The Reliability of the Bible Part 1a – Does the Bible Claim to Be the Word of God?

Posted: February 19, 2014 in Biblical Interpretation, Historical apologetics, Positive Apologetics
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By Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the series on the reliability of the Bible. Please see the introduction if you have not read it yet.

Introduction

Word1Have you ever been sold something that was not what it purported to be?  I distinctly remember one time when I was attempting to purchase a DVD wallet to put some DVDs in.  This case purported to be able to hold 40 DVDs, and having bought this kind of thing before without incident, I did not question that it could actually hold that amount.  However, while inserting the DVDs, the material began to rip after about 30 DVDs, and upon squeezing in the 40th DVD, I was extremely disappointed to discover that I was unable to even close the zipper.  It was clear then to me that I had paid for a 40 DVD wallet that could maybe hold 30.  To make matters worse, when I went to return the faulty case, the manager tried to convince me that I had somehow put too many DVDs in, and even upon understanding that I had inserted no more than the label indicated, he tried to convince me that I really should have only put about half as many as it said on the label!  Apparently, he was not an advocate of the “customer is always right” motto.  Even after he reluctantly gave me a refund, I felt like he still thought he was right and that it was outrageous for me to ask for my money back based on my dissatisfaction with his product.

Of course, this is a very trivial matter and I would not have been so upset even if he refused to give me my money back.  However, if the stakes were higher (say, in regard to the claim that a given book is actually the word of God), how would a person to evaluate such a claim?  In the introduction to this series, I Word2brought attention to the fact that believers call the Bible the word of God and that non-believers (by this I mean non-religious) have heard that claim for more than just the Bible.  The latter group might doubt even the possibility of being able to evaluate evidence to vindicate any one given claim over another, or at least, not know how to start.  However, I would also say that the former group needs to hear what I have to present, for even though they already acknowledge the Bible as the word of God, they do not always know why.  Whether speaking with the above mentioned non-believers, who do not acknowledge any holy book, or with proponents of other religions, who claim that they have the word of God too or instead, it is important to have intelligible reasons for personal belief.  Otherwise, it will just be one word against another, with only presuppositions (often unchallenged ones) to be the arbitrator.  Conversations, or perhaps more like confrontations, like this can sometimes be more about who has the loudest or most confident voice than about where the evidence points.  In my adventure with the DVD wallet, even though I think many would agree that I was in the right, the manager succeeded in making me feel as if I was wrong.  These kinds of altercations can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth; sometimes even for both parties.  I am not suggesting that the same cannot be true of more reasonable conversations, but I do think these at least encourage a person to discover more, instead of just cementing their own opinion without rational consideration.  On that note, I hope to offer reasons for believing that the Bible is in fact the word of God.  I do not intend to directly address the scriptures of other religions, but I would hope that if my reasons are weighty in favour of the Bible, evaluation could also be made in regard to other books to see how they measure up.

Word-figure3a

The books of the Bible claim to be the word of God in various ways
As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, it is important to first assess whether the Bible itself makes the claim to be the word of God.  If it does not, the investigation of whether it actually is should take a different direction than the one I am taking.  However, if it does, I can move on to questions of literature, preservation, and canon, as I intend to do in subsequent articles in this series, confident that I am not wasting my time.  In discussing the different ways in which the Bible shows itself to be the word of God, I do not claim that any one individual feature is conclusive, but I do think that the various features add up to make the Bible’s claim about itself hard to refute.  That being said, there are certainly many who know these things and reject them as conclusive based on objections, so I intend to address these, but only after presenting positive evidence for the Bible being the word of God.

In So Many Words

Now, it would be a lot easier if we could open up the Bible and read in Genesis 1:1 “This is the word of God”, but that is just not what the verse says.  Word3However, this does not mean that the claim is not made throughout the Bible.  Jump down to Genesis 1:3 and you find the claim that the words of God were spoken and that they are recorded in this book; namely, “Let there be light.”  Of course, claiming that the Bible has some words of God is not the same as claiming that the whole of the Bible is the word of God, and this is part of a particular objection that I will address later.  However, even just showing that the Bible contains the words of God goes a long way toward showing that what is in the Bible is what God wants to be there, though certainly not proving anything.  After all, if the Bible includes sayings like “God spoke to…” and “Thus says the LORD…” hundreds of times, which it does, I would consider it a small step from thinking that this author occasionally writes the very words of God to thinking that this author is actually a prophet, speaking to the people on behalf of God, even in passages where that is not made explicit.  Some examples will suffice, though instances could easily be multiplied.

