Lecture 1: Why We are Concerned With the Bible
Course: Why We Believe
Lecture 1: Why We are Concerned With the Bible
I love to talk about the Scriptures and what they mean. I want to talk about why we believe that they are true. I would rather talk about what they mean which is what I do week after week. But we need to consider these things as I am staking my eternity on this; why? It is really significant to ask that question.
The Law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the percepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules (or ordinances) of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings from the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward."
"How blessed is the man
who walks not in the council of the ungodly
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffer;
but his delight is in the Law of the Lord,
and on his Law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In everything he does, he prospers.
It is not so with wicked,
they are like chaff that gets blown away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish."
So Father, I pray that this precious Word that gives life and joy, that gives illumination and lasts forever; that is more valuable than all gold combined; that is sweeter than honey in all sweets; that make us when we root ourselves in it, like trees that can’t get blown over in winds of adversity. I pray that your Word would vindicate itself. Draw near and help me. I am just a sinful man; what can I do to add anything by way of authority or truth or power to the Living and Abiding Word of God. All I can do is try to point to what is there faithfully, so help me I pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Outline of the Course has seven steps to it. I hope we get through all of them. I have never succeeded but I am going to really try hard because this is being filmed and I want it to work for you and for everybody. These are the seven steps I hope to cover in this course:
Step 1 – Why are we concerned about it. What does it matter whether the Bible is true or not. Step 2 – Which books make up the Bible? Why these sixty six are books in the Bible and not the apocrypha that are in the Catholic Bible? Step 3 – Do we have the very words of Scripture that the apostles and prophets wrote or is Bart Ehrman right in his book, Misquoting Jesus? Step 4 – What does the Bible claim for itself? We are only going to focus on Jesus here – there are huge amounts of self-claims from the prophets and apostles. We will only focus on Jesus because he sweeps the whole Bible in his comments. Step 5 – This is probably the most important. How can we justify the claim that the Bible makes for itself? Step 6 – What is the nature of the inerrancy of the authority of inspiration and its infallibility that we claim? What do we mean by that? Step 7 – How then shall we handle the Bible?
I. The Intentions of God
We as a church, Bethlehem and probably the churches you come from, have affirmations of faith that claim things like this. We believe the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God and without error in the original manuscripts. That is from the Elder Affirmation of Faith at Bethlehem. It goes on; we believe that God’s intentions revealed in the Bible are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right in matters not addressed by the Bible. What is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture. This is really important. We believe God’s intentions are revealed through the intention of inspired human authors; even when the author’s intention was to express divine meaning of which they were not fully aware of as in case of some Old Testament prophecies. Thus, the meaning of Biblical text is a fixed historical reality rooted in the historical unchangeable intention of its divine and human authors. However, while the meaning does not change, the application of that meaning does change. The Application of that meaning may change in various situations, but nevertheless, it is not legitimate to infer a meaning from a Biblical text that isn’t demonstratively carried by the words which God inspired. If you come to me and tell me that you know the meaning of a text because God told you this morning in your devotions, I will pay no attention to you, unless that leaves you to see something in Bible that I can also see. And then I will listen. But if you pull rank on me saying that you have a message about this text, I will not go along with it. I think we honor the Holly Spirit and his inspiring work when we treat the Bible that way.
It goes on; therefore, the process or discovering the intention of God in the Bible in its fullest meaning is a humble and careful effort to find in the language of Scripture what the human authors intended to communicate; limited abilities, traditional biases, personal sin, cultural assumptions, often obscure Biblical texts. Therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit is essential for right understanding of the Bible and prayer for his assistance belongs to a proper effort to understand and apply God’s Word.
II. Ten Reasons as to Why We are Concerned About This?
A. Reasons One
So, the first reason why we take on this topic; I am serving a church whose Elders ascribe by signing those affirmations, and we should know why we believe it. For my own conscience sake, I need to give an account for why that is something I ascribe to.
B. Reason Two
A second reason, which I will just point to; the evangelical tradition goes back to the Westminster Confession, teaching catechism, and the Evangelical Theological Society that has a statement about inerrancy. The Lausanne Covenant which I have been excited about, even though it is thirty-four years old. My dad went to the 1974 Lausanne Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. The first major Lausanne mission conference made things happen; the next one is in 2010 and I am speaking at that one. This is really a privilege for me. This is also part of the 100th anniversary of the Edinburgh Missions Conference celebrated in South Africa. This conference in my judgement is the greatest thing that came out of the 1974 Lausanne. It was its affirmation of faith. It has a strong statement on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible for which I’m deeply thankful. And then there is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy from 1978. There was this big argument within non-Christian circles that the Bible wasn’t inerrant. So number one, we have a church affirmation that affirms it and number two, the wider evangelical historical movement has affirmed the inerrancy of the Bible. And so does the Roman Catholic Church; they have actually confirmed this for almost two thousand years. As long as the Bible has existed, this has been the understanding of what it is.
