Is the Bible reliable?

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Is the Bible Reliable?

By: David Capes, Ph.D.

© ExploreGod.com
Christians believe the Bible speaks truth about God. But is the Bible reliable?

Nearly two billion people on earth call themselves Christians. They belong to thousands of groups and sub-groups that each differ significantly in doctrine and practice. One commonality in all these groups, however, is the conviction that the Bible is authoritative and reliable. Consider what the Catholic catechism says:

The inspired books [the Bible] teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”1

Every major denomination of Christianity affirms a similar commitment to the authority and inspiration of the Bible. They may do so with different words and emphases, but in the end all Christians look to the Bible as a source of truth about God, themselves, and what they must do in order to be in a proper relationship with God. Is their trust in the Bible well-founded? Is the Bible reliable?

Full Reliance

Let’s first consider what it means to rely fully on someone or something. Every day we rely on things we do not fully know or understand. In fact, we put our lives on the line regularly based simply on trust.

Over the last two years I have probably taken around one hundred flights. I put my life in the hands of engineers, mechanics, pilots, air-traffic controllers, and others I do not know. Why? Because many reliable people report to me—in religious lingo, they “bear witness”—that air travel is the safest way of getting from Point A to Point B.

I don’t perform the pre-flight inspection myself to make sure the plane is air-worthy. I trust the pilots. I don’t make sure the fuel is uncontaminated. I trust the manufacturer. I don’t verify the pilots’ credentials. I trust the company that employs them.

Is my trust well-placed? Well, I’m glad to report I’ve had one hundred safe take-offs and landings.

It’s not too far-fetched to say that when it comes to some of the most important issues in life, we rely on only a few witnesses. For example, I don’t have any proof that my mother is truly my mother. As important as that is in forming who I am, I believe my mother is my mother based on only a few faithful people whom I trust. I have not had DNA tests run to prove the claim; I live my life every day depending on what a few witnesses tell me.

Likewise, I don’t have any proof that my wife loves me. She tells me she does, and she acts in ways that are consistent with love, but it could all be a ruse. But still I live every day as if it is true. I depend on it. I rely on her.

My point is this: Every day we depend on a few trustworthy people when it comes to some of life’s most important issues. We bet our lives and happiness on them—and we do so without any scientific, objective proof. Instead, we simply trust others to tell us the truth.

Whether you regard the Bible as reliable probably depends on the people you trust. There are two billion Christians who rely on the Bible to tell them the truth about God. They have staked their lives on it. They “bear witness” that it is true.

But they are not alone. There are scholars, historians, and archaeologists who have studied the Bible in depth and testify that it is trustworthy. Let’s consider what just one of these fields—biblical archaeology—has to say.

Biblical Archaeology

Hebrew Bible specialist Ron Hendel defines biblical archaeology as the “rigorous correlation of textual data from the Bible and material evidence from archaeology.”2 This correlation is not only possible; it helps to make sense of both the biblical texts and the material evidence. In fact, when archaeologists recover the remains of a human culture, it is best when those results can be studied alongside other ancient, roughly contemporary texts.

Dozens of magazines and journals are dedicated to biblical archaeology.3 These journals would not exist if there were not a lot of data to correlate with the remains of material culture. Archaeology helps to clarify and confirm much of what we find in the Bible, and the Bible helps to clarify and confirm much of what archaeologists discover.

Archaeologists have been digging in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia for hundreds of years. They have recovered and analyzed countless artifacts from human culture. But only 5 percent of the sites mentioned in the Bible have been excavated—and none of those sites have been exhausted. There is still a lot of work to do. This means that there are limits to what archaeology can tell us—though it does corroborate parts of the biblical text.

For example, archaeology confirms that camels were indeed domesticated during the time of Abraham as Genesis indicates (Genesis 24:10–64), but it cannot affirm that God spoke to Abram to establish a covenant with him (Genesis 12:1–3).4 Archaeology confirms that the villages of Galilee had synagogues during the time of Jesus (e.g., Luke 4:16–30),5 but it cannot affirm that on a given day Jesus preached this or that sermon there.

This fact is why written texts are inherently so important. To put it simply, archaeology can’t dig up everything that happened in the past—and it certainly can’t dig up God. Since the Bible is fundamentally about God and his actions to rescue and repair the world, archaeology by nature must remain silent on the most important parts.

But while it cannot fully prove or disprove the Bible, the more we dig up, the more the truth of the Bible’s account of people, places, and customs becomes clear.

