Bestseller and More: Why I Believe in the Bible
October 15, 1995
We begin with the simple observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. More copies have been printed in more languages and read by more people than any other book in history. It is so far out in front of every other book ever written that it stands in a category all by itself. It is not only the best-selling religious book, it is the best-selling book of any and every category.
The Bible is number one. The alltime best-seller. The undisputed champion.
On this Sunday it is read, studied, quoted and memorized in every nation on every continent. The Bible has now been translated into every major language of the world and work goes on around the clock to translate it in the remaining tribal languages that do not have it.
So if we had no other reason to study the Bible, it’s unparalleled popularity must cause us to stop and consider it carefully. But the title of this message is “Bestseller and More.” The question might be put this way: Why is the Bible still the all-time bestselling book in world history? What is it about this ancient book that still draws the attention of this generation? Why are we still attracted to these ancient stories? Is it just our religious background? Do we turn to the Bible because it makes us feel good in times of trouble? Or is there something more?
Every Word and All the Words
When we read the Bible, we are reading the very words of God.
Indeed there is, and it is the burden of this message to explain the “something more” about the Bible. For 2000 years Christians have used a particular phrase to describe what they believe about the Bible. We call it “the Word of God.” That alone sets the Bible apart from every other book. When we use the phrase “the Word of God” we mean that the Bible comes from God and represents his word to us. That is, when we read the Bible, we are reading the very words of God. There is another term we use to describe this truth. It is the word “inspiration.” II Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” Applied to the Bible, that means that God breathed out the very words of Bible and the human authors wrote them down. Note please, three implications of this truth:
1. Inspiration extends to every part of the Bible.
2. Inspiration extends to the very words of the Bible.
2. Inspiration guarantees the absolute truthfulness of the Bible.
–The Bible is infallible (teaching only the truth)
–The Bible is inerrant (incapable of teaching error)
Now that in a nutshell is what we believe about the Bible. It is what we mean when we use the phrase “the Word of God.”
But saying it is so doesn’t make it so. Why do we believe the Bible is the Word of God and thus absolutely truthful? How can we be so sure that the Bible stands above every other book ever written? In order to answer those questions, I’m going to put the Bible to the test this morning.
Let’s suppose that someone comes up to you and offers you a soft drink you’ve never had before. No doubt you’ll ask a few questions before you take a sip. You want to know its claims (what’s on the label), its credibility (what’s behind it), its consistency (what’s in it), and its certainty (what comes out of it). Let’s apply those four tests to the Bible and see what we get.
1. Its Claims
In the first place the Bible clearly claims to be the Word of God. II Peter 1:21 says, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It’s not as if Jeremiah dreamed up his visions or David his psalms or Paul his letters. These men “spoke from God” as the Holy Spirit carried them along.
The Greek word for “carried along” pictures a ship being moved through the waters by the power of the wind in the sails. The Holy Spirit is the real power behind the writing of the Bible. He is the divine author, men like David, Daniel and John were human authors. That’s why the Bible repeatedly uses phrases like “the Lord says” and “the Word of the Lord came” and “the Lord spoke.” Jeremiah 1:9 puts it very plainly: “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.’” This is a claim to direct, divine inspiration by God. In Galatians 1:11-12 Paul says that his message did not come from man but by direct revelation from God. Over 3800 times the Bible uses the phrase “Thus saith the Lord”!
The writers of the Bible did not decide to sit down one day and write the Bible.
The writers of the Bible did not decide to sit down one day and write the Bible. The didn’t “get inspired” or “on a roll” like Shakespeare writing his plays or Frank Peretti writing his novels! They were working in the power of the Holy Spirit who superintended the whole process to ensure the accuracy of everything they wrote. Paul Little offers this helpful clarification:
It is important to realize too that the writers of the Scripture were not mere writing machines. God did not punch them like keys on a typewriter to produce His message. He did not dictate the words, as the biblical view of inspiration has so often been unfairly caricatured. It is quite clear that each writer has a style of his own. Jeremiah does not write like Isaiah, and John does not write like Paul. God worked through the instrumentality of human personality, but so guided and controlled men that what they wrote is what He wanted written.
