SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Why Believe the Bible?
By David A. Reed
Do you harbor doubts about the Bible? That should not be surprising, because this world in rebellion against God has surrounded us with attacks against the Bible. Public schools teach that life on earth came originated through a series of chemical accidents, without the need for a divine Creator. They teach that mankind came into existence because animals went through a long series of accidental mutations and survival of the fittest, contradicting the Bible's declaration that "God created man in his own image". (Gen. 1:27)
The public media surround us with explanations of this world, its history and current events, that completely ignore God and the Bible. Even many clergymen ridicule the Bible and dismiss it as a book filled with myths, fairy tales and contradictions -- interesting poetic literature, but not to be taken seriously in much of what it says.
So, when considering the invitation to follow Jesus, you may find it necessary to examine the Bible to prove to yourself that it is what it claims to be, the inspired written Word of God. I certainly had to make such an examination myself. As a teenager, I wanted to do things that appeared to be condemned by God and by the religion of my parents. So, it became convenient to stop believing in God. Moreover, I looked up to certain men and women of science who rejected any belief in God or the Bible. These great physicists and astronomers were my role models, and I wanted to grow up to pursue a career in their field. I read numerous books by atheistic scientists and philosophers, and soon became steeped in existentialist philosophy that left God and the Bible completely out of the picture. Some years later, when I matured a bit, I began to doubt whether a series of chemical accidents over millions of years could adequately explain the nobility, inner beauty and goodness that I saw in the best of mankind or the even higher ideals that the best of humankind visualized as goals they reached for above and beyond themselves. Were those high ideals embodied in a God who created us and the world around us? Is the Bible really his inspired message to the human race? I began to seriously examine the evidence.
For those who are willing to examine it carefully and prayerfully, the evidence is overwhelming that the Bible is God's book of truth.
First of all, there is the honesty and candor of the Bible's historical account. In contrast to other ancient history books that typically glorified kings and emperors as almost godlike heroes without mentioning their flaws and human frailties, the Bible describes in detail, the strengths and the weaknesses of the kings of Israel, the ancient prophets, and the apostles of Christ. Even when telling about great king David, the Old Testament includes the sad episodes of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his fawning over rebellious Absalom. King Solomon is presented as the wisest man who ever lived, but that wisdom did not prevent him from falling into idolatry when he broke God's laws by marrying foreign wives and began catering to their requests to worship false gods. And when the New Testament speaks of Jesus' apostles, it candidly tells of Judas's betrayal, Peter's weaknesses, Thomas's doubts, and an argument between Paul and Barnabas that prevented them from working together.
Unlike myths that are set 'once upon a time' in 'a land far away', the history recorded in the Bible speaks of times, places and persons that are confirmed by contemporary secular histories and by modern archaeology. The Bible relates events in Israel and Judah to specific years in the reigns of Babylonian, Persian and Roman emperors known to secular historians. For example, Zechariah prophesied "In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius," the Medo-Persian emperor. (Zech. 1:1) It was due to a Roman census that Jesus' mother Mary traveled to Bethlehem and gave birth to him there, when "a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria." (Luke 2:1-2) John the Baptist began preaching "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene." (Luke 3:1)
Of course, honesty, candor and historical accuracy do not by themselves prove the Bible to be God's inspired Word. But prophecy does supply the additional needed proof. Men find it difficult to predict next week's weather. But the Bible contains so many predictions of future events that have come true with such consistent accuracy -- even centuries later -- that these fulfillments could not possibly have been due to chance. The One who inspired the writers of the Bible must have known and/or controlled the future -- something only God could do.
The prophecies that prove the divine inspiration of the Scriptures fall into a number of categories.
Prophecies about the Messiah or Christ
The ancient Hebrew writers of the Old Testament wrote hundreds of years before Christ, but their writings include a number of prophecies that were fulfilled centuries later in the life and ministry of Jesus. "Beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:27)
For example, Micah 5:2 indicates that the promised Messiah would come from the town of Bethlehem in Judah, and this actually took place when Jesus was born in Bethlehem as recorded at Matthew 2:1-6 and Luke 2:4-7.
Psalm 22, written by king David roughly a thousand years before Christ, begins with words Jesus would speak on the cross (verse 1; compare Matt. 27:46 and Mark 15:34), goes on to describe how they would pierce his hands and his feet (verse 16), how enemies would ridicule him as he hung on the cross (verses 7-8; compare Matt. 27:41-43), and how they would cast lots and divide his clothing (verse 18; compare Matt. 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34 and John 19:24).
Other prophecies that Jesus fulfilled centuries later include that he would be born of a virgin, that he would be a descendant of king David, that he would live in Nazareth, that he would preach in Galilee, that he would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, and that he would be buried in a rich man's tomb. There are actually dozens of Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Christ. You will encounter them as you read the four Gospels. Or you can find them by searching the Internet.
Prophecies about the God of Abraham
There are prophecies throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament to the effect that the gods of the gentile nations -- Baal, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Dagon, Artemis, Zeus and the rest -- would be abandoned and forgotten, while the God of Abraham would come to be worshiped worldwide by people of all nations.