Old Testament Prophets

In Deuteronomy 1:3 it says that Moses spoke to the people of Israel, but even though it was him speaking, it is also described as “all that the LORD had given him in commandment to them”.  It was not just a general sense that this might be the word of God, but a specific year, month, and day is given forWord4 when this happened, coming from a man who is described as having talked to God face to face (Numbers 7:89; Deuteronomy 34:10).

Right after Moses, his assistant Joshua is also said to have the LORD speaking to him (Joshua 1:1-9) and through him (Joshua 4:1-5).

In 1 Samuel 3:10-18 the LORD spoke through Samuel to Eli, and even though it was bad news for Eli, he still acknowledged that it was indeed the word of God.  Immediately following this, it says that the LORD was with Samuel and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground (go unfulfilled), and that he was a prophet, for the LORD revealed His word to Samuel (1 Samuel 3:19-21).

David claimed that the Spirit of the LORD spoke by him and God said things to him (2 Samuel 23:1-4) and he is also described as the sweet psalmist in this passage, having written a large number of the psalms.  Looking particularly at the prophets (Isaiah to Malachi), all of them claim that God spoke to the prophet to bring a specific message to a specific people.

Jesus

OXYGEN VOLUME 13In the New Testament, Jesus Christ, the Son of God according to Matthew 16:16-20, says later in the same book that His words will not pass away (Matthew 24:35).  He also spoke the words of life from the Spirit of God, by His own description and that of His disciples (John 6:63, 68-69).  Jesus also claimed that all He had heard from His Father (God), He had made known to His disciples (John 15:15) and that God’s word is truth (John 17:17).

In addition to claiming to speak the word of God Himself, Jesus asserted this for the Old Testament Scripture as well.  He said something similar to His own designation mentioned above when He said He would fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) and that they would remain as the heavens and the earth (Matthew 5:17-18).

He also took issue with those who were not following the commandment of God in the Old Testament, thus supporting the authority of three passages of Scripture (Exodus 20:12, 21:17; Isaiah 29:13) as clearly binding and from God (Matthew 15:1-9).  Indeed, in His confrontations with religious leaders and others alike, the authority of Old Testament Scripture as the word of God was assumed, not defended (Matthew 22:29-32; Mark 10:5-9; Luke 18:20; John 10:34-36).  All this is quite significant, because if Jesus really is God’s Son, to which His predictions (which will be seen below) and His resurrection (more information here) testify, then we have reason to believe that what He says about the Bible is true.  John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs said it best in stating, “if Jesus is who He says He is then the Bible is what he says it is.” (How Do We Know the Bible Is True?, p.72).

Jesus’ Disciples

Word6That Old Testament Scripture was treated as the word of God is reinforced by the disciples of Jesus.  The early believers in Jesus considered the events transpiring among them to be in fulfillment of what God had spoken through the mouths of the prophets, like Moses, Samuel, and others (Acts 3:18-26).  They also recognized parts of Scripture that did not explicitly include a reference to being the word of the Lord to also have been spoken by God through the human author, like in the example of David (Acts 4:24-26).

In their own writings, the authors of the New Testament not only quote extensively and authoritatively from the Old Testament as Scripture, they also make some statements about Scripture as a whole.  In 2 Timothy 3:15-16 Paul tells Timothy about how he has been acquainted with the sacred writings from childhood and how all Scripture is God-breathed (θεόπνευστος, theopneustos).  Edwin Blum, after referencing a fifty-page article by B.B. Warfield on the meaning of this term, concludes,

“Warfield, therefore, stressed that the meaning of the term is ‘God-breathed’ rather than ‘inspired’ or ‘breathed into’ by God.” (In Inerrancy, p.47).