Whatever else we may say about the Bible, let’s begin with what it says about itself. The Bible claims to be the very Word of God. It never pretends to be “just another book.”
“So what if the Bible claims to be inspired by God? That doesn’t make it so!” True! I could stand up here and claim to be Jack Nicklaus but that doesn’t mean I could make a putt over two feet. It’s not just the claim, but what backs up the claim. Which brings us to the question of the Bible’s credibility.
2. Its Credibility
Let’s consider crediblity under two headings. First of all, accuracy of transmission. After all, everyone understands that the Bible was written between 2000-3500 years ago. And everyone agrees that we don’t possess any of the original manuscripts of the Bible. How do we know that what we are reading is an accurate transmission of what the human authors originally wrote?
How do we know that what we are reading is an accurate transmission of what the human authors originally wrote?
The answer for the Old Testament is that the Jews were almost fanatical in their insistence on accuracy. When they copied a manuscript by hand, they counted the total number of letters and figured out the middle letter of the entire book. Once a scribe finished copying that book, if his middle letter of the copy was different, the entire book was presumed to be incorrectly copied and was destroyed. The scribes even counted the various letters. They knew, for instance, that the Hebrews letter “Aleph” (the equivalent of our English A) occurred 42,377 times in the Old Testament. That’s why all the existing manuscripts of the Old Testament are virtually identical.
We find the same accuracy of transmission in the New Testament. Scholars tell us that there are over 5200 complete manuscripts of the New Testament (and another 8,000 partial manuscripts). And the oldest manuscripts go back to within a century of the original writings. Make this comparison: We have 5200 manuscripts of the New Testament and no more than 5 for anything Aristotle wrote. And the earliest copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars dates 1000 years after it was written. The first complete copy of Homer’s Odyssey is dated 2200 years after it was written.
Let me say it plainly: The Bible is by far the best-attested ancient book in the world. There are more copies, earlier, and more accurately recorded, than for any other book from ancient history.
Second, consider the Bible’s amazing historical accuracy.
In general, we may see that historical research has tended to confirm every major factual claim in the Bible. For many years, the critics claimed that no one named Pontius Pilate ever existed. But the archaeologists uncovered a stone tablet in Caesarea with his name on it. The Bible also mentioned a tribe of people called the Hittites, which the critics claimed never existed. But today scholars know that the Hittitte empire existed throughout the land we now call Turkey. And the leading Hittite scholar in America is a man named Harry Hoffner who attended this church and works at the Oriental Institute in Chicago.
The critics have been wrong about so many things.
The critics have been wrong about so many things. They claimed there was never a ruler named Belshazzar. They denied there was a king named Sargon. Both claims were proven wrong. Some radical scholars said that the whole story of David was a myth, that there never was a King David at all. They said that because they couldn’t find any contemporaneous proof. But about three years at a place called Tell Dan, archeologists discovered an inscription that mentions the “House of David,” which is the biblical term for David’s kingdom.
If the Bible is true, archeology helps confirm that fact.
On and on we could go, giving you literally hundreds of examples where historical research and archeological discoveries have confirmed the truth of the biblical record. Please understand. I am not arguing that archeology “proves” the Bible, only that if the Bible is true, archeology helps confirm that fact.
Dr. Nelson Glueck, one of the greatest archeologists of this century, summarized the matter this way:
No archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible.
We have nothing to fear from the closest scrunity of the Bible. It will stand the test of any fair investigation.
3. Its Consistency
Two important lines of evidence establish the Bible’s internal consistency. First, there is the testimony of fulfilled prophecy. Someone has calculated that fully one-fourth of the Bible was prophecy when it was written. The 66 books of the Bible make hundreds of specific prophecies regarding people, places, kingdoms, wars, and nations. But the greatest predictive prophecy deals with the person of Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament contains approximately 500 predictions regarding Christ.
The Old Testament contains approximately 500 predictions regarding Christ, including the place of his birth, the manner of his birth, the family into which he would be born, the scope of his ministry, the nature of his death, and the miracle of his resurrection. All of these prophecies were written down between 400-1500 years before his birth. Yet each of them was fulfilled down to the letter.
