Can We Trust Our Bible?
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Inspiration, its meaning and scope (inerrancy, plenary inspiration, infallibility), what it does not entail, and why I believe Scripture is inspired.
A. The Scope of Inspiration
B. Solutions to Apparent Contradiction
C. What does Inspiration Not Mean?
D. Why do I Think the Bible Is Inspired?
Lecture: Can We Trust Our Bible?
Welcome back to the second talk. By the way, I have renamed this whole thing, I’m going to start calling it the Biblical Training Institute – BTI. There’s a lot of long-term reasons that’s good for so if I refer to BTI you’ll know what I’m talking about. Last week we got into the whole issue of can we trust our Bible and I’m going to review some of it very quickly and then we’ll slow down when I get to the new stuff.
Scope of Inspiration
Last time we had talked about this being a fundamental question and an essential question. We talked about the actual definition of inspiration, that Scripture comes very the mouth of God. We talked about 2 Tim 3:16. We talked about the different methods of inspiration as well, inspiring method, the dictation method, and the dynamic method. We had started in on the discussion of the scope of inspiration, how much of Scripture is inspired, how much of Scripture comes from the mouth of God. I’m going to review just a little more in detail and then we’ll get into the new stuff.
1. “Limited” Inspiration (infallibility)
So the question of the scope of inspiration is simply how much of Scripture is inspired, how much of it comes from God. There’s two basic positions on this. The first is called limited inspiration and the word, infallibility, is often connected with this position. It’s kind of an awkward use of the word infallible, because infallible means that it’s all true – that’s what the English word means. But historically in America over the last twenty years the word infallible has, I think unfortunately, come to be connected with this position of limited inspiration. The doctrine of limited inspiration teaches that Scripture is true in statements that relate to faith and practice, but Scripture is not necessarily true in other areas, such as history or science. As we talked about last week, Fuller Seminary, the Seminary I went to, championed this position and it was all going on while I was in Seminary and it was a desire to say that a Scripture says we need to believe this or a Scripture says this is how we should behave then that all comes under the umbrella of inspiration and is true. But other areas, such as statements of history – Quirinius was governor of Syria when Augustus ordered the world to be taxed, in Luke, those kind of statements, or scientific statements, whether it be Jesus' claim that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds, or claims in Genesis 1 that God created the world. Those kinds of scientific claims fall outside the scope of information. I think what these people, the people who hold this position, are struggling to deal with is the problem of apparent contradictions. They’ve seen places where they think the Bible contradicts itself or they’ve seen places where they think the Bible contradicts science and their solution to it is to say, well, that part of Scripture is simply wrong.
There are at least four problems as I see it with the doctrine of limited inspiration. The first simply has to do with how on earth do you divide the two? How do you divide what is a statement of faith from what is a statement of history? For example, let’s say there was a verse that said Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins. Is that an inspired statement or not? Well, it’s history because it’s claiming an historical event, but it’s also theological. And so that statement simply could not be split in half. That’s the major problem with this position because Christianity is rooted in history. If the events didn’t happen, then Christianity is not true. If Christ was not raised from the dead then we are the worst of sinners and we’re still in our sin. Christianity absolutely demands that Jesus was born, that he lived a sinless life, that he lived as the fulfillment of prophecy. It demands that he died at the hands of unjust people, it demands that he was raised from the dead. You go on and on and all the central theological affirmations of our faith are rooted in history. So, if somehow the historical parts of Scripture are not true, then the theology fails too. That’s the fundamental problem with this position.
A second problem with limited inspiration is, I think, it is contrary to Scripture. The most natural straight-forward reading of 2 Timothy 3:16 is that, “All Scripture is inspired by God.” All Scripture is breathed out by God. It is possible to twist it, that’s not a good word because I don’t want to imply motives but it is possible to translate it that all Scripture that is inspired is profitable. But you have to really work at the Greek to make it say that. It’s not at all the natural way to say it.
A third problem with the position is that as you read the New Testament it asserts the historical veracity of thousands of facts, historical facts in the Old Testament. Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology, page 94 just lists one after another. By the way when I refer to Wayne’s book I’m referring to the bigger one, Systematic Theology, not the smaller Bible Doctrines. On page 94 he lists historical fact after historical fact out of the Old Testament that the New Testament claims to be true. Part of the point that he’s making is that it’s unnatural to say that the history is outside of inspiration.
Fourthly, I would argue that if you can’t get history right, and something you can verify, how do we know that they got anything else right? If Luke can’t date the census with Quirinius being governor of Syria, how can we possibly believe the he got statements of faith right. Statements of fact and history are so much easier to get right than the issues of faith and practice. So again, if they can’t even get their dates and places right I’m not going to believe the other things they say about faith and practice. So anyway, just some of the problems with that position.
