Why We Believe the Bible - Lesson 3

The Claims of the Bible for Itself

Jesus, the apostles and the authors of the Old Testament claim that Scripture was written by people who were inspired by God

John Piper
Why We Believe the Bible
Lesson 3
Watching Now
The Claims of the Bible for Itself

I. Introduction

II. The Claims of Jesus

III. The Significance of Those Claims

IV. The Pharisees and Their Traditions

V. It is Written in the Scriptures

I. The Bible is God’s Word

II. The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechism

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Class Resources
  • The importance of inspiration and inerrancy for our belief in the Bible.

  • Manuscript evidence indicates that we have the words of the authors. Jesus, the apostles and the authors of the Old Testament claim that Scripture was written by people who were inspired by God.

  • The writings of the apostle Paul are a significant part of the New Testament. The Westminster Confession includes a concise statement about why the Bible is the Word of God.

  • The scope and cohesiveness of the message of the Bible is remarkable, considering it was written over a period of hundreds of years by over 40 different authors.

  • Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God by their light and power to convince and convert sinners. 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.

The Bible is the infallible word of God, the supreme rule for faith and practice. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament came from the very mouth of God and are without error in the originals. Scripture is therefore the unique and supreme guide for all it affirms, including both belief and behavior.

The Bible claims that it's God's Word, it makes sense, and the Holy Spirit provides inner confirmation to us. Canonicity depended on authorship, content and tone consistent with other canonical writings, and consistent usage in worship and practice.

For notes and outlines that accompany these lectures, please go to desiringgod.org by clicking here.

We are thankful for John Piper's willingness to share these lectures with us. Copyright 2014 by Desiring God Ministries. Used with Permission. For more information, please visit www.DesiringGod.org.

Course: Why We Believe

Lecture 3: The Claims of the Bible for Itself

Step 4 – The Claims of the Bible

I. Introduction

We were praying before the session and one of the texts prayed over was this, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to me, Jesus said. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you and I will be with you to the end of the age.’ That phrase, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, is part of the commission that I received from the Lord and it is valid as long as long as this age lasts; and this age is still lasting and therefore the commands to the church still exist to teach them everything that I have commanded you. That has been heavy on my heart for about two years. It is what drove me when I was on sabbatical to prepare the book, What Jesus Demands from the World. That book is my effort to obey Jesus in that command. If he stands me in front of him on the last day and quotes me his command, teach them everything I commanded. I am just going to say, ‘I tried!’ I tried to give a summary of what you commanded of the whole world in that book. That was my best shot at doing that. I tried. There is no access to what Jesus commanded except through the Bible, none. Therefore, if that commandment is to be obeyed then we have to have a large measure of confidence in this book. I do want to obey the Bible. ‘All authority has been given to me,’ it says, ‘go and teach them to observe everything that I have commanded and I will be with you.’ Even though we are talking about foundations in this seminar, the goal is obedience to everything that he commanded, because if you don’t have confidence that what is written here is what he commanded, then you will not obey that command. There will be no way for you to do it.

Let’s pray! Father, I ask for your help now in this session that you would grant that I not go down any trails that would be unhelpful. There are so many ways to waste time in this seminar that is so short. Grant me to include those things that would be most fruitful and helpful to talk about. Draw near, guard us from the evil one, and guard us from distraction from any kind of breakdown in thought processes and the mechanics of this seminar. Grant attentiveness for those who are here I pray and may we encage by the Spirit in the truth for the glory of your son. In his name, we pray. Amen.

In step 1, we talked why are we concerned about the Bible and in step 2, we discussed which books make up the Bible and why; and then in step 3, we asked whether we have the very words written by the Biblical authors.

