Section 2.. Reasons To Believe/
A Remarkable Book Called The Bible


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By Richard M. Riss

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The Biblical narratives carry with them the claim of authenticity for the events they describe. For example, the authors of the New Testament appealed to themselves as eyewitnesses of the events that they proclaimed. John wrote:

    That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us (I John 1:1-3).

Appeal to eyewitness testimony abounds in the New Testament. In II Peter 1:16 we read:

    For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

John, in his Gospel account, writes:

    He who saw it has borne witness--his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth--that you also may believe (John 19:35).

As we have seen, the authenticity of all these documents is extremely well attested. For example, it would be next to impossible to find a present-day scholar who denies the authenticity of Paul writing to the Corinthians in A.D. 55, where he says:

    For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (I Corinthians 15:3-8).

In writing this letter, Paul leaves himself wide open to cross-examination, exposing himself to the possibility of humiliation and censure should his claims prove to be false. It would certainly be a deterrent to his mission if his claims were found to be false by people cross-examining any of the five hundred witnesses to whom Paul refers.

Luke records in the book of Acts, that, when Peter and John were charged not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, they answered:

    Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19,20).

Other places in the book of Acts where there is appeal to eyewitness testimony are Acts 1:22, 2:22, 2:32, 3:15, 4:33, 5:32, 10:39, and 13:30,31.

Not only is it the case that the early Christian writers appealed to eyewitness testimony concerning the events they had seen, but they appealed to the reader concerning his own knowledge of the events that had occurred. For example, at the beginning of his account, Luke writes:

    Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed (Luke 1:1-4).

According to the book of Acts, Peter, addressing the men of Judea and Jerusalem, stated:

    Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know . . . (Acts 2:22).

Appeal is made by Paul in Acts 26:26 to the awareness that king Agrippa had concerning the events that had occurred:

    For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner.

It is clear, therefore, that the New Testament authors appealed not only to themselves as eyewitnesses of the events, but also to the knowledge of the hearers and readers concerning the events that had occurred among them.

A. T. Olmstead, in discussing the eyewitness testimony offered by John in his Gospel concerning the resurrection of Lazarus, writes:

    Such is the story originally told by John and with all the circumstantial detail of the convinced eyewitness. It is utterly alien in form to the literary miracle tale. [1]

Concerning the resurrection of Jesus and John's testimony, Olmstead writes:

    This is the story of the empty tomb, told by an undoubted eyewitness--full of life, and lacking any detail to which the skeptic might take justifiable objection. . . .

This likewise is the testimony of a convinced eyewitness; if modern scholars do not accept the vision as objective reality, the blame should be laid on the psychologist and not the historian. . . . [See Section on The Resurrection]

Such is the outline of the resurrection appearances as we can reconstruct from our sources the earliest accounts. Our picture may not be quite exact, but it cannot be far wrong. These stories must have originated within a few days after the discovery of the empty tomb, and have been written down within the first few years after the organization of the primitive church. Otherwise, it is quite impossible to understand the survival of the empty tomb story so unnecessary to confirm their own faith after the full acceptance of the resurrection, or the still more amazing survival of those constant doubts of the disciples themselves, for to invent them only a few years later would have been a public scandal.

Of one thing we may be sure: the appearances cannot be reckoned as mere literary devices. Not only do they betray their primitive character, they do not hesitate to relate to their discredit the doubts of their church leaders, written down and circulated while those leaders were yet living and able if they wished to refute them. [2]

One characteristic that separates the New Testament accounts from most accounts of legend or mythology is that the skepticism of the people is portrayed in detail and emphasis is placed upon belief. The fact that these writers should be concerned with belief at all is quite interesting, for it is minimal, if not nonexistent, in most accounts of legend or mythology. The emphasis upon belief is an indication that the New Testament authors were totally convinced that they were writing completely valid historical accounts. If they did not believe what they were writing, then they were lying with the specific purpose of deception, fully conscious of what they were doing, in a malicious attempt to manipulate the people of their day.

One certainly cannot suppose that the people of Christ's time had a propensity for believing in the miraculous. Such an emphasis as exists in the New Testament upon belief would be totally unnecessary and out of place if that were the case. The account of what occurs in connection with the belief of the people is incredibly realistic. There were people who believed but were too afraid to let it be known (John 12:42 and 19:38). The people described are true to life. It would be only natural that people would doubt the claims of Christ, and this is exactly how they are represented (see John 2:18, 6:30, 6:42, 8;51-53, 20:25; Acts 7:51, 4:3,4; I Cor. 15:12). The characters are not two dimensional; they do not lack depth. Peter loses his faith after the arrest of Jesus (John 18:17). He is quite human--he has nothing in common with the modern stereotype of the naive peasant living two thousand years ago who is willing to believe whatever he is told. Nor is this stereotype valid concerning most of the other people mentioned in the New Testament. Their depth of personality is very well portrayed by the writers of these accounts.