2. Plenary Inspiration
The other position on the scope of inspiration is called plenary inspiration, it just means full. This is position that the word inerrancy is often connected with – it's that Scripture has no errors. Basically that’s what the doctrine of plenary inspiration says, that everything Scripture says is true. In other words this position doesn’t try to dissect Scripture – if it says it, I believe it’s true from cover to cover.
Some of the arguments for inerrancy: number one, Scripture says it is. It’s going to be kind of hard for me to say anything within this topic that you can’t find someone to argue with and people would argue with that statement, but I think it’s very clear that Scripture claims this for itself – Scripture claims to be true. For example you have verses like Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true.” The Proverb doesn’t say most of what God says proves true it just says every word of God proves true. So if this is from the mouth of God then it is true. In John 17:17 Jesus says, speaking to God the Father, “Your word is truth.” It is interesting it doesn’t say true – it says truth. God’s word defines what is true and what is false. It’s claiming a level of veracity of truthfulness that is total. Even when you look at how people in the New Testament refer to the writings, for example, in John 10, Jesus is saying, “If he called them gods to whom the word of God came” and then he adds parenthetically “and Scripture cannot be broken” John 10:35. That’s a very important phrase. That’s Jesus saying that Scripture – it can’t be broken, it can’t be false, it can’t be untrue. If it says it, it is true. You have verses like in Matthew 5:18, Jesus says, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot (jot and a tittle in King James), will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Again you have this intense interest on the little details. They couldn’t say that if huge chunks of the Old Testament weren’t true. But it’s every jot and tittle, every iota and every dot. My favorite argument comes out of Galatians 3:16. Paul is arguing his position and he says, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, 'And to offsprings,' referring to many, but referring to one, 'And to your offspring,' who is Christ.” See Paul’s entire argument hinges on the fact that the Biblical writer got it right when he used the singular form and not a plural. That is an incredible attention to detail and that is people in the New Testament saying every little bit is true. You can focus on the details, you can trust the details. There are many other verses we could use, but those are some of the main ones where Scripture talks about itself.
A second argument for plenary inspiration comes from the very character of God. You go to Grudem, pages 82 and 83, he’ll elaborate on this. You take a verse like Hebrews 6:18, “It is impossible for God to lie.” I think most of us would agree with that. God is not going to lie. Well if God is not going to lie, if that is his character, then how can there be anything that is not true in the Word of God. God can’t lie, so if you believe that Scripture comes from him then everything has to be true in it. So you can make a pretty strong argument that moves from the character of God, he who never lies, to the Word of God, it can’t have any untruth in it. That’s a pretty strong argument.
Now the problem with plenary inspiration, and it’s a big one, the problem is possible contradictions. I’ll always call them possible, or something like that, contradictions. In other words as you look at Scripture there are places where it might appear, to some people, that it contradicts itself. For example, when did Jesus cleanse the temple? Well, it depends upon which Gospel you’re reading. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke he cleansed the temple at the end of his life, this is when he went through the temple and he chased out the money changers and all that kind of stuff, cleansing the temple, a pronouncement of doom on the Jewish nation. Well Matthew, Mark, and Luke have him cleansing the temple at the end of his public ministry, in the last week that he lived. John has him doing it three to three and a half years earlier at the very beginning of his ministry. Now there’s solutions to the problem, but that’s the kind of problem that a person is faced with if you want to believe in plenary inspiration or inerrancy.
Before I get into the possible solutions, let me just emphasize one thing up front. If you’re talking to someone, at work or school or wherever, and they say, “Oh, I could never be a Christian,” or “I could never trust the Bible it’s all full of errors” you know what to ask don’t you. If you’re in a really obnoxious mood like I often am, I just get a real innocent looking face as much as I can muster and say, “Really? Can you show me one”? Ninety-nine percent of the people that are out there saying, “I can’t believe in God, I can’t believe in the Bible, I won’t be a Christian because the Bible is full of errors,” they don’t have the foggiest idea where the problem passages are. There are problem passages, but they don’t know where they are, for the most part. Now if they do turn to one and find it, you have an obligation to figure out how to answer it. But most people won’t do that – they’ll change the subject or walk away. Don’t ever get sucked into these discussions about errors in the Bible, because usually it’s a smoke screen. Most people don’t have intellectual problems with Christianity. Most people have moral problems with Christianity. They don’t want to answer to a God, so they put up intellectual road blocks so they can pretend he doesn’t exist or something. So anyway make sure you know where the mistakes are.
