This is the second book in the series on Questions Christians Ask that I’ve read during the past week. It’s a new series of books by the Good Book Company in the UK on a range of important topics for Christians and enquirers alike. I’m excited by these books because I think they will help non-readers become readers. We’re told that people are reading less and less in this media and internet age. The danger is that we’re therefore becoming more and more biblically and theologically illiterate. This series of books could be a stepping stone to changing this trend for followers of Jesus. So far I’ve found they’re compact, engaging, easy to read, and deal with real issues.
Barry Cooper’s book, Can I trust the Bible? And other questions about Scripture, truth and how God speaks is a good introduction to the topics of biblical authorship, authority, reliability, readability and more. The book is framed around three questions…
- Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?
- Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?
- Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?
The premise of the first question is that we need to firstly consider the Bible on its own terms. How does the Old Testament view itself? What perspective does the New Testament offer on the Old? How did Jesus treat the writings of the Old Testament? How did New Testament authors describe each other’s writings? Exploring these questions points to a consensus that the Bible—Old and New Testaments—claimed to be the word of God.
Cooper goes on to describe the connection between God and his word. The analogy is drawn between Jesus, the Word of God, being both human and divine, and the Bible being both human and divine in origin. God works through real people, in real life historical circumstances, with real personalities, writing in different literary genres, to communicate his message to us. The human element doesn’t rule out the divine, not does the divine eliminate the human. As it says in 2 Peter 1:20-21:
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
One piece of evidence that confirms for me the reliability of the Bible as the word of God is the fact that it was written by multiple authors over many centuries, without collaboration, and yet maintains an incredibly coherent message. Cooper asks:
What if multiple authors had each written a single page of this little book you’re holding? What if each author wrote in different genres, in different centuries, in different countries, with no “master plan” for them to consult? What is the likelihood that it would make any sense at all? (p38)
Not only is the Bible coherent, but its central theme is consistent. Everything points to Jesus and all things find their fulfilment in him. These are things that the greatest human minds in concert, even with the aid of Doctor Who and time travel, couldn’t conceive.
Scattered throughout this book there are also short answers to a range of contemporary questions. These include:
- Doesn’t the argument for biblical authority go round in circles?
- Isn’t the Bible socially, culturally and sexually out of date? Isn’t it just a product of its time?
- Hasn’t the Bible been used to justify terrible things?
- Isn’t reported/oral information unreliable?
- How can I trust the Bible when it has miracles in it?
- Who’s to say the Qu’ran isn’t also the word of God?
- If God really wants to speak to us through the Bible, why is some of it so hard to understand?
These are important questions—and there are more. Cooper is to be commended for raising these and addressing them. Bear in mind, this book is very brief. Thus, the answers to these questions are little more than introductions. They’re unlikely to satisfy the person who has stumbled heavily on one or other of these issues, but they do point to the fact that there are answers, and the honest enquirer can certainly look into these questions more deeply.
The final chapter of this book pushes us to be more than observers or students of the Bible. We’re encouraged to put what we read into practice, or to taste the Scriptures. Reading the Bible was never intended to be a merely academic endeavour. God gives his word for our nourishment. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.