The Bible

The Bible

There are two different perspectives we can use when examining the Bible. The first of these is from a human perspective; who wrote it, why they wrote it, and when they write it. The second of these perspectives provides a more God-ward focused view; why did he give it to us, and what is its purpose.

The Human Perspective

The Bible is not a single book. Rather it is a collection of a number of writings produced over a long period of time by a number of distinct individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds. In the Bible used by most Protestants today there are 66 different books in the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. But those, at least in the Old Testament, are not reflective of how they were originally written. The books of Samuel and Kings, for instance, probably had the same author and were written as a single account, but broken up because of size limitations for scrolls.

Two Collections: The writings in the Bible are broken up into two distinct collections; the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament corresponds to, but is not identical with, the Jewish Scriptures. The Jewish Bible has a different ordering and divisions that the Protestant Old Testament. There are also other Jewish writings that are a part of the Roman Catholic Old Testaments. These difference are mostly based on different document sources and traditions. We use the term Old Testament to refer to the writings focused on the covenant established between Israel and God on Mt. Sinai. It is worth noting that the term ‘Old Testament’ can be offensive to Jews who see there only being a single covenant.

The New Testament writings are those of the new covenant between Christ and his Church, established by his atonement on the cross. These writings are distinctly Christian and are not accepted by Jewish readers as being from God.

Kinds of Writings: The Bible is a diverse collection of literature, from history to poetry to instruction to apocalyptic. Some of the books in the Bible contain one type of literature while others contain multiple types, sometimes interwoven together. Complicating this for modern readers is that Hebrew poetry is different than what we are accustomed to and their view of history is also very different.

Authors: While some of the writings in the Bible, especially the New Testament, have known authors, or at least traditional authors, many of them are anonymous. In the New Testament, the gospels are anonymous with traditional authors, Hebrews has an unknown author, and some others, like 2 Peter, have disputed authorship.

It is even worse in the Old Testament. Who wrote the first five books, the Torah? Traditional scholarship claims that Moses wrote the Torah. But more modern scholarship disputes that. They view the Torah as a collection of verbal and written traditions that were finally collected into their current form around 2500 years ago. In a similar fashion, nearly every book in the Old Testament has both traditional and modern theories as to the authors. Ultimately we do not know who wrote the vast majority of the Old Testament.

Dates: Dating the writings of the Bible is just as challenging. The New Testament is the easier of the two, with most scholars convinced it was completed in the second half of the first century. Many of these writings have fairly reliable and uncontested dates.

The Old Testament is the more challenging collection. When was the Torah written? It really depends on who the author or editor was. If it was written by Moses, then the date is during his lifetime, about 1400 B.C. give or take a hundred years. But if it is a collection of different traditions joined together by a later editor(s), then it is impossible to know. The traditions could go all the way back to, or before, Moses, reaching the final form 2500 years ago. Most of the rest of the Old Testament faces the same issue but we can safely say that it was completed prior to about 300 B.C.

Accuracy: This really relates to the historical sections of the Bible; is it an accurate portrayal of the actual events that it records. This is of primary concern to a modern audience that expects its history to be factually based and unbiased; although in reality it always has some bias. Unfortunately, at least from our perspective, ancient historians were less concerned with accuracy and bias and more concerned with telling a story. That is not to say they fabricated their accounts. It is just that telling a story was more important that dry sterile facts, something neither the authors nor their audience cared about until recent times. So, if you read the Bible’s historical accounts thinking they are like the history you read in school, you will be disappointed.

Canonization: There were many more writings in both the Jewish and Christian communities than what we have in the Bible today. How did we come to accept the books in the Bible as being from God while rejecting others? For both testaments this was a long process without clearly defined rules. Ultimately it came down to what Jews, for the Old Testament, and Christians, for the New Testament, considered as being inspired by God, from reputable sources, widely accepted, and of value. Standard collections, or canons, are eventually, and independently, accepted by both communities and today are what we call the Bible.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic you might look at a couple of earlier blog posts concerning the Reliability of the New Testament and the Canonization of the New Testament.

The Divine Perspective

Before looking at the Bible from the divine perspective, there are some assumptions that need to be expressed. The first of these is that God exists; if he does not then the Bible is nothing more than ancient writings of a religious nature. The second assumption is that God wanted us to know something about himself and his purpose in creation. If he wanted to inform us, then something like the Bible would be expected. If not, then the Bible is undoubtedly of human origin and of limited value.

Inspiration

At the heart of the divine perspective is inspiration. Is the Bible given to us by God, and if so, how did he communicate it to the human authors who actually penned the words we have today. The Bible itself, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, claims to be inspired, or God breathed. But it does not tell us in what way this inspiration occurred. There are a number of different theories as to what inspiration actually is. And how you understand inspiration will impact many, if not all, of the other doctrines you hold to.

