How Can We Be Sure that the Bible Is the Inspired Word of God?

In my first post in early May, I mentioned that if you have a big question or issue that you would like me to respond to, please let me know. This week’s post is in response to a question, an excellent one, from one of the regular readers of this blog.

Let me begin with the assurance from Scripture itself, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The word “God-breathed” means “inspired.” In other words, although ~40 different men wrote the Bible, they did so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if you have ever read the Bible from cover to cover, but it is profound how unified and coherent it is. In the third chapter of Genesis, the first promise of a deliverer is given; we don’t find out until the first book of the New Testament that His name is Jesus. In Revelation, we find out more details about His second coming and the glorious future He has promised to those who love Him. It’s no wonder that in the second-to-last verse of the Bible, John (the author of Revelation) writes, “Come, Lord Jesus.” I have often thought and said those very words as I see our society, and the world as a whole, falling apart.

One of the main reasons that I came to believe the inspiration of the Bible early in my Christian walk was prophecies that were fulfilled. I still remember the first time I read Psalm 22, particularly the first 18 verses. King David wrote this psalm ~1000 years before Jesus was born, and it includes details of crucifixion that are jaw-dropping; this barbaric method of execution was not invented until 600-700 years after this psalm was written. Another chapter of prophecy that is jaw-dropping in its meticulous accuracy is Daniel 11, which was written 200-400 years before the events described. The first four verses give us a brief account of the breakup of the Greek empire; the “mighty king” mentioned in verse 3 is Alexander the Great. Verses 5-35 give remarkable details about battles between various kings of the South (Egypt) and the North (Syria), including the infamous Antiochus Epiphanes. If you have never read this chapter with the help of a good commentary, I recommend that you do so; it is absolutely stunning.

Another area of evidence for the inspiration of the Bible is various archaeological findings. For example, prior to 1928, Isaiah 20:1 had been challenged by critics of the Bible because Isaiah mentions an Assyrian king named “Sargon.” However, Sargon’s palace was discovered and excavated beginning in that year, confirming that Isaiah was right. Another example of this type is “Sanballat,” who was the governor of Samaria and an enemy of the Jews after they returned to the land of Israel from exile. Sanballat is mentioned in Nehemiah 4:1 and 6:1. Critics had said that Sanballat was the governor much later than the time that Nehemiah lived. However, we now know that several Sanballats from that time are known, so Nehemiah’s mention of Sanballat is historically accurate. Regarding archaeological findings, probably none is greater than the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were excavated in 1947. These scrolls have portions of every Old Testament book except Esther, and they were written approximately 1000 years before previous Bible manuscripts that we had. Comparisons of the Dead Sea Scrolls with these much-later Bible manuscripts give us a very high degree of agreement, again giving us confidence in the accuracy of the Bible.

Earlier, I mentioned the coherence of the Bible. Critics love to find what they consider “inconsistencies.” For example, much has been made about differences in details between the four Gospels, which had four different human authors. However, when you examine these differences, you find that the different accounts of the same events supplement each other rather than contradicting them. For example, after the resurrection of Jesus, Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to the tomb; Mark adds another woman, Salome, for a total of three; Luke mentions “the women” who went to the tomb and then a few verses later mentions several women, including Mary Magdalene, who told the disciples what they had found. John mentions only Mary Magdalene. Critics, of course, regard these accounts as “inconsistent,” but notice that Mary Magdalene is mentioned by all four Gospel writers. The fact that John chooses to focus on Mary Magdalene is not inconsistent, especially when you read a few verses later about Jesus’ appearing to her; this was also after the disciples had left the tomb. Putting it all together, here is the probable chronology: a few of the women went to the tomb and didn’t find the body of Jesus; they returned to the men and told them; Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves and then returned home; Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb, and Jesus appeared to her there.

In summary, the coherence of the Bible, the remarkable fulfillment of very specific prophecies in it, and various archaeological findings give us assurance that, indeed, the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Critics will always jump on supposed inconsistencies in Scripture, but careful examination and comparison will reveal a richness of detail in different accounts of the same events that is not immediately apparent.