C. Reason Three
Reason three for discussing this issue is that many in our day deny the existence of just truth itself. Not just the Bible but truth. This is a quote from Michal Novak which I found provocative. "'There is no such thing as truth,' they teach even the little ones. 'Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with yourself. Do what feels comfortable.' Those who speak this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants.'" Do you know why he said this? If you feel the immediacy of the rightness of that conclusion about truth deniers; they prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants. Why? If there is no absolute truth, functioning as the arbiter that two people in an argument with each other can appeal to, there is only one appeal left and that is power. Therefore, might will make right and that is the definition of a tyrant. There is no alternative. You better hope that all those loose and mussy Christians that talk in vague and hazy terms about proposition being old fashion and enlightening ways of doing truth, better not carry the day. They prepare the jails that tyrants will put you in when you claim that it is wrong to put me there for just believing what I believe. And they will say who are you to say what is right and what is wrong? What is right to me is right to me and I’ve got the sword. You don’t want to go there. Students, don’t play games with epistemology in the university. Huge things are at stake on how you view whether there is such a thing as truth or not. This pays a price; if you have to know two centuries of history; know the first and know the twentieth. Know Christ and know the gulag; know Hitler; know Mussolini, know Stalin; don’t be ignorant of what price has been paid for those who think they can call the shots without submitting to any absolute truths. Know at least two centuries because the 20th century was the worst. First, introduce the best. So, the 3rd reason I am taking this up is because underneath it is an assumption, namely, there is such a thing as truth and the Bible contains it. But you need to know that there are many people, thousands of people in our day who scoff at the notion that there is such a thing as truth.
D. Reason Four
The fourth reason why this is important; one of the traits of secularism is it criticizes the Bible as being a mixture of truth and error. This is one of the most radical statements I have ever read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune which are fairly common; ‘one of the few worthwhile statements in the Bible is you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. Knowledge of the Bible is hindered by the informal censorship imposed by religious leaders who would rather their followers didn’t know what is in it. The numerable contradictions, historical errors, plagiarism, absurdities, meaningless prophecies, myths represented as historical fact, countless instants of divinely ordered or approved atrocities; it is true that the Bible has some worthwhile material, including entertaining stories of inspirational sentiments and astute observations about human behavior. However, those worthwhile parts could probably be contained in a pamphlet.’ I didn’t like this when I read it and I wrote to them. My letters to the Tribune don’t get anywhere.
E. Reason five
Competing holy books of other religions are increasingly close. If I had been giving this seminar twenty-five years ago, I probably would not have included this reason. We all knew the Quran existed and that the Hindu scriptures existed, but far away. Not anymore. Islam is essentially fundamentalists in a way that the Biblical Christian faith could never properly be; the Quran is understood as the system of the very words of God, himself, given in the ‘sending down’ to Mohamed in Arabic. God spoke Arabic to Mohamed and he wrote them down as transcribing of the divine book in heaven. Now, what makes that so interesting; a comment from Andrew Walls, Christianity in the Non-western World. Andrew Walls is one of the most perceptive missiological spokesperson of our day. He is a retired professor of the University of Edinburgh. Christian faith must go on being translated; it must continue to enter into the vernacular culture and interact with it. He is contrasting the Christian Scriptures with the Quran, because the Quran may not be translated with any authority. If it goes out of Arabic, it is not authoritative anymore because you can’t understand it unless you read it in Arabic; this is because God spoke the Arabic and it dropped into history straight out of heaven with God’s own language. However the Bible is very different; Islamic absolutes are fixed in a particular language in a condition of a particular period of human history. The divine word in the Quran, fixed in heaven forever in Arabic, the language of the original revelation; nobody claims that God speaks Hebrew or Greek or French or German. For Christians, however, the divine word is translatable; infinitely translatable. The very words of Christ himself were transmitted in translated form in the earliest documents that we have. Christ probably spoke in Aramaic, not Greek. Note that God himself was translated into human form. The first Gospels are in Greek, not Aramaic; so the very beginning of the inspired Scripture was a translation.
