Can the Bible be trusted?
Do we even know how it was formed and how it got to us?
What makes this book so special?
Questions like these have nagged at the minds of many people over the years, including Christians. In Foundation, Pastor Jim Nicodem gives clear answers to these and other pressing questions about the trustworthiness of the Bible.
Foundation makes the case that the Bible is God’s book. God:
- “Breathed” it out through human authors (inspiration)
- Gathered its 66 books into one volume (canon)
- Protected it from errors through centuries of copying (transmission)
- Faithfully reveals himself and his will for our lives in its pages (revelation).
How can we be sure of these claims? Foundation provides plenty of evidence to back them up, giving us the confidence to build our lives on God’s Word.
Perfect for believers at any stage as well as questioners or skeptics, Foundation provides an accessible resource explaining why the Bible can be trusted and how we can more fully understand it.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Reliability of the Bible
By James L. Nicodem, Jim Vincent
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2013 James L. Nicodem
All rights reserved.
DOCTRINE OF INSPIRATION
CITY RESIDENTS FOUND LITTLE comfort as they sweltered under the summer sun on August 1, 1885. But relief was on the way. Six and one-half inches of torrential rain fell on Chicago over the next twenty-four hours.
Unfortunately, this produced major flooding. Sewage from the city's 750,000 residents and runoff from the infamous stockyards washed into the Chicago River. The polluted water was then carried out into Lake Michigan. According to an exaggerated story in the Chicago Tribune at the time, this toxic brew was then sucked up by the intake system that provided the city with its drinking water.
The Tribune's story was very alarming—even if it was suspect. Chicagoans started talking about the possible outbreak of cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and other waterborne diseases. Somebody suggested, although nobody remembers who said it, that people were dying from these diseases.
It was eventually claimed that one out of eight Chicagoans had succumbed to the epidemic. This part of the story was repeated again and again over the following years, without any supporting evidence. Each successive retelling merely parroted the previous accounts. Today those events are known as the Chicago epidemic of 1885.
In 1956, Chicago's water sanitation department actually distributed an official pamphlet describing the 1885 epidemic. It was politically motivated; the sanitation department wanted public support for projects that would upgrade Chicago's water purification system. But sanitation officials knew the voters were aware of the many improvements that had already been made in this regard (such as filtration and chlorination systems), which now ensured safe drinking water. So in order to get their money, they decided to put a little scare into the local population. They printed a pamphlet that retold the story of the 1885 epidemic.
Fast-forward to recent times. In 2000 Libby Hill wrote The Chicago River, a history of the river's impact on the city and surrounding environs. The Northern Illinois University professor included a section on the 1885 epidemic. In her research for the book, she couldn't find any evidence for the story of a massive epidemic. In fact, Hill discovered that the death rate for 1885 was actually lower than for previous years. That got her thinking: If one out of eight people had died, as the epidemic story claimed, there would've been dead bodies everywhere (almost 94,000 of them)! But there weren't. And the city would've come to a grinding halt. But it hadn't.
Well, it turns out that the Chicago epidemic of 1885 was a tall tale. Even the environmentalist group Friends of the Chicago River was forced to take the story off its website.
Could this account serve as a metaphor for how the Bible came into existence? Is the Bible nothing more than a collection of tall tales? Have the Bible's stories been exaggerated from the beginning? Have they been stretched so that the storytellers could advance their own agenda? Has contemporary research now proven these stories to be fabrications?
Bottom line: Is the Bible reliable?
In this chapter, I will begin to answer this question (in the affirmative, of course) by making the case that the Bible has come to us from a trustworthy God. This book is, amazingly, God's Autobiography. And that means that it is marked by three unique, reliability-affirming characteristics—it is supernatural, inerrant, and authoritative.
A Supernatural Book
A key text for understanding the Bible's authorship is 2 Timothy 3:16. This is a verse worth memorizing. For now, I just want to roll out its opening phrase: "All Scripture is God-breathed ..." What does the expression God-breathed mean? In the old King James Version of the Bible, the word inspired was used instead of God-breathed. Why didn't the translators of our contemporary New International Version stick with inspired?
