We kicked off a new series at Gateway in Austin called “What is the Bible Good For?”
Message Notes from John Burke:
We’re a church that invites people to Explore God.
Doubters are welcome! We believe there are good answers to your questions and faith doesn’t require a lobotomy—it’s rational.
At the end of these next 2 series, on the Bible and then Angels and Demons, we will have a Q&A. So start emailing us at email@example.com.
In our culture there are lots of questions aimed at the Bible:
- “Is there any evidence the Bible is from God?”
- “Can you even trust what the Bible says historically?”
- “Hasn’t the Bible been copied, translated, changed over the years?”
- “Didn’t myth creep in to make Jesus into this legend?”
- “Did Jesus really even claim to be the Son of God?”
- “Isn’t the Bible full of errors and contradictions?”
- “Didn’t Constantine choose the books of the Bible in 325 A.D.?”
- “What was the Holy Grail?”
- “And how much time will it take to sort all this out?”
These are good questions, and there are good answers—here they are: Yes, Yes, No, No, Yes, No, No, Who Cares, and 30 minutes. Let’s close in prayer!
Today we’re starting a series “What is the Bible good for?”
And we’re going to address a lot of these challenging questions over the next 3 weeks.
- If you’re still skeptical about God and the Bible this will help you overcome some of that.
- Or if you Follow Jesus but still struggle with the Bible, this will help you get more from it
- Even if you love spending time with God in the Bible—this will help you to know how to help those you are mentoring or others who have struggles.
Today may feel a little different than other talks. I’m going to ask you to really think with me: Usually I just ask you to stay awake, but today might get a little heady, but this is really important to understand why you can trust the Bible, so that you will.
We all have voices in our heads! Which voices do you believe and follow?
What voices you listen to, what you believe—is powerful—it shapes who you are and who you become. Some voices came from our parents or childhood experiences—they’re still in us saying “If you want to be loved, you must be perfect.”
- “You can do anything,”
- “You’ll never amount to anything,”
- “If you’re not rich and powerful, you’re a loser.”
- “By the time you’re 30, you should be married with 2.3 perfect children.”
- “Give up, he’ll never change.”
- “Work harder you bum.”
They tell us how to do business, what to buy, what to wear, how to act, what’s expected or accepted.
Some voices in our heads speak truth, others lie—how do you know?
Who do you listen to?
If I told you there’s a book that claims to be God’s Words—God’s voice given to lead you into Life and Freedom, Love, Joy and Peace. And if I told you I found evidence it’s true, and it is by far the most Unique book of all history—wouldn’t that book at least need to make your top 5 list of Sources to consider? That’s the Bible.
Many people think the Bible’s just one book among many—equal to all others. But it’s far and away the Most Unique Book in human History.
The Bible is God’s Word to us!!
The Bible is the Most Unique Book in Human History
Unique in Composition
First, it’s Unique in Composition [build uniqueness’s underneath].
The Bible is not actually one book, it’s a compilation of -66 different books, -written over 1600 years (1500 BC- 100 AD) (divided into 39 books of the Jewish Old Testament, and 27 books of the New Testament (written by eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus). The Bible was written -by 40 authors (from every walk of life—Moses was a highly educated political leader, Peter was a fisherman, David was a King, Matthew worked for the IRS, Ruth was a peasant, Esther a queen), -on three continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe, -written in 3 languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). –addresses all nations on earth. Unlike other religious scriptures, the Bible is not about some local deity of one people group, God claims to be addressing all nations. But what’s most amazing is the unity and harmony across the 66 books.
Consider this video by The Bible Project:
So it’s one story about God and free willed people he created for His love. That it’s a Unified Story is itself supernatural. Let’s say I gave you an assignment—Go down to the library, pick just one controversial subject, find 10 books on the subject by 10 different authors, all from the same time in history, same country, language. How likely would all 10 agree on one subject? Highly unlikely—right?
Now pick from books written across 1500 years, different languages, cultural situations, and socioeconomic backgrounds—how likely would they agree?
You start to get the picture of how unique the Bible is—40+ human authors over 1500 years agreeing on controversial subjects like the person and character of God, the problem of evil, the purpose of life, morality and ethics, the coming Messiah, how people can be made right with God by faith.[And You read other books—religious or otherwise from ancient history and you get heroes. Not so with the Bible—no perfect people allowed, no superhero humans—in fact, you start reading the Old Testament and it disturbs us. It’s chock full of passion, violence, rage, despair, betrayal, dismemberment and treachery. Kind of like dating was for some of us. It disturbs because it’s the real world. Yet the Bible tells this story of God’s unfailing love and mercy, pursuing wayward humans, helping us overcome evil tendencies by trusting in God to forgive and guide us to become the loving people He intended.
