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I grew up in a household where the Bible was not read. I can’t recall that my father ever referred to it. My mother admired the literary qualities of the King James version, and sometimes quoted a phrase from it as one would quote from Shakespeare or Emerson, but that was about all. My own love of, and respect for, Scripture has come to me late in life.
My father was a man of great personal integrity and honesty. He considered himself an atheist. By that I think he meant that he tried to deal only with what he regarded as facts—things that could be measured or demonstrated scientifically, or dollars and cents business and economic data. For him, anything else either did not exist; or he couldn’t handle it, and so he generally tried to ignore it. In Paul’s terminology, my father considered only what is seen, and tried to deny or ignore the existence of the unseen things. (See 2 Corinthians 4:18.)
In the early 1940s, I came to Washington, D.C. as a New Deal lawyer. I believed in man’s capacity to solve any problem by the correct application of enough intellect, energy and money. I have since learned better. We became active in the Unitarian Church, which, as I experienced it, believed in man’s ability to perfect himself by his own efforts. Later my wife and I became members of a New Age organization.
At age 66 I decided that the New Age teachings and the Bible were inconsistent with each other, and I decided to trust the Bible and to take it at face value. Since then, under various pastors and professors, I have read and studied the Bible quite a bit. The more I read it, the more amazed I am at how it all fits together. I am also amazed at how I can keep coming back to the same passages and find new material and new insight in them.
As I have accepted the Bible as true, and tried to apply its principles in my life, I keep being impressed with the fact that it works. The Bible is a very practical book. Its principles work. If you let it change you, it will, and the change is for good. If you live by it, you will find more peace and joy and confidence in your life. In the years since I first decided to accept Scripture as true and as a sure guide for my life, I have never regretted that decision, and I keep being confirmed in its rightness.
When, in 1983, I decided to put my faith in the Bible, and in the God it reveals, I felt that these words of Psalm 40 had a special meaning for me:
Scripture is the rock, the solid foundation, the firm place on which I can stand. When everything around me seems like quicksand, Scripture stands solid and secure. For me, Scripture has become the touchstone of truth, by which I evaluate everything else.
Scripture can only become such a rock, such a touchstone, if we accept its authority as the word of God. If we accept the Bible as authoritative, then our faith rests on revelation from God. If we do not accept the Bible as authoritative, then our faith rests only on what we choose to believe, and has no greater claim to authority than does any other human philosophy or belief system. In this chapter, I want to indicate why I have come to believe that we should accept the Bible as authoritative.
Much has been written about Scripture and its authority. I have drawn on some of this literature. But perhaps what I can best contribute is some personal sense of what the Bible has come to mean to me.
Before I go further, I need to say something about Bible translations. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) and in Greek (New Testament). There are a number of good English translations available, which differ somewhat in flavor, but almost never, so far as I have found, in basic meaning. Among the good ones are the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New American Standard Version (NASB) and the New International Version (NIV). The Living Bible is easy to read, and I think is basically sound. However, it is not a translation, but a paraphrase; it seeks to give what its editors believe is the basic meaning of the Bible without necessarily adhering to the text. I am reliably informed that the New Living Translation (NLT) is a true translation. Some people use the Amplified Bible, which gives a number of alternative translations of significant words and phrases.
In Standing Firm in the Faith I have quoted from the NKJV, the NIV and the KJV, partly for reasons of copyright permission, and partly because their flavor is appropriate to the point I am making. Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.
There are also books, claiming to be translations or paraphrases, which depart seriously from the original text. Some of them, I think, can fairly be called “counterfeit Bibles.” They can do great harm because they teach falsity. One, that I have seen, deletes parts of what Scripture says and substitutes New Age or other non-Christian concepts and phraseology. Recently a so-called translation appeared in England, which was much praised by some. Examination of part of the text shows that it simply omits, or totally rewrites, significant parts of Scripture. It is wise to be cautious, and consult other mature Christians, in choosing a Bible translation. The fact that a translation or version is widely used does not guarantee its reliability. If we are thoroughly grounded in the true texts of Scripture, we should be able to reject the false. We need to be alert to the warning signals our spirit will give us when we encounter something false. With so many dependable translations available, why take a chance on something questionable?
The good translations came to us at a cost. Five or six centuries ago, quite a few people, such as William Tyndale, were burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English or other contemporary languages. Others were burned for possessing such translations.
Many English-speaking Protestants have grown up with the King James Version, which has a beauty and an inspiration all its own. But the King James Version uses an English which is not spoken today, and which is hard for many today to understand. I prefer to use a modern translation, because it makes it easier for me to apply the words of Scripture to my own life. I hope that those who believe in using only the King James Version will be able to accept the Biblical truth in Standing Firm in the Faith.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SCRIPTURE
I start this book with three chapters about Scripture, because I believe that our acceptance of Scripture on its own terms—as the revealed, authoritative word of God—is basic to our Christian life and basic to everything else I have to say.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22 NIV). James is telling us that, if we do not live by the words of Scripture, we deceive ourselves. We are not being internally honest. We say one thing and do something different. We pretend to be one thing and are something else. We are double-minded, and hence ineffectual.
We also deceive ourselves if we accept some of Scripture as true and reject other parts of it. When we do that, it is not Scripture that we put our faith in; it is our own, fallible human judgment.
If we are to live by the words of Scripture, we need to believe that they are true. Not just true as a matter of human opinion. Not just true for some times and situations. But true. True for all times and for all situations.