Why are there problem passages? The problem passages come about primarily because of the nature of communication, that rarely do two people tell the same story in the same way. And so when Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell a story they are going to tell it from their point of view and there’s going to be differences just like you and I, if you and I talked about church last Sunday, it would be different – they would fit but they would be different. Other times it’s a misunderstanding on our part, which is getting a little bit to what you were saying on translations. Just on the nature of communication, one example I’ll use will show how every time you say something it’s in context and if you don’t understand the context you can misunderstand the statement.
Solutions to Apparent Contradictions
Possible solutions when there are apparent contradictions. 1) The secular source is wrong. This seems kind of simple but it’s one that needs to be emphasized. Sometimes people say well the Bible contradicts history and one of the solutions simply might be that well maybe the historians got it wrong – ever think of that? Old Testament scholar, by the name of Wellhausen, was a serious problem. He was very liberal and Old Testament scholarship is still trying to dig out from the mess that he created. Wellhausen said things like that, well, you can’t really believe that Moses wrote the Old Testament, because writing wasn’t invented until 500 BC. And then he said that the stuff talks about David playing musical instruments can’t possibly be true because music wasn’t created until 500 BC. Now there are two statements that couldn’t be any falser than I can think of. Writing goes back millennia and can you imagine there not being music? Can you imagine someone not taking the bones of a dead animal and beating them on the sides of the cave to rhythm. There’s always been music and there’s always been written languages. In this case, Wellhausen was completely wrong, but for fifty years he dominated Old Testament research and was often used as evidence that the Bible was wrong.
Another real good example is the one I keep quoting about Quirinius. In Luke 2 it says, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Now this is one of the prime examples of why you can’t trust history in the New Testament, because according to Josephus, a Jewish historian, his dating for Quirinius and Luke’s can’t both be right, they’re mutually exclusive datings. And so everyone assumes, not everyone, a lot of people assume that Josephus is right and Luke is wrong. And the answer is, well, maybe Josephus was wrong. We throw Josephus away whenever we feel like it. He got so many things wrong, it was amazing . But when it comes to a contradictory date with Luke 2 it’s amazing how many people say, well Josephus got it right every time. The whole point is to say sometimes a secular source can be wrong and I stress that because I’ve been involved in many, many discussions where people won’t even consider the secular source could have gotten it wrong.
Secondly, one of the possible solutions is that maybe you have misinterpreted the text. And maybe the apparent contradiction, maybe the problem is that you haven’t understood the text properly and that’s why it appears to contradict another text. Let me give you a couple of examples. There was a man who was driving out demons and he wasn’t one of the twelve disciples. And in Mark 9:40 Jesus says to his disciples, to his twelve, basically Jesus says, cut him some slack, he says, “for whoever is not against us is for us.” Now that sounds like if someone is kind of neutral toward Jesus, if he’s not actively against us, he’s therefore by default for us. This gets a little tricky. But later on in Luke 11:23 he’s dealing with some Pharisees who had just said that Jesus was demon-possessed and Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me.” So there if you’re kind of in the neutral position, if you’re not actively with Jesus you are therefore against him. These two verses are often used as obvious examples of contradiction. But the solution is so simple, we’ve misinterpreted what the text is saying. In the first example, Mark 9:40, the man who was casting out demons was most likely one of Jesus’ disciples. He wasn’t one of the inner twelve, but there was a much larger group that followed him. The twelve didn’t like the fact that some other follower of Jesus had the power to exercise demons. They wanted to be in control and Jesus says, “No, no, no.” If they, and the context there is “my disciples,” if they are not actively against me they are for me – they are my disciples. The context in the other passage is exactly the opposite. The Pharisees have just accused him of being demon-possessed. Jesus says, “Hey, if you’re not one of my disciples, you’re against me, there’s no neutrality.” So the verses are actually talking about significantly different things and if you take the time and the context to look at it you will see that.
So a lot of “apparent contradictions” are explained by this kind of thing. Another example would be the temptation narrative I talked about last time. In Matthew it’s: turn the stones to bread, jump off the temple, worship me. In Luke it’s: turn stones to bread, worship me, jump off the temple. The order of the second and third temptations are different, well it’s a contradiction. No, Matthew says this happened, then this happened, then this happened. Luke says this happened and this happened and this happened. And is not sequential in Greek, not necessarily sequential. Luke has a strong theme that a prophet is to be killed only in Jerusalem, For him the temptation of jumping off the temple because the temple is in Jerusalem is more significant than the worship. So apparently for literary reasons Luke switched the order, but he doesn’t claim this happened, then this happened, then this happened. He says this happened and oh, this happened, oh and this happened. In our Western minds we read that as sequential but it’s not sequential in Greek nor in the Greek way of thinking.
Luke says the order is not a big deal, he's trying to make a literary point here. We are much more obsessed in modern culture with sequence. Our obsession with sequence and precision and exactness doesn’t go back two thousand years, it’s a modern thing. But on the other hand, for someone who would see that – a new Christian who would see that, you can see how that might be a problem. The only thing that really matters to me in all this discussion is do you trust it. Sometimes the problem is just one of interpretation.
