Can You Trust the Bible?
2 Timothy 3:16-17
May 7, 2006 | Brian Bill
It’s easy to get confused about the Bible. Listen to how some children answered questions about Scripture:
- Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt during the day, but a ball of fire at night.
- The fifth commandment is to humor thy father and mother.
- Moses died before he ever reached Canada. Then Joshua led the Hebrews in the Battle of Geritol.
- The greatest miracle in the Bible is when Joshua told his son to stand still and he obeyed him.
These responses are funny but as we’ve been learning in our series called, “Cracking the DaVinci Code,” there’s nothing funny about the claims that Dan Brown is making in his book. Two weeks ago we pointed out that one reason the book is so dangerous is because of this statement found on the very first page: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” The pages that follow attack the very foundations of our faith. Last week we looked at how our Savior is demeaned; today we’ll study how the Scriptures are denied. Dan Brown does not just get confused like kids sometimes do; the characters in his book distort and even despise the Bible. Let’s remember that this is a novel with a lot of novel ideas, or as one pastor described it: “As a fictional mystery book, it’s a page turner. As a factual history book, it’s a fictional mystery book.”
I’ve been asked several questions this past week. I’m going to wait until next week to answer the ones that have to deal with Mary Magdalene but I will tackle two today.
Q: Why is the painting of the Mona Lisa on the cover of the DaVinci Code book?
A: The book opens with the murdered body of a museum curator lying near this famous painting. According to Brown, this painting also contains secret codes left by Leonardo DaVinci. Art historians doubt this claim.
Q: Should I read the book before going to see the movie?
A: You might not like my answer but here goes. I’m not sure most of us need to do either. The more I study this material the more I’m convinced that it is deceptive and dangerous. I’m not recommending that you read the book or watch the movie unless you are properly prepared and sense that that is what God wants you to do. One idea I heard this week is that we should “othercott” the film when it opens in 12 days. Instead of seeing the DaVinci Code, go and watch a family movie that opens that same weekend. That will get Hollywood’s attention.
A friend of mine that I’ve gotten to know at the gym taped a National Geographic special for me called, “Unlocking DaVinci’s Code.” He’s been listening to our sermons and I’ve been watching the specials he records for me. I sat down and watched this two-hour expose this week and applauded as one claim after another was dismantled by art experts, historians, and theologians. I did come away however, with the feeling that Dan Brown really believes the stuff he wrote. He says that he started out as a “skeptic and now is a believer in Mary Magdalene and the holy blood.” I also heard him say that the stories in the Bible are partial and edited and can’t really be trusted.
Friends, the battle over the Bible is nothing new! Today we’re going to ask and answer the question: Can you trust the Bible? When it all comes down to it, are you going to believe Brown or the Bible? Before we tackle this topic, I’d like to recommend one more resource. A couple members have donated about 120 copies of Josh McDowell’s new book called, “The DaVinci Code: A Quest for Answers” and are making them available free of charge. It’s written as a dialogue between three people and in vintage McDowell fashion, is filled with footnotes and references for further study. It would be perfect to give to a seeking friend. I highly recommend chapter two if you’d like to do further research on our subject today.
Last week during the message I repeatedly asked the question, “Are you with me?” Because I could tell you were with me I’m not going to ask it today. I’ll just assume that you are as we go to school on the Scriptures. That reminds me of the person who asked, “What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?” To which his friend replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” I’m glad that none of you are in that category this morning.
What Brown Believes
What if Dan Brown is right that there was a massive cover up and conspiracy in the fourth century to change the Bible in order to hide the true identity of Jesus? Was the New Testament altered to meet the agenda of a conspiratorial church? Here are some quotes from his book:
- “The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven…The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book” (page 231).
- “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, yet only a relatively few were chosen for inclusion…” (page 231).
- “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine the Great” (page 231).
- “…The New Testament is based on fabrications…every faith in the world is based on fabrication” (page 341).
What the Bible Teaches
You may be wondering why we’re doing this series. 1 Chronicles 12:32 comes to mind because it refers to some sharp people “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” I think it’s imperative to understand the times in which we live so that we can speak God’s truth in a winsome way. In order to deal with these denials of biblical doctrine and to dispel any doubts that may have crept in to your mind, I want to make four strong statements about Scripture.
