I was nineteen years old when I first began to read the Bible, and at that time the most popular version was the King James Bible. It was originally compiled in 1611 AD and uses terms like “thee” and “thou,” “whilst” and “doth,” just like people did in Shakespeare’s time. But let’s face it—we don’t talk that way nowadays because it’s archaic, and that means that versions like the King James Version can be hard for the modern reader to understand. Although many people eventually get used to it, there are many easier-to-read versions available now, so I don’t recommend that the first-time Bible reader use a King James Bible. It may have worked for King James and Shakespeare, but the way it reads will confuse most people today.
When picking up the King James Bible, you will also notice that right on the cover it says “Holy Bible,” a phrase that was used for the first time on that version. Although many other versions nowadays merely say “The Bible,” the belief that it’s the “Holy Book” remains for Christians today.
Why is the Bible considered to be a holy book?
Why do most Christians believe the Bible is a Holy Book—and what does that even mean?
The words of all the biblical writers were considered very special by the people they wrote to because the people believed that the writers were delivering the words of God. This understanding is based on God being “holy,” meaning that He is separate and apart from us because of His sacredness, purity, and perfect nature. Furthermore, there are numerous places where the Bible actually says that God is holy. Here are a few that are familiar to most Bible readers:
1 Samuel 2:2 (NIV)
“There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you;
Psalm 99:9 (NIV)
Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.
Revelation 4:8 (NIV)
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
The reason that the Bible is considered “holy” is because God is a holy God, and that means His words are holy, too.
How did we get the Bible?
The Bible is a compilation of 66 individual books written by numerous writers over more than a 1,500 year period. I specifically use the phrase “written by” because most Christians recognize that although there were many writers, there was one Author—God. Through the ages, men recorded what God directed them to, so in a sense the writers were God’s secretaries recording what He inspired them to write.
There are numerous places where God instructed Moses to record His words and then to instruct the people. Contained within the books of Moses—the first five books of the Bible—are detailed instructions for Israel, covering a wide range of topics including the Ten Commandments, the construction of the Tabernacle, sacrificial practices, the Feasts of Israel, and more. In some instances, such as with Moses, God directly dictated the words. At other times He inspired His prophets what to write through His spirit. Essentially, no matter how God did it, the words in the Bible are understood to be His words.
Inspired by God—Men wrote as God directed
This principle of how men were given the words to write is revealed in the Bible itself where it says, “All Scripture is God-breathed…” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV). The phrase “God-breathed” is translated from the Greek word, theopneustos, which is a compound word comprised of Theos (God) and pneustos (breathed).
Whenever we speak, we do so by exhaling air as we form and enunciate syllables. But before we can exhale the air to speak, we must first inhale air—draw it into our lungs. When the Bible says that “all Scripture is God-breathed,” or “inspired by God,” it means the writers received the words like air from God, and exhaled them as they spoke. This understanding is further expressed in 2 Peter:
2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV)
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21For prophecy [words from God] never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter is clear that the words did not originate in man; they originated in the mind of God, and the prophets spoke and wrote as God inspired them.
Who is the Bible intended for?
There has never been any shortage of critics of the Bible. Some say it’s full of myths or that you can’t trust it. Most who criticize it do so from the “outside,” so to speak—they are scoffers and unbelievers. But who exactly is the Bible written for? Is the purpose of the Bible to convince the skeptics that God really does exist?
The Bible makes it clear that God’s words aren’t intended to convince the doubters, but instead are for the “servant of God.” The servant of God is anyone who desires to “serve” God and live in a way that is pleasing to Him, doing His will and remaining obedient to His decrees. These are spiritual words directed toward those who desire spiritual food and seek to love and serve God; to do that, they must know His desires and instructions. The Bible was never directed toward the unbeliever and those who reject God.
Before his death, my father gave me a treasured family heirloom—a special ring. The last thing I would ever do is treat it disrespectfully, such as tossing it into the mud and stepping on it. If my father had had any inkling that I was going to treat his priceless heirloom like that, he would have never given it to me in the first place. Instead, he would have passed it on to someone he knew would respect and treat it as the valuable object it is. In a similar way, God’s Word is very precious, worth more than silver or gold, and He doesn’t entrust it to anyone who holds contempt for Him.
Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
And without faith [trust] it’s impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
The entire testimony of the Bible is that God works with those who seek and trust Him. True biblical faith isn’t a mystical or metaphysical mindset or a belief in something for which there is no proof. We have genuine faith in God when we trust Him and are confident that He will do what He says He will. Throughout human history God has rewarded those who seek Him, trust Him, and obey Him. Chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews wonderfully demonstrates this principle when it lists and describes many heroes of faith:
Hebrews 11:7, 8, 23
“By faith Noah, when warned…condemned the world and became the heir of righteousness…8By faith Abraham, when called…obeyed…23By faith, Moses’ parents hid him…”
God’s words were delivered to men and women who trusted Him and strived to obey Him. These are the kinds of people for whom the Bible is intended.
What is the purpose of the Bible?
There are a number of purposes for the individual books in the Bible, but overall the Bible serves as a guide to those who desire to love and serve God. By understanding God’s desires for mankind, as well as His ways, we learn how to obey and please Him.
Psalm 119:9-11 (NIV)
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Previously we learned that the scriptures are God-breathed—they are words inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). In this same passage, in addition to learning how the words came to man, we also learn who they were intended for and what their purpose is. Let’s look at the whole verse as quoted below:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Teaching is instruction concerning God’s plans, purposes, and actions throughout history, as well as the right things to think and do in life. It’s the “what” and “how” of living right. Unfortunately, we all stumble, so when we do, rebuking brings our missteps to our attention and points out our error. Once we become aware of that error, correction shows us how to get back on the right path. When we put the teaching, rebuking, and correction together, they become a package that provides us “training in righteousness”—right living. This is one of the purposes of the Bible.
The words of God are pure
Unlike the words that we speak, the holy nature of God results in His words always being true and pure. The Psalmist paints a vivid picture of the purity of God’s words when he compares them to silver in the refiner’s furnace.
Psalm 12:6 (NIV)
And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.
Refining is the process used to remove the impurities from precious metals like gold and silver. One method used to purify the metal is to heat it in a crucible until it liquefies, which causes the dross—the impurities—to float to the top, where they can be removed. Normally this would be done two or three times to achieve a very high purity.
In the case of God’s words, He says they are as pure as silver or gold refined up to seven times. This means they are completely pure, perfectly flawless, without any contaminates. Many times when the number seven is used in the Bible, it signifies that something is spiritually perfect. In this case, with the comparison between God’s Word and precious metals refined seven times, God is telling us that we can trust His words because they are absolutely flawless—spiritually perfect.
Here are a few other references to God’s words to consider:
Psalm 19:9-10 (NIV)
The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
Psalm 119:160 (NIV)
All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.
Psalm 119:43 (NIV)
Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws.
John 17:17 (NIV)
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
What evidence is there that God inspired the words in the Bible?
This is a very important question because if there is no evidence to support the claim that the Bible is in fact God’s Word, then we only have people’s opinions and no real reason to trust it. Listed below are some of the reasons why we can trust the Bible.
- Archeological Evidence
Occasionally we hear people say that there is no archeological evidence for the Flood of Noah, the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, or other biblical events. But in actuality there is a tremendous amount of archeological evidence that confirms many biblical accounts, and new discoveries of additional physical evidence are being made on a regular basis.
Archeological studies have now confirmed the reigns of biblical kings mentioned in the books of 1 and 2 Kings, such as Omri, Ahab, Uzziah, Hezzekiah, Jeroboam II, and Jehoiachin. The ancient city of Lachish has been discovered and the accounts of it in the Bible match its physical location and the Assyrian siege against it (2 Kings 18-19). One of the most famous discoveries of the 20th century was the Dead Sea Scrolls, a large volume of scrolls hidden in caves in the area of the Dead Sea, which corroborated the reliability of many Old Testament texts. There have also been innumerable discoveries of artifacts, cities, and edifices that confirm the reigns of Kings David and Solomon, the existence of the Temple, and much more.
One of the flaws of archeology is that, although scientists may agree on the discovery of artifacts and their locations, they often disagree on the timeframes in which they were made or the significance of the items themselves. The critics once said that there was no evidence for a Hittite empire as described in the Bible—that is, until the day when scholars discovered the remains of the Hittite empire exactly where the Bible described it! We must bear in mind that just because we haven’t discovered evidence for some of the people, places, or things in the Bible doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. It simply means we haven’t found the evidence yet, or possibly that archeologists have misidentified what they’ve already found. Today there are many books that provide ample archeological evidence for the validity of the Bible.
