In my role as the Teaching Pastor here at Grace I am often invited to various meetings to be the Bible Answer Man. I have visited small groups in homes, men’s groups, women’s groups, Jr. High, High School and College groups… singles groups, retired men’s groups… you name it I’ve been there to answer all sorts of questions about the Bible. But I have noticed that there are certain questions that come up continually. In fact, there are four questions that get asked infinitely more than others. The first is, “Will my pets go to heaven?” I always start by asking if they mean just the ones they love or do they also mean the evil one they gave to a farmer to be a barn cat. The second question is, “What is Dave Rod really like?” To this one I generally say that he is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. The third question is this, and to be honest I’ve never understood this one. “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Robert Redford?” The answer is, “Yes.” And the fourth question is directly about the Bible… Actually, the fourth question usually takes one of 3 forms: It’s either “Where did the Bible come from?” “Is the Bible we have today what was originally written or have people changed it over the years?” or “Why do you believe the Bible is true when there are so many other religions? Aren’t all religions just saying the same things in different ways?” The fact that people continually ask me these 3 questions shows me that many people struggle with being confident that we can stand firmly on the Bible being our source of truth. And I have to tell you, having answers to these questions is important because pretty much the whole of our faith is based on the Bible… and if we can’t stand in a place of confidence when it comes to the Bible being trustworthy and true then our faith will at best be tentative. And so today I hope to answer these questions.
But before I do I have to begin with two caveats. Much of what we are about to talk about has a theological name: Apologetics. Apologetics is making an argument something being true… and Biblical Apologetics is a huge field of study. I know that some of you are Apologetic geeks… you love this stuff. So, my caveat to you is that there is no way in the next few minutes that I will be able to mention everything that you think is important. I will disappoint you. And my second caveat, I know that many of you have seen programs on the History Channel or the Discovery Channel where “experts” have said things about the Bible as if they are facts and these ‘facts’ raise questions about the Bible. And you may be hoping that I’ll take on what these ‘experts. Again, our time is short; I probably will not cover all of what you’d like me to cover. Again, I may disappoint you. But please remember, time is the issue today not confidence in the face of critics. We have answers. There will be other times to address these things. But for today our primary reason for talking about the Bible is this: we want you to be able to stand confidently in this statement: The Bible was written by human authors under the supernatural inspiration of God and it is our authority for all matters of faith and practice.
So, let’s jump right in. The first question was, “Where did the Bible come from?” Well, first I want to tell you where it didn’t come from. The Bible isn’t a magical book that dropped out of the sky… nor was it a book written by a man who went into a trance, wrote furiously without any knowledge about what he was writing, and in the end had something that everyone recognized was from God. Some people do envision the writing of the books of the Bible like this, but honestly, this simply isn’t true. We have a great deal of information about how the books of the Bible were written, why they were written and in many cases who wrote them. And if there is one thing wecansay about the Bible it’s this: the Bible isn’t some mysterious, crazy, other worldly, religious book written by people that were out of touch with real life. Truth is, the Bible is exactly the opposite: it’s an earth-bound book; it deals with the kinds of issues that everyone deals with: family, friends, enemies, joys and sorrows… The Bible is filled with the experiences that regular people have had with God while they were living in the rough-and-tumble reality of normal life. And so, to answer to the question, “Where did the Bible come from?” It came from regular people like you and me who had experiences with God that were so overwhelming that they were inspired to write down what they’d found through experience to be true about God and about life with God… and then others, after reading what these people wrote down, recognized that God’s Spirit had had a hand in keeping these books right on the money, and as a community they agreed that these books needed to be kept and copied and shared with others because they told the world the truth about God. The Bible is simply this: a collection of 66 different writings: histories, poems, prophecies, even letters, written over a 2000 year time span, that tell us about the truth about God and his relationship with real people like you and me. This is what the Bible is all about! You can stand on this!