What Will Hell Be Like?

For those of you who follow my blog, the title of this week’s post is probably no surprise. Last week I wrote about heaven, so this week, I’m writing about the other place–the one that people don’t like to talk or write about. However, given that the decision about your eternal destination is the most important one you will ever make, it’s vital to understand what the Bible teaches about hell.

Perhaps the images you have about hell include Satan as a ruler over the demons and people there, perhaps holding a pitchfork and standing in a barren cavern with fire all around. Here is what Revelation 20:10 says: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” It is clear that Satan will not be the ruler in hell, but the image of fire is quite clear. I have recently read other opinions about hell which include ideas like, “Well, Satan and his demons will be in hell, but not people.” Here’s what Matthew says in Chapter 13 verses 49-50: “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Take a look at verse 7 in the book of Jude: “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Mark 9:43-48 also tells us about hell. In verse 43, the phrase “where the fire never goes out” is used to describe hell. The second part of verse 47 and verse 48 say this: “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”

The image of fire is pervasive in these verses; it is also clear that people who did not put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be in hell forever. The idea that Rob Bell popularized in 2011, that hell is a temporary place for people because everyone will eventually get to heaven, is clearly not Biblical. Matthew 25:46 is another verse that teaches hell is permanent: “Then they [the goats, who are unbelievers] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

There is another image used in the Bible to refer to hell. Three verses in Matthew refer to “darkness” (NIV) or “outer darkness” (ESV). Here’s one of them: “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is at the end of the parable of the talents; notice the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which is also used in Matthew 13:50 in relation to hell. Verse 13 in Jude is particularly striking in its imagery: “They [godless men] are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.”

I don’t consider this an important question, but someone reading this might, so: how can hell be a place of both fire and darkness? Let me answer it this way: have you ever made a campfire at night? If so, this is not hard to picture. You have fire shooting up several feet into the air and providing illumination, but except for other campfires and other small sources of light here and there, the campground is still enveloped in darkness. It’s also possible that fire and darkness in these Bible verses about hell are meant to be taken figuratively rather than literally. Regardless, it is a place of torment. How much of it is physical and how much is mental/emotional, I don’t know.

In summary, the Bible tells us that hell is at least three things: a place of fire; a place of darkness; and a place of eternal torment because it is separation from God. So far, I have only implied that very last part, but 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 makes this eternal separation from God explicit: “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” Notice the phrase “shut out from the presence of the Lord.” Do you remember when Jesus was on the cross and He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was on the cross for about six hours; Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that darkness came over the whole land for the last three hours. It was during these three hours that Jesus endured hell, or separation from the Father, so that we don’t have to. If you are reading this and don’t have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that will change today.

What Will Heaven Be Like?

Maybe when you think of heaven, images of harps, halos, and people sitting on clouds come to mind. If so, those are cultural images which have nothing to do with the reality of heaven. (OK, maybe the harps!) In truth, prior to my discovery of the book Heaven (2004) by Randy Alcorn, I did not have a good picture of heaven, either.

One thing that used to puzzle me was the concept of the new heaven and the new earth, which John wrote about in Revelation. (For a glorious picture of the current heaven, read Revelation Chapters 4, 5, 7, 11:15-19, 14:1-7, and 19:1-16. This post focuses on the new heaven.) I imagined flitting between heaven and earth, for example. However, once I read Alcorn’s book and took a closer look at the first few verses of Revelation 21, I began to see it in a whole new way. Here is what Rev. 21:1-3 says: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.'” Do you see it? The Holy City “coming down” and God living with us? Alcorn’s thesis is essentially that the new heaven and the new earth will be one and the same; in other words, we will literally have heaven on earth.

