Concerning the Bible
16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In this class we are going to cover all the doctrinal elements in the PBC doctrinal statement, of which you have a copy (The PBC Doctrinal Statement of Faith). Let’s begin with prayer.
Thank you Father for the amazing truths of your Word, how they open our eyes to a wholly different world than we learn about in the course of life. We pray that we may be willing to learn, alert and instructed by the Spirit, made to understand the majesty and the glory of your Word. What an amazing revelation this is, and we pray that as we go through this subject tonight that you will lead us, open our minds, make us understand, teach us by the Spirit, strengthen me as I speak. We look to you for that wonderful ministry of the Spirit, that anointing that teaches us all things. We ask in Jesus’ name.
If you have read through the Doctrinal Statement now, you will notice it covers quite a number of subjects. I want to say just a word as we begin on the importance of doctrine. I know a lot of people don’t like that word. They consider doctrine boring, but doctrine is just another word for teaching. And teaching is what you have been subjected to all your life. That’s why you went to school. So I hope that as we go through these very fascinating subjects you will pray the prayer Jesus prayed which is recorded for us in the prophet Isaiah, who predicted great things about our Lord. One of them was that he would say to the Father, “Thou hast given me the ear of the learner.” We need to have the ear of the learner.
I want to try to present one of these for you in this opening session, covering the ground as quickly as I can, and then we want to conclude after a break with an open time of questions. I would like this course to be very practical, and seek to answer the questions that are on your minds.
Let me now read the one we want to cover tonight, and comment on that. This is on the doctrine of the Word of God itself. Fundamental to all teaching, of course, is the revelation of Scripture. The great passage that deals with this which I would urge you to read sometime during this course, is Psalm 119. This is a great psalm. The sole subject is the Word of God. You will find some familiar teaching in it. One of them is “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his ways? By taking heed thereto according to your Word.” There are other passages I’m sure you will recognize as you go through it, but that is essential teaching concerning the Word.
I will read now the first statement concerning the Bible:
Concerning the Bible
“We believe that the original writings of both Old and New Testaments were breathed out by God to prophets, apostles, and apostolic associates by means of the Spirit, who chose the words employed (that is, in the original documents) according to the personality and background of the human author, and that these writings were without error and are of supreme and final authority in the lives of believers in any age.”
That has been a very carefully crafted statement. For a long time at PBC, we used a typical statement used by many organizations and institutions, which was very similar but which we felt needed to be a bit fine tuned, so this is what we’ve come up with. I would like to answer the ordinary questions people ask about this, so tonight I’d like to zero in on four of those questions.
- How did we get the Bible?
- How were the books chosen?
- Is the Bible without error?
- Why is it important to me?
Are there any other questions burning in your hearts that you think we ought to try to cover, or will they subsume under these categories?
Well first, how did we get this amazing book? I’m sure you know that the Bible consists of sixty-six different books, twenty-seven in the New Testament and thirty-nine in the Old Testament. Now there are Bibles that have more books than that. If you have a Catholic version, it has additional books that are not in our Protestant versions. Those additional twelve books are called the Apocrypha, and they are largely made up of books, which even Catholic scholars early in the Christian centuries rejected as not being at the same level of scriptural truth and presentation as the ones we have in our Protestant Bibles. For the most part they consist of legends and somewhat mythical accounts, and a couple of them are good history but not regarded as inspired. I’ll get to the subject of inspiration in answering question three.
The total time it took to write and accumulate all the books of the Bible, Old and New Testaments alike, was about sixteen hundred years. That’s a long time. They were written by over forty different authors. Some were kings, like David and Solomon and others. Some were very common people. Some of the prophets boasted they were just ordinary men. The Old Testament prophet, Amos, said he was just a gatherer of sycamore fruit – that’s all he did for a living. Others are better known men like Moses, who was highly educated in the schools of Egypt, and Paul who also was a highly educated man. Some were common fishermen, like Peter and John. Not much training, but taught by the Lord himself, and by the Holy Spirit. So they come from a variety of walks of life.
The books are gathered together into two divisions, the Old and New Testaments. The canon of Old Testament scripture was completed in about the fourth century BC. I’ll say more about that later.