So, according to Paul’s understanding, it is not just that God added some points in the Scriptures, but that they could be rightly said to originate with Him.

Word7Paul is not alone in this, as Peter makes very clear 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.” (2 Peter 1:20-21).  In other words, even though Scripture comes by the pen of men, it comes from the mouth of God.

Adding to this is how these same men generally felt about the writings of the New Testament.  Staying with Peter for the moment, he mentioned the letters of Paul and the “other” Scriptures being distorted by the ignorant (2 Peter 3:16).  The way he puts it places Paul’s letters under the title of Scripture.  Paul did the same in 1 Timothy 5:18 when he noted that “The Scripture says” and then quoted from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 25:4) and another part of the New Testament (Luke 10:7).  As significant as these references are in viewing the New Testament, it is reinforced by what the writers said within their own writings themselves.

The Corinthian correspondence contains several references to the word of the Lord through Paul, of which one is found in 1 Corinthians 14:37, where Paul demands that it be acknowledged that the things he is writing are a command of the Lord.  In 2 Corinthians 13:3 Paul offers what would be proof of Christ speaking in him through a warning of discipline.

John has no hesitation in saying directly that the Revelation is of Jesus Christ and that it is the word of God (Revelation 1:1-3).  From these and many other references, it can be shown that biblical authors recognized God speaking through them.

What Scripture Says, God Says

 

Divine Intervention

Word25In addition to the claim that God’s word was being communicated through the authors of Scripture, I believe the Bible also reveals that God would even intervene to prevent unwanted words from being communicated. There are examples in the Bible where it seems to me that, apart from the intervention of God, there would have been parts of the Bible that could be described as “merely human” (which is one of the objections I will address later). In other words, if God had not been watching over the writing of Scripture, it might be right to describe the Bible as merely containing the word of God. However, I do see evidence of God preserving His word in the writing of the very words of the Bible.

Word26One of my favourite examples is found in 2 Samuel 7, as King David wants to build a house for the ark of God and Nathan the prophet told him to do all that was in his heart, because the Lord was with him (2 Samuel 7:2-3). It is true that the Lord was with David (2 Samuel 5:10) and that Nathan was a true prophet of God (2 Samuel 12:1), so if nothing else happened, David would have built the house for the Lord. However, even though this probably seemed like a good thing to do and something that would please God, it was not actually what God wanted, so the will of God was clearly revealed to be different from the will of men in this case, even though they were godly men. 2 Samuel 7:4-17 goes on to describe what God’s words actually were, distinguishing from what some might have liked them to be. Some people have a view of the Bible as a bunch of books being written according to human wisdom and desires, but passages like this suggest otherwise. David is one of the authors of Scripture and if God corrected him here, it would stand to reason that He would guide him in recording other words that claim to be from God, as I believe they are.

Turning to the New Testament, Acts 10 describes Peter doing something that initially got him into trouble with his fellow Jews in Acts 11. The reason Peter was initially criticized (Acts 11:2-3) was because he went to minister to the Gentiles, and he actually preached the word of God to them, but it was scandalous to some Jews that he would even eat with the Gentiles. What would cause Peter, a Word27Jew, to act so uncharacteristically? Well, according to Acts 10, it was the word of God to Peter (Acts 10:10-20). God was taking Peter from a mindset of thinking that salvation was restricted to the Jews to realizing that the scope was wider in God’s mind. God shows this unequivocally by giving His Spirit to the Gentile believers as Peter was preaching (Acts 10:44-45), just as He had given it to the Jewish believers previously (Acts 2:4). Therefore, when Peter was opposed, he makes mention of this clear indication that God was in it, when he says “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17). Peter is admitting here that, had it been up to him, he would have been standing in God’s way, but fortunately for the Gentiles then and now, God did not leave it up to him. So the truth that God wanted to communicate, though involving man, was not dependent upon man. Though Peter, and presumably the majority of the Jews, stood in the way, God made His word clear and it was preserved in Scripture. Peter, also one of the authors of Scripture, was led by God to see the truth in this situation, even against his own inclinations, so it makes sense that he would also be led in his writing about God and on behalf of God.

