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To answer this kind of question one is probably delving more into the realm of philosophy and epistemology than theology or bibliology. Nevertheless, it is a question that does arise from time to time from skeptics of the Bible, and it must be answered. Perhaps the best approach to tackling the question is by dividing the answer into two parts: one objective and the other subjective.
Objectively, the Bible is the Word of God simply because it has objectively verifiable data which can be checked for its veracity. Typically such data is comprised of archeological discoveries which clearly indicate the historicity of such places as Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and also more obscure sites such and Jericho and Gibeon. Furthermore, the data informs us of the reality that certain civilizations and their artifacts did indeed exist during the time and place they were purported to have existed. Coins, pottery, articles of war, musical instruments, steles, statues, pagan figurines, and the physical remains of biblical characters, to name just a few of the physical evidences, have been found in the biblical lands vindicating the Bible’s testimony of their existence. Everett Ferguson writes, “The extensive coinage of the early Roman empire affords numerous points of contact with the New Testament and its historical background.” 1 Archeologist Howard Vos adds, “As a result of all this research and discovery, books, journal articles, and monographs on every conceivable aspect of life in the lands of the Bible appear in increasing and almost bewildering volume.” 2 Moreover, most recently the tomb of King Herod, who sent out the decree which had all the children of two years and younger slain in an effort to destroy Jesus (Matt. 2:16), has recently been found in a Judean desert. 3 Yet, while not every site, nor every coin or person has been found, that which has been discovered only serves to give credence to the biblical record. It is credence that no other religious book can claim, and is such evidence that leads to the second way of knowing the Bible is the Word of God, and that is subjectively.
By subjectively knowing the Bible is the Word of God it is meant internally or intuitively the person knows through the leading of the Holy Spirit that what is said in the Bible is true. Prior to Jesus’ departure he promised that he would send God’s Spirit for the express purpose of guiding believers into all truth, bringing to remembrance the things that he had taught (Jn. 14:25; 16:13). Since the words of Jesus are no longer conveyed through the means of strict memorization, but through the written word which God providentially approved and oversaw, in order for Jesus’ promise to be fulfilled, the Bible is the focal point of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of helping and teaching God’s people the truths that Jesus once taught. Such a ministry is internally carried out in a subjective manner as the Spirit of God communes with the spirit of each individual in matters of truth. There is not necessarily some physical manifestation that the Spirit is causing anyone to remember what Jesus said, or that the Spirit is calling attention to his presence as he teaches. There is only the fulfilled promise that as the believer peruses the pages of the Bible, and through the invitation of the believer to be taught, that the Holy Spirit will perform his duty. The evidence that such a subjective witness is true is evidenced when one takes such revelation, illumination, and understanding and makes a personal application, and lives it out in the everyday world.
Again, knowing whether or not the Bible is God’s Word is a matter of objectivity and subjectivity, and one cannot have one without the other. To objectively believe that the Bible is from God without incorporating its message internally is to invite hypocritical hardening of the heart. To subjectively believe that the Bible is from God without exploring the historical realities of which it speaks is to engage in a pseudo-mystical, quasi-religious form of spiritual superstition that can only invite some of the subjectively weird doctrines and practices that often become the hallmarks of the caricatures and cults of Christianity. Yet, a balanced approach to one’s epistemological approach to biblical confidence and affirmation not only prevents such hardening and/or superstition, it promotes a healthy respect, admiration, and devotion for what God did give, and an excited expectation of what one can know everytime the believer opens up the Bible to read it.