Name one book so diverse in composition, yet so consistent in what it says. [If you are truly open to seeking God how could you not read it? If you call yourself educated—how can you not read the most unique book in history? And if you desire to follow God, will you regularly read it to encounter God’s voice and seek His guidance?
But skeptics will say, “How can you trust the Bible when it’s been copied and changed over 1000s of years and it’s full of errors?” It’s like the Telephone game. Haven’t you ever played the telephone game? [I’ve got a sentence I’m gonna whisper into this person’s ear—you whisper to the next person. By the time it reaches the end of the line—it’s morphed into something ridiculously different. That’s why people confidently say, “The Bible is full of errors and been changed over and over.” When people claim say that, My first question is, “Have you read the whole Bible thoroughly?” 99 out of 100 times they say “Not thoroughly.” Read the New Testament all the way through? “Not fully.”
So I ask, “Do you know anything about textual criticism?” “Yeah, I’m good at Criticism,” No-textual criticism, the science of determining how accurately a work of history passed down. See People make sweeping statements about the Bible’s credibility, yet they’ve never read it and know nothing about it’s historicity. How responsible is that, really? It’s almost like there are voices trying to keep people from reading it.
Unique in Transmission
What you’ll find is the Bible’s Unique in Transmission. No other ancient work has been so well preserved. But You’ll hear claims like “there are 150,000 errors.” Is it true? Well, yes and no. There have been copy errors through the centuries, but what does that mean? First—we son’t possess the original, signed autograph copy of any ancient writings—not from Plato, Mohammed, Shakespeare—none! But this isn’t really a problem if we have enough copies of the original—this is the science of Textual Criticism—reconstructing the original writing from manuscript copies.
So when critics say 150,000+ variants or errors—what does that really mean? It means that’s how many variations between all the copies—the more copies, the more variants you’d expect. But this includes every time a word is misspelled or left out and copied 100 times incorrectly, that’s 100 “errors”. For example: You find 5 ancient manuscript copies of the New Testament from various dates:[put under each other 1 slide]
Manuscript #1: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole worl.
Manuscript #2: Christ Jesus is the Savior of the whole world.
Manuscript #3: Jesus Christ s the Savior of the whole world.
Manuscript #4: Jesus Christ is th Savior of the whle world.
Manuscript #5: Jesus Christ is the Savor of the whole wrld.
They would say there are 7 variants or errors, and if we found 100 copies of each, that’s 700 variants or errors—but is there really a problem here? And this is precisely what most of the 150,000 variants are. Don’t you think you could figure out with a high degree of certainty what the original said? I think even Congress could figure that one out. The reason there are so many variants is because we have over 25000 copies to compare (which is a good thing). The more copies, and the closer to the original, the more confidence we can have. No ancient document—none—has the kind Textual support that the Bible has, here are some we have the most copies of today:
To say we have no idea what the original writers of the Bible wrote due to copying is absurd. No other books of history have been so well preserved and copied. Bruce Metzger, scholar in textual criticism from Princeton says of the 20,000 lines of the N.T., only 40 are in doubt and no doctrine rests on these 40 lines. 40 out of 20,000 sentences…
“After you take the 20,000 lines of the New Testament, it is safe for any scholar to say there’s at least a 99.6% accuracy.”– Bruce Metzger
You can trust that we know what the originals said! Your English translations are based on that 99.6% accurate Greek text.
What about the Old Testament? We have over 1000 copies, mostly fragments. But In 1948, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, we found parts of 38 of the 39 books of the Old Testament dating from 300 B.C. to 70 A.D. So the big question, how much copy error had crept in over 1000’s of years? Notre Dame professor Eugene Ulrich, who did an Oxford series on the Dead Sea Scrolls said,
“The scrolls have shown that our traditional Bible has been amazingly accurately preserved for over 2,000 years.”– Ulrich, Notre Dame
They found a complete book of Isaiah—95% of it exactly matched our Hebrew copy 2000 years later. Jeff Sheler of U.S News and World Report says about the Isaiah Scroll,
“Beyond some incidental copying errors, scholars have found only thirteen relatively small variations—a phrase or a verse or two missing or added—when compared to the modern text…they do nothing to alter the meaning of the text.”– Sheler, U.S. News & World Report
As Sir Fredrick Kenyon, Archaeologist and principle librarian of the British Museum says,
“The last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.”– Kenyon, British Museum
The nation of Israel didn’t play the phone game, all the laws and classes of Scribes and Lawyers, were created for the very purpose of preserving God’s word. So in summary, when someone naively tells you—The Bible’s been copied and changed and so full of errors—tell them “Do your homework.” It’s the most accurately preserved document of history–which in itself points to God’s hand behind it.