As I shall show in a moment, Scripture declares itself to be the revealed word of God. It declares itself to be authoritative. It declares itself to be true for all time. If we are to use Scripture at all, should we not accept it on its own terms? If we accept it on its own terms, it will change our lives. If we accept it on its own terms, it will give us a sure guide for most situations that we encounter in our lives. But we have to accept it on its own terms.
Jesus Christ said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3). God’s words, as revealed in Scripture, are our spiritual food. They are just as necessary to us as the physical food we eat. Living in a world in which we are assaulted daily by so much that is ungodly, we urgently need the words of Scripture if we would remain committed to God.
We need to read and study Scripture, to understand it correctly, to believe it with our hearts and not just our minds, and then to live by it.
THE BIBLE IS THE REVEALED WORD OF GOD
Physically, the Bible is a collection of 66 books, written by some 42 different human authors over a period of about 1500 years. But actually it has a single author. The entire Bible is the word of God. It declares this many times over. This is an amazing assertion, but I believe it is true. We cannot get much benefit from the Bible unless we are willing to accept it as the word of God.
The Christian Bible has two basic divisions, which we call the Old Testament and the New Testament. I believe they are a seamless web. The Old Testament points to the New; the New Testament fulfills the Old. Both are inspired by the same author, who does not change. Everything I say in this chapter applies to both.
The Bible is a unique book. There is no other book like it. There is no other book that has so impacted so many lives. There is no other book that has had such an impact on the world’s history.8
All Scripture Is Inspired by God
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Greek word, theopneustos (from theos, “God” and pneuma, “breath” or “spirit”) literally means “God-breathed” or “God-spirited.” Everything in Scripture is breathed, or inspired, by God. Everything. Romans 3:2 says that the Jews, to whom the Old Testament Scriptures were given, had been entrusted with “the oracles [words] of God.”
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). What an amazing statement! God has spoken to men and women. The Bible is a record of words that God has spoken.
Paul commended the people of Thessalonica because, “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). (Also see Galatians 1:11-12.)
We find many specific examples that confirm these general statements.
Much of what we find in the Old Testament prophetic books is the direct words of God, spoken in the first person. For example, God said to Jeremiah, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9). “Speak to them all that I command you” (Jeremiah 1:17). Isaiah declares, “Thus saith the Lord GOD” (Isaiah 28:16 KJV). (Also see Isaiah 42:5.) Amos says much the same (Amos 1:3, 6, 11,13, 2:1, 4, 6). The prophetic books are full of such statements. Much of Exodus and Deuteronomy consists of the direct words of God which were spoken to Moses and which Moses delivered to the people. (See, for example, Exodus 20:1; Deuteronomy 6:1.) I could give many further examples. The prophets also say that their predecessors spoke directly from God. Zechariah spoke of “the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets” (Zechariah 7:12). Over and over, God rebukes the Israelites for not listening to the words he sent by his prophets. (See, for example, 2 Kings 17:13; Nehemiah 9:30.) Summarizing all this, Peter wrote, “…prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 NIV).
God also told his prophets to write down the words he spoke to them. He told Jeremiah to write on a scroll all the words God had spoken to him (Jeremiah 36:2). When the King burned that scroll, God told Jeremiah to write another scroll (Jeremiah 36:28). Moses wrote “the words of this law in a book” (Deuteronomy 31:24). “This law” refers, I believe, to all the words God spoke to Moses. God told Joshua to meditate day and night on “this Book of the Law” (Joshua 1:8).
David, who wrote many of the Psalms, said that he wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). Jesus said that David spoke by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 22:43). Peter said, “You [God] spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David…” (Acts 4:25 NIV). (Also see Acts 1:16.)
Joshua 1:2-9, 3:7-8; 7:10-15, and 24:2-13 record the very words of God. “For the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel” through his word (1 Samuel 3:21). (Also see 1 Samuel 8:7-9, 22.) Job, chapters 38-41, record the words of God spoken to Job. 2 Chronicles 7:12-22 record the words which God spoke to Solomon one night, words of promise and warning to the nation of Israel. 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 (KJV) gives a prophecy, “Thus saith the Lord unto you,” by the prophet Jahaziel, giving hope, encouragement and a battle strategy to the kingdom of Judah. Genesis records many direct words of God, spoken to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are many other such examples.
Jesus said that the words he spoke (which are recorded in Scripture) were the very words of God. “I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him [God]” (John 8:26). “I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak… just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:49-50). “I have given to them the words which you [God] have given Me” (John 17:8).
Should we then say that these particular examples, and the many similar examples that could be given, are the words of God, while the rest of Scripture is not? No. The basic principle is that all scripture is inspired by God. All of it is what God wanted.
This is very important. It means that those who take the Bible as literature, or as human teachings or human historical accounts, are not taking it according to its own terms. It means that the whole Bible is inspired by God, breathed out by God, and we need to accept it on that basis.
The difference is vitally important. If the Bible is just a human book, then we are free to take what we like out of it and reject the rest. But if it is the word of God, then we must accept it all. If it is a human work, we can judge it. If it is the word of God, it judges us.
I point out in the next chapter that the Bible has great power in our lives. It can have this power only if we submit to it and treat it as authoritative. We should take the Bible on its own terms.
Did God Actually Speak to People?
