Feb9TueFebruary 9, 2016
Why do you believe the Bible?
Isn’t the Bible just one among many sacred books in the world today?
How do you know the Bible is really true?
How do we know what books should be in the Bible?
These are questions that cannot be avoided. They deserve honest answers. But what are the answers?
Can you explain to someone why you believe the Bible? I don’t mean to your S.S. class or small group. I mean could you explain to someone who is not a Christian and does not believe in God, Jesus, Jonah – why you are convinced that everything the Bible says is true?
That’s not an easy question, is it?
What is more, as Christians we are not merely in the business of playing defense but we are actually in the business and on the mission of declaring to a sinful, rebellious world that the King has offered mercy and forgiveness through his own death and resurrection.
So how do you not only defend the faith but turn the tables and actually press the truth of the Bible against skepticism?
This is what we are told to be ready to do, right? 1 Peter 3:15 – give reasons for your faith!
Obviously I can’t lay it all out but it is my aim to give you some ammo…
How do we know that the 66 books in our Bible are the only inspired books? Who decided which books were truly inspired by God? The Roman Catholic Bible includes books that are not found in other Bibles (called the Apocrypha). How do we know that we as Protestants have the right books? Are our Bible’s lacking something? These questions are addressed by a study of the Scripture’s canon.
That is “canon” with only one “n.” It is not the same as the cannon you fire. But it is still a very powerful subject. It means a standard or measure. So “canon” describes the standard that books had to meet to be recognized as Scripture.
Now it is very important that we recognize church councils did not determine which books were inspired. They simply recognized what God had already determined and what they recognized was that the collection of 66 books is the complete authoritative Scriptures not to be added to or subtracted from.
To say the Scriptures are authoritative because the church says so is to get the cart before the horse. The Scriptures are authoritative because they are self-attesting. AS such, the Scriptures brought the church into existence, not vice versa. The Scriptures are not the product of the church. The church is the product of the teaching of the apostles and prophets. Ephesians 2:20. The church merely recognizes the canon. As J.I. Packer said, “The church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity by his Work of creation, and similarly he gave us the New Testament canon by inspiring the individual books that make it up.” Every book of the Bible was authoritative the moment it was written. It may have taken some time for the church to recognize various books as being authoritative, but they were authoritative. You see, inspiration determines canonicity. If a book was authoritative, it was so because God breathed it and made it so.
The early church applied several basic standards in recognizing whether a book was inspired:
The ultimate answer is we submit to the inspiration and authority of the OT because Jesus Christ affirmed it as God’s Word. And we submit to the inspiration and authority of the NT because Jesus Christ authorized His apostles to reveal His truth to His church. The short answer, then, is Jesus Christ. He determined the canon for us when He affirmed the OT and authorized the New.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus affirmed the Old Testament in its entirety (Matthew 5:17–18)—including its historical reliability (cf. Matthew 10:15; 19:3–5; 12:40; 24:38–39), prophetic accuracy (Matthew 26:54), sufficiency (Luke 16:31), unity (Luke 24:27, 44), inerrancy (Matthew 22:29;John 17:17), infallibility (John 10:35), and authority (Matthew 21:13, 16, 42).
Jesus clearly saw the Old Testament as the Word of God (Matt. 15:16; Mark 7:13; Luke 3:2; 5:1; etc.). This, of course, is in keeping with what the OT claimed for itself (cf. Psalm 12:5;Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 2:2); and is how the NT epistles view it (cf. Romans 3:2).
Jesus Christ also promised that He would give additional revelation to His church through his authorized representatives (the apostles). John 14:23-26; John 16:12-15.
So why these 66 books? Jesus Christ. He endorses the Old and makes provision for the New. Thus insofar as we have believed in Jesus Christ and submitted ourselves to his lordship, we must likewise view His authority as absolute.
So the simple conclusion in answer to why these 66 books? Who decided what should be in the Bible? The Lord did. No individual or group of people or institution decided which writings would be in the Bible. Each book of the Bible has its own story about how it came to be included in the Scriptures, but in each case God caused his people over time to recognize these writings as manifesting the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.
The church did not establish the canon. The Lord Himself established the canon. The church merely recognized and affirmed the canon.
What about the apocrypha?
The apocryphal books are 15 books written in the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew.
1) Jews never accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture
2) It never claims to be inspired. In fact, Maccabees denies he is a prophet!
