top of page

Ads by Google

Featured books

Help Apologetics Central by purchasing the book below using our Amazon Affiliate link.

How can we know beyond reasonable doubt that the Bible is the Word of God?

Updated: Oct 25

The Bible's claim to be divine

One of the pivotal assertions of the Bible is its proclamation to be "God-breathed". While various religious texts across cultures and faiths claim divine inspiration, the Bible's unique nature is found not just in this claim but in its content, consistency, and the worldview it encapsulates. Unlike most philosophical writings, shaped largely by human reason and its inherent limitations, the Bible presents itself as not merely containing truths but being the very Word of God (i.e., the text of the Bible is God-breathed). The challenge isn't in accepting that the Bible claims to be divine, as many texts do, but in discerning the inherent authority and truthfulness behind such a claim.

Now, a valid question arises: if multiple texts claim to be the Word of God (e.g. the Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Bible), how do we ascertain the veracity of the Bible's claim? How can we identify the Word of God in history and amongst competing claims? Let's consider an answer at the hand of the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The Belgic Confession Article 5

Article 5 of the Belgic Confession reads,

We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith.
And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them— not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God.
For even the blind themselves are able to see that the things predicted in them do happen.

Article 5 thus highlights aspects of the Bible that drive us to recognise it as the Word of God:

  1. Because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God

  2. and because they prove themselves to be from God

The Westminster Confession of Faith expands on the above two points:

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) Chapter 1, 1.4-1.5

4. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

WCF 1.4-1.5

According to the WCF, the authority of the Holy Scripture is solely based on God, Who is its author. It is not dependent on the testimony of any man or church. It should be believed and obeyed because it is the Word of God.

While the church's testimony may induce a high regard for the Holy Scripture, the ultimate assurance of its divine authority comes from the Holy Spirit. The Scripture's qualities (heavenliness of the matter, efficacy [ability to produce a desired result] of the doctrine, majesty of the style, scope of the whole) further evidence its divine nature.

The WCF sections emphasize the divine authority and self-sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, while also clarifying the role of the church and the Holy Spirit in recognizing this authority. We thus see a parallel between the teaching of the Belgic confession and the WCF, both appealing to the testimony of the Holy Spirit for their identification.

But we seem to have encountered a circular argument. If we question whether the Bible is the Word of God, the WCF's answer seems rather strange:

(1) We ought to believe the Bible for no other reason because it is the Word of God. So we should believe that the Bible is the Word of God because it is the Word of God? What does it mean that the Word of God is self-attesting?

(2) And what exactly does the testimony of the Holy Spirit mean or look like?

Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?

  • Yes

  • No

  • I'm not sure

The self-attestation of the Word of God

In 'A Christian Theory of Knowledge,' Cornelius Van Til asserts that a true understanding of the Bible necessitates a conflation of its message with its inherent identity as Scripture. In other words, the query "Is the Bible the Word of God?" is inextricably linked with the Bible's teachings. If we try to establish a set of criteria to identify the "Word of God" independently of its content, we paradoxically position ourselves as arbiters of what God could or should communicate. This not only undermines the concept of the "Word of God" but also transforms it into a vacuous abstraction.

Expanding on this, Van Til emphasizes the apologetic significance of this unified understanding of Scripture. He argues that it is precisely the nature of God—as a self-attesting, ultimate authority—that renders His revelation inherently self-validating. Any attempt to separate the content from the concept of Scripture would compromise this divine self-attestation, thereby diluting the unique authority of God's Word.

The God the Bible speaks of is the God who must identify Himself. He is not the type of God that remains "hidden" until discovered at the end of a string of arguments or "facts". The God of the Bible identifies facts by complete description. He knows exhaustively. He knows exhaustively because he controls completely.

Scripture can only be self-attesting if it is the Word of this kind of God. But, we can only learn of this kind of God if He condescends and discloses Himself to us. And reality can only be intelligible if it is created by this kind of God as disclosed in Scripture.

This is how the Bible becomes the source of its own identification. Only by engaging with the content of Scripture, does God reveal Himself to us along with the Christian philosophy or "system of reality", yet, it is only this system of reality that makes all of human experience and reality intelligible. It thus appears that a specifically biblical philosophy both presupposes and is presupposed by the idea of the Bible as testifying to itself and as being the source of its own identification. "It is only if history is considered to be what it is because of the ultimate controlling plan of God, that such a relationship between God’s Word and all the facts of the universe can be obtained" [CvT, A Christian Theory of Knowledge].