The Bible’s Reliability

In the end, we can say the Bible is reliable as what God intended. To recognize this, we must also acknowledge what it was not intended to be. It is not a complete guide to the flora and fauna of the Holy Land. It is not a medical manual for the treatment of diseases and injuries.

If we try to make the Bible what it is not, then we violate the purpose for which God gave us the Bible in the first place. To say the Bible is reliable is a statement of faith. We cannot prove it any more than we can prove a mother’s love. Like most of the important stuff in life, we take it on faith.

This means that the Bible can be trusted as what it claims to be. No more. No less. It can be viewed as what billions of people trust it to be: a collection of books inspired by God and “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”6


  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, (New York: Doubleday, 1994), paragraph 107.
  2. Ron Hendel, “Giants at Jericho,” Biblical Archaeological Review 35, no. 2 (2009), 20.
  3. Biblical Archaeological Review and Biblical Archaeology are two examples.
  4. Ken A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 338.
  5. Evans, 38–62.
  6. The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, 2 Timothy 3:16.
  7. Photo Credit: Photobac / Shutterstock.com.
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Categories: Apologetics, Christianity, Contributors

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6 replies

  1. Hi James,
    For some reason this comment/questions didn’t go thru here so I’m trying again…
    You have a very interesting blog. Just a couple of questions I’d like to ask please.
    Intersexed births are a medical-physical fact — have been for many thousands of years. They occur a lot more often than society is aware. For example:
    1 in 66 individuals are born with Late Onset Adrenal Hyperplasia
    1 in 1,000 births are born with Klinefelter(XXY) or 2 or more X chromosomes
    1 in 1,666 births are born with no XX or XY chromosome distinction (non-binary)
    1 in 6,000 births are born with Vaginal Agenesis
    1 in 100 births are people whose bodies differ from standard male or female
    1 in 770 births have Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis)
    And in several parts of the world — e.g. Dominican Republic, Turkey, Papua New Guinea, and Eastern Europe — many children are born with 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency, where at birth they are female, but by age 12-14 they have grown a penis and become boys. These are all factual births observable by doctors and staff and undeniable.
    Since all of this happens INSIDE the embryo prior to birth, this could be described as God’s workshop and intention, completely undermining what Canonical Scripture teaches. What are your thoughts about this?
    Also, this 6-min video illustrates very accurately the irrationality and absurdity of blind faith. Have you seen it and if so, what are your thoughts?
    https://youtu.be/zaFZQBb2srM
    Thank you James. Hope you have had a good weekend.

    Like

    • Thanks for the reply James (not here abviously) over on your About Page. I really do hope you’ll allow this reply here too without any changes.
      Your answer seems to be the pat, generic, standard answer to the hard-facts, but it is truly insufficient, especially from a theological or biblical viewpoint for the simple fact that the Canonical Bible doesn’t address God’s medical and genetic errors in His creation. I say that too with 3.5 years in seminary (Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson), about 11-years in ministry, and missionary work on 4 of the 6 inhabitable continents. I have seen firsthand just about everything imaginable on this planet and within various cultures.

      Ultimately, the answer to why people are born with any of the conditions you mention has to be “I don’t know.” And, I don’t understand why anyone wouldd try to say anything else.

      I must respectfully disagree James, we do know why in some cases, we don’t know why in some cases, but in time we will, and throwing our hands up in the air certainly won’t help gain understanding why like humanity and medicine have been able to do with diseases and ailments such as polio, leprocy, smallpox, yellow-fever, measles, typhoid, malaria, TB, Pneumococcal disease, and a whole host of many more too many to name here! How have we cured them? Because we DO KNOW. And this includes physical (crippling?) deformities such as club-foot, craniosynostosis, hexadactyly or polydactyly, and albinism. We actually DO KNOW. I am a very big fan of very broad, exhaustive, and cumulative education of knowledge, but just as importantly the education of ignorance; the latter is a field called Agnotology. 🙂

      Also, It is very possible for a child born with the sexual abnormalities you mentioned to grow up to have a healthy view of sexuality, successful relationships, and happy lives. From early on, the child should be taught how valuable, loved, and accepted they are by their family and also by God. He or she are not victims of divine judgment or some kind of mistake, as you seem to be saying, but God has a plan for each one of us that will bring Him glory.

      As I mentioned earlier, on 4 of the 6 inhabitable continents that I’ve lived and visited (3+ months minimum) and their cultures, life-values and empathetic support, as well as much needed medical help, comes in all sorts of incredible ways and MANY children/adults with uncommon/common congenital issues live fantastic lives. The difference is that NONE of the successes and/or “cures” are exclusive to any one ideology/belief-system! The beautiful cures and management of congenital problems are as diverse as this Earth and everything living on it! Hence, I’d have to respectfully EXPAND your God-plan paragraph to include a much more global and inclusive lens, respectfully of course. 😉

      Blind faith is trusting in something without any evidence. It has been described as a leap in the dark, a giving over of oneself to something despite a solid foundation. God does not expect us to have this type of faith.
      God has revealed Himself to us.