1. The Bible is God-breathed.
The Bible is no ordinary book. Please turn to 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed…” All Scripture is inspired by God, not just some of it. That also means that books that are not in the Bible are not God-breathed, including writings like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas.
The Bible did not fall like a fax from heaven; instead God breathed the Bible into existence, using human instruments to write it down as He carried them along
This process is explained more precisely in 2 Peter 1:21: “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.” The Bible did not fall like a fax from heaven; instead God breathed the Bible into existence, using human instruments to write it down as He carried them along. What God wanted said, was said, and it became Scripture. We could say it this way: The writers were passive in the message, but active in the writing as the Holy Spirit carried them along. This phrase “carried along” is used in Acts 27:14-19 to mean “carried along by another” and is a good illustration of the process. The boat was driven along by the wind. The people on the boat had relative freedom but the wind determined the course.
The Bible itself makes clams for its own inspiration. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to the letters that Paul wrote as inspired Scripture: “…His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” These words are a warning to those who distort the Bible, whether in a novel or in another way. The Book of Revelation is adamant about its own inspiration in Revelation 22:18-19: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
We don’t have time to fully develop this here but since the Bible is inspired by God it is also inerrant in its original manuscripts, infallible and totally authoritative. It is divine and yet has come to us in human form, reflecting the personality and culture of those who were moved along by the Holy Spirit to write it.
2. The Bible has a good base.
A mother was sitting next to her first grade daughter one Sunday in church and noticed that she was looking at the open Bible on her lap. After studying it for several minutes, she whispered to her mom, “Did God really write that?” The mother quietly whispered back, “Yes, He did.” Looking down at her mother’s Bible again, the little girl then said in amazement, “Wow! He really has neat handwriting!” The Bible is not really one book; it is a compilation of 66 different books written by 40 different human authors from 3 different continents in 3 different languages over a period of 1500 years. Darrel Bock says, “We know a lot about the Bible and how it was produced. In fact, we know far more about it than any other ancient book.” Let me list some things we know about the Bible.
3. The Canon of Scripture is concise.
The word “canon” means a “measuring rod” or the “norm” and was used of a standard that was applied to something. The canon of Scripture refers to the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 of the New Testament. It’s important to remember that the church did not pick the books they wanted; they simply recognized those that were God-breathed. New Testament expert Bruce Metzger points out: “…The canon of Scripture was not the result of a series of contests involving church politics…these documents didn’t derive their authority from being selected; each one was authoritative before anyone gathered them together” (Interviewed by Lee Strobel in “The Case for Christ”). In other words, a book belonged in the Bible as soon as God breathed it into existence; God just had to convince His followers to include it in the canon.
There were several tests that were used for considering a text but the basic principle was this: When in doubt, leave it out. Among the tests were these:
- Connection to the apostles. The four gospels can all be dated to the first century. It’s absurd for Brown to claim that they weren’t collated until the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 because the majority of the New Testament was widely acknowledged a hundred years before Constantine. The premise of the DaVinci Code is that there are more reliable gospels than the four we have. However, books like the Gospel of Thomas are dated from the second or third century. Which do you think is more accurate? Those that came about as a result of eyewitness testimony or those that were written hundreds of years later? Let me demonstrate. If the book in my left hand was written twenty or thirty years after Jesus died and this book in my right hand was written two hundred to three hundred years later, which one would be more reliable?
- There must be universal acceptance across cultures and time. The books that were not included were left out for good reason. Many of them lack substance and are filled with supposed secrets. They also contain impossible standards and confusing teaching that does not transcend culture.
- The document must contain consistency of doctrine. Incidentally, one of the books that Dan Brown likes to reference is the Gospel of Thomas, which is a collection of 114 “secret sayings” purportedly from Jesus. I’ve read this supposed “gospel” and it is really strange. Here’s what verse 7 says: “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human.”
- The document must bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values. Does verse 14 of the Gospel of Thomas sound like something Jesus would have said? “If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits.”
- The books of the Bible have remarkable unity and agreement. Its amazing how unified the Bible is, given the fact that there were so many different human instruments and that it was written over so many years. God does have neat handwriting.