By the way, you ought to become familiar with this word “canon”, spelled with one “n”. It comes from a word, which means ruler, a measuring stick. It is used to determine which books are acceptable, in both Testaments. The canon of the Old Testament would be the books we presently have. The canon of the New Testament would be the twenty-seven books we have. (By the way, if any of you have questions as we go along, just raise your hands, because I’d like to handle them as we are in the related subjects.) Some of you may know that the word canon is also used of individuals. In the Episcopal or Anglican Church they have canons. That’s not a big gun; it derives from the idea of the measuring stick, someone who sets the boundaries of church action, a church official.
The Old Testament falls into three major divisions. The Hebrews referred to them as The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. I said there are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament. There are twenty-four in the Hebrew Old Testament. That is because the Jews combine certain books and count them as one. Ezra-Nehemiah, for instance, is one book in the Hebrew Bible. I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, I and II Samuel are one book. That is why they come out with a different number of books.
The Law consists of the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These are the books ascribed to Moses as the writer. They constitute for the Jewish people the very heart of revelation. Everything gathers around the five books of the Torah. It is also called the Pentateuch, which comes from the Greek meaning five books.
Then there were the prophets, and these would include all the ones we know, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets beginning with Hosea through Malachi. The prophet Daniel is an exception, and is classified in the Old Testament with the Writings. The Writings would include books like Ruth, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, etc.
The books would be very lengthy if we handled them the way the Hebrews did. They of course didn’t have books. They had scrolls to just unroll. In a scroll not much attention is paid to chapter divisions. You just keep reading, rolling it up as you go, so that’s why they didn’t divide it up as we do. But when the book style came along, they divided them up into chapters and divisions a little easier to handle. The book style is called a codex, and most of the books are now treated that way. The plural is codices.
Now to come to the question of how these were chosen. The Jews of course believed that Moses gave them the first five books, and that he received them and the teaching of them from God himself. Included in that were the Ten Commandments, which Moses received from the hand of God, written by the finger of God and given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Along with that came another revelation, which Moses was told to write down. God didn’t write it for him, as he did the Ten Commandments. Moses came down from the mountain with a description of the tabernacle, for instance. By the way, it’s important you note that not only was the Ten Commandments, the Law, given from Mt. Sinai, but also, at the very same time, the tabernacle. The reason that is important is that the law is that part of the revelation of God’s own character and nature that condemns us, and all through the Bible you will see that the law serves to make us feel guilty. We all know as we read the Ten Commandments that we have broken them; therefore, the effect of the law is to make us feel guilty. If all we had from God were the Ten Commandments, we would know what God wanted, but we would all be very disappointed in ourselves, feeling guilty and becoming very angry and rebellious because we would know we had not kept them.
So what the tabernacle did was provide a remedy. The tabernacle is the Old Testament way of teaching about Jesus. You see the ritual of the tabernacle, even the curtains and the divisions, etc., are a picture of Jesus. It is also a picture of man. I can’t go into this in detail now, but let me give you just a little glimpse of this.
There are three divisions in the tabernacle, the tent of meeting of the Old Testament. There is the outer court to which Gentiles were admitted. There is the holy place to which only the high priests could go. And there is the holy of holies, a division of the holy place. The tabernacle proper was divided into two sections, the holy place and the holy of holies. Into the holy of holies only the high priest could go, and he only once a year and then only under the most rigid conditions. He had to bring a basin of blood with him and offer it before the mercy seat. If he did not meticulously fulfill the requirement, he would be struck dead. This is a picture of the rigidity of the law, but the tabernacle was provided as the means of redemption, of covering over the sins of individuals so God could dwell with his people. That of course is what Jesus does for us. So the tabernacle is a beautiful picture of Jesus.
