The Reliability of Scripture

What's Your Filter

Date: November 16, 2014
Study: What’s Your Filter? Christian Apologetics and Worldview
Teacher: Small Group Debate Format

REVIEW
Study Thesis: A Christian worldview enables us to look at all of live through scriptural lenses, which in turn equips us to defend the faith, evangelize wisely, critique unbiblical thought that pervades our culture, and bring God glory in all of life.

Christian Apologetics: the discipline of offering a defense of and case for, or offer evidence for, the veracity and reliability of the Christian faith.

TEACHING INTRO
The Christians’ ultimate authority is the Word of God. As we have discussed, ultimately as Christians, we do not rely only on our reason, but on God’s revelation of himself, through the Word of Scripture (the Bible), and through the Word made flesh (Jesus).

Christians accept God’s revelation of himself through faith. Faith is essential. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. We come to God through faith in Jesus. Ephesians 2 says we are saved by grace through faith.

Christians do not put their faith in the Bible to save them, as if the Bible was God himself. But Christians put their faith in the Author of the Bible, our Savior, Jesus – and believe the Bible to be true because it is God’s word to us.

As God’s word, the Bible is the ultimate standard of truth. When praying that the Father would sanctify the disciples in truth, Jesus said in John 17:17 that the Word is truth.  As the Truth with a capital “t” the Word of God stands in judgment on every other truth claim and assertion in the universe.  The Bible stands in judgment over our reason, over philosophy, over every worldview and presumption, so the attitude of the Christians towards the Bible should be one of faithful obedience. 

Of course, non-believers do not at all share this viewpoint. In fact, the Bible makes it very clear that far from being neutral in their attitudes towards Scripture. Non Christians actively oppose – even hate – the truth of Scripture.

  • Romans 8:7 says, “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”
  • Non-Christians are unable to submit to Scripture because they are opposed to the truth of God’s word. They are hostile to God.
  • In Romans 1 we learn that “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—[can be] clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” But, humankind has “neither glorified him as God nor [given] thanks to him” because “their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
  • In John 3, Jesus said “men [love] darkness instead of light because their deeds [are] evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

This doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t use the Bible, in fact Christians should use scripture as part of their Christian apologetics. If our job is to present the consistent veracity and reliability of a Christian worldview, we will find it impossible to do that without drawing on the truth of the Bible because what we believe about God is based on the testimony of the Bible. As we explain our worldview, it is completely natural to open up to the scriptures to explain what we believe, and to use scripture’s own arguments for why those beliefs are valid. Three reasons to use Scripture in apologetic conversations:

  1. Using Scripture challenges the postmodern idea that truth is relative. It rebuts the charge that a Christian’s “truth narrative” does not necessarily apply to a non-Christian friend.  It also demonstrates this ancient text is relevant for life in a postmodern world, for when we appeal to God’s word as the final authority, we appeal to an absolute truth.
  1. Scripture is spiritually powerful. God said in Isaiah 55, “my word goes out from my mouth and it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Hebrews 4:12 says “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
  1. Scripture contains in many places its own arguments for the validity of its claims. It helps to show non-Christians that we are nowhere expected to accept the claims of Christianity on what they would call “blind faith”, but on the basis of ample evidence and a coherent worldview.

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CONVERSATION TIPS
As Christians, we finally surrender to the truth of God’s revelation in the Bible and in history through Jesus – not our own reason.  But we should not be afraid to use the Bible as we explain our worldview to unbelievers, and argue for the veracity and reliability of faith in Jesus.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when having an apologetics conversation:

  1. If questions come up that you can’t answer, remember that there are answers to be found. It’s OK to say, “That’s a good question.  Let me check on how to best answer that for you.”
  2. Don’t assume that your non-Christian friend will accept the Bible as authoritative.
  3. Don’t argue as if the Bible is not authoritative. As you describe your worldview, you are entitled to argue by your own rules – and that includes the authority of the Bible.
  4. Open the Bible with those that you are talking with: it is the Word of God and powerful for explaining human nature and the common experience that we have.

When you read your Bible, read it with confidence. God has spoken, that He has revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures, and we read the same Bible that was handed down by the first apostles of Christ’s church.