3) It is never quoted as authoritative in Scriptures
4) It teaches false doctrine for example salvation by works in Tobit 1:29. Almsgiving, for example, is said to deliver from death
5) Matthew 23:35 teaches that the close of OT historical Scripture was the death of Zechariah (400 B.C.). This necessarily excludes any books written after Malachi and before the NT.
6) It was not until 1546 that the Catholic church officially recognized them
This is not to say the Apocrypha is of no value. Although not Scripture, they are books of considerable history.
Whole books have been written on each of these points, so I can only skim the surface. Consider:
As a professor of Sanskrit, Monier-Williams spent 42 years studying the sacred books of Eastern religions. He said that at first he was impressed by the flashes of truth he found scattered among these writings and began to think they shared the message of the Scriptures of Christianity, but to a lesser degree. After further study, however, he completely reversed his thinking, concluding that the main ideas were radically different. He said, “They all begin with some flashes of true light, end in utter darkness.” He said you could pile them all on the left side of a desk but place the Bible on the right side with a wide gap between them. This would illustrate the difference between the Bible and all other religious writings and the Bible’s uniqueness and superiority.”
Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder and president of Dallas Theological Seminary, observed, “The Bible is not such a book a man would write if he could, or could write if he would.”
From beginning to end the Bible focuses on God.
1 Chronicles 29:11
The God of the Bible, especially in his holiness, is contrary to sinful human beings and therefore is not a human invention. As one Christian apologist states, “The uncomfortable thing about the God of the Bible is that he so often cuts across our personal desires and wishes. He does not allow us to be selfish, and always confronts us with an uncompromisingly high standard. This is not the kind of God man crates when he sets out to make a god in his own image.”
The very nature of God is unique. Religions all across the world and all across time have believed in many gods but the Bible alone presents the unique God who is one God and three persons.
In all the writings of other religions there is no person like Jesus Christ. Born of a virgin, He was the eternal Son of God. He was creator of all, yet he went to the cross to die at the hands of his creatures. He was sinless. He never had to apologize or seek forgiveness. His teaching was authoritative. Other teachers claimed to teach the way of life they had found. Jesus claimed to BE the way of life.
Who would paint such a picture of people as we find in Scripture?
We are formed in God’s image yet our dignity is marred by sin, sin for which we are responsible. Sure the world we live in acknowledges that humans are flawed but they try to explain this by some lack of knowledge or some evolutionary vestige of animal aggression. No, the Bible says it is because we are wilfull, rebellious sinners.
The diverse means of salvation offered in the world’s religions all have one common concept – deliverance comes through human efforts. All non-biblical religions seeks to earn salvation by works. “Doing the best I can.”
Not so biblically! All glory in salvation belongs to God! Salvation is worked out by God’s love in such a way that completely preserves his holiness. Salvation is an act of God apart from our own works. Humans are totally lost, incapable of doing anything toward our salvation. We are entirely shut up to the grace of God. Unparalleled in all religious literature are these majestic words – Eph. 2:8-9.
People have always sought to know the events of the future. Diviners, astrologers, psychics, and fortunetellers are commonly sought after (though I would still like to know why psychics and fortunetellers have to ask what your name is). But there is nothing in comparison with the prophecies of Scripture. It contains numerous prophecies about nations, peoples, cities, and individuals, some of which looked hundreds and even thousands of years into the future. And in point of fact the Bible alone places upon itself a test – the accurate fulfillment of Scripture – Deut. 18:20-22
Prominent among the prophetic themes of the Bible are the prophecies relating to the nation of Israel. A few of these, prophesied in some cases hundreds of years before the fact, include oppression in Egypt for four hundred years, kings from Judah, exile because of unbelief, and continued preservation and final restoration.
There are many prophecies about Gentiles also. The Bible prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, the fall of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Daniel 11 reads like a history of the 300 years that followed his lifetime. Ezekiel 26 predicted that the city of Tyre would be destroyed and the ruins scraped off and dumped into the sea. Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled the first part of the prophecy when he destroyed the city in 573 B.C. But for 250 years the city was not dumped into the sea. Then Alexander the Great came along in 322 B.C. and used the ruins of the city to build a causeway out to an offshore island where the people had fled, thus fulfilling Ezekiel’s prediction that the stones and timbers of Tyre would be laid in the sea.
Most significant is the detailed prophecies pertaining to the Messiah, which are incredible apart from divine inspiration. From the details of the place of His birth in insignificant Bethlehem, to his riding on a donkey, to the casting of lots for His clothing at the foot of the cross, the events of his life were foretold hundreds of years before they occurred.