As I suggested, it is a picture of man because man is also in three divisions. We have the body which is the outward part of our being which the world can touch, feel and see, etc. Then we have a hidden part, the soul, which is our inner life, our personality, conscious existence, thought life, volition, imagination, etc. We are the only ones who know that in any intimate detail. Then there is the spirit within, which is still so mysterious we hardly understand what it is, but that is the center of our being. You see that corresponds to the holy of holies. The death of Jesus gained access to the spirit of man, and that is why the tabernacle is such a marvelous study of man. By the way, I think the study of the tabernacle in the books of Leviticus and Numbers is probably the most thoroughgoing psychological treatise on man that we have on this planet. I would urge you to read them carefully, as those books that seem to be so dull are really filled with tremendously significant meaning for us.
The Prophets were written by various men as they came along. Jeremiah’s prophecies consist largely of sermons delivered in various places, gathered up and put in book form. Isaiah does likewise. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel are the major prophets. Then come the “minor” prophets, not because they are unimportant but because they are relatively short: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These are wonderful books and treat in detail what God wanted his people to know, and they are valuable for us today.
Each of these prophets came claiming to speak for God. The most common statement of the divine authorship of scripture are the words, “the word of the Lord came to me.” The prophets utter it over and over again. Either they are liars and scalawags trying to deceive the people, or they really did experience some way by which the word of the Lord came to them. I’m sure anyone who reads the Bible wonders, “how did that happen?” In what way did the word of the Lord come to these men alone?” We’re not sure exactly how. The Old Testament tells that God sometimes spoke through visions. Perhaps the man would be wide-awake, sitting in his chair, and he would begin to see visions in the inner mind. Sometimes God spoke by dreams, and sometimes with a still small voice within. It’s a mystery how the word of God was actually spoken to men. But universally, through both the Old and New Testaments, these men claim that they spoke by the authority of God. God had taught them what to say. That is one of the major ways by which it was determined which was an authentic book and which was not.
These prophets not only spoke the mind of God to people, gave them God’s viewpoint of life, forth-telling what God wanted to say, but they also, along with that, predicted the future. The reason was to establish their validity as a prophet. Every prophet had to predict some event that would take place in the course of his own life, so that people could check on him. Those prophets who predicted something that didn’t happen were to be stoned, because they were false prophets.
I think it would eliminate a lot of people today if we followed that procedure. Jean Dixon and some of the others have made many prophecies that have not come true. You can pick up one of these tabloid newspapers and every year they have psychics and others who predict events. If you check up on them, as I have done, you will find that only about twenty per cent of their prophecies only remotely come true. If they were subjected to the treatment the Old Testament prescribes for that, it would cut down the incidents quite severely. But they did check up on them and they did reject some because they were false prophets. Read the prophecy of Jeremiah, for instance where he tells of some encounters he had with some whose prophecies proved to be false and they were rejected.
Now the Writings came from various individuals. King Solomon wrote Proverbs and Song of Solomon. We don’t know who wrote Ruth. Some of the writers are unknown to us, but at the time they wrote were recognized as valid prophets. So gradually, over the course of the centuries, there came into being books the Jews greatly treasured because they opened up their minds to understanding how God thought.
One of the great proofs that these books are from the hand of God, and a partial answer to the question of how the books were chosen, is the fact that the Bible does not contradict itself. I’m sure you have heard skeptics tell you the Bible is full of contradictions. It is not so. Like any form of communication, there are problems and difficulties to reconcile at times. I’ll come back to this more fully when we come to the question of whether the Bible is without error. But the fact is that it blends together, that you can take a book like Genesis and read it through, then turn to the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation written sixteen hundred years later, and find the two books clearly tied together by trains of thought. Then you can find that some of the prophets, such as Daniel, tie in strongly with the book of Revelation. The book of Leviticus ties in very closely with the book of Hebrews. There could be no possible collusion between the writers of these books; nevertheless they agree and blend together. One is based upon another, sometimes deliberately, sometimes indirectly. But it is very evident that another mind is behind it all. It is that quality of scripture that makes you aware that you are dealing with a product that man could not produce. He could not make it fit that way, and that marks it as God’s book.
Take for instance the book of Hebrews. The writer is thoroughly acquainted with the Old Testament, yet what he is writing about is Jesus. He is therefore writing about someone whom the Jews, the writers of the Old Testament, did not accept at all, yet he proves in a most remarkable way that Jesus fulfills all these things. He is therefore dealing with history. Now he can’t make up history; it is too well known by others and can be checked on. The fact that his historic account of the life, teachings and works of Jesus agrees with an Old Testament book written hundreds of years before is far beyond the ability of someone to imaginatively create. Everyone who works with the Old Testament agrees that this collusion is something that can’t be produced by some artifice.
