The Bible's Testimony Regarding It's Accuracy & Completeness

While studying the Bible I have encountered a prophecy that is repeated again and again.  God promises us through his biblical prophets Isaiah, Peter, twice through Matthew, and three times through the apostle John that He protects the Bible and keeps it doctrinally infallible and complete.  Therefore He left us with only two options for responding to the Bible: either we completely trust in its correctness or we don't trust in it all. Because of this prophecy, anything less than the first option is actually the second option in disguise.  As for me, I choose the first option.

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isa 40:8; also quoted in 1 Peter 1:24-25)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matt 24:35)

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matt 5:18)

Jesus said, "…scripture cannot be broken". (John 10:35)

These words are trustworthy and true. (Rev 21:5 and 22:6)

We also learn from the Bible:

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matt 4:4)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Tim 3:16)

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thess 2:13)

The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. (Ps 19:7)

This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. (Isa 66:2)

I believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly, and there are translations of the Bible that distort the doctrines of the Lord. However, translation accuracy is verifiable, and certain major English translations have been thoroughly reviewed for quality by numerous scholars from throughout the English-speaking world to be doctrinally reliable relative to the original language Bible. These include the King James Version, the New International Version, and others. Therefore, the contingency as far as it is translated correctly does not provide justification for a position that the Bible can only be trusted after church leaders have corrected it.

With more than a thousand ancient original language (untranslated) manuscripts of the books of the Bible still in existence, some dating to within a hundred years of the original writings, there isn’t a better-documented ancient book than the Bible. Furthermore, no significant factual error has ever been definitely found, and no correction has ever been needed in the Bible. Jesus quoted extensively from the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) without ever expressing any concern for accuracy of the document, yet the Pentateuch was nearly as old then as the New Testament is today.

The early leaders of the church warned against doubting the accuracy of the Bible. Augustine (354-430) stated that "most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books." He also stated, "If you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement, there will not be left a single sentence of those books [that can be trusted]." John Wesley (1703-1791) wrote, "Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible there may well be a thousand. If there is one falsehood in that Book it did not come from the God of truth." (Journal VI, 117). In other words, if you think the Bible contains even a single error, then it is not the word of God (from your perspective), and it should not be used as scripture. Anyone who cannot trust the words in the Bible without turning to leaders for approval has entirely rejected the Bible as the source of God’s word and has placed his or her complete trust in those leaders instead of the Bible.

The Bible warns us that people would refuse to believe the full gospel, but instead create man-made doctrines that would comply with what they believe the Bible ought to say. Sometimes the doctrines of God or the actions of God may seem inappropriate to mortals, and so they feel a need to take it upon themselves to change the Word of God. Regarding this false practice, we are warned: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa 55:8-9) The Lord, speaking through Ezekiel, scolded the Israelites for judging and wanting to change the doctrines of the Lord: "Yet the house of Israel says, `The way of the Lord is not just.' Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?" (Ezek 18:29) In the New Testament, "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?" (Rom 9:20) So, the Bible warns that in the latter days people would change the Word of God to comply with what they believe it should say: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Tim 4:3) Jesus warned, "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." (Mark 7:8) The Bible also warns that such doctrinal rebellion is disastrous. "They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved." (2 Thess 2:10)

People who fail to fully trust the Bible argue that it is incomplete because it refers to books which are now lost. But this view is based on the unstated assumption that whenever the Bible refers to another document, that document must also be scripture. However, this assumption does not stand up to sound logic or simple observation. Biblical writers frequently referred to known apocryphal books that still exist today, but are not scripture. Examples include Paul's quotations of Aratus in Acts 17:28, Menander in 1 Corinthians 15:33, and Epimenides in Titus 1:12. (From notes on these verses in The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan Corporation, 1985) Thus, there is no basis for speculation about lost books of the Bible.

Ezekiel's Prophecy of the Sticks of Judah and Ephriam

Furthermore, if there were additional scripture, the prophets of the Bible would have prepared us to receive it. At least one of the prophets of the Bible would have foretold the appearance of additional scripture. For example, in an attempt to present the Bible as incomplete, Ezekiel's prophecy of the joining of the stick of Judah and the stick of Ephriam is sometimes claimed as foretelling the coming forth of additional scripture beyond the Bible.

The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, `Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.' Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, `Ephraim's stick, belonging to Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him.' Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand." (Ezek 37:15-17)

According to this theory, "stick" means "scripture." However, "stick" is never used in the Bible to mean "scripture". It means a long slender piece of wood, both biblically and currently. The assumption that "sticks" connote "scriptures" is apparently reached by realizing that Biblical scriptures were originally in the form of scrolls and that scrolls are rolled around sticks. The Bible uses the word scroll (Hebrew sepher in the O.T. and Greek biblos in the N.T.) for scripture and sepher appears four times in the book of Ezekiel. The KJV translates the word scroll into "book" most of the time, but sometimes into "roll" and sometimes into "scroll", but never into "stick". Note the symbolism at one other point where Ezekiel uses the Hebrew word for stick in his book, "Shall we rejoice in the scepter of my son, Judah? The sword despises every such stick." (Ezek. 21:10, italics added) In this case, Ezekiel uses "stick" to symbolize a scepter or kingdom, not a book of scripture. (Note that the KJV uses the word "tree" in Ezekiel 21:10. However, in the original Hebrew Ezekiel used the same word as he used in chapter 37, meaning "stick".  Also, the KJV uses the word "rod" instead of "scepter" in this verse, but it is translated from the same Hebrew word shebet that the KJV translates into "scepter" in Ezekiel 19:11. So in Ezekiel's terminology stick = rod = scepter.)

