Transition: ……. God is the final authority about what’s going on in this world. Mrs. Agnostic says our conjectures are about as useful as a box of cornflakes without milk. Since the first books of the Bible date back almost four thousand years, there is no assurance that what was handed down to us is, in fact, what God really said or meant. How can we be sure that there aren’t a lot of mistakes and inconsistencies in a book that had to be hand-copied repeatedly for thousands of years? To find out how we can be sure that the Bible is right, go to the
Beginning with Moses almost four thousand years ago, God chose men of different backgrounds, nationalities, and attitudes to tell us about himself and his plans for the world. Guided by the Holy Spirit, each set down in his own language and distinctive style, his fragment of God’s love story for the world. St. Peter emphasizes that the penmanship belonged to the men who wrote, but the words belonged to God. Above all, we must understand that the men who wrote the books of the Bible didn’t rely on their own knowledge and wisdom, but were carried along in their writing by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).
“But isn’t there a problem with that line of reasoning? Just because someone says that it is so doesn’t make it so.” Mrs. Skeptic, you have put your finger on an important point. You used the word “reasoning.” If we apply human reason to things that are eternal, our sanity is challenged. On the other hand, if we don’t apply reason to the acts of God, our common sense is called into question. It is contrary to both reason and common sense that:
- God would give the world a second chance after the fall into sin
- God would give the world a third chance after the flood
- God would lead his complaining people out of Egypt
- God would entrust the message of salvation to a contentious race
- God would send his only son into the world to become human
- God would send his son to the cross for the sins of the world
- God would guarantee eternal life to all who believe in Jesus.
Yet, God did all that, and more, guided neither by reason or common sense, but by love. Now you may claim, Ms. Agnostic, that our conjectures are about as useful as a box of cornflakes without milk. Since the first books of the Bible date back almost four thousand years, there is no assurance that what was handed down to us is, in fact, what God really said or meant. How can we be sure that there aren’t a lot of mistakes and inconsistencies in a book that had to be hand-copied repeatedly for thousands of years?
For one thing, we can be certain that the scholars of past generations didn’t hand over the books of the Bible to a bunch of third graders for penmanship practice. A second point is that we hold the Bible to even stricter standards concerning authenticity than we apply to the other writings of history. For example, we believe that Homer, a blind poet from the ninth century BC, wrote the epic poem The Iliad and its sequel, The Odyssey. While there are no records to substantiate that claim, scholars defend Homer’s authorship with an almost religious zeal. Yet, there are thirty times more copies of the New Testament than there are of The Odyssey. Furthermore, we are told that Herodotus wrote the history of the Greek-Persian Wars of the fourth century BC, but there are few contemporary writers to back him up. In the case of the Bible, however, we have eyewitness accounts backed up by other eyewitnesses.
Since there were no movie cameras or video tape recorders available to the writers of the Scriptures, we have to dig a little deeper to evaluate the purpose of the Bible and the consistency of its message. The sixty-six books should not to be considered an anthology written over a long .period of time but a single book with a uniform and harmonious message. Though written by human beings with diverse backgrounds, and covering a long period of time, there are no irreconcilable differences. In spite of the haggling of critics, it has been estimated that the total of contested passages amounts to less than 1% of the entire Bible, and most challenged passages revolve around insignificant details.
The Bible Is a Love Story
Yet, there is something more amazing about the Scriptures than the small number of contested passages. Like any love story, the Bible has a hero. Each word reflects his presence, each chapter conveys his message, each book breathes his name. We think of him as a child in the manger; he is more than that. We picture him a traveling rabbi who heals the sick; he is more powerful than that. We describe him as a missionary rejected by his stubborn people; a man of peace accused of rebellion; a devoted companion deserted by his friends; a crushed and beaten servant forsaken by God. He is all of those things, but he is more, much more.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments the spirit of Christ was the driving force, the agent of God’s plan of salvation. Let there be no mistake for the Apostle John tells us how this can be: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” With the power of his WORD, God brought the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the creatures of the earth into being. That WORD was not just a breath from his mouth, but his authority, his sovereignty, his being; it was HIM, the Christ. The book of Proverbs records his testimony. “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works….I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began….I was there when he set the heavens in place….when he established the clouds above….when he gave the sea its boundary….when he marked out the foundations of the earth….Then I was the craftsman at his side….rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind” (Proverbs 8:22-31).