II. The Claims of Jesus

Now we move to step 4 as to what the Bible claims for itself according to Jesus. There are claims by the apostles, prophets and the Law’s claim. There are hundreds of texts on self-claim, so I am just going to take the claims of Jesus; I think in this regard it is the most significant testifier to the authority and truth of the Bible. I know a rigorous thinker would say that this is kind of circular in using Jesus when you haven’t yet proved what he said is true. But I am doing this partly because of time and partly because the most liberal scholars that I have dealt with in my early years of study, all agree that what I am about to tell you about Jesus’ attitude toward the Old Testament is in fact true. What I am about to show you is not generally known; it is what the historical Jesus thought about the Bible, which isn’t generally talked about. Whether Jesus is God or whether he is a true spokesman; there are all kinds of disagreement over this. But as far as what he thought about the Old Testament, there is no disagreement. This is why I am starting with these comments about what Jesus thought. The main substance of this seminar is why we believe it, not whether Jesus say it or not.

Jesus believed that the Psalmist spoke by the Holy Spirit. We will pick sample statements that Jesus had about his view of the Old Testament. In answering, Jesus began to say (Mark 12:35) as he taught in the temple, ‘how is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David; David, himself, said in the Holy Spirit, the Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet. This is quoting Psalm 110. So there is that little phrase that Jesus said; this is the way David spoke these words and he is commenting on the authority that David had when he spoke. So he believed that David was speaking in the power, the truth and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus believed that what Moses wrote in the Law of God; in the Law, God, himself, said (Matthew 19:3-6) that some Pharisees came to him testing him and saying, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all? Jesus answered and said, have you not read that He (God) created them from the beginning made them male and female (Genesis 1:27) and said for this reason the man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. In the Old Testament (Genesis 2:23) it is Moses who is talking, the writer. The man said that she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother. That is what Jesus is quoting and Jesus said that God said this. This is amazing! These are subtle ways opening us to the mind of Christ as to how he viewed the Old Testament. You get a sentence like that written by Moses, not quoting God and then Jesus says that God said this!

III. The Significance of Those Claims

This is very significant in Jesus’ view and authority and inspiration of the Old Testament. Jesus put the authority of Scripture above Satan and above his own human preferences. (Matthew 4:3, 7 & 10) You can see this in how he quotes the Scripture every time the devil tempts him; is it not written, he says. This shows that he could live his whole life and fight the devil by the Scriptures which are authoritative over the devil. Jesus believed that all Scripture would be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17), ‘do not think that I come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, I did not come to abolish but to fulfill them; today, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the law until all is accomplished.’ That is how confident he was of everything that was prophesied in the Law and the Prophets. Jesus saw Moses and the prophets as speaking a compelling truth on how to avoid hell. (Luke 16:28) ‘I have five brothers that he may warn them less they also come to this place.’ This is the rich man in Luke 16 that was cast into hell while the poor man went to be with Abraham. The rich man is talking to Abraham, Christ in heaven; but Abraham said, speaking from heaven, ‘they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them. No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. And he said that if they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ So, this is Jesus saying what Abraham in heaven would say to a man in hell who is saying to give them something besides the word of God. Give them a sign or wonder, give them a resurrection and Abraham says that this Word is such that if you reject it, nothing will work. That is a remarkable view of the Old Testament.

Jesus believed that the small affirmations of Scripture cannot be broken. In John 10:33 which refers to Psalm 82:6, ‘the Jews answered him, for a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself out to be God; Jesus answered them, has it not been written in your law, I said your gods, if he called them gods, whom the Word of God came and the Scriptures cannot be broken; do you say of him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, you are blaspheming because I said I am the Son of God?’ For that little insertion and it is hard to know whether Jesus spoke that or whether John spoke that but in either case, the testimony of Jesus or John cannot be broken. These little phrases and side comments can’t be broken. Jesus put the authority of Moses above the authority of the Scribes. (Matthew 23) ‘Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and disciples saying that the Scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe but do not do according to their deeds. This is an amazing thing to say about Pharisees. He didn’t like the Pharisees, they were hypocrites, but he said, when they sit in the chair of Moses and they speak the words of the Old Testament, do what they say; but when they get out and behave badly, they are not an authority. This is an amazing distinction that Jesus is making because of his high esteem of the Word which they were supposed to handle faithfully. Jesus taught that Moses’ writing ought to be believed. (John 5:39) ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life and it is these that bear witness of me.’ That is the view that he has of their function; they are a faithful testimony to him. Jesus contrasted the traditions of men with the Word of God in the Old Testament. (Mark 7:9-13) ‘He was saying to them, you nicely set aside the commands of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said to honor your father and your mother and he who speaks evil of father and mother, let him be put to death but you say, if a man says to his father and to his mother, anything of mine that you might have been helped by is ‘corban’, that is to say, given to God, you no long permit him to do anything for his father and mother, thus invalidating the Word of God by your tradition which you have handed down and you do many such things as that.’