Some may ask, “Did God really speak to the people who wrote the Bible? Did he give them his exact words, as many of the passages cited above say? How can this be?”
The question arises because such things are outside of our personal experience. In addition, we may have been exposed to some “flaky” people who claimed to hear from God, but obviously didn’t. But Scripture records many cases in which God has spoken directly to certain individuals, and even carried on fairly extended conversations with them. Following are a few examples of such conversations. Adam (Genesis 3:8-19); Noah (Genesis 6:13-7:4; 9:1-17); Abraham (Genesis 15:1-9; chapter 18); Moses (Exodus 3:1-4:17); Isaiah (chapter 6); Paul and Ananias (Acts 9:4-16); Peter (Acts 10:13-20).
The record of Scripture is very clear that God does talk to people. God “spoke,” he has “spoken” (Hebrews 1:1-2), and men have recorded his words. He has done so many times. To those who would still say, “But he can’t do this,” I simply reply that Scripture tells us that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). That is the very nature of God. He is the one for whom nothing is impossible. (See Chapter 5.)
On its own internal evidence, I think we must conclude that all Scripture is inspired by God. All of it is God’s book, given in the words God wanted, to achieve God’s purposes.
If we are to use the Bible, we need to take it on its own terms. It will not be of much benefit to us unless we take it on its own terms.
JESUS AND THE APOSTLES TREATED
The Old Testament Scriptures are quoted or referred to over 1,000 times in the New Testament. Always they are treated as authoritative.
Jesus spoke of his life on earth as the fulfillment of Scripture. He said that he had come “to fulfill” the Law and the Prophets—that is, the Old Testament Scriptures (Matthew 5:17). At the beginning of his ministry he said, “The time is fulfilled” (Mark 1:15). He read in the synagogue from Isaiah 61:1-2 and then said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). He several times spoke of events in his life as the fulfillment of Scripture. (See Mark 14:49; John 13:18, 17:12.) He said of his parables, “In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled” (Matthew 13:14). He said that the Scriptures “testify of me” (John 5:39).
When Jesus was arrested shortly before his Crucifixion, Peter drew his sword and struck the High Priest’s servant. Jesus said, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Matthew 26:53-54). (Also see Luke 24:46.) Jesus was so convinced that the Scriptures must be fulfilled that he deliberately went to an agonizing death. After his Resurrection, while walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “…explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NIV). Later he said to the disciples, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).
Jesus resisted the devil’s temptation by quoting Scripture, saying, “it is written” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). He told some Sadducees, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). He often referred to Scripture in his discussions and teachings. (See, for example, Matthew 26:31; Mark 12:10; Matthew 19:4, 18, 21:16, 42.) And always it is with the assumption that Scripture is true and authoritative. He said that God’s “word is truth” (John 17:17)
The apostles similarly treated Scripture as authoritative. Peter quoted Psalms to show that it was necessary to choose one to take Judas’ place among the twelve disciples (Acts 1:20-22). On the Day of Pentecost he said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). Repeatedly he quoted from Scripture. (See, for example, Acts 2:25-28, 34-35; 4:11, 25-26.) The gospel writers repeatedly point out how events in Jesus’ life are the fulfillment of prophecies in Scripture. The epistles repeatedly quote Scripture as authoritative. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul summarizes the gospel he has taught, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
If Jesus and the apostles treated Scripture as authoritative, should not we?
SCRIPTURE IS TRUTH THAT ENDURES FOREVER
Scripture declares that God’s word is true. God’s word is truth (John 17:17). It is “the word of truth” (Ephesians 1:13). (Also see Psalm 119:43; 2 Corinthians 6:7; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:18.) “The entirety of your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160).
Scripture says that its truth endures forever. “Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). “The word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The word of God, as recorded in Scripture, is true eternally. It is not, as some today assert, just for a particular time and a particular group of people. It declares that it is true for all time, for all people, and for all situations. It is more lasting then the physical universe. God does not change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17) and his truth does not change.
Should we not accept the Bible at face value on this, also?
My wife has said it well.
My experience has been that when I accept Scripture as authoritative, and seek to do what is says, it works. It works in my life. It works in the lives of those around me. It leads to a better, richer, more satisfying life. To me this is one of the most compelling reasons for accepting its authority.
I am absolutely convinced of this in my own life. Scripture says that, after we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we should be transformed. (See Chapter 14.) Scripture is the principal agent for that transformation. I have seen this transformation happening in my own life, and in the lives of other Christians around me. It is real. It is one of the best things that has happened in my life. Through Scripture I have found hope, joy, peace and fulfillment that I could not have found in any other way. I simply don’t see how people can get along without it!
In a sense, the rest of this book can be seen as a demonstration of the fact that Scripture works. I have taken Scriptural principles that apply to many of the situations we find ourselves in as humans, and I believe I have shown that they make practical sense. That, at least, has been my purpose.
I do want to deal with one misconception that some people have. Many tend to see Scripture as a bunch of rules—of “dos” and “don’ts”—which limit their freedom. My experience has been the opposite. I have found that living by Scriptural principles has freed me up from a great many mindsets, preconceptions, and attitudes that were limiting me and keeping me from functioning as God intended me to. Jesus promised this. He said, “If you abide in My word [Scripture], you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). I have found this promise fulfilled often in my life.
THREE AREAS IN WHICH SOME FIND PROBLEMS
Before I go any further, I want to deal with three areas which may make it difficult for some to accept the Bible as true.
