Introduction: How do we know truth? God breaks through Kant’s wall by revelation!
“Revelation refers to both God’s activity in making Himself known, and the truth that God makes known as a result of this activity.” Dr. David Jones
Why do we trust the Bible as true?
I. It Was Written True
A. The Bible claims to be inspired by God (1Timothy 3:16)
but recognizes that God used men in the process (2 Peter 1:20-21.) Furthermore, the Bible claims to be infallible, which means without error (Psalms 119, Psalms 12:6) Notice that Christ recognized this (see John 10:34 where Jesus bases an argument upon a single word in Psalms 82.) Jesus never quoted scripture to start an argument, He quoted scripture to settle arguments – it was absolute authority for Him! The NT refers to itself as scripture (2 Peter 3:16, and see 1Timothy 5:18 which quotes Luke 10:17 as scripture). Also important to notice is the way that the Bible equates “scripture says” with “God says” because in the Bible’s view, they are two ways of saying the same thing. (see Romans 9:17 and Exodus 9:13, 16, and also Galatians 3:8 and Genesis 22:18 – check out also Acts 28:25, Acts 4:24-25.)
Does the fact that humans were involved mean that the Bible can’t be without error? This is an assumption many have made but one which denies that God can be sovereign over men and women. If God can create by His mere Word surely He can keep His Bible free from error. There is no philosophical reason why the Bible can’t be true and have had humans involved in its production.
B. We don’t believe the Bible is true because we have verified every statement!
There are many statements which we couldn’t possibly verify (like what the snake said in the Garden to Eve), although the statements that can be verified do check out. We believe the Bible because God says it is true and Christians are those who believe what God says. God is the God who speaks. While there are many good reasons to believe that the Bible is God’s Word and thus without error, ultimately this is something we believe because the Spirit makes the good evidences convincing to us.
This means that discussions and arguments with non-believers are really spiritual battles and until the Spirit opens someone’s eyes, they can’t even receive spiritual things (1Corinthians 2:14) – so we must pray, not just argue with people! Don’t just be on the defensive – challenge unbelievers on what basis they have for rejecting God’s Word. Who are they to sit in judgment upon God’s Word?!
C. We must model the authority of scripture in our own lives.
When was the last time you changed a course of action simply because the Bible said so? Do you let the scriptures change your preconceived ideas, or do you simply look for verses that back up what you already believe?
II. Some ways that this doctrine is attacked.
A. Rationalism says reason must determine what is true.
Thus whatever seems impossible for modern man to believe should be cut out of scripture (Thomas Jefferson did this literally, taking his scissors to the Bible and cutting out everything that referred to supernaturalism.) This view assumes rather arrogantly that people in older times were stupid (but even people in Jesus’ day knew that virgins didn’t get pregnant, that people didn’t walk on water, and that dead men didn’t rise from the dead!) The Bible is frankly and unashamedly, supernatural. Reason is a good tool for receiving revelation but it wasn’t designed to sit in judgment upon the Infinite God’s ways or words! How tragic is it when people reduce God to what they can comprehend – who would want to worship a God like that?
Often the critics of scripture are driven by presuppositions which are unproven are flat out wrong! For example, many 19th century critics assumed that Christianity evolved from a Jewish flavor into a more Pauline flavor and thus anything that seems Pauline must be dated later than when Paul actually lived (because the critics say that this evolution took some time.) But there is no basis for this reconstruction at all! They use a reconstruction that is based on nothing at all to throw out what the church has always believed about who wrote which NT books and when! If you ever here someone say “all scholars agree” you know they are either ignorant or they are trying to bully you because there is virtually nothing that all scholars agree upon!
Liberalism is the view that scripture is a mixture of God’s Word and man’s word and thus we need to use our reason to separate the husk from the kernel.
As you might expect every scholar who takes this approach differs in what he/she thinks is God’s Word. It is a position that is doomed to drive you to despair because human reason is inadequate for this task!
B. Existentialism (often called the neo-orthodox view) says the ideas are inspired
but not the words. Thus they would say the Bible is divine but it is not inerrant. Furthermore they say that the Bible becomes authority as we hear God speaking in it, otherwise it is a dead book. It may surprise you to know that this is C. S. Lewis’ view (which you will discover if you read his book God In The Dock) and that “Experiencing God” has ties with this view as well. Many evangelicals are basically existential in their view of scripture without realizing it. They only pay attention to the parts that “hit them” or speak to them. They only give the scripture authority if they feel like it, which means that in effect, their subjective feelings carry more weight than the Bible.