There have been a lot of misunderstandings between Christians and Muslims because of the assumption that the Quran is for Muslims and the Bible is for Christians. It would be more true to say that the Quran is to Muslims what Christ is to Christians. That is very provocative. The Quran dropped out of heaven and became a human book and Christ dropped out of heaven and became a human being. The Bible is the inspired record of that and it is infinitely translatable. The point being is simply in our day, the Bible is certainly going to be challenged as not being the only Holy Book that one should pay attention to. Hence the need for a seminar like this and a reflection of this kind.
F. Reason Six
One trait of liberal Christianity is the rejection of the infallibility of the Bible and the call for us to find a canon within a canon. In other words, this is the protestant canon, the sixty-six books and liberalism says that you can’t believe all of this, there is some of this that is simply unbelievable and mythological. What you find is within the canon, a canon and so different liberals have different canons to judge what you can and can’t accept, like love or brotherhood of man, etc. I went to a seminar with Lawrence Kassimon, he was one of the big German scholars in the 1950s & 60s. He wrote this which is typical of a radical and liberal New Testament scholarship; ‘The Scripture which one gives over to itself and to which one gives himself up on critically without the principle key, leads not only to a multiplicity of confessions, but also to the inability to distinguish between faith and superstition, the Father of Jesus Christ and the idol. In other words, if you give yourself completely to the Bible as a whole without making distinctions in it, you will wind up in a situation where you can’t distinguish faith from superstition. Does the New Testament canon establish the unity of the church? No, it doesn’t. It establishes a variety of Christology which is in part incompatible. The canon as such also legitimates more or less all sects and false doctrines. He is simply saying, this New Testament, if you take it as it is without making distinctions of what you can accept and what you can’t, what you have is a book that gives warrant to all sects, all heresies, all Christology’s, because they are all here and they contradict each other. So, this is not the ground of the unity of the church; it is the ground of the disunity of the church as we find it and the only way to handle a book that grounds disunity is to accept some parts of it, but not other parts. That is liberalism.
I had lunch with a pastor in the city here because of a sermon of his on the web. I called him up and I ask him if we could do lunch. The guy was the most liberal pastor’s in the state of Minnesota. At least that is what he would claim. I wanted to meet a real live radical liberal who calls himself a Christian and didn’t believe anything that I believed. I began to ask him questions on heaven, hell and the deity of Christ, and in addition, the inspiration of the Bible with answers from him all being negative. I gave him a particular text from Acts 13:48, ‘for as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.’ It seems to me that some Jews believed and some Jews didn’t and the implication was that some were lost and some were saved. He really got upset because he was arguing that everybody was saved whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian. We are the Christian way, he said and we should stay faithful to that way, but others are okay. I replied that I couldn’t see how you could call himself a Christian, I said to him. He got very upset with me and replied that he was very offended by that. That was an interesting experience. I am not just quoting Kassimon from far away Germany; thirty years ago, but this is Mr. Blank and he is still there. Our city has dozens of pastors who would just as soon take their text on a Sunday morning from an American poet as from the Scriptures. In fact, he told me that his people were on him to take more Sunday morning texts from Emily Dickerson, but I usually take my text from the Bible. I think that this is very sad, yet very real.
In every generation, there are new creative attacks on the trustworthiness of the Bible. In our day, Bart Ehrman leads the pack in trying to discredit the reliability of the Biblical text. His claim is that the New Testament has been corrupted by copyist so badly that it can’t be recovered. His book was published in 2007; Misquoting Jesus, the story behind who changed the Bible and why. A couple of his other books are here; Ethman and others as you know with the gospels that are popping out here and there, have also argued that there are other gospels beside our own that show alternative Christianity’s that are as valid as the traditional one. There is the lost gospel of Judas Iscariot, Elain Padua’s Beyond Belief, the Secret gospel of Thomas. To this, there is a new response by Darryl Bock, Dethroning Jesus and Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. So, if you want a fresh and carefully, scholarly, yet readable response to the Bart Ehrman type attacks, then read this book. So, this is very relevant and up-to-day. I have other recommendations as to the reliability of the New Testament of a more contemporary kind and responses to Ethman here. I will set them aside. I will draw your attention to a certain kind of book, if you regularly get questions from people and family members or work associates who poke at something in the Bible that they have spotted or mentioned on the radio. These kinds of books can be helpful; they are not the sort of book that you just sit and read through. This is called, When Critics Ask, a popular handbook of Biblical difficulties by Gleason Archer. These kinds of books are out there for your help.
