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The Problem with the Bible

Notes & Transcripts

Introduction:

  1. Not everyone believes that the Bible is inspired and authoratative.
  2. Among the many contrary views concerning the inspiration of the Bible are these:
    • The Gospels were produced generations later by people who arranged the content to support the policies and beliefs of the communities of which they were a part.
    • The content of the Gospels were nothing more than evolved legends that were embellished by succeeding generations.
    • It is impossible ot know to what degree the New Testament reports actual events.
  3. Controversy regarding scripture is not new to our era.
    • Marcionism was a dualist belief system that originated in 144 AD in the teachings of Marcion at Rome.
    • Marcion believed Jesus Christ was the savior sent by God and Paul of Tarsus was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel (YHWH Elohim).
    • Marcion's canon consisted of eleven books: A gospel consisting of ten chapters from the Gospel of Luke edited by Marcion (the current canonical Gospel of Luke has 24 chapters); and ten of Paul's epistles. All other epistles and gospels were rejected.
    • Marcionism was denounced by its opponents as heresy, and written against, notably by Tertullian, in a five-book treatise written about 208.
  4. Examples of modern day applications of Scripture.
    • Some refuse to give any credence to James because of its emphasis on works.
    • Some don't take Paul seriously because they, incorrectly, think him to be a chauvinist. So things he wrote are not considered applicable.
    • Some don't think the Sermon on the Mount is not applicable to this age. They think it is impossible to keep and surely not meant by Jesus to be for this age.
    • The Jesus Seminar (Santa Rosa, CA) believes that no more than 20% of the sayings of Jesus can be historically validated.
  5. One's view of the Bible is, in many respects, like a cornerstone of a building that sets the direction of the structure that is built over it.

I. What the Bible Claims:

  1. This is the wrong place to begin in a discussion with someone who doubts the Bible.
    • It would be like asking someone who doubts the accuracy of the scale that measure their meat to believe the sticker on the side of the scale.
    • Until the scale is tested, no sticker or existing declaration has any credibility.
  2. However, it would be good to have the testimony of scripture on this subject to see what the claims are.
    • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that scripture is inspired, useful, and equipping.
    • 2 Peter 1:19-21 says that no scripture came by human will but through the Holy Spirit.
    • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says that what Paul taught that church was not his own word but rather the word of God.
    • 1 Peter 1:24-25 says the word of God abides forever (word being the message declared to Peter's community).
    • Psalm 119 is a Psalm of praise to the virtue of God's word. Verse 11 says that the Psalmist treasures God's word in his heart, and it protects him from sin.
    • Psalm 119:97-99 says that he loves the law of God and meditates on it all day long.
    • In every case these texts speak of great respect for God's word and a desire to live according to their precepts.
  3. The question that is raised by these claims is whether the Bible, in fact, has any ground for these claims.
  4. Whether one takes seriously the teachings of the Bible depends on the conclusion drawn about its dependability. The Christian faith requires belief in the Bible.