Furthermore, the Old Testament prophets had established a vernacular regarding the divided kingdom: the Northern Kingdom was referred to as Ephriam and the southern kingdom was referred to as Judah. This is because the kings and the principal leaders of the Northern Kingdom were Ephriamites, beginning with Jeroboam I, the first king of the Northern Kingdom. (1 Kings 11:26) And the kings of the Southern Kingdom were of the tribe of Judah beginning with Rehoboam, the grandson of David. (Gen. 49:8-12; 1 Kings 12:1-24) The prophet Isaiah wrote, "…since Ephriam broke away from Judah…" (Isa. 7:17) Whereas Isaiah and Ezekiel were prophets to the Southern Kingdom, Hosea was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom. Notice as Hosea delivers the Lord’s judgment against Israel, he uses the terms Ephriam and Israel interchangeably to refer to the Northern Kingdom before finally referring to Judah, the Southern Kingdom:

I know all about Ephraim; Israel is not hidden from me. Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution; Israel is corrupt. Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD. Israel's arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them. (Hos 5:3-5)

Most significantly, Ezekiel provides the meaning of the revelation of the joining of the two sticks in the next four verses following the prophecy: the divided kingdom will be reunited. This meaning clearly has nothing to do with new or additional scriptures.

When your countrymen ask you, `Won't you tell us what you mean by this?'… Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on and say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms.' (Ezek 37:18, 20-22)

It is clear from this that Ezekiel referred to the Northern Kingdom as Ephriam rather than Israel because he refers to the entire combined kingdom as Israel.

The possibility of a hidden second meaning for Ezek. 37:15-17 needs to be examined. There are three problems with this theory that make it impossible:

  1. Ezekiel was instructed to write on each stick. This would have to represent contributing to each scripture according to the theory. Of course Ezekiel did contribute to the Bible by writing the book of Ezekiel. However, there is no other book on the earth that even claims Ezekiel as one of its contributing authors.
  2. It couldn’t possibly be argued that the Bible is a scripture of the tribe of Judah. Neither the Old nor the New Testament could be considered to be exclusively the product of the tribe of Judah. Judah doesn’t even exist until the end of Genesis, and then only as a minor character. The remaining books of the Pentateuch are about the leadership of the children of Israel under Moses, a Levite. The prophets of the Old Testament represented both the Southern Kingdom, Judah (e.g. Isaiah), and the Northern Kingdom, Ephriam (e.g. Hosea). Similarly, the New Testament contains significant representation from multiple tribes of Israel. A Levite wrote the first book, Matthew. Luke was a gentile. The book of Acts, written by Luke, is largely a biography of Paul, a Benjaminite. And Paul wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament. If Ezekiel had been writing in New Testament times, the Bible could have been considered a record of the Jews because the New Testament writers referred to all of the descendents of Israel as "the Jews". (Matt. 28:15; Rom. 9:24; John 5:16, 18) But even then it could not have been considered a record of Judah, a name which referred specifically to the one tribe throughout the Bible (Matt. 2:6, Heb. 7:14; Rev. 5:5; 7:5). Furthermore, the generalized use of the term "Jews" began only after the Babylonian Captivity, and Ezekiel was writing during the Babylonian Captivity.
  3. Ezekiel specifically records the second stick as "the stick of Ephriam". (Ezek. 37:16) However, there is no other book on the earth that claims to be a record of the descendants of Ephriam.

There is no doctrine of closed canon.  The heavens have not been closed.  There are prophets on the earth. (See Prophecy.) But we can know that the Bible is complete because it uniquely passes the test for truth. (See Closed Canon.)

In today's callous society, it can be difficult to stand up for the Bible. In her book, Our Values, Dale Evans Rogers (wife of the cowboy movie star Roy Rogers) wrote about an experience of her son, Tom. When he was taking a course at UCLA called "Man and Civilization" the professor ridiculed the Bible and later said, "Anyone who believes the Bible, stand up." She was proud to report in her book that her son was one of the students who had the courage to stand up after the professor had managed to set a strongly antagonistic atmosphere. (Our Values by Dale Evans Rogers, published by Revel, 1997, pages 137-138.) Failing to trust in the Word of God is the basis of the first sin on earth. (Gen. 3:1-4) I hope that all people who call themselves Christians have sufficient commitment to the truthfulness of the Bible to stand up and be counted.

Jesus personally testified that "until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear" and that "scripture cannot be broken."  To fail to trust in the accuracy of the Bible is to reject the testimony of Christ, and thus Christ Himself.  Therefore anyone who distrusts even a part of the Bible has rejected the Bible altogether.

© 2013 William C. Hamer