Theories of Inspiration

Dictation: One of the theories of inspiration is that God gave the specific words to the authors of the Bible. They were nothing more than a passive tool that God used. Every word, every expression, every stylistic inflection is all provided by God. If two different authors had been used to produce the same book, they would be identical. There are not many people who actually subscribe to this theory today.

Verbal: This theory is very similar to the dictation theory. The Holy Spirit’s influence over the author extends to the words that are selected and used. The difference between the two is that in verbal inspiration the Holy Spirit limits himself to the vocabulary of the human author. So if two distinct authors, especially if separated by time, write a book, while it will be exactly what God wants, they will be different. This is likely the most popular theory among evangelicals today.

Dynamic: In the dynamic theory, the Holy Spirit and the human author work together to produce the writing. The Holy Spirit provides the thoughts or concepts while the human author provides the words to express those thoughts. In this theory the human author’s personality comes through very clearly and in a way that would be unique to them.

Illumination: This theory limits the input of the Holy Spirit to influencing them by heightening their spiritual sensitivity. The Holy Spirit gives the human author neither specific thoughts nor words. Rather it is similar to the influence of the Holy Spirit on any other believer. In this version of inspiration, the Bible is little different from any other ‘inspired’ work that Christians might use, like the writings of C. S. Lewis, John Calvin, or Augustine.

Questions about Inspiration

Given the variety of theories concerning inspiration, how does one go about determining what inspiration really means in the case of the Bible? One method is simply to choose based on popularity. And, if you are an evangelical, that would lead you either the verbal or dynamic theories, with the verbal most likely. But do we have to depend on popularity?

I believe an examination of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, can be helpful here. These three are very similar, so much so that many believe that two of them (Matthew and Luke) use the third (Mark) as a source, adding other material as needed. It is clear when reading them that they are very closely related, and quite distinct from the gospel of John. Why do we have multiple gospels? Why not just one comprehensive one, one without the apparent inconsistencies among the Synoptics?

The introduction to the gospel attributed to Luke can help to answer those questions.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

In this introduction Luke acknowledges that there are already in existence many other accounts of the life of Jesus. And Luke himself then chooses to produce yet another account, after a thorough research into the life of Jesus. So what can we learn from this:

  • Luke himself chooses to write. He gives no indication that God directed him to do this. And Luke’s reason for writing is a personal one, so that an acquaintance of his would know the truth about Jesus life.
  • Luke’s inspiration for writing did not preclude careful investigation. He does not just sit down and start writing. He is involved in what the final composition looks like.
  • There are other ‘gospels’ already in circulation, likely including Mark. But Luke is not satisfied with them.
  • From comparing Luke and Mark, it appears like Luke changes Marks’s account in some of its details, as well as adding a lot of content.

If the above conclusions are true, it is hard to see that both Mark and Luke are inspired by either the dictation or verbal theories. The difference in details, like the number of angels at the empty tomb, are hard to reconcile with the Holy Spirit giving them both the words to say.

On the other hand, if the Holy Spirit is guiding their thoughts, ensuring that the story he wants told is actually told, then the little details are not a problem. And the other differences can be attributed to the purpose for the author’s writing (Luke and John both share their reason) as well as the sources they drew from. The dynamic theory seems to best account for what is seen in the gospel accounts.

One other passage that supports dynamic inspiration comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 7:10 Paul explicitly says that his instruction is from the Lord. But in both verse 12 and verse 25 he expresses that he is delivering to them, not the Lord’s command, but what Paul believes best. Paul would seem not to believe that his writing is either dictated to him from God or verbally inspired. Dynamic inspiration seems to cover this much better.

Inerrancy

A topic that is closely related to inspiration is inerrancy. Inerrancy generally is considered to mean that the Bible, as originally written, is free from error of any type in the topics that it covers. The topic of inerrancy is one that generates a lot of discussion and, for some, is almost a test of the faith. Can I be sure that what the Bible says is true, or are the contents of the Bible of questionable validity.

Models of Inerrancy?

Strict Inerrancy: Strict inerrancy goes hand in hand with both dictation and verbal inspiration. If the Holy Spirit is supplying the words to the human authors, then it follows that, since God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), it must all be true. How could an omniscient and truthful God produce a Bible that was not completely true in all regards, even concerning things that would be completely unknown to the authors, like creation?

The debate over inerrancy is actually a relatively modern one. Historically it was assumed by most that the Bible was true, in its entirety. But with the advent of modern science and history many began to question the accuracy of at least some parts of the Bible. Coming out of this debate is a formal definition of inerrancy, a definition that is subscribed to by many, if not most, evangelicals. The Council on Biblical Inerrancy produced the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1979 which includes the following as a part of its definition of inerrancy.

Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

What this means is that if the Bible speaks about any subject, then it is authoritative. If the Bible says that the earth was covered by the waters of a flood and only Noah and his family survived, then that is exactly what happened. Allowance is made for phenomenological language, describing things as they appear such as the rising of the sun, and for symbolic language like much of Revelation, but Bible is exactly what God wanted us to have and is completely true.

With strict inerrancy, if questions are raised about creation, the flood, the exodus, the conquest of Canaan, or David’s kingdom; the Bible is always right, and any scientific or archeological findings that seem to contradict the Bible are inaccurate or incomplete. The plus side to strict inerrancy is that the conflict between science/history and the Bible is easy to resolve. God’s inspired and inerrant word cannot possibly be wrong.

Soteriological Inerrancy: There is a lessor form of inerrancy that is common among churches of the Wesleyan tradition such as the Methodists and Nazarenes. Soteriological inerrancy claims inerrancy for the Bible in matters that concern our salvation and relationship with God, but do not make that claim for matters of science or history. While strict inerrancy would insist that all of the Genesis stories about Abraham are correct and literal, soteriological inerrancy would accept that they could be legends, likely with a kernel of truth, that have come down to us from antiquity, and not historically accurate by today’s standards. But all of the accounts in the Bible, whether historically or scientifically accurate contain truth that God wants us to have.

While there is an appeal to soteriological inerrancy because it removes much of the tension between the Bible and science/history, it does open its adherents to the Slippery Slope challenge. Once you allow for some inaccuracy in the Bible, where do you draw the line? If you admit to the possibility that Adam was not a historical person, could acknowledging the same for Jesus be far behind? This is clearly a real danger.

Soteriological inerrancy is most compatible with the dynamic theory of inspiration. If God is inspiring the message, but not the very words, then obviously what is important is the message. That it is not accurate in all of the details is not important, so long as God’s message to us is delivered in a way that we can learn from. The passage in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that declares the inspiration of the Bible, expresses that its inspiration is to enable us to grow in maturity and completeness as believers. The inspiration of the Bible is not to teach us how the earth was formed or details in the life of the early patriarchs.

Not Inerrant: The extreme opposite position of strict inerrancy would be those who deny any form of inerrancy for the Bible. For them, the Bible may have some form of inspiration like illumination, and it may have value for knowing God and be useful for living a godly life, but it is only a human book and subject to error as well as revision. The Bible may be a special book, but it is treated little different than other books that offer perceived value to the readers. This is a position that is popular among liberal churches that want to proclaim a gospel that is different than that proclaimed in the Bible.

Questions about Inerrancy

How important is the question of inerrancy in the life of the believer? I do believe that at least to some extent it is an important issue. If one does not believe that the Bible is true, then why bother to read it or seek to follow its instructions. What makes it any different that the Koran or the Book of Mormon? What makes it any better a guide to truth than thousands of other books you might find in a bookstore or online?

On the other hand, if strict inerrancy it true, then absolute truth is found in the pages of the Bible and any conflicting source is in error. There are several advantages to this approach.

  • There is no need to evaluate any competing claims that appear to be at odds with the Bible. The Bible is always correct. I may not understand what it is saying on a particular topic, but I can rest assured that ultimately it will be proven correct and I just need to depend on it and invest the time in it to properly understand its message. It is actually much easier to simply believe the Bible is true than to have to evaluate the truthfulness of each of its claims.
  • It can protect me from heresy. Many of the heretical ideas that are portrayed as truth are based on non-biblical sources.
  • Accepting anything other than strict inerrancy can lead to doubts about God’s truthfulness. If God has given us a book that is not truthful in all its parts, can we really depend on his nature, that he is who the Bible declares him to be? And that he really is working for my good?

There are however, at least in my mind, some issues with the strict inerrancy approach. It does make the assumption that God is unable to provide us with a book that is anything less than 100% true in every way. I believe that is an unwarranted assumption. I hesitate to put that kind of limit on what God can or cannot do.

The Bible is oftentimes challenging to understand. Why didn’t God give us a book that was more straight forward and easy to consume. What is the reason for the endless genealogies, Psalms about smiting enemies and Song of Solomon? Why is the history in the Bible so uneven; some events covered in great detail and others virtually ignored? Why does the Bible reflect the culture that produced it?

The Bible is a product of a culture(s) that is long gone. It was written by men of that time for men of that time. They had a different way of looking at the world and oftentimes a different understanding of who God is. God worked through them to reveal himself to his people in ways that were meaningful to them. They recorded their history and their world in ways that was meaningful to them and reflected how they perceived God to be working. God used these men, inspiring them, to produce the Bible.

I believe it is helpful to keep in mind the purpose of the Scriptures. As mentioned before, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is key to understanding this purpose.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God has given us the Bible to teach us, rebuke us as necessary, to provide correction and to train us in righteous living. The goal is that we may be fully equipped for the life he has called us to. And the Bible can do that quite nicely without the standards of accuracy that we are accustomed to today. Trying to defend the historicity of the Old Testament accounts, or the scientific accuracy of the Genesis creation accounts detracts us from the goal of living thoroughly equipped lives that honor Christ.

