It’s relatively common to encounter professed Christians who say they love the Bible but don’t think it’s entirely true. This has occurred famously in church history, as when Karl Barth wrote that “arithmetical errors, whimsies and impossibilities may have crept in” to the Bible and that the authors of Scripture were “guilty of error in their spoken and written word.” But such dismissal of the Bible occurs among believers today too, as when someone told me at a recent church function that belief in the Bible’s complete truthfulness is not regarded as a “serious academic position” at the Christian college where he works.
In response to such claims (as American theologian Carl Henry reminded us), it’s worth taking a look at what Jesus taught about the Bible. First, He said nothing could invalidate the truth of the Old Testament. Most of the time the Greek verb luo means “to free” or “to loose.” But four times in the Gospels, Jesus used it to reference the Old Testament, giving it the more technical meaning “to invalidate.” For example, He said that “whoever relaxes (or invalidates) one of the least of these commandments and teaches other to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). For Jesus, no one had the right to say the Old Testament was in error.
Jesus also said Old Testament Scripture was more authoritative than any religious tradition, as when He told the Pharisees in Mark 7:9, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition.” And in the Sermon on the Mount, He elevated Scripture above Jewish traditions on matters like adultery and divorce.
But Jesus didn’t only hold up the Old Testament as truthful and authoritative; He claimed that His own teaching was as authoritative as the Old Testament. A trademark of His earthly ministry was to use the phrase “I say to you” to introduce His teaching as sure and binding (e.g., Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). And in the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, He compared His teaching to a rock that could not be moved by the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27).
Then, at the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus promised to deliver future authoritative teaching through His apostles. The Holy Spirit would “teach [them] all things and bring to [their] remembrance” all that He said (John 14:36). As promised, when the apostles wrote New Testament books, they claimed the authority of Jesus. Revelation, for instance, though written by John, calls itself “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1).
Much more could be said about the Bible’s authority and truthfulness. But in the teachings of Jesus we find a validation of the Old Testament, of His own teachings, and of the New Testament books written by His apostles. This alone is enough to remind us that something is amiss when Christ’s supposed followers claim that errors have crept into Scripture.