“Every word in the Bible is true.” This is the claim which must be tested. But where to begin? In the business world, truth claims are made and tested all the time. Perhaps some guidance can be obtained by looking at an example from the business world.
Suppose a company needs 1,000 tons of steel to build a bridge. Obviously, the steel must be strong enough to hold the load. Therefore, when the company places the order for the steel, it specifies the required strength. At the mill, steel is made in batches, called “heats”. Each heat is tested for strength, and a record of the test is kept on file. When the steel is shipped, it is tagged with its heat number.
Now suppose that the customer finds some evidence that the steel is not of the specified strength. He will complain to the mill. The first thing the mill will want to know is the heat number. Once the steel has been identified as part of a certain heat, the records can be retrieved, and the complaint can be addressed.
This example is a good analogy for our purposes. The steel corresponds to the words of the Bible, and the strength of the steel corresponds to the truth of the words. Just as the steel must be identified before there can be any discussion of its strength, the words of the Bible must be identified before there can be any discussion of their truth.
Our immediate goal, then, is to identify the words of the Bible. At first glance, this might seem to be a simple task. In the terms of the analogy, all that is needed is to open the Bible and locate the “heat tag”—the divinely inspired table of contents. But this search will fail.
The Bible is a collection of books. Nowhere in those books is there a list of the books that belong in the collection. In the absence of a master list, one must look within each book for a statement to the effect that it has been inspired by God. While some books do include such statements, there are many which do not.
One such book is the letter written by James. The author introduces himself as “James, servant of God and of Jesus Christ”, thus implying some level of authority. However, though he goes on to speak with authority, he makes no claim to divine inspiration. No other book in the Bible mentions his letter. Therefore, it must be concluded that the claim of plenary verbal inspiration for the book of James comes from outside the Bible.
This puts the Bible-believer in a peculiar position. Every doctrine of the Christian faith must be developed directly from the Bible. Yet the most fundamental doctrine, the one which says that the Bible is the basis of the Christian faith because it is the inspired Word of God, cannot be developed from the Bible.
Many Bible-believers will take issue with this conclusion. Doesn’t the Bible say, “All scripture is inspired by God”? Yes it does. But if the “all” in that statement is used to establish the extent of scripture, then the entire New Testament must be excluded. For when Paul says to Timothy, “All scripture is inspired by God”, he is speaking of the Old Testament scriptures.
Since the Bible does not come with a table of contents, some external means must have been used to differentiate between the books which are Bible books and those which are not. This does not necessarily invalidate the claim that every word in the Bible is true. It does lead to an examination of the process by which the various books were selected for inclusion in the Bible.