The second person of the Trinity was in the cloud and pillar of fire when God led his people out of Israel. He was the Angel of the Lord appearing to Moses in the burning bush. His spirit breathes life and substance into the Psalms and Proverbs. Yearning for the day he would fulfill their hopes and dreams for the deliverance of Israel, the prophets lamented, “How long, O Lord?” His answer was “Soon— when the time is right.”
When that time came, THE WORD blossomed in flesh and blood as Jesus of Nazareth. To be in tune with God, we must find Jesus—the Almighty, the Deliverer, the Messiah—on every page and in every word of the Bible. “These are the Scriptures that testify about me,” he said (John 5:39). So closely is the living WORD bound to the Scriptures that we must speak of both with one breath. To argue that the Bible is not the word of God is to say that Jesus is not the Messiah, the Son of God. To claim that Jesus is not the Son of God is to say that the Bible is not the word of God. To maintain that the Bible merely reflects the thoughts of God and not his words is to assume that Jesus is a ghost and not divine, a shadow and not a man.
And that’s the point, isn’t it, Mr. Skeptic? You don’t like the uncompromising message of the Bible. You are offended when Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). With the stroke of a pen, God emasculates every man-made religion, every self-proclaimed Ancient Philosopher, every sanctimonious notion that excludes THE WORD.
Don’t misunderstand me. I recognize that the Bible and its sentiments have some appeal for many people. There’s nothing wrong with talking about love for all men, mercy for those who deserve it, and forgiveness for a few criminals who are sorry for their mistakes. That’s broad minded. It’s quite another thing, however, to maintain that God loves every human being in the world, but rejects those who reject him. It sounds harsh and prejudicial, and right thinking people don’t appreciate dogmatic statements like that. We aren’t supposed to hurt people’s feelings with talk about a God who makes people uncomfortable, or who makes excessive demands. Some might get mad at you. Compromise. Get along. Make concessions.
I don’t apologize for the sweeping claims the Bible makes for itself. I celebrate the extravagance, not only on the grounds that God has declared the Bible to be his word, but also because it has demonstrated its effectiveness in the world. Not even the most hostile critics can deny the moral impact and influence of the Bible on nations, cultures, and civilizations.
Wherever it is found and taught, the Bible changes people and things. Before his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples begged to know when he would establish a political kingdom in Israel. They argued about who would be his right hand man. So weak was their faith, they couldn’t perform a healing with the power he had given to them. When his enemies arrested their rabbi, the disciples cowered behind locked doors. Perhaps sharing the doubts of some of the others, one of them refused to believe that Jesus could rise from the grave until he saw him alive with his own eyes. Were these the men Jesus chose to change the world? Or was it all a hoax?
There was no hoax. God chose eyewitnesses to record the life, death and resurrection of Jesus so the world could learn of its Savior and grow into his worship. Paganism died hard, but it died, and within three hundred years Christianity had spread to the far corners of the known world, and emerged the victor. The world was changed and the hearts and lives of people were transformed.
In spite of this, many Christians have a jaundiced view of the Bible. They regard it as a great book full of wisdom and power. They buy large ones for their coffee tables and small ones for their bookshelves. It is the most popular and saleable book in the world. I fear, however, that too many Bibles spend more time pressing flowers than impacting the hearts of their owners.
A Bible is useful (and believed) only if it is read, re-read, studied, re-studied, pondered and poured over. It is useful, not because it can hold a coffee table down or prop a window open, but because it reveals the mysteries and secrets God holds in his heart from eternity. It is valuable because it reveals the greatest hero in the history of the world, Jesus, who brought the world into existence with a whisper and promises to call it to judgment with a shout.
Let Ancient Philosopher criticize, contradict, and condemn the book that reveals the Almighty God of the universe. Let him subject the Bible to microscopic scrutiny, dissect each syllable, ponder each word, contaminate and corrupt its teachings—and walk away shaking his head. Let him and his followers condemn and ridicule the Bible’s message and mock those who trust its promises. Still, I know the Bible is God’s word. I know it because it’s got my name on almost every page—sinner, prodigal son, lost sheep. You see, it knows all about me. It also knows the other names God has given to me—child of God, beloved of the Lord, friend of Jesus, saint. Don’t you just love the sound of those names?
Should there be doubters out there who still wonder if the Bible is right, let them apply the acid test. Find a small child, one raised in a Christian family, one who attends Sunday School or a Christian Day School. Lift her to your lap and ask her what the Bible says. She will probably sing you a little song that goes like this:
- “Jesus loves me, this I know
- For the Bible tells me so.”
- It is not always easy…
- To believe when others mock
- To accept the love others reject as fancy
- To pray for greater faith
- But it always pays.