Many people question all sorts of things about the reliability of the Biblical Canon – how can we trust the gospel books about Jesus’ life to be accurate? What is the relevance of OT and NT books? How can believers bank their lives on this book? The historical reliability of the gospels alone, the unifying storyline of Jesus throughout the 66 books of the Bible, and the personal testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers as they read it, are among some of the evidences that point to the reliability of the biblical canon.
The gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) speak to the historical reliability of Scripture. Through their widespread replication and distribution, the life and work of Jesus as recorded in the gospel manuscripts spread rapidly. One scholar suggests that we have 20 times more gospel manuscripts than other comparable writings from that time, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of quotes taken from the gospels by other historical writings (ie Justin Martyr, Origen, the bishop of Lyons, Josephus). The book of Acts and John contain precise names of people and places that are staggering in number and consistent with archaeological findings. This accuracy and sheer volume of gospel manuscripts allows scholars to clarify original content with much greater certainty. This means that if we doubt the reliability of the gospels, then we must also doubt the reliability of most ancient documents ever found.
Biblical reliability is also legitimized when we look at the clear, redemptive, unifying storyline of Scripture that runs from Genesis to Revelation. For example, God’s covenant promises to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David illustrate the unity between the Old Testament law, prophets, and psalms, and culminate in their New Testament fulfillment – the life and work of Jesus. A quick look at the structural bookends of Scripture speak to it’s authored, organized beauty to preserve creation as promised to Noah. The symbolic number 7’s, the emphasis on creation, and the location of a garden in Genesis, parallel perfectly with the symbolic 7’s, emphasis on a New Creation, and garden imagery of Revelation. Further, Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham (Genesis 22:18), a truer and better Prophet than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6), the long-awaited royal offspring of David (Matthew 1:1). The prophesying and perfect culmination of these promises in Jesus’ life was a centuries-long process which would have been impossible to fulfill outside of divine, authoritative control.
Biblical reliability is also confirmed in the hearts of believers. For those of us who have surrendered to Jesus as their Lord, we hear His voice shaping our lives as we grasp and apply His Word. With the Holy Spirit within us, we become His sheep who know His voice (John 10:27) and desire to honour Him by following His ways. While we may increase our knowledge of human characters when reading their biographies, the Bible is the only book where we not only learn about God, but get to meet Him personally at the same time. (Hebrews 4:12)
Perhaps one of the best questions to ask pertaining to biblical reliability is not whether every question can be answered, but whether the object of our trust – if not in Jesus through His Word – is more reliable than the evidence ringing throughout history and from countless people’s testimonies as being worthy and true.
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 1 Peter 2:19-21