Is the Bible the Word of God? A first step in answering the question is to ask what the Bible claims about itself. The question matters because, if it is the Word of God, no other source of truth should come close in claiming our attention.
Is the Bible the Word of God? Here are some Old Testament claims.
Let’s start with the Old Testament. It’s a simple fact that various books in our Old Testament claim to possess the very words of God. More than eight hundred times the Old Testament uses the formulaic phrase: “The LORD says …” The phrase is a technical one; that is, it means to qualify the accompanying quotation as the exact and very words of God. Those who wrote, “Thus says the LORD” certainly thought they were giving us the very words of God. Here are a few examples:
Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness” (Exod. 5:1). The author of the Book of Exodus believed that Moses and Aaron were real flesh-and-blood people; that the Israelites really existed and were in bondage; that the ten plagues actually happened; that the Exodus was real; and that their record of events constitutes the very words of God.
Those who wrote, “Thus says the LORD” certainly thought they were giving us the very words of God.
If you, due to your disbelief in miracles or your disdain for violence or whatever, claim these things never happened—regardless of how you rationalize your interpretation of Exodus—you should at least know that you’re disregarding what the writing actually says about itself.
Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. Thus, says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.’” (1 Sam. 15:1-3)
Again, you may choose to deny that God actually spoke these words. You may choose to say they are hopelessly violent and unworthy of God. You may choose to believe they are not consistent with your experience of or sensibilities about God. But you may not legitimately say that some of Samuel’s words are from God while others are not. The Bible itself simply won’t allow you to make this claim.
“You may not legitimately say that some of Samuel’s words are from God while others are not.”
There are hundreds of other examples. Your science may lead you to deny Jeremiah’s claim that God says he is the creator of the universe (Jer. 44:24). Your doubts about the divinity of Christ may lead you to deny Isaiah’s claim that God personally prophesies the virgin birth (Isa. 7:14 with Matt. 1:23). Your doubts about how God acts among humans may lead you to deny the biblical claim that God personally opens and shuts wombs (Isa. 66:9); that God personally condemns the worship of any other god (Jer. 2:22ff.); that God personally condemns sexual sin (Jer. 5:8-9); and so on. You may deny that God says these things, but you should know that the authors of the Bible didn’t doubt that God said them. They recorded these words under the conviction that they were recording the very words of God.
This conviction permeates the Old Testament. The prophets of justice (progressives tend to believe the prophets) built their prophetic texts upon the premise that the legal and narrative portions of the Scripture preceding their works are true, right, and inspired. This is why they regularly call people back to the Torah, as opposed to forward to a different religion. You undermine the prophets when you cut them off from the rest of the Bible simply because you choose some of their comments about the poor but disagree with the rest of their claims. The very same prophets who called for justice for the poor in the name of the Lord also called for many non-progressive values in the name of the same Lord—often in the very same sentences. For example, the very same prophet who says that “to know God” is to take up the cause of the poor also says that he will punish people for sexual sin (Jer. 22:16; see also 7:5). When you pick and choose only those sections that agree with your most recent sensibilities, you’re manipulating Scripture for your purposes.
“The Psalms elevate the Word of God and clearly state that the Old Testament writings are a sacred treasure.”
The Psalms elevate the Word of God and clearly state that the Old Testament writings are a sacred treasure. Psalm 19 is a good example. After joyfully declaring the revelatory power of nature in verses 1-6, the Psalmist moves on to describe the perfection of the written word, with its commands, ordinances, and precepts:
The law [Hebrew, Torah] of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Ps. 19:7-11)
Psalm 119, the longest “chapter” in the Bible, is nothing but an acrostic hymn in praise of the written Word of God. Hear just a few of its admonitions: “Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (Ps. 119:33-35).
“In all these texts (and many more) the writers and compilers of the Old Testament thought they were recording and preserving the very words of God.”
It’s worth stating again that in all these texts (and many more) the writers and compilers of the Old Testament thought they were recording and preserving the very words of God. When progressives choose parts of the Old Testament (such as the prophetic calls to justice), but reject other parts (such as warnings against sexual sin or threats of judgment), they are guilty of the worst sort of sin—elevating themselves over the Word of God.
Rather than sorting through our sentiments to assess which texts we’ll accept, we are far better off embracing the attitude that God articulates in Isaiah: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word’” (Isa. 66:1-2).
Is the Bible the Word of God? Here are some New Testament claims.
The New Testament writers confirm the Old Testament’s claim to be the very Word of God. Repeatedly, the New Testament refers to Old Testament texts, its laws, its claims, and its stories as the actual Word of God. Indeed, the entire New Testament is openly built upon the Old Testament. Jesus and the original Christian movement saw themselves as the legitimate heirs of the Word of God recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.
“Jesus and the original Christian movement saw themselves as the legitimate heirs of the Word of God recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.”
This explains why the New Testament authors persistently quote the Old Testament as a source of authority for their actions and their words—as many as three hundred quotes and allusions to the Old Testament appear in the New Testament alone. Take the Gospel of Matthew. Chapters 1 and 2 make four references to the Old Testament as the infallible Word of God: that Jesus would be born from a virgin (1:23, referencing Isa. 7:14) in Bethlehem (2:6, referencing Mic. 5:2); that he would flee to Egypt (2:15, referencing Hos. 11:1), and that Herod would kill babies in Bethlehem (2:18, referencing Jer. 38:15). For our discussion, it doesn’t really matter how Matthew interprets these Old Testament texts. What matters is that Matthew saw them as the Word of God.
