Why I Believe – The Testimony

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us.

(1 John 1:1-2)

I was recently posed with the question of how I know that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Now, for a pretty short question, I must admit that there are so many things that need to be said regarding this topic. More than I could fit within a two hour timeframe (which is the amount of time I took to write this little article), so I shall try as best as I can to answer this question that was given me. Lord willing, I shall try to “give an answer for the hope that I have” (cf. 1 Peter 3:15, NIV). I know that my mind is limited, so may this be a good starting point for further study on this topic.

Now, I want to say that there are two aspects to my answer to this question. There is the objective aspect, and then there is the subjective aspect. I shall deal with the objective aspect first:

Look again at the passage which I quoted at the beginning of this passage. The apostle John talks about that which he has heard and seen. Many of the world’s religions (especially Eastern religions) focus on the esoteric and otherworldly, with no objective grounds by which we can determine whether they are true or false. Christianity is very different from that. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word by which all things were created, came down to earth, lived as a flesh-and-blood human being amongst us, died, rose again three days later and ascended into Heaven. The Bible that we have today was written down primarily to provide us with a witness to what happened during those thirty-odd years that our Lord walked upon this earth (true, it speaks of many other things as well, but ultimately Christ is the centre of divine revelation). I believe that the Bible is God’s Word because God has used the written Word to bear witness to the living Word. As the author of Hebrews put it, “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:2).

Whether the Bible is to be recognized as the Word of God depends on whether it truly gives us a reliable and sufficient witness to Jesus’ life and work. After all, if this is God’s Word, then we should expect it to provide us with a truthful account of the primary object of revelation. Did Jesus really die on the cross and return to life three days later? If not, then the Bible is little more than an interesting museum artifact that we can spit upon and poke fun at. But if He indeed rose from the grave, then He is vindicated in all that He has claimed for Himself as the “Son of Man” who is “seated at the right hand of Power” (Mark 14:62). Paul said as much when he wrote,

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

(1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

The idea, of course, is that this is not the case, for as he goes on to explain, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20-21). Earlier in the same chapter of the same epistle, he speaks of the resurrected Christ appearing to many witnesses, including himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). What this indicates is that the Resurrection is not just some abstract concept that mortal men devised. Most of the men who wrote these scriptures actually saw the risen Christ. Some of them (such as James and Paul) were skeptical about the Christian claims and yet came to faith in spite of their predisposition to disbelieve in the Gospel. This would make no sense if they did not truly encounter the risen Christ. It would be absurd: These men had everything to lose and nothing to gain unless they truly experienced what they claimed to have experienced. They were willing to suffer persecution and die for the sake of this testimony. If these men were just “following cleverly devised tales,” as Peter put it in 2 Peter 1:16, then we have no way of making heads or tails out of how they acted. Simon Greenleaf, a prominent American lawyer writing in the nineteenth century, points out how weighty the testimony of the apostles really is. Writing as a lawyer who examines the truthfulness of their accounts based on the rules of legal evidence, he writes,

The great truths which the apostles declared, were, that Christ had risen from the dead, and that only through repentance from sin, and faith in Him, could men hope for salvation. This doctrine they asserted with one voice, everywhere, not only under the greatest discouragements, but in the face of the most appalling errors that can be presented to the mind of man. Their master had recently perished as a malefactor, by the sentence of a public tribunal. His religion sought to overthrow the religions of the whole world. The laws of every country were against the teachings of His disciples. The interests and passions of all the rulers and great men in the world were against them. The fashion of the world was against them.

Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, they could expect nothing but contempt, opposition, revilings, bitter persecutions, stripes, imprisonments, torments, and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate; and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay, rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only prosecuted their work with increased vigor and resolution. The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience, and unblenching courage. They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted; and these motives were pressed upon their attention with the most melancholy and terrific frequency.

It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact. If it were morally possible for them to have been deceived in this matter, every human motive operated to lead them to discover and avow their error. To have persisted in so cross a falsehood, after it was known to them, was not only to encounter, for life, all the evils which man could inflict, from without, but to endure also the pangs of inward and conscious guilt; with no hope of future peace, no testimony of a good conscience, no expectation of honor or esteem among men, no hope of happiness in this life, or in the world to come.