Daniel Rose, once the head of the Jewish Department of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, told a Jewish friend one day, "I want to read you a portion of the Bible, and when I am finished I want you to tell me from what part of it I have been reading." Rose then read from Isaiah 52-53. When he finished, he closed the book and asked his Jewish friend to tell him from what portion of the Bible he had read. The man replied without hesitation, "The New Testament." Rose then asked, "To whom does the passage refer?" "To Jesus of Nazareth," his friend replied. Then Rose showed his friend that he had been reading from the OT prophecy of Isaiah. This prophecy was so clear that even one who did not at the time believe in Jesus as the Messiah easily recognized this prophecy as fulfilled in Him.
Oxford University scholar H.P. Liddon noted that the OT has 332 distinct prophecies that were literally fulfilled in Christ. The probability of that number of predictions concerning one single individual coming true has been calculated as 1 out of 83 billion.
Josh Mcdowell, a popular Christian speaker on university campuses, tells the story of encountering a representative of the Great Books of the Western World. This set includes the writings of many of the outstanding thinkers who shaped Western civilization, beginning with ancient Greek philosophers and continuing to recent times. Referring to these books, Josh challenged the representative to take just ten of the authors, all from the same walk of life, the same time period, the same place, the same language, and pose of them on question, “Would they agree in their views?” The gentleman paused for a moment and then replied, “No! You would have a conglomeration.”
When you compare this diversity of human thought by only ten authors with the unity found in the Bible, the evidence for its supernaturalness is overwhelming. The Bible consists of the writings of more than forty people. From all walks of life – including kings, herdsmen, poets, philosophers, statesmen, fishermen, priests and prophets – these people wrote over a time span of more than fifteen hundred years. They lived in diverse cultures and wrote in a variety of literary styles. But the message of the Bible is one great drama in which all the parts fit together.
From beginning to end the Bible presents the unfolding of God’s great purpose for the human race that is worked out through his Son. Jesus himself said that the Scriptures bear witness of Him. Christ and His work form the cord that ties all of Scripture together.
What scheme of humanity could span such vast time periods, geographic locations, and linguistic barriers to come together in a cohesive unity that points to Jesus Christ as the savior of the world (John 4:42)? Sure, when one person writes a book and makes claims of divinity, it’s easy to remain unified, but when a book spans such a vast time period and possesses shared human authorship while remaining unified is abnormal to say the least.
No book in human history has been preserved as well as the Bible. The preservation of its text alone is amazing, especially when we consider that it was copied without the benefit of printing presses. No ancient manuscript has been preserved in the way the Jews preserved the Old Testament writings. Special classes of men kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word, and paragraph in order to preserve and transmit these documents faithfully. In fact, the text of the Bible is more sure today than the text of Shakespeare’s plays.
When compared to other books, the simple fact that the Bible has survived and continues to be the most popular book in the world after thousands of years is unique. But this is doubly so when we realize that since it was written, many people have attempted to destroy it. Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, threw the scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecy into a fire. But God simply had his prophet write the same words again with additional material.
In the persecution of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century B.C., the Pentateuch was torn up and burned. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant…was condemned to death by the decree of the king.”
In the great persecution of the church in A.D. 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian was determined to destroy the Scriptures. Any copy of the Bible that was found was burned. Thousands of believers and their families were matyred for possessing the portions of the Word of God. This killing and destruction of the Scriptures went on for two years, after which a victory column was erected over the ashes of a Bible with words that indicated that the Bible is “Extinct.” But only twenty year later the emperor Constantine proclaimed the Bible the infallible judge of truth.
The story of a patient in the American hospital in Turkey about the middle of the twentieth century depicts the amazing unstoppable nature of the Word of God. When he was dismissed from the hospital, he took the Bible someone had given him back to his town and proudly displayed it to his friends. A muslim teacher snatched it from him, tore out its pages, and threw them into the street. The young man was afraid to pick them back up. But a passing grocer did and used the pages for wrapping paper. Before long they scattered all over town. His customers read the pages and returned for more. In a few days the entire Bible was distributed to interested readers. When a Bible colporteur came to the town sometime later he was surprised to find one hundred persons eager to buy the Bible. History demonstrates again and again the truth of God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11.