Demanding strict inerrancy can also reduce our ability to bear witness to the love of God to a world that is quite different from the one that produced the Bible. When all of the scientific evidence points to an earth that is billions of years old, proclaiming a belief in an earth that is only thousands of years old will mark us as fools not worth listening to. Being thought a fool for Christ is not a bad thing. But being foolish concerning God’s revelation of himself in the creation, a revelation that is so clear to the rest of the world, is a problem when it keeps people from listening to the truth that we do have.

Soteriological inerrancy accepts that the message of the Bible for us is true. And it recognizes that the Bible was written by and for a culture that is different than ours today. It does not reject the history and science of the Bible; but it calls on us to see it in a different light, a light that is hard for us today and takes a lot of work.

Authority

Ultimately the most important question we can ask concerning the Bible is the authority it will have in our lives. Regardless how we view inspiration and inerrancy, its authority in the life of the believer and its usefulness as a guide to spiritual truth is key. I might view the Bible as verbally inspired and inerrant, but if I do not accept its authority, it will have little value for me, apart from an intellectual journey. But if the Bible is authoritative, then just how it was inspired and its level of inerrancy is not important.

Conclusion

The Bible is a collection of writings produced by human authors who lived in a culture foreign to ours today, and written to that same culture. In many ways this makes the Bible challenging to understand. It was also not written to give us a systematic theology of God. Instead it contains historical narratives, laws to follow, corrective material, poetry, and apocalyptic writings. It requires effort for modern man to dig out the message of the Bible.

At the same time, the Bible is inspired by God, and is our authoritative source for faith and practice as believers. It contains what God wants us to have, including the parts that may make little sense to us today. While the context that the Bible was written in has changed, the content of the message has not. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is just as true for 21st century American believers as it was for 1st century believers. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

If the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to humanity, how come it is so often confusing and not more straightforward? Why does he not just tell us who he his, his purpose in creation, the significance of Jesus incarnation and atonement, and how the church should operate? I have no doubt that he could have produced that kind of a book. But he did not. Instead we have a collection of writings that theologians have debated and argued over for as long as we have had them. Could it be that he intentionally gave us something that would require some effort on our part to understand, and with that effort, helping us to grow in our faith? After all, the more we put into it, the more we are likely to derive from it.

The remainder of the posts in this series will assume that the Bible is an authoritative guide to knowing God, his purpose, humanity and our condition, and living as believers. This is an unprovable assumption, but one that has been proven true in the lives of untold numbers of people, including my own. I also will be assuming dynamic inspiration and soteriological inerrancy.

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Credo: The Bible

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House on the Rock – Matthew 7:24-25

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. – Matthew 7:24-25 ESV

These two verses, along with the two that follow, make up the lyrics to one of the first songs I can remember. But even though these are the words to a preschool song, their truth is just as relevant to me at the other end of life. The challenge Jesus gives here is to not just listen to his words, but to incorporate them into my life. Being a doer of the word (Jam. 1:22) is like building your house on rock. Being only a listener of the word is compared to building a house on a foundation of sand. When life is good and smooth, the foundation does not seem all that important. But when troubles come into our lives, and they will, the foundation is vitally important.

Don’t be satisfied simply with listening to, or reading, the Bible. The Bible really has very little value to us if we are not willing to be obedient to its instructions. Listen to its instruction, and then make it a part of your life. Build your house on the Rock, and the storms of life will leave you unshaken.

Consuming the Word – Rev 10:10

And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. – Revelation 10:10 ESV

As the Revelation continues, John sees an angel with a scroll that he is commanded to consume. So he takes the little scroll and eats it, finding it sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach. After this he is told to once again prophesy to many peoples. This is very similar to what takes place in Ezekiel 2:8-3:3 where the prophet is given a scroll filled with words of woe, told to eat it, found the taste to be sweet, and then told to proclaim the words.

We are not prophets, at least not like Ezekiel and John, but I do believe that what they saw here has relevance to us today. Think of these scrolls as the word of God, the Bible. We need to consume it. Not just some parts of it, but entirely. We will find that the word of God is good and sweet as we read it. But how often do we find it bringing conviction to our own lives, making it appear less sweet, and sometimes even bitter. Or how often is it difficult and/or challenging to proclaim the message it calls us to proclaim to those around us? Surely it is bitter to talk to unsaved and unresponsive loved ones about the coming judgement of God.

So let’s follow the example of John, consuming the whole Word, making it a part of our lives. We will find it sweet at times, and bitter, or hard, at other times. But always it is good.