Alcorn wrote his enlightening book as answers to a series of questions. For example: What will it mean for God to dwell among us? How will we relate to each other? What will our bodies be like? Will we eat and drink on the new earth? What will the great city be like? (Revelation 21:9 – 22:5 gives lots of details in answer to that question.) Will animals inhabit the new earth? Will heaven ever be boring? Admittedly, some of Alcorn’s answers are speculative, but if you dismiss certain cultural images and presuppositions about heaven that you may have, you can let your imagination soar. If you look at the photo on my home page, you can see Delicate Arch, one of my favorite places on Earth. When I think about the new earth, I think of that. Among other things, I also think of some of my favorite waterfalls, the Pacific Ocean, and the two glorious total solar eclipses I have witnessed. Then I imagine something like these places and events on the new earth, only even better, that the Lord will prepare for us. If you don’t especially enjoy nature now, I think you will on the new earth!

I picture being reunited with my parents and other loved ones who were believers here. I look forward to talking with people like Charles Colson, whose books have contributed so mightily to my growth as a Christian. I imagine talking with Adam and Eve; I have so many questions about the Garden of Eden and other aspects of the time before sin entered the world. Speaking of sin: What will it be like to talk with people without any aspect of sin entering our conversation? And how about the ultimate: fellowshipping with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself?! What will that be like?!

My wife came across this on (thanks, Jonas, for posting this!): “Will not need in heaven: clock, doc., lock, Glock, H&R Block.” Since “doc.” apparently refers to “documents,” I would like to add “doc,” as in “doctors.” You can have your own fun thinking of things you won’t need in heaven, even if they don’t rhyme!

Joni Eareckson Tada (someone else I look forward to talking with in heaven, especially if I never get the opportunity here!) is a well-known author, radio host, artist, and founder of an organization focused on the disability community. (She has been a quadriplegic since 1967.) She was once asked something like this: “What do you think your first experience of heaven will be like?” She referred to the following, which is the theme music from the movie Cast Away (2000): It makes me cry–in a good way–almost every time I listen to it.

This reconceptualization of the new heaven (and new earth) has whetted my appetite for it in ways I had never imagined. If you are reading this as someone who has trusted in Jesus as your Savior and Lord, I look forward to seeing you in heaven, too. If not, my prayer is that you will come to saving faith in Him.

Is It Possible to Lose Your Salvation?

This question is not one that has troubled me, but I think it’s a very important one. It’s also related to two of my previous posts: Is It Possible for Jesus to Be Your Savior but Not Your Lord? and What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

There’s a puzzling passage in Hebrews 6:4-6 that I want to look at: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace.” At first reading, it seems that this passage is saying that it’s possible to lose your salvation. I remember a conversation many years ago with a brother in Christ who said that very thing. Is that really what the writer of Hebrews is saying?

The Hebrews were the immediate audience of this book of the Bible. Who were the Hebrews? The Jews of the first century A.D. In light of that, the last part of this sentence is worthy of a closer look. As a whole, the nation of Israel at that time rejected Jesus as Messiah; that’s why they asked the Romans to crucify Him. Before Jesus died, the Jews sacrificed animals as commanded in the Mosaic law. Because they rejected Jesus, they continued these sacrifices after His death and resurrection. In other words, His sacrifice meant nothing to them; I think that’s what “crucifying the Son of God all over again” means. “It is impossible…to be brought back to repentance” then would probably refer to the nation of Israel. And in 70 A.D., the nation was destroyed by the Romans, just as Jesus had said in Matthew 24:2: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Another possible interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6 is that it refers to people like those described in Matthew 13:20-21 in the parable of the sower: “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” Alistair Begg, one of my favorite preachers, spoke about Hebrews 6:4-6 here: He mentions Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, as a “chilling reminder” of someone who was actually with the Lord and yet who was not saved. He was an example of someone who certainly appeared to be a follower of Jesus but in fact was not. In contrast to Judas, Alistair refers to John 10:28, which I also referred to in last week’s post: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Alistair says, “The fact of the matter is, we are not strong enough to jump out when God is determined to hold us in.” I couldn’t agree more. On the other hand, people who have tasted the goodness of the Lord but have chosen to reject Him may get to the point where their heart is like stone; in both their words and their actions, they deny Him. If they ultimately don’t repent, it proves that they were never really Christians in the first place.