      Oooooo, now that is Pandora’s Box and an endless can of worms. Why? Because “divine revelations” are NOT unanimous among any religions. Again, I can state this with certainty because I’ve lived on 4 of the 6 inhabitable continents; firsthand knowledge. Why is this so? Once “revelations” are precisely defined (sometimes that is impossible), then one must examine intimately, exhaustively, and in microscopic detail ALL claims of “divine revelations” by all spiritual/religious groups around the world. I can also say it is a Pandora’s Box-Can of Worms because of 3.5 years in seminary. In Christianity or Christology, revelations come in only two forms:
      1. General Revelation — indirect, and available communication/evidence to everyone. Some “truths” about God can be revealed through reason, conscience, the natural world, or moral sense. The major problem with this is that none of the world’s theistic religions are in unanimous, complete agreement as to what is truth and what is not; inconsistency.
      2. Special Revelation — direct revelation to an individual or a group. This sort of revelation includes dreams, paranormal visions and experience, prophecy, and Scriptures. Yet again, though some of these are repeatably testable and tangible, they too are not unanimous even among all theists, in particular the Abrahamic faiths. They ALL claim exclusive elite “truth,” but none are in identical agreement.
      These inconsistencies and sectarian postures strongly suggest that A) no theist is right, or B) divine “truth” is not universal or Cosmic or exclusive… or C) “truth” is a human construct not from any divine entity, should one or many exist.
      I’ll stop here because this is my extremely abbreviated/truncated reply to your reply and all its many implications or inferences and assumptions or presuppositions.
      Thanks James for the Sunday mental exercises. Have a great week.

      Like

      • Professor,
        Thanks for sharing a bit about yourself in your comment, it helps a great deal, I think, to know a little bit about whom you are talking to rather than to just make assumptions as we are often forced to do online. That said, your background is indeed fascinating.
        As for me, I have I have two Master’s degrees in fields completely unrelated to religion but am currently working on a Master’s in Christian Ministry.
        I have also been active in ministry for around 15 years which has included many trips overseas. And, I was in the military for just over 20 years so I have lived in and travelled to more places than most average people.
        Now, let’s get to it 🙂

        “Your answer seems to be the pat, generic, standard answer to the hard-facts…”

        Of course it is, why would you expect anything else? Just because what I say might be standard Christian fare doesn’t make it wrong, necessarily.

        “…the Canonical Bible doesn’t address God’s medical and genetic errors in His creation.”

        The Bible says God and His ways are perfect and that He does not make errors so your phrasing here is a little suspect to me. Birth defects and disease clearly exist but, as I aptly explained, these are the result of sin, not errors on the part of God. This may be the first thing we will have to agree to disagree on.

        “I have seen firsthand just about everything imaginable on this planet and within various cultures.”

        As have I. My thoughts and opinions, although we may disagree, do not come from ignorance and lack of experience.

        “Ultimately, the answer to why people are born with any of the conditions you mention has to be “I don’t know.” And, I don’t understand why anyone would try to say anything else.
        I must respectfully disagree James, we do know why in some cases, we don’t know why in some cases, but in time we will, and throwing our hands up in the air certainly won’t help gain understanding why like humanity and medicine have been able to do with diseases and ailments such as…”

        I think there is a little confusion here as to exactly what I meant by, “I don’t know.” Although I am not a doctor, I am fully aware that science does know exactly how and why some diseases exist and how to treat them but that isn’t really what I was getting at. My point, instead of throwing my hands up as you said, was more that person A may get a disease and person B may not and, in many cases we don’t know why.

        “Also, it is very possible for a child born with the sexual abnormalities you mentioned to grow up to have a healthy view of sexuality, successful relationships, and happy lives. From early on, the child should be taught how valuable, loved, and accepted they are by their family and also by God. He or she are not victims of divine judgment or some kind of mistake, as you seem to be saying, but God has a plan for each one of us that will bring Him glory.
        As I mentioned earlier, on 4 of the 6 inhabitable continents that I’ve lived and visited (3+ months minimum) and their cultures, life-values and empathetic support, as well as much needed medical help, comes in all sorts of incredible ways and MANY children/adults with uncommon/common congenital issues live fantastic lives. The difference is that NONE of the successes and/or “cures” are exclusive to any one ideology/belief-system! The beautiful cures and management of congenital problems are as diverse as this Earth and everything living on it! Hence, I’d have to respectfully EXPAND your God-plan paragraph to include a much more global and inclusive lens, respectfully of course.”