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QUESTIONS
TOPIC 1–> The Origins of the Bible

QUESTION 1A: Where did the Bible come from?

ANSWER 1A: Christians believe the Bible is God’s letter to humanity, divinely inspired by God, authoritative for all of life, without error or omission, and infallible in its composition.

QUESTION 1B: Why does the “Catholic Bible” have more books than the “regular Bible”? How can I know they didn’t just pick and choose which books were included to fit their agenda?

QUESTION 1B: Early Christians did not decide what books to put into the canon. They already affirmed that the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament, was the Word of God.  They just faced the question of which books should be included in the New Testament.

The New Testament books that were recognized were written by either the Apostles or eyewitnesses and they were widely used in the church.  So early Christians did not develop the canon like one would solicit manuscripts for a publisher – it was more like recognizing the best sellers of established, credible authors.  They used four requirements to decide which books should be included in the Old and New Testament:

  1. Apostolic Origin — attributed to and based on the preaching/teaching of the first-generation apostles (or their close companions).
  2. Universal Acceptance — acknowledged by all major Christian communities in the ancient world (by the end of the fourth century).
  3. Liturgical Use — read publicly when early Christian communities gathered for the Lord’s Supper (their weekly worship services).
  4. Consistent Message — containing a theological outlook similar or complementary to other accepted Christian writings.

The fundamental factor for recognizing a book’s canonicity for the New Testament was divine inspiration, and the chief test for this was apostolic authority.

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TOPIC 2–> THE RELIABILITY OF THE BIBLE

QUESTION 2A: How can I know the Bible is really reliable and true? Wasn’t it written by a bunch of uneducated guys over thousands of year?

ANSWER 2A: Yes. As Christians, we believe the Bible is God’s letter to humanity collected into 66 books written by 40 divinely inspired writers over the spans of 1,500 years or more. These writers come from all walks of life. Some were kings, shepherds, teachers, warriors, and fishermen. Christians believe that the Bible is infallible (the Bible is in its entirety inspired by God) and inerrant (the Bible contains no error).

The reliability of Scripture hinges on three characteristics:

1) The New Testament Documents are Historically Reliable and Credible

  • The New Testament record agrees perfectly with what we know of history elsewhere. The names of emperors and governors and places and events do not disagree with other sources that we have.
  • The New Testament reads as a historically reliable For example, the New Testament text often shows its human authors in a bad light, as a historical account would.  It contains events –such as the crucifixion— that are inconvenient for those seeking to project Jesus as the Son of God.  And it contains odd bits of details, such as places people stood, the state of the grass on a certain day (John 6:10), etc. that have the feel consistent with eyewitness accounts.
  • The New Testament has eyewitnesses of events it describes who were still alive when scholars know that the documents existed. But we do not know of anyone who disputed the factual, historic events described in the New Testament – including Jesus’ death and resurrection. In fact, the disciples who wrote large chunks of the New Testament – Paul, John, Peter – gave their lives for the message of the Bible. (Sidenote: Rarely do men die for what they know to be a lie.)
  • The New Testament has far more and earlier manuscripts than any other ancient text. “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.” –FF Bruce
  • One of the most important evidences for the reliability of Scripture is its coherent message – its various parts all contribute to a clearly defined message:
  • Despite the fact that it was written by many different men over 1500 years, there isn’t a single place where a Biblical author disagrees with another Biblical author. Some scholars suggest that much of its history and prophecy were written years after the events with which they claim to be contemporaries.  They could claim that prophecies and histories were rewritten hundreds of years later to support a particular agenda.  If that were true, however, you would expect these revisionist historians to contradict some of what had been written in or discovered about the past.  But nowhere in the Bible do you find this kind of disagreement.
  • The Bible is united in teaching its own authority, despite the fact that it was written by so many authors.  When Moses set out writing the first book of the Bible, he was setting an enormous precedent as he claimed divine authority for his writings.  Imagine the challenge it would have been to be consistent with those writings 1500 years later had the entire Bible not been authored ultimately by God.
  • The unity of the Bible’s message is undeniable.  From Genesis to Revelation, we see the “one big story” of Scripture unfolding in four different acts: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Each passage in the Bible points to God’s gospel work in the lives and events of humanity.
  • The Bible all points to one man, Jesus.  The same man whom the prophets foretold is the same man who revolutionized history, the God-Man, Jesus. The testimony of Scripture to Christ over so many centuries is quite remarkable.  Biblical theologian John Frame says it this way:  “An incredibly rich array of symbols, types, prophecies, events, and poetic depictions converge inevitably and powerfully on Jesus Christ who, to most of the biblical writers, is to come centuries later.”