Reading and Keeping the Words of this Prophecy – Rev 1:3

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. – Rev. 1:3 ESV

To me, Revelation is the most difficult book to understand in the New Testament. If you were to read 20 commentaries on the book you would likely come away with 30 different understandings of some parts of it. As a young man I invested an inordinate amount of time in studying this book, and thought I had it mostly figured out. As an old man I do not invest much time in it and feel like I generally have no clue what much of it is about.

But, as confusing as Revelation may be, and as tempting as it may be to skip over it when reading through the Bible, John cautions us against that. Blessed are those who read aloud and who hear the words of the prophecy. This was written at a time when few people would have copies of the Scriptures, and most people would listen as it was read to them. But still, blessed are those who open up their Bibles to Revelation and read it. And not just read it, but also keep those words that they read.

How does one go about keeping the words of Revelation? Often ‘keep’ is used in the sense of obedience, but that would be challenging here since there is not all that much instruction for daily life. But ‘keep’ also has the sense of holding onto, as expressed in Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Read the words of this prophecy and hold them in your heart and mind. It may be confusing and scary in places, but if you read the ‘back of the book’ you will find that those in Christ ultimately come out on top.

Milk, or Solid Food? – Heb. 5:12

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! – Hebrews 5:12 NIV

The author of Hebrews is writing to believers and he appears to be somewhat frustrated with them. He has a lot to say about Jesus, who he was and what he did for us. And yet, according to the previous verse, they seem disinterested. They have been believers long enough now that they should be qualified to be teachers, passing on what they know to newer believers. And yet they were still in the infant stage, learning the same rudimentary lessons over and over again.

Dig into God’s word. Don’t be content with just the elementary truths it contains; start eating some steak. Grow in your faith and in turn help those who are just starting the journey.

Examining the Scriptures – Acts 17:11

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. – Acts 17:11 NIV

I remember as a young Christian reading several books about end times and found them very convincing. But then I made the mistake (not really) of reading the Bible with (I hope) an open mind and found that what I had read and found so convincing did not line up with what I was finding in the Bible and it caused a bit of a crisis and recalibration. There are many who twist and distort the truth, sometimes unknowingly, but other times for their own gain. So how do you know if what you hear from the pulpit, in your Bible study group, or in a popular and recommended book is true?

The example of the Berean Jews shows us how to limit the danger of false teachers. They listened to what Paul had to say to them, but rather than just accept or reject his message they compared what Paul was saying against what the Scriptures had to say. And in this case they apparently found Paul’s message to be in accord with the Scripture and then accepted it and believed.

For the Berean Jews, what we call the Old Testament was their authority, at least in spiritual matters. And they choose to measure everything against that authority to see how well it measured up. Do you know your Bible well enough to use it as a measuring rod? Will you take the time to examine the Scriptures to see if what you have heard or read is true? Or do you need to get better acquainted with your Bible so that you can use it effectively?

What I Believe . . . The Bible

I believe that God, in his creation, has made himself known to mankind. Scripture says, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1 [NIV]), and, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived … in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20 [ESV]). Modern science, rather than diminishing God, has, for me at least, served rather to magnify him.

I believe that God has also made himself known more specifically in the words of the Bible. This collection of writings, with a variety of human authors, written over a several hundred year period, provides a progressive revelation of God and his intent for his creation. The Bible does not contain all we would like to know about God, but it does reveal to us what we need to know to be able to have a personal relationship with our creator, and to live in a way that pleases him.

I believe the Bible is inspired by God, or God-breathed, and is provided to enable me to grow in maturity and Christ likeness. I believe that inspiration is mostly a dynamic partnership between God and the individual human authors, although there are some instances of dictation, verbal inspiration or illumination. The four gospels themselves, with differing details and focus, vividly demonstrate the input from the human authors. Luke’s reason for writing, given in Luke 1:1-4, makes clear that the level of human input was great. But I do believe that God ensures the message given is one that will help us to know him and grow to maturity.

I believe the Bible is inerrant in regards to the purpose for which it is intended; spiritual maturity (2 Tim. 3:16-17). I see no reason though to demand that the Bible be historically or scientifically accurate. While I do not believe that the historical accounts, especially early in the Old Testament, come close to meeting modern standards of accuracy, I do believe they contain valuable lessons for us today. In the same way, even though the descriptions of the natural world reflect the understanding of the culture of the time, they do have value for us today if we will take the effort to learn them.

I believe the Bible is authoritative in the life of the believer. There are many other sources that seek to provide guidance for my life, some that are useful to me, and some that are harmful. But in regards to spiritual matters and life as a believer, all of these other sources will be judged by the Scriptures. For science, I will use science books. For history, I will use history books. But for the spiritual life, the life my creator has called me to, the Bible is my ultimate, and authoritative guide.

I believe that God has revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews tells us that, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:2 [NIV]) and Jesus himself says that, “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 [NIV]). Jesus is God’s ultimate revelation to us.