The third possible solution is harmonization and we talked about this a bit last time but just let me repeat it quickly. Harmonization simply asks the question, is there any kind of scenario in which both of the stories could be true. I don’t think in harmonization you have to get to a point where you say, this is the way it absolutely had to happen. I think the question is, is it conceivable that these two stories could be describing the same event just from a different point of view. And so we talked about harmonization in the synoptics – the two thieves on the cross. One Gospel says Jesus was hung between two thieves who reviled him. Luke talks about one of the thieves repenting and becoming a Christian and dying and going that day to paradise. Now is there any way that you could envision both of those accounts to be true? Sure. Jesus talked to the thieves, got through to one of them, he became a Christian. It’s very conceivable; it doesn’t stretch my imagination at all to think of that.
What’s the harmonization for the two cleansings? This one’s really simple. He did it twice. Some people would say, “Oh, that’s too easy.” No, the cleansing of the temple was an act of judgment on a decrepit religious system that should have known better. What better way to start your ministry than by saying you are completely and totally wrong. You read Mark 2, they are trying to kill Jesus very quickly in his ministry. What did he do that ticked them off so badly? Maybe he kicked them all out of the temple. And it’s just as conceivable to think at the end of his ministry that nothing’s changed. You’re still the same false religious system that I condemned three and a half years ago and I’m going to do the very same thing to bookend my ministry. It doesn’t take any imagination on my part to believe that happened. There are other solutions to the two cleansings, that’s the easiest one, and I like it. Why look for something difficult when you can get it easy.
Those are the solutions to these kinds of problems. Let me give you a couple of conclusions. One, there’s almost always a conservative answer if you look for it. Almost always. There almost always some way to handle these problems. The seminary I went to wasn’t that concerned to harmonize these problems passages and when I went through seminary I just assumed that there were mistakes in Scripture. I never told my mom and dad or they would have canned me, but everyone thinks there are so there must be. My two best friends in graduate school are now teachers at Dallas Theological Seminary and Denver Seminary. Two rather bastions of conservative thought. One had gone to Dallas and the other had gone to Trinity, another bastion of conservative thought. It was really important in those seminaries that those guys learn how to harmonize Scripture. The teachers spent a lot of time helping the students work through these difficult passages. Every Thursday afternoon the three of us ate together and then argued. Darryl was dispensationalist, Craig and I weren’t, so mostly we argued about dispensationalism. But we argued a lot about inerrancy. I have some of my fondest memories sitting in the cafeteria arguing. I was shocked that no matter what passage of Scripture I showed them, they had an easy answer to it. And it was passage after passage after passage. You listen to them and say, “That makes sense, that could happen.” I just learned a very hard lesson that sometimes it takes a lot of hard work. I called Craig the other day because I simply couldn’t figure out how to handle a passage. I said, “Craig, walk me through your harmonization.” There are explanations for these things. So if you’re confronted with them my encouragement to you is don’t throw up your hands and just say, “Okay, there’s a contradiction,” but rather go do your homework and find out what the answer is.
That actually is the second part of my conclusion. I really think that Scripture deserves the benefit of the doubt. I think it’s very fair if someone is saying, “Well, here’s an error.” Scripture is so correct so much of the time that if you find a passage that someone’s saying here’s an error I think you need to give Scripture the benefit of the doubt and then go do your homework and find out what it is. I think that’s a fair position to take on this whole thing of inerrancy.
What does inspiration not mean?
Let me quickly cover what inspiration does not mean. It’s really important again because these are the kinds of things that will come up in Bible studies and Sunday School classes a lot.
1) Inspiration does not cover the copies. When Paul sat down to write the book, the letter to the Romans the actual document he wrote is called the autograph – the technical word for it. The doctrine of inspiration applies to the autograph. It does not apply to the thousands of copies that were made to his original. We know, because we have them, that differences crept in. Whenever you talk about inspiration and you talk about the autographs, the originals.
2) Inspiration does not cover footnotes. It’s really easy, especially for a young Christian who is given an NIV Study Bible, a great study Bible, to not realize the bottom half of the page is human ideas. So you want to gently help people understand that inspiration is the Biblical text not the footnotes, not the running notes.
3) Inspiration does not cover titles and headings. Now you have a lot of titles in the Book of Psalms still but in the older translations there were a lot of titles and headings. For example, Genesis used to have the heading, Genesis, the Book of Beginnings 4004 BC. So when Darwin came along obviously he was wrong because the world was created in 4004 BC. That’s a heading that Moses never wrote, that is not part of the inspired text.