IV. The Pharisees and Their Traditions

See what Jesus is doing? I see all of this Pharisaic tradition that has grown up, one of them brought to him a tradition called ‘corban’, which means if you say of something, it belongs to God, you don’t have to support your poor parents with it. It is because they have now made it religious and so Jesus got really angry about that, but the Bible says, honor your father and mother and to hell with your traditions. We, therefore, should be like Jesus and say, let’s be very careful that all of our ecclesiastical traditions and all of our family traditions with you young people saying that you don’t have any traditions. Well, you do, you go to movies all the time and other things. And what do you watch? We should measure everything we do by this book, just like Jesus did. These are strong words from the Lord concerning the Old Testament that we have that he so prized and so believed in. Jesus believed that knowing the Scriptures would keep you from doctrinal error. (Mark 12:19-24) ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife behind with no child, his brother should take the wife and raise up off springs to his brother. Now, there were seven brothers;’ they are trying to trick Jesus in this question. ‘There were seven brothers, the first one took a wife and died, leaving no off spring, the second brother took her and died and this follows with all the brothers. All seven brothers left no off spring and the finally the woman died.’ They don’t believe in the resurrection and they are trying to make the resurrection look ludicrous. So, they continued, ‘which one’s wife will she be for all seven brothers had her as a wife?’ So, Jesus replied, ‘is this not the reason you are mistaken, you don’t know your Bible.’ He is talking to people who specialize in the Bible. If they had known their Scriptures, you would not be making this mistake; you don’t know the power of God. He goes on to answer, ‘when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the dead rising again….’ They tried to use an Old Testament principle of marriage of a brother to a widow; but he said, ‘you wouldn’t make a mistake about the resurrection, if you understood the Scriptures better.’ Jesus does this in other places as well.

V. It is Written in the Scriptures

‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice;’ that little phrase. You wouldn’t be accusing my disciples of eating on the Sabbath if you knew the meaning of the sentence, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ So, Jesus believed that the whole of the Old Testament, understood in its redemptive historical context, would keep us from doctrinal error. Jesus devoted his life to fulfilling the Scriptures about the Messiah. He set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 18:31) and he took the twelve aside and said, ‘behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and all things written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.’ This is the role of fulfilled prophecy in coming to faith in Christ and coming to confidence in Christ. Jesus believed that everything that he did and that John the Baptist did, his whole life was laid out for him in the Old Testament. It is how he tried to bring his life into conformity with it. Everything written about me in the prophets is going to be accomplished, why? Because God wrote it; God said it and it is going to happen. The ministry of Jesus and John the Baptist are being played out according to Scriptures. (Mark 9:11) ‘And they ask him saying, why is it that the Scribes say, Elijah must come first? And he said to them, Elijah does come first and restore all things and yet how is it written of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt. But, I say to you, Elijah has indeed come and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.’ Here you have, it is written to him concerning John the Baptist and you have, how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer? So both the Son of Man and this Elijah figure, who is John the Baptist, have the script written out for them in the Bible. Jesus is saying that is what is happening before your eyes is what God said would happen. Jesus saw his betrayal as the fulfillment of Scripture. The Son of Man is to go just as it is written of him, but woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would have been good for that man if he had not been born. So, even the betrayal is written. You get the impression from this that it is right down to the details of his betrayal, the script was written hundreds of years earlier. That is only possible if God is doing it.