Such conduct in the apostles would moreover have been utterly irreconcilable with the fact that they possessed the ordinary constitution of our common nature. Yet their lives do show them to have been men like all others of our race; swayed by the same motives, animated by the same hopes, affected by the same joys, subdued by the same sorrows, agitated by the same fears, and subject to the same passions, temptations, and infirmities, as ourselves. And their writings show them to have been men of vigorous understandings. If then their testimony was not true, there was no possible motive for its fabrication.[1]

We can produce endless theories to explain away the events that occurred (and many skeptics have attempted to do just that over the past two centuries), but the fact is that none of these explanations hold water. Only the Christian worldview can account for the fact that the apostles were transformed from doubters and cowards into brave spirit-filled evangelists who would go out to distant lands and proclaim what they knew to be true, even to the point of death. To again quote Greenleaf:

All that Christianity asks of men… is, that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses, as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability, and truth.[2]

When all is said and done, we may find that what is written in the Bible is vindicated as being true. B.F. Westcott, the great biblical scholar who started the great tradition of modern New Testament textual criticism, put it succinctly:

Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than he resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it.[3]

In summary, I believe the Bible to be God’s Word based on the truthfulness of its testimony. The men whom He used to pen it down had no reason whatsoever to invent their stories, and the many alternative explanations that those who disbelieve in the bible have put forward all fail to account for all the facts and explain why things happened as they did, leaving the Christian message as the only possible explanation.

And now I come to the subjective aspect of my reason:

We must understand that although the historical events recorded for us in the Bible are empirically verifiable, there are some aspects that you can’t verify through analysis of facts. This is the case with the inspiration of scripture. I can tell you what the Bible tells about itself:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

(2 Peter 1:20-21, NIV)

But how do you “prove” this to be true? In one sense, you can’t. It’s not as though you can conduct some sort of scientific experiment that can detect whether the words of the Bible have God’s Spirit in them. But this does not automatically mean that we take what the Bible says on “blind faith.” As I asserted in the earlier part of this writing, there are many grounds by which we can know the objective reality of what scripture says. I think the point is captured best by the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer when he wrote this analogy on how faith works:

One must analyze the word faith and see that it can mean two completely opposite things.

Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock and suddenly the fog shuts down. The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will all freeze to death here on the shoulder of the mountain. Simply to keep warm, the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are. After an hour or so, someone says to the guide: “Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?” The guide would say that you might make it till the morning and thus live. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog. This would be one kind of faith, a leap of faith.

Suppose, however, after we have worked out on the shoulder in the midst of the fog and the growing ice on the rock, we had stopped and we heard a voice which said: “You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voices. I am on another ridge. I have lived in these mountains, man and boy, for over sixty years and I know every foot of them. I assure you that ten feet below you there is a ledge. If you hang and drop, you can make it through the night and I will get you in the morning.”

I would not hang and drop at once, but would ask questions to try to ascertain if the man knew what he was talking about and if he was not my enemy. In the Alps, for example, I would ask him his name. If the name he gave me was the name of a family from that part of the mountains, it would count a great deal to me. In the Swiss Alps there are certain family names that indicate mountain families of that area. For example, in the area of the Alps where I live, Avanthey would be such a name. In my desperate situation, even though time would be running out, I would ask him what to me would be the sufficient questions, and when I became convinced by his answers, then I would hang and drop.

This is faith, but obviously it has no relationship to the first instance. As a matter of fact, if one of these is called faith, the other should not be designated by the same word symbol. The historic Christian faith is not a leap of faith in the post-Kierkegaardian sense because “he is not silent,” and I am invited to ask the sufficeient questions in regard to details but also in regard to the existence of the universe and its complexity and in regard to the existence of man. I am invited to ask the sufficient questions and then believe him and bow before him metaphysically in knowing that I exist because he made man, and bow before him morally as needing his provision for me in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of Christ.[4]

One final point that I must make: I am a Reformed Christian. Being Reformed, I do not believe that people come to have faith in Christ as Lord and in the Bible as the Word of God because of superior intellectual arguments, clever philosophical syllogisms or historical proofs (although God can and certainly does move through these things). Because of the depravity that exists within every human heart, the only thing that can truly convince the unbeliever to believe is the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, since “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3), and “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

So, to the unbeliever who reads this, whether you are an Atheist, a Muslim, a Jew or whatnot, I pray that the Holy Spirit may move your heart to consider these things carefully, and press upon you the truthfulness of God’s Word.

End Notes

  1. Greenleaf, Simon. The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by The Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1965. pp. 28-30.
  2. Ibid, p. 46.
  3. Westcott, B.F. The Gospel of the Resurrection. London: Macmillan, 1868. pp. 4-6.
  4. Schaeffer, Francis August. He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1972. pp. 99-100.
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