Why We Do What We Do: Read The Bible

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"To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries."  - Richard Dawkins(The God Delusion)

If that is true, well, that is problematic for those of us who claim that the Bible is full of a message from God. I want to talk today about why this is not a fair assessment of the Bible, why we can have confidence in it, and why that matters.

THE BIBLE IS INSPIRED

Inspiration means that when God expressed himself through human authors, he made sure that in the process of their writing they wrote what he intended to communicate.  Christians have continually affirmed what the Bible says about itself:

OLD TESTAMENT

“….the Jews were entrusted with the words of God.”(Romans 3:2)

"No prophecy (prophets – inspired speakers of God’s will) of Scripture ... was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Pet 1:20–21)

2 Tim3.16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God,  and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

NEW TESTAMENT

Jesus said inJohn 14:26, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."

1 Cor. 14:37Paul said, "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or a spiritual person, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment."  

In 2 Pet. 3:16Peter said, “in all [Paul's] letters… are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction."

So here you have the disciples, who had been raised all their lives to believe in the inspiration and sacredness of the word of God, and who already affirming that God is continuing His revelation through the written word in what we now call the New Testament.

We also use words like infallible and inerrant to describe the Bible.What the church has historically affirmed about the Bible is that because of the inspiration of Scripture, God has made sure that what is communicated in the Bible is true.  The Bible does not transmit falsehood.

“Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, and life sciences.” - Dr. Paul Feinberg, professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

“When all the facts are known” and “properly interpreted” is a really important part of this definition. Part of the hard work of understanding the Bible well involves recognizing that God’s timeless truths are sometimes expressed in timely ways that might look different at different times and places.

  • Genre (history, poetry, songs, letters, apocalyptic, parables, etc)
  • Language (word meanings, imagery, style, audience)
  • Context (placing parts into the whole of the message)

A couple examples:

  • We don’t associate tattoos with pagan idolatry like they did in the Old Testament. We don’t worry that women who just gave birth shouldn’t come to church, because we aren’t worried about being mistaken for a fertility cult. We do, however, worry about holiness – being called out and separate in our culture. (Read a series on Old Testament Law at TC Apologetics, beginning with “Old Testament Law: An Introduction.” http://tcapologetics.org/old-testament-law-an-introduction/)
  • Genesis 1 and 2 are LOADED with images and messages that the original audience would have understood in ways that we wouldn’t just because our reference point is so different(see John Walton’s The Lost World Of Genesis One). But one timeless message is that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
  • The section on warfare in the Old Testament requires a context to fully understand what was happening. (see Paul Copan’sIs God A Moral Monster, Walton’s The Lost World Of The Israelite Conquest, or a series of posts I have done based on his book at TC Apologetics, beginning with “God Of War.” http://tcapologetics.org/god-of-war/)
  • The Corinthian women covered their heads during church services and men uncovered theirs. In the first century, covered and uncovered heads were causing division and judgment in the church in both men and women. The timeless command is to love, honor, and not judge. The timely expression in that church meant women covered and men uncovered their heads. (read “Hair, Head Coverings, and Hope”. https://clgonline.org/1-corinthians-11-hair-head-coverings-and-hope/)
  • We don’t have “love feasts” like the church did in the NT, which might have had something to do with making sure the poor and undernourished were getting at least one solid meal a week,[1]and certainly conveyed acceptance and community in far more significant ways that meals together do now.[2]This doesn’t mean we don’t still have a command to love each other.
  • Paul did not hate women. He offered a message of hope and redemption that was deeply compelling to women (see Sarah Rudan’s Paul Among The People,or Matthew Rueger’s Sexual Morality In A Christless World.[3]
  • If you want to understand Revelation, you need to understand what apocalyptic literature is as a genre (see Shane Wood’s series on the book of Revelation. http://www.shanejwood.com/the-book-of-revelation/

This is work, but being committed to knowing the facts and understanding proper interpretation is crucial.[4]

We refer to the books in the Bible as the canon of Scripture.The word “canon” means “ruler, or guide.” These books are the guide by which everything else is measured.

  • Shortly after Malachi was written (B.C. 430), the Jews closed the Old Testament canon, because “ the succession of prophets ceased” (Josephus) and “the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.” (Talmud) In the years between 430 B.C. and the life of Christ, the Old Testament as we have it today became universally accepted within Judaism as revelation from God
  • Josephus mentions that there were copies of Scripture in the Temple itself before its destruction in AD 70. This collection was considered by the Jewish community to be canon, for the main test of the canonical reception of a book must have been whether or not it was one of those stored in the Temple.
  • In addition to the over 300 quotes from the Old Testament in the New Testament, the Old Testament was repeatedly quoted by Jesus as Scripture.  He referred to the OT writings as "scripture" (Jn. 10:35); "law and prophets" (Mt. 7:12; 22:40); and "Law of Moses . . . Prophets . . . Psalms" (Lk. 24:44).

What was the criteria for the New Testament canon?

After Jesus left, people start writing again. Now, the Holy Spirit is back in the mix; we have a renewed claim that those who are writing are revealing God’s inspired message. The early church had a careful method of making sure that those they were trusting as spokespeople of God really were spokespeople of God.

  1. Apostolicity and Antiquity:Was it authored by a first-generation (contemporary of Jesus) apostle or apostolic associate? There is no book in the Bible that was written after the first century. [i]
  2. Authenticity: Are the writings’ authorship and authority certain?
  3. Ubiquity: The NT books were all written between 45-95. Once a writing was accepted, the ones that followed had to cohere to it. The books had to have a history of "continuous and widespread approval amongst Christians" (J. W. Wenham, Christ And The Bible).[5]
  4. Universality: Is it consistent with existing canon? This would have been the Old Testament initially, but then the New Testament as well as writing were accepted into the canon.
  5. Effect: Does the book change lives? (is there a spiritual and moral effect).

