Is the Bible Trustworthy?

Cross Examination
| |
To insist that human knowledge must verify Scripture’s credibility is a form of spiritual idolatry.

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.

About the Author

Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

Shiao Chong es el redactor jefe de The Banner. El asiste a Iglesia Comunidad Cristiana Reformada en Toronto, Ont. 

시아오 총은 더 배너 (The Banner)의 편집장이다. 온타리오 주 토론토의 펠로우쉽 CRC에 출석한다.

See comments (6)


Thanks, Shiao, for an interesting article.  I was left a little confused as to your targeted audience.  Some of the time you speak of the students when you were a campus pastor. You also talk about scientific evidence for the Bible’s teachings, or the historicity of the Bible as opposed to mythology, or whether Biblical ethics are valid for today’s culture.  All these seem to be aimed at convincing secularists or non Christians whether the claims of the Bible are trustworthy.

But then you speak of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, as though human knowledge doesn’t go far enough in pressing the claims of the Bible.  You say, “The Bible’s trustworthiness depends not on satisfying our intellectual standards but on achieving this salvific purpose through the Holy Spirit’s work.”  Or the Belgic Confession teaches, “we learn to trust God’s Word because of the Holy Spirit’s mysterious testimony in our hearts.”  This is aimed at the Christian, who to some degree learns to ignore the human knowledge or logic of the world for the sake of this somehow inner mysterious testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

If you, Shiao, are trying to demonstrate the trustworthiness of the Bible to the secular world, then you have to use the God given tools available to them, their intellect and reason.  After all, this is how humans are different from other animals and are most like God, having the ability to use reason and logic.  And based on human logic and reason Christianity fails the test of trustworthiness, just as Christians would readily acknowledge that the so-called inspired writings of other religions fail the test of being trustworthy.  The Bible is no more reasonable in its claims than are the inspired writings of other religions.  Sounds like Christians are put in a bit of a dilemma in demonstrating the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Dear Roger,

My apologies for a late reply to your questions. My target audience, and by extension the target audience of all Cross Examination columns, is young Christians, from high school to college ages. So, in many ways, we are assuming the readers already have faith in Christ to begin with but are asking these faith questions. From my experience as a campus pastor, I found that many Christian students have similar questions, or have encountered the same questions, that their non-Christian or secularists friends have. Hope that clarifies for you the "mix" of answers you found in my article.

As to speaking to secularists, I do think we need to strike a balance - more an art than science - with using their intellectual tools so that they can appreciate and understand while at the same time trying to subvert their, potentially, idolatrous reliance on those tools. If I were to write an article targeting that secularist audience, I might have reversed my approach - showing the credibility of the Bible against the various historical, scientific and ethical attacks. Then, however, I would still bring a discussion of the intellectual underlying assumptions that they use to judge the Bible and question whether those assumptions are actually fair - i.e. do secularists consistently apply such standards on other ancient texts - and valid - e.g. how do you argue that scientific methodology designed for demonstrating scientific truths is also appropriate for demonstrating non-scientific truths? I might even, potentially, following the apostle Paul's example in Athens (Acts 17) of using pagan philosophers/poets, draw on ideas from post-modern philosophers who have questioned and critiqued the scientific reasoning's dominance in measuring and determining all areas of knowledge/truth. 

In sum, I think a good apologetic approach towards secularists is trying to navigate that "in the world but not of the world" concept - we need to use their frameworks and thought patterns/tools but we are not of or belonging to or reliant upon those frameworks. We operate "in them" but not "of them". Hopefully, that makes sense.

Thank you for the engagement. 

Thanks, Shiao, for your clarification.  It is interesting to see that the Christian’s trust in Scripture comes from a different direction or even source than that of the non Christian.  To those outside of Christian circles (those who rely on logic and reason) the Bible is not trustworthy because it deals with teachings that are impossible (or at least unlikely) therefor does not ring true (on the basis of reason). The Christian acknowledges the trustworthiness of Scripture based on the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.  The non Christian denies the trustworthiness of the Bible based on human reason and logic.  This is a difficult teaching.

I assume that the church includes both those committed to Christ and those who only say they are.  And yet those not truly saved (in the church), most often confess the trustworthiness of the Bible.  On what basis? As to the non believer who does not believe the Bible to be trustworthy, are such people the same as those who the apostle Paul says consider the Bible as foolishness?  Is the Bible foolishness because non believers use their God given logic to try to understand it?  Or is the Bible foolish because they don’t have the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit?

I wonder what (or who) convinces the Muslim that the Koran is absolutely trustworthy?  Why do we as Christians, generally say that the Koran is untrustworthy as to their salvation message?

I apologize, Shiao, for not reading your full comment before responding this last time.  I didn’t see the “more” tag at my first reading before responding, so I only read the first paragraph.  I see now that there was “more” that I did not respond to.

