What is "The Bible" and How Can We Trust It?
This is a basic question that I think needs a good answer, other than "It's the Word of God." It is, but most, people who aren't Christians, and haven't said "word of God" a million times, have trouble wrapping their heads around that. So, let's break it down. My goal is not to write a book. Just to give you a frame, a way to look at it. Books have been written, and you should do your own investigation, until you are satisfied.
The Christian Bible, as we know it (There are lots of versions translated from the same original writings; King James Version<==No one talks like that any more, New International Version, etc.. the modern translations) is a compilation of various writings. It was "official" compiled by the Roman Catholic Church. Bunch of Church leaders got together and looked at various writings that existed and decided which one's should be in the "Bible". To give a full account of God's interaction with man. There are other writings of the time which didn't make the cut, because they were judged redundant or there was different versions of them, or they were inconsistent with writings which there was high confidence in.
What writings? Well, the Bible is the Old Testament, and the New Testament. The Old Testament is both a world history, from the beginning of creation, and how God interacted with certain people during history (Adam and Eve, Moses and the Israelites in Egypt, Abraham and his sons, Kings like Solomon and David, various nations, etc.), and various revelations through his prophets, and goes up to several hundred years before the arrival of Jesus. So, that spans thousands of years.
The New Testament is about the life of Jesus, as written by those who were with him. What his life means for humanities interaction with God, and how the Kingdom of God, also known as the Church, grew after he ascended to God.
We have accounts from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (Gospels - The Good News) of the life of Jesus and what he taught and revealed to them, from his birth through to his resurrection and ascension (he literally went into the sky in his resurrected body). Then, there's the Acts of the Apostles which documents how the Kingdom of God (The Church) started and grew. And then we have letters, which were written by various apostles to the Churches of that time, about the meaning of Jesus life, how Christians should behave, and what to expect in the future. Reinforcing the Gospel and Christian living. The last book of the New Testament is the Revelation from Jesus to John, where Jesus has messages for some of the Churches, and then he shows John a series of visions, it's very symbolic at times, and explain what must happen before Jesus Returns to Earth; the Second Coming. Because the book of Revelation is so symbolic, there's still debate about some of it's meaning. But, much of it is pretty clear.
Just for the record, some of the books that didn't make the cut, to become part of the Bible, are called the Apocrypha. And there are many other Jewish books not included, because they are not really relevant to Christian living.
How Can We Trust It?
Well, the question is, how can we trust anything that was written long ago? The other question is, even if what's there has been passed down without major changes, how do we know the original people that wrote the various pieces weren't crazy, deranged, etc.?
First, how do we know it's all been passed down accurately?
One of the biggest proofs is the Dead Sea Scrolls. These are portions of the book of Isaiah which were recently dug up, dated to 100-300 years BC, and found to be almost identical to the version that's in the modern Bible.
Also, in general, authenticity can be established trough having multiple copies from different times, which agree. And as far as the Bible goes, there is no other ancient writing which has more manuscripts (thousands), which are unchanged. Not only in quantity, but also in closeness to the time of the actual events (within the lifetime of the Apostles starting shortly after Jesus ascension). Homer's Iliad which most people accept as authentic has far fewer, and dated hundreds of years after the events they depict.
Also, there were people and events in the Old Testament which archaeologists are only now confirming were real.
Also, the Bible contains various prophecies, foretelling of future events, rise and falls of kingdoms, which are known to have come true. One of the biggest is the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70, the scattering of the Jews to all nations, and the reestablishment of the Jewish state in the Middle East, after nearly 2000 years of there being no Jewish state. And the biggest is the foretelling of the coming of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior.
Honestly, if you doubt the accuracy of the Bible, then you doubt anything which you were not there to see, and that's pretty much everything.
How do we know the authors weren't crazy or just plain lying?
First, in the Old Testament we are talking about people who were witness to God's interaction with man. And much of it was destruction of evil people. The consequences of misrepresenting anything having to do with God could be destruction by God. The scribes, those that recorded the events, kept the history, and copied it down through generations, had a sacred duty to be accurate, lest they suffer the vengeance of God. That is actually a somewhat overwhelming aspect of the Old Testament, God does not hesitate to wipe out evil people and entire countries. As a side note to this, I would say that most people who write about themselves are going to go the extra mile to make themselves look good. That is not at all the case with the Old Testament; it is the good, the bad, and the ugly, about humanities interaction with God.
As far as the New Testament. Jesus' followers were hand picked by him, Jews. In fact, based on the prophecies of the Old Testament, they were looking for the arrival of the Messiah. John the Baptist came first announcing that the Messiah was coming, and when he came, people recognized him for what he was (John was beheaded shortly after). They had a high reverence for God and their scriptures.