Word28I certainly see that God was at work preventing humans from getting things wrong, but it does not even have to be something wrong that God wants to prevent from getting in His word. In this next example, it is simply just something God does not wish to reveal. In Revelation 1:11, John is told to “Write what you see in a book” and we can presume that he does precisely that with the book that we call Revelation (Revelation 22:10, 18-19). We see clearly that John is writing as he is seeing and hearing, because in Revelation 10:4 he has to be stopped in the act, for it says “And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.’” I can just imagine John getting ready to put the pen to the paper after hearing the seven thunders, and then he immediately receives instruction to not write it down. It is not that John was going to inaccurately write down what the seven thunders said, but simply that God did not want that to be revealed for some reason. Here we see the author of Scripture in mid-paragraph, but because it was something that God did not want communicated in His book, John was stopped and given specific direction about what to leave out. This sense that the words of the book were what God wanted is supported by Revelation 22:18-19, where anyone adding or taking away words would have to answer to God Himself.

Interchangeable Terms

Word29I suggested above that the designation “word of God” is not limited to passages that explicitly state that “God said”, and this becomes clearer when we take a look at how people in the New Testament referred to the Old Testament. There are several examples in which one of two interchanges occurs: either the Old Testament says God said something and the New Testament says Scripture said it, or the Old Testament simply says something and the New Testament says God said it. In other words, these examples reveal that Scripture saying something and God saying something can be used as interchangeable expressions, or “What Scripture says, God says”. This need not mean that God literally said everything out loud and then it was copied down, but simply that if it is written in Scripture, God wanted it there. This also need not mean that God wanted every particular event to happen, like sins or failures, but that He did want it recorded in Scripture. If you are not sure what I mean by interchangeable terms, the following examples illustrate this.

Word30To start with words being attributed to Scripture in the New Testament that were spoken by God in the Old Testament, Romans 9:17 is a good example. In Exodus 9:13-16, the Lord is speaking through Moses to Pharaoh, saying that He raised Pharaoh up for the purpose of showing His power and that His name might be proclaimed. Fast forward to Romans 9:17 and these same words are said to be spoken by Scripture to Pharaoh. This is connected with the previous verse (Romans 9:16), where Paul expresses that this depends on God’s mercy. So God is clearly the subject, but Paul feels free to insert “Scripture”, suggesting that what God says is what the Scripture says.

Word31Paul does this again in Galatians 3:8 when he writes that “the Scripture…preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’” Now, in the time of Moses, which is when the above example from Exodus takes place, we do not know how long it took for the words to be written down, but in the case of Abraham, we know that the words of Genesis 12:3 were not written yet. Still, Genesis 12:3 is where we find what Paul is quoting, attributing the words to Scripture, and if we just glance back a couple verses, Genesis 12:1 tells us that the Lord is saying this to Abraham. Again, it is clearly spoken by God in the Old Testament, but as it is quoted in the New Testament, Scripture is an adequate substitute, for what God says is what Scripture says.

Word32Switching the formula around, the New Testament also indicates that what Scripture says, God says. In Genesis 2:24, it talks about a man leaving his parents and becoming one flesh with his wife, but there is no reason to put quotation marks around it and it is not attributed to the voice of God. In fact, the last person to speak was actually the man, in Genesis 2:23. However, jumping over to the New Testament, Jesus quotes this verse in Matthew 19:4-5, but before the citation is given, He says “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said…” He who created them male and female is undeniably God, as a previous passage in Genesis clearly indicates (Genesis 1:27), but then Jesus states that God said the words of Genesis 2:24, showing that this part of Scripture is from God. Even though it was not directly spoken by God, His voice came through in the writing of the human author.

Word33This is even more clearly evident in Psalm 2:1 and the New Testament quotation of it. Psalm 2:1 says “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Then, in Acts 4:24-25, the disciples are addressing God and state that He spoke through the mouth of David and said it by the Holy Spirit, at which point they proceed to quote Psalm 2:1. This is significant; recognizing both the human authorship of the psalm, which is true, but also that God was speaking through the human author by His Spirit, or in other words, recognizing the divine authorship of the psalm, which I also believe to be true. Psalm 2:1 is treated as much as the voice of God as Psalm 2:7, which does include attribution to God and is also quoted in Acts as the voice of God (Acts 13:32-33).

