It’s an absolutely fundamental question for any Christian. And surprisingly, when I’ve asked most people this question they rarely have an answer. And when they do have an answer, it is rarely sufficiently reasonable.
I think this is largely because it is something most all Christians take for granted. It’s a part of the Christian tradition. And even though we disagree on a lot of things within the denominational spectrum of divided Christianity, we assume we can all agree on the Bible. But that isn’t entirely true either.
For many the Bible is the basis for their entire belief. They go by the “bible alone.” Their entire faith is based on the “bible alone” they say…well, except for the whole part that explains why they believe in the Bible in the first place!
Let’s be clear. Nowhere in the Bible does it define what the Bible is. Nowhere does it list the books that are supposed to be in this so called Bible. Nowhere in the Bible does it clearly tell us how to use the Bible. And it certainly doesn’t say anywhere in it that it is the sole rule of our faith (as some Christians believe).
Christians can argue all day long about what the Bible says about this or that. They point to it and say things like, “well you should do it because it’s in the Bible!” But when you ask them why that matters? Why should I believe what the Bible says? Why can I trust it? They rarely have a good answer – at least not a reasonable one. It’s usually something like “because it’s true!” Or “I’ve read it and the Holy Spirit told me so.” Or “I just get a good, warm feeling when I read it.” But these answers are inadequate.
When you ask them “How do you know the Bible is the Word of God?” – a question that their entire faith rests upon – they rarely have an answer.
1) As Christians, we’ve got to do better than that.
2) How can we possibly understand how to interpret the Bible if we don’t know where it comes from? How can we be sure we are understanding it properly if we are not using it in the manner it was created to be used? And how do we know what that manner is when it’s not explained in the Bible itself?
I posted this question on my Facebook and Twitter status today to see what people thought. I got some very thoughtful answers. I got some very confusing answers. And I got some very honest answers like…”I’m not sure! I just do! But good question!”
Before we further address this question, we need to be clear about what we mean by “believing in the Bible.” Many of the answers I got were great, logical reasons to believe that what the Bible teaches historically (where it is intending to teach historically) is true. In other words, “believing in the Bible” means believing it is true. That’s fair enough. And there are lots of logical reasons that tell us the Bible is accurately documenting a lot of historical fact. And we can use that as evidence in figuring out what we believe.
But Christians don’t just believe the Bible is “true.” We believe it is the “Inspired” Word of God Himself. Not that it is “inspiring” – but that it is actually written by God Himself using human authors as instruments – The Word of God. This is quite a different thing. And quite a jump.
Just because I write something that is true, just makes it true. It doesn’t mean God wrote it Himself through me. So historical and modern evidence that Biblical stories are true and haven’t been proven wrong is no basis for the Christian belief in an Inspired Bible.
Additionally, some make the case that it is prophetic. But again, just because something or somebody is prophetic and predicted the future does not mean it is The Word of God necessarily.
At this point many throw their hands in the air and say, “I just believe it on faith.” But this is a cop-out. So you base your faith on the Bible? But then the reason you base your faith on the Bible is…more faith? Did you just come up with this idea of an Inspired Bible out of thin air then? It just doesn’t hold up.
So how do we know? Is there any basis for the claim that the Bible is actually the Word of God? The answer is in its origin.
So how did we get this Bible? Where did it come from? Did Jesus just drop it out of the sky during His ascension? Of course not. So where did it come from?
The Bible is a collection of a bunch of writings that were written over thousands of years in different contexts, for different purposes, to different people, in different languages, across different cultures. And some how they all ended up together in one book. Kind of daunting thinking that we can just pull quotes out of context and formulate a coherent unified faith, huh? Makes it easy to see why so many denominations who claim to go by the Bible can all disagree on so many different things.
It’s also easy to see that these writings were not written as an all inclusive “manual” to live by. In fact, nowhere does the Bible claim to be such. So let’s undo some of these previous assumptions many have made and back it up even further.
We’ve established that Jesus did not define and put together the Bible. In fact, the entirety of the New Testament was not even finished being written until at least 50-60 years after Jesus died (so the first Christians were certainly not “bible-only” Christians). So what did they have? What did Jesus found?
He founded a Church. And it is the Church that is the “pillar and bulwark” of the Truth (1 Tim 3:15). And we can know this with certainty by studying the validity of these historical texts (biblical and otherwise) and from what we know of human nature through our natural reason. Through reason we can logically come to know that Jesus existed, that he must have rose from the dead, and is therefore what he himself claimed to be – God. Through historical evidence and reason we can also come to know that God Himself established a Church and gave Peter (the first Pope) the keys of the kingdom and the power to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19) and gave its leaders the power to forgive sins (John 20:22-23) and to teach in His name.
With further reading of historical texts (biblical and otherwise from the early Christians) we can verify that this Church Jesus started is indeed the Catholic Church – i.e they believed in a priesthood, sacraments, Eucharist, papacy, hierarchy, teaching authority, Apostolic succession, etc. (I wrote more here on that)
It is also undisputed, historical fact that the Catholic Church set and confirmed the New Testament Canon throughout history and definitively at the end of the 4th century. They are the ones who decided which early Christian writings were “Inspired” and therefore included in the canon of the Bible and which writings were not (indeed there were many that were not).
Again, there were lots of writings out there that may have been “true.” But they didn’t make it into the Canon just for being true…they were instead left out because the Church determined them to not be “Inspired.” It was the leaders of the Catholic Church that decided all of this. They are the ones who discerned which writings truly were “The Word of God.”
So the authenticity of the Biblical canon – and therefore, indirectly, the Bible itself – rests on the authority of the Catholic Church. Either the Catholic Church had the authority and capacity to do this or they didn’t. We can see through history and reason that they did have this authority. Therefore, I believe the Bible is the Inspired Word of God.
So the only rational reason we can believe that the Bible is the Inspired Word of God is essentially because the Catholic Church has revealed that to us through their authority and charism given to it by Christ. And if we trust the Catholic Church to determine its canon, perhaps we should also trust it to interpret it for us. After all, that’s why God gave us a Church with the authority to do such things.
“I would not believe in the Gospels were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church” – St. Augustine
Here’s some further reading concerning this topic if you’d like. It’s a good write up – still summarized but slightly more in depth. Thanks for everyone’s feedback and thoughts today!