Seventeen books of the Old Testament are referred to as prophetic books. Prophecy is simply God speaking through a human. “Thus saith the LORD” (Amos 1:3 KJV). Often these words of God are saying how God sees what is going on in the world. Sometimes they include predictions of future events.
Prophecy in the Old Testament is not limited to these 17 books. Moses is said to have been the greatest prophet (Deuteronomy 34:10) and the book of Deuteronomy begins with these words, “Moses spoke to the children of Israel according to all that the LORD had given him as commandments to them” (Deuteronomy 1:3). There are many other prophecies in the Old Testament outside the 17 prophetic books. (See, for example, 2 Samuel 2:4-16, 12:7-12; 1 Kings 13:1-6, 22:17-28; 2 Chronicles 20:15-17.)
There are a number of predictive prophecies in the New Testament. Jesus, who referred to himself as a “prophet” (Matthew 13:57), gave a tremendous end-time prophecy (a prophecy of what would occur at his Second Coming) recorded in Matthew, chapter 24. Jesus gave a number of other predictive prophecies. He frequently prophesied his own crucifixion and resurrection (for example, see Matthew 16:21), and his second coming (Matthew 25:31, 26:64; Luke 17:24-25). He said that he would judge all men. (See Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:28-30; Matthew 13:41.) He said that he would be seated at the right hand of God (Matthew 26:64). He said that he would send the Holy Spirit to dwell in us (John 14:15-18). (Also see Acts 1:8.) He said that heaven and earth would pass away (Matthew 24:35). He said that the kingdom of God would be taken away from the Jewish religious leaders and given to a people that will bring forth its fruits (Matthew 21:43). (Also see Matthew 8:11-12.) He prophesied that his disciples would all fall away and that Peter would deny him three times (Matthew 26:31). He said that the disciples would be arrested and flogged (whipped or beaten) and brought before governors and kings (Acts 5:40-41). He prophesied about the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Mark 14:9).
Both Paul and Peter gave predictive prophecies. (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-2:12; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 2 Peter 3:10-13.) The Book of Revelation is a “prophecy” (Revelation 1:3, 22:18), a vision of “things which must take place after this” (Revelation 4:1).
As I have already noted, both Jesus and the gospel writers repeatedly spoke of aspects of Jesus’ life as the fulfillment of prophecy.
Some have trouble with these passages of Scripture because they do not believe future events can be predicted. My answer is, very simply, if all things are possible with God, why cannot God give his chosen prophets advance knowledge of things that are going to happen? This is exactly what he says he does. God declares “the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10). “I have declared the former things from the beginning; They went forth from My mouth, and I caused them to hear it. Suddenly I did them, and they came to pass” (Isaiah 48:3). Jesus warned his disciples of what would happen in the end times, and said, “See, I have told you beforehand” (Matthew 24:25). God says, “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Should we not believe him?
Scripture records a great many predictive prophecies that have been fulfilled. I shall mention only three.
Some critics who cannot accept the idea of predictive prophecy have assumed that these writings must have been written after the date of the event prophesied. For example, they ascribe quite late dates for the second half of Isaiah and for Daniel. There are three major problems with this.
Miracles and the Supernatural
The Bible is full of miracles and supernatural events. There are miraculous healings by Jesus, by his disciples, and by Elijah and Elisha. People are raised from the dead. There is multiplication of food, calming of a storm, walking on water, and much else. There are crossings, dry shod, of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. Three young men were thrown into a very hot furnace and not burned. Daniel was thrown into a den of lions and not harmed. At Elijah’s command, there was no rain or dew in Israel for 3½ years. At Moses’ command, many plagues came upon Egypt. At Joshua’s command, the sun stood still for a day.
There are miraculous victories in battle: the walls of Jericho falling, Gideon’s army of 300 defeating many thousands, Jehoshaphat defeating a much larger army without even having to fight, an angel striking 185,000 Assyrians dead and saving Jerusalem from attack.
There are appearances of angels, and casting out of demons.
There are even more amazing things than these. At God’s command, the physical universe was created. God caused a flood that destroyed the whole world. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Jesus, Elijah and Enoch were taken up bodily into heaven.
How can anyone believe that such things actually occurred? And if they did not occur, why should anyone believe the Bible? How can it be said to have been inspired of God if it tells of things that are simply not credible?
To our western, scientific/materialist minds, the question may seem unanswerable. But I have no problem with it. I have no problem with accepting all of these supernatural things as having actually happened.
If God is God, then he is all-powerful. That’s what it means to be God. It’s part of his nature. He is God Almighty, as Scripture repeatedly says.
If he is all-powerful, then he can do anything. This is exactly what Scripture tells us. God “can do everything” (Job 42:2). “With God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14). God’s power is “…incomparably great…” (Ephesians 1:19 NIV). “‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25 NIV).
Scripture says that God is above everything. God said, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me” (Isaiah 46:8). Jesus Christ (who is God, see Chapter 6) is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21 NIV). God is not limited by the “laws of nature” or anything else. His power and authority have no limits.
This may be hard for our modern Western minds to accept. But it is what God’s word tells us over and over. If we can once really accept it, then there should be no difficulty accepting the Bible at face value when it tells of supernatural events.