Word34Continuing on with the Psalms, 16:10 is again the voice of David, but as it is picked up in the New Testament, it is acknowledged as the voice of God. Acts 13:32-35 includes the reference to Psalm 2 mentioned above, as well as a reference to Isaiah 55:3, where God’s voice is implied, though not explicit, but it continues on to mention that He (God) “says also in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’” In this, the New Testament quote reveals what is to be understood of the Old Testament Scripture; namely, that God is speaking through it.

Word35One final example from three psalms will suffice. Psalm 104:4 describes the Lord’s dealings with His messengers in the third person, from the perspective of the psalmist blessing and praising the Lord (Psalm 104:1). This is quoted in Hebrews 1:7 in the context of God describing His angels. The author of Hebrews continues, though, as he proceeds in the next five verses (Hebrews 1:8-12) to quote from Psalm 45:6-7 and 102:25-27, both of which are not attributed directly to God in the Old Testament, but certainly are attributed to God here in the New Testament. So again, words of Scripture found in the Old Testament can be rightly termed the word of God, even if the context does not expressly say that.

Word36With all this talk about the New Testament referring to the Old Testament in a different way, it may seem like the New Testament might have made the Old Testament something that it was not originally. However, remember that the Old Testament refers to the word of God hundreds of times and that there are even passages that sound quite similar to the evidence we have just examined, like 2 Samuel 23:2-3 “The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me…” So, all that to say that if the internal evidence suggests no distinction between Scripture and the word of God, making such a distinction seems to me to be artificially imposed. If Jesus and His disciples could talk about Scripture as effectively the word of God, I believe we can too.

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More than just words

Another reference from Paul is 1 Corinthians 2:13, where he says, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”  Of course these are just words to unbelievers and it would not matter if the Bible claimed to be the Word8aword of God thousands of times more.  However, there is something to be said for the claim that the Bible is not merely human words but the words of the God of the universe, because if true, it might be expected that the Bible would present wisdom and knowledge beyond the time of the human authors.

One area of interest is science.  I believe there are misconceptions about the Bible in terms of the questions of science and there is a lot of rhetoric surrounding the views of Scripture on the nature of the world.  Though I do not intend to address all the scientific issues involved along with the interpretation of the Bible, I would like to bring what I think to be some helpful perspectives.  First of all, it must be stated that the Bible is not a science textbook.  What I mean by this is that it must not be read as if it was trying to teach people what you might learn in a chemistry or biology class.  The Bible is not about science, but I do believe it includes some interesting aspects of science that are hard to explain without considering that God must have had something to do with the acquisition of the knowledge.  This is sometimes called prescience, and it is explained well by William Cairney: “By prescience we mean the occurrence, in Scripture, of accurate statements reflecting an in-depth knowledge of scientific concepts far before mankind had laid the technological base for such things to be known.” (In Evidence for Faith, p.128).

Prescience

 

The Universe

Word9To begin again with the beginning, if we look at Genesis 1:1 it will be nothing new or surprising to those who have grown up with at least some contact with the Bible.  However, think about what it actually indicates; namely, that God created the universe in the beginning.  The significance of this is revealed when consideration is given to the fact that in ancient times, the universe was believed to be eternal and unchanging.  It was not until the 20th century that science began to concede that the universe had a beginning, and very reluctantly at that (Kenny Barfield, Why the Bible Is Number One, p.103-106; Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.76-84).

Word10Jumping down to Genesis 1:14, we see that God created an expanse in the heavens.  Though there has been controversy about the meaning of the word “expanse”, other passages in the Bible indicate a belief not in a solid heaven, but space as we would understand it today.  These other passages would include Job 26:7, Isaiah 40:22, and Zechariah 12:1.  Again, the significance is made clearer when comparing the most common ancient view of the universe, that it was enclosed and limited by some solid barrier, and the modern view, which indicates that the universe is expanding (Why the Bible Is Number One, p.102-103; I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.79).