Additionally, the self-validating nature of Scripture becomes increasingly evident not only as a Christian engages deeply with its teachings on an intellectual level, but also when its wisdom is applied in practice.

Perhaps we can illustrate the above from a slightly different perspective: In the biblical worldview, God is not subject to "brute" or "independent" facts; He is the very standard of truth. Consequently, when God proclaims "X," then "X" becomes inherently true. This precludes Christians from temporarily setting aside belief in the Bible to independently validate its divine claims.

If the Bible's divine claims require verification by facts deemed more "basic" or "clear" than the Scripture itself, the foundational philosophy of the Bible comes into question. This approach implicitly concedes the existence of "brute" or "independent" facts, which in turn diminishes the significance of biblical teachings. It reduces the concept of "the Word of God" to merely a compilation of "true" statements, subject to validation by independent arbiters which is no different than any other set of statements. Consequently, this suggests that the Bible's content is not indispensable for an accurate understanding of oneself and the world at large.

Rather, the philosophical framework laid out in the Bible posits that only a biblical worldview can coherently interpret all facts. We don't believe in the Bible because of external evidence; rather, the Bible itself serves as its own evidence by being the foundation that makes all other evidence intelligible. While this may appear to some as a circular argument, when it comes to dealing with ultimate standards like the nature of God, such "circularity" is not a flaw but a fundamental necessity.

God's Word in the Garden of Eden

The situation in the Garden of Eden turns out to be a very simple yet illuminating set of circumstances that can shed light on the argument above.

When Adam was first created, God spoke to Adam. God's Word came to Adam with absolute authority. "God identifies one tree among many in order to indicate to man his task on earth. Man’s task is to cultivate the earth and subdue it. He can do so only if he thinks and acts in obedience to his Maker" [CvT, A Christian Theory of Knowledge]. Thus, supernatural thought-communication was inherent in the human situation from the start and formed part of man's revelational atmosphere (as the natural world is what it is by the decree of God, and the supernatural thought-communication made man self-conscious of his place in creation and his task).

God "arbitrarily" chose one tree among many and issued Adam a specific command and warning concerning it. Adam could not independently verify God's Word about the tree, nor was he in a position to question or test God's directive. This command established a moral framework for how Adam should perceive himself, God, and his environment. First, Adam, created in God's likeness, instantly recognized the voice of his Creator. Second, he immediately grasped the implications of God's command: God dictates what is possible and impossible, and because this is God's world, His statements about the tree must be true. The tree was not an independent entity that God merely observed; He defined its very nature and significance in history. Thirdly, Adam at once recognised that the world he was living in was only intelligible because the previous two points were the case. The other command he received to subdue the Earth and rule over it only makes sense if the world is the type of world where order and meaning can be found - which can only be the case if the world was created by God (A world governed by Chaos and Chance cannot be subdued or ruled over).

Now we can revisit the question we've pondered while discussing the Bible: How could Adam be certain that the words he heard were indeed from God? One might intuitively think that if God spoke directly to us, it would be easier to recognize those utterances as the "Word of God" compared to a written text found in a book (e.g. the Bible - especially when the written text has known human authors). But is this the case?

What specifically led Adam to recognize that it was God speaking to him? Was it the unique vibrations of atoms on his eardrums? The tone of God's voice? The source of the sound, perhaps emanating from the clouds above? Or did God validate His words with "independent facts" immediately afterwards? None of these explanations seem sufficient.

This brings us to the very same answer as the one we outlined above when we consider how we know the Bible is the Word of God: You cannot separate the content of the Word of God from the identification of the Word of God. The fact applied in the Garden of Eden, and the same applies to the Bible today. The Word of God carries with it its own self-verification. Now, admittedly the situation in the Garden was different from our situation today - as there was no sin - but we, like Adam, are creatures made in the image of God and we have the ability to recognise the voice of our Creator as and when it comes to us (today in the Scriptures). The only difference today, post-fall, is that as rebels and sinners, we refuse to recognise the authority of God and His Word. This brings us to the witness of the Holy Spirit.