Some will say, “Does this mean that God can violate the laws of nature?” I think the question has a faulty premise. What we call “the laws of nature” are not laws at all. They are the best efforts of scientists to describe what God has created and to predict how it will function. Scientists have done a good job of this, and their descriptions and predictions usually work. But their descriptions and predictions are necessarily incomplete because they have no tools with which to describe God or to predict how he will act. God is not limited by the descriptions men have formulated. He is not limited by man-made “laws.” Much as we may admire science, the human scientists have no power or authority to tell God what he can or cannot do.
Consider the fact that “the laws of nature” change from time to time. It used to be said that matter cannot be destroyed. Now it is said that matter can be converted into energy and vice versa. It used to be said that one chemical element could not change into another. With the discovery of radioactivity, we know they can. It used to be said that everything operated by a principle of continuity. Now many scientists believe there was a discontinuous creative event, a “big bang,” that got everything started. Etc. Does this mean that the “laws of nature” have changed? Does “nature” operate differently than it used to? Of course not. It merely means that scientific descriptions have become more nearly accurate.
Someone once commented to a scientist that “the Bible is not a science textbook.” To which he responded, “I know. I have written several science textbooks and they all have to be revised every few years.”
When God does a miracle, he is not acting outside of, or contrary to, the “laws” of the universe. He is merely acting outside the comprehension, and sphere of activity, of some scientists.
As a lawyer, I understand that any laws or rules have validity only to the extent that those issuing them had authority to issue them. An Act of Congress is binding and enforceable because Congress has, by the U.S. Constitution, been granted authority to legislate. If an Act of Congress deals with something outside the authority delegated to Congress, the courts will (or should) declare it unenforceable. So, I ask, who has given scientists, individually or collectively, the authority to declare what God can or cannot do? Certainly not God, for his Scripture declares, “…who are you, O man, to talk back to God?…” (Romans 9:20 NIV). (Also see Isaiah 29:4, 45:9.) When looked at in this light, I suggest that for scientists, individually or collectively, to think that they can tell God what he can or cannot do, is an astonishing act of presumption.
There have been some who, in an effort to make the Bible more acceptable to our Western scientific mindset, have sought to remove the miracles, the supernatural events, from the Bible. Sometimes they try to explain them in naturalistic terms—which are often harder to accept than the Biblical, supernatural, explanations. Sometimes they assert that these passages are not authentic, because they say something that the critic is not willing to accept. The effort is bound to fail. God, by definition, is supernatural. To take the supernatural out of the Bible is to take God out of the Bible. Then it is no longer the Bible—it is no longer the record of God’s words and actions; and it has no greater claim to authority or truth than any other human writing.
Does Science Contradict the Bible?
Much has been written about this. I can only suggest a little perspective.
When we consider this question, we need to consider the character and function of both the Bible and scientific knowledge.
The Bible does not purport to be a scientific textbook. For example, when Psalm 19 speaks of the sun as rising at one end of the heavens and making his circuit to the other, this is a poem, describing in poetic imagery how it appears to men. Actually, it is expressing much the same metaphor as we use today, in our newspapers and almanacs, when we speak of “sunrise” and “sunset.” Quite a bit of the Bible is in the form of poetry, and no one should expect poetry to be scientifically precise. That is not its function.
On the other hand, scientists cannot really tell us about first causes. They can describe what they see now. They may be able to make some inferences as to how such phenomena might have occurred. But they cannot tell with certainty what actually occurred.
Today, the great conflict is over the issue of creation vs. evolution. There the Bible is very clear. It says that God created all the physical universe. The fact that he created it is basic to many other things that the Bible says. If we are to take the Bible at face value, we must accept its statements that God is the Creator of all things.
Does science contradict those statements? I don’t think so. The theory of evolution denies that there was an intelligent Creator, but that is a theory and not an established fact. Scientists have taken a large body of observed facts, and tried to come up with an explanation for them. This is part of the job of scientists, but we need to distinguish sharply between what is proven fact and what is unproven theory. Some scientific theories have been proven. Repeated experiments or engineering applications have been conducted which consistently confirm these theories, so that they can be regarded as established fact, at least until a new theory is developed. But evolution is not like that. No one has ever seen it happen. No one can devise an experiment or application to cause it to happen. There is no way to verify it experimentally or practically. It is simply a set of logical inferences from the observed facts. And there are respected scientists who, on the basis of strict scientific analysis, with no reference to the Bible or any religious belief, find major flaws with the theory.
The real conflict, I believe, is between two religious viewpoints. On the one hand, we have Christianity (and Judaism), which assert that God created the physical universe, and that man, God’s creation, is accountable to God for his actions and decisions. On the other hand, we have secular humanism (which the U.S. Supreme Court has declared to be a religion). Secular humanism denies that there is any Creator or God. It asserts that man is the measure of all things, that the physical universe came about by accident, and that there is no higher power to whom man is accountable. I suggest that the main body of evolutionists today have started with the premise that God either does not exist or is irrelevant. Having made this assumption, they then tried to develop a theory consistent with that premise to fit the known facts. This is legitimate; it is the way science works. But should we not also try starting with the premise that God created the universe and see whether the known facts fit that premise? Some well-qualified scientists have done this, with considerable success.
My own sense is that purely scientific reasoning and analysis will never “prove” or “disprove” either creation or evolution. The issue is basically not a scientific one but a religious one.
THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE BIBLE
Much has been written about the authenticity of the Bible.9 There has been an enormous literature of so-called “higher criticism,” which often questions the authorship of various books of the Bible, the validity of various portions of the text, etc. Indeed, there is a myth, that is fairly widely current in the news media and elsewhere, that all “scholars” question or discredit the Bible, while only ignorant or superstitious people accept it as true. Actually, there are many well-qualified Bible scholars whose study has convinced them that the Bible is true and authentic, and who document that conclusion impressively, not only with evidence from the Bible, but with evidence from history, archeology and other branches of knowledge.
In the interest of brevity, I shall just give a few highlights on this issue of authenticity.
The Reliability of the Texts
For the New Testament, we have a great many more manuscripts, dating far closer to the time of the original composition, than for any other ancient writing. I can only give a few highlights. There are in existence today over 5,600 Greek manuscript texts of part or all of the New Testament, as well as almost 20,000 manuscripts of early translations into Latin and other languages. One of the fragments dates back to within 50 years of the date of composition of the writing. There are a number of others, including complete texts of some of the gospels, dating back to 200 A.D. or earlier. There are also a very large number of quotations from the New Testament in early Christian writings, quite a few of which date back to the First and Second centuries A.D. We have almost complete texts of the New Testament dating back to 350 and 400 A.D.
By way of contrast, we have only 7 copies of Plato’s writings; the earliest available one was written some 1,300 years after Plato died. For Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the oldest available manuscript is dated 900 years after Caesar wrote it. For some other recognized ancient texts, we have one or two available manuscripts. Compared with other widely accepted ancient writings, whose authenticity is rarely questioned, the number of copies of the New Testament, and their closeness in time to the original writing and the events recorded, is very impressive. We can have much greater confidence in the authenticity of the Greek texts on which our modern translations are based than in any other ancient writing.10
For the Old Testament, we have a substantial number of manuscripts. Among these are the Dead Sea Scrolls, dated 300 to 100 B.C., containing the entire book of Isaiah and fragments from almost every other book in the Old Testament. We also know that the Hebrew copyists exercised extreme care to produce accurate copies. A Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, was made starting about 200 B.C., and the New Testament contains about 1,000 references to and quotations from that translation.11
There is impressive archeological evidence to support the truth of what is stated in both Old and New Testaments.12
There are some minor variations among the available texts, as is almost always the case when dealing with hand-written copies of the same text, but in general they are in remarkable agreement.
There are a number of English translations available today. Translation is an art, and not a science. Often there is no one English word or phrase that can accurately convey the full meaning of the Hebrew or Greek original. Hence different translators render the same passage somewhat differently. It is unusual to find any significant difference in meaning among the good translations. Moreover, especially with the computer programs available, it is not difficult for the layman who does not know Hebrew or Greek to compare different translations, to consult dictionaries for the meaning of the original words, to do word studies, and to have access to commentaries, so as to get a pretty accurate picture of the meaning of a passage.
Authorship and Date
Much has been written about the human authorship and the date of composition of various books of the Bible. I shall only touch on two questions that have been raised which are of major importance, and shall deal even with them very summarily.
THE FIRST FIVE BOOKS (THE PENTATEUCH) —The traditional view is that these were all written by Moses. This would place their dates somewhere in the range of 1450-1300 B.C., depending on which date you use for the Exodus. The view that Moses is their author is well supported by the words of Scripture, which say that Moses “wrote all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:4), that he then “took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people” (Exodus 24:7), that he “wrote this law” and commanded that it be read to the people every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:9-11), and that he “completed writing the words of this law in a book” and directed that “this Book of the Law” be placed beside the ark of the covenant (Deuteronomy 31:24, 26). (Also see Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 17:18.) (The ark of the covenant was placed in the innermost part of the tabernacle, and later the Temple.) Through Moses, God directed the people of Israel to “obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law” (Deuteronomy 30:10). Before the Israelites entered into Canaan, God told Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Evidently by the time of Moses’ death there was a “Book of the Law” in written form which Moses had written.
Then, beginning early in the nineteenth century A.D. and reaching its complete form by the 1870s, a view developed which said that none of these books were written by Moses, but that they were written by at least four different authors, or groups of authors, at various times between about 850 and 450 B.C. In other words, the writing of these five books is said to have begun a little more than a century before the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom, and to have continued until after parts of the Southern Kingdom returned from captivity in Babylon and Persia. This “documentary theory,” as it came to be called, became very popular and is still widely taught.
There are a lot of problems with this theory.
Modern scholarship has developed persuasive evidence for Moses’ authorship of these five books.13 If this is so, then four of them—Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—are essentially eyewitness accounts by Moses of the events and words of God which they record and in which he participated. (Deuteronomy 34:5-12 would have been added by someone else.) Moreover they are eyewitness accounts by a well-educated man who had been trained for a leadership position in the court of Egypt. As such they are reliable evidence of the truth of what they record.
Moses was, of course, not an eyewitness of the events recorded in Genesis. However, I believe a persuasive argument has been made that Genesis is a compilation, by Moses, of earlier written accounts, most of which could have been made by one of the participants. Some have seen, in the word toledoth (usually translated “these are the generations of” or “this is the account of”), which appears at various places in the Genesis narrative, an indication of the ending of one such document and the beginning of another.