4) Things like verses, paragraphs, chapters, punctuation – none of that is inspired. So you can read half a verse and it’s okay. When Greek was originally written it was all capital letters, no spaces. It was just non-stop writing and so all the things were added hundreds of years later.
5) Translations are not inspired. I actually met someone who honestly believed that if the King James was good enough for Paul it was good enough for me. Bless her heart she really believed that Paul spoke in King James English. You have to be gentle. English wasn’t a language until about 1000 AD. Translations are not inspired.
6) Grammatical errors are not inspired. There are grammatical errors in Scripture. Some of them appear to be intentional, others, I don’t know, but inspiration does not cover grammatical errors.
7) Figures of speech are not grammatical errors. By the way, the reason I’m picking these as examples, these are all things that I have read or been in arguments with people where they say you can’t trust the Bible because it has errors, so none of these are being made up. Figures of speech are not errors. The Bible is full of metaphors. Metaphors are not errors; they are metaphors. Revelation 7:1 talks about the four corners of the earth, the flat earth society says if you’re going to be a Christian you have to believe the earth is at least rectangular but certainly flat. It’s a metaphor. Hyperboles are not errors – just another figure of speech. Matthew 3:5, “All of Jerusalem went out to be baptized by John the Baptist.” Do you believe that? Every single new born, every single ancient person went out to be baptized? That stretches the imagination. But we all speak like that. Anyone here ever said, “I’m starving to death?” Are you a liar or is it a hyperbole – it’s a hyperbole, it’s not an error. Phenomenological language – it talks about the sun rising. I’ve been in discussion with people who say I don’t believe the Bible, it talks about the sun rising. Since the sun doesn’t rise, the earth spins, I don’t trust the Bible, it’s in error. Give me a break! Figures of speech.
8) Approximations are not errors. This is getting a little closer to home for us because we live in a culture that insists on exactness in many ways. If you were to pick up a history book and it said in 1493 Columbus left for the New World you would say, error, it was 1492. Our culture is obsessed with this kind of precision. But even then, we still use approximations. When Scripture uses approximations some people have trouble. For example, how tall are you, Bill? Oh, I’m 6-3. Liar. 6-2 ¾. 6-3 is an approximation. You’ll find articles written about why you can’t trust your Bible, because when you compare the number of people dead in Kings and Chronicles they are different. 23,000/24,000. A thousand people is a lot of people, but it’s still an approximation because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t 23,000 exactly, that sounds to me like an approximation. People use that as an example of error. Measurements are approximate. Like my height, you’re not going to believe this but this honestly happened. My father was getting very heavily involved in teaching at Campus Crusade for Christ and Harold Lindsell wrote his book, The Battle for the Bible, and the consequence of Lindsell’s book was that dad was no longer allowed to teach and Crusade was very nice about it but they said you’ve become so controversial that we can’t have you teaching, because Lindsell attacks my father in this silly, red-covered book. Dad wrote an article about the laver that’s outside the temple in Solomon’s temple and it gives the diameter and the circumference in real numbers. Mathematicians, is that possible? No. You have to have pi if you’re going to give circumference and diameter. Even pi is an approximation. Well, this is often being used in print as an example of why you can’t trust the Bible, because here’s an error. You can’t give circumference and diameter of the same object without pi. Dad wrote an article and said, it’s an approximation, get over it. Lindsell came along in his book, “my student, Bob Mounce,” and said dad was liberal and untrustworthy, because if you measure the outside of the laver for the circumference and the inside of the laver, the diameter, they are exactly the same. So obviously the Scripture is not in error and dad’s a liberal. The last time I checked it was really hard to cut out of stone a perfectly symmetrical laver. But dad lost his years of teaching at Crusade because of Lindsell’s book and that one stupid illustration. Measurement is an approximation, get over it.
But it gets a little sticky in these last two examples. In Matthew, Jesus goes into Jerusalem and cleanses the temple on the same day, Matthew 21. In Mark, he comes into Jerusalem, he goes back to Bethany to sleep, and then cleanses the temple the next morning. That’s a little more awkward, isn’t it? But if you read the literature of those days, the kind of scientific insistence on accuracy simply doesn’t exist. It wasn't expected that everything was precisely right and for someone in our cultural this is really, really hard. You have to read the ancient literature to see it. For them it wasn’t a big deal. Jesus got there, he cleansed the temple, and they killed him. The timing didn’t matter to them, but that’s hard for someone in our culture to deal with. That’s the way ancient history was written. It didn’t have the kind of precision that we have today.