The Earth

Word11To take two of the aforementioned verses further, Isaiah 40:22 indicates that the earth is circular and Job 26:7 indicates that God hung the earth on nothing.  Of course, it was not until the famous voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 that the earth was shown to be round.  In regard to the Job reference, ancient authors thought the earth to rest on various foundations, including the backs of animals or a primal ocean, but Job 26:7 indicates that the earth is actually suspended in empty space (Why the Bible Is Number One, p.107).

Word12Another feature of the earth is that the ocean floor has unique geographical features, which the Bible describes as channels or valleys of the sea (2 Samuel 22:16) and recesses of the deep (Job 38:16).  However, the ocean floor was thought to be smooth and sandy in ancient times and it was not until the voyage of the H.M.S. Challenger (1873) that underwater canyons were documented (Why the Bible Is Number One, p.169-170).

Word13Continuing on from Job 38:16, it also speaks of springs of the sea, while Genesis 7:11 and Proverbs 8:28 mention fountains of the deep.  However, as far as the great civilizations of the ancient world were concerned, only rain and rivers filled the ocean (Why the Bible Is Number One, p.171-172).  This knowledge seems to me to indicate that the words are beyond what would have been spoken by man, and even further, that this knowledge was given by God.

Predictive Prophecy

Another area of interest is, oddly enough, the future.  It is one thing to declare things as they are, as in the case of science, but it is quite another to declare things that are still to come.  If it could be shown that the Bible contains predictive prophecy, then that would lend credence to the claim that it is actually

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

the word of God.

Bertrand Russell was asked under what condition he would believe in God, to which he answered,

“Well, if I heard a voice from heaven and it predicted a series of things and they came to pass, then I guess I’d have to believe there’s some kind of supernatural being.” (Quoted in Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p.455-456).

The Bible states something similar as it’s criteria for the word of the Lord, though in reverse.  In Deuteronomy 18:21-22, after introducing the idea of both true and false prophets, the anticipated question of how the people would know a word that the LORD had not spoken is addressed.  The very simple answer is that if the word does not come true, the LORD has not spoken it.  This is a very heavy self-imposed burden that the Bible then has, for if one of the prophecies fails, then it was clearly not the word of the Lord, by the Bible’s own standard.  Well, to flip that around to something more positive, ironically enough like Russell’s formulation, if it could be shown that a series of predictions were made in the Bible and they all came to pass, then it would make sense to concede that this really was a voice from heaven and the words of God.

Old Testament Predictive Prophecy

Word15The Bible contains quite a lot of predictions with varying lengths of time between prediction and fulfillment.  A good example of a short-term prophecy and also a long-term prophecy is found in 1 Kings 13.  A prophet of God predicted that a son of David named Josiah would defile the altar (1 Kings 13:2), but this did not happen until around 300 years later (2 Kings 23:15-18).  However, the prophet also gave another prediction as a sign from God, that the altar would be torn down and ashes would be poured out of it (1 Kings 13:3), and this happened pretty much right there, right then (1 Kings 13:5).

Now, since these prophecies with their fulfillments are written in the same book, it may be thoroughly unimpressive to someone who does not already believe in the truth of the Bible.  After all, if the author is writing both the prediction and the fulfillment, he could conceivably have made up one or the Word16other, or both.  However, it does reveal something that is valuable in assessing prophecies and that is the principle called telescoping.  The prophet gave a long range prediction, but also a short range one.  It makes sense to speak both of the contemporary situation and the distant future, because the principle given in Deuteronomy is easier to evaluate if all the recipients of the prophecy are alive when the fulfillment comes, but there would still be words that God would want to speak to subsequent generations, for the purposes of correction or encouragement.  However, having these short-term prophecies come to pass was no guarantee that the people would receive the prophet, because prophecies, especially in the Old Testament, were often of judgement due to how rebellious the people consistently were, and thus not usually welcomed.  So all that to say that it was in the best interest of the prophet to both write down how God was speaking to them in their present and what He was saying about the future.  That being said, it is clearly more impressive to predict something in the distant future than something that is just about to happen.