QUESTION 2B: So, maybe the Bible is a good storybook, but that doesn’t mean Jesus is God. How does that relate to Jesus being God like you said and not just another good leader in the history of mankind?

ANSWER 2B:
2) Jesus’ Character is Shown to Be Trustworthy

The historically reliable Bible teaches a historically real Jesus.  And the Bible does not teach Jesus was merely a good teacher. In the gospel accounts, Jesus makes prophecies not only of future events such as the destruction of Jerusalem, but of himself and his own work.  If he was a true prophet, then all his teaching must be taken seriously.

In his famous book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argues Jesus was either a fraud (liar), crazy (lunatic), or God himself (Lord).  He makes this statement,

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg–or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

This may be a familiar menu of apologetic choices for some of you, but the explanation has endured for good reason. Jesus could only have been a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. I would add a fourth however – a legend.

  • Some people assert the historical Jesus never existed – that he was a legend. But there is so much historical and archaeological evidence to support his existence that every reputable historian agrees he was not just a legend.
  • If Jesus were a liar, why would he die for his claim, when he could easily have avoided such a cruel death with a few choice words?
  • And, if he were a lunatic, how did he engage in intelligent debates with his opponents or handle the stress of his betrayal and crucifixion while continuing to show a deep love for his antagonists?
  • Christ said he was Lord and God. The evidence supports that claim.

QUESTION 2C: I’ll admit that the Bible has a lot of good, positive things to say, but how do I know that it really is the “Word of God”?

ANSWER 2C:

3) Jesus Claims that the Old and New Testament Books were the Word of God

Jesus treated the Old Testament as God’s inspired, infallible, inerrant word.  Examples:

  • In some places we see Jesus claiming that the entire Old Testament is trustworthy. For example, in John 10:34, Jesus notes that Scripture cannot be broken.
  • Many times, we see Jesus end his arguments by quoting from Scripture. As far as he was concerned, what scripture said was the end of the matter.  In one case, Jesus even argues from the tense of a verb – that’s in Matthew 22.  He clearly understand that each and every word was authoritative, not just the major themes.
  • Jesus clearly assumes that what is prophesied in the Old Testament must be fulfilled, specifically concerning himself. This is particularly evident in the book of Matthew.  And Jesus demands that others recognize that Scripture is fulfilled in him.
  • Finally, Jesus establishes a pattern in Matthew 19 that is repeated in the rest of the gospels when he interchanges the phrases “Scripture says” with “God says.” The Old Testament for Jesus is not merely a record of the words of God; it is the word of God.
  • If we believe in Jesus, then we ought to treat the Old Testament as he did – as the authoritative word of God.

Jesus himself laid the foundation for the New Testament.  He taught that his teaching was to be viewed as the authoritative words of God.

  • In John 7:16, he says, “My teaching is not my own.  It comes from him who sent me.”
  • In Matthew (24:35), Mark (13:31), and Luke (21:33), Jesus is recorded as saying, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
  • And the crowds noticed this aspect of Jesus’ teaching.  The first reaction we see recorded after the Sermon On the Mount is that the people were amazed because Jesus taught as one with authority. (Matt 7:29)

Jesus not only gives us reason to believe in the truth of his own words, but also in the words of his disciples.  He told them that during times of persecution, “what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matt 10:19-20).

  • Jesus told them in John 14:26 that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all that he has taught them.
  • And he told them later that the Spirit would continue to teach them with his own authority even after he had departed. (John 16:12-13)
  • Finally, after his resurrection, Jesus declared that his disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them so that they might be his witnesses. (Acts 1:8)

The New Testament writers understood this authority that had been given to them, and they do not hesitate to cite it.  (1 Corinthians 2:13, Galatians 1:6-12, etc.)  Paul, for example, writes in 1 Corinthians 14:36 – 38:

“Did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached?  If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.  If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.”

