In this excellent post, Randy Smith addresses two similar questions. I greatly appreciate Randy’s thoughtful and thorough response here.
Q: How do we know the Bible is true and accurate?
Q: How do we know we are interpreting the Bible’s message correctly? With so many different perspectives/interpretation from scholars, Christian religions, individuals, it is hard to know what is correct.
A: The Bible is the infallible, authoritative, inspired Word of God. The 66 books that make up the complete Bible was written by over 40 authors over 1,600 years. Many of these books are written in various literary styles. None of the authors of the Bible knew that their books would be put together to form a single book. Nevertheless, these books as a whole, all have an amazing unity in message, pattern, and theme throughout the books as a whole. But, is that enough to prove the Bible is accurate? There is plenty of rational evidence to prove the Bible’s accuracy.
First, there is the textual integrity. The Bible, specifically the New Testament, is the most accurately transcribed book of any book in history. And I do mean any to mean all books, not just literature. It has been more accurately transcribed than ancient texts. From the original copy written between 50-100 A.D. and the first copy about 130 A.D. there are 5,600 copies that have been found with 99.5% accuracy between copies. This is unheard of in other ancient texts. The next closest is Homer’s Iliad with 643 copies and 500 years between original and copy. To discount the New Testament’s reliability, you must also dismiss the reliability of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Homer.
Second, there is evidence of historical veracity. There has been no archeological discovery that has contradicted a biblical reference. Moreover, there have been a multitude archeological findings that have confirmed details in the Bible. Furthermore, several biblical details have can be cross-referenced in other secular historical texts. Jesus is mentioned in the historical accounts of Flavius Josephus (The Antiquities of the Jews) and Cornelius Tacitus (The Annals). The historical accuracy found in the Bible is far superior to the written records of Egypt and Assyria.
Next, is the accurate, scientific evidence that can be found in the scriptures that is far outside the knowledge of biblical times and hard to explain any other way, other than divine inspiration. One of these examples, describing the roundness of the earth; “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Isaiah 40:22, NIV). Most ancient text of this time would mention the four corners of the earth, not the roundness of the earth.
There are several more examples like the knowledge of the importance of blood in the life process (Leviticus 17:11, NIV), description of the Hydrologic Cycle (Job 26:8, Job 36:27-28, Ecclesiastes 1:6-7), the existence of valleys and springs in the seas (2 Samuel 22:16), and that stars in the sky differ from one another (1 Corinthians 15:41). These are only a few of many examples of scientific evidence in the scriptures found in the Bible centuries before scientists reached the same conclusion.
Finally, the greatest arguments for biblical accuracy is the accuracy of the Bible in predicting the future. Unlike vague and inaccurate prophesies of Nostradamus or any other ancient texts, the bible stands alone in scale and accuracy. Jesus Christ alone fulfilled over 300 messianic prophesies that were written over 400 years before He was born. From the timing of Jesus’s arrival (Daniel 9:2-27), to the Messiah will be a descendant of Judah (Genesis 49:10), to the Messiah will be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10-11), to the Messiah will be pierced through hands and feet (Psalm 22:16), Jesus fulfilled them all with incredible accuracy.
With the evidence presented, there is ample evidence to show that the Bible is indeed true and accurate. However, I have only shared a small snapshot of the evidence that is out there. There are several books and investigation that you a can do on your own. This is important to do so you can have solid evidence to support your faith and interpret the Bible accurately.
But how do we know what we interpret is correct? This is a complex issue and could take a few pages to go into detail, I will try to cover it as briefly as possible and still answer the question effectively. First, and most important, thing is to make sure we are taking what is read in context. Context is everything!
Structural context: It is easy to pluck verses out of the bible and make them fit too many things that have nothing to do with the original meaning or intent. Make sure to take the scripture being read as a whole.
Language context: The Bible was originally not written in English. The meanings of the original languages change when translated or do not have the same impact. You do not have to study Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic to get the true meaning. However, some deeper study is helpful. Get a study bible or commentary to go along with your reading. There are several online references that can be of use as well.
Historical context: Many bible stories seem simple. However, they are far deeper if you know the historical significance or context of what is going on in the narrative. For example, in John 4, the woman at the well was coming to the well at noon. This is a clue as to the character of the Samaritan woman. You find out later, but then you also miss some of the intended richness that the initial audience has that we don’t because of their historical context.
Literary genres of the Bible: Like I mentioned earlier, there are many literary genres in the Bible. Unless you have some insight to this, meaning can be difficult or misinterpreted. Some passages in scripture are meant to be taken literally and some are not. Some examples of this are some of the poetry in the Bible or some of the laws or customs that do not apply to the modern, non-agrarian society, like blood sacrifices.
Bottom line, the Bible has a lot going on and there are many concept, messages, and context that are not easily understood. However, there are several Bible scholars that have been working on these issues. A good piece of advice, if you do not understand it, study further and keep asking questions.