Jesus saw the disciples abandon him as fulfillment of Scripture. Jesus said to them, ‘you will all fall away because it is written. I will strike the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered.’ This creates very significant theological challenges. This is sin, right, to fall away from Jesus, to abandon Jesus in his hour of trial is sinful. The reason it is happening is because it was written that it would happen. Jesus saw his arrest as criminal as a fulfillment of Scripture. (Luke 22:37) ‘I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in me and he was numbered with the transgressors. For that which refers to me has its fulfillment.’ So, his arrest, like a criminal, had to happen because it was written. ‘Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve thousand legions of angels? How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled?’ In other words, if I except from this moment by appealing for divine help and not walk into the jaws of this lion, the Scripture would not be fulfilled. Jesus was calculating his entire life to show the absolute authority of the Bible. He is not going to do anything that would undo what was written of him as he went toward the Cross. Jesus taught that we should not be slow to believe all that the Old Testament prophets have spoken of. (Luke 24:25) ‘And he said to them, oh foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken of.

I was praying this morning for my own heart and I read Psalm 38. It is a wonderful Psalm if you have ever done horrible sins and been broken and wonder if you can ever be restored to God. I know a person who needs this right now. I need it from time to time and I was just enjoying it this morning. I was just walking through it and confessing my own insecurities, my own sins, my own doubts and my own slowness of heart. What is wrong with our hearts that we are slow to believe? Sometimes we are very open to receiving what God has for us but at other times, we become closed off and the Bible feels so distant from us. It is really a heart issue; Jesus was so perplexed at the foolishness of some of those around him. They were slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken of him. In those early morning prayers, ask the Lord to help you in not being slow to believe in what you see in the Bible. Be ready, it will increase the light; one of the reasons the light doesn’t shine on the Bible for us is because of our slowness and resistance. I am not saying everything becomes perfectly clear when your heart is perfectly right. There are hard things, as Peter thought himself. Peter thought there were hard things in the Bible that we need help with. We need to read those books on understanding the Bible and go to seminars and read and study. But the biggest issue has to do with whether you are slow of heart to believe everything that is there. Jesus thought all that of all the prophets had spoken should be believed because they wrote truth. They wrote from God.

Step 5 - How can we justify the claim that the Bible makes for itself?

I. The Bible is God’s Word

How can we justify the claim that the Bible makes for itself and credit the inspiration and inerrancy and authority of all the books of the Bible? This section will take the greatest amount of reflection. How can we justify the claim that the Bible is God’s Word? There are different philosophies of apologetics that go in different directions and I’m just going to take one. Don’t assume that it is the only one. If you are led by the Lord to give extended mental effort to study apologetics and to provide more of a foundation, get solid books to study by and approach this topic, the defense of the Bible. There are very few life-long scholars in this room who will devote their entire professional life in studying the historical reasons for the Bible’s truthfulness. Most of you have jobs and families and so you cannot and aren’t expected by God to live your life that way. And yet, you are expected by God to believe the Bible to the degree that you will lay your life down for what it says. This means that there must be a way to rationally and legitimately where a layman can follow, who doesn’t have time or vocationally to be a scholar. This is what is influencing what I choose here. You shouldn’t necessarily leap into the dark in choosing to study just anything because the Bible isn’t honored when you do that. That is the way God is; if you say that you are trusting God. You must have a reason to trust God because you have seen God’s faithfulness and God is honored by this because he is glorified through this trust. The Bible is concerned with the glory of God. He wants to be honored. So how can we claim that the Bible is the Word of God and do it in a way that all of you could have profound confidence in the Scriptures? I am speaking to the layperson who wants to know more about God.

