Monday, 24 January 2011

Isn’t the Bible just a bunch of made up stories

Wy do you personally believe the bible?

Read 2 Tim 3:16 - This is what we believe about the Bible. It is God’s word to us, it is not a dry dust, dated book, through it as we read God speaks to us now, it is therefore not just reliable but also relevant. It is designed not just to give us knowledge but to change us. What are the words used to describe what it does? Teaching, rebuking, correcting, training. It is not a dry dusty theological book of facts, it is a training manual to be used and practically applied.

But most of our friends, family and neighbours would not think like that about the bible. I guess their questions would roughly fall into two areas; reliability and relevance. How can you be sure the bible is factually accurate if you are going to base your life on it? And how can a book that is over 2000 years old be relevant to today’s world?

Jesus is the key figure in both the Old Testament – where his coming is promised and the need for a new way of relating to God established, and the New which details Jesus life and how his life, death and resurrection turned the world upside down, so we want to focus on the reliability of the gospels initially.

Turn to Luke 1:1-4, in opening his gospel Luke tells us why he writes, why? “so that [Theophilus] may know the certainty of the things you have been taught”. Luke isn’t hiding why he writes, but neither is he writing in a vacuum, he is not writing a fairy tale, he is writing to someone to establish beyond doubt what they have already been taught about Jesus. There is no hidden agenda, he is not trying to brain wash Theophilus, but he is providing evidence for Jesus being the Messiah so Theophilus is convinced, believes and lives by faith as a follower of Jesus.

1. Is the bible reliable?
a. Abundant Evidence

How do you test the reliability of a witness? You cross reference their testimony, or look for others who will verify what they have said. Look at how Luke starts his gospel “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us...” Luke is not the only source of information about Jesus, not only are there those who have already taught Theophilus but also other accounts Theophilus can cross reference.

So we have Matthew, Mark and John, but there were also others, alive who were witnesses. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 talks about the resurrected living Lord Jesus “he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles...” There are witnesses, from whom Luke gets his information, and accounts to cross reference, to check, so Luke have to be very careful about what he writes, it must be accurate because there is abundant evidence.

FF Bruce of Manchester University said this “it was not friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main points of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies which would at once be exposed.”

In fact from other sources outside the bible, from those hostile to Jesus and Christianity like Josephus the Jewish leaders and Pliny and Tacitus you can discover that:

1. He was a Jewish teacher
2. Many believed he performed healings and exorcisms.
3. Some believed he was the Messiah
4. He was rejected by the Jewish leaders.
5. He was crucified by Pilate during Tiberius reign.
6. Despite crucifixion his followers believed he was alive.
7. Belief was widespread both geographically and socially.

The gospels are based on abundant evidence that those they were written to could cross check.

b. An accurate account
Luke investigates all this carefully himself, and not with a few key strokes on google and a print out but through interviews and discussions. And the detail he gives are readily verifiable: look at 1:5, 2:1. 3:1 **what details does he give? leaders, kings, emperors and events which can be checked. Which would quickly give the game away if this was made up.

“One prominent archaeologist carefully examined Luke’s references to 32 countries, 54 cities and 9 islands and found not a single mistake.”

Luke gets the political and geographical details right because he is building up a factual account. Yet he also includes the fantastic, the failures, and the unbelievable why? Because they too are verifiable and this is not an airbrushed account but a historical proof of life, death and resurrection.
He records the disciples failings, he records the miracles because they happened and they also can be checked.

In fact the New Testament is the most reliable manuscript from antiquity that we possess. When it comes to ancient documents there are a number of ways of testing reliability. The more copies the more likely they are to be reliable, and the more similar those copies are to one another the more likely they are to be reliable.

No of copies Interval (yrs)
Homer 643 500
Sophocles 193 1400
Plato 7 1200
Caesar 10 1000
New Testament 24,000 40-90

No of lines in doubt % of work
Homer Iliad 764 5
New Testament 40 0.5

Sir Frederic Kenyon, former director of the British Museum and a leading expert on ancient manuscripts said this about the New Testament:

"The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed."

The gospels are based on abundant evidence and are accurate, what they tell us about Jesus is an reliable account.

2. Is it relevant?
Society has changed a lot since the time of Jesus, how can the bible still be relevant?

a. God does not change (Malachi 3:6)
“I the LORD do not change.” God is just, holy yet loving and gracious. He is the same and his word is the same.

b. man has not changed
The bible explains why things are like they are. Why we feel that suffering and death are wrong – because that is not the way the world was designed to be, and is the result of sin. Why we fear death – because it is the result of God’s judgement on our rebellion against him, and we were made to live forever.

It explains why society is like it is – with wars, battles, prejudices and politics – sin.

c. Our need has not changed
Our problem is that we rebel against God, the bible tells us that a just God will judge every instance of rebellion against him. That means when we face God it will be as our judge.

For every one of us eternity is our most pressing problem. The bible tells us of God’s determination to fix our broken relationship with him – not by counselling or a new leaf. But by sending his son to die in our place for our sin and give us his perfect record. That is what Luke is all about, one of the most poignant and shocking moments in Luke is 23:39-43; the criminal can do nothing and offer nothing to earn his salvation, but Jesus promises him he will be with him in paradise not because he will ignore his sin but because Jesus is paying for his sin.

d. Life has not changed
Life confronts us with moral and ethical choices at every turn. If God exists, if he made us and the world around us it stands to reason he knows best how we ought to live to make the most of life. The bible is his guide to us on how to make the most of life in view of eternity.

It is the place to go to have our questions about God, our universe , Jesus, and ourselves answered.

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