I believe that the illumination of the Holy Spirit is essential for a person to be able to recognize and understand God’s revelation to us. Apart from his presence and guidance, the revelation in creation, in the Bible, and in the person of Jesus will not be understood. Jesus told his disciples that, “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13 [NIV]).

Why the Christian God?

While there is no foolproof physical or logical proof that can be given for the existence of a supernatural deity, there are sufficient grounds for a rational acceptance of a creator.  But that is still a big step away from accepting the God of Christianity, of Islam, of Hinduism, or of any of the other thousands of religions that have existed throughout history.  How, as a Christian, can I rationally claim that only Christianity can lead to knowledge of God, and that all other religions are dead ends?

Cultural
The most common method of choosing a God is to choose, or adopt, the God that you grew up around.  This has the advantage of being easy, requiring little if any effort or thought.  Nearly every cultural group has their own concept of God and indoctrination into that concept happens early in life.  Included with that indoctrination is the belief that they have found the correct path to God, and all others are mistaken.  Yet, how valid is that approach?  Pretty much all religions make that claim, and they can’t all be correct in their assessment.  It would seem, since at most one of these religions, that teach the correct way to God, can be correct, that the odds of being born into the correct one would be pretty slim and this method of choosing the correct God would have a pretty high failure rate.

Comparing Attributes
Another way to know would be to make a comparison of the attributes of a logically derived creator of the universe with the attributes of the God of the Bible.  But even if these attributes line up, it at most will serve to not eliminate the Christian God.  There may be more than one logical set of attributes for a creator God, and there may be more than one religion that successfully maps to one of these attributes sets.  Also, it is generally beyond most people to logically derive the attributes of a creator God and to compare that attribute set with every religion that has ever existed.

Holy Writings
A third way to determine the correct God would be to compare the holy writings of a religion with the way the world is observed to be.  If these writings provide a valid explanation for the condition of the world, including the interaction of the creator and his creation, then the likelihood of this God being the correct one is greater than if that explanation does not bear any resemblance to reality.

So what explanation does the Bible offer for the condition of our world today and for God’s activity in it?  The Bible claims that God spoke the whole universe into existence and that he did so for a purpose; the purpose of producing ‘sons of God’.  The Bible claims that the general movement of people is away from God and toward satisfaction of self interest.  The Bible also claims that God is seeking people who will turn away from their own self interest and serve him via faith rather than through ritual.  The Bible also claims that all who come to God in faith will become new creatures and that he will take up his abode within them.

The creation accounts in Genesis are frequently used to discredit the God of the Bible because of the time frames used and the order of events.  But the most significant aspect of these accounts, and what sets them apart from other creation myths, is that God speaks into existence the universe and all that is in it, rather than forming it out something that already existed.  Hebrews 11:3 confirms this for the New Testament; that at God’s command the universe was formed out of what did not previously exist.  And the general consensus of the scientific community supports this, that what we see around us is not just a general reordering of something that has been in existence forever.  At the very least, there has been a dramatic reconstruction of the elements of the universe, and one that allows for no glimpse of what may have previously existed.

The thought that people will, in general, move away from God seems at first a little strange, since so much of the world seems somehow to claim to know him.  But if there is a God who created us with a purpose, it is hard to imagine that that purpose was for us just to enjoy life in the here and now, and/or, to worship God as creator.  It seems much preferable, at least to me, to picture God’s purpose as reaching beyond this short life and into eternity.  If that is the case, then when I focus on this short life, and what I can get out of it, then I am ignoring God’s greater purpose in creation.  And it is easy to see that most people, including the religious, very much live their lives as though this was all there is.  The Bible talks about sin and claims that all sin, that all have fallen short of God’s purpose.  We generally think of sin as doing something bad.  But sin is simply falling short of God’s purpose for us.  And that is something that we all do.

The Holy Spirit
I am aware of only a single religion today that teaches that God lives within the life of those who have committed themselves to him.  This unique teaching of Christianity, should it be possible to verify, would offer a much higher level of proof for the God of Christianity than anything else mentioned.  But the challenge here is to provide proof that the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God, does indeed exist and is a part of the life of those God has chosen.  Because God is not detectable using our most sensitive scientific instruments, there is no way to conduct an experiment to determine his presence.  Instead we need to use other methods to evaluate the presence of the Holy Spirit.

In proving the presence of the Holy Spirit, first of all it must be pointed out that the whole concept of the Holy Spirit will appear as foolishness to the person who does not already have his presence within.  The unbeliever may be able to detect a difference in the life of the believer, but the cause of that difference will remain a mystery.  Apart from the Holy Spirit’s help, the presence of the spiritual, or supernatural, realm will be nothing more than a silly concept.  The Holy Spirit opens up a new sense within the believer that allows them to experience the spiritual.  Just like a blind man cannot understand red, or the person with no sense of taste understand sweet, so the man without the Holy Spirit cannot understand the spiritual.

