Over the years, I have considered the question of why I believe the Bible is the Word of God from several angles. In recent days I have come to a new way of synthesizing these various angles into a unified, perspectival approach.
But before addressing the various perspectives, let me first address the meaning of the word “why” in the question. You can answer “why” questions in terms of reasons or causes. For example, if you asked the question, “Why did Martin Luther King die?” the answer could be given in at least two different ways:
- Martin Luther King died from a gunshot wound (cause).
- Martin Luther King died because James Earl Ray hated the ideal of racial equality that King stood for (reason).
You might say that the first sentence explains the mechanism of King’s death (cause), whereas the second explains the motivation for it (reason). I think the same is true with the question of why Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God.
In terms of cause, Christians receive the Bible as God’s Word because the Holy Spirit has so worked in their hearts to cause them to hear the voice of God in his written Word. This doctrine, known as the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, does not imply that the Spirit speaks extra-biblical content to our hearts. It means, rather, that God by his Spirit supernaturally opens the eyes of our hearts to see what is actually there in Scripture. So the cause of our faith in God’s Word is the Holy Spirit’s testimony.
But normally, when people ask the question why we believe the Bible is God’s Word, what they are looking for are reasons, or motivations, for this belief. And I think we have solid reasons to offer. These reasons do not operate effectively apart from the internal testimony of the Spirit, but they are what the Spirit uses to stir us to faith and sustain us in faith. So, what are the reasons I would give in answer to that question?
It was only recently that I began to analyze some of the reasons I normally give and came to find out that they can be mapped neatly onto John Frame’s perspectival approach to knowledge. Frame argues that in every act of knowing, we have to take three things into consideration: God, the knowing self, and the external world. These three things correspond to three different perspectives on knowledge:
(1) The normative perspective (focused on God’s authority as Lord)
(2) The situational perspective (focused on the external world over which God rules)
(3) The existential perspective (focused on our personal subjectivity, where God is present to us as Lord)
It recently occurred to me that sometimes I explain my reason for faith in the Bible in terms of one perspective, sometimes in terms of another. And I think all three arguments are mutually dependent, mutually reinforcing, and mutually encompassing. In other words, you really cannot have one without including the other two. So here is how I would flesh it out.
(1) I believe the Bible is the Word of God because it claims to be the Word of God (the normative perspective). Let’s begin by noting that, in making this claim for Scripture, we are not saying anything that Scripture does not say for itself.
But doesn’t every holy book of every religion make the same claim? Actually, no. The only holy books that do make this claim are books that are offshoots of Christianity, such as Islam and Mormonism. But the holy books of these religions have numerous problems of their own, including the fact that they claim continuity with the Bible, even though they clearly contradict it at numerous points. Or they claim that the Bible has been hopelessly corrupted, but without a shred of evidence for that claim. The point is that the Bible is in a category by itself among books that make this claim. And its authority cannot be established outside of itself, because it is the highest of all authorities. Therefore, we must accept the authority of Scripture on the basis of its own self-attestation.
(2) I believe the Bible is the Word of God because only the Bible provides a framework within which I can make sense of the world (the situational perspective). I believe that only the Christian worldview offers a satisfying explanation of the world and humanity. At some point, every other worldview will collapse on itself. In fact, in line with Cornelius Van Til’s transcendental argument, I would claim that only Christianity provides the preconditions for rational thought, meaning that the attempt to make rational arguments in favor of any other worldview must borrow presuppositions from the Christian faith. The only way to attack the Bible is to stand on the foundation that it has given you.
It is also from this perspective that we can employ various historical arguments that offer confirming evidence of the Bible’s divine origin and trustworthiness, such as the evidence of fulfilled prophecy, historical validation of biblical claims, and the powerful historical evidence for the Bible’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In other words, my approach does not rule out but gladly employs the arguments that evidentialists have employed for years, though I personally do not subscribe to the overall evidentialist approach to defending the faith.
(3) I believe the Bible is the Word of God because in it the glory of Christ is revealed to me (the existential perspective). John Piper has developed this argument recently at length in his book A Peculiar Glory. Although the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary to enable us to see the glory of Christ revealed in Scripture (as his work is necessary to convince us of the other two arguments as well), Piper correctly argues that, with the Bible, we are not dealing with a glory that is purely subjective. It is subjectively discerned with the eyes of faith, but it is a glory that is objectively there. The revelation of Christ in all parts of Scripture, from the foreshadowing of the Old Testament to fulfillment and interpretation in the New Testament, is truly a magnificent and beautiful thing, one that many lifetimes of study could not exhaust. As someone who has studied the Bible for years, I find its testimony to Christ to be never-ending fountain of wonder.
These are the primary reasons that I continue to affirm the Bible’s unique status among books as the written Word of God. Each perspective includes the other two, and thus these arguments should not be considered in isolation from one another.