The identification of the fact of Scripture is an identification accomplished by the setting before us of the content of Scripture, the system of truth centering in the ideas of God as self-contained and of his plan for the universe which controls whatsoever comes to pass. The identity is not that of an unknown quantity

Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).

Calvin stated it in the following fashion:

As to their [the Roman Catholic] question—How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church?—it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.

I.e., if the Word of God could only be identified via the witness of another authority, or

independent evidence, it would no longer be the Word of God.

The preceding method for identifying the Word of God can thus be termed a "transcendental" method. "The Christian's belief in the Bible as the Word of God is involved in, and is an expression of, his belief in the triune God as the only final reference point in predication (of whom the Christian primarily learns about in the Bible). The Christian then holds to the authority and finality of the Bible... because, unless he does, there is no resting point for the search of facts anywhere" [CvT, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, brackets my own].

What about the facts?

Traditional apologetics employ a distinct method to defend the authority of Scripture, which, according to this author, inadvertently undermines that very authority. They approach the Bible's statements as if they were any other claims, aiming to validate them through factual and logical consistency. In doing so, they place fact and logic above God's authority.

Take Adam's situation as an example: What kind of verification could he have used to authenticate God's command about the tree in the garden? Could he justifiably withhold belief in God's directive until he had independent confirmation that eating the fruit would indeed lead to death? The answer is no.

So, what is the relationship between facts and Scripture?

"The facts of the universe, in general, may either be regarded in the light of the system of truth presented in Scripture or they may be seen in the light of some other system of truth that men think they possess" [CvT, A Christian Theory of Knowledge].

The issue is not whether the teachings of Scripture align with scientific facts, as science is commonly understood. Often, science is considered to be successful in interpreting the universe's facts without reference to the biblical truth system. Thus, science is seen as having its own autonomous realm, and it falls to the Christians to ensure that their understanding of scriptural truth aligns with these "established results of science."

While it's true that many scientific disciplines don't directly address religious questions, as theology does, it's still crucial to recognize that all facts in the universe are what they are because of their relation to the system of truth outlined in Scripture or they are not (that is to say, they are what they are because of God's decree and God's complete control, or they are a result of Chance). In any discussion about any fact, the principles of both the believer in Scripture and the non-Christian stand in opposition. Both sets of principles are all-encompassing, claiming all facts (we'll speak on this more later). It's within this context that one must ultimately understand the relationship between the Bible, as the infallible Word of God, and the "facts" presented by science and history.

It's reasonable to expect that if the Bible asserts "X," we could find evidence supporting "X" in the natural world. However, the veracity of the Bible's claim about "X" is not contingent upon independent corroboration from the natural world. Even when a discovery seems to conflict with the Biblical framework, a Christian's faith in Scripture should remain unshaken. This is because any fact appearing to create tension is itself only comprehensible within the foundational system described in the Bible. As such, Christians can maintain full confidence that any seeming inconsistencies can ultimately be reconciled with their belief system, even if such reconciliation isn't evident within their lifetime or is beyond human comprehension. This is because our understanding as creatures is inherently limited, and we cannot fully grasp the entirety of God's truth.

All facts in Scripture and nature must therefore be seen as a single, organic revelation of God. Science is not an autonomous discipline that functions apart from God's special revelation (think of Adam's task in the Garden). Both Special revelation and nature presuppose each other, and should only be distinguished as separate "revelations" in theory, not in practice.

The witness of the Holy Spirit

Ever since my initial encounter with the Belgic Confession and the WCF, I've been intrigued by the concept of the "witness of the Holy Spirit." Specifically, how does the Holy Spirit confirm to us that the Bible is indeed the Word of God when we read it? Is it a visceral, emotional experience, akin to a "warm fuzzy feeling"? Does the Spirit audibly "whisper in our ear," delineating which passages are divinely inspired and which are not? Is there some unique experience that sets reading the Bible apart from engaging with other texts? Does the Spirit provide Christians with additional evidence that the Bible is the Word of God independent of the text itself?

The answer to the above is a simple "no". That's not what the witness of the Spirit means. The experience of reading the Bible feels exactly like reading any other text. But the Spirit plays a deeper role in changing the heart of the sinner to accept that which is apparent.