The NIV translators most likely dropped the word inspired because it wouldn't communicate to a contemporary audience what the apostle Paul meant to say when he wrote 2 Timothy 3:16. When we use the word inspired, we're usually referring to a person who's been emotionally or creatively moved to do something. I might say, for example: "I was inspired to clean the garage this past week." (Believe me, it would take inspiration!)
Or to use a classier example, we might say that George Frideric Handel was inspired when he composed his famous oratorio, Messiah. Here's a guy who wrote 260 pages of music for a complete orchestra in just twenty-four days. He didn't leave his room the entire time. He barely touched his food. And when Messiah was first performed in 1742, it was so majestic that the King of England rose to his feet when the choir began to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Yes, Handel was inspired. He was creatively moved.
But that's not what the apostle Paul meant to say about Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16. The best English translation of Paul's original Greek expression is, in fact, exactly what we have in the NIV: "All Scripture is God-breathed." So, when theologians today use the old KJV word inspired to refer to the Bible, this is what they're talking about: the God-breathed nature of the book.
But what exactly is it about the Bible that is inspired or God-breathed? There are two mistaken notions with regard to inspiration. Some people assume that this must be a reference to the Bible's writers. Men like Moses and King David and the apostle Paul, who penned various books of the Bible, were inspired, right? Didn't God breathe into them some general ideas, after which they sat down and wrote out, as best they could, their particular portions of the Bible? No, that would be the first wrong notion.
The trouble with this view of inspiration is that it leaves open the possibility that these human writers might not have gotten things right. What if they misunderstood what God breathed into them to say? Or what if they didn't choose the best words to communicate these general God-given impressions to us? No, it's not enough that the writers themselves were inspired.
A second mistaken notion is to assume that inspiration refers to the Bible's readers. When you pick up the Bible and read it, God speaks to you. You, as it were, become inspired. Make sense? Some people who hold this view have gone so far as to say: "The Bible is the Word of God when it becomes the Word of God to you." Huh? What if that doesn't happen? What if you read the Bible and it doesn't feel like God is speaking to you? Is the Bible only inspired when it connects with you? Is it only inspired when you, as the reader, are inspired?
No. Inspiration is not about the Bible's writers and it's not about the Bible's readers. It's about the Bible's words. Go back to the opening phrase of 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is God-breathed." What is "God-breathed"? (Sorry to ask the obvious.) Scripture is. The Greek word for Scripture is graphe, and it means, literally, writing. So the writing itself, the very words that appear in print, is what God inspired. That's why theologians, when they speak of inspiration today, will often add the adjective verbal in front of it. "Verbal inspiration" clarifies the fact that God breathed out the actual words of the Bible.
Why is this so important to note? Because it assures us that what God wanted to say got said, exactly as God wanted it said. Does this mean that the human writers (Moses, David, Paul, and so on) were simply secretaries, stenographers to whom God dictated His Word? Absolutely not. If you read the Bible, which is a compilation of sixty-six books, you'll quickly discover that each book reflects the vocabulary, the culture, the historical setting, and the personality of its human author.
For instance, compare Moses' laws with David's psalms, or with Paul's letters, or with Solomon's proverbs, or with Zechariah's prophecy, or with Matthew's biography of Jesus, or with Luke's history of the early church. There's a lot of variety among the books by those seven writers. That variety reflects the differences among the human authors. God didn't dictate His Word to them in some uniform fashion. However, God did ensure that what He wanted to say got said, exactly as He wanted it said. "All Scripture"—the writing itself, the very words that appear in print—"is God-breathed."
That makes the Bible a unique book. It's unlike any other book you can pick up at Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.com, or the public library. The Bible is God's Word. And because it is the Word of a supernatural God, it must be a supernatural book.