And this leads me to one other question I often get asked: Why these 66 books? People often say something like this, “I saw a show on the History Channel that claimed there are a number of books that were left out of the Bible for political reasons?” This comes up all of the time. And truth is there is a very long and well documented history surrounding the decisions that determined which books should be and which shouldn’t be in the Bible… and the overriding issue that concerned both the Jewish leaders who put together the Old Testament and the early church fathers who decided which books should be in the New Testament, was never leaving out books that aren’t in the Bible now. No, the big issue was whether they should keep all of the books that are in the Bible now; they were wondering if the Bible be shorter? They were asking, “Do all of these books tell us the truth about God?” And this process took close to 400 hundred years of dialogue, study, argument and prayer to finally come to a final decision about the composition of what we now call the Bible… Now, I know that it’s popular today in some circles to say these were political decisions… that there are other books that were kept out of the Bible simply to keep certain people in power. But this is silly conjecture. The decisions about what books are in the Bible were prayerful decisions made by serious, humble people who only had one thing in mind: following God’s leading to be certain that they put together a collections of books that told the world the truth about God and his love for mankind. You can stand on this!
Our second question, “Is what we have today what was originally written or has it been changed?” This is also an important question because if the message of the Bible has been changed over time then we are really at a loss to know what in the Bible is actually authoritative… what is from God and what is from men. Well, as far as this question is concerned I want to just skip to the core of the issue. You can stand firmly on this: there are almost no questions in the scholarly world… secular or religious… about whether what we have today is close to what was originally written thousands of years ago. This is a closed issue. Now, it is true that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts of any of the books of the Bible. And that makes some people say, “Well, how can you be sure that people haven’t been changing the words in the Bible to suit their own purposes?” But let me sum it up this way: By all of the standards that scholarship has for accessing ancient documents the Bible is without a peer. The surprising discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948 showed us that the Old Testament had been faithfully preserved for thousands of years by Jewish scholars… check it out sometime. Plus, we now have at least 28,000 pre-printing press, hand written documents containing some or all of the New Testament… and while there are some slight differences from one text to the next, all of the differences put together only lead us to about a page’s worth of real questions as to what was most likely originally written. Now, I’ll grant that this is a complicated subject… but you can stand on this… when you read your Bible, you can be confident that what it is saying to you is almost identical to what people were reading 2000 years ago. I’m going to go out on a limb here; if you hear anyone say that the words of the Bible have been changed because people had agendas or wanted to preserve their power or whatever… those people don’t know what they are talking about. Call their bluff. Ask them to give you some specifics.
But, the truth is this: knowing that what we have is almost exactly what the original writer wrote down doesn’t make what the writer wrote down true. The writer could have been making everything up. Which leads us to that third question: Why do we believe the Bible is telling us the truth when there are so many other religions with their own sacred books? We live in a time of religious tolerance. And I understand the need for being respectful and listening to one another. But anyone who tells you that all religions are simply different pathways to the same destination simply hasn’t seriously studied the different religions. It is true that all religions talk about the importance of peace and all religions value things like getting along with one another and doing the right things… but those kinds of things aren’t the core truths of any religion. Now my intension is not at all to be confrontational, but if you seriously look at what various religions just have to say about what is true about God you’ll see that it is completely illogical to say that all religions are essentially the same. For instance, Islam says there is one God and he is all powerful and controls everything. We live one life and then Allah judges us but he is free to decide whatever he wants; our eternal destiny is determined by how he’s feeling on Judgment Day not how we lived our lives or how pious we’d been. Hinduism says there are thousands of gods and each one controls a different, minute aspect of the world. Plus, each one deserves our worship. Hinduism also says that mankind is reincarnated over and over and over and our station in this life is determined by how we lived our last life. Buddhism on the other hand says there is no God at all and no afterlife and the purpose of life is to rid ourselves of unnecessary desire. Now, let’s be honest. It cannot be true that there is one God, thousands of gods and no God… and yet all of these religions claim to be the truth. Here is the logical bottom line: any one of the world’s religious systems could be right; then again, they all could be wrong. But they can’t all be right.
