As part of my role with Wycliffe Bible Translators, I often find myself speaking at churches about the need for Bible translation. However, more and more research is showing that Christians in the UK are having problems in trusting that the Bible is accurate, reliable or authoritative.
For Wycliffe this is a problem because people are hardly going to want to support Bible translation if they don’t see the importance of the Bible in their own lives.
It’s also a problem for the Church. What roots and instructs our faith if the Bible isn’t at the heart of it?
So I found the following resources and repackaged them into a message that could be used in churches around the country. Feel free to study the resources yourself, or take the message to use in your own context.
If you found it helpful, or have questions, please let me know in the comments.
- First up, I should give credit where it’s due. Most of the structure and some of the content for the message I give on this came from a guy called Matt Chandler, who is the lead pastor of the Village Church in Texas, USA. His message, Ultimate Authority Revealed, can be listened to online. You will also find a study guide and the transcript of his message.
- Facing the Challenge is an excellent website. In the main menu there’s a section called Can we be confident in the truth? where information to help us discuss the authenticity and accuracy of Christianity is shared.
“The purpose of this whole section of the ‘Facing the Challenge’ web site is to show that we can be confident in the truth and reliability of the message of the Bible – there are good reasons for believing the Good News.”
- Nick Lunn worked for many years New Testament translation project in Kenya. After completing doctoral studies in Hebrew, he began working as a translation consultant for SIL and leading the Hebrew course at European Training Programme. Nick gave a presentation as part of Wycliffe Bible Translators Evening Classes in 2011 on the title: Can we rely on the text of the Bible? You can watch his presentation as a Slideshare here:
- I didn’t stumble across this video until after writing the message, and even if I had found it before, I’m not sure how I would have made the space to put this in. It’s useful to watch though. Dr Peter Williams shares how the names occur in Scripture are correct, and in the right proportions, for society at the time. It would be impossible to create this level of accuracy without being there. [HT Kouya]
- Eric Bryant, once of Mosaic in LA and now at Gateway Church in Austin, TX, blogged on a sermon series from the church in May 2012. The blog post, called, ‘How do you know the Bible isn’t propaganda?‘ contains some useful insights.
Biblefresh, 75% of Christians in church on Sunday won’t read the Bible during the course of a week.
It’s very easy to assume that doesn’t apply to us, but if it’s an accurate statistic then it at least applies to the majority of this congregation.
In research carried out by the EA over the past couple of years that the younger you are the less confidence you have in the authority of Scripture or that the Bible has and authority for guiding beliefs, views and behaviour.
Our own research (Wycliffe) shows that Christians put less importance on gospel mission in the face of overwhelming hardship. We recently asked groups around the country about their opinions of Bible translation. There were a range of responses, but a theme that stuck out was the belief that it was more important to provide for people’s physical needs, before their spiritual…
“If you are going to give, to me it would have to be for food and medicine and for somebody’s physical well-being and the godly part of it will follow on.”
“My concern would be the amount of money that would be spent on it that maybe could help… getting aid in, getting real things. Yes it would be lovely to give someone a Bible in their own language, but I think if you give someone in a remote area the choice of food to feed them or medication and this…”
2 Tim 3
But, what if Paul is writing to Timothy is true? We need to have confidence in Scripture, because in the challenges of the last days we need to have something reliable to inform our faith.
So today we are going to do two things. This morning we are simply going to ask the question, is the Bible trustworthy? Can I rely on what’s written in the pages of Scripture? Is it authoritative?
Those of you who wanted to know more about Bible translation, how it’s done, the changes that occur in communities, you’ll have to come back tonight and we’ll talk some more about it then.
So to this morning, is the Bible trustworthy?
Is the Bible trustworthy?
Well, in making a case for Scripture it’s probably best that we tackle some of the more popular challenges that come up.
Some would claim that because we don’t have the original manuscripts we should throw out some or all of Scripture.
Well, let’s compare this to other documents?
9 or 10 copies of Caesar’s Gallic War (58-50BC)
20 copies of Livy’s Roman History (59BC – AD17)
7 copies of Pliny the Younger (AD 61-113)
2 copies of the Histories and Annals by Tacitus (AD55-120)
None of these texts were written less than 400 years after the events that they recorded. For just one example, nobody questions that Caesar invaded Britain in 55BC, but there are only 9 or 10 documents recording this and the earliest was written more than 900 years after the event.
What about the Bible?
Dead Sea Scrolls – 40,000 fragments make up more than 500 copies of various books of the OT. These are dated to somewhere around the second century BC, about 200 years after some of the originals.
