Can we trust the bible?

Fr Stephen Wang gives us four reasons why we can trust the bible - especially why we can trust the accounts of Jesus’s life that are presented in the four Gospels.

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By Fr Stephen Wang

Christians make a big thing about the bible. And they claim not just that it’s inspiring and helpful, but that it is true; and above all that it presents the truth about Jesus Christ – his life, his teaching, his death and resurrection.

Christians are not interested in myths or fairy tales. Everything hangs on the belief that God entered our history, and if we can’t know the truth about that history then honestly it’s all a waste of time.

Now you might be sceptical. Why should you trust the bible? What if it’s just Christian propaganda? What if it’s “fake news”? These are good questions. So let me give you four reasons why I think we can trust the bible, and especially why we can trust the accounts of Jesus’s life that are presented in the four Gospels.

First: timing. Some people have the idea that the Gospels were written hundreds of years after the events they describe. It sounds like a game of Chinese whispers, with stories being passed down a chain over many generations, getting more and more confused.

But it’s simply not true. The four Gospels were written just decades after the death of Jesus, not centuries. They are incredibly close to the events. The Gospel of St Mark was probably written about 35 years after the death of Jesus. It’s like me telling you stories about life in the 1980s. Maybe you don’t believe I went to a Queen concert in 1982 in the Milton Keynes Bowl. But there were about 80,000 people there, and I’m guessing that half of them are still alive, and they will recount you the same set list as I would if you sat down with me today.

When the earliest Christian texts were written, there were hundreds of people still alive, maybe thousands, who had lived through these events personally. You couldn’t make things up, because these people were still there, they could confirm or contradict them. It’s not ancient history but living memory.

The second reason I trust the Gospels is this: consistency. There is a fundamental consistency about the core events that took place, and about the life and teaching of Jesus. Of course each Gospel has a slightly different focus: Imagine four different newspapers reporting on the same event; or four siblings talking about their parents. But the central story is exactly the same.

And the Gospels are consistent not just with each other (maybe you’d expect that), but with everything else we know from that period: with the Christian letters that circulated; with the evidence we have from non-Christian writings; with the local geography and coinage and art and inscriptions.

The incredible discoveries that have been made in archaeology over the last two hundred years have only confirmed the events in the Gospels. If you go to the Holy Land, you can actually see, today, many of the things that are described in the Gospels. Everything fits together, and everything reinforces the idea that the Gospels are reliable and trustworthy historical documents.

The third reason I trust the Gospels is because we can trust the people who wrote them and the communities that passed them on and the Church that treasured them. These first Christians had their lives turned upside down through their encounter with Jesus, by his life and teaching in Galilee, his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. They were desperate to tell people what had happened. They were willing to die for it.

They were simply not interested in making up stories. St Luke says: I need to tell you the truth about what has happened. St John says: I am testifying to what I know to be true. We are seeing things through the eyes of Christian believers; but their passion to share the truth – a truth that has changed their lives – makes us believe it even more and not less.

I trust the bible partly because I trust the Church. This is the community that wrote the Gospels and the other writings of the New Testament, that collected together the books of the bible, that defended it and passed it down through history and proclaims its message today. You can’t have the bible without the Church.

The final reason I trust the Gospels is their credibility. You know when you talk to someone and you just have an intuition that you can trust them. Many people have felt that with the Gospels.

If you read the Gospels they just feel genuine, credible. There is an authenticity. A sense that they are trustworthy, that they are speaking to your heart, that this message is meant to be taken seriously. It feels as if there is a bigger truth behind the individual words on each page.

So I do think there are good reasons to trust the bible and to trust the core historical truth of the Gospels. But in the end it is only the experience of reading them and actually hearing that truth that will convince you.

This article is adapted from Episode 6 (“The Bible”) of the Sycamore series. Sycamore is an informal course about the Christian faith and its relevance for life today. It gives you space to meet other people, share ideas, explore your beliefs, and think about questions that really matter. Each Sycamore session involves a short film, plenty of time for discussion, and often some delicious food. For more information about the resources and how you can use them in your parish, school or chaplaincy please visit www.sycamore.fm.