THE GOSPELS —Many questions have been raised about the authorship and date of the four gospels. Based on what I have read, I believe that the first three gospels and the book of Acts were probably written in the period 55-75 A.D. (and probably the earlier part of that period), and the gospel of John was written about 90-95 A.D. I believe that their authors are:
If I am right, Matthew and John were written by members of the original 12 disciples, and Mark, Luke and Acts were written by men who had ready access to the first disciples and to others who had been with Jesus during his earthly ministry. All but the gospel of John were written at a time when many would still have been alive who were alive during Jesus’ ministry on earth, including people who were hostile to the gospel and had strong reasons for wanting to discredit these writings. (Much the same can be said of the rest of the New Testament.) This gives the gospels and Acts strong historical credibility.
The New Testament emphasizes that it is based on eyewitness evidence. John wrote, “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” (John 1:14). “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (1 John 1:1-3). At the end of his gospel John refers to the disciple “…who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper…” (John 21:20 NIV) and then says, “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).
Peter wrote, wrote that he was “a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 5:1). He wrote, “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. 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” (2 Peter 1:16-18 NIV). (Also see Matthew 17:1-8.)
All of the apostles, and those who followed Jesus, were witnesses of his ministry and testified to what they saw. “We are His witnesses of these things” (Acts 5:32). Those who traveled with him are “His witnesses to the people” (Acts 13:31). (Also see Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 10:41.) When the Jewish leaders tried to silence Peter and John, they replied, “…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 NIV).
These writers are proclaiming what they personally observed as eyewitnesses.
Luke begins his gospel, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that 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. 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” (Luke 11:4 NIV). Luke says that he carefully investigated these eyewitness accounts, and then wrote it all down in an orderly way.
Part of Luke’s account in Acts is an eyewitness account, as is shown by his use of the pronouns “we” and “us.” This evidences that he was with Paul during parts of Paul’s second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16:10-17; 20:6-21:19) and during his trip to Rome (Acts, chapters 27-28). He was also with him during his imprisonment in Rome. (See Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24.) Whether he was with him at other times we do not know, but he was evidently very close to Paul, who referred to him as a dear friend.
Thus the historical books of the New Testament were written by men who had either been among the original twelve disciples, or were in very close contact with those disciples. They are based on eyewitness testimony. All but one were written within 25 to 45 years after Jesus’ death, at a time when many who had been alive during his earthly ministry were still living, including many who did not accept the gospel and had every motive to try to discredit it. This gives these books a high level of credibility as historical records.
The style of these records is remarkable. They tell of the most extraordinary events in a very brief, matter-of-fact way. For instance, Matthew’s account of the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8), when Jesus shone with a brilliant white light, Elijah and Moses appeared, and the voice of God was heard, takes eight verses. There is no “hype,” no exaggerated rhetoric, no overblown language; just a simple recitation of fact. Also remarkable is the way in which they record the shortcomings of the disciples. They record several occasions in which Jesus told his disciples that they lacked faith (Matthew 14:31, 17:19-20) or understanding (Matthew 16:9-11; John 14:9). They record many shortcomings by Peter, who became one of the apparent leaders of the disciples after Jesus’ death. He was confused and frightened on the mount of transfiguration (Mark 9:6). Earlier Jesus had said to him, “Get behind me Satan! You are an offense to Me” (Matthew 16:23). He denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75). They record other times when the disciples were confused or seeking personal glory.
In assessing these records, we should also consider that most of the disciples died martyrs’ deaths, often very painfully, for their Lord Jesus. (No sane person would willingly die for a known lie, let alone endure crucifixion or other acutely painful forms of death.) Jesus had taught them that he is the truth (John 14:6) and that the truth would set them free (John 8:32), while the devil “is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). He warned against deceivers (Matthew 24:4-5, 24). Scripture records that Ananias and Sapphira fell down dead because they lied (Acts 5:1-11). It says that all liars will be excluded from the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:8). It teaches “do not lie to one another” (Colossians 3:9), speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), gird “your waist with truth” (Ephesians 6:14). It also warns against any form of deception (for example, 1 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 2:4, 8; 1 Timothy 4:1; James 1:22; 2 Peter 2:1). I think we must assume that the writers of the New Testament made every effort to tell the truth and avoid any element of deception.
Some have referred to seeming “discrepancies” in the Biblical accounts as evidence that the Bible cannot be inspired by God. Without going into excessive detail, I would like to indicate the approach I take to such arguments. (There are books that discuss such “discrepancies” far more fully.)
EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS —Eyewitness accounts often differ in unessential details without thereby losing their credibility. Witnesses to the same events may see what happened quite differently; and they may remember, or choose to emphasize, different aspects. This is well-understood in modern jurisprudence. (In fact, if several witnesses’ accounts are identical, we are inclined to suspect collusion.) We should not be surprised to find minor differences in accounts in the Bible. A case in point is the account, in three of the gospels, of the healing of a blind man or men near Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). Matthew says there were two men healed. Mark and Luke mention only one man, and Mark gives his name, Bartimaeus. Evidently Bartimaeus was someone known to them; it is not surprising that Mark and Luke focus on this one individual. (There probably were many blind beggars by the roadside.) Matthew and Mark say this happened as they were leaving Jericho. Many translations of Luke say it happened as they were coming to or approaching Jericho, but the Greek word Luke uses is derived from a word meaning “nigh” or “near,” so it could just mean that it was near Jericho. Also, I understand that there are several parts to the city of Jericho, so he could have been leaving one part while approaching another. All three accounts agree that there was a healing of blindness, that it happened near Jericho while Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem just before Palm Sunday, that the blind man (men) persisted strongly, and that Jesus commended his (their) faith. There is no real inconsistency.
