Evidence which Supports the Bible’s Claims
The Bible can make the claim to be an accurate record of events and teachings and to be inspired by God. There is plenty of evidence to support these claims.
Evidence from Archaeology
The Bible describes events, people, places and customs in the ancient world. Many of these have left no trace, but a few have left physical evidence behind in the ground which has been uncovered by archaeologists.
In the case of the Old Testament there is evidence of the existence of the nation of Israel in Canaan from about 1200 BC onwards; this includes detail of buildings and pottery in Canaan and inscriptions from Egypt. The amount of archaeological detail increases tremendously for the later parts of the history, with great detail in the case of the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions of Judah in around 700 and 600 BC.
The events in the Old Testament often involve battles, the destruction of cities by invading armies, and major political figures who were able to leave monuments and inscriptions to record their deeds; the evidence continued to accumulate over a period of ten centuries. The New Testament, by comparison, describes events over a period of less than half a century and describes the doings of individuals who were far from power. In spite of this there is strong archaeological confirmation for the New Testament.
This confirmation often occurs where the New Testament describes minor details of ancient life in Judea and Galilee during the Gospel period or descriptions of towns and architectural details of buildings. This is significant because there was a war between the Jews and the Romans from 66 to 73 AD in which the towns were destroyed and the population was deported. When the land was rebuilt after a gap of 60 years the buildings and the customs were quite different. The Gospels, of course, provide a very accurate description of things as they were before the Jewish War.
The roof of a house in Capernaum is described by Luke as being tiled (Luke 5:19); roofs were generally made of mud-brick on a framework of timber and brushwood in the Eastern Mediterranean area at that time, so this is unusual. However, excavations have shown that in Lower Galilee basalt tiles were routinely used for house roofs.
The pool of Bethesda is described as having five colonnades (John 5:2). These colonnades were destroyed with the rest of Jerusalem in 70 AD but the pool has been found by archaeologists and it is clear that there were exactly five colonnades.
John 2:6 describes a detail of life in Galilee at the time of Jesus: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.” It was quite usual in the ancient Mediterranean area to have jars of water, but these were almost invariably made of earthenware. Archaeologists have discovered that it was only in Judea and Galilee that water jars were made of stone; this was a matter of Jewish religious practice but was only economic in areas where the population was predominantly Jewish. It became uneconomic after 70 AD. It is thus unlikely that a later writer would know to include the passing detail of a stone water jar.
There are examples of similar correspondences with archaeology throughout the Bible; as with the Gospels there are archaeological finds which confirm details of the book of Acts. The Old Testament is also confirmed by archaeology, both in detail and in the general sweep of history recorded in it.
Evidence from Undesigned Coincidences
An undesigned coincidence is a situation in which accounts of events contain insignificant details. When the details are compared with one another they are found to correspond.
Here are two examples:
The Feeding of the Five Thousand
The feeding of the five thousand was a miracle of Jesus where he fed five thousand men, plus an unknown number of women and children, using only a tiny amount of food. The event is recorded in all four of the Gospels, and there are a number of insignificant details which correspond across the four accounts.
One of these details involves the presence of grass where the incident took place. This is recorded in Matthew, Mark and John. The Mark account contains the words:
"Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass." (Mark 6:39)
And the John account says:
"Now there was much grass in the place." (John 6:10)
The grass is not an essential to the narrative - Luke doesn’t mention it. It is an insignificant detail. It is also a detail that shows the reliability of the account. In the area where the incident took place grass doesn’t grow until the spring. At the end of April it dries up and goes brown, unless irrigated. This means that there would only be green grass on the ground at around Passover time. John’s Gospel tells us that this is exactly when the event took place:
"Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand." (John 6:4)
The details correspond exactly.
It would be very difficult for a writer to invent this kind of correspondence. The fact that such tiny details fit together in such an unobvious way is excellent evidence that the accounts of the feeding of the five thousand are detailed and accurate.
Flax and Joshua’s Spies
The second example comes from the Old Testament. After the Israelites escaped from Egypt they crossed the Sinai desert and prepared to enter the land of Canaan. Their way was barred by the fortified city of Jericho. Before the Israelites crossed into Canaan, Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, sent out spies to discover the defences of the land. They were detected as they stayed in the house of a woman named Rahab who hid them:
"But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof." (Joshua 2:6)
The irrelevant detail in this case is that Rahab hid the men under piles of flax which were on the roof of her house. This matches the time of year at which the incident took place. Shortly after the people had entered the land of Canaan and Jericho was destroyed they celebrated the Passover.
"While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho." (Joshua 5:10)
The date is significant because the flax harvest took place just before the Passover. The flax was harvested and would be dried for a few weeks on roofs until it was ready to be turned into thread. The spies were able to hide under the flax because the flax harvest had only happened recently and there were therefore piles of flax drying on the roof. The detail is very minor and would have been hard to invent. This makes it excellent evidence that the account is accurate.
Because these details are insignificant and irrelevant to the main account, if the incident being reported had undergone any change, they would be the first things either to be lost from the account or to be altered so that they did not match other details.
The existence of undesigned coincidences in any text is extremely good evidence that the account is both accurate and detailed. The fact that there are so many undesigned coincidences in the Bible shows that the descriptions of events within it are accurate.
Evidence of Unity of Message
The Bible was written by more than 40 different writers over a period of more than 14 centuries in three different languages.
The writers came from many different walks of life: Amos was a peasant farmer, while David was a shepherd who became a king. Nehemiah was a civil servant and Ezekiel was a priest. In the New Testament we have writers like John who had been a partner in a fish business, Matthew who was a tax collector and Paul who was a scholar.