Such predictions may have seemed laughable when they were made, because those other gods were much more popular than the unseen God of the tiny Hebrew nation, but today there are billions Christians, Jews and Muslims in all the nations of the world who profess to worship the God of Abraham.
The Bible's prophecies on this matter were written during an era when each nation had its own gods and goddesses. The Ammonites worshipped Molech, and sacrificed their children as part of that worship. The people of Phoenicia and Canaan bowed down to Baal and Ashtoreth. The nation of Moab served their god Chemosh. The Philistines prostrated themselves before Dagon. The Greeks in Ephesus shouted praise to their goddess Artemis. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans worshipped their emperors and pharaohs as gods, along with a whole pantheon of pagan deities. But the people of Israel worshipped the unseen Creator of the universe, who revealed himself to Abraham and Abraham's offspring by the name Yahweh or Jehovah -- the Hebrew tetragrammaton or word of four letters, YHWH (rendered in most modern English translations as LORD).
How many people today still worship Molech, Chemosh or Dagon? A better question might be, How many people today have even heard of these long-lost "gods"? How many cities throughout the world can boast of temples where throngs of people assemble to pray to the Greek and Roman deities? But the God of Abraham has people who profess to worship him today in Jewish synagogues, in Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches and in Muslim mosques throughout the earth.
Did the God of Abraham win worshipers worldwide because the nations sponsoring other gods ceased to exist? At first glance, that might seem to be explain why Molech, Chemosh and Dagon find few faithful adherents today -- the nations of Ammon, Phoenicia and Moab are no longer on the map. But, wait! Israel, too, ceased to exist as a nation some two thousand years ago, and wasn't re-established until very recently in 1948. Yet the God of Israel survived and gained worshipers throughout the earth. Moreover, Egypt still exists as a nation, but the gods of the pharaohs and the pyramids are long gone. The vast majority of Egyptians today profess to worship the God of Abraham. Greece and Rome are still on the map, but the Greeks worship the God of Abraham, and Rome has become synonymous with the Roman Catholic faith that elevates the God of Abraham and his Messiah or Christ.
Could it be a mere coincidence, then, that the God of Israel has worshipers everywhere, while the gods of Israel's ancient neighbors have faded into oblivion? No, this is exactly what the Bible prophesied would occur.
The Old Testament was written over a period of hundreds of years in the Hebrew language, and it was completed long before the third century B.C., when it was translated into Greek in Alexandria, Egypt. Contained within that Old Testament, while the pantheon of pagan gods were still actively worshiped, were these ancient prophecies about the God of Abraham:
"All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee." (Psalm 22:27 KJV)
"All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name." (Psalm 66:4 KJV)
"That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations." (Psalm 67:2 KJV)
"God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him." (Psalm 67:7)
"All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O LORD; and shall glorify thy name." (Psalm 86:9 KJV)
"O LORD ... the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, 'Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit. Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods.'" (Jeremiah 16:19-20 KJV)
"And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts." (Zechariah 14:16 KJV)
"My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 1:11 NIV)
How unlikely these words would have seemed to non-Israelites at the time when they were written, if non-Israelites would even have bothered to read the religious writings of the Jews!
Hundreds of years later the New Testament was completed and began circulating in multiple copies during the lifetime of those who encountered Jesus in the flesh -- at a time when pagan Roman Caesars still ruled the world and compelled people to worship them as gods. Yet these early Christian writings, too, prophesy the same thing about the God of Abraham:
"Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest." (Revelation 15:4 KJV)
How unlikely this, too, must have seemed at a time when the powerful Roman empire had only recently crushed Jewish nationalism, tore down the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, scattered the Jewish captives to the four corners of the empire, and was in the process of hunting down and publicly executing the remaining followers of the Jewish Messiah Jesus!
Yet, in spite of overwhelming odds, these ancient biblical prophecies have proved true. Paul, Barnabas and other early Christian disciples traveled far and wide, following Jesus' instructions to "go and make followers of all people in the world." (Matt. 28:19 NCV) and trusting Jesus' assurance that, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NASB)
Wherever they went among the Gentile nations "ten men" would accept the message about the Jewish Messiah and would take up worshiping the God of the Bible, as foretold centuries earlier by the Hebrew prophet Zechariah: "Thus says Yahweh of Armies: 'In those days, ten men will take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, they will take hold of the skirt of him who is a Jew, saying, "We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."'" (Zechariah 8:23) And those who became believers went on to share the Bible's message with others, spreading the message of the God of the Bible far and wide.
The result is that today there are Christians in every land -- along with Jews and Muslims who also profess to worship the God of Abraham. Yes, the God of Abraham is worshiped today by people in all the nations of the earth, just as prophesied in the Bible thousands of years ago. Against all odds, these ancient prophecies have come true -- a stunning proof that the Bible is God's inspired Word.