In his book Science Speaks, Peter Stoner calculated the odds of anyone fulfilling just eight of those predictions by chance. The odds came out to 1 in 10 to the seventh power. That’s one in 100 quadrillion! If you took that many silver dollars and scattered them across Texas, they would cover the state two feet deep. Now take one of those silver dollars and mark it with a red X and throw it at random into that pile of silver dollar. Then blindfold a volunteer and ask him to find the marked silver dollar on his first try. That’s the same odds that 8 predictions about Christ could be fulfilled by chance. Yet Christ fulfilled over 500 prophecies!
Second, consider the amazing unity of the Bible. We are accustomed to thinking of the Bible as one book, yet it consists of 66 books written by 40 authors over a period of 1600 years. Yet the Bible is one book because it contains an amazing unity of theme from Genesis to Revelation.
Here are the words of C. Donald Cole:
What matters is that in spite of the immense span of time–1600 years–and the variety of authors–more than 40–the Bible is a book. It is not a library; it is a single volume remarkable for its unity… . God himself is the source of the Scriptures; otherwise, they would not be–indeed, could not be–the remarkable unity the Bible exhibits.
How do we explain the unity of the Bible? The Old Testament points to the coming of Christ, the gospels to the appearance of Christ, Acts to the preaching of Christ, the epistles to the body of Christ, and Revelation to the return of Christ. Jesus Christ is the theme of the Bible. This amazing unity amid diversity is one of the great proofs of the Bible’s supernatural origin.
4. Its Certainty
Having said all that, how can we be sure the Bible is the Word of God? Consider please one more line of evidence. I speak of the evidence of changed lives. History tells us that wherever the Bible goes, lives are changed. Whole cultures are transformed from devil-worship, cannibalism and warfare into societies in which human life is respected and human dignity established. If you doubt it, ask any missionary what happens when the gospel is preached.
I have listened to the people of Paraguay praise God in the Guarani language. I have seen with my own eyes young people in Haiti come to Christ and be set free from witchcraft and demonism. I have worshiped in Russian churches with believers who were persecuted for their faith by the communists. Last year I attended a service in Jerusalem with nearly 500 believers, many of them Messianic Jews.
Everywhere the Bible is preached, it radically changes hearts, lives, families, cities, cultures, and entire nations.
Ironside and the Agnostic
You may question the Bible if you like, but you cannot deny its power to transform the human heart. Early in his ministry Dr. Harry A. Ironside was living in the San Francisco Bay area, working with the Brethren. One evening as he was walking through the city he came upon a group of Salvation Army workers holding a meeting on the corner of Market and Grant avenues. When they recognized Ironside they asked if he would give his testimony. So he did, telling how God had saved him through faith in the bodily death and literal resurrection of Jesus.
As he was speaking, Ironside noticed that on the edge of the crowd there was a well-dressed man who had taken a card from his pocket and had written something on it. As Ironside finished his talk the man came forward, lifted his hat, and very politely handed Ironside the card. On one side was his name, which Ironside immediately recognized. The man was one of the early socialists who had made a name for himself lecturing not only for socialism but also against Christianity. As Ironside turned the card over he read, “Sir, I challenge you to debate with me the question ’Agnosticism versus Christianity’ in the Academy of Science Hall next Sunday afternoon at four o’clock. I will pay all expenses.”
Ironside reread the card aloud and then replied somewhat like this. “I am very much interested in this challenge. I will be glad to agree to this debate on the following conditions: namely, that in order to prove that this gentleman has something worth debating about, he will promise to bring with him to the lecture hall next Sunday two people, whose qualifications I will give in a moment, as proof that agnosticism is of real value in changing human lives and building true character.
