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 OK 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.