–13). The Bible is filled with specific claims about history, human nature, science, and prophecy. After centuries of trying to find errors, skeptics have only succeeded in reaffirming the Bible’s pristine beauty, as the other articles in this special series attest.
Yet be careful not to rely on external evidences. Since all people are blinded sinners, they resist the truth and refuse to believe even the most obvious evidences, assuming they just don’t have enough information to prove you wrong. You will end up talking in circles.
Based on the Bible’s own example, you should point them to the only true ultimate standard, the Bible’s own claims about itself. Ultimately we trust the Bible, not because we can prove it from other sources but because we trust the One who made us and then gave us His Word.