When I was a campus pastor, students often asked questions about the Bible’s trustworthiness or truthfulness. Most of the questions fall into three general types: Have scientific truths proven the Bible false? Is the Bible historically accurate or is it human myth? Are biblical ethics still valid today? I suspect many of us struggle deeply with these types of questions. The assumption is that biblical truth must pass the tests of modern science, historiography, and ethical standards in order to be trustworthy.
However, the Belgic Confession teaches that we believe the Scriptures not because of these or other reasons but “above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God” (Article 5).
First of all, why should we assume that spiritual truths need to pass ethical, scientific, and historical tests to be credible? Can these human standards adequately measure spiritual truthfulness? Can they verify, for instance, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8)? Science, ethics, and history are important. But to insist that human knowledge must verify Scripture’s credibility is a form of spiritual idolatry. It elevates our intellect and reason as judge and jury over God’s truth. Spiritual truths require verification from a spiritual judge: the Holy Spirit.
Having said that, the Bible has proven resilient against attacks over the centuries. When properly understood in its ancient context, biblical ethics offer relevant insights for today. Biblical history has often been vindicated whenever historians and archaeologists can adequately verify biblical accounts. God’s Word, when properly interpreted, is not an enemy to science.
For me, two foundational keys to interpreting the Bible, besides the centrality of Christ’s work and historical resurrection, are God’s accommodated communication and the Bible’s stated purpose.
The Reformer John Calvin explained that God “lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children” (Institutes of the Christian Religion,1.13.1). The Bible is God’s “baby talk” to his feeble creatures. If God accommodated us by having the Word (Jesus) become flesh, then God can adapt his infallible timeless truths for particular human languages, cultures, and thought patterns in the Scriptures. We must dig beyond the “baby talk” to unearth the spiritual treasures in God’s Word.
Furthermore, the Bible’s main purpose is not to convey facts or ideas for their own sake, but to “make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and “for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:15-16). The Bible is “fully reliable in leading us to know God and to walk with Jesus Christ in new life” (Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony, 32). The Bible’s trustworthiness depends not on satisfying our intellectual standards but on achieving this salvific purpose through the Holy Spirit’s work.
Ultimately, as the Belgic Confession teaches, we learn to trust God’s Word because of the Holy Spirit’s mysterious testimony in our hearts. And, practically speaking, we will only hear the Spirit’s testimony when we read and engage the Bible’s whole salvation message—not just in bits and pieces, but on its own terms, with open hearts and minds. Doing this on a spiritual journey with spiritual mentors and a church community, we can “taste and see that the Lᴏʀᴅ is good” (Ps. 34:8) and that his Word is sure.