The main question to ask is what would Jesus followers have to gain by lying about the events? And how could they propagate that lie?
We have four different Gospels, for the most part talking about exactly the same events. Some have events that others don't cover, some describe them in more or less detail, but the message they give and the portrait they paint of Jesus are consistent, and support each other. And then we have all the letters, which build on what was written in the Gospel's. Again, all consistent, among all the authors, in the message of the Kingdom of God, Jesus' life, salvation, the future. And again, not everything they say is a rosy picture of them; they failed, they struggled, they misunderstood, they feared.
And what did it get them? While Jesus was being crucified they ran and hid, and lied to save themselves. But after the resurrection and over the years they spoke in public, performed miracles, and preached God's message. All of them gave up normal lives, and most of them were killed (in various unspeakable ways), tortured, imprisoned, poor, hungry. All they had to do was deny that Jesus was the Messiah to get out of that. But they didn't, because they knew the truth, and they knew the eternal consequences to denying Jesus and God. And not just them, but any who became Christians were persecuted and killed. Would you be willing to die for a lie.
But let's say they did come out with a bunch of lies about Jesus and who he was. They were not the only one's who witnessed the life of Jesus. He was a public figure. The religious leaders who had him put to death knew him, the common people knew him. Jesus appeared to thousands, and then hundreds of people after he resurrected from death. If they were lying, it would have been easy for various people who were alive at the time to reveal the lies. But that didn't happen. Even the resurrection of Jesus, who the Jewish leaders had a vested interest in preventing, could not dispute it. All the miracles that Jesus and his Apostles did were in plain sight; from healing the blind, driving out demons, to raising the dead. And those miracles, done in the open, proved Jesus was who he said he was.
What about other Bibles?
Yes, there are others. The Mormons (Later Day Saints) have their version of it, where certain wording and interpretations are changed. The Jehovah's Witnesses have their own approved version. Decades ago I read a lot about various sects, and Cults, like Scientology. And of course there's all the other Religions, Islam and Mohamed, Buddhists, Satanists (yes they have their own also). It's never ending and you could really get bogged down in the weeds trying to sort it all out.
I'm reminded of how, in the days of cash, checkers were trained on how to recognize counterfeit money; They became very familiar with real money, so that when a counterfeit showed up, it was entirely obvious.
The Bible has a simple message. God loves us. We've rebelled for thousands of years. He guided certain individuals and made promises to them. The goal is to reconcile the fallen creation to him. Jesus is the way God is reconciling the world to himself. We've all fallen short in some way and God can't stand to be around us because he's Holy. Jesus asked him to forgive us, and because Jesus was the perfect man, God declared him his Son, and when the Son asks the Father to forgive the others, and when the Son is willing to die for that, then the Father is willing to forgive anyone who respects his Son. It's a divine form of justice, and it's woven throughout the Old and New Testament.
So, What to do?
Get yourself a copy of a modern translation of the Bible. I like the NIV (New International Version) because it's in plain English, translated directly from the Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic texts. There are others. For some reason people like the King James Version, which is written in old English. No one talks like that any more, except people who read that Bible. Frankly it's a stumbling block for people who are just learning, and the only reason it's popular is because it was the first modern version. Time to move on to modern English, or whatever your language is.
Start reading. Read at least one of the four Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Then read Acts, and then the letters. Skip Revelation for now. Go back read the other Gospels. Somewhere along the way, hopefully you come to get the message and you accept Jesus as your Savior. It would help to join a local Christian Church to interact with other Christians. But I will tell you, at this point, Jesus and the Apostles warned of it, there are a lot of people pushing Christianity and teaching things which are questionable. Have your wits about you and always search the Bible to verify what people say, and their interpretation of it.
Fact is the Kingdom of God, the Church, was intended to be a parallel structure, separate from the world, yet still being in the world. Filled with people who have accepted Jesus as Savior, have the Holy Spirit in them, and support each other. Now we find the world and the Kingdom blending and people loose sight of which is which and how we should treat each other and those outside the Church. Religion replaces a relationship with God, and the Church is corrupt. And a lot of what's in the Bible is getting watered down and ignored because people just don't like it. As of November 2023 even the Pope of the Catholic Church is trying to come up with a universal understanding of God with the Jews and the Muslims. It's not possible. They are both waiting for the Messiah. They rejected Jesus. Until they acknoledge he is the only way to God, there's not much to agree on.
Topical Bibles and studies that address certain topics (searching all passages in the Bible to teach a certain fact or concept) is a great way to learn. But the only way you know if you're being duped is if you've read it yourself. So, read, read, read, and pray to God to give you wisdom and insight.