II. The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechism

The Westminster Confession of Faith is an example of how this question has been answered as in one tradition of the church. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture and the heaviness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of whole which is to give glory to God, the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation and the many other excellences and entire perfection are arguments where by it is abundantly evident itself to be the Word of God. These are ways that you can be brought to have confidence in the Bible, including the testimony of the church and all these pieces. Yet, not withstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of it is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. So, this is an effort to give credit to these indications of the Bible’s truthfulness and yet to admit that in and of and by themselves, the full persuasion and assurance of this infallible truth will not come without something else happening. So, most of our time today is going to be unpacking this.

The Catechism is the same thing but just put it in a question and answers form. How does it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God? This was what was taught to those who grew up under the Westminster Confession of Faith. The answer is that the Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God. In other words, it is out of the Bible themselves that come evidence and indications and manifestations that it is the Word of God and our job is to find those and be persuaded by them to be the Word of God by their majesty, purity, by the consent of all its parts, by the scope of the whole which is to give glory to God, by their light and power to convince and convert sinners and comfort and build up believers unto salvation so their power to convince or convict and convert sinners, but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man is alone able to fully persuade that they are the very Words of God. We are going to walk through those six steps of how this confession can help us to be brought to be confident in the Word of God.

The Majesty of the Word of God; this majesty leads us to confidence in them. These texts are the ones that they give; I have written to him the great things of my law but they were counted as a strange thing. The implications here is that the greatness of the things that were written should disincline one to consider them strange and reject them. (1 Corinthians 2:6-9) ‘How be it, we speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world.’ This is Paul giving a testimony to his own authority. ‘Nor of the princes of this world that come to nothing, but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery.’ If that is true, if the wisdom of God as an infinite creator is being expressed in Paul’s language, you would think that there would be majestic marks about it which would testify to our conscience, that this was not of man but of God. Even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world for our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew. For it they had known it, they would not have crucified Jesus but as it is written, ‘Eye hasn’t seen nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them that love him. This is the wisdom of God in the mystery that is being revealed to us. No human eye has seen such things and no human ear has heard such things and they have never entered into the heart of man. This means that there is something that is uniquely being revealed in the Bible in the apostolic teachings that hasn’t come up into the heart of man. It is so outside our experience that it comes and brings a message that is not explainable by human imagination. Many people have been converted this way. And I am arguing that it is a valid conversion. As they read the Gospels and then they read the epistles, they may not be able to put it in exact words that they are seeing a message and wisdom and a way of God in the world that authenticates itself by saying that no person has ever came up with this. This isn’t what human being came up with as a way of teaching about their-own sinfulness and the glory of God’s grace and the depth of the Messiah.

This whole thing agrees with me and this is one of the reasons why our faith can sometimes be so assaulted. It is because we were brought to faith in a kind of macro vision of the ways and character of God, such that we couldn’t put it into a nice little list for somebody. It all came to bear on us with such a force of its own authenticity and divinity that it was impossible to resist it. And yet, when somebody wants you to tell them; you kind of grope around and you just want to tell them to read it for themselves. If you work your way through the Bible and list the things that affected you the most, you would end up with a fairly impressive list. I am talking about the majesty of the Bible; there is wisdom and ways that are higher than we are. If God is moving the slowness of our heart, we see this is not what people can come up with. Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. What I just described to you might land on some of you without you understanding it. If that is the case, you need to pray that God will open your eyes just like he did when you first committed your life to Christ. You need to pray this way because we all have these kinds of battles. You have been in seasons in your life where you opened the Bible morning after morning and nothing looked wonderful. Those are scary seasons; don’t be content with those seasons. You need to fight against the devil during those seasons with prayers like this. Pray to the point when you can say that God’s testimony is wonderful. There is majesty and wonder about them that just can’t be explained by the sin that I see in the world in the kind of people I see all around me.

Then it says that we are brought to faith in the Word by its purity. The words of the Lord are pure words and it is like silver tried in a furnace of the earth purified seven times. The words of the Lord are like words that have been put through a furnace seven times to burn away all the dross.