Earlier, we alluded to the fact that the sinner seeks a criterion of truth and knowledge independent of the revelation of God. The sinner wants to test that which presents itself as the revelation of God by a standard not itself taken from this revelation. In doing so, he has effectively already denied the existence of the Christian God and the possibility of this God revealing Himself to man. But how can this hostile attitude be overcome? By reason alone? Surely not, as the sinner already seeks a criterion of truth that is different from the Christian - as such, they cannot merely be convinced by a "linear" argument from their intellectual starting point that Christianity is true. They need to die to themselves. They need a new heart. They need to be renewed unto the truth.

"So then, to overcome this hostile attitude of the sinner it is necessary that the Holy Spirit convict him of his sin in not accepting the Bible as the Word of God" [CvT, A Christian Theory of Knowledge].

"For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded" [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.7.5.].

Identifying the Word of God amongst competing claims

We now turn to considering the question of identifying the Word of God in the world of today. Where is it to be found?

Christians claim that the Word of God is found in the 66 books of the Bible. Muslim claim that the Word of God is found in the Quran.

Resolving the controversy between the Bible and the Quran, or between Christians and Muslims, requires more than merely referencing "independent facts." Instead, each party must demonstrate how their foundational beliefs can sufficiently explain the facts of experience. If either system permits the existence of brute facts, it essentially becomes atheistic. For the sake of argument, the Christian must adopt the Islamic framework, and the Muslim must adopt the Christian framework. Each must then assess the adequacy of the other's system in explaining reality and knowledge while scrutinizing its weaknesses.

Let's consider two Christian arguments against Islam that have historically failed to gain much traction amongst Muslims:

(1) The Quran asserts that Christians worship three gods: the Father, the Son, and Mary. Contradicting this with historical Christian doctrine constitutes an external critique. It is conceivable that some "Christians" did worship three gods, and if the Muslim maintains a consistent relationship between the Quran and other facts, this could resolve the discrepancy. Even if the Christian points out that the Bible itself never teaches this view of "three gods", the Muslim can merely maintain that the Bible has been corrupted.

(2) The Quran denies the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Christians can counter by saying the crucifixion and subsequent death of Jesus are among the most well-documented facts of antiquity. Yet, a Muslim might insist that it merely "appeared" as if Jesus was crucified, thus aligning this fact with the Quranic narrative.

Both arguments reveal how Muslims interpret facts through the lens of the Quran, a practice that Christians should also employ with the Bible. The takeaway is that a worldview can only be legitimately critiqued from within its own framework. The critical question then becomes: Can Islam, operating as a self-contained worldview, provide a valid foundation for understanding reality and knowledge?

The answer to this critical question is a resounding no, and it is not a question that many Muslims have considered in my experience. We can outline a brief internal critique of the Quranic teaching about God, and compare it with the Christian teaching (note that there are a plethora of other avenues and critiques we can consider - and we'll do so in the future. For now, we briefly outline one possible critique to illustrate the point. Also, note that similar critiques can be made when working on the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, and other religious texts that claim to be divine).

A Unitarian vs Trinitarian God

Both Muslims and Christians are monotheists. That is, they believe in one God. Both systems's monotheistic beliefs are informed by the respective texts. Yet, differences arise in the doctrine of God as extracted from the texts.

According to the Bible, God is one in essence but exists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God and shares the same indivisible essence, yet each has unique attributes and roles within the Godhead. The one God is the Trinity. Each person co-inheres with the other person.

In contrast, Islamic theology as per the Quran adheres to a Unitarian concept of God, emphasizing the oneness of God in both person and essence. In Islam, God, or Allah, is absolutely one, without division or multiplicity in any form.

In Islamic theology, which posits a Unitarian Allah, several pressing questions emerge: How can Allah truly understand Himself, and how can humans, in turn, understand Allah? If Allah is uniquely singular in both essence and personhood, he lacks an eternal contrasting 'other'—like another person—against which he could exemplify his attributes. Moreover, if Allah is one in both essence and personhood, qualities like "relational" and "loving" seem to be fundamentally absent from His inherent nature. When Allah interacts with His creation, this engagement appears as an activity fundamentally separate from His solitary essence. Thus, attributes such as being "relational" or "loving" may not be intrinsic aspects of Allah; instead, they could represent fundamentally new roles He assumes when interacting with His creation. If Allah is to be described as "loving" and "relational", it would imply that creation becomes a necessity for Allah (that is, he had to create the world in order to exemplify himself), which implies that creation essentially becomes divine (and no Muslim wants to claim divinity)! And so an internal conflict arises - Allah cannot be described as "absolute" or "self-sufficient". A unitarian god is a dependent god, and a dependent god cannot serve as the foundation for reality and knowledge (for more, see John Frame, The Doctrine of God).

