When Debating Biblical Inspiration, Let God Do the Heavy Lifting
I want to help you solve a problem that has troubled many Christians. First, think for a moment about this statement Paul made to the Thessalonians:
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1Thess. 2:13)
Now, here’s the problem. A woman I once spoke with expressed frustration with a friend who had dismissed the Bible as “only written by men.” Her insistence that the words were inspired by God was no help. Instead, it led to a fruitless cycle: The Bible is God’s Word—But it was just written by men—But God inspired those men—But men make mistakes. Round and round they went, going nowhere.
Maybe you’ve encountered this problem, too.
Here’s one way you might respond: Give specific reasons why it’s reasonable to believe the Bible is a supernatural book of divine authorship and not merely the musings of men.
For years, I have taught six of these reasons in a talk called “The Bible: Has God Spoken?” If you’ve heard the talk and are able to recall the points and explain them, you may get someone thinking. It’s a way of putting a stone in their shoe, so to speak.
This approach is much more effective, however, after something else has happened first. Before I tell you what that is, I have a confession to make.
Though I give this talk often, these are not really the reasons I personally believe the Bible is God’s Word. They are sound evidences, and they have their place (I’ll explain more on that in a moment), but they are not how I came to believe in the Bible’s authority in the first place. I suspect they’re not the reasons you believe, either, even if you’ve heard the talk and thought it compelling.
I came to believe the Bible was God’s Word the same way the Thessalonians did, the same way you probably did: They encountered the truth firsthand and were moved by it. Without really being able to explain why, they knew they were hearing the words of God and not just the words of a man named Paul.
I think I understand better now what happened then. Now I know there is a powerful role the Spirit plays that is hard for us to describe and even more difficult to explain well to unbelievers.
For one, it is personal, subjective. Two, it’s non-rational. In a sense, we were not persuaded, as such. We were wooed and won over, and that’s very different from weighing reasons and coming to conclusions.
Note, I didn’t say it was ir-rational, but non-rational. God used a different avenue to change our minds about the Bible
Even so, the reasons I give in the talk are still vital. Here’s why: The objective reasons are important to show that our subjective confidence has not been misplaced, that what we’ve believed with our hearts can be confirmed with our minds. The ancients called this “faith seeking understanding.”
The woman’s frustration was caused by a simple truth. When you start giving people reasons to change their minds—to believe in the Bible, for instance—their first instinct is to resist, to keep on believing what they’ve always believed. It’s human nature.
Don’t get me wrong. I think offering good reasons is a fine approach. I do it all the time. In this case, though, they’ll find reasons for the Bible more compelling if something else happens first. First they must listen.
When soldiers were sent to arrest Jesus, they returned empty-handed. Why had they disobeyed orders? They had listened. “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks,” they said (Jn. 7:46). Jesus didn’t start with reasons why they should believe his words. Instead, he let the words do the work themselves. And work they did because they were the very words of God.
If you want people to believe in the Bible, the best way to succeed is not simply by giving them reasons. First, try to get them to listen to the Word.
If someone says the Bible was “only written by men,” ask if he has any books in his library. Were those books written by men (i.e., humans)? Sure. Even so, he still values them. Why? Because he listened first. He engaged the writers’ ideas and found them compelling.
Invite him to do the same with the Bible. Talk about the biblical view of the world. Encourage him to simply listen to Jesus for a while then draw his own conclusions. Most people respect Jesus. They’ve just never listened closely to what he’s said. They’ve never allowed the words to have their impact.
Don’t get into a tug-of-war with skeptics about inspiration. Instead, invite others to engage the ideas first, then let God do the heavy lifting for you. The truth you’re defending has a life of its own because the Spirit is in the words. Once your friend has listened a bit, any further reasons you give for biblical authority will have the soil they need to take root in.