Prophecies about Jerusalem, the Jewish people and Israel
As far back as the books of Moses written more than three thousand years ago, the Bible foretold that the Jewish people would be uprooted from the Promised Land, and would be scattered throughout the world, hated by people everywhere, only to be restored as a nation thousands of years later, shortly before the end of the world. Impossible as it may have seemed, the Roman empire carried out that worldwide scattering and the British empire later facilitated the regathering.
Through Moses, God brought the nation of Israel into a covenant, a solemn agreement to keep the complete set of laws and commandments He gave them. "These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel." (Deuteronomy 29:1 NASB) If they kept the covenant, they would receive a long string of blessings specifically listed as part of the agreement. But, if they broke the covenant, there would be punishments in store for the nation. The ultimate punishment would be the breakup of the nation and the scattering of the Jewish people to live as strangers in the territories of other nations.
"But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God ... the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth." (Deuteronomy 28:15, 64 NASB)
Though the Jewish people would remain in this scattered condition, without a homeland of their own, for a very long, long time, this scattering would not be permanent. They would eventually be returned to the Promised Land:
" ... then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee ... from thence will he fetch thee: And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it." (Deuteronomy 30:3-5 KJV)
" ... the LORD will ... assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth." (Isaiah 11:11-12 Jewish Publication Society of America)
There were relatively brief periods of captivity forced on the Jews by the Assyrian empire and later by the Babylonian empire. Much of the population was carried captive to Babylon for about seventy years, with a large number of escapees fleeing in the other direction, to Egypt, around the sixth century B.C. But the real scattering of the Jews to the four corners of the earth was yet future. Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, repeated the prophecy in these words:
"And they shall fall by the edge of the sword and be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." (Luke 21:24 KJV)
Within the lifetime of those who witnessed Christ's crucifixion, a Jewish uprising against Rome was crushed brutally by the imperial armies. The Romans demolished Jerusalem and its temple and sold the Jews into slavery throughout the empire, scattering them to the four corners of the earth, into all the nations.
Not only were the Jews scattered worldwide, but they were also hated worldwide -- just at the Bible prophesied: "I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth and an object of cursing and horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them." (Jer. 29:18 NIV) "You will be a hated thing to the nations where the LORD sends you: they will laugh at you and make fun of you." (Deut. 28:37 NCV) Pogroms and anti-Semitism followed the Jewish people wherever they went.
Normally, such worldwide scattering and persecution would have spelled the end of a people and a nation. To all appearances, there would never again be a Jewish state in Palestine. The Romans ruled the ruins of Jerusalem until the empire began to fall apart. Then the eastern empire ruled from Byzantium or Constantinople. With the rise of Islam, Muslims took control. Over the centuries the land changed hands as European Crusaders and the Arab warriors of Islamic Jihad pushed each other back and forth across the war-torn terrain. For hundreds of years -- nearly two thousand years, in fact -- Gentiles trampled upon Jerusalem. Would the Jewish state ever be restored? Only a miracle could bring that about.
However, that miracle had been promised in Bible prophecy. Although it took two world wars to accomplish it, the miracle occurred as the hand of God pushed world events in that direction, and the prophecy was fulfilled.
World War I was still raging, and the Ottoman Turks still held Jerusalem when, on June 4, 1917, Jules Cambon, Secretary General of the French Foreign Ministry, wrote this in an official letter to Jewish Zionist leader Nahum Sokolow: "... it would be a deed of justice and reparation to assist, by the protection of the Allied Powers, in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago." Five months later, on November 2, 1917, British foreign secretary Arthur James Lord Balfour wrote in a letter to a Jewish peer in the House of Lords, an official pronouncement that has since been dubbed the Balfour Declaration: "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people ... ." These proclamations are reminiscent of the orders issued by rulers of the ancient Medo-Persian empire to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple after the Babylonian exile, as recorded in the Old Testament books of Nehemiah and Ezra.
When British forces under General Allenby took Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks in December, 1917, a Jewish Legion of several thousand Jews from many nations formed part of the victorious army. Under a Mandate from the League of Nations, Britain administered the territory. Meanwhile, a steady influx of Jewish immigrants began to arrive.
As though to thwart the fulfillment of prophecy, Hitler's Nazi government arose and began the systematic slaughter of six million Jews in gas chambers and ovens. It took the Second World War to stop this demonic Holocaust and to keep the prophecy on track to fulfillment. But enough Jews survived to see the formation of the State of Israel in 1948. The Bible indeed proved to be a book of true prophecy.
These prophecies, undeniably fulfilled by events thousands of years after they were written, offer indisputable evidence of the truthfulness, inspiration and reliability of the Bible. Unlike fanciful religious writings and fairy tales, the Bible speaks of the real world and its past and future events. The existence of ancient kings and kingdoms described in Scripture has been verified, time and again, by archaeological discoveries. In fact, archaeologists unearthing the history of the Middle East have long used the Bible as a guide, to help them know what to look for and where to dig for it. Besides its "end times" prophecies concerning Messiah's return, his coming Kingdom of God, and the end of the corrupt "world" as we know it, the Bible also contains many prophecies that have already undergone fulfillment. Their accurate fulfillment hundreds or thousands of years later offers convincing evidence to help us put faith in the Bible as the Word of God.