In Christian theology, the conclusions differ significantly from those of Islam. God is eternally a single divine being who exists as three co-equal, co-eternal persons. This Trinitarian understanding of God portrays Him as inherently loving, with the eternal love among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit serving as the ultimate archetype for love among creatures. The Christian God is fundamentally relational in nature. Therefore, when God reveals Himself to figures like Adam, Moses, and David, or even to us, and initiates a relationship, He is not deviating from His eternal nature. Rather, He is extending a new relationship (like His eternal relationships) to include His creation. In this way, God remains both absolute and self-sufficient, and the created world maintains its distinctiveness from the divine. Only a self-sufficient and absolute God can serve as a foundation for reality and knowledge, and so the Bible is vindicated over and against the Quran.

There is no (easy) escape from the above argument as the argument is built on an internal critique of a system. It cannot be explained away as part of the Islamic system (as was the case in the faulty Trinitarian doctrine, and the crucifixion of Jesus), as it is the system itself that carries with it self-refuting implications.

Identifying the Word of God in history

Lastly, we turn to briefly consider the question of the Biblical canon. How do we know that the 66 books of the Bible are the complete canon? Is there not a 67th book or perhaps one book has been included that should rather be dropped from the canon?

Surely, humans and the church collectively are fallible. So how can we be sure that fallible intensities infallibly identified the Word of God in history?

In order to answer, we'll follow a similar pattern of argument as we followed above. Again, to identify a particular text as part of the Biblical canon, we cannot merely form an abstract concept of "divine text" with minimal generic attributes, and thereafter compare various texts to see how my boxes it tick before accepting it as divine.

The system of truth presented to us in the Bible presents us with a worldview where God is all-controlling, and whose purposes cannot be thwarted. This God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and through Jesus authenticated the Old Testament. Jesus also then promoted to build His Church on the teaching of his apostles. And so, given that God is all-controlling, we know that His purposes cannot be thwarted. As such, the Christian can be confident that the Church (the body of Christ), though fallible, would receive the canon due to the divine intent that the Church would receive it.

The epistemic environment of the attributes of canonical books can be undergirded by a revelation of divine intent that the church would receive the canon according to God’s implicit promises and meticulous providence.

Ron Digiacomo, Could The Fallible Universal Church Have Failed To Receive The Canon?

An objection might arise: The Bible serves as the source of Christian teachings that assure us the canon will be accurately received by an imperfect Church. However, it's this very text—whose reliability we're trying to establish—that provides that assurance in the first place. We thus seem to be moving about in circles.

This circular dilemma once again highlights the indispensable role of Scripture in addressing questions about its own authority and reception. The Bible presents a self-contained system of truth that, by its very nature, cannot be "externally validated". This framework governs the principles of rationality and understanding and is undergirded by God whose purposes cannot be thwarted. Therefore, the Church couldn't have failed to receive the canonical books intended by God. While the entire Bible might not be essential for establishing the foundational tenets of Christian belief, a minimal subset of texts that conveys this system ensures the rightful inclusion of the remaining, more nuanced books in the canon.


We thus see that the self-attestation of the Bible, the identification of the Bible in history, and the vindication of the Bible over and against other religious texts all follow the same basic method.

Trust in the Bible doesn't stem from an external validation of its claims. Instead, it arises from recognizing its divine origin, understanding the inherent role of the Holy Ghost in its conveyance and comprehension, and resting in the absolute sovereignty of God.

For more on the perpetual relevance of the Bible, check out this article: Is the Bible still relevant today?



Published by Apologetics Central

At Apologetics Central, we are committed to providing biblically grounded, Reformed presuppositional apologetics resources to equip believers in defending the Christian faith. As a ministry, we strive to uphold the truth of God's word and present it winsomely to a world in need of the gospel.

bottom of page