I will say, the following paragraphs of your response were hard to follow, as to your line of argument with the secularist.  It seems unfair and dishonest to accuse anyone of treating logic or reason as an idol.  In effect you are suggesting that people should rely less on their intelligence when most fields require the use of intelligence, reason and logic to make advances.  Are you suggesting that our seminary professors are treating their intelligence as idols when they strive of understand the teachings of the Bible to the best of their ability?  The secularist (non Christian) uses reason and logic to understand life in general.  I think the secularist, looks at the miracles of all religions and groups them together, as unlikely and unreasonable.  Most of the so-called significant miracles of all religions (including Christianity) have happened in the distant past and seem unlikely to today’s reason and logic.  That is basically why even Christians deny the miracles of other religions, they seem unreasonable or fabricated to us.  Why would it seem any different looking at Christianity as opposed to the Islamic religion for the secularist?

Maybe it is best for the Christian to share the Christian gospel and rely completely on the Holy Spirit to convince the chosen ones (the elect) of the gospel.  It might be better for the Christian to recognize that the teachings of the Christian gospel are less than logical and will be little more than foolishness to human reason.  Isn’t that the basis of a Reformed presuppositional apologetic?

Dear Roger,

Forgive me if I was not clear. I will say this about the use of intellect and reason: I believe our human reason is an indispensable servant of God's truth, but it is not a good judge and jury of God's truth. I use reason to understand and explain God's truths. But just because some truth is not fully explainable to me, or makes full rational sense, does not mean it is not true. It may mean, instead, that there is much I do not comprehend, or I have reached the limits of my human mind. To insist that our human intellect is the judge, especially the sole judge and arbiter as secularists are wont to do, is, to me, an elevation of a creational good into an idol. Yes, we try to understand and explain miracles and other difficult things in Scripture, but at some point, there needs to be room for mystery, wonder and for faith. If the resurrection, for instance, does not make sense to my rational mind, that reason alone does not make it false. 

Does this mean we stop using reason and our intellect? Of course not. It is not a choice between either extremes. It is recognizing the limits of human reason, and its proper use and place in our human lives, including our spiritual lives. It is that refusal to acknowledge its limits among some secularists that I find as evidence of idolatry.

I agree with you to some extent when you say it is probably best to just share the gospel and rely on the Holy Spirit. As an earlier article in this Cross Examination column said: "You can’t argue someone into faith or into the kingdom of God. Only God can draw people by the Spirit to faith in Jesus Christ." (The Mystery of Faith) Amen to that. 

But that same article also continues to suggest: "On the other hand, Christians can join in the ancient and rich tradition—2,000-plus years strong—of Christians articulating and making sense of their faith, giving reasons for “the hope that [they] have” (1 Pet. 3:15)." My earlier suggestion of how I might approach this differently with a secularist is to try and follow that apologetic tradition to give reasons and to make sense of our faith. And, in that process of explaining, especially to a secularist, I was trying to show that I need to be careful not to fall into or reinforce the perception that human reason and intellect is judge and jury, not servant, of God's truth. At the same time, I cannot show my faith to be irrational, or totally non-rational. I believe our faith is rational but not rationalistic. We use reason, but do not turn our faith into rationalism. It is a delicate balance, for sure, which is what I was trying to convey with my previous reply. 

Forgive me if this fails to give any more clarity to what I mean. Perhaps, my mind is all muddy and confused, and I fail to see how muddy it is! 

Blessings and Shalom.

Thanks again Shiao.  I definitely understand better what you are trying to say, as to reason not being the final or only judge of reality, especially religious or spiritual reality.  I doubt for the thoughtful secularist that your reasoning is totally convincing.  From your original article, it would seem that when reason has reached its limits, then the Holy Spirit takes over and brings you to full conviction.

For instance, the Bible or the Christian says that God is a three person being, not a single entity but a three in one entity.  The second person of these three came down to earth from heaven some two thousand years ago as a baby human with a divine plan for the salvation of people.  The secularist, upon hearing such a story, might not say this is impossible, but definitely unlikely.  There are many things that we, as Christians, dismiss, not as impossible but unlikely.  For instance the story of Santa Claus and his flying sleigh, may not be impossible, but certainly is unlikely.  So adults dismiss the story, even though many young children believe it to be true.  For me, it seems easy to understand the secularist thinking who has no Holy Spirit to carry him/her over the threshold of an unlikely account.  This (inward working of the Holy Spirit) too, seems unlikely to the non Christian.

The Bible’s creation/fall account seems to be a reasonable example of how even Christians have had to admit the unlikelihood of such an actual account, even though Christians had thought such an account was actual for centuries (and many still do).  Thanks Shiao for your clarifications in seeing the different approaches taken with the Christian and the secularist to give credence to the trustworthiness of Scripture.  Your article and responses were helpful.