The rest of the Gospels continually build upon the Old Testament as the Word of God. Jesus lives as a faithful Jew who observes the Sabbath, teaches the Old Testament in the synagogues, practices the justice taught in the Old Testament prophets, and dies according to Old Testament predictions.
“The rest of the Gospels continually build upon the Old Testament as the Word of God.”
From the opening chapter all the way to the last, the Book of Acts presumes the Christian faith is the rightful heir of the Old Testament (see 1:20; 28:25-28). Consider also that Luke, the author of Acts, is the same as the author of the Gospel of Luke—meaning that Luke believes the early church’s practices constitute the divine example of how to live in the kingdom Jesus proclaimed.
The apostle Paul regularly argues for the validity of the Old Testament and builds his theology around it as the Word of God. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes: “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good …. For we know that the law is spiritual …” (Rom. 7:12-14). Indeed, Paul teaches us that those who put their faith in Christ actually obey the Old Testament because the entire Old Testament was written about Christ (Rom. 3:31; 8:3-4). Paul makes the point that the Old Testament was actually written for Christians because we are its heirs (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4). The rest of the New Testament continues to build upon the conviction that the Old Testament is the Word of God—quoting it, alluding to it, and building a theology upon it.
“The rest of the New Testament continues to build upon the conviction that the Old Testament is the Word of God—quoting it, alluding to it, and building a theology upon it.”
Several New Testament texts are explicit in claiming inspiration for the Old Testament. Paul says of the Old Testament: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). At the beginning of his second letter, the apostle Peter reminds us: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, 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” (2 Pet. 1:19-20).
Jesus himself is described in the Gospels as granting authority to the written Scriptures. We follow the wrong Jesus when we attempt to dissociate him from the Old Testament. After all, it was Jesus who said:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17-19)
When theological progressives belittle the written Scriptures, Jesus literally says (in red letters!) that they are least in the kingdom of God.
“When theological progressives belittle the written Scriptures, Jesus literally says (in red letters!) that they are least in the kingdom of God.”
Moreover, Jesus frequently quotes from the Old Testament, and even when he’s correcting the Pharisees’ misinterpretations, Jesus acknowledges its authority. Consider these examples:
- Jesus declares that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).
- Jesus calls the Old Testament “the commandment of God” (Matthew 15:3).
- Jesus refers to Scripture as “the Word of God” (Mark 7:13).
- Jesus chastises the Sadducees for their partial disbelief of the Scriptures, quoting Genesis, while chiding them: “Have you not read what was said to you by God?” (Matthew 22:29-31).
- Jesus answers the temptations of Satan by quoting the Old Testament (Matthew 4:4-10).
- Jesus believes in the historicity of Adam (Matthew 19:4), Cain and Abel (Luke 11:51), Noah (Luke 17:26), Jonah (Matthew 12:40), the creation account (Mark 10:6-9), and the reality of heaven and hell (Mark 9:44-46).
Undoubtedly, Jesus was a man of the Bible. Anyone who follows Jesus will be a person of the Bible, too.
To reject the authority of Scripture, whether explicitly like many progressives do, or by explaining it away like other progressives do, is to reject Jesus. If you follow Jesus, you will accept what he says about the Bible. It’s really that simple.
Is the Bible the Word of God? “Repeatedly, we read that the New Testament authors, apostles, and prophets of the early church claim they are recording the truthful words of God.”
Once we accept the authority of the Old Testament, it’s not a stretch to see that the New Testament claims the same authority. Repeatedly, we read that the New Testament authors, apostles, and prophets of the early church claim they are recording the truthful words of God. This explains why the New Testament refers to its own writings as Scripture. Peter cites Paul’s writings, then says of them that, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Peter actually calls Paul’s writings “Scripture.” Paul quotes from Luke 10:7 in connection with Deuteronomy 25:4, equating the authority of the two and calling both “Scripture” (1 Tim. 5:18).
This isn’t surprising, since Jesus promised the apostles that they would receive the Holy Spirit, who would “guide them in all truth” by reminding them of what Jesus taught them (John 16:13). Peter explains that not only does he have the Spirit, but he is writing as an eyewitness to the truth: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16).
Is the Bible the Word of God? “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
Further, Peter reassures us that Jesus literally spoke through the apostles:
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. (2 Pet. 3:1-3)
Luke explains that he carefully researched everything he describes in his Gospel and Acts (which together make up a quarter of the New Testament!) so that we could be certain about the Word:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
Is the Bible the Word of God? “That you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
And Jesus clarifies the authority of the apostles when he says, “No servant is greater than his master….If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:20). Anyone who does not follow the apostles is not following Jesus.
 Peter’s claim in this text was likely directed at Gnostics, who argued that Jesus was not really human. But the statement eerily presages the work of many theological progressives today, who try to demythologize the Bible. Peter is clear: he is not writing a myth; he is writing an historical fact.
Excerpted from David Young’s A Grand Illusion. Used with permission.