I know that sounds like an outrageous claim, especially if you are a skeptic as you read this. You probably think that I'm pretty gullible to believe that the Bible is God-breathed just because 2 Timothy 3:16 says that it's God-breathed. Well, I assure you that I have just as much of an aversion to being caught gullible as you do. I am very wary about being taken for a ride down fantasy lane.
I remember, years ago when I was a college student, taking a walk on a starry night with this good-looking girl. She began to point out constellations to me in the brightly lit sky. The Big Dipper was easy to spot. So was Orion's Belt. But as we continued to stroll, she began identifying starry configurations that I had never heard of. And when she'd ask me, "Do you see such-and-such?" I would nod my head and say uh-huh, even though I couldn't quite make out the cluster of stars that she was describing. Constellation after constellation, my astronomy lesson continued. Wherever my date pointed, I would gaze and say: "Wow! That's cool!!"
About twenty minutes into the walk, an awful thought popped into my head: What if she's making all this up? What if she's playing a practical joke on me to see how gullible I am? What if I've been nodding my head and oohing and aahing over constellations that don't exist? What if she goes back to her dorm and tells her roommate: "You wouldn't believe the loser I suckered tonight!"
Nobody likes to be thought of as gullible ... naïve ... clueless ... simpleminded. And that's why, in today's culture, it's a bit intimidating to express a belief in the Bible as God's Word; to claim that it's a supernatural book. No Western-civilized, college-educated, self-respecting man or woman believes that God authored the Bible. C'mon! Why should anybody swallow the 2 Timothy 3:16 statement that the Bible is God-breathed?
Evidence for a Supernatural Book
Very briefly, let me give you some hard evidence that points to the supernatural nature of the Bible. None of these proofs is conclusive in itself. But when you take them all together, they make a pretty strong case that this book has been authored by God.
Historical accuracy. When it comes to its many references to people, places, and events, the Bible is an amazingly accurate book. So say archaeologists. I'll talk more about this in the next chapter when I cover how it was determined which books to include in the Bible, because historical accuracy was a critical test that had to be passed. But let me note Luke's Gospel and the book of Acts as a quick example of the Bible getting its facts straight. Christian author and apologist Lee Strobel cites a highly esteemed archaeologist in his book The Case for Christ, who examined every one of Luke's references to thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands. And he didn't find a single mistake!
Fulfilled prophecy. Did you know that prophecy is fairly rare in the writings of most religions? In all the works of Buddha and Confucius there is not a single example of predictive prophecy. In the entire Quran, written by Muhammad, there's only one prophecy—and it's pretty general.
By way of contrast, the Bible's Old Testament alone contains over two thousand predictive prophecies. These are not vague predictions, like the kind you'd find in a fortune cookie. Many of them are very specific.
Consider just a few of the prophecies made about Jesus Christ, hundreds of years before His birth. (I refer to these prophecies, as well, in chapter 3 of Epic and show how they contribute to the Bible's overall storyline.) Daniel foretold the exact time of Jesus' appearing (Daniel 9:24). Micah predicted that Jesus would be born in the small village of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Zechariah prophesied that Jesus would enter Jerusalem triumphantly on the back of a colt, but later be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 9:9; 11:12–13). Isaiah described how Jesus would be put to death alongside criminals, and yet be buried in a rich man's tomb (Isaiah 53:9). Prophecies like these surely evidence the Bible's supernatural character.
Indomitable durability. Time and again throughout history, the enemies of Christianity have attempted to undermine or even stamp out the Bible. But such efforts, though sustained, have all proven unsuccessful. My favorite anecdote in this regard concerns eighteenth-century French philosopher and skeptic Voltaire. Voltaire was a caustic critic of the Bible. He described it as a book of fairy tales that would cease to exist within a generation or two of his lifetime. It turns out that Mr. Voltaire wasn't much of a prophet. After his death, his house was purchased by a printing business that published copies of—would you believe—the Bible! Got to love God's sense of humor.