APPARENT INCONSISTENCIES —Sometimes an apparent inconsistency turns out, on closer examination, to be no inconsistency. A case in point is the death of Judas Iscariot. Matthew says he hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Acts says he fell headlong in a field and his body burst open (Acts 1:18). The two accounts seem quite inconsistent. But consider for a moment. Suppose Judas did hang himself, and his body remained hanging for several days. (This would have been quite possible in a land where criminals hung on the cross for days. Moreover, this was during Passover, and no one would have wanted to make himself ceremonially impure by touching a dead body.) People would have been concerned with other things. Many extraordinary things had happened on the day of the Crucifixion, including an earthquake. During this time Judas’ body would have started to decompose. (After four days in the tomb, Lazarus’ body “stinketh,” John 11:39 KJV.) After some days of rotting, Judas’ body was taken down or fell down, rolled downhill to a field (Jerusalem is hilly), struck a rock or a tree, and burst. One account tells how it began; the other tells how it ended. They are not inconsistent.
DIFFERENCES IN TEACHINGS —At times there are accounts of teachings by Jesus, recorded in different gospels, that have some similarities but also differ in some respects. This is true of some of his parables. It is often assumed that these parables or other teachings are different accounts of the same words spoken by Jesus, which necessarily implies either that one or more accounts have been inaccurately reported or, as is sometimes suggested, that all have been inaccurately reported and the true account is something else which the scholar has created by speculation. But consider a minute. In real life, teachers typically teach the same material on many different occasions, and teach it differently each time. If they use stories to illustrate a point, they may use the same basic story materials a number of times, but vary the details and the emphasis to suit each particular occasion and audience. Why should we assume that Jesus was any different? If this common sense, real life, approach is adopted, then there is no discrepancy. The differing accounts simply reflect that Jesus used the same teaching or story material on two or more different occasions, in somewhat different ways.
Thus Matthew records a Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7) and Luke records a Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49). They contain quite a bit of common material, but differ in some respects, and are said to have been given at different locations and different points in Jesus’ ministry. The reasonable assumption is that these were two different teachings which cover some of the same material. Again, Jesus told two parables about a banquet, the Wedding Banquet of Matthew 22:1-14 and the Great Banquet of Luke 14:15-24. They differ in the place they were spoken, the audience they were spoken to, and some aspects of the story told. It is reasonable to assume that these were two different stories which Jesus told, to different audiences and for different purposes, using some of the same material in both.
I want to add a comment here. Some Bible critics seem to assume that Biblical characters behave differently from ordinary people. They assume that Jesus never told the same story more than once, or taught the same material more than once. They assume that two eyewitness accounts of an event must agree exactly in every detail. They assume that a Biblical writer, such as Paul, unlike any other writer the world has ever known, always used the same vocabulary, rather than tailoring his vocabulary to his audience and his subject matter, and developing it as his thinking progressed. On this basis, they reject as not authentic any writing that uses more than a certain number of words that do not appear in his other writings. What grounds have we for assuming that Biblical characters and writers are unlike ordinary people in these respects?
LIMITED HUMAN UNDERSTANDING —If none of these approaches work, I still do not reject Scripture. Rather I say, “There must be a good explanation but no one has yet been smart enough to figure it out.” The fact that I can’t explain something does not mean that there is no explanation. It may just mean that my understanding is limited—an assumption which I am quite willing to accept.
APPARENT CONFLICTS IN TEACHING —At times there are teachings in Scripture that may seem to conflict. For instance, there are passages that emphasize God’s foreknowledge, that speak of predestination, and that say that everything works out according to God’s plan. There are other passages that emphasize man’s free will and the necessity for choice. Men have struggled for centuries trying to fit these two threads together into a consistent, systematic structure. With every such problem, my basic approach, after I have done what I can with it, is to say that since both threads are in Scripture, I must accept both and allow each one to keep me from carrying the other too far. Or, as with predestination and free will, I may say something like, “I need to act as if I have free will and God will hold me accountable for my choices. If he knows ahead of time how I will choose, that’s his business and not mine.” If I can’t work out all the ramifications of how the teachings fit together, I can still understand enough to know how I must live and what I must do, and I can keep chewing at it until I come closer to understanding it fully.
MYSTERIES —There are also things in Scripture that I just don’t understand. For example, I don’t understand the Trinity. I don’t understand how Jesus could have been fully God and fully man at the same time. I don’t understand how the one who participated in the creation of the universe, and who holds all things together by his powerful word (Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2-3), could also be a helpless baby in his mother’s womb or her arms. I don’t understand how the Holy Spirit of God can dwell in us. But God’s ways and his thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9) and so I don’t have to understand it; I can just accept it and rejoice in it.
This chapter has only scratched the surface of many issues. I encourage you to read and study further on these issues.
Primarily, however, I encourage you to let the words of Scripture speak to you. Read them, reflect and meditate on them, memorize them if you can, and allow them to become a very part of you. You will find that they change your life. I also believe that as you work with Scripture and allow it to change your life, you will, as I have, become convinced that it is true and is authoritative.
At one point Jesus asked his disciples if they would leave him because of a “hard” teaching he had given. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). The words of the Bible are the words of eternal life, and all who truly immerse themselves in them, believing them, will be richly blessed.