French Humanist Voltaire (1694-1778) boastfully proclaimed, “Fifty years from now the world will hear no more of the Bible.” Yet in the year of his boast the British Museum purchased a manuscript of the Greek New Testament from the Russian government for $500,000, while a first edition of Voltaire’s book was selling for eight cents a copy! Fifty years after the death of Voltaire, Bibles were being printed by the Geneva Bible Society in the very house where Voltaire had lived and on his own printing presses!
Atheist Thomas Paine (1737-1809) predicted that the Bible would soon be out of print. “When I get through,” he announced, “there will not be five Bible left in America.” Many individuals now own that number themselves.
In fact, the NT is by far the most remarkably preserved text of the ancient world, both in terms of the number of existing manuscripts as well as the temporal proximity between the earliest manuscripts and the original they represent.
There are roughly 6000 existing manuscripts containing all or part of the Greek NT, as well as more than 10,000 manuscripts in Latin, and more than 1,000 in other languages.
Furthermore, the earliest manuscript of the New Testament is only one generation after the originals were written, and many are within four centuries of the originals.
By way of comparison, only ten manuscripts of Caesar’s Gallic Wars exist, the earliest dating 900 years after Caesar; only eight manuscripts of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War exist, the earliest dating 1,300 years after Thucydides; only eight manuscripts of Herodotus’ History exist, the earliest dating 1,300 years after Herodotus; and only two manuscripts of Tacitus’ Histories and Annals exist, the earlier one dating 700 years after Tacitus. As W. Edward Glenny notes, “the number and early date of the NT manuscripts give us great confidence that God’s Word has been preserved in these documents.”
Furthermore, of the 400,000 variants in the existing manuscripts (16 variants per manuscripts), it is estimated that only 1-2% substantially affect the meaning of the text because the other 98% consists of insignificant matters like spelling, word order, differences in style, or confusion concerning synonyms.” So most of the variants are utterly uninteresting and boring!
Christian scholars have been exceedingly careful to document—in actual books that you can buy, if you’re willing to shell out the money—the most significant variants along with an analysis of each one. Of course you’re free to disagree with any one of the conclusions those scholars reach; Christians have fun arguing about this kind of thing all the time, believe it or not. But the point is that, again, there’s no conspiracy to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Where there are variants to be reckoned with, Christians are wide open about that fact, precisely because we believe that those variants—and the reasons behind why they exist in the first place—can help us determine to a decisively high degree of probability what the original documents of the New Testament actually said
What is more, no major doctrine of the Christian faith is affected by a textual variance.
Do you see the point? The vast number of existing copies actually allows us to reason with astounding accuracy what the NT writers actually wrote!
Amazing, isn’t it? It’s almost as if there is a sovereign God who not only inspired the text of Scripture but also providentially oversaw its preservation in such a way that the Bible we possess today is reliable.
1 Peter 1:24-25
No book compares with the influence of the Bible in human history. It has impacted every realm of society – historical, judicial, legislative, social, moral. McAfee writes, “If every Bible in any considerable city were destroyed the Book could be restored in all its essential parts from the quotations on the shelves of the city public library.
There have been many great books that have helped us understand better the world in which live but none has helped to change individuals like the Bible. Many have pointed out that despite the explosion of knowledge in the past century, we seem less capable than ever before of loving one another and finding peace. The endless parade of wars and revolutions is evidence that human learning alone does not change the heart.
But more important than any impact that the Bible may have had in history past is its power to bring freedom from the power of sin. The Bible has power to bring spiritual life. The Bible has the unique ability to grip the human soul at its deepest level.
So the most important answer to how we know the Bible is God’s Word is not because we have lots of old manuscripts but it is the fact that when we read the Bible ourselves, it begins to win our trust. It is no ordinary book. It has an authority all on its own. The Bible shows itself to be the Word of God to those who read it. By its own power and authority it is able to convince and convert sinners and comfort and build up believers unto salvation. So how do we know? The Scriptures alone are able fully to persuade.
The 1689 London Baptist Confession, in Article 1.4 on the Scriptures states, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God its Author (Who is Truth itself). Therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.” Throughout time, earthly kings have assaulted the Bible, skeptics have attacked the Bible, nations have rejected the Bible, heretics have perverted the Bible, atheists have ignored the Bible, and agnostics have avoided the Bible. However, the Bible remains true, trustworthy, and authoritative. The Bible reigns as king in the library of human history. From internal and intrinsic evidences to archeological discoveries and tangible manuscripts, the Bible continues to be validated as the Word of the living God. The prophet Isaiah was right when he wrote these famous words, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).