For the NT, 5,250 manuscripts in the original Greek text plus another 86,000 in early Latin, Syrian and Egyptian. These date from AD 200 on to the fourth or fifth century. Earlier than some of the histories we acknowledge as accurate today.
Technically then, we are not short of early evidence for the Scriptures that we have today.
What about content?
Can we have confidence that our Bible is God’s word?
Writers of the OT seem supremely confident that what they are writing is not their own words but God’s.
There are around 4,000 phrases in the Bible like – ‘God said’, ‘God spoke’, ‘the word of the Lord came’.
In the NT, both Paul and Peter give credit to Scripture being from God (2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21)
There is also a seemingly endless stream of direct quotes of the OT from the NT
Matthew 22:31 – quotes Ex 36
Mark 7:10-13 – unpacks Ex, Lev and Deut
John 10:35 – Psalm 82:6
But, the greatest testimonial of OT Scripture being from God are the words of Jesus himself.
Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:17) 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Death and resurrection completes Scripture (Mark 14:49) 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
Luke 24:44 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
So what about the testimony of the NT? How do we know that what they were writing was from God.
Well, the authors themselves seemed to know that what they were writing was from God.
Gal 1:1 1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—
I Cor 14:37 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command
2 Peter 3:2 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles..
But the NT authors also testify to each other
2 Peter 3:15(-16) 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. 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.
So we have historical evidence for Scripture and an understanding that the authors were writing something a bit special.
But what about the content. How can we be sure that the Bible we read today isn’t missing some important bits, or that other stuff should have been left out?
What makes it in?
There’s nothing in the NT that wasn’t written by one of the apostles, those who were with Jesus, or by the disciple of one of the apostles.
- These aren’t the thoughts of someone who was light years away from the events recorded in the New Testament.
- Even while they were writing there were books that were already recognised as Scripture.
Texts are universal not cultural.
- Not about being Jewish as other texts from the time do.
Harmony with the OT
Whole thing points to Jesus.
What should have been left out?
God of the OT is too difficult for us. It would be easier if we didn’t have that bit.
We struggle with the idea of a just God who hates sin.
We paint the God of the OT as one who is without compassion – despite what his word really says (Jer 23:9-11)
The problem is, if you start removing the books of the OT you don’t get a complete picture of who God is.
Can I recommend at this point, if you’d like to delve more deeply into the historical reasons for confidence in Scripture, the Facing the Challenge website – where there’s much more material to go through.
So if we can rely on the documents that made it into the Bible, then there has to be other challenges to our confidence in Scripture.
Put simply – God can’t do everything that he claims to have done in the Bible.
Ultimately, this rests on one point, the resurrection. If we can’t have faith in that then we may as well pack up and go home now.
Evidence for the resurrection
Jesus was worshipped by his mother and his brothers.
Acts 1 Mary is found praying with the disciples.
James, Jesus’ brother, didn’t immediately see Jesus as Lord (John 7:5) but just three year’s after Paul’s conversion he mentions seeing James ‘the Lord’s brother’ and describes him as one of the apostles.
How do you get a mother to call her son Lord and a brother to worship a sibling to the point of death.
Meeting on Sunday
The other thing that we notice is that the Jewish practices have suddenly changed.
Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
How does change happen quickly in the church?
– Paul’s argument to Festus was not to believe out of blind faith, but to believe because of what he has ‘seen’.
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.” Acts 26:26
Luke 1:1-4 – Luke writes an eyewitness account so that Theophilus may be sure of all the things that he has been taught.
– Names were used.
A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. Mark 15:21
It’s reasonable to expect that the intended audience would have known Alexander and Rufus if they didn’t already know who Simon was.
1 Cor 15:3-6 – Paul wasn’t writing an account that didn’t have eyewitnesses. Jesus was seen by more than 500. Do you think that Paul would have included this kind of detail if it wasn’t true?
Faith isn’t just blind. There’s evidence, eyewitnesses and resulting actions, to support death and resurrection.
Therefore, if there’s going to be a challenge, then something else must have taken place.
The usual challenge to this is that Jesus didn’t really die. That instead he fainted on the cross.
- The beating
- Not being able to carry the cross
- Hypovolemic shock
After that Jesus regained consciousness, met his mother who saw no signs of weakness and then walked almost 7 miles with two of his disciples and made as though he was up for a longer journey (Luke 24:28).
Have you ever broken a toe?
If the resurrection is true then it has implications for all of us.
You know, if the Bible is true. If we can rely on the text to be an accurate record of God’s love for his creation.
His compassion on us when we deserved his judgement
His determination to be known by his people through creation, through his dealings with his chosen people, through coming as Christ to walk amongst us, through the Scriptures he left for us
If he’s done all this for us, and given us the means to know him, what would be an appropriate response from us?