As Christians, we affirm that the Bible, made up of the Old and New Testaments, is the inspired Word of God. Much to no one’s surprise, non-Christians do not hold the same view. Many have challenged this foundational Christian belief, claiming that the Bible is filled with many internal contradictions and that it is historically unreliable. Other scholars have demonstrated both that these alleged internal contradictions are easily explainable and are not in fact actual contradictions, and that the Bible is historically reliable. I want to discuss briefly this historical reliability, related as it is to the divine inspiration of Scripture, and I will do so by focusing on Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah.
When theologians say that Scripture is inspired, they usually mean something like this: The Holy Spirit was at work in the human authors of the biblical books in such a way that their written message is God’s message. As a result, Scripture is both a human and divine product. If the message of Scripture is God’s, then the contents of that message must be true. Why must they be true? Because God cannot lie. God is what theologians call a perfect being, which means that he is a maximally great being (nothing could possibly be greater than him in any shape, form, or fashion). As a perfect being, God is morally perfect and just, which means that he cannot commit any sort of immoral act, such as lying. So, if Scripture is God’s Word, and since God cannot lie, then Scripture’s message necessarily would be true.
Before moving forward, I want to clarify what I mean when I say that something is “true.” Truth is a property value that we ascribe to certain sorts of sentences called statements. A statement is a sentence that has a truth value, i.e. it is either true or it is false. But what determines if a statement is true? There have been several answers to this question given by various philosophers; but the consensus view, and the one that I am using here, is known as the correspondence theory of truth (CTT). According to the CTT, a statement is true if and only if the content proposed by the statement, i.e. the proposition, corresponds, or conforms, to reality. By the term “reality,” I simply mean the way that the world actually is. Reality is what makes a statement true.1
So, when we say that the message of Scripture is true, what we mean is that the message disclosed in scriptural statements corresponds to reality. If the message of Scripture did not correspond to reality, then said message would be false, and it wouldn’t be the Word of God. This is why the historical reliability of Scripture is so important. Scripture tells us many stories and makes many claims that are historical, i.e., they intend to communicate certain historical details and information. When someone makes a historical statement, they make a statement that claims to depict some sort of historical event or content. What makes a historical statement true is whether or not the event or content that it communicates actually happened or is/was the case. If said event did happen, then said historical statement would be true. When a historical statement is true then it is historically reliable. Since Scripture makes many historical statements, then all of these historical statements must be true in order for Scripture to be historically reliable. If Scripture is not historically reliable, then it communicates false historical statements and thus is not the inspired Word of God.
The reliability of Messianic prophecies
However, Scripture is historically reliable.2 Now, it would take an entire book, or multiple books, to provide a complete demonstration of Scripture’s historical reliability. Indeed, such books have already been written. But, in the remainder of this article, I want to focus on the historical reliability of one particular aspect of Scripture: ancient Israel’s prophecies and expectations about the Messiah.
According to Israel’s prophets, God would send his Messiah, born of the tribe of Judah and an heir to David’s throne, to rescue Israel from her enemies and save her from her sins. This Messiah would not be the salvation of Israel alone, but of the gentile nations as well. The Israelite prophets also communicate a great many other prophecies of and expectations for the Messiah, such as his suffering for the sins of Israel and even his resurrection from the dead (Ps 16:10; Isa 52:13–53:12; Dan 12:2–3).3 In order for someone to be the Messiah, he would have to fulfill these prophecies. Should this individual fail to fulfill any of these prophecies and expectations, then they would not be the Messiah.