One last approximation and this may be a little troublesome, but I need to say it. Do we have every single time the exact precise words that Jesus spoke? You really want to believe that, I think if you were raised in the church, at least, but there are several problems. One is Jesus didn’t speak in Greek, he spoke in Aramaic, most likely. Most likely he was bilingual, most likely he did most of his teaching in Aramaic. So what we have in our Greek manuscripts that we have translated into the New Testament is already a translation, so we’re one step removed from the actual words of Jesus. There are books that line up the Synoptic Gospels so you can see them side-by-side and it’s very interesting to read through those. I gave you an illustrations the last time we were together. Here’s a ticky-tacky one, Matthew 4:7, “Jesus said to him, 'Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”'” Luke 4:2, “It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Well, one time Jesus says, “It is written,” the other one Jesus says, “It is said.” They mean exactly the same thing, but they are different words and what happens, again especially to new believers, is they will think that these are exactly, precisely every single time the exact words that Jesus used and then they start seeing these stories side-by-side and it really hurts their faith. Inerrancy doesn’t claim that we always have the exact, precise words of Jesus. It claims that we got it right. This is what Jesus said, but the words that were used we don’t know. Now that really ticked me off the first time I heard it. I don’t like that argument, but it stares you in the face when you compare the Gospels and there’s no way to get around it, I don’t think.
I know that was a lot of heavy stuff, but it’s terribly important and as I said last time inspiration is one of those things where you can say, “Yeah, I believe it,” and then you go through an experience of life and you have to remake the decision. It really is a process and until you go through really difficult times or you’re really challenged in a sense you keep reaffirming the decision. So it’s a process and I encourage you all to embrace it.
Why do I think it is inspired?
The next thing I wanted to talk about is, why do I think the Bible is inspired. There’s different reasons that will affect different people different ways, but let me tell you why I think it’s from God.
1) It says it is. That’s rather straight forward. The Old Testament is full of “Thus saith the Lord.” The New Testament is the message of Jesus who claimed to be the perfect revelation of God and it says it’s from God and I believe it, partially for that reason. Now do I believe everything I read – no, but in inspiration there’s lots of things involved and this is certainly part of it. I also would, though, argue that it really is impossible to understand it if you don’t accept it’s starting point. It’s starting point is, “these are the words of God” and if you come at it from any other point of view it simply doesn’t make any sense. But that’s one of the reasons, it says it is, and I believe it.
2) I think the Bible is inspired, because it makes sense to believe it’s inspired. Now that’s the exact opposite of what people are going to say to you, “well, rationally, scientifically, logically, I just can’t believe it.” Well, actually I think the best logic, rational decision is in fact to believe that the Bible is from God. I believe it is irrational to disbelieve Scripture. Now here’s what I mean by that, Scripture is the message of someone who died and got out of the tomb. I’m going to pay attention to what that person says. I’m going to pay attention to what his best friends said, it just makes sense.
Another way to start the argument is, “How can you explain evil?” Or with more difficulty, “How can you explain the presence of good”? How can you explain the extermination of six million Jews by one psychotic? How can you explain the fact that any given time there’s what, twenty/thirty wars going on in this globe? How can you explain the fact that history is a collection of war, after war after war. How can you explain the human being’s propensity to do what is wrong? How do you explain all of this? Well, I explain it because there is an evil being called Satan who pushes. I explain it by believing in the doctrine of total depravity that Adam’s sin changed the makeup of what it is to be a human being such that we sin. I can likewise explain the presence of good and beauty. To believe that there is good in this universe, because some primordial scum washed up on a beach millions of years ago and evolved into plant life and monkey life and then human life – that’s stupid. That is nonsensical to me. It makes sense to me to say there is good in this universe because it is a reflection of a good God who created it. So when I say I believe the Bible because it makes sense to me, that’s what I’m talking about. The Bible explains reality better than anything else I’ve ever heard of or seen. Better than Hinduism, better than Buddhism, better than Taoism, better than Muslim thought, better than humanism, better than secularism, better than pluralism, none of those things can explain reality like Scripture does. So I think it makes sense to believe that the Bible is from God.
3) I think the Bible is from God because of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. Now you’re not going to prove this point to someone else but nonetheless it is a very important point for me to understand. You know how one of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to assure you that you are a child of God, Romans 8:16, 1 John 3:24. This is analogous to that working of the Spirit where he is at work in my heart and he is confirming that this thing is true. Even when I don’t like it or it kind of grates against me or there’s something that’s difficult to believe or understand, the Holy Spirit is at work in me, telling me this thing is true and that’s a very, very strong argument for me. I mean sometimes I look at this and I think about my preaching and I go, “Why do I believe this?” It’s the message of a man who got out of a tomb, a dead man who got out of a tomb. That’s a pretty good trick. Anyone seen a dead man get out of a tomb? When you think about it, why do we believe this? It really is amazing. Why are we willing to “let there not even be a hint of sexual immorality,” Ephesians 4. Okay, I guess I’m going to have to limit my movie going and we start adjusting our lives because someone two thousand years ago said don’t let there even be a hint of sexual immorality. Sometimes I look at that and I go, Wow! The only way I can believe this as firmly as I believe it is if God led me to believe it in my heart and that’s the working of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think he would lead me to believe something that was wrong, I think he would only lead me to believe something that is right. I don’t feel this way about any other book, even the ones I’ve written, they’re full of mistakes and I’m always correcting them. So, it’s the inner work of the Holy Spirit is one of the reasons I think Scripture is true.