Overall consistency. Keep in mind that the Bible is actually sixty-six books in one. And yet its authors—who represent a wide variety of vocations, come from three different continents, and write over a period of fifteen hundred years—speak with remarkable harmony about one central theme. Imagine such a diverse collection of writers today agreeing on any topic, whether it be medicine or economics or sports or you name it.
Miraculous depictions. If the Bible is God-breathed, if it's a supernatural book, wouldn't we expect it to contain stories of God's miraculous interventions in our world? And yet, ironically, this is the very thing that skeptics won't tolerate about the Bible. Thomas Jefferson is a case in point. Are you familiar with Jefferson's New Testament? Jefferson was a true child of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on scientific investigation. If something couldn't be studied or tested in the laboratory, ol' Tom wouldn't believe it. So one day he got out his X-ACTO knife and cut out all the passages in the Gospels that describe Jesus' miracles.
Let me tell you what's so wrongheaded about Jefferson's approach. Historical events are not proven by testing them in a science lab. We verify historical events by checking out the eyewitness accounts of those events. That's how we know that George Washington crossed the Delaware River in December of 1776, and that Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in November 1863, and that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in October 1908 (as unbelievable as that last event seems). Eyewitnesses attest to each of these events. And that's how we know that Jesus did miracles: eyewitness accounts.
Transformed lives. I've been the pastor of Christ Community Church for almost thirty years. During the past three decades, I have collected several files' worth of letters from people who claim that the Bible teaching they've received from my sermons and in our community groups has changed their lives in dramatic ways. Broken marriages have been reconciled, destructive addictions have been conquered, life-purpose has been discovered, character has been reformed, difficult trials have been endured, and concern for others has been developed. And people give the credit for these positive transformations to the impact of the Bible in their lives!
Is the Bible God-breathed, as it claims to be in 2 Timothy 3:16? Is it a supernatural book? A reasonable case can be made for this position based upon the Bible's historical accuracy, fulfilled prophecy, indomitable durability, overall consistency, miraculous depictions, and transformed lives.
An Inerrant Book
What does inerrant mean? It means that the Bible is free from any kind of error. In the preface of a book, an author often will acknowledge all the people who helped shape that book: the mentors, the colleagues, the researchers, the editors. And then the author will make a disclaimer that goes something like this: "While I wish to thank all these people for contributing to my book, any errors that you find in these pages are entirely mine." That's a nice, generous, humble thing to say. But you won't find God saying that about His book. Why not? Because it's inerrant!
Why should you believe that the Bible is inerrant? On the basis of three testimonies. First, there is the testimony of God's character. The Bible repeatedly refers to God as "the God of truth" (Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16). The apostle Paul tells Christ followers that God has promised us eternal life, and then Paul adds: "God ... does not lie" (Titus 1:2). The writer of Hebrews makes this same claim even more starkly: "It is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18). God is truthful through and through. So, when God speaks, it is reasonable to conclude that His words are true. They're inerrant. Free from any kind of error.
Excerpted from Foundation by James L. Nicodem, Jim Vincent. Copyright © 2013 James L. Nicodem. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: God’s Autobiography (Doctrine of Inspiration)
Chapter 2: Lost in Transmission? (History of the Canon)
Chapter 3: The Only Way to Know (Doctrine of Revelation)
Chapter 4: Get a Grip (Means of Learning)
What People are Saying About This
Too many of us, regardless of our familiarity with the stories of the Bible, are blind to the story of the Bible. We miss the forest for the trees. We fail to recognize how the Bible’s many individual stories fit together to tell one mega-story. The macro-story. The story of God and us.
Phil Vischer, Creator of Veggie Tales and What’s in the Bible? video series
Jim Nicodem’s purpose is to lay out, in straightforward, nontechnical language, many of the most important principles of interpretation. He does this so each person may know the foundational principles of biblical interpretation, and so understand many texts. In other words, Jim wants the church he serves, and many other churches, to be filled with men and women who will become better Bible readers.