The New Testament books were assembled in a somewhat similar manner. As far as we know, the first writings of the New Testament were probably by the Apostle Paul. Some of the gospels may have been written fairly early. Dr. W. F. Albright, tops in the field of biblical archeology, came to Stanford when I first came to Palo Alto and gave a series of lectures, which I went to hear. At the end of his lecture I went to him and said, “Dr. Albright, would you tell me what you feel is the earliest writings of the New Testament books.” He said, “it seems to me there is considerable evidence that one or two of the gospels were written at least by 70 AD and probably before that.”
Many people are troubled by the fact that these gospels were not written earlier than that. Jesus himself ministered in something like 30 to 33 AD, and the disciples were with him. Why don’t we have gospels that date back to, say, 40 AD? The reason is that these men were not writers. They didn’t particularly plan to write things down. They were preachers. They had been sent out to proclaim the truth by Jesus. He said, “Go and preach the gospel.” And that is what they did.
But these events that they were preaching from the life of Jesus, the death and the resurrection and all, were such tremendous events, and they had preached them so powerfully, telling the story over and over again, that the events would be deeply impressed upon their minds. They didn’t forget anything. Furthermore, Jesus had told them that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance things that he had said to them. As they began to grow old and it was evident that the Lord was not coming back as quickly as they had thought he would, they began to write down some of what they had learned from and about him. The gospel of Luke was written by a medical doctor, who traveled as a companion of Paul. It is not certain, but most scholars feel he was probably a Gentile. If so, he is the only Gentle writer of scripture. He made a careful investigation of the events he recorded. If you open to the gospel of Luke you will see how he tells us himself how he proceeded. He is writing to a Roman friend of his named Theophilus. When I read that name I think of a sermon I once heard by a country preacher who said he got that name because the doctor who attended his birth looked at him and said, “that’s the awfullest baby I think I’ve ever seen.” (Just to keep you awake.)
Notice his introduction: “..many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things which have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (NIV). You see he recognizes that others had written this account, writing down what they had actually heard from those who were with the Lord and had served with him. “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” He states very clearly his investigation. It is quite likely that he interviewed Mary, the mother of Jesus, because Luke’s gospel alone includes the account of Mary’s genealogy and the very intimate account of the birth of Jesus.
The book of Acts, which he also wrote begins in a similar way. He says, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.”
Now Mark was not one of the twelve apostles, but was a close associate of the Apostle Peter. Peter in his first letter refers to him. He says his “son Mark” sends greetings to those who received that letter. Mark probably wrote in Rome, and most feel he probably wrote down the memoirs of Peter. So in Mark, which is the shortest gospel and probably the earliest, you have a short but very gripping and alive account of the teachings and doings of Jesus.
Matthew was, of course, a disciple. He is called Levi in some of the gospels. He wrote down what he remembered Jesus had said, and he too seems to rely upon some of the other accounts that had been written by then.
John was also one of the disciples, and it is very clear that he did not write his gospel until about 90 to 100 AD. His Gospel of John is the last of the Bible to be written. His letters are earlier, and he also wrote the Book of Revelation somewhat earlier. He wrote the Gospel of John probably very late in his life. But remember, they had been preaching these stories and events for decades, and they were guided in them by the Spirit of God Himself, so that the early church received these as coming from an apostolic hand.
Thirteen letters of the New Testament were written by Paul. Some have ascribed his name also to the Book of Hebrews. I am just now writing a commentary on Hebrews and I am finally convinced that it was not Paul who wrote it. One of our favorite jokes in seminary was “who wrote Paul’s letter to the Hebrews?” Something like “who lies in Grant’s tomb?” I think it was not Paul, but someone very closely associated with Paul. If you want me to let you in on a secret, I think it was probably either Apollos or Silas, who was one of Paul’s companions who traveled widely with him. Paul’s theology is in Hebrews all the way through, but Paul’s language is not there, especially in the Greek text.