“First, he must promise to bring with him one man who was for years what we commonly call a ’down-and-outer.’ I am not particular as to the exact nature of the sins that had wrecked his life and made him an outcast from society – whether a drunkard, or a criminal of some kind, or a victim of his sensual appetite – but a man who for years was
under the power of evil habits from which he could not deliver himself. Then on some occasion he entered one of this man’s meetings and heard his glorification of agnosticism and his denunciations of the Bible and Christianity. As he listened to such an address were so deeply stirred that he went away from that meeting saying, ’Henceforth, I too am an agnostic!’ and as a result of imbibing that particular philosophy found that a new power had come into his life. The sins he once loved he now hates, and righteousness and goodness are now the ideals of his life. He is now an entirely new man, a credit to himself, and an asset to society – all because he is an agnostic.
“Secondly, I would like my opponent to promise to bring with him one woman – I think he may have more difficulty in finding the woman than the man – who was once a poor, wrecked, characterless outcast, the slave of evil passions and the victim of man’s corrupt living, perhaps one who had lived for years in some evil resort, utterly lost, ruined and wretched because of her life of sin. But this woman also entered a hall where this man was loudly proclaiming his agnosticism and ridiculing the message of the Holy Scriptures. As she listened, hope was born in her heart, and she said, ’This is just what I need to deliver me from the slavery of sin!’ She followed the teaching and became an intelligent agnostic. As a result, her whole being revolted against the degradation of the life she had been living. She fled from the den of iniquity where she had been held captive for so long; and today, rehabilitated, she has won her way back to an honored position in society and is living a clean, virtuous, happy life – all because she is an agnostic.
“Now,” he said, addressing the man who had presented him with his card and the challenge, “if you will promise to bring these two people with you as examples of what agnosticism can do, I will promise to meet you at the Academy of Science Hall at four o’clock next Sunday, and I will bring with me at the very least one hundred men and women who for years lived in just such sinful degradation as I have tried to depict, but who have been gloriously saved through believing the gospel which you ridicule. I will have these men and women with me on the platform as witnesses to the miraculous saving power of Jesus Christ and as present-day proof of the truth of the Bible.”
Dr. Ironside then turned to the Salvation Army captain, a girl, and said, “Captain, have you any who could go with me to such a meeting?” She exclaimed with enthusiasm, “We can give you forty at least just from this one corps, and we will give you a brass band to lead the procession!”
“Fine,” Dr. Ironside answered. “Now, sir, I will have no difficulty picking up sixty others from the various missions, gospel halls, and evangelical churches of the city. So if you will promise to bring two such exhibits as I have described, I will come marching in at the head of such a procession, with the band playing ’Onward, Christian Soldiers,’ and I will be ready for the debate.”
Apparently the man who had made the challenge had some sense of humor, for he smiled wryly and waved his hand in a deprecating kind of way as if to say “Nothing doing!” and then edged out of the crowd while the bystanders applauded Ironside and the others.
You Still Have to Make Up Your Mind
Is the Bible the Word of God? I cannot “prove” that to you. You still have to make up your own mind. But if you have doubts, I encourage you to read it for yourself, study its claims, observe its message, check out the facts for yourself. I have done that and I have also read the claims of the skeptics. As for me and my house, we will stand on the Bible as the Word of God.
I submit to you that the Bible will stand the toughest test, the hardest scrutiny because it is indeed the Word of God. That’s why after 2000 years it is still the world’s bestseller. No other book contains the plan of salvation. No other book can tell you how to get to heaven.
The Bible Tells Me So
Last Sunday a young girl pressed some paper into my hand. She said she had written something as a gift to me. When I looked at it later, it turned out to be a little handwritten book called “God really does love us.” The first page is a drawing of a cross with a heart and the sun shining upon it. The caption reads “God loves us!” The second page shows a young girl kneeling before Jesus on the cross. She is telling him she loves him. The final page shows Jesus on the cross with the words, “God really did die for me!!”
Where did Meghan Keating learn such truth? I think I know the answer. Many years ago most of us learned to sing a little song that goes like this:
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong, they are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me,. Yes Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
Indeed it does. Thank God for the Bible because without it, we would never know about Jesus. And without Jesus, we could never be saved. But the Bible is true and it is the Word of God. If you still have doubts, I encourage you to read it for yourself. When you do, you will discover for yourself the most wonderful truth in the world–Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.