C. Limited Inerrancy says that the Bible is true only about matters of faith.
But when it speaks of history, science etc. it makes mistakes. This view is popular among evangelicals but really misses the importance the scripture places upon rooting itself in real history. If the facts are wrong, then the doctrines can’t be true! This is what Paul argues about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:14-15! Similarly, if Adam isn’t a real historical person then Paul’s argument in Romans 5 about justification falls apart! You can’t separate faith and facts in the Bible. If it’s true, it is true in everything it speaks to.
D. Deconstructionism says that words can’t convey truth
and that we must be set free from the author trying to tyrannize the reader by imposing his/her authorial intent upon the reader. This obviously raises huge questions for how the Bible (a book) can be said to be true. But this view is self-refuting because the people who argue for it use words to do so! Don’t be fooled by silly philosophical games about language – words have meaning because the God who is, is a God who speaks! Language is not a human creation! While it is true that we bring certain presuppositions to any text we read (and thus can distort our reading of it), the Bible as a living Word can cut through our wrong presuppositions (Hebrews 4:12) – remember, reading the Bible is a spiritual activity in which the Holy Spirit is active. While we read it like we read ordinary books, it is far from ordinary and promises to bring life to those who read. (Psalms 119)
III. God’s Word Has Been Faithfully Transmitted.
A. The text is essentially what was originally written.
Did you know that the text of the OT was preserved by a radically strict set of rules (which you would expect if God had spoken!) For example a scribe could only use certain types of animal skins, had to speak every word out loud when copying, had to get a child to read it to make sure his copying was clear, and if he made too many mistakes (even if he corrected them) he had to burn the whole scroll! The scribes were also fanatical counters of everything to make sure that their copies were perfect. For instance they knew that there were 97,856 words in the first five books of the OT, and that Leviticus 11:42 had the middle letter of the first five books. Until 1929, we used a Hebrew manuscript from the 1500s for our basic text, then we switched to one that was 500 years older. Do you know how many letters were different between these two texts? Only four! The Jews were fanatical about the accuracy of the text and thus we have the OT as it was written. The Dead Sea Scrolls only served to increase our confidence of the accuracy of the OT text because they contain a scroll of Isaiah that is over 800 years older than any other copy of Isaiah, and yet it has no different words that the later texts of Isaiah!
The NT text is preserved in literally thousands (over 5,000 at last counting) of ancient manuscripts. We even have a piece of the Gospel of John written 20 years after the book was originally composed! Even liberal scholars agree that the text we have is true to what was originally written (only 1 out of 100 words is in any doubt and none of these affect any doctrines and their meaning can be determined from the context.) In addition to scripture texts we also have tons of scripture quotations in the Church Fathers, old lectionaries, and other early translations. (F. F. Bruce’s The NT Documents: Are They Reliable? is an excellent book on this topic.)
B. But what about the canon? (i.e. How do we know we have the right books in the Bible?)
It is important to know that the Bible is canonical because it is inspired. It was canonical when it was written, it didn’t evolve into this status! Likewise, the church does not give authority to the canon (as the Catholic church believes) rather the scripture establishes the church! The OT establishes this pattern when God authenticates His spokesmen by signs and wonders and by their short-term prophecies coming true (see Deuteronomy 18:14-22.) His Words are to be kept and taught (Deuteronomy 6:1-9.) Jesus Himself used the same OT as we do (see Matthew 23:35 where Jesus refers to “from Abel … to Zechariah”. Abel is found in Genesis and Zechariah is found at the end of 2 Chronicles, the last OT book in the Hebrew arrangement. Thus Jesus gives His seal of approval to the OT canon the way it was understood in His day.) Both Pliny and Josephus (Jewish contemporaries of Jesus) list the exact same books as we use today as well, and the early Christians distinguished between the OT (which had authority) and the apocrypha (which did not.) As a matter of fact the Catholic church did not recognize the apocrypha as scripture until the Council of Trent in 1543 (over 20 years after the Reformation started) and the Greek Orthodox church didn’t recognize the 4 of the 7 apocryphal books they receive as scripture until 1617! (The apocrypha is not scripture and doesn’t claim this authority for itself!)