The authors of the New Testament claim that a Galilean Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, was the Messiah that Israel’s prophets expected and of which they prophesied. The New Testament authors also claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. They believed this for two reasons: 1) they believed that the postmortem Jesus bodily appeared to them, and 2) the tomb wherein Jesus was buried was empty upon its inspection. These two reasons are both necessary and sufficient conditions for someone believing that Jesus had been resurrected. Many scholars and theologians have developed very strong arguments demonstrating the historical evidence for Jesus’s resurrection, so I will not provide a lengthy argument for it here. Suffice to say the following: If Jesus’s body had been in the tomb, then the disciples would not be warranted in believing that the postmortem appearances were of the actual Jesus. Had Jesus’s body not been in the tomb, but the disciples still experienced the postmortem appearances, then they still would not be warranted in believing that he had been resurrected—since they could just look in the tomb and see the body. Since the tomb was empty and the disciples did witness the postmortem Jesus as he appeared to them, there is sufficient warrant for believing that the New Testament witness concerning Jesus’s resurrection is true.4
So it is most probably true that God raised Jesus from the dead. And throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus made both implicit and explicit claims that he was the Messiah whom God had sent to be the salvation of Israel and the world. God’s resurrecting Jesus from the dead was his vindication of Jesus’s claims. Had Jesus lied when he made these claims, then he would have borne false witness, which is sin. Had Jesus sinned, then God, being morally perfect and just, would not have resurrected him from the dead. Since God is morally perfect and just, then he must deliver the appropriate consequences for sin, which the apostle Paul says is death. Had Jesus lied when making messianic claims about himself, then God, being morally perfect and just, would have left him dead after his crucifixion. However, God did not leave Jesus dead. Rather, he raised him from the dead. Since God did not leave Jesus dead, then this demonstrates that all that Jesus taught, including that he was the Messiah, was true.
Divine vindication of the Messiah
When God raised Jesus from the dead, he did something in addition to vindicate Jesus’s claims about himself. By vindicating Jesus as the Messiah, God also vindicated the Old Testament witness of the prophecies and expectations of the Messiah. Jesus’s resurrection was a historical event that made true the Old Testament prophetic statements concerning the Messiah. Had Jesus not been raised from the dead, then the truth value of Israel’s prophets’ statements about the Messiah would be nonexistent.
Why would I say they’re “nonexistent” instead of “false”? Remember, reality is what makes a statement true. Typically, when a statement does not correspond to reality, then it is false. However, prophecies make truth claims about future events and therefore await their confirmation by the arrival of those future events. They do not correspond to reality yet, but they will if all goes according to the prophetic plan. If, at the close of history, these prophecies were never fulfilled, then they would be false. Since it is possible that if Jesus were not the Messiah, then there might still be one who is the Messiah that would come, and these prophecies and their truth-values would still be considered open until then. But if these prophecies are not true (or false), then the question of their inspiration becomes an open one. But Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and his resurrection vindicates this prophetic witness concerning him and makes it true.
Now, someone may wonder if this actually means that ancient Israel’s prophecies about the Messiah were the product of divine inspiration. Just because these prophecies are true, they may argue, does not necessitate that they were inspired by God. This argument can easily be defeated. Israel’s prophets also claimed to have received their message from God himself, which would imply that their message was divinely inspired. Not only do the prophets claim this, but Jesus affirms this in his teaching.5 Since his resurrection vindicates all that he taught (again, if he was a false witness of any sort then he could not have been resurrected), it vindicates and shows to be true his teaching concerning the divine inspiration of the prophets’ message, which would also demonstrate that the prophets’ statements that they had received their message from God to be true. Thus, Jesus’s resurrection not only demonstrates that the ancient Israelite prophets’ message was true, but it also demonstrates that it was divinely inspired.
- Why Trust the Bible?
- Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning
- Joshua Rasmussen, Defending the Correspondence Theory of Truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
- K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003); Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs, B&H Studies in Christian Apologetics (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016); Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007).
- Though these passages are not explicitly about Jesus’s suffering and resurrection, they seem to interpreted as such by the New Testament authors writing about these items (Matt 8:14–17; Luke 22:37; John 12:37-41; 1 Pet 2:19–25).
- Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man, 2nd ed., trans. Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), esp. 53–114; William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989); N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
- Steven B. Cowan, “Is the Bible the Word of God?,” in In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, ed. Steven B. Woan and Terry L. Wilder (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 446–62.