Christianity has become quite a diverse umbrella of various beliefs and practices.  But according to Romans 10:9-10 only those who confess Jesus as Lord and believe in his resurrection will be saved.  And according to Matthew 7:21, many will claim him to be Lord that he will disown, because they did not do the will of God.  The experience of the indwelling presence of God is limited to those who have confessed Jesus as Lord, believe in his resurrection and do the will of God.  To others, the ability to understand the spiritual is the same as it is for the unbeliever; it is a foreign concept.  They may accept that there is such a thing, but there is no evidence of it in their lives.

But for the one who has confessed the Lordship of Jesus and lives in obedience to God, the indwelling presence of God is a reality.  To the believer, this is evident in the ability to communicate with God and to know his response, not generally with audible words, but within the awakened spiritual component of our lives.  The one without the Holy Spirit labels this as foolishness or imagination; but to the one who experiences it, there is no doubt about the reality of it, or its source.  But there is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believers that should be evident to others around them.  Galatians 5:22-23 identifies the fruit of the Spirit, or the result of his presence within as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  While these attributes are certainly found in unbelievers, they should always be found, in increasing measure, in the lives of those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

There is little proof that can be offered to the skeptic that Christianity alone, among all religions in existence today, or in the past, is the only way to God.  I do believe it paints a logical and rational picture of a purposeful creator and that its writings do explain the condition of the world today.  But the best that can really do is to not eliminate Christianity as a valid pointer to God.  It is really only in the claimed presence of God within the lives of those who are his that we can have any assurance that we are on the right path.  While that offers little in the way of proof to the skeptic, it does offer assurance to the believer that they do indeed have a relationship with God and are on the correct path.

The Bible: Inspired and Authoritative

The Bible!  Inspired Word of God, or outdated collection of myths and moral instruction?  The beliefs people have concerning this collection of writings vary widely, from near worship to disdain.  From reliable guide for life, to the root of all evil in our society.  God’s special revelation of himself to us or a means to manipulate the masses.

It is challenging to ‘prove’ the Bible, and I will not be attempting that here.  Rather I will expressing what I believe to be true about it.  You may take exception to one of more of the positions that I take, but it is what I have come to believe over the years.  Coming to this place has been a long and challenging journey; and one that may not yet be complete.  But it has been rewarding and has helped to shape much of the rest of my faith.

Inspired

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV

I believe that the Bible is divinely inspired.  But being inspired means different things to different people.  Some argue that the specific words in the original texts are inspired, and others say the general ideas contained in the Bible were inspired.

I lean toward the later camp.  It seems to me that if the words themselves are given by God to the human authors, then they should all sound alike.  And there would only be a single gospel account.  But that is clearly not the case.  Paul and John have distinctly different styles and ways of saying things.

I do believe that God is moving in the human authors in some way, inspiring them, but not telling them specifically what to write.  The words are theirs, as are the way they put them together to express their thoughts.

Inspiration tells me that I can depend on the scriptures in matters of faith; that God would not allow the addition of something that lead me astray from what he wants me to be as a follower of Christ.  Inspiration also means that the scriptures contain all that we need concerning matters of faith.  I might want more, but no more is needed to be a faithful follower of Christ.

Authoritative

I accept that in matters of my faith, the New Testament is authoritative.  God reveals his will to me most often in these writings and it is important to me to be obedient to that direction.  I do not, however, consider the Old Testament to be authoritative for me.  It is the scriptures of the old covenant, a covenant of law, which I am not under.  Instead I am under the new covenant, a covenant of grace, and the New Testament contains the writings of this covenant.

I also do not consider the Bible to be authoritative in matters outside of teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Does the history it contains match up to modern standards?  Often times not.  Does it provide a view of the workings of creation that is scientifically accurate?  Often times not.  But that does not take away from its immense value in helping me to know and follow my Creator and Lord.

Not Inerrant

Those who would claim the Bible is inerrant, hold that the original documents are without any error, in any form.  I do not believe that to be true.  Rather I believe that in matters of faith only are the scriptures free of any error.  I do not hold them to be historically accurate by modern standards.  I also believe that they reflect the understanding of the creation that was present at the time they were written.

Not trying to hold the scriptures to the standards of history that we demand today, or having to go through the mental gymnastics necessary to explain away a mountain tall enough to see the kingdoms on the other side of a globe, free me to focus instead on what the Bible is inspired for; helping me to be a mature believer.

The Importance of Right Beliefs

As a Christian, how important are ‘right beliefs’?  Does it really matter what I believe so long as Jesus is my savior and I live a good life?  Are all beliefs equally important?  I have grappled with questions similar to these over the years as I have studied and come to grips with what I personally believe, and why.  For me, the answers to the above questions are, ‘It depends’, ‘Yes’, and ‘No’.