Not only do all of the Scriptures carry with them the claim to be describing events that have really taken place, but the Biblical authors believed that whatever had previously been recorded in Scripture had actually happened. For example, the book of Joshua presupposes that the events recorded in the Pentateuch had actually occurred. The Bible consistently builds upon the historicity of previously recorded events and is intelligible only if these prior events really happened.

Although not a believer himself, Erich Auerbach, in a comparison of the Bible with the works of Homer, provides us with one of the best descriptions of what the Bible claims for itself:

    It is all very different in the Biblical stories. . . . Their religious intent involves an absolute claim to historical truth. . . . The Biblical narrator . . . had to believe in the objective truth of the story of Abraham's sacrifice . . . . He had to believe in it passionately; or else . . . he had to be a conscious liar--no harmless liar like Homer, who lied to give pleasure, but a political liar with a definite end in view, lying in the interest of a claim to absolute authority . . . . Woe to the man who did not believe it! One can perfectly well entertain historical doubts on the subject of the Trojan War or of Odysseus' wanderings, and still, when reading Homer, feel precisely the effects he sought to produce; but without believing in Abraham's sacrifice, it is impossible to put the narrative of it to the use for which it was written. Indeed, we must go even further. The Bible's claim to truth is not only far more urgent than Homer's, it is tyrannical--it excludes all other claims. The world of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a historically true reality--it insists that it is the only real world, is destined for autocracy. All other scenes, issues, and ordinances have no right to appear independently of it, and it is promised that all of them, the history of mankind, will be given their due place within its frame, will be subordinated to it. The Scripture stories do not, like Homer's, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us-- they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels. . . .

Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history . . . .

The Old Testament . . . presents universal history: it begins with the beginning of time, with the creation of the world, and will end with the Last Days, the fulfilling of the Covenant, with which the world can only be conceived as an element in this sequence; into it everything that is known about the world . . . must be fitted as an ingredient of the divine plan. . . . The most striking piece of interpretation of this sort occurred in the first century of the Christian era. [3]

This striking passage expresses exactly what the Bible claims for itself. The Scriptures claim to be valid in an absolute sense, such that all counterclaims are excluded. If we do not subordinate ourselves to it, we are in rebellion against God.


1. A. T. Olmstead, Jesus in the Light of History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942), p. 206.

2. Ibid., pp. 248, 249, 251.

3. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953), pp. 14-16.

© 1996 Richard M. Riss


By Richard M. Riss

As we have already seen, if we reject the claim of the Bible to historical accuracy, then we are beset with an imposing set of difficulties arising from the interpenetration of Biblical history with secular history, both in the past and in the present. History does not take place in a vacuum. The Bible claims that its accounts are not legendary. If this claim is rejected, then one must find some way of explaining the inexplicable. If the Bible is legend, then one must explain the existence of a body of literature which, although falsified, corresponds, down to its minutest details, to all that is known about the history with which it claims to be contemporaneous, and which, if it had not taken place, leaves unexplained the myriad of effects that have ostensibly occurred as a result of the events that it describes.

If we accept the Bible's claim to historical accuracy but reject its claim to be, in its entirety, the very words of God, we are still beset with very serious difficulties. If we accept as accurate the events recorded in the Bible, then we are forced to accept its claim to be the very words of God, because many of those events are descriptions of the very process by which God inspired the Scriptures.

The very principle which forces us to accept all of the events recorded in the Bible as historically accurate also forces us to accept the Biblical doctrine of inspiration. As we have seen, we cannot escape the historicity, even of the miracles recorded in the Bible. They are too closely woven into the fabric of history. Yet this is as true for the miracle of Biblical inspiration as it is for everything else recorded in the Bible. If we reject the Bible's claim to be the written record of the words of God, there is too much left for us to explain for which there is no adequate explanation, other than that which is given to us in the Scriptures themselves. For those of us who have seriously pondered this question, it is evident that is would take far greater faith to reject the Biblical claims than to accept them. Too may difficult questions arise if we do not take the Bible at face value. To much is left unanswered.

If we do not accept the Biblical view of its own origin, we must come up with an alternative explanation as to the origin of the Bible. Such an explanation would have to take into account the fact that all of the authors of the Bible claimed this divine inspiration, not only for themselves, but for all of the Biblical authors who had written before them. Could they perhaps have been lying, or might they have been deceived? If so, can we take anything they have said seriously? If not, how are we to explain what is? If they were lying, could that be consistent with what is manifestly the case with respect to their character? If they were deceived, then what criteria are acceptable for the determination of truth? Can we be sure we are not deceived ourselves? How can we be? Can there be such a thing as truth at all?

It is certainly impossible to accept the Scriptures as authoritative for some purposes, but then to reject the claims of those Scriptures concerning themselves. If the Scriptures are suspect in their repeated claims for themselves, then on what basis can it be said that they have integrity on any other matter? If we are going to say that mankind has any basis for optimism, and if we base this statement upon the fact that we have the Judaeo-Christian Bible, then if we are going to have any integrity at all, we will have to accept the claims that the Bible consistently makes for itself. To do otherwise is do violence to the integrity of the foundation for that optimism and to throw the entire matter into serious question.

© 1996 Richard M. Riss


A Remarkable Book Called The Bible