A shining example of this is the prophet Isaiah, whose 66 chapter book is packed with prophecies of varying time frames.  In chapter 1 Isaiah predicted that Zion would be left alone like a besieged city, with a few survivors, which happened in 701BC (John Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary OT, Word17bp.604).  In chapter 7 he predicted the destruction of Syria and Israel, which happened in 732BC and 722BC respectively (The IVP Bible Background Commentary OT, p.593).  Now, in the midst of pronouncing all this judgement, Isaiah steps back and proclaims that a child would be born, and that this son would be called God and would rule on the throne of David forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).  Well, what we can say for sure is that Isaiah lived to see 732BC, 722BC, 701BC, but as for God being born as a child and having the throne of David, that had to wait some 700 years for the divine Son of God, of the line of David to come (Luke 1:31-32)!  Space does not allow me to do a detailed analysis of the prophecies of Isaiah, but a couple more examples should make the point.

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Cyrus the Great

Even though the main enemy during the time of Isaiah is the nation of Assyria, Isaiah prophesies about the destruction of Babylon, after they have already taken Judah captive.  In Isaiah 44:24-28 God says that He is the LORD and He confirms the word of His servant.  He would raise up the ruins of Judah and fulfill His purpose by Cyrus.  Cyrus was the king of Persia who conquered Babylon in 539BC (The IVP Bible Background Commentary OT, p.632), and the Lord called Him by name to do it.  This may seem incredible for God to call someone by name 150 years before they finally do His purpose, but that is just the point.  Speaking again of the humiliation of Babylon, and likely Cyrus also, God ridicules the gods of Babylon for being able to do nothing.  In contrast, God declares, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” (Isaiah 46:8-11).  God did the incredible to show that He is God and there is no other, and that He is the One who can confirm the words of His servant, because His words are true and come to pass.

Furthermore, Isaiah predicted events that are still in our future, such as the new heaven and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22), so in terms of the time frame, Isaiah passed the test of a true prophet in his own time, in the time 150 years after him, in the time of Jesus 700 years after him, and in a time that is God-only-knows how long after him!

New Testament References to Old Testament Predictive Prophecy

Other Old Testament examples are numerous, but I feel it is also worth spending some time in the New Testament, both looking at Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament and the fact that the New Testament has fulfilled prophecies of its own.  To consider the Old Testament, there are dozens of prophecies that refer to Jesus, and they are of varying degrees of specificity.  I mentioned briefly above that Isaiah passed the test of a true prophet in regard to his predictions of the time of Jesus, 700 years after him.  Though I was thinking generally of many different references to Jesus, as I Word19said, some are more specific than others.  Isaiah 9:1-7 concerns the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, and how it was formerly brought into contempt (which happened during Isaiah’s lifetime), but it was not all bad news, for there would be a great light for these people and that they would be freed from oppression.  Now that sounds fairly general and like it could have various fulfillment options, but as we look at the details, the fulfillment becomes crystal clear.

First, the region in question is also called “the way of the sea…Galilee of the nations”, and anyone familiar with the Gospels would know that Jesus was raised in Galilee and spent a significant portion of His ministry there, and Isaiah 9:1-2 is even quoted in Matthew 4:12-16 as fulfilled when Jesus lives and begins His ministry in Galilee.

Word20Second, the description of how this freedom from oppression would come involves a male child being born and having the government on his shoulders, but it is not just any child.  The name of this child would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”, so this was claiming that God would actually be born.  This would not make sense according to the understanding of God as eternal, declaring the end from the beginning as mentioned above, so how would this work?  Well, it is not so strange to find that the one through whom this was to happen had the same question.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, was told that she would bear a son who would be called the Son of God (Luke 1:31-32).  In response, she asked how that could happen, since she was a virgin, and the angel speaking with her said that the child would be given by the power of God and could thus be called the Son of God (Luke 1:34-35).  So, the child would be born, but God had existed long before this, as other verses confirm (John 1:1, 14, 18, 17:5).