- Textual Consistency
One principle argument people use to attack the validity of the Bible is to say that the text cannot be trusted. Sometimes they claim, “It has been copied so many times that there is no way we can prove it’s still accurate.” Although on the surface this argument may seem to have some merit, the facts actually don’t support it.
When determining the validity of a manuscript, scholars rely on the number of copies that exist and the proximity in time of the manuscript’s copies to the original. When it comes to the Bible, the volume of textual evidence is overwhelming. There are now over 5,700 copies of the Greek text consisting of over 2.5 million pages of text, and the amount of material is increasing each year as new discoveries are made. In addition to the early copies, we also have a large number of quotations of the Bible in the writings of the early church fathers. Today, with the aid of modern computers, we can actually develop a very accurate rendering of the original text.
Scholars who work with ancient manuscripts commonly recognize that the more copies that exist, the greater the possibility of reconstructing the original document. The ability to compare the various texts allows the textual researcher to fill in any missing sections and to identify any additions that may have been made. Scholars are even so convinced of the completeness of the biblical textual record that they now commonly place its purity at 99.5%.
- Literary Consistency
Another point that speaks to God’s genuine authorship of the Bible is the consistency of the writing. It’s amazing that despite its 66 books being written by 40 people who wrote over more than a 1,500-year span, the Bible still has a clear literary consistency. These were writers who lived in many different countries, with differing cultures, writing in different languages and in many different genres, and yet there is a single unifying theme—one story which flows from beginning to end, culminating in the accomplishment of God’s plans and purposes. When we consider how rare it is to get even a handful of eyewitnesses to agree on a simple event that they have all personally witnessed, the thematic unity of the Bible is incredible. This amazing thematic unity points directly to a single author—God!
- Prophetic Proof
Additional proof of the divine authorship of the Bible is the historically verifiable prophecies that it contains. One of the most interesting aspects of the Bible is that it contains a lot of predictive prophecy—the foretelling of events before they happened. In fact, a significant portion of the Old Testament is predictive, possibly as much as 25-30%. In particular, it’s very noteworthy that, with the exception of those things concerning Jesus’ second coming in the future and the end times, he fulfilled every single one of the 300-plus prophecies about the Messiah. At times, people may be able to make somewhat good predictions about the future, but never to the degree and accuracy of the prophetic sections in the Bible. This prophetic evidence indicates a supernatural force at work.
Why so many Bible translations?
Walk into any modern Christian bookstore to purchase a Bible, and you will probably be overwhelmed by how many translations there are to choose from. There are actually over 100 English translations of the Bible, and they all vary to some degree. What we need to keep in mind is that there was only one original text that was written, and it’s not the original text that varies, but the translations of that text.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. Whenever a document is translated from one language into another, the translator must choose which word best fits the author’s message. Although it may seem simple to choose an English word when translating from Greek or Hebrew, this isn’t always the case. Languages reflect cultures and the way people think, which means there may be times when there isn’t an English word that perfectly conveys the original concept. The translator must then make a judgment call on how to convey the meaning—and, of course, translators may disagree on the choices made.
There are other times when a word can have a wide range of meanings, and the translator must choose from a pool of words. For instance, in Greek we may have a word that means “to touch someone”, and the translator must decide which of the following words fits best: brush, tap, bump, hit, slap, push, pull, knock, slam, etc. As you can see, all of these English words are a form of “touching” another person, but they each convey a very different concept, so the word the translator chooses can greatly alter the meaning. Translators determine the correct word to use based on the context of the section, but personal biases and understandings affect all translations.
Another reason there are so many English translations is because languages change over time. The King James Version was originally translated in 1611, and what a word meant at the time of Shakespeare often means something very different today. Languages are fluid; the meanings of words change as society and cultures change, which is why various translations can eventually become “out of date.”
After reading the Bible for many years, I now tend to read a number of different translations when studying, but for personal enjoyment I prefer to read for pleasure a version that I have grown accustomed to. When first learning to enjoy the Bible, choose a translation that is easy for you to read and understand, and remember: no matter what translation you choose, the Bible is the Word of God, and as such it has the power to transform your life as He speaks to you through it.