By the way, another methodological comment here, just to help you survive. I am keenly aware that after five hours of talking, you will remember almost nothing of what I say and that is the case with almost all elaborate argumentations for a true point. The bottom line is that your deep confidence in the Word of God cannot rest on your memory of historical argumentation. It is because your memory doesn’t work like that. And in the moment of trial, either someone attacking you or a cancer being announced by the doctor, that memory will not work. You can’t reconstruct five hours of elaborate argumentation for your confidence in the Bible. The mind will not do this, so where do you rest? By the time we are done, the Lord willing tomorrow, I will have honored that reality in the way I answer the question of your confidence. I don’t expect you to remember all of this, but hold on and stay with me, I will try to show you how I live in the real world as a believer in the Bible, when in fact, I can’t even remember my own best arguments. That is true. I have forgotten most of what I’ve studied. I have to refresh every time I teach this course. This is just life where most people in the world that we preach to don’t even have a grade school education. And we expect them to die for Jesus, confident that the Bible is true. We had better have another way for them have warranted faith than to reproduce all of this information. I am aware of that and where you are.
G. Reason Seven
Reason seven as to why we are doing this; if the Bible is true, the message of the Bible is the only message of eternal life. If it is not true, it may not be. But if it is true, then it is. For example in Psalm 96:5, ‘for all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.’ All of them are idols, what a sweeping statement. John 14:6, ‘Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ John 6:67-68, ‘then Jesus said to the twelve, do you also want to go away? But Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ In Acts 4:12, ‘nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’ In John 8:42, ‘Jesus said to them, if God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of myself, but he sent me.’ If you don’t love me, you don’t know God and you don’t love God. The Bible says that whoever confesses the Son, has the Father also; 1 John 5:12, ‘he who has the Son, has life; he who does not have the Son of God, does not have life.’ This is a rejection of all other religions. This is an intolerable thing to say in public in Minneapolis. They have really ugly names for people who believe this. In Luke 10:16, he who hears you hears me, he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.’ If you reject Jesus for who he is; people say that they believe in Jesus as a teacher. That is not what Jesus means. You can’t accept Jesus on your terms; no, accept me for who I am, Jesus says; then you accept the Father. Reject me for who I am, you reject the Father. Jesus Christ is lit-less paper that you put into the chemical of every religion; if when you put Jesus Christ in the chemical of that religion and they say they don’t believe, then, they don’t know God. That is big; that is really big. So we need to know; am I going to stake my reputation on this and be called a file mouthed fundamentalist obscurantist intolerant obscene pastor. Those are all words that have been used of me in the Newspaper, or in personal letters from those pastors in the city. Well, you decide.
H. Reason Eight
Building our lives of sacrificial service on a mistake would be pitiable. If we have hope in Christ in this life only; in other words, if the resurrection is a myth and sham, we are of all men most to be pitted, we would be fools. What absolute fools we are to embrace this, build our lives on it, make sacrifices for it, structure our whole existence around it, what a foolish thing; unless it is true.
I. Reason Nine
The Bible makes claims to inspiration and authority and inerrancy. We have to come to terms with those. For example, 2 Timothy 3:15-16, says that from child hood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 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 equipped for every good work. So there is the claim, all Scripture is inspired by God and therefore it is profitable.
J. Reason Ten
Yet the most devout believers meet Scriptures that do not seem coherent with other parts or without experience. Here are a few: the problem of justification by faith with James and Paul. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone in James 2:24. In Romans 3:28, it says, ‘therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.’ You can imagine coming to these two statements in the Bible and people thinking that it is no coherent. There are numerous things like this in the Bible. They question whether those words are used the same by James and the same by Paul in such a way as if they are two different views of reality or not. Or in 1 Samuel 15:11 which says, ‘I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments.’ You have God repenting and seventeen verses later in verses 28 & 29, it says, the Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of your, who is better than you. And also the strength of Israel will not lie nor relent, for He is not a man that he should relent.’ That is a little more comforting for the verses are only seventeen verses apart which means you have the same author saying that God repents and then later saying that God never repents. Either he is quickly confused or he has meanings in mind here that are not contradictory and you have to understand what he is saying. So this is the tenth reason why we need to be confident in the word because you are going to come across these kinds of things in your daily devotions fairly regularly. The longer you live and walk with the Lord, I believe the more confident you become and the more solutions you can find. Sometimes you need to suspend judgement until you have time to work on it. My guess is that we will go to our grave with some of these questions unanswered and unresolved. So that finishes up Step One on why we are doing this.