A Subtle Argument for Inspiration
The Bible—is it God’s Word, or is it a mere human production? This is a question of supreme importance.
For many years this writer has made a special study of the various lines of evidence that substantiate the Bible’s claim of being a book given by God. There are numerous areas one may explore in confirming such an affirmation.
EVIDENCE WITHIN THE PAGES
There are many segments of information contained within the writings of Scripture that argue for an originating source that lies beyond human genius.
For example, the sixty-six documents that compose the Book are characterized by such a flow of continuity, and such an amazing harmony, that it is impossible that they could have been authored over a span of sixteen centuries by some forty writers, and then fortuitously flow together in the fashion now found. The Bible’s unity argues for a supreme, orchestrating Mind.
There are approximately 7,000 prophecies that adorn the pages of this body of literature. The fact that these fore-statements (dealing with nations, people, and events) were fulfilled in a precise way (e.g., the more than 300 that previewed the coming Messiah) is more than incredible.
One can only marvel at the uncanny accuracy of the Scriptures in the academic areas upon which they touch—whether history, science, geography, etc.
We have discussed this matter in detail in our book, The Bible & Science.
But there are other lines of evidence that add weight to the biblical claim of supernatural origin. Some of these are more indirect in nature.
For example, there are omissions in the Bible that are puzzling had its composition been directed by mere human impulse.
Why are there no descriptions of God or of Jesus Christ? Other volumes of religious literature abound with portrayals of the features of their divine characters.
Why were most of the biographical data of Jesus’ thirty-three years upon this earth passed over in silence? Why do we know almost nothing of the life-long labors of most of the apostles?
Writers guided by their own literary inclinations would scarcely have neglected such intriguing details. This is not a circumstance easily explained from a naturalistic vantage point.
Elsewhere we have dealt with this material in more detail.
In summarizing these two major points we may say:
There are things in the BibIe that could not have been the result of mere human intellect.
There are things not in the Bible that surely would have been there if the documents had been humanly engineered.
Now we will direct our attention to yet another class of data. We are prepared to affirm that there are incidents recorded in the Bible that would not have been placed there if mere human impulse had been the guiding force in its composition.
In this section we will restrict our discussion to material in the New Testament.
If a writer is attempting to perpetrate religious hoax by means of fabricated documents, he will make every effort to avoid controversial issues which would “turn off” those he hopes to persuade by his propaganda. In view of this well-recognized principle, one is shocked to note some very strange inclusions to the New Testament record—if the narratives were prepared by writers who knew Christianity to be a bogus system, yet, nonetheless, wanted to persuade first-century citizens to accept it. Consider some of the following cases.
An Out-of-Wedlock Birth
The New Testament record begins with the account of the birth of Jesus. Joseph, a Hebrew man of the city of Nazareth, was “betrothed” to a virgin girl named Mary. In Jewish custom, from the time of a woman’s betrothal, she was treated as if she were “married,” though the union had not been consummated. A betrothal could not be dissolved except by divorce, and sexual activity with another was treated as adultery (Edersheim, p. 148). At the very least Mary would have been disgraced, had Joseph “put her away,” when he discovered that she was with child (Matthew 1:19).
Now here is the significant point. If one aims to construct a religion that he hopes will find acceptance within the ancient society of Judaism, he would hardly begin it with the hero of the “plot” being born out of wedlock! Such was scandalous to the Jewish mind. Yet this is precisely the situation to which one is introduced—in both Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ birth. The only reasonable view of this circumstance is this: the story of the birth of Christ is presented the way it is because that is precisely how it happened—as unappealing as that was to the Jews. The account has a significant sense of authenticity.
A Despised Tax Collector
Let us reflect upon the fact that one of the apostles of Christ was a Hebrew named Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27-28). He is the only apostle whose individual call is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. By occupation, he was a publican (tax collector) who worked on behalf of the Roman government. Barclay has noted that “there was no class of men in the ancient world more hated than tax gatherers” (1959, p. 59). Ancient writers—both pagan and Jewish—put tax collectors in the same category with harlots, robbers and a variety of other scoundrels (Green, et al., p. 805). Even the New Testament associates publicans with the most disreputable people (cf. Matthew 21:31-32; Mark 2:15; Luke 15:1). The Jews distrusted the publicans so intensely that they “declared them incapable of bearing testimony in a Jewish court of law” (Edersheim, p. 57).
These facts being the case, who can imagine that forgers, contriving to put together the New Testament documents in order to provide a rationale for the success of Christianity, would have invented the character of a “publican” as one of Jesus’ apostles?
To compound the matter, this “tax collector” is the writer who is reputed to have composed the gospel record that was specifically designed to present the case of Jesus, as the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecy, to the Hebrew people! The selection of Matthew, as one of the apostles, has the “ring” of absolute truth.
