Nashwauk Alliance Church
Friday, November 24, 2017
Reaching Out & Reaching Up!

The Authority of the Bible

The Authority of the Bible
Pastor Karl Emerson
The historic Christian church has long held that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. It has maintained that the Bible is unique and is the foundation for the doctrine of the church and the life of the believer. Where does this view come from? From the Bible itself. We’ll take a look at some of the key Biblical passages and then answer some common questions about the authority of the Bible.
 
What the Bible Says:
 
 
The Bible is inspired by God.
 
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)
 
Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the Star Spangled Banner after watching a battle during the War of 1812. This is not what is meant when we say that the Bible is inspired by God. Instead, we mean that the Bible was written by the Spirit of God. The term “God-breathed” is the Greek word theopneustos which is a combination of the Greek words for God and breath. The passage teaches that the Scriptures were “breathed out by God.” The Scriptures were written by the humans, but those men guided by God to write exactly what they wrote. This is seen 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. (NIV)
 
The Scriptures were written by men who were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit so worked in the lives of the authors that they wound up writing exactly what God wanted them to write. This is why we see the personalities of the individual writers in the books of the Bible while at the same time sense that there is a common author to the entire Bible.
 
The Bible is without error.
 
There are numerous passages that speak about the perfection of the Scriptures. Here are a few:
 
Psalm 12:6
And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.
 
 Proverbs 30:5
 “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
 
Psalm 19:7
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
 
 
The term “flawless” in Psalm 12 and Proverbs 30 refers to the end product of the refining process. It is like gold that has been refined to the point that it is pure gold. There is nothing but purity left in it.
 
The Bible is to be the authority for all that we do.
 
We have already looked at 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says that the Bible is to be used for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. The entire Psalm 119 speaks of the enduring perfection of God’s word and the benefits of living according to it. Because the Bible is God’s revelation to us, disobedience to it is disobedience to God. Therefore the Bible should be the standard by which we live.
 
Common Questions:
  •  Don’t all religions have their own scriptures? How can you claim that the Bible is exclusively “God’s Word”?
Islam has the Koran. The Latter Day Saints have the Book of Mormon. The list goes on. Unlike the scriptures of other religions, the Bible is not the work of a single human author. In fact, the Bible was written over a span of fifteen centuries, on three continents, in three languages, by over forty authors. These authors included kings, doctors, fishermen, peasants and scholars. At the same time, the Bible contains uncanny unity, as if written by a single hand. The accuracy of the Bible in recording the history which it relates is used by archeologists and scholars.  
  •  Doesn’t the Bible contain many errors?
When I was in college, I had a professor who kept talking about the “errors” in the Bible. Finally I raised my hand and asked him for “the list.” He looked really puzzled and told me to repeat my question.
 
I said, “For the past hundred years liberal scholars have been saying that there are mistakes or errors in the Bible. It seems to me that having a list of the mistakes would be helpful, that way we would know what to believe and what to discard.”
 
Much to my shock, he immediately raced out of the room and down the hall. He returned a few minutes later with “the list” of errors that had been found by modern scholars. As I looked over the list, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. You see, the list was not “modern” at all. Each passage had challenged scholars for centuries, and each one had a logical solution.
 
Many of the passages on the list were considered errors because they used poetic or everyday expressions. The Bible says that the sun “rises” and “sets.” So does today’s newspaper. Are they wrong? No, it’s a common language to describe a natural phenomenon. Or how about a passage that says the “trees of the fields shall clap their hands”? Does this mean that the Bible teaches that trees have hands? No, it is the language of poetry, not science, and must be understood as such. What about passages that say that the enemy was as numerous as the “sand on the seashore?” Taken literally, it is impossible, but this is the language of poetry.
 
Other errors had to do with numbers. Again, a little common sense and the errors disappeared. Today there was a fire in the office building across the street from the White House. One reporter said that there were twenty-five fire trucks while another said there were twenty. Was one right and the other wrong? Or were they both correct in that they were conveying a picture of the magnitude of the response? If the announcer says that there were 50,000 people at the football game and the actual number was 51,413 is he lying? No. We understand how language is intended to be used and interpret what we hear accordingly. In the same way, we need to use common sense in reading the Bible.
 
Still other “errors” have to with the inability of the events narrated by the Bible to be verified independently. For example, Matthew tells us that Herod had the boys under two years old who lived in the area around Bethlehem slaughtered because he was trying to eliminate Jesus, who he perceived to be a contender for his throne. Some skeptical scholars have pointed out how drastic this was claimed that it was so unrealistic that it was not be believed, particularly without outside evidence. While its true that we do not have extra-biblical evidence of these murders, we do not know that Caesar Augustus once said of Herod (who purported to be a Jewish convert), “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.” You see, a Jew would not kill a pig, but Herod had no problem killing his sons because he perceived them as threats. Such a man would have no problem slaughtering potential rivals that were unrelated to him! 
 
A great book dealing with these issues is Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.
 