Of course Peter wrote, and some of the books of the New Testament were not immediately received by the church. II Peter was questioned for a long time, and II and III John were not at once received. James had a struggle. Even Luther did not accept the epistle of James. Because they didn’t understand the teachings of these books and felt they conflicted with certain teachings of Paul, the church struggled with this. I should say in answering the question “how were the books chosen?”, It was not done as many have been taught, that councils of the church gathered in about the third and fourth century and began then to choose for the first time the books that were to be in the Bible.
It was not done that way. Someone has even proposed the idea, and it’s amazing how much it has been accepted, that what they did at one of these councils was take all of the books that claimed to be sacred, throw them under the table, reach down blind-folded and pull out some which they called the books of the Bible.
What they did was to choose the books that had already been widely accepted by the church. I would urge you to get into your library a book by F. F. Bruce. He will give you the dates and times, how the choices were made – things I cannot go into now. The name of the book is “Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?” by F. F. Bruce, Professor of Bible at Manchester University, Manchester, England. He is a marvelous and very trustworthy scholar, one of the greatest scholars alive today. He has just published a brand new book called “The Canon of Scripture” which I just got last week.
While I’m talking about books, there are some popular ones that perhaps make it a little easier to understand. There’s one called “The Battle for the Bible”, by Harold Lindsell, Editor Emeritus of Christianity Today and for a long time Professor at Fuller Seminary and Eastern Baptist Seminary as well. Dr. Lindsell’s book deals with the question of inerrancy, is the Bible without error. Also J. I. Packer, who is now at Regent College in Vancouver B.C., has written a book “Beyond the Battle for the Bible”. These are good books, presented in popular style yet cover the subject well.
The question raised is about the relationship between the claims of scripture and the scholarly support for them, which I will try to answer. We must understand that no one has the original writings of either the New or the Old Testaments. They are long gone. If you ever run across one, call me collect from anywhere on earth. You would have your fortune made. I was in London some time ago, went into the British Museum and saw the manuscript called the Sinaiticus, which was discovered on Mt. Sinai by Count vonTishendorf, a Russian.
(Tape blackout here) ….in Germany in the 18th century and the early part of the 20th, that almost totally destroyed the historicity of the New Testament. There has been much argument about that, and many scholars have written about it. Much of it has been exploded and shown to be false, so that unless you care to get into that kind of thing, I think you would be well advised to simply accept the biblical text as we have it today as a trustworthy version that has been very carefully examined. No book in the world has been worked on and studied as much as the Bible. Nothing even remotely approaches the amount of work done on the biblical text. You can therefore receive it as an authentic text.
Perhaps the most famous quotation about the Bible from the Bible is II Timothy 3:16. You all know John 3:16. Remember this 3:16. How many of you can quote it? “All Scripture is God-breathed (a better translation than the King James, which says “all Scripture is inspired by God”. Inspired means to breathe in. The word is actually “to breathe out”. God has expelled the Bible from his mouth, breathed it out, and that is what this text says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In other words, Scripture is all you need to make you grow up into a mature individual. That doesn’t mean it covers all subjects and eliminates all necessity to go to school or learn anything else. But as far as the moral development of a human being into a full-fledged man or woman, Scripture has that knowledge.
“All Scripture” refers to both the Old and New Testaments. Peter, for instance, speaks of Paul’s writings, and says, “you know how our beloved brother, Paul, has written some things that are hard to understand.” You can sympathize with Peter when you read some of Paul’s writings, which Peter says some people use to distort the other Scriptures. Nevertheless, he speaks of Paul as a writer of the Word of God.
I want to emphasize that all the authority upon which the Bible rests is really the authority of Jesus himself. I believe that no Christian has the right to say that Jesus is wrong about his view of Scripture, yet that is what the critics do. I received a book on the Psalms some time ago published by an evangelical institution, in which the writer says it is highly questionable whether Moses had ever lifted up a serpent on a pole in the wilderness--that this was a myth, a legend that had come down from a priestly origin and not likely to be historic. That can sound very impressive as a scholar who sounds like he knows what he is talking about. But when you read the words of Jesus in the New Testament, what does that do to his statement, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up?” What that writer is really saying is that if the story of Moses is a myth, so is the story of the cross. Therefore it is directly challenging the authority of Jesus.
