“How do I know the Bible is really the word of God?,” you may ask.
Some may devise convincing proofs to answer the question, often bending logic and ignoring the secular studies of science and history to make their points. Others may point to the authority of the “Church,” which begs the question, how do we empirically know the Church, the Bible or anything else is of God to begin with?
I am not one of those people who pretends I can convince anyone to be certain in the truth that in Christ. I believe Christ is my Lord and Savior by faith, and this faith is not of my own, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8). So, in my mind, being a believer in the true God is a miracle in of itself.
This is hardly a convincing argument to someone who needs real proof. I have no historical or scientific evidence to offer. At first glance, there is nothing in the literary nature of the Bible or in the tenets of the Christian religion that are notable in their own right. Augustine of Hippo concurred with in his Confessions, stating that the Scriptures “appeared to me to be unworthy to be compared with the dignity of Tully [another ancient writer].” (Book 3, Chap. 5).
In fact, at first glance, it is a really long book that goes off on tangents, has crude descriptions of disconcerting events, contains supernatural accounts, and consistently teaches that men are unworthy. Unlike the Quran, it has tons of differing manuscripts, is composed in several languages, and its several different sects even disagree upon what the Bible in of itself is.
My own background, reformed Protestantism, teaches that the Bible is only the “word of God” in its original form and language. Of course, this does not exist anywhere. The Bible itself is the product of several different authors, written over 1,000 years time, and it was approved over an informal and unsaid process that spanned hundreds of years.
I say all of this, so that no one may boast about the Scripture for its own apparent merits, because it is totally unworthy to men.
“I perceive something not comprehended by the proud, not disclosed to children, but lowly as you approach, sublime as you advance, and veiled in mysteries; and I was not of the number of those who could enter into it, or bend my neck to follow its steps,” remembered Augustine.
From my own experience, I can attest to how the Scripture is sublime, not because of its plain merits, but because how God works through it. I remember grappling philosophically with this, and I heard the solemn words “just have faith.” And ever since, I ventured no farther and was content to accept what I believe God told me to do: “just have faith.”
If you don’t have this unquestioning faith the Bible has absolutely no authority. History and science cannot prove it true, and neither can any church. No invented corporation of men, by mere agreement with one another, really determine the reality of truth. Truth exists outside of our own ability to conceive of it.
Let’s set all of this straight: the only way for us to have this conversation is to admit that all of our convictions about religion are solely based upon faith and not evidence. None of us can really convince each other that this faith apparently makes sense.
But, when convinced of this faith and convicted by the Holy Spirit, the world takes on new dimensions. As Christ Himself said, “The truth shall set you free.”
If we cannot definitively prove the authority of Scripture and the truth of the Christian religion, how do we best understand our own religion in the most logically consistent way possible? We need to understand what gives our own religion its supposed authority.
To do this we have to understand the “history” of authority. How have Christians originally understood what is authoritative and what is not? How can we know the church we belong to is actually grounded in history? Well, we have to understand the history by looking at the guys who actually wrote it. Doing this, there are three ways we can see the preeminent authority of Scripture:
1. The presumption that Scripture is the source of doctrine by the Church Fathers.
We will seen that not only the general sense of what they write reflects what Protestants coin a sola scriptura view, but they explicitly show the centrality of Scripture. The Bible was and is meant to be read by normal people and was not seen in contradiction to supposed apostolic traditions.
2. The existence of unbiblical innovations and theological degradation as time went on and memories faded.
If the Bible and the Apostles who knew Jesus essentially always got it right, it stands to reason that the ones they appointed to rule after them mostly got it right, and the ones after those guys still got a lot of stuff right, and the next group of guys got less right, and on and on. The point of this is to show that our sense of authority is not specifically grounded in a present day church, but rather in understanding what the church initially was and ought to be today.
3. Despite the degradation of the collective church memory, we have reason to believe the Church got the Bible right in the fourth century.
Almost as soon after it was written, it was understood what was legit and what was not. This gives us reason to feel secure in our own stable and unchanging source of Christian authority.