Third, the end of the passage in Isaiah contains this prophecy: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom”.  Returning to the same passage in Luke, this is what was also told to Mary before Jesus was born, that the Lord would give Him the throne of His father David and that there would be no end to His kingdom (Luke 1:32-33).  This predicted Jesus’ lineage as descended from David, which He was (Matthew 1:1; Luke 3:23-31) and His inheritance in the kingdom, which He proclaimed continuing on from the passage in Matthew 4 mentioned above (Matthew 4:17).  So, to sum up, these few verses in Isaiah predicted Jesus’ place of residence, place of ministry, identity, lineage, and destiny, around 700 years before His birth!

New Testament Predictive Prophecy

Word21In addition, Jesus Himself was not without ability to prophesy future events and that would make sense, being the Son of God.  A good example of this would be His prediction of the destruction of the temple during the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.  Mark 13 and parallels in Matthew and Luke contain Jesus’ describing the events that would lead up to the destruction of the temple, and though several different details are given, a handful will suffice.

First, Mark 13:1-2 records the disciples admiring the temple and Jesus replying that the stones would be thrown down.  As it turned out, even though the temple complex was admirable, being one of the most magnificent structures in the ancient world, most of the temple was completely obliterated in 70AD (Craig Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary NT, p.170).

Second, in Mark 13:3-6, the disciples ask when and for the sign that these things are about to be accomplished.  Jesus said that many would claim to be Him and lead many astray.  This happened at various points in the time leading up to the fall of Jerusalem, as Jewish men claimed to be the Christ and had significant followings, especially after 44AD.  That is, at least until they were killed (Acts 5:36-37) (FF Bruce, New Testament History, p.338-339).

Word22Third, Mark 13:9 records Jesus’ prediction of His disciples being delivered to councils, being beaten in synagogues, and standing before governors and kings to bear witness of Jesus.  This is evident throughout the book of Acts, which ends prior to the fall of Jerusalem (Acts 4:1-6, 5:17-18, 27-28, 40, 18:12-17, 22:19, 25:12, 26:2).

Word23Fourth, Jesus issues a warning to those who are in Judea when the fall of Jerusalem is about to happen and tells them to flee to the mountains (Mark 13:14).  Interestingly, those who presumably heeded Jesus’ warning were the Christians of Jerusalem, for in the mid-sixties, these Christians fled Jerusalem to a place called Pella, hewn from the foothills (IVP Bible Background Commentary NT, p.171, New Testament History, p.375).  It is also interesting to consider even the time at which Jesus says would be inconvenient to flee, for He says to pray that it would not be in winter (Mark 13:18).  The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about some Jewish refugees who were delayed by the flooding of the Jordan in 68AD and were killed by the Romans who invaded Jerusalem (IVP Bible Background Commentary NT, p.171).

Fifth, Jesus tells His disciples in Mark 13:28-29 that when they would see these signs, they would know that “he is near, at the very gates.”  This “he” could be Titus, the general who destroyed Jerusalem.  This would also make sense because of what Jesus says in the next verse, for Mark 13:30 says that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”  A generation in the Old Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls was at times represented by 40 years, like the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, for example (Numbers 14:33), so if Jesus was prophesying this in 30AD, which He most likely was, that would be right on track with the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD (IVP Bible Background Commentary NT, p.173).  Even if the exact 40 year generation is seen as a stretch, the fact that the same generation would still be alive after 40 years is not.  So Jesus not only knew what would eventually happen, but He also knew when, how, and under what circumstances.

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Conclusion

Word24I believe I have given good reasons for taking the Bible’s claim to be the word of God seriously.  Again, I think this is important to start with, because if the Bible did not claim to be the word of God, our search would need to take an entirely different direction.  I am well aware that I have not addressed everything, but I do believe I have given a good basis for moving on to the next question.  As the Bible claims to be the word of God, we can now evaluate how far that designation extends and what we can say about what we have today.  If you are satisfied with the evidence that I have provided, perhaps you would like to move on to the next article in the series.  If you are thinking of some possible objections, perhaps you should read the second portion of this article in which I address some common objections.  It might be that I address your objection there, or at least expand on some issues that make the claims of the Bible clearer.  After that, perhaps you would be in a better position to continue with the next article and evaluate if the path of God’s word to us is reliable.

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