Most of the critical approaches to Old and New Testaments alike fall into that category. If you think it through it is actually a challenge to the authority of Jesus. Did he know what he was talking about? Anyone who has become a Christian and sees him as the Lord and reads the New Testament, sees his intimate knowledge of human life and the way he spoke with authority on everything, is hard put to challenge his authority and say that he knows more than Jesus. Jesus said “the Scripture cannot be broken”. You remember on the walk to Emmaus with his disciples it says he began with Moses and the prophets and showed to them all the things that were written concerning Himself.
He thoroughly understood the Old Testament and validates it consistently. In the Sermon on the Mount in chapter five of Matthew he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of the pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” He is referring to the Torah, the five books of Moses, and he validates everything in it, so that we must understand that ultimately the reason we accept the Bible is because Jesus has validated the Old Testament and authorized the New Testament. He tells the Apostles as he sent them out that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say and that he would bring to their minds everything he had said to them. That is why the New Testament books are accepted because they come from the Apostles, either directly from the hand of an Apostle himself or from someone closely associated with an Apostle.
Look at another text found in I Thessalonians 2:13. The Apostle is writing to this church, which is undergoing persecution, where he had recently been. He says: “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God…”
You see he was very clear about the fact that he was speaking by inspiration, that God was putting into his mind, not dictating these words. Never think of inspiration as a kind of dictation, but that through his personality, his background and cultural training, etc., he expressed the thoughts that came to his mind. They had a definite Pauline flavor. They reflected his personality, which was different from that of Peter or James or John. But they were the thoughts of God.
Another passage that clearly establishes this is the second chapter of I Corinthians. Notice how clearly he puts it in verse 10: “But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit.” He is referring to something earlier in the chapter: “...we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” God knows things humans don’t know.
Moses, the writer of Deuteronomy, says that the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that have been revealed are for us and for our children. Jesus referred to some of things God knows that we don’t know. He says to the disciples in the opening chapter of Acts after the resurrection: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” That is why no one can set dates or predict events, because we do not understand time, and we never will. We have to recognize these limitations. We must be content to live with mystery when we are reading the scriptures, because God’s wisdom is far beyond ours.
Back to I Corinthians 2:10: “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit…” Here is a clear claim that what he says is not merely his own thoughts. They were his own thoughts, but they had a higher dimension to them: they were the words of God, put into his mind to express according to his personality.
One further reference, which touches on the Old Testament as well, found in II Peter 1:16: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Now he is the world’s greatest liar or this is true, for he goes on to say: “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. (Actually in the Greek the word is not “interpretation”, but more “origination”. The man did not originate what he said.) For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
I said “one more”, but there is still another, in I Peter 1:10, 11: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” That is amazing, isn’t it. What he is saying here is that men like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Daniel and Hosea, Joel and all the prophets, when speaking of Christ, did not thoroughly understand what they were saying. When they finished they sat down and studied their own writings to see what they meant, and puzzled over them.
And Peter goes on to say: “It was revealed to them (by the Spirit) that they were not serving themselves (this was not just for them) but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” What a remarkable book we have! The angels long to understand as well, and are watching the unfolding of these events as history takes its course according to God’s program.
I’ll just say a word about whether the Bible is without error, and end with the last question, why is it important to us? Is the Bible without error? Well, here is a Bible. It’s the New International Version. It’s been done by painstaking work of evangelical scholars. Some of them are personal friends of mine. Dr. Bruce Waltke, who will be here at the men’s retreat, is one of those scholars who worked on the Old Testament for this version. Is this Bible without error? No, it has errors in it. It makes statements in one place that seem to be contradicted by another. It is this that has given rise to the complaint of many that the Bible is full of contradictions.