There are even two places where New Testament writers cite other New Testament writings as Scripture – Paul does this with the gospel of Luke in 1 Timothy 5:18, and Peter does this with the writings of Paul in 2 Peter 3:15-16. The church appears to have very early on accepted without question the authority of the writings of the New Testament, leaving other writings in an entirely different category.  In fact, with the possible exception of 2 Peter and Jude, the New Testament canon as we have it today was universally recognized by the church by the early second century at the very latest.  It wasn’t for another two hundred years that an official definition of the canon was deemed necessary.

In summary, if we believe Jesus Christ to be the son of God, then we must accept his view of Scripture.  And that would lead us to understand the entire Bible as not just being important, but the inerrant, infallible word of God.

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TOPIC 3–> ANSWERING CONTRADICTIONS

QUESTION 3: How do you explain all of the contradictions in the Bible (two creation accounts, OT “warlord” God vs. NT “loving” God)?

ANSWER 3: If the Bible is reliable and true, it should be internally consistent, and we should find that the Bible does not contradict itself. Apparent contradictions can be answered easily be keeping some guidelines such as the following in mind:

  • Ancient histories rarely claimed exact numbers, and symbolic numbers are sometimes used in relating symbolic events. Scripture is always true, but not always precise – at least where it doesn’t claim to be
  • First and second causes do not exclude one another (God parted the Red Sea with a wind)
  • Don’t hold the Bible to what it doesn’t claim (only Luke claims something like chronological accuracy – in 1:3)
  • Recognize that different accounts do not imply error (perhaps one woman saw two angels while the other saw just one) – remember to always read in context

There are some accounts where writers do describe similar things from different perspectives.  However, under close scrutiny, these passages are complementary, not contradictory.  When it comes to the God of the OT being  a God of judgment and the God of the NT being a God of grace, that would be a case of taking verses or accounts out of the larger biblical context. You cannot read God’s tender descriptions of his love for his people in the Prophets or the Pentateuch and then read Jesus’ descriptions of judgment and maintain that opinion. As an example, consider these passages:

Deut 30:1-6 II Chronicles 30:6 Nehemiah 1:9 Zechariah 1:3
Malachi 3:7 John 8:24 James 4:8

If there were gaping contractions that could not be easily, Christianity would have fallen apart and ceased to exist many years ago. It’s the experience of Christians that the further they explore God’s word and learn of him, the more they trust him. Ultimately our trust in the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible is based in Jesus—and his view of it—rather than my ability or inability to find or explain any supposed contradictions.

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TOPIC 4–> SCRIPTURE AND SCIENCE

QUESTION 4: In my opinion, the Bible directly conflicts with science and history on how things came into existence, the age of the Earth, and even if Earth is flat or round. Doesn’t that render it as a lie?

ANSWER 4: The Bible describes nature from a phenomenological perspective – that is the world of nature is described as it appears to the naked eye.  Furthermore, the scientific method is unable to examine any historical claim, since it can only comment on phenomenon which are observable and repeatable.

Actually, the Bible is one of the most historically accurate texts of antiquity. Over the last hundred years, the veracity and reliability of the Bible has been has vindicated again and again and again as more evidence has been brought to bear. Here’s one representative example: During the excavations of Jericho (1930s) [archeologist] Garstang found something so startling that a statement of what was found was prepared and signed by himself and two other members of the team.  In reference to these findings Garstang says: “As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: the walls [of Jericho] fell outwards so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city.”  Why so unusual?  Because the walls of cities do not fall outwards, they fall inwards.  And yet in Joshua 6:20 we read “. . . The wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city every man straight ahead, and they took the city.” (excerpt from Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell)

Archaeology does not prove the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, but no archaeological discovery has disproved the historical veracity and reliability of the text of the New or Old Testament.

RESOURCES
When Critics Ask by Norman Geisler
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell
A variety of books by F.F. Bruce
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl
Scripture: Unchanging Truth in a Changing World [HACM Sunday School Study]
Apologetics and Worldview, Lesson 10. Capitol Hill Core Seminars
http://www.knowwhatyoubelieve.com/believe/evidence/smallgroup/study_three.htm

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