        Again, there seems to be some confusion about meaning here. You mentioned sexual abnormalities, implied they are God’s mistakes, and that they are counter to Scripture. I merely came back with the idea that they are not God’s mistakes and that these people can live full and meaningful lives and glorify God; which is true. Sure, I could have expanded and been more inclusive but that fact that I did not does not mean I don’t agree with you in that these individuals can have meaningful lives in a faith system outside of Christianity or in no faith system at all.

        “Blind faith is trusting in something without any evidence…”

        I think I covered this in my last comment 🙂

        “God has revealed Himself to us.
        Oooooo, now that is Pandora’s Box and an endless can of worms. Why? Because “divine revelations” are NOT unanimous among any religions. Again, I can state this with certainty because I’ve lived on 4 of the 6 inhabitable…”

        Not sure why you keep repeating that you’ve lived on 4 of the 6 inhabitable continents as if this adds some weight to your arguments especially when I have been around at least as much as you, perhaps more.
        Also not sure why the lesson on revelation was included as if I don’t know anything about it, I think that assumes to much about me.
        To be clear, though, I was referring to general revelation which is taught in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
        With your theological education and your ministry experience, I am sure you understand quite well that Christians like me believe that and will use it in discussions like the one we are having.
        Another point we are going to have to agree to disagree on, perhaps?
        Have a good week,
        James

        Like

        • Thanks James. I think I’ll just breakup your last reply in two parts, to make this dialogue easier to read and follow. Then after your answers here I will move on to following sections of your reply.
          Your background and education are fascinating as well. Congrats on the two Master’s. With limited time and money that isn’t an easy accomplishment these days in the U.S. Yikes! You should put that info on your blog somewhere easily found! A sort of Curriculum Vitae or Dossier, you know? 😉
          What university or universities did you obtain your under-grad and post-grad degrees? Where are you enrolled for your master’s in Christian Ministries? And I might as well ask what church specifically are you a member? How many different churches have you been a member of? In all of your travels, did you stay/live in those places for many months or years? LOL… Yeah, I know… what’s with all the questions, huh? Like you said, that’s how you get to know someone or something, you ask lots of questions.

          Of course it is, why would you expect anything else? Just because what I say might be standard Christian fare doesn’t make it wrong, necessarily.

          Hahaha… expect anything else? True. I guess I was just hoping for an original creative reply rather than a cookie-cutter one from the standard, familiar Christian Apologetics manual(s). But then again, Christianity or Christology is indeed a biblically Closed-system of belief and cannot be changed, adapted, fluid or modified to apply to contemporaneous times. But don’t say that to all the other 12-to-200+ different Christian denominations/movements on Earth, huh? In that sense, that’s what I meant by “it is insufficient.” The fact that there are so many different Christian churches and creeds in existence today (many claiming exclusive truth!) reflects very poorly on the ONE testable “revelation” from “God” — Scripture can apparently be interpreted (exegesis) in many various ways to anyone’s own agenda (bias) when ironically there is only one Hebrew Tanakh and one (sort of) Greek (canonical) New Testament!

          The Bible says God and His ways are perfect and that He does not make errors so your phrasing here is a little suspect to me. Birth defects and disease clearly exist but, as I aptly explained, these are the result of sin, not errors on the part of God. This may be the first thing we will have to agree to disagree on.

          You are correct James, we might have to agree to disagree on the Bible’s validity and reliability. In my examination, reading of countless times in English, Hebrew, and Greek, studying the historical context of all books in the Old Testament (Tanakh) and the New Testament, the 4th-century CE canonical Bible has numerous/many inaccuracies, inconsistencies, retro-active changes by biblical compilers and copyists, and Hellenistic embellishments… rendering it simply a book of cultural folklore and storytelling beneficial for group bounding only. I am certainly not alone on this posture either. Many other acclaimed scholars (much better skilled than I in all the relevant disciplines of study) agree: the veracity of the Bible, especially the New Testament, is very weak and in some cases non-existent.

          My point, instead of throwing my hands up as you said, was more that person A may get a disease and person B may not and, in many cases we don’t know why.