When I say this book has errors in it, it’s because this is not the original text of scripture, either in the Old or the New Testaments. It is based upon the best versions we possess, the many thousands of them in the hands of scholars who have studied and worked over them carefully. But they cannot eliminate all error. However, most of the errors we now recognize are still here are very minor. Usually it’s the spelling of a word, or a statement about some insignificant event. For instance, one of the things often pointed out is when Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to preach during his lifetime, on one occasion, as Matthew says, he told them to take a staff with them. But when Mark reports it, Jesus says don’t take a staff with you. How do you reconcile that? We are too far removed from these events to be able to reconcile them. But the fact that there is variation from one text to another does not mean that there was error in the original documents.
All we are required to do is recognize the possibility that some scribe copied the wrong thing. It is easy in copying to omit a word. Perhaps in both cases what he said was “do not take a staff with you”, but in the copying process one scribe dropped out the “not” so that it said “do take a staff with you.” Copies of that have come down to us, and through another process copies of the other, and that is how error creeps in.
This kind of thing happens all the time. For instance, after an automobile accident you read the account of the police, a witness, and your own account, and one will put in details that are not in another’s. It’s a common phenomenon in recording events, and in fact it is one of the ways you can know the event actually happened. Scholars know that when versions omit some things and put in others it’s evidence you are dealing with an authentic account.
But that does not mean it is in the original text. That is why this statement says: We believe that theoriginalwritings of both Old and New Testaments were breathed out by God to prophets, apostles, and apostolic associates (such as Luke and Timothy and others) by means of the Spirit, who chose the words employed according to the personality and background of the human author, and that these writings were without error and are of supreme and final authority in the lives of believers in any age. “
(Class question) We have a question about the variations in accounts of the words of Jesus, and events which are virtually the same but somewhat different in some of the gospels. Some of that may be attributed to textual error that has crept in. Some of it may be due to what we have just looked at in Paul’s first writing to the Corinthians. The culture, background, personality of the writer tends to emphasize some things and not others. That is why it is almost certain that when you have three or four people recording the same event, they will record it differently. Their thoughts about it will be different.
(Responding to comment from someone in the class). Yes, that is very true. She is pointing out that these variations in accounts may be due to the fact that Jesus said things in different ways on different occasions. She used the illustration that this is what I do on Sunday mornings when I preach two sermons, which do not always come out the same by any means. As a matter of fact, it is quite clear that our Lord repeated these messages from time to time. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew was delivered on the mountain. The Sermon in Luke was delivered beside the sea. These were probably different occasions on which he preached similar sermons.
It’s a marvelous thing that we have these different accounts given in different ways by different individuals. That is why the scriptures are so important to us. A text that has meant so much to me is Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In other words, start thinking differently about life than the world around thinks about it. This is a very radical step that is being taken. If someone needs to change behavior, they need to change the way they think. Change their value system, their outlook and attitudes, and their behavior will change automatically. The way to not be conformed to the world is to have the scriptures change your mind, being renewed in your mind by the Spirit. That is why the Word of God is so vitally important.
I have had young Christians tell me about the dramatic changes that came into their lives after they came to Christ. They didn’t realize they were changing, but their thoughts and their attitudes were different. A new Christian was asked, “Do you believe in the miracles of Jesus?” He said, “Yes!” The questioner said, “Do you believe that story about changing water into wine?” He said, “Yes, I do.” “Well why do you believe that”, he was asked. He replied, “Because in my house, Jesus changed beer into furniture.”
(Class question) The question is regarding the cultural influences on the Greek language at the time of the New Testament vs. modern culture. There are obvious changes in today’s culture, and that is why anyone who tries to understand the Bible has to find out enough about the culture of Bible days to put himself or herself back into that picture. Many events are colored by approaches and statements that have to be understood as idioms of that time. There are some very good books on that. “Life in Bible Times” is one. Usually a Bible dictionary will be very helpful. An encyclopedia of Bible knowledge will help a great deal. There are reference works that will remedy that. One of my favorites is called the “Wycliffe Historical and Geographical Commentary”, published by Moody Press, I think.
Well time is gone, and it’s been a lot of fun. Next time we will look at the doctrine of God. “We believe there is but one true God, who eternally exists as three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who exclusively share in the work of creation, maintenance of the universe, redemption and judgment.” We’ll answer questions about the Trinity next time.
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