There are many other arguments, Wayne Grudem’s book pages 73-89 has a lot of them. If this is something you want to read on I would encourage you to do it. You can believe the Scriptures are from God because it’s historically accurate, no spade or shovel turned of an archeologist has ever disproved Scripture. Ever! Ever! Ever! Ever! William Ramsey was either a non-Christian or really liberal, a father of a modern archeology, and it was the fact that Scripture time and time and time again proved to be true as he was digging through old ruins, he finally said, “I have to believe this thing. The Bible keeps proving itself.” It is historically accurate. It is internally consistent, which considering the number of books, the number of authors, the number of years over which it was written for it to be internally consistent is really amazing. I can show you other books written by one person over a year that are not internally consistent.
We believe the Bible is true because of the prophecies filled, Isaiah prophesies in 700 BC that a virgin is going to have a baby. Seven hundred years later a virgin has a baby – that’s a pretty good trick – maybe this thing is true. It’s the most influential book in history. Sometimes I get a little amused at liberals attacking Scripture and they are just trying, like the Jesus Seminar, trying to rip off pages and all that kind of stuff. I say, you know, you’re going to be dead and gone and no one is going to know you or remember you or care and people are still going to be believing every single word that’s written in this book. How did that happen? Well, it’s from God, that’s why. There’s lots of other arguments but those are the main ones for me.
Again, these are things you need to struggle through – you need to work through. The problem I had when I was teaching college was getting your kids in class – no none of your kids. I would get kids in class who when I said the Bible’s from God they would say, “OK.” Then they come to university, they are nineteen/twenty years old, their hormones are raging and they start questioning everything about Scripture. Many of these kids had never been challenged, “you think through why you think Scripture is true.” If you do not consciously work through that process you never will believe it’s true. If you just kind of accept it you’ll never preach with conviction, you’ll never teach with conviction, you’ll never share with conviction, because you just kind of believe it. So I really encourage you to work through these things.
A couple of final comments. If someone is trying to get you to prove that the Bible is true – you can’t. Ultimately you cannot prove the Bible is from God and I know there are some people in Evangelical circles that think they can try but ultimately you can’t prove that Scripture is true. Christ demands faith, not to the exclusion of our brains but he demands faith. That’s why it would have been a lot better for Thomas to have believed without seeing instead of believing after he saw. Christianity requires faith – without faith it’s impossible to please God. It is of no surprise to me that ultimately you can’t prove that Scripture is true.
There are two good counter arguments you can use in your witnessing. One is you can’t even prove you exist. You can’t. It is impossible, philosophically, to prove that you exist. Philosophers have been trying to do it for centuries. And they can’t do it so one philosopher came up with, ”well all life is an illusion none of this really exists.” Another was, who is someone I know pretty well, “you can’t prove I threw the pen at Theresa” because before the pen could get there all the way it could only get there half way. Before it can get half way it has to get a quarter of the way, before it gets a quarter of the way it has to go an eighth of the way. It’s an infinitely regressing system, motion can never start and therefore I never threw the pen. And after all she doesn’t exist and neither do I. You can’t prove anything, but you really can’t prove any faith system. The materialists out there will say, “Well, I’m a scientific person, I can prove that all there is to reality is what we can see and experience.” You say, “Prove it.” Prove there is nothing outside the sensory realm. You can’t – it’s impossible. All faith systems, pluralists, any world religion, materialists, anything is ultimately you make a faith decision. So don’t let someone make you feel bad that you can’t prove Christianity or you can’t prove the Bible is true – they can’t prove anything either – not ultimately.
The question then becomes, how do you pick your faith system? That’s the question that is most important here. There’s two answers that I can think of. One is which one makes best sense? Since you can’t prove something, which of all the faith systems best makes sense? Do you ladies really want to be pregnant for eternity, populating foreign planets? I’m not a woman and I definitely would not want to be eternally pregnant. You’ve got to think through the faith systems – which one makes best sense?