          And in many cases we DO KNOW WHY. More often than not, sooner or later, we eventually know what we once didn’t know. The fact that we don’t know something doesn’t equate automatically to some divine intervention, especially when that divine entity (supposedly) doesn’t speak (consistently? verifiably?) to humanity in one voice, with one intent, except through 4th-century CE canonical Scripture. All other forms of “divine” revelation are NOT uniformly confirmed, much less unanimously considered true by Christians… again, evidenced by 12-to-200+ church denominations/movements.
          I’ll stop here and get to the rest of your reply later tonight or tomorrow. Till then, thanks James.

          Like

        • Here’s Part 2 —

          You mentioned sexual abnormalities, implied they are God’s mistakes, and that they are counter to Scripture. I merely came back with the idea that they are not God’s mistakes…

          Yes, because if Nature (Creation) is right or reality, then it is counter to Scripture. And if they are not Natural mistakes, i.e. reality, then Scripture is the mistake or incomplete or antiquated. For example, homosexuality and various degrees of homosexuality, bisexuality, bicurious, asexual, pansexual, and polysexual AND everything in between hormonally (Endocrinology and Neurology) are results of what developed prenatally in the embryo and then later what developes (or not, or incompletely) post-natal from family and environment. Empirically speaking it is God/Nature that greatly influences a person’s sexual gender and/or orientation BEFORE birth! However, post-natally there is a horrible conflict/contradiction in religious societies due to “Scripture” or the exegesis of Scripture!

          • Leviticus 18 and 20
          • Sodom and Gomorrah?
          • 1 Samuel 18:1
          • 2 Samuel 1:26
          • Ruth and Naomi?
          • Romans 1:26-27
          • 1 Corinthians 6:9

          And maybe a 1-3 other passages.

          If it was all meant to be so diverse, so inconclusive, such a grey-area and always changing, then why didn’t “God” just make Nature/Creation clearly binary, black-n-white, make Scripture conclusively correct to reflect Nature/Creation… or BOTH!? Clear up the confusion all together at the onset! And then there are all the other species on Earth that are not strictly heterosexual or binary! In fact, there are MANY species on Earth that are same-sex or parthenogenetic! Why create MORE confusion in Nature? Or… is it antiquated Scripture that is the REAL problem/fallacy?

          Finally, “sin” only has limited pseudo-applications in morality and ethics. Even in those arenas “sin” (evil) and its exact nature are controversial, not unanimous, and culturally quite fluid and subjective. It is by no means a genetic prenatal anomaly or curse as we have both agreed. I believe “sin” (if that’s a correct term) is actually just temporary human ignorance and human-manufactured ignorance and distortion. It is hyper-self-centered, i.e. the antithesis of Eusociality. It has nothing to do with the mythological fairy-tale of Adam and Eve, the Garden, a snake, and disobedience… or the doctrine of Original Sin. Thousands and millions of people (if not all) are born just fine depending on maternal-paternal genetics and environment. Another fallacy of Biblical narrative versus actual Nature, modern medicine and genetics, and paleoanthropology.

          Not sure why you keep repeating that you’ve lived on 4 of the 6 inhabitable continents as if this adds some weight to your arguments especially when I have been around at least as much as you, perhaps more.

          Because it DOES indeed have some value in weight as I’m assuming YOU feel yours does. I’ve sort of asked you about your travels earlier in my previous reply. You are more than welcome to list all the places you’ve lived on all continents and for how long. I’d be VERY interested in knowing. Why? Because a kinetic traveler cannot HELP but witness and appreciate the splendor and goodness of many lifestyles and beliefs different than his/her own and outside of either an ancient Greco-Roman Christology with a tad of Judaism, or an Americanized-Western version of life. If he can speak their native language (fluently?), then he/her has an even DEEPER understanding. Do you speak any other languages James other than English? 🙂

          Also not sure why the lesson on revelation was included as if I don’t know anything about it, I think that assumes to much about me.

          Because it isn’t shared on your blog (that I’m aware of) and most ordinary people, including the majority of Christians, do NOT know of the two simple forms of “divine revelation” and their implicit and explicit meanings. Happy to know you are familiar with them James.

          To be clear, though, I was referring to general revelation…

          Yes, and I was stating/implying that THAT type of revelation is the least proveable and weakest argument (insufficient) FOR Christianity or any theistic religion.

          Yes, more often than not I’m sure we will disagree. That’s fine. I just hope you’ll continue to allow my alternative viewpoints and their proofs, supports, and plausibilities or valid doubts upon Christendom.

          Thanks again James for the good, though introductory, dialogue. Hope it can continue.

          Like

  2. Great title is the bible reliable?

    It would be quite the shame to spend the only lifetime one has, dissecting and debating its IRRELEVANCE. Thus should the professional skeptic take a cue.

    Of course its reliable. All men know this.

    Liked by 1 person

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