A Volatile Mixture
Add to the foregoing situation the fact that there was another controversial figure in the apostolic band. In Luke’s writings he is called Simon the Zealot, the latter expression signifying his political persuasion (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). Palestine had come under Roman domination in 63 B.C., and the Jews “choked” on that reality. Accordingly, there developed a band of the most radical patriots imaginable. They eventually became known as the Assassins, the name being derived from sica, a small, curved dagger which they concealed beneath their robes. With these weapons, when opportunity arose, they dispatched their enemies into eternity. Needless to say, the Zealots hated the publicans (considering them traitors), and the publicans feared the Zealots. It is hard to imagine a more unlikely combination in the apostolic company, than Matthew the publican, together with Simon the Zealot. Who, in the name of common sense, would have invented this scenario in attempting to explain the astounding success of Christ’s apostles? It is a mark of authenticity.
The “Woman” Issue
Some of the movements of Jesus, among the different elements of Hebrew society during the days of His ministry, utterly defy explanation on naturalistic bases. Think about these episodes for a moment.
Jesus once accepted an invitation from a Pharisee (the strictest sect of the Jews) to dine at his home (see Luke 7:36ff.). During the course of the meal, a woman (widely known as a “sinner,” i.e., likely a prostitute) came into the house. Immediately, she went to the Lord’s feet. She kissed the Savior’s feet profusely (so the Greek indicates), and her tears of joy bathed them. She used her long hair as a “towel” to gently dry them. Simon, the host, mentally criticized Christ for permitting this disreputable lady to touch Him in this fashion (vs. 39). Jesus, however, censured His Pharisaic host, yet commended the woman! Christ is placed in a bad light from two common vantage points.
First, Jewish men normally did not associate with women in public (cf. John 4:27). The Jewish attitude towards women was less than ideal. While the Old Testament afforded significant dignity to womanhood (cf. Proverbs 31:10ff.), the Hebrews, over the years, had imbibed some of the attitudes of paganism. Many a Jewish man started his day with prayer to God, expressing thanks that he was neither a Gentile, a slave, or a woman! Hebrew men did not talk with women “in the street”—not even with a mother, sister, daughter, or wife (Lightfoot, 3:286-287). According to the most liberal view of Deuteronomy 24:1, a Hebrew husband could divorce his wife if she was found “familiarly talking with men” (Edersheim, p. 157). William Barclay tells of a segment of the Jews known as the “bleeding and bruised” Pharisees; when they saw a woman approaching, they would close their eyes; hence, were running into things constantly (1956, 1:142-143). Jesus broke this mold.
Second, the tarnished reputation of the dear soul would intensify an already smoldering atmosphere. This episode, therefore, is hardly one that would have enhanced the gospel record with the Jews of the first century. It is an unlikely event to be incorporated into the biblical narrative by an imposter.
A Medical Problem
One of the dreaded diseases of the first century was leprosy. (NOTE: The Greek term lepra is generic, embracing a number of scaly skin diseases, e.g., psoriasis, lupus, ringworm, etc., and possibly including the modern malady known as Hansen’s disease.)
There are several instances recorded in the gospel accounts wherein Jesus had contact with lepers. For instance, following the sermon on the mount, a man “full of leprosy” encountered Christ, and fell at the Lord’s feet, worshipping Him (cf. Matthew 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-44; Luke 5:12-14). Jesus had compassion on the man (Mark 1:41). All three writers agree that Christ “touched” the poor soul. Contrast this with the general rabbinic custom. A rabbi would not eat an egg that was purchased on the same street where a leper lived. Occasionally rabbis would throw rocks at lepers to insure that these unfortunate souls kept their distance (Elwell, 2:1124-1125).
If a leper approached the average Jew in biblical times, the Hebrew, being fearful of becoming “unclean,” or even of being seen in proximity with the afflicted victim, would flee the area (Hendricksen, p. 391). How very unlikely, then, would it have been that a sympathetic biographer would write that Christ was on familiar terms with such wretched folks. It is not an association that would endear the Lord to the Jews.
A similar example is seen in Jesus’ attitude toward the Samaritans. In his gospel account, John makes the simple remark that “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (4:9). The Hebrews did not even regard Samaria as a part of the Holy Land; rather it was merely a strip of foreign territory separating Galilee from Judaea (Edersheim, p. 12). Quite frequently, Jews would not even go through Samaria—when traveling from one end of the country to the other. The common route was to cross the Jordan and avoid the dreaded territory altogether.
While there was some casual mingling between Jews and Samaritans (see John 4:8), the hostility between the groups was often quite bitter. One rabbi (Eliezer) said that “he who eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one who eats the flesh of swine.” Another saying suggested that the daughters of the Samaritans were “unclean” from the cradle (Morris, p. 229). And one cannot but recall that on one occasion even James and John asked the Lord if he would like for them to call fire from heaven to consume some inhospitable Samaritans (Luke 9:51-56).