- The Bible has strong manuscript evidence. In his book called, “New Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” Josh McDowell points out that historians evaluate the textual reliability of ancient literature according to two standards: (1) what the time interval is between the original and the earliest copy; and (2) how many manuscripts are available. For instance, Homer’s Iliad has a time gap of 400 years with only 643 copies, and that’s the most for any ancient literature except the Bible. Are you ready for this? According to Josh McDowell, nearly 25,000 manuscripts of the New Testament are stored in libraries and universities around the world and some of them only have a time gap of 50 years!
Now you might object at this point by stating that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts anymore. That’s true. But let me see if can illustrate what we do have today using some audience participation (special thanks to my new friend Rene Schlaepfer, a pastor in California, for this idea). People in Bible times lived in an oral culture, while we live in a visual culture. In those days they didn’t sit around at night and watch TV, they told stories and shared wise sayings. We still have remnants of that in our culture today. See if you can finish these lines: “Just sit back and you’ll hear a tale…” (A tale of a fateful trip). “Here’s the story…” (Of a lovely lady). Or this one: “Jingle Bells, Batman smells… (Robin laid an egg). Now imagine a culture where people know stories by heart. When these eyewitnesses started to age and the gospel spread to other countries they realized that they needed to write things down.
To make this come alive, I’m going to need some help.
- Handwritten documents. I want the people sitting closest to the east wall, just in the first chairs to stand. You represent the original handwritten documents.
- Papyrus scrolls. These documents were then copied onto papyrus scrolls. Now the rest of you in this section on my left please stand. You are very fragile so you’ll need to act brittle.
- Uncials. These scrolls were then copied onto uncials or a codex. Now stay with me. If you’re in the first chair next to the aisle on the west side of the auditorium, please stand. You are not very fragile. You are made of thick material like antelope skin with very large letters. You guys can act tough.
- Miniscules. Now, except for the very last person on my right in each row, I’d like the rest of you to stand in this section. You are the miniscules. Don’t stand too tall because miniscules were…miniscule. They were written in sort of a cursive handwriting which was very small because paper was so expensive.
- Printed Bibles. Finally, those of you are on the far right please stand up. You are our first printed Bibles. You are based on miniscule copies of the uncial copies of the papyrus copies of the original documents.
Now, here’s the problem. You originals sit down. You papyrus people sit down – you’re brittle anyway so you might as well have a seat. And since there are virtually no more uncials, you can sit down as well. And there are very few miniscules, so most of you can sit down. Wow, that’s a pretty big gap! This looks like a pretty big problem. It would be except that from the mid 1800s to today, archaeologists have been discovering ancient manuscripts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls! We now have hundreds of uncials and we’ve even found some papyrus documents.
So here’s what’s happened. Would the uncials please stand? And now you papyrus people can stand. Friends, every modern Bible can check itself against these new discoveries! And the gap is getting smaller all the time.
Scott Weber suggests this illustration. “Imagine that the original copy of our constitution was destroyed. Would our country fall apart because we no longer have the original? No, because we have its content in many thousands of copies all around the world. Through careful study, we would arrive at a clear consensus of what the original wording of the Constitution was. The same process holds for the Bible and is called textual criticism. It is a highly refined science, and has been applied to the Bible for centuries.”
- Archaeology has confirmed the trustworthiness of the Bible. While archaeology cannot prove the Bible, in literally thousands of ways, the very stones in the Middle East are crying out and substantiate the accuracy of Scripture. There are many exciting discoveries but let me just mention three. First, in Joshua 6, we read that after Israel marched around the walls of Jericho, God knocked the walls down and they collapsed outward. Liberal scholars scoffed at this until the early 1930s when excavations of Jericho showed that this is exactly what happened. Second, until 1961 there was no archaeological evidence for Pontius Pilate. That year two Italian archaeologists uncovered a Latin inscription referring to the Roman governor. Third, in John 5 we read of a pool called Bethesda with five porticoes. For years critics discounted this because there was no evidence for its existence. That is, until it was found forty feet below ground, complete with five porticoes. It is fair to say that archaeology is a good friend of the Bible. I’m told that over 25,000 sites have been discovered that support the Bible’s claims. Nelson Glueck, the renowned Jewish archaeologist has said, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.”
- Fulfilled predictive prophecy provides proof that the Bible is God’s Word. One of the strongest proofs that the Bible is the Word of God is fulfilled prophecy. We don’t have time this morning to go into great detail but I do want to point out that many of these prophecies, written hundreds of years before Christ, were fulfilled in the last 24 hours of His life.
- Betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9; Matthew 26:49-50)
- Sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:15)
- Forsaken by disciples (Zechariah 13:7; Matthew 26:56)
- Silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7; Matthew 27:12)
- Crucified with thieves (Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 27:38)
- Lots cast for garments (Psalm 22:18; John 19:23-24)
- Darkness over the land (Amos 8:9; Matthew 27:45)
- Buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9; Matthew 27:57-60)
Dr. Peter Stoner estimated the likelihood of just eight of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person by chance was 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 (a 1 with 17 zeroes after it). Imagine covering the state of Texas with silver dollars two feet deep. Now, let’s suppose you took one of the silver dollars and marked it with a red dot and then dropped it from an airplane. Then, you thoroughly stirred up the entire mass. You then find a friend and blindfold him and tell him he can go anywhere in Texas and reach down and try to pull out the coin with the red dot on it. Dr. Stoner says that those are the same odds of 8 of these prophecies being fulfilled in precise detail by Jesus. Now, get this. Josh McDowell has listed over 300 Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled with precision by Jesus Christ!
- The Bible is durable and indestructible. People have tried to ban the Bible and burn it and blast it away. The French author and atheist Voltaire, who lived in the 1700s, is reported to have held up a Bible in the air as he smugly declared, “In 100 years this book will be forgotten and eliminated.” Shortly after his death, his own house became the headquarters for the Geneva Bible Society, which distributed Bibles which he had assigned to extinction. Psalm 119:89: “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Matthew 5:18: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 24:35: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Contrary to the DaVinci Code, the Bible is not based on fabrication but on fact. The Bible is God-breathed, it has a good base, and thirdly…
3. The Bible has great benefit.
Let’s go back to 2 Timothy 3:16 again: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” This verse not only helps us see what the Bible is, but what it is useful for.
- Teaching provides content so we know what is right.
- Rebuking brings conviction so we know what is not right.
- We’re then corrected so we know how to get right.
- And training changes our character so we can stay right.
- Verse 17 tells us that when we allow the Word to do its work, we are then equipped and outfitted for effective ministry: “So that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Romans 1:16 reminds us that the gospel is the “power of God.” And Hebrews 4:12 says: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Someone made this observation: “We don’t so much study the Bible; the Bible studies us.” I like what D.L. Moody once said: “The Scriptures are not given for our information but our transformation.” That leads to our final statement.
4. The Bible must be grasped and believed.
It’s one thing to make these first three statements about Scripture; it’s another thing to actually live it out. Some of us are way to blasé about the Bible as we applaud it from a distance while not making it part of our lives.
Open it up and read about His plans for your future and His dreams for how He wants to use you
Beth and I rented a movie this week that was pretty lame but I did like one of the scenes. After getting married a young soldier headed off to war. Four years later he returned and his wife was surprised to see him. He told her that he had written letters to let her know when he would be home. It quickly became obvious that she had not read them when she showed him a box where she had neatly stored all the unopened envelopes. When he asked why she hadn’t read them she said she didn’t want to hear about the war. He responded by saying that he wrote to her every day in order to share his love and his hopes and his dreams for their relationship. Because she had left them unopened their relationship had become stale. Friends, it’s the same way with the Bible because it is God’s love letter to us. Don’t just store it neatly on your shelf. Open it up and read about His plans for your future and His dreams for how He wants to use you. And most of all, read it so that you’ll know how much He loves you.
I like what John Wesley once said: “I want to know one thing; the way to heaven…God himself has condescended to teach the way…He has written it down in a book! Oh, give me that book! At any price give me that book of God! I have it: here is knowledge for me… Let me be a man of one book.”
Mark Twain, not exactly a believer in the Bible, wrote these words: “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they don’t understand, but the passages that bother me most are those I do understand.”
As the men come down to prepare for Communion, think with me about this stunning statement that our Savior made about Himself in John 6:58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” Verse 60 tells us that many of the disciples struggled to accept what He said because it was a hard teaching. Sadly, verse 66 indicates that “many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Jesus turns to the Twelve who remained, just as He turns to us today, and says: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” I love Simon Peter’s answer in verses 68-69: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
Jesus gives us words of eternal life in the Scriptures because He is the Word of Life and Savior. The Word of God always points to the Living Word. Let’s join Him for supper right now as we focus afresh on the love that He has lavished upon us so that we are confused no longer.