How We Know the Bible Is True
For many years, I have focused in a greater way than ever before in my life on the question of how we know that the Christian Scriptures are completely true, and then, in view of that, how we should read them.
Ever since I first got serious about the question of how we know the Bible is true, it has seemed to me that the most urgent question is not how to provide arguments that convince modern atheists, but rather, how it is that an uneducated Muslim villager in the bush of Nigeria, or a pre-literate tribesman in Papua New Guinea, can know that the message of the Bible is true so that, three weeks after hearing and believing it, he would have a justified, warranted courage to die for his conviction. He could die for the truth of the Scriptures, and not be a fool.
That, to me, is a far more urgent question than how to answer secular skeptics. Is there a way for uneducated, ordinary people around the world to have a well-founded confidence that the Bible is true?
God’s Glory in Creation
God intends for us to have a well-grounded conviction that he is the powerful, wise, merciful Creator and sustainer of the world by means of a sight of his glory.
Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Notice! The heavens — the sun and moon and stars and galaxies — are not themselves the glory of God. We are not pantheists. The heavens are not God. And their glory is not the glory of God. They are telling — pointing to — the glory of God. Which means you must have eyes to see through the glory of nature to the glory of God. Many non-Christian scientists see glory in the universe. Charles Misner said that Einstein had seen much more majesty than the preachers had ever imagined, and it seemed to him that they were just not talking about the real thing. So we have Psalm 19:1 showing us that the sight of glory can give us a well-grounded confidence that this universe is of God.
Then even more importantly, Paul says in Romans 1:19–21: What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
My guess is that very few of you have had trouble with the claim that God’s invisible power and divine nature are revealed in the creation, and that we are accountable to see his glory and know that God made it and that he is powerful and wise and beneficent. But you do not see this with your physical eyes. Your physical eyes see the wonders of the universe. They become the lens through which your spiritual eyes — what Paul calls the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:18) — see the very glory of God.
God’s Glory in the Incarnate Christ
Here is a second analogy of how God’s glory authenticates his divine reality — namely, the glory of God in Jesus Christ, the God-man.God expected people in Jesus’s day to see the glory of God in him and know that he was the Son of God, even though he was really human, and looked like other ordinary people.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Philip said to [Jesus], “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8–9)
3. Many people looked at God-incarnate and did not see God. And many people hear God’s word today and do not hear God. But the Son of God was really there for those who had eyes to see, and the word of God is here, for those who have ears to hear. The glory of God in Christ was missed by many. And the glory of God in the word is missed by many. But neither is deficient.
God’s Glory in the Gospel
Here is another analogy — the most important one — of how God’s glory authenticates the word of God — namely, the way the glory of God vindicates the gospel.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The gospel, the story of how God came to save sinners, emits a supernatural light to the eyes of the heart — the “light of the gospel of glory of Christ.” Christ’s self-authenticating glory shines through the gospel. And God shatters the blindness in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
So the light is called in verse 4 “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And the light is called in verse 6 “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Paul is saying that the way we come to know that the Christian gospel, as recorded in Scripture, is true is by a sight of its glory. The glory of God in the face of Christ. The glory of Christ, the image of God.
I call this a peculiar glory. It’s a glory that shines through all of the Scripture, but most brightly in the gospel of the Son of God crucified for the sake of sinners. What makes the glory of God in Scripture peculiar, especially the gospel, is the way God’s majesty is expressed through his meekness. God reveals himself in Lion-like majesty together with his Lamb-like meekness.
Isaiah cries out that this glory is utterly unique in the universe. “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). God magnifies his greatness in condescending to help us, to save us. He magnifies his greatness by making himself the supreme treasure of our hearts, even at great cost to himself (Romans 8:32), and in that way satisfying us — serving us — in the very act of exalting his glory. This peculiar brightness shines through the whole Bible, and comes to its most beautiful radiance in the person and work of Jesus Christ, dying and rising for his enemies.
God’s Glory in the Lives He Transforms
Perhaps we should not be surprised that the truth of God is validated not only by the revelation of a peculiar divine glory in the message of the gospel, but also in the people who have been profoundly changed by the glory of God in the gospel.
It is amazing to me that the New Testament treats the lives of radical believers as sufficient evidence to validate the truth of Christ and his way of salvation. And it does so by saying there is a divine glory to be seen in these lives. The glory is a miracle of the Spirit’s work, but comes through our looking at and being profoundly shaped by seeing the glory of God.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
Once you were in darkness. You did not see “excellencies” in Christ. Then the call of God raised you from that blindness and death like he did Lazarus. Now you are in Christ’s “marvelous light.” You see. And what you see is glory in Christ, which Peter calls, God’s “excellencies” and his marvelous light. This call and this change and this sight dramatically changes you and puts you out of step with the world — makes you an exile and sojourner. What is the effect?
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)
Seeing the glory of God, and being changed into that glory by degrees, and coming into marvelous light, and seeing the excellencies of Christ — all of this makes you a walking reflection of the divine glory so that it actually becomes possible that people may see enough of God’s glory on you that they repent of their slanders and believe and glorify God. This is most likely to happen when we joyfully and humbly keep doing good to people when they are treating us badly. This was Christ’s glory and this is ours.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:14)
God’s glory shines when a person is so deeply satisfied in God’s glory that they keep loving their enemies when they are suffering at their hands. So both Peter and Jesus teach us that, as imperfect as we are, God’s glory can be so evident in our lives through joyful suffering while doing good, that, if people have eyes to see, they can know that Christ is real and his way of salvation is true, because his glory is seen in our lives.
The Bible Shines a Peculiar Glory
My conclusion is that, just as God confirms that the world is his by revealing his glory through it, and that Jesus is the Son of God by revealing God’s glory through him, and the gospel is the gospel of God by revealing his glory through it, in the same way, the whole Bible authenticates itself by shining with the glory of the one who inspired it. Which means that we know that the Scriptures are the word of God because in their true meaning we see the self-authenticating glory of God. Or to use the words of Jonathan Edwards, “The mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory.”
Of course, the problem is that by nature we are blind to the glory of God. We suppress it. We love the darkness, Jesus says (John 3:19). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” We have eyes, but we do not see. Ears, but we do not hear.
The only hope for us to see the glory of God in Scripture, and have a well-grounded confidence that it is the word of God, is for God to perform a miracle and take away our spiritual blindness that we are all born with. And Paul says God, in fact, does do this. God comes to us and he speaks a word of new creation just like he did in the old creation and says, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6). And we are given life and new spiritual eyes that can see what is really there.
You see and know that the world is God’s creation. You see and know that Christ is truly the Son of God. You see and know that the gospel is true and the way to life. You see and know that this radical Christian who humbly and joyfully lays down his life for his enemy is shining with the true glory of God.
And in the same way you know that the Scriptures are true. You see the peculiar glory of God, and you know this is not the mere work of man. This is of God.