The Importance of Right Beliefs
So just why are my beliefs important?  I believe there are a number of reasons for this including:

  • The truth is important.  What I believe is important because I want to believe what is true.  It is more important to me to have right beliefs than just popular beliefs.
  • My beliefs will shape how I view God.  Is he a loving God who cares about what happens to people, is he a judgmental God who punishes sin, or is he indifferent to what goes on here?
  • My beliefs will also affect how I see myself serving God.  Is he satisfied with me living a good life, regularly going to church and contributing to the offering?  Or does he equip me for service within his kingdom and expect me to be more actively involved?
  • My beliefs can also impact how I relate to others in the church.  Do we come together to be ministered to, in which case I am concerned what others can do for me.  Or do we come together to minister, in which case I am more concerned with what I can do for others.
  • And how I view the world around me will be affected by what I believe.  Are the folks in Somalia godless heathen deserving only judgment.  Or are they lost and in need or a savior.  Or are they hungry and in need of what we have to offer them.
In my mind, beliefs are critically important if they impact my relationship with God.  They are moderately important if they impact my relationship with other believers and my ability to work alongside them, or if they make a big impact on how I serve God.  They are not important if they do not impact my service for God in any appreciable way nor affect my fellowship with other believers.  It is worth noting here that not everyone will agree concerning where the division should be.  What I might view as relatively unimportant may be viewed as of utmost importance to someone else, and thus impacting my ability to serve alongside them.

Critically Important Beliefs

I do believe that there are some beliefs that are vital if one is to call himself (or herself) a Christian.  I tend toward looking at the emphasis the scriptures place on some beliefs to evaluate their importance.  For instance Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God and then tells us two things about faith: we must believe that God exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  So those would seem to be critically important beliefs.

In 1 John 4:2-3 John emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.  Those who do are of God, while those who do not are not of God.  John makes it clear in this letter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that he is divine.  But here he also says he is a man; that he has come in the flesh.  Belief that Jesus is God as well as human is a critical belief according to John.

 In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 Paul identifies those beliefs that were of first importance, including the redemptive death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.  I find it hard to understand how one could claim to be a follower of Jesus who disputes that he died for them and rose to bring them new life.  These beliefs are critical according to Paul.

Christianity is based on belief

  • in the existence of God
  • that he has a future for those who seek him
  • that Jesus is God and man
  • that Jesus death was redemptive
  • that his resurrection brings new life.
If a person disputes one of these foundational beliefs, are they really Christians, at least in the Biblical sense?
Beliefs that are not important
On the other hand, what difference does it make where I stand concerning the rapture / tribulation / millennium kingdom?  For the first year of my Christian journey I was a pre-trib pre-millennialist, but after some serious study of the Bible instead of Hal Lindsey I became a post-trib pre-millenialist.  And I find that at some time in my life I have become an amillennialist.  While some will view me as moving further and further into heresy because of this, I have a hard time understanding what real difference it makes, other than in the position I take when discussing last things.  My faith in God is unchanged, the way I live my life is unchanged, and my hope for the future is unchanged.  Nor should this difference in belief affect my ability to worship and serve alongside of people with contrasting beliefs.  I would personally view what you believe about the rapture / tribulation / millennium kingdom as relatively unimportant.How important is the reconciliation of Jesus genealogies in Matthew and Luke?  While I would like to know the truth about it, I can really think of little practical value that it would provide to me.  At this point it is an unknown to me, and I don’t worry too much about it.  It is relatively unimportant.

Important but non-critical beliefs
But there is a middle ground here as well, beliefs that are important, but not necessarily critical to my claim to being a child of God.  Biblical inerrancy is an example of this.  Which side of this debate I stand on does not impact my salvation, so long as I hold to the critical beliefs.  But it can dramatically impact what I believe about a number of other things, such as the Genesis stories and the place of women in the church. And that can make it difficult to serve closely with others who have a different belief on some of these hot topic items.Who is called to serve God, a selected few, or all believers?  While I do not believe your answer to this question will impact your salvation, it will affect your relationship to God.  If he has called all of us to serve and yet I am satisfied with delegating that service to a professional clergy, then I am not going to be looking for his leading in my life and for opportunities to serve him.  It is the difference between being a spectator and a participant in the kingdoms work.  This is an important belief because of the impact it will have on my life, my relationship to other believers, and, most importantly, my walk with God.  But this is not a critical belief because it does not affect my salvation.

Conclusion
I do believe that each of us is responsible to God for our beliefs.  It is important to know what you believe and why.  And it is important to seek the truth.  Prayerfully search the scriptures, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide you into truth.  Know and understand what your church teaches.  Don’t be afraid to ask other people the what’s and why’s of their beliefs, but remember your own personal responsibility in the matter.  Focus most on those beliefs that are more important, that most impact your relationship with God and with your fellow believers.  Become rooted and grounded in the faith and resistant to every strange teaching that comes your way.  That is the path to maturity in your faith.

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