The Biblical answer though as to how do you choose a faith system is, well, the message of Jesus is try Christianity – just try it. There’s something that is self-validating about Christianity. There’s some self-validating when you pick up this book (Bible) and you say, “You know what, I have questions, but you know what I’m going to try it” and Scripture because it is the Word of God validates itself. Jesus says, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I’m speaking of my own authority,” John 7:17. If you really want to do God’s will you’re going to understand that this is from God. Later on in John 10 Jesus say, “If I’m not doing the works of my Father then don’t believe me, but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works that you may know and understand the father is in me and I am in the world.” Again it’s the idea that if you commit yourself to saying, “Okay, let’s see if this make sense,” then Scripture has a self-validating power to it. It may not convince everybody but it might convince you, it might convince your children, it might convince your friends.
If you’re trying to get absolute bedrock evidence and proof, it’s never going to happen. And you know what – I’d much rather have Jesus look at me and say, “Blessed are you, you believed and you did not see.” That’s what I want to hear. I don’t want to hear what Thomas got. You believed it because you saw it – big woop!
I’ve been involved in more arguments over inerrancy and inspiration than I care to remember. Not always antagonistic but a lot of discussion. Sometimes I get this nagging sense that it’s a waste of time. It’s not because I just spent and hour and half dealing with it but there are some things that are more important. Do you know what it says? There are some seminarians that I knew who would much rather argue about inspiration than read it and learn it and live it. There is a point in this whole discussion where I think you just say you know what I need just to know what it says, I need to get out of the fights, I need to get out of the arguments and I’m just going to learn what it says. Don’t get sucked into the argument and the long term fighting about the doctrines. Do you know what it means? Related to that, can you explain it? It’s all fine and good to have fine tuned all of our harmonizations and have everything in nice neat rows but if somebody comes up to you and says, “Are you Christian? Can you explain to me what it is to be a Christian?” Are you ready to answer the questions of life? Lots of times these interesting, sometimes fascinating arguments can get in the way of actually learning the Bible and actually putting it into place being able to explain it to someone else and that kind of thing. I would really encourage you, inspiration is terribly important but it’s not nearly as important as learning it. Don’t let the argument be a shield to actually learning the text.
The ultimate question that everyone of us has to answer is do we really, really, really believe it’s true. That’s where all of this, in fact this talk and last talk was all geared to this question, do you really, really believe it? Are you willing to bet your life on it, because you are. You’re betting your life on this. If you don’t believe it, you’re betting your life on it that it’s wrong and if you do believe it, you’re betting your life that it’s right. Either way you’re betting your life on this Book and whether you think it’s true or not. What I like to say is if you really believe the Scripture comes from the mouth of God it makes absolutely no difference whether I sit here and I read it or whether Jesus would appear standing next to me and say it. Now that’s an image that has helped me a lot because there is a tendency sometimes to think, oh it’s a book, it’s a writing, but if you really believe inspiration there is no difference at all between me reading or Jesus appearing and saying it. That’s the doctrine of inspiration – if you believe it – that’s the kind of veracity and trust you can place in the book.
Where the rubber meets the road is when you disagree with this. And you’re going to have to make a decision as to whether or not, well do I really believe this book is from God or not. I happen to open to Philippians 4, “Finally brothers whatever is true, whatever is honorably, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, then think about, dwell on these things.” Could God appear and say those words and have any different affect than me reading them. That’s going to radically affect what we do Friday night, isn’t it? It’s going to radically affect what we read, going to radically affect what we watch on TV, going to radically affect if we go to the movies, it’s going to radically affect the nature of our discussions with one another. It’s when you come up with situations where you look at that and go, “I don’t want to do that,” that’s when the doctrine of inspiration raises its head and says, okay, do you really believe that God say Philippians 4:8 or not.
I shared you with last time the number one question I had as a college teacher was, “Is it okay to marry a non-Christian?” Well you know, Scripture is rather explicit. I Corinthians 7:14, 7:39, 2 Corinthians 6:14, the answer is, no. Do you really believe those three Scriptures come from the mouth of God or not? Do you really believe that God is all good all of the time and has got the best for you in mind and he knows that being unequally yoked ultimately is detrimental to you? When I talk about a real-life situation that’s what I’m talking about.
Every time I say something and then I go, “Oops, I shouldn’t have said it”, it wasn’t kind or wasn’t gracious, wasn’t edifying, I revisit the verses in Ephesians 4, do I really believe they are from God. He said, “Don’t gossip.” If God were to appear to me and say, “Bill, don’t gossip,” that’s the same thing as reading this. The point I’m trying to make is this, it’s in the day-to-day events of life that we find out whether we really believe in inspiration or not.
The challenge is for you in those difficult times to rethink your doctrine and say, “Yes, I do believe this is from God and it doesn’t make any sense to me, it’s difficult, I’m going to be odd one, no one’s going to be my friend, but God will be my friend and I’m going to obey it because he said it.” I think that’s the challenge of inspiration and I encourage you to think through that process.