Kids are thinkers. They ask good and sometimes hard questions. My kids have asked me some of the hardest theological questions between ages 5 and 8. They’ve queried me on comparative religion, death, eternity, heaven, hell, Jesus and the cross, and what about all those people who have never had a chance to hear the gospel? Interestingly, these questions tend to come at bedtime. But frankly, I don’t care if they are at times bedtime-stalling techniques; such questions are always worth staying awake to talk about.
One of my children repeatedly pressed me with questions like, “How do you know that Christianity is the right belief?” That naturally led us to talking about the Bible. Who wrote it? How is it God’s word if men wrote it? What makes it different from other religions’ holy books? How do we know it doesn’t have mistakes in it? What does it not tell us?
Christianity stands or falls on the reliability, inspiration, and authority of the Bible. Children pick up on that early. We tell them that they should trust the Bible. At some point they will (and should) ask why (if they feel it’s okay to ask). So here are a few answers (in language I would speak to my 9 year old twins) that might be helpful for some mealtime (or bedtime!) discussions.
How Do We Know the Bible is Reliable?
We know that our Bible says the same things as the Bibles people read thousands of years ago because so many ancient Bible manuscripts have survived. There are over 5,000 full or partial Bible manuscripts and they allow us to compare them with each other and our current versions for accuracy. No other book from the ancient world even comes close to as many surviving manuscripts. Most other ancient classical works have 20 or less.
But far more important than having lots of old manuscripts is the fact that when we read the Bible ourselves, it begins to win our trust. It is no ordinary book! It has an authority all on its own. It contains 66 books that were written by 40 different authors in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic) over a period of about 1,500 years and yet it is consistent — it all fits together — and doesn’t contradict itself! You don’t have to be a scholar to see this. The Bible shows itself to be the word of God to those who read it! Here’s how a children’s catechism (or teaching lesson) from over 360 years ago says it:
Question: How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the word of God?
Answer: The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God. (Westminster Larger Catechism, question 4)
Who Decided What Should Be in the Bible (Authority)?
Actually, God did. No individual or group of people or institution decided which writings would be in the Bible. Each book of the Bible has its own story about how it came to be included in the Scriptures, but in each case God caused his people over time to recognize these writings as manifesting the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and why the Apostle Peter wrote, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). God has used men, councils, and the church to weed out the writings that were not inspired by God (a lot of wrong and even strange teachings have been written!), but God himself determined the Scriptures. And this means that every individual, group of people, church, and denomination are under the authority of Holy Scripture as God’s revealed written word and must submit to Scripture as their final authority.
How Do We Know the Bible Has No Errors in It (Inerrancy)?
Since the Scriptures are “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and not produced by the will of man but the Holy Spirit, the original copies written by the biblical authors were without error — we call this “inerrancy.” This means that when the Scriptures were originally written, they were without mistakes, whether speaking about how God created the world or history or God’s plan to save lost people. Believers have always understood the Scriptures to be inerrant, from the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 4:2) to the writers of the Psalms (Psalm 19:7) to (most importantly!) Jesus, God the Son (John 10:35). This fact doesn’t mean that the men who wrote the Scriptures were inerrant. They were sinners like us. When they wrote inerrant books it was a miracle of God, like Jesus’s miracles.
Do we have any of the original copies written by the biblical authors? No. So how do we know that our versions don’t have errors? That’s where having thousands of ancient manuscripts is important. We can see by comparing these manuscripts to each other and to our current Bibles that we have a very accurate record of what the originals said. God is so wise in preventing us from having the originals, because we humans have a great tendency to make idols out of such things. We likely would have believed that the original copies had mysterious, magical powers in the paper and ink rather than in the words God actually said.
Who Can Understand the Bible (Clarity)?
Anyone can understand the Bible! That’s a wonderful thing about this book! The Scriptures speak plainly and clearly communicate what we need to know for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Adults and children can read or listen to it and understand the most important things — how to be saved. This doesn’t mean that pastors and teachers aren’t needed or that everything in the Bible is equally clear. Some portions of Scripture are harder to understand than others (2 Peter 3:16), and God gives us pastors and teachers as gifts to help deepen our understanding of the Bible and how to apply it (Ephesians 4:11). But anyone who can read it can understand it.
Why Do We Need the Bible to Know God (Necessity)?
We can learn a lot about God by observing the natural world (Romans 1:20), but the Bible is necessary for us to read or hear because God has chosen to reveal the most important things about himself and his glorious gospel to human beings through his Word (1 Samuel 3:21). God has not chosen to give each person direct verbal inerrant revelation. Instead, he has provided us a written record. This again shows us God’s wonderful wisdom. Can you imagine how confusing things would get if each person claimed to personally hear the word of God perfectly! How could we test what was God’s word and what wasn’t? But the written Bible provides a consistent and durable (long-lasting) record of God’s revelation so that all saints throughout all ages of the church can understand, believe, and contend for the faith “once delivered” to them (Jude 1:3).
Does the Bible Tell Us Everything We Need to Know (Sufficiency)?
The Scriptures tell us everything we need to know in order to live godly lives in Christ Jesus (2 Peter 1:3). They provide us sufficient (enough) information about what God is like, how God created the world, what human beings are like and how we fell into sin, God’s plan of salvation, what the future holds, and what the age to come will be like so we can trust God and live by faith (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:7). There is a lot that the Bible doesn’t tell us. These are things God wants us to discover through the process of exploration, observation, study, and experience. But when it comes to understanding things like how to be saved from God’s wrath against sin through trusting in Jesus’s death and resurrection and how to have eternal life, the Bible tells us everything we need to know (Romans 5:9; John 5:24). And God is not adding more revelation to the Bible (Revelation 22:18–19), like some false religions want us to believe (e.g. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses).
A Lot More Where That Came From!
I hope this is helpful to you, particularly with younger kids. But there’s so much more to say, and so much more kids may ask. So let me point you to a gold mine of the doctrine of Scripture on our website (and a couple beyond) where you can strengthen your understanding of and stoke your awe over the miracle that is the Bible.
“Why We Believe the Bible” is a five-part seminar John Piper did a few years ago. It’s wonderful and time well spent. If you have older kids, this would be an excellent resource to watch or listen to with them.
“Why I Trust the Scriptures” is a single 90-minute message on the reliability of the Bible. John addresses some recent challenges to the Bible’s trustworthiness.
“Is the Bible Without Error?” is a three-minute audio clip of Pastor John answering this question. A great refresher if you’re child asks.
“What Is Inerrancy?” is a nine-minute audio clip of Pastor John answering this question.
“How Are the Synoptics ‘Without Error’?” is an article John wrote back in his pre-Bethlehem professor days addressing apparent inconsistencies in the Synoptic Gospels.
The ESV Study Bible contains many wonderful, brief summary articles on just about everything you want to know about the Bible.
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, as always, provides an excellent overview of the Doctrine of Scripture.