II. How We Got the Bible:

  1. We have no autographs (original copies) of the Bible today. None!
    • We have to rely on copies of the originals.
    • In the case of the New Testament, these copies came to us in the form of hand written manuscripts. We have about 4,500 in all.
    • Our present manuscripts indicate that there were 4 categories of manuscript content: Gospel, Acts & General Epistles, Pauline Epistles, and the Revelation.
  2. By and large the most important copies of the Scriptures are the oldest ones. Called the Vatican, the Sinaitic, and the Alexandrian manuscripts, these date back to 300-450 AD.
  3. There are other documents that add witness and credibility to these oldest manuscripts.
    • There are 2500 "cursives" that date from the 9th to 15th century. The age of these manuscripts tends to limit their value, however they are useful for comparison to the earlier documents we have. Agreement between these more recent documents and the older ones helps to demonstrate the reliability of the manuscripts.
    • The Lectionaries were select passages of Scripture designed to be read in the public worship services. This, in effect, makes these lections a kind of manuscript. Most lectionaries are of the Gospels but some are of Acts and the Epistles.
    • The Versions are translations of the Greek originals into the languages of the new nations where the news about Jesus was taken. These translations include:
      • The Syriac Versions.
      • The Peshitta.
      • The Old Latin and the Latin Vulgate.
      • Other versions include the Egyptian, the Armenian, the Gothic, the Ethiopic, and the Arabian.
    • The Fathers. These Christian writers lived near the end of the 1st century and shortly afterward. They include Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, and Clement (second century), Origin, Tertullian, and Ciprian (third century), and in the 4th century Eusebius and Jerome.
      • Volume after volume of their writings which are filled with quotations of the New Testment.
      • These men possessed copies of the scripture that were older than our manuscripts today.
  4. To give perspective to the quantity and quality of NT manusacripts we have, compare these other writings.
    • We only have 9 or 10 copies of Caesar's Gallic War, and the oldest copy is 900 years after Caesar.
    • Of the 142 books of the Roman History of Livy (59 BC-17 AD) only 35 survive. These are known to us from not more than 20 manuscripts of any consequence.
    • Of the 14 books of the Hisories of Tacitus (100 AD) only 4.5 survive.
    • The History of Thucydides (460-400 BC) is known to us from 8 manuscripts the earliest from about 900 AD and a few papyrus scraps.
  5. Note that no classical scholar would give credence to an argument that Herodotus or Thucydides are dubious because their manusacripts are over 1300 years later than the originals.
    • Compare to the NT of which we have 2 excellent manuscripts from the 300's.
    • And fragments of papyrus copies of books of the NT dated from 100 to 200 years earlier still.
    • There is even more such evidence but time won't allow at this moment.......

III. Why the Gospels are trustworthy:

  1. The Gospels were written, at the most, forty to sixty years after Jesus' death. Paul's letters were written fifteen to twenty-five years after Jesus' death and provide an outline of the events of his life. This means that the Biblical accounts of Jesus' life were circulating within the lifetimes of hundreds who had been present at the events of his ministry. See Luke 1:1-4.
    • Mark says that the man who helped Jesus carry his cross was "the father of Alexander and Rufus," Mark 15:21. There was no reason to include those names unless the readers knew or had access to them.
    • Paul refers to a body of 500 eyewitnesses who saw the risen Christ at once.
    • For a highly altered, fictionalized account of an event to talk hold of the public imagination, all the eyewitnesses would have to be DEAD.
    • The NT documents could not make the claim that Jesus rose from the grave if, in fact, he had not. The hearers would simply have laughed at the account.
    • And Christianity would have never gotten off the ground.
  2. The content of the Gospels, if written to support policies and power, would have taken sides on debates going on in the early church.
    • Circumcision, for example. Nowhere does Jesus say anything about circumcision.
    • Women would not be given such an important role in a society where women were assigned low status. Testimony of women was not even taken in court.
    • Also, why depict the apostles as petty, jealous, cowardly, and slow-witted if they were to be the eventual leaders of the early church?
  3. Critics of the Bible say it is culturally offensive or objectionable. For example, the role of women and the presence of slaves.
    • This criticism arises from ignoring the cultural and historical distance between us and the writers of the original text.
    • Slaves, for example, were not significantly different from others and were not distinguishable by race, speech, or clothing. They were not segregated from society, They made the same wages as free laborers and could accrue capital to buy themselves out. Very few slaves were slaves for life. See 1 Timothy 1:9-11.
    • Gender roles as prescribed in the NT were probably said in response to some issue in the early church that would shed light on the need for that instruction. Paul told the Galatians that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ." Pretty progressive instruction in that age.

Conclusion:

  1. The Bible is problematic for some but largely because baseless arguments are parroted. There is more to the story than they acknowledge.
  2. Knowing what one believes about the Bible is important for knowing if it will be treated with respect and authority or if it will be rejected out of hand.
  3. Clearly, there is great evidence to support the view that God has guided its preservation so that we can read it today. And Paul said it is inspired and instructive.
  4. Dear Father, thank you for giving us a written account of your work in the world. Help us to respect that word and let it live in our lives. In Jesus' name we pray this. Amen.
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