With regard to the NT, the books of scripture were recognized as having this authority from the beginning – the church didn’t give them this authority later on (see 1Thessalonians 2:13 – the oldest NT book by the way.) The NT letters were to be read and exchanged by the churches (1Thessalonians 5:27, Colossians 4:16, 2 Peter 3:16) The canon was not made up by some church council in the fourth century – or by any church council! The first church council that sought to establish the canon was Trent in the 1540s! The canon was recognized by the church from the beginning, and there was no Pope bending everyone into conformity with his view (This is a characterization unbelievers have tried to make stick, but it has no basis in fact!) Furthermore we have external evidence from A.D. 70-130 of people either quoting as scripture, or alluding to, every NT book except 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.
What about the “lost books” and the “Gospel of Thomas”? Well contrary to popular belief (and the view of churches trying to “restore” us to the good ol’ New Testament days –- like the Church of Christ) the early church was not perfect. Even a casual reading of the NT reveals an abundance of heresies and false teachers. Many of these heretics wrote books to support their teachings (usually using the names of apostles to validate their heresy). The early church was in a better position that we are to evaluate the validity of the books. (Pseudepigragha: using pseudonyms to get their authority) It’s no wonder that modern Gnostics (i.e.: New Agers) find support for their teachings in those early Gnostic books! If someone wants to add a book to the accepted canon of 1900 years, the burden of proof is on them. Usually these attempts are embarrassingly bad historically. Many of these books are Middle Ages forgeries extolling Mary and the power of relics, Don’t waste your time with this stuff.
General Revelation (Psalms 19:1-6, Romans 1:19-20)
This is the revelation of God in all of creation which is general in its availability (it comes to all people) and in its message (it is general and doesn’t include the plan of redemption.) In Romans 1 Paul tells us that this general revelation is enough to make us accountable, but that sinful man suppresses the truth of it. But because of general revelation we have a point of contact with people who aren’t Christians and we recognize that there is truth that isn’t contained in the scriptures. However special revelation holds the key to the proper understanding of general revelation.
Special Revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2)
There are four points to make from this text.
1. Special revelation is sovereign (i.e. God takes the initiative in revealing Himself, we don’t discover Him by our wisdom.) God is the subject of all the verbs in this text!
2. It is historical. God has spoken in the past. Special revelation is not just some vague, abstract, a-historical religious ideas. This contrasts with much of modern theology’s understanding of revelation which sees revelation as being a matter of man’s religious experience rather than God’s activity in which He reveals Himself.
3. It is verbal. God speaks!
4. It is progressive – and the process culminates in Christ. – Further we notice that God uses spokesmen and gives a sign to authenticate them (Deuteronomy 18:21-22, and Hebrews 2:3-4. For more examples of this see 1Kings 18:36-7 and Jeremiah 28.)
God Reveals Himself In Various Ways (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Some of these are:
1. Verbal communication God speaking to people (1 Samuel 3, Genesis 3:9-19)
2. Symbolic actions (like making clothes in Genesis 3:21, cf. Genesis 15:17-18)
3. Redemptive events (the big one in the OT is the exodus, see Exodus 12-14)
4. The Incarnation of Christ (John 1:1, 14 also see John 14:9)
5. Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21, Luke 24:27)
IV. Does revelation continue today?
We believe that it does not. Although God still illumines His Word to us, He is not giving fresh revelation. We would point to the following considerations in proving this:
1. The process of revealing culminates in Christ according to Hebrews 1.
2. The apostles were appointed as His spokesmen (John 14:25-26)
3. The references to NT prophets only occur in the earliest NT letters, but in the later ones, the emphasis shifts to teachers because the foundation has been laid (Ephesians 2:20.) A good example of this is 1 Timothy. Paul tells Timothy to remember the prophecy (1 Timothy 1:18), not to continue to prophesy. Also, elders are chosen not by prophetic utterance, but by character qualities (1Timothy 3).
4. The 100% accuracy required standard of Deuteronomy 18 has not been revoked.
1. What do we do with God’s revelation? Do we treat it as His Word? Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said “Few tremble at the Word of God. Few in reading it hear the voice of Jehovah, which is full of majesty.”
2. Does the Word have authority in your life? When was the last time you changed a course of action because of what scripture said?
3. Do we believe all of it? Tozer said, “We must never edit God.”
Augustine “If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it’s not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”
RUF Campus Minister
Belmont College, TN