It is as though the Bible was a book written over the time from 600 AD to 2000 AD (this is also a period of 1400 years) by people from all sorts of backgrounds. It might include a Saxon warlord, some Tudor farmers and priests from the Jacobean period, as well as a nuclear physicist, a philosopher, a doctor and a small businessman from the 20th century. It is unlikely that such a collection would produce a unified account.
In spite of this the Bible is completely unvarying in its teaching. It maintains a consistent picture of the nature of God, unitary monotheism, of life after death, of the origin of the universe and of many other deep questions. The point about these is that they are matters of considerable controversy. The philosophies and religions of the ancient world were strongly opposed to the Biblical picture of a unitary godhead and maintained an almost universal belief that human beings possess an immortal soul which continues to exist in some other realm after death. The Bible is completely different from the texts of the other religions of its time and place.
The difficulty of putting together a unified message can be seen when one realises that after the Bible was completed the church began to produce teachings which were at variance with those written in the Bible. This happened over a matter of only two or three centuries; the Bible maintains a unified teaching in every detail over a matter of fourteen centuries.
Unity as striking as that of the Bible could only be produced if there is one controlling mind which arranged the content of all the books. Such a mind would need to be able to span a period of more than a thousand years, work in several languages and with such a variety of people. No human mind could do this. The changes in teaching in the churches are witness to the difficulty of managing such a process. Clearly a human mind is insufficient for the task.
Evidence of Fulfilled Prophecy
One of the significant facts about the Bible is that it contains many predictions of events which were, at the time they were written down, in the future. For example, the prophet Isaiah, writing around 700 BC, predicted the downfall of the city of Babylon, that it would fade away and become an uninhabited swamp; Babylon rose to become a world power just before 600 BC, was overrun by the Persians and then began a long decline, fading out in the first century AD.
However, the most spectacular predictions are to do with the nation of Israel (or Judah) and the city of Jerusalem. There is a clear prediction in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 - parallel passages recounting the same prophecy given by Jesus. The prophecy starts in Luke 21 with these words:
"And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
This prediction is recorded in more detail in Mark 13:
"And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!' And Jesus said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.'" (Mark 13:1,2)
The disciples were looking at the wonderful way that the buildings were put together - and it was wonderful. The stones were huge - tens of tonnes each in weight - and the whole temple was enormous. The prediction of Jesus was not only that the temple would be destroyed, but that it would be destroyed totally, so that not even one stone would be left standing on another.
This is a rare thing to happen. Almost always, when a building is destroyed in some calamity, some part of it is left as a trace. There will be foundations, a few courses of masonry, sometimes quite large stretches of wall; this is how archaeologists are able to reconstruct buildings from the remains in the ground. But in the case of the Temple in Jerusalem, no part of the walls remains. What does remain is the enormous platform on which the temple was built, along with some streets which were buried in debris after the Romans sacked the city in 70 AD. Every stone of the Temple itself has been removed.
However, archaeologists have found some of the stones of the Temple in one of the streets that ran along the western side of the Temple. This was buried in the years after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, but the stones of the Temple had fallen into it and many of these still remain there. The prophecy is fulfilled.
Jesus gave his prophecy in 30 or 33 AD, shortly before his crucifixion. Luke wrote his Gospel in 61 AD or earlier, and Mark in the early 50s AD. The destruction of the Temple happened after Jesus gave his prophecy, and after that prophecy was written down. This is why the picture of the stones of the Temple is so fresh.
Of course, this is a short term prediction. The same prophecy gives predictions of events which were fulfilled centuries later.
"They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Luke 21:24)
This verse again predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jewish people who lived there. But there is additional information - Jerusalem was to be dominated by Gentiles (non-Jews), but only until their time was fulfilled. At the end of some unspecified period of time Gentile rule was to come to an end, which means that Jerusalem would again be run by Jews. This happened in 1967, when Jerusalem was conquered by Jewish troops in the army of the state of Israel during the Six Day War.
The prediction was fulfilled just over 19 centuries after it was given. There is no question but that the Gospels were written long before this!
The Witness of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ stands in a position of special authority with regard to the understanding of the revelation of God, because God raised him from the dead. Because of this his comments on the origin of the Bible are highly significant.
Jesus made many comments on the Old Testament. He quotes from it extensively in a manner which indicates that he considers it to be fully authoritative. He also makes direct statements about it:
"He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’" (Luke 16:31)
"For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:46,47)
Clearly Jesus is telling us that the Old Testament is an important message from God.
No word of the New Testament had been written during the ministry of Jesus. However, Jesus did tell his disciples that they would be sent as witnesses into the world, and that they would be guided in this by the Holy Spirit.
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:26)
This passage was spoken to the eleven disciples after the Last Supper. It refers specifically to the disciples as it promises that the Holy Spirit would remind them of the things that Jesus had spoken to them - something that could not apply to later followers of Jesus.
The passage tells us that the disciples - later Apostles - would be assisted by God to remember what Jesus had said, and that God would teach them other things as well.
These disciples became the writers of the New Testament, either directly (Matthew and John wrote Gospels, and Peter and John wrote letters) or indirectly (Mark, for example, wrote his Gospel based on the witness of Peter). So by these words about the disciples, Jesus is telling us that the New Testament was written by, or at least under the supervision of, people inspired by God.
In this the Bible is unique. It is the only book in the world that is able to make the claim that every word in it, in the original language, was written by a prophet (taking Apostles and Evangelists, working under the supervision of the Holy Spirit to be kinds of prophets). No other book is able to make this claim.