In summary in regard to Hebrews 6:4-6, we have two very plausible alternatives to the idea that a person can lose his/her salvation. I favor the first one, regarding the passage referring to the nation of Israel in the first century A.D. However, the second alternative is also very reasonable: there are people who ostensibly used to be Christians but who ultimately reject Jesus as Savior and Lord. Even if this passage does not refer to the second alternative, there are others that do. One particularly chilling one is Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

What is not at all plausible is that we can lose our salvation. In last week’s post, I wrote about God’s choosing us in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” In Philippians 4:6, we have even more assurance because of God’s choosing us: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

So, what of those who used to be churchgoers, who were baptized, and who appeared to be believers? Do we have any basis in Scripture for hoping that they will repent? Thankfully, the answer is yes! You’re probably familiar with the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32; maybe you and I need to reread this story as we think about those we know who used to profess faith in Jesus. Pray for their repentance, and trust the Lord regardless of how they respond.

What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

There have been two times in my life that I have wrestled with this question: once when I was a young believer, and then again 20+ years later. When I think about this question, there are two groups of people that come to my mind: adults who have never heard the Gospel and children who are too young to understand it. In other words, very young children may have “heard” the Gospel but simply been unable to grasp it. For them, I think that 2 Samuel gives us the answer. After David’s child with Bathsheba dies, David says in Chapter 12:23, “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” This indicates that David would see his child again in heaven and, I believe, gives us assurance that when young children die, we will see them again.

What about adults who die without having heard the Gospel? I believe that Romans 1:18-23 gives as clear an answer as any other passage in Scripture. Verses 18-20 say this: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” This chapter goes on to say that people make images (idols) made to look like people and animals rather than worshiping God. In other words, they worship things in creation rather than the Creator.

The phrase “being understood from what has been made” is an important one in trying to answer this question. I believe the Lord is telling us that people can at least dimly apprehend the concept of Him, the Creator, by looking at His creation. On a personal note, I believe that this is why my best times of worship are when I am in nature. Much more importantly, I believe this is one of the reasons why there have been groups of people who have been remarkably receptive to the Gospel, to the point where, in mass numbers, they have almost immediately accepted it when they have heard it. Don Richardson’s remarkable book Eternity in Their Hearts (1981) gives examples of people like the 19th-century Karen of Myanmar and the Lisu of China to illustrate this.

In Revelation 7:9, the apostle John tells us in his vision of heaven: “After this I looked and there before me was a multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” In other words, the Bible is very clear that when we get to heaven, there will be representatives from every people group who have ever lived. However, what of individuals who die without having heard the Gospel? Is it possible for such people to be saved? Again, I refer to Romans 1, which says people are “without excuse” because of what they can see in creation. I don’t know if it’s possible to definitively say whether such people will be in heaven or not (I don’t think they will be), but what we do know is that all of those who God has chosen, from the beginning of creation until Jesus returns, will be there.

The word “chosen” is used throughout Scripture to refer to those who are God’s people–those who are saved. Rather than getting into an extended discussion of whose choice it is, let’s look at John 6:44, where Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” This is as clear a statement as there is in Scripture that the Lord draws people to saving faith in Himself. And in John 10:28, Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” The Lord will always save those who He has chosen, even in countries that are now closed to missionaries. Sometimes He uses technology, such as radio and the Internet. There have also been accounts of people who have had dreams in which Jesus appeared to them. At the time of the dream, they have not understood it was Jesus, but the dream has led them on a journey of discovery and ultimately to saving faith.

Over the years in trying to answer this question, I have heard and read many times, “It’s not fair.” That’s one reason that Rob Bell (author of Love Wins) believes everyone will eventually be in heaven. One conclusion I have come to is that the entire human race, including me, deserves to spend eternity in hell; that’s “fair.” The fact that I am going to instead be in heaven for eternity is pure grace. If you are reading this and are not yet a Christian, heaven can be your eternal destination as well if you trust in Jesus as your Savior and Lord.