  • We don’t have the original copies of the Bible, so how can we know that the Bible we have reflects what was originally written?
It is true that we don’t have what scholars call the “autographs.” It is also true that we might have the autographs and have no way of knowing it. So what do we have? Literally hundreds of almost identical ancient copies of the Bible dating to back to the first century. These documents had been painstakingly copied by hand and exist with almost no variation. Most of the variations are easily explained, like skipping a word or line while copying the text. Other variations include things like taking inserting “traditional” material[1], attempts at clarifying meaning[2] or smoothing out grammar. What is truly significant is to realize that in no instance is a matter of doctrine at stake.[3] The amazing thing is the incredible amount of agreement as to what the text originally was. Modern versions of the Bible also have impeccable integrity in footnoting places where there is uncertainty.
 
  • What about the miracles? Aren’t they just myths that expanded over time?
Some people argue that the miracles of the Bible are legends that grew over time, much like fishing stories. There are two problems with this line of thought. First, the writing of most of the books of the Bible happened shortly after the events. For example, most scholars concur that the gospel of Mark was written about 60 AD. There simply wasn’t time for legends to grow. Second, in most cases the accounts were recorded while there were still other witnesses who could verify the accuracy of the accounts.
 
  • Isn’t looking at the passages in the Bible claiming inspiration circular reasoning? Maybe those are the passages that are wrong!
For the Christ-follower, there is no problem here. Let’s look at it this way:
 
1.        As a Christ-follower, I believe that what Jesus taught is true. Simply put, as a follower Jesus, I want to know what Jesus thought about life and what he believed to be true. I believe that he is true and correct in all of his teachings.
 
2.        The Bible contains an accurate record of what Christ taught. This is not the same as saying that the Bible is inspired. Instead, the issue is whether the gospels contain an accurate account of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, believe that that gospels accurately record what Jesus taught.
 
3.        The Bible teaches that Christ believed in the inspiration and truthfulness of the Bible. There can be no doubt that Jesus believed in the inspiration and truthfulness of the Bible. Rudolph Bultmann, one of the greatest New Testament scholars of the past century and a anti-supernaturalist, thought that Jesus accepted the common view of his day that the Bible was inspired and authoritative.
Jesus taught, “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. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:18-19).
In fact, the passages of the Old Testament which are most “unbelievable” are the very passages that Jesus referred to in his teachings. For example, he refers to the story of Jonah (where a man is swallowed by a fish and vomited onto the shore three days later). He talks about Noah, the ark and the destruction of the world by flood (Lk 17:26-28). He talks about the destruction of Sodom (when a city was destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven) (Mt 11:25).  He mentions the healing of Namaan’s leprosy (by taking a bath in the Jordan River) (Lk 4:27).
Jesus taught that it would be easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law (Lk 16:17).
There can be no doubt that Jesus believed in the inspiration and trustworthiness of the Bible.
 
4.        Therefore, as a Christ-follower, I believe in the inspiration and truthfulness of the Bible. This is not circular reasoning. Instead, it is the simple conclusion that what Jesus said was true, is true. For the Christ-follower believing in the authority of Scripture is a based on believing that what Jesus taught was true. 
 
 
If the Bible is the Word of God (God's message to us, backed by His authority and seal of approval), then it is imperative that we take the time to read and study its message. The Bible is more than simply a book. It explains the truth about why we are here, what the root of our problems is and the solution our problem. It is the standard by which we are to be judged and contains the way that God has created for us to know eternal life. May you read it and take to heart its message. If you have questions about how to do so, we would be happy to help you.
 


[1] The classic example of this is the “Lord’s Prayer” found in Matthew 6:9-13. The prayer ends with, “but deliver us from the evil one.” The footnote in the NIV reads, “some late manuscripts add ‘for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” This longer version is not found in any of the earliest manuscripts. What happened? A scribe copying the book of Matthew inserted the liturgical form of the prayer which he probably prayed every Sunday in church. This insertion could have been intentional (“Look, they forgot something!”) or unintentional as he continued writing while thinking about what was for supper.
[2] For example, in Matthew 27:35 the NIV footnote states, “A few late manuscripts: “lots that the word spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled: ‘They divided my garments among themselves and cast lots for my clothing.” A scribe, realizing that this was the fulfillment of prophecy, added it into the text.
[3] Two passages from the New Testament are worth commenting on here. The first is John 7:53-8:11, commonly called “the woman caught in adultery.” The NIV brackets this passage and notes, “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.” In fact, if one were to pour over the ancient texts, one would find that many of the oldest texts do not have these verses, some have them in other places in the gospel, some have them added at the end of the gospel, and occasionally there are marks at the beginning and end of the passage as if the copyist knew that they had been added to the original writing. Scholars agree that this is the case of a story that is probably historically accurate that the early church wanted to save, but does not appear to have been written by the author of the gospel.
The second important passage to mention is the ending of Mark. The NIV brackets verses 16:9-20 and adds the comment that they are not included in most early manuscripts. In fact, they do not appear in the manuscripts until about the fourth century. They may have been the result of some scribe in the second or third century attempting to provide a more polished ending to the gospel. In each of the cases cited, it is important to realize the pains that Christian scholar take to ascertain with a high degree of certainty what was the original text, and their willingness to "question" a text that may be popular but not original. Such intellectual integrity is demanded of those who handle God's Word.