Why we accept the Bible as the entirely trustworthy Word of God

 Texts to consider:

  • Luke 24v44-45 – Jesus teaches the OT of his day was the Hebrew scriptures that contained the Law (first five books), Prophets (a catchall term for the history and prophetical books), Psalms (a catchall term for wisdom literature), and that this all looked to him.
  • John 10v35 – Jesus teaches this OT, the scriptures of his day, is the Word of God and authoritative for every generation.
  • John 14v26 and 16v12-15 - Jesus promises that as the Spirit of truth his Spirit will accurately remind his apostles of his teachings and teach them more as speech that comes from the Father through the Son.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2v13 – the apostles teaching is therefore to be received not as the word of men, but the Word of God.
  • 1 Peter 3v16 – Peter affirms an acceptance by the time he was writing that apostolic letters should be categorised as scripture, and so the entirely trustworthy Word of God.
  • 2 Timothy 3v16-4v5 – the category of scripture is one of writings expired by God and that are to be continually taught as his authoritative means of correcting false ideas, rebuking sinful behaviour and encouraging what is true and right, so that people might be saved, sanctified and sustained in faith.

All this assumes entire trustworthiness because as the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible's authors is the Spirit "of truth." In other words, God's own character guarantees the Bible's trustworthiness. It is his Word, and because he is perfectly-good, he will not deceive. And because he is all-powerful, he is able to ensure no deceit is fed in by its authors. Indeed, for the Son of God to so affirm the scriptures as the basis for knowing truth, if God had not ensured their truth, it would raise a serious question mark over his integrity.

Two key questions are often put:

1/ If Jesus authorised the twelve apostles, on what grounds do we accept Paul’s writings as NT scripture because he was converted later? The simple answer is that Paul is affirmed by the apostles Jesus authorised. So, Jesus commissioned him as his spokesman on the Damascus road (Acts 9v15), Paul then talks of receiving what he taught by “revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal 1v12) and the Lord speaking to him in visions (Acts 18v9, 2 Cor 12v1-10). But we also read of him staying with Peter for fifteen days, when no doubt Peter became confident of what Paul taught (Gal 1v18). Years later, Paul then gained the affirmation of the wider apostles (Gal 2v1-10). And by the time Peter wrote his second letter near to his own death in 68AD, he could affirm Paul’s writings as scripture (2 Pet 3v16). We can also add that there is nothing in Paul’s writings that contradicts the writings of his initial apostles.

2/ If Jesus authorised the twelve apostles, on what grounds do we accept the other NT books not written by apostles, ie. Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, James, Jude. We see the same two criteria of what’s called “apostolicity”: Links with the apostles, and consistency with their writings. Early church history tells us Mark recorded his gospel from Peter, but he was also a companion of Paul (2 Tim 4v11). Similarly, the early church tells us Luke wrote Luke-Acts, which fits with its references to him on mission with Paul (Acts 16v1-17). And Luke tells us quite directly that he got his material from the apostles (Lk 1v1-4). Indeed, if it was known this wasn’t the case his writings would have not gained traction in the church. We are less sure who wrote Hebrews. It was evidently authored by a Jewish Christian who had authority in the early church. There is a fairly early tradition that it was Barnabus, who was also a friend of Paul (Acts 13v1-4). Certainly he had these credentials. Moreover, the author is clear that he had heard the message from the original apostles (Heb 2v3), and it is entirely consistent with their teaching. The James who wrote the NT letter, though not an apostle, was likely the leader of the Jerusalem church and Jesus’ brother (Matt 13v55, Acts 15). As such, he had regular contact with the apostles. Jude is most likely another of Jesus’ brothers elsewhere called Judas (Matt 13v55, Jude 1). His letter is pretty much a summary of 2 Peter, and so entirely apostolic.

Some scholars claim that other NT letters were written in the name of apostles, but at a later date, and that this is evidenced by different style and language between letters. This is a modern idea based on some practices in the first century. But it can be decisively rejected because the great concern of the early church was whether the letters were written by apostles or not, and so early church leaders firmly condemned any who sought to write in an apostle’s name. The differences between letters by the same author can be easily explained by the author’s developing ideas over the years, and the fact that sometimes they wrote themselves and at other times used scribes (Gal 6v11, Rom 16v22).

Three further questions in brief:

1/ How was the Bible received? We read that Moses spoke to God "face to face" and saw his "form", whilst prophets usually heard God speak in a vision or dream when things were as if visible to the eye or audible to the ear (Num 12v6-8) - although they may have also have spoken under an irrepressible urge from the Holy Spirit. What they spoke was then written down (Jer 36v4), and Peter tells us their words in scripture are "completely reliable" even down to how they interpreted what they saw or heard (2 Pet 1v19-21). But other Bible books were written simply by the authors reflection and research. Consider the careful composition of the Psalms or Luke investigating what he put together in his gospel (Lk 1v1-4). However, the words came to be written, the authorisation of these books as the Word of God that we saw above, means that we must hold that God so oversaw and directed their writing, that what was written was exactly as he intended, and so his word.

2/ How was the Bible compiled? We don't truly know for the OT. Scholars have various theories. And the text itself shows a degree of editing. What we do know is that because Jesus authorised it as the Word of God, we can know that God had so governed whatever compiling went on to ensure that just the right books were included in the form that he wanted. As for the NT? We know the four gospels were in circulation by the end of the first century, and that the vast majority of the NT was accepted throughout the early church as apostolic. There was a little uncertainty in some quarters about a few of the books. But when doctrines were challenged as the years progressed, a final consideration was given as to what was truly apostolic, and the NT we have today was agreed on.

3/ Does copying and translation bring error? The close agreement of different copies shows how meticulous the copyists were, and the NIV Bible always puts it in a footnote where differences may suggest uncertainty. New translations always go back to re-consider the earliest copies with the benefits of the most up-to-date knowledge of their time and the original languages, so we can be confident no error can creep in there, either. The Bible is only entirely trustworthy "as originally given" through its inspired authors, but what we receive and read is almost exactly what was originally written.   


When we think about what we have in our Bibles, we must conclude that by God’s providence in shaping the personalities of its many authors, and his Spirit in revealing his word by visions or by guiding their reflections, the Lord superintended what they wrote so that it was exactly as he intended. Moreover, although we are unsure exactly how the OT got to be in the form it was by the time of Jesus, God had governed whatever historical events led to this, in such a way that it was complete and could be affirmed by Jesus as God’s Word. Given this, it is no leap to assume the same with the NT. And so, we accept it in the form it is, because this is the form God brought to universal acceptance by the early church, and because all its writings bear the stamp of “apostolicity” in being authored by, linked to, and consistent with those Jesus authorised. We can add too, that the more we study the NT, we experience it as God’s Word, just as each generation has done through church history.

For more on the background to each book, see: https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/