In spite of the gulf that existed between Jews and Samaritans, it is incredible that the New Testament elevates some of these people to a very noble status. In a well-known parable, it is a Samaritan who becomes the compassionate and generous hero, while a Jewish priest and a Levite are represented as uncaring villains (Luke 10:25ff.). And when Jesus miraculously “cleansed” ten men who were afflicted with leprosy, only one was grateful enough to turn back and, glorifying God, give thanks to the Lord (Luke 17:11ff.). It was a Samaritan who was commended for his faith (vss. 16,19).
Jesus’ attitude toward the Gentiles was similarly unusual. In the early days of His ministry, when He returned to His hometown of Nazareth, He read from the book of Isaiah in the local synagogue. The text was from Isaiah 61:1ff., which proclaimed a host of spiritual blessings in the distant future. Christ declared that those promises were in the process of being fulfilled as He spoke. The Lord then suggested that, generally speaking, these folks would be unlikely to receive His teaching—due to their familiarity with Him. “No prophet is acceptable in his own country” (Luke 4:24). Jesus then shocked His people by citing two examples of faith in the days of Elijah and Elisha—Naaman and the widow of Zarephath—both of whom were Gentiles. Clearly there is an implication regarding the character of the Jews at that time. The allusion so infuriated the citizens of Nazareth that they attempted to murder the Son of God (vs. 29). This act of Christ, in complimenting Gentiles, combined with the frank description of the rejection He would receive from His hometown folks, is hardly the sort of information that would be included in a record designed to woo the favor of the first-century Israelite people.
Anyone familiar with the tactics of politicians is painfully aware of how they generally tailor their programs to what their constituents desire, rather than what is in harmony with the will of the sovereign Creator. Such was not the case with Jesus Christ—He “cut across the grain,” teaching what was right, not what was popular.
Jesus declared that families would be divided over loyalty to Him; He insisted that to be faithful to Him one must be willing to sacrifice everything if necessary, bearing His “cross” (a term of great reproach) daily (Matthew 10:34ff.; cf. Luke 9:23). Christ laid down a rigorous law enforcing the stability of marriage. Only an innocent victim of marital infidelity would be able to divorce and subsequently remarry (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). He demanded that His followers subordinate material possessions to spiritual interests (Matthew 19:16ff.; Luke 12:13-21). He peeled back the hypocrisy of religious charlatans whose hearts were light-years away from God (Matthew 6:1ff.; 23:13ff.).
Who would have expected any success in his mission by making demands like these? This is not the level of dedication that appeals to most people; it is not a philosophy that man would craft. Of the Christian system it aptly has been said: “Man could not have invented it if he would; he would not have fashioned it if he could.”
Then there is that matter of the conciliatory ideology of the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) with reference to His enemies. When men look for heroes, they generally want rugged men—those who will not stand by and take abuse from evil adversaries. The exploits of military leaders dominate the literary historical terrain.
In 63 B.C. the renowned Roman general Pompey swept through Palestine and the Hebrew people came under the dominating heel of the imperial throne. Fuelled by the Zealots, the Jews developed an intense hatred for the Romans. The oppressors must be overthrown! Following the miraculous feeding of a great multitude, many of the Jews felt that Jesus just might be the leader to accomplish this ambition. They were on the verge of forcing Him to be their king, but He would have none of it (John 6:15). A poet has well described the situation. “They were looking for a king to slay their foes and lift them high. Thou camest a little baby thing—that made a woman cry.”
Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would be oppressed and afflicted, and yet He would humbly submit to His enemies (cf. 50:6; 53:7,9). In the course of His trial, Jesus amply demonstrated the accuracy of those predictions. He taught His disciples not to resist their persecutors with violence; rather they were to love (agape—act in the benevolent interest of) their foes (Matthew 5:38ff.; cf. Romans 12:17ff.). The difficulty of this challenge is highlighted by the fact that, even today, some Christians resort to fanciful modes of textual manipulation in order to escape the force of the instruction.
Our continuing argument, then, is this. Christ’s example, and His demanding admonition to His followers regarding their enemies, would never have been the basis of a doctrinal platform conceived by men with the design of attracting great throngs to the Christian Way. The rigors of the requirements provide evidence of divine origin.
The authenticity of Christianity, as set forth in the New Testament, is supported by many lines of converging evidence—from the most obvious to the brilliantly subtle. Only those who have not carefully studied the matter, or who are steadfast in their willfull resistance of the evidence, can remain unconvinced of the genuine nature of the religion of Jesus Christ. Those who have probed the theme in depth are increasingly awed by the sanctity of the Scriptures.
Barclay, William (1956), The Gospel of John (Philadelphia: Westminster).
Barclay, William (1959), The Master’s Men (New York: Abingdon).
Edersheim, Alfred (1957), Sketches of Jewish Social Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Elwell, Walter (1988), Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker).
Green, Joel, Scott McKnight, Howard Marshall (1992), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity).
Hendricksen, William (1973), Exposition of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker).
Lightfoot, John (1979), Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and the Hebraica (Grand Rapids: Baker).
Morris, Leon (1995), The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).