Of course, we believe that what we find in the Bible about God and life and our eternal destiny are the truth! This is a claim we hold very, very strongly… We believe that what the Bible says is true. And when I say this I don’t mean that the events in Bible are true in some historical sense… even though I could go on and on about how archeological discoveries related to the Bible show the biblical accounts to be true and how secular history backs up biblical history and how the cultural descriptions we find in the Bible fit in with all that we have discovered to be true about the ancient world … but I don’t want to talk about any of this kind of truth anymore… What I want to talk about is why we feel the Bible tells us the truth about God and the truth about the purpose of life… Now, some have argued with me when I’ve said I believe the Bible is true because it sets my hearts on fire… They say “That’s no proof!” BUT when I read the Bible it does set my heart on fire… because it talks about life in ways that make sense; it gives me answers to the difficult questions; it leads me to God. When I read it I can’t help but often say, “This is true!” I’d go so far as to say, if you want to find out why the world was created in the first place and how the world became so broken… if you want to find out why our relationships with God and with one another can be so distant and difficult; Or why in the midst of all of this brokenness God is reaching out to you to show you his love… then read the Book of Genesis. I guarantee that it will speak to you in ways that you’ll know you are hearing the truth… truth you can stand on. Or if you’ve ever wondered whether God cares about you enough to listen to what is on your mind: your angers, or your frustrations, your joys, your sorrows… if you’ve ever wanted to know the truth about whether God is concerned about the condition of your heart… then read the Psalms and I promise they will speak to you in ways that you’ll know you’ve found the truth about how much God cares about you. Or if you have ever wondered about the sad state of the world and wanted to know if God cares about justice or the poor… if you have ever wanted to know the truth about how much God loves each and every person or what lengths he is willing to go to rescue us from darkness, then read the Gospels… any one of them: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. In them you will find truth you can stand on about Jesus and his love for you. Or if you’ve ever wanted to know the truth about how we should live together… what it means to truly love one another and what it looks like to treat each other well, then read Paul’s letters to the churches. In those letters you’ll find practical truth about God’s desires for your life and the lives we live together. I promise you what you’ll find is truth that makes sense… truth that will give you a sense of purpose and freedom. You read the Bible and I promise you, you will find the truth.
There is a passage in the Psalms that is a picture of what it looks like for someone to humble themselves before God’s word… it is a picture of someone who is confident that they have found the truth in God’s word. Listen to these words:You're blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You're blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That's right—you don't go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set. You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; Then I'd never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel. I thank you for speaking straight from your heart; I learn the pattern of your righteous ways. I'm going to do what you tell me to do; don't ever walk off and leave me. Psalm 119:1-8 (The Message)And God has given us the Bible as his way of speaking straight from his heart to us…. He wants us to know his ways… know his counsel… and know his love. And the way to come to the fullest understanding of these truths begins with reading the Bible… or listen to it… it was originally written to be heard, you know. God does tell us a bit about himself through nature and he does reveal his character to us through others, but his primary way of revealing himself to us is through the Bible. So, we need to read it… And just as a practical suggestion, don’t try to read too much… and read full paragraphs… or stories… or parables… And as you are reading or listening to the words of the Bible stop and ask God “What are you trying to tell me about yourself in this passage, Lord? And then ask, “What are you trying to tell me about me?” Never forget that the reason we have the Bible is so we can have a closer relationship with God… not so we can be smarter about a book. God’s greatest desire is to be with us; his giving us a book was simply one way to make our relationship with him deeper while we wait for the day when we won’t need a Bible to tell us about God. Someday he will tell us about himself face-to-face. Someday we won’t have to wonder about the truth; the truth will be with us.
Getting back to those first questions… I don’t know if there will be pets in heaven but I do know that the world that God originally created for us was filled with life… all sorts; and the Bible tells us that someday we will return to that original creation and in that world I am certain will be all sorts of animals… animals that will have a completely different relationship with us than animals do now! So I believe it’s true that we can look forward to this! And what is Dave Rod really like? Well, this last week in the midst of a difficult day he said, “Let’s stop and read a passage from the Bible and listen to what God is saying to us”… and once he’d read the passage he said to me, “Isn’t it amazing what God’s word can do to give us a new perspective!” That’s what he is really like. And where did we get the Bible? It came from regular people like you and me who had experiences with God that were so overwhelming that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down what they’d found through experience to be true about God and about life with God… And the Holy Spirit has taken those written truths, protected them and given them to you and me… we call it the Bible! And you can stand on those truths. You can be confident that as John says in his Gospel“These things were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”(John 20:31). That is truth that you can stand on.