Dr. F. F. Bruce, the late Ryland’s Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester, asserts of the New Testament:"There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament… if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”

So here are the three main claims Christians make: God inspired the writing; the Holy Spirit guided the Jewish community and then the early church in the process of canonization; God preserved the message as it has been transmitted through generations.[6]

I have lots of reasons why I believe the divine inspiration is clear, and why we have good reason to believe that what is written in the Bible is true and has been preserved well. That's broader than the scope of this sermon, but you are welcome to ask me for more detail.

Why is this all a big deal?  Because that inspiration contains unchanging truth that is timeless and relevant to all people, at all places, at all times. God speaks to us as loudly today through His word as He always has.

Legal scholar J. N. D. Anderson observes in Christianity: The Witness of History:“Here is a faith firmly rooted in certain allegedly historical events, a faith which would be false and misleading if those events had not actually taken place, but which, if they did take place, is unique in its relevance and exclusive in its demands on our allegiance. For these events did not merely set a "process in motion and then themselves sink back into the past. The unique historical origin of Christianity is ascribed permanent, authoritative, absolute significance; what happened once is said to have happened once for all…”

If the Bible is true, if it is really from God, and has permanent, authoritative, absolute significance for all people, at all places at all times, then it has permanent, authoritative, absolute significance for you. We either believe that and become disciples of Jesus, or we don’t. 

The Bible in its entirety establishes foundational truth that is meant to save us, sustain us, and establish us in the abundant life offered by Christ. [7]

Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, wrote about a seminar he did for about 80 pastors, where he played the role of an atheist challenging their faith. At one point it became clear that one of the young men was really struggling with his faith. So, Mr. Koukl talked with him afterward, and describes what happened this way:

“His objections boiled down to this:  ‘I’ve been taught that Christianity’s truthfulness is confirmed by my experience.  I am no longer having powerful Christian experiences.  In addition, I’m reading arguments against Christianity.  I now wonder if it’s rational for me to remain a Christian’…. the truth of Christianity needs to be built on a foundation more solid than personal experience.”  (www.str.org)

The emotional intensity of a relationship with God can ebb and flow in its intensity, just like in a marriage, or a friendship.  Thank God that the reality of God and the reality of our relationship with Him are not dependent solely on how we feel at the moment.  There is a foundation “more solid that personal experience” on which the truthfulness of our faith is built.

So it establishes truth that is meant to save us, sustain us, and establish us.It also gives us the means for finding God’s direction, meaning and purpose in our lives.  

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”  Psalm 119:105

There is life in following the path that God has laid out for us in Scripture. Have you ever heard the following conversations? 

  • “You know, I give money to the church regularly, and I’ve discovered that money has lost its hold over me. What should I do?”
  • “I could have looked at porn and found some way to justify it, but I remembered what the Bible said about honoring my wife and guarding my heart, so I didn’t. How do I tell my wife and kids?”
  • “So I heard this really juicy story about Bob, and I just didn’t have the heart to tell anyone because I didn’t want to shame Bob. Will people ever trust me again?”
  • “In spite of some past mistakes, I have committed to remaining sexually pure, and I am finding there is real relational and emotional reward in this. How do I get back to where I was?”
  • “Sally was telling me about a pretty embarrassing personal struggle, and rather than keeping her at arm’s length and feeling good about how holy I was, I found that God gave me the ability to pass on to her the grace and hope that was passed on to me. Do you think she’ll ever talk to me again?”
  • “My wife and I had this argument, and I remembered that I am supposed to love her like Christ loved the church, and we both were reading passages like “let each esteem the other more than themselves”…. And since then we have been doing really well as we are both honest before God about our need for him to help us love each other sacrificially. Now what do we do? Can you counsel with us?”

You know why we don’t have those conversations? Because when we let God’s word guide our path in life, it turns out that He has given the gift of His own wisdom to a world that cries out for Him.

  “He has shown you what is good…”

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[1]The Protestant International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes this about the agape: “In the opinion of the great majority of scholars, the agape was a meal at which not only bread and wine, but all kinds of viands were used, a meal which had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst and giving expression to the sense of Christian brotherhood.

[2]“In the Greco-Roman or Jewish household of that day sharing in a meal signified acceptance and fellowship, and the love feast in the church was to be a living example of unity.” https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/love-feast.html

[3]“Defending Paul.” http://tcapologetics.org/defending-paul/

[4]Some recommendations:

  • Adam Clarke’s Commentary (google his name and a bible passage)
  • Biblehub’s commentaries
  • Bible Gateway’s resources (the best ones you have to pay for, but it’s cheap)
  • org has an EXHAUSTIVE list of sermons, commentaries, etc.
  • The Bible Project. thebibleproject.com

[5]Paul considered Luke’s writings to be as authoritative as the Old Testament (1 Timothy 5:18; see also Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7). Peter recognized Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Papias, a student of the Apostle John16and Bishop of Hierapolis observed that the Apostle John himself noted that the Apostle Mark in writing his Gospel "wrote down accurately... whatsoever he [Peter] remembered of the things said or done by Christ. Mark committed no error... for he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things he [Peter] had heard, and not to state any of them falsely."From A.D. 100 - 300, there are 36,000 early quotations of the New Testament in the existing documents from the early church fathers, from which all but a few verses of the NT can be reconstructed.

[6]Some recommended resources

[7]Some Bible Study tools: Treasury of Scripture Knowledge https://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/treasury-of-scripture-knowledge/; Through the Bible Podcast  https://pca.st/kk3l

[i]From Bible Gateway, “When Was Each Book of the Bible Written?