The Big Issue: “How Can I Trust the Bible?” (Andrew Parfitt)

Poole Christian Fellowship – “The Big Issue” Series

Readings: 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:16-21, 3:14-16.
The Bible has the power to change (Heb. 4:12) and direct (Ps. 119:105) our lives

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What is your mindset?

Modernism only treats as ‘true’ whatever can be proved by investigation and reason. It is sceptical of the spiritual and supernatural. Such humanism regards the mind as the final authority. It is philosophy of pride.
Postmodernism assumes that there is no mega-narrative – that life has no plan or purpose, there is no absolute truth or morality, words have no ultimate meaning, and history is a matter of interpretation rather than fact. It is a philosophy of pessimism and doubt.
Christianity affirms that the Bible is the Word of God, and the sole and final authority for belief and behaviour. It is true, and produces faith and hope.

What is your doctrine?

Our trust in the Bible needs to be based on a coherent doctrine of Scripture itself, not just on finding answers to difficult questions (‘Where did Cain get his wife from?’).

1. INSPIRATION

God has revealed Himself in various ways – by general revelation through creation (Ps. 19:1-4, Acts 14:17, Rom. 1:20), conscience (Rom. 2:12-16),and providence/history; and by special revelation directly to individuals (e.g. the prophets) and finally in Jesus Christ, the Word (John 1:14, 14:9, Heb. 1:1-2).

The Scriptures are fundamental to God’s revelation of Himself; without them we would not know about His revelation through historical events, to people or about Christ Himself.
Inspiration is the means by which God, through the Holy Spirit, enabled chosen individuals to communicate this revelation in writing.

There are several views of inspiration: 1. All God – mechanical writing. 2. All human – inspired in the same way as secular music, poetry etc. 3. Mainly human – but with some high spots of revelation. 4. Mainly divine – but with human errors (‘what it teaches is more important than what it touches’). It is better to see it as (5) Fully human and fully divine – that God used the writers’ personalities and abilities to write exactly what He intended.

The Bible writers often claimed to be the mouthpiece of God. There are 359 ‘Thus says the Lord’ statements; Moses obtained the Law directly from God; David received instruction ‘in writing from the hand of the Lord’ (1 Chron.28:19) and Jesus declared that David spoke by the Holy Spirit’ (Matt. 12:36). The prophets spoke ‘by the Spirit of Christ’ (1 Pet. 1:11). The NT relies upon the inspiration of the OT to confirm the Gospel (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:3). Note Augustine’s dictum: ‘What the Bible says God says’.

The Bible’s claims about itself do not, of course, prove its divine inspiration but they do lead us to a point of decision about whether we will accept and trust it as the Word of God. It is ultimately, therefore, a matter of ‘reasonable faith’ (see Acts 26:25).

2. INFALLIBILITY and INERRANCY

Critics have always been quick to find ‘mistakes’ in the Bible and as Christians we too can be puzzled by passages that we do not understand or that seem contradictory.

There are different approaches to this matter:
1. Obscurantism: ‘God said it, I believe it, that’s it’. Such refusal to consider the possibility of problems is a form of intellectual dishonesty and can, in fact, destroy faith.
2. Liberalism: This questions the historicity of the biblical record and sees the Bible not as given by God, but as a human book about God that contains some truth.
3. A ‘faithful’ approach: This starts with faith – ‘I believe so that I can understand’ – and looks at questions and problems from that perspective. It seeks to ‘give a reason for the hope you have’ (1 Peter 3:15).

Issues to be faced – and some answers

1. Manuscript and translation: We do not have the original writings, and there are differences in translation and some scribal errors. However, only 1/1000th of the NT is doubtful and no doctrine is dependent on such passages; there is better manuscript evidence for the biblical text than for any other work of antiquity.
2. Literary form and culture: The Bible uses metaphor and pictorial language, so some things are not meant to be taken literally.
3. Historicity: There are a number of ‘contradictions’ – some can be explained, others remain problematic. We should recognise that ‘when total precision of a particular kind was not expected or aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it’ (The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, 1978). But its accuracy has often been proved by archaeological discoveries.
4. Science: The biblical writers used the language of phenomena (what they saw), not the technical language of the 21st century scientist. However, miracles – supernatural events – are an essential element of the biblical record, and faith requires that we believe the inexplicable (especially the resurrection).
5. Morality: While Christians readily embrace the Ten Commandments, the morality of war (especially in the OT) and the NT doctrine of hell are less easily accepted. How could a God of love be so cruel? We have to work towards a rounded view of God’s nature that includes both His wrath and His mercy, believing that sin always results in judgement.

We need to affirm…

THAT the Bible is historically reliable and its message intellectually credible.
THAT it is not confusing book. There is a remarkable unity, consistency and clarity in its message, especially regarding salvation.
THAT the human mind is limited and corrupt and, on its own, will deliver false conclusions about God. We need, therefore, to approach the Bible with humility and a dependence on the Holy Spirit for illumination.
THAT the main issue is one of authority and submission, not scholarship. We should be more concerned about obeying it rather than dissecting, it; and in using it for spiritual growth.

Andrew Parfitt – June 2011

Recommended reading: ‘Nothing but the truth’, Brian Edwards (Evangelical Press)
‘Why Trust the Bible? Answers to 10 tough questions’, Amy Orr-Ewing (IVP),
For up-to-date apologetics material – Ravi Zacharias International Ministries: www.rzim.eu.

Posted Under: The Big Issue

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