A young man looks down at an open Bible in his hands

Can I Trust and Understand the Bible?

  • By: Mike McGarry
  • Sep 12, 2023

“The Bible was put together hundreds of years after Jesus lived.”

“What good can a two-thousand-year-old book be for today’s world?”

“That’s just your interpretation.”

These are statements you’ve likely heard or asked. I have noticed that when students fall away from faith it often begins when they stop viewing the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God. Some merely look for ways to marginalize Scripture in order to live in sin. But others genuinely wrestle with the relevance and reliability of a two-thousand-year-old book.

If the Bible is just another book, then it can give advice but not make demands. The historical trustworthiness of Scripture matters because the Bible isn’t an instruction manual for life, but God’s revelation of himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christians who lose confidence in the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture soon find themselves floundering in faith. Let’s look at some reasons why you can follow Jesus with confidence in the Word of God.

Archaeology Affirms the Bible

Each book of the Bible was written with ink on a scroll and carefully recopied over the centuries. Many ancient copies have since been lost or destroyed, but what we’ve unearthed gives us an accurate biblical text in the original languages. When historians compare the vast number of ancient copies against other ancient texts that are highly regarded for their insight into the ancient world, and consider how few years separate those manuscripts from when the original New Testament letters were written, the historical reliability of the Bible is simply unparalleled.1 It is unreasonable to expect that we must still have the original biblical documents in order to affirm the authenticity of the Bible. No one would make a similar demand of any other ancient document.

When compared against other ancient manuscripts…scholars’ ability to recreate the Bible’s original manuscript is unmatched.

When compared against other ancient manuscripts, and even against the works of William Shakespeare, scholars’ ability to recreate the Bible’s original manuscript is unmatched. This is not a matter of opinion, but is objectively true. Plato’s Four Dialogues, which is read in many introductory philosophy courses, has around 200 ancient copies that scholars use to piece together the original book. But when it comes to the New Testament, there are more than 5,800 copies, some of which are dated within a hundred years of the original writings. The reliability of the Old Testament was secured by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946, which showed that the Hebrew text has remained the same over the last two thousand years.2 Even atheistic archaeologists must admit the Old and New Testaments are historically reliable.

When scholars compare these ancient biblical manuscripts, the differences between texts are almost always about grammar or spellings, and none of the remaining differences affect any central doctrines.3 This is objective, historic truth—and yet many students hear that the Bible can’t be trusted. Addressing this head-on through archaeology and textual criticism assures us that the Bible we hold in our hands is a faithful translation of the original text.

How the Bible Was Put Together

Sometimes people share conspiracy theories about how some books were included in the Bible while others were left out. But the Bible was not compiled by a select group of elite influencers. Leaders in the early church did not grant authority to certain books to become the Word of God; they affirmed which ones already carried authority as being “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV). The identified books were then included in the canon of the New Testament.4

…the Bible was not compiled by a select group of elite influencers.

During the time of the early church, a “canon” was a rod of papyrus used as a ruler to make accurate and authoritative measurements. This terminology eventually found its way into the church’s method for determining whether or not a book “measured up” and belonged within the biblical canon of Holy Scripture. The canon of the Old Testament was already established. Some new books, like the Gospel of Thomas and other Gnostic gospels, simply did not measure up to three criteria:

  1. Biblical: God’s Word is consistent. The New Testament must not contradict the Old Testament, because God does not contradict himself. The Old and New Testaments tell one consistent story of God’s plan to rescue his children and reestablish his kingdom. The Gnostic gospels were dismissed from the canon because their teachings simply did not measure up with biblical teaching, especially on creation and salvation.
  2. Apostolic: Firsthand authorship. There was early agreement that the teachings of the apostles and other firsthand witnesses of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection would be prioritized. For instance, Matthew was an apostle who was present for most of what he reported in his gospel. Paul had a direct encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and received an apostolic commission. Luke got his information from firsthand sources who walked with Jesus. All the books of the New Testament were written within the lifetime of the apostles and carry the mark of apostolic teaching.
  3. Catholic: Widespread readership. As books were considered for the canon, churches throughout the Roman Empire (and beyond) were already reading the biblical books as part of their gathered worship. This happened because of the first two criteria: Christians made copies of the Gospels and of letters that reflected gospel authority and carried these to other churches for their benefit. At the time the canon was formalized, Gospels and epistles that were only read in certain areas came up short because they demonstrated too much particularity and too little catholic (universal) appeal. The books of the New Testament were already largely accepted as authoritative by every church throughout the Christian world.

Practical Implications of the Bible’s Reliability

  • The Bible’s reliability gives us confidence that the Bible we read is what the apostles actually wrote. It is common to hear that the Bible wasn’t created until centuries after Jesus lived and that certain books were left out for political purposes. But archaeology demonstrates that’s not true. Knowing how the Bible was actually compiled affirms our confidence in the reliability of Scripture.
  • It anchors Christians within a diverse family of faith. Christianity is not a trendy religion that will be outdated by the time you graduate from high school. It is a two thousand-year-old religion that has stood the test of time, weathered intense persecutions, and united people from every language and culture. When we read the Bible, we can be assured that God’s truth is both timeless and relevant to transform our own lives today.
  • Jesus really lived, died, and rose from the grave. Christianity is not just a good idea; it is a historically driven religion. The archaeological reliability of the Bible bolsters our faith in the truth of the gospel. This is especially important when our faith begins to waver. That’s when we need to be anchored in the truth that the Bible is not merely spiritually true but also historically true.

Digging Deeper

Use these questions for your own personal reflection and journaling, or for discussion with others.

  • What are some reasons people question the trustworthiness of the Bible?
  • What did you learn about biblical archaeology? How does this affect your view of the Bible’s reliability?
  • How would you summarize the way the early Church discerned which books to include in the Bible?
  • What do we lose when we lose the trustworthiness of Scripture? How would that affect the way you think about God, yourself, and life?

  1. Greg Gilbert, Why Trust the Bible? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015). This is a short book and an easy first step to further study of the historical reliability of the Bible.

  2. Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World, rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017), 52.

  3. McDowell and McDowell, Evidence, 52.

  4. F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 2nd. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018). Section Four especially deals with the issues of how the Early Church identified books to be included in the Bible. Evidence That Demands a Verdict also has multiple helpful chapters about the formation of the Bible, its trustworthiness, and other “gnostic gospels” that are not considered biblical.


Excerpted from Discover: Questioning Your Way to Faith © 2023 by Mike McGarry. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.