D.A. Carson, PhD, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School,
Author of New Testament Commentary Survey
As a university professor on a Christian college campus, I can tell you that biblical illiteracy is on the rise. That's why the Bible Savvy series should be a prerequisite reading for everyone. Jim Nicodem puts the cookies on the bottom shelf by making the epic story of the biblical narrative understandable and accessible. The Bible Savvy series lays out the foundation and context for God's Word and then shows us in plain language how to apply the Bible's teachings to our lives step-by-step. It's phenomenal.Whether you are simply intrigued by this ancient text or you are already a devoted Bible believer, you will find the four Bible Savvy books to be incredibly helpful and engaging. Then improve your Bible smarts by reading the Bible for all it’s worth.
Les Parrott, PhD
Seattle Pacific University
Author of You're Stronger Than You Think
The compelling reality about the Bible is that it is full of fascinating details about God and His wise and redemptive oversight of the history of mankind. Unfortunately, the larger, more profound story often gets lost in the details. Like a master storyteller, Jim Nicodem takes us beyond the details and exposes the grand plot of Scripture. Jim’s work in the Bible Savvy series will amaze many of us who have lived to master the details and will motivate all of us to stand in greater awe of the One who is navigating history to a good and glorious end.
Joseph M. Stowell
President, Cornerstone University
The Bible is one of the most precious possessions to a believer living in a restricted nation. I am constantly amazed by the hunger for biblical teaching expressed by those who face persecution daily. Their sacrificial passion should inspire us to rekindle our quest for biblical understanding. Jim Nicodem’sBible Savvy series is the kind of resource needed to reengage our hearts and minds with God’s Word, and renew a hunger for God’s truth on par with our persecuted brother and sisters.
James E. Dau
President, The Voice of the Martyrs
Jim has done a masterful job in the Bible Savvy series! In these four concise books, Jim marches with clarity and skill into topics that would be difficult to tackle in a seminary classroom, much less in an American living room. And rather than a monologue, these books create a dialog among the author, the reader, their small group, and the living Word of God. These practical, approachable resources provide foundational training that is greatly needed by nearly every small group and leader I encounter.
Coauthor of Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders
Past executive director of the Willow Creek Association
Reading the four books in the Bible Savvy series is like getting a Bible college education in a box! The Lord is calling our nation to a Bible reading revolution, and these books are an invitation to be part of it.
Author of The Bible Questions and The God Questions
Lead Pastor, New Song Community Church, Oceanside, California
Living in the land of the Bible is considered a privilege by many, but the real privilege is to let the Bible become alive through us, in whatever land we may live. In the BibleSavvy series, Jim Nicodem not only helps us to understand God’s plan to save us, but also His desire to change and shape us through His Word and Spirit in order to be a light in this dark world.
Rev. Azar Ajaj
Vice President and lecturer, Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary
To ignite a love for the God’s Word in others is the goal of any spiritual leader. Communicating God’s Word is the most important of all. Pastor Jim’s Bible Savvy series is the tool, the guide, and the process for worship leaders to go into deep spiritual places. His biblical scholarship, communicated with such creativity, is exactly what is needed in worship ministry today.
Slingshot group coach/mentor
Worship Leader, Mariners Church, Irving, California
Jim Nicodem leads one of America's finest churches. Jim knows how to communicate the truth of the Bible that brings historical knowledge with incredible practical application. The Bible Savvy series is the best I have ever seen. Your life and faith will be enhanced as you use and apply this material to your life.
Jim Burns, PhD
Author of Creating an Intimate Marriage and Confident Parenting
Pastor Nicodem is like a championship caliber coach: he loves to teach, and he stresses that success comes from mastering the basics. TheBible Savvy series will help you correctly interpret the best Playbook ever written: the Bible. Understanding and applying its fundamentals (with the help of the Bible Savvy series) will lead one to the Ultimate Victory . . . eternity with Jesus.
Host of The NFL Today on the CBS television network