But People start reading the Bible, and they read hard to understand, or hard to believe things—Jonah surviving 3 days of Whale Indigestion, Noah’s ark and the flood, Jesus raised from the dead—and these raise insurmountable questions for some…good questions like “If Noah took every species into the ark two by two—why didn’t he just swat those two mosquitoes?” Some people read the miracles and throw up their arms and say “Hard to believe it’s not myth.”
Unique in Its Claims
But the Bible is also Unique in it’s Claims. From first to last, the authors claim to be speaking as prophets from God—they claim to be recording God’s interaction and communication with people over 1000s of years—if it’s true, wouldn’t we expect somethings out of the ordinary? Peter says,
“Prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21
It’s not saying dictation—like God said, “Jeremiah—take a note.” It’s more like if I created a bunch of colored pencils to write a message—each pencil would express my ideas in a unique colorful way, but as their Creator, I’m still the source of what they write. So God as Creator, created unique humans to express his heart and mind —but He used their unique style, life-situation, culture, and genre of writing (from history to Parable to poetry). Which is why there’s really no such thing as a literal interpretation—if literal means you neglect context and metaphor and style of the writing. When David said, “God will cover you with his feathers, under his wings you’ll find refuge.” He’s poetically using metaphor—not literally describing God as a giant Chicken. Jesus also used parable and metaphor. But not everything is parable or metaphor, some is history, some is didactic teaching—truth claims.
Jesus claimed that God inspired the writings of the whole Old Testament:
17“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets [Old Testament]. No, I came to fulfill them. 18I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God’s law will remain until its purpose is achieved. Matthew 5:17-18
It uniquely claims to be God’s Words.
In his book, Truth in Religion, Philosopher Mortimer Adler, editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica and not a believer found,
“Among the major religions of the world…only three religions claim to have a supernatural foundation to be found in a sacred scripture that purports to be a divine revelation. The three religions distinguished by this claim are Judaism, Christianity [the Bible], and the religion of Islam [Koran]. Among the other religions…only some claim to have logical and factual truth, but the truth they claim to have is of human, not divine, origin.”Mortimer Adler in Truth in Religion
The assumption kicked around out there is that all the world’s religions claim God revealed them – but this is not the case if you read the sacred writings of each religion. The Bible is Unique in its claims. After writing this Mortimer Adler did come to faith in Christ. [For clarity, The Koran came 600 years after Jesus, claiming the OT and NT are from God but corrupted, Jesus was the Messiah but not crucified—but historians will verify—Jesus was definitely crucified.]
So if the Bible claims it’s recording God’s interaction with humanity over 1000’s of years, wouldn’t we expect something Supernatural if it’s true? You may say, “it doesn’t seem like God intervenes like that today.” But if you understand the timeline of the Bible—you realize these miraculous interventions happened over 1000’s of years, not all the time—sometimes not at all for 100’s of years.]
So it’s unique in Composition, Unique in Transmission, Uniquely Claims to be Inspired by God. But you may say “But just because it claims to be God’s Word doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Unique in Its Historical Claims
True! But God tells us in the Bible how to know it’s truly from God—God alone can predict History. Unique in Its Historical Claims. Humans aren’t too good about knowing what the future holds: In 1875, the Director of the U.S. Patent Office resigned, complaining “there’s nothing left to invent.” Except the car, airplane, cell phone, computer, and all important microwave dinner. Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM in 1943 said, “I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers.” In 1981, Bill Gates declared, “640K of memory should be enough for anybody.” A study of the top 10 psychics predictions over a 3-year period found that 98% were totally incorrect! Humans can’t predict history.
But God can!
In 1500 BC, God said to Moses:
“But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?’ 22 If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. Deuteronomy 18:21-22
God says, “How can you know the Bible comes from me? I’m the only one who knows the future—the 66 books of The Bible contains over 1,800 predictions concerning over 700 separate subjects.
Not fortune cookie predictions like, “You will meet someone really interesting next year.” Or “A well-known celebrity will have a tragic end to her marriage.” God gave us a way we can verify in history if it’s from God. That’s what convinced me.
We actually have the complete book of Isaiah. This copy found in the Dead Sea Scrolls carbon dated 250 BC—250 years before Jesus was born. This is Daniel–8 different copies found in Dead Sea, dating 150 years before Jesus. We have a Copy of Jeremiah (dating 225 BC) Yet look at the historical events God foretells through these 3 prophets—verified in historical sources outside the Bible:
Daniel (535 BC) foretells the events of 6 kings from 529-164 B.C. (Daniel 11-12).
He foretells 4 Persian kings, the last who will attack Greece, then a 5th Greek king greater than all overcome Persians, but his heir will not rule, his Kingdom will be divided into 4 regions. From 529–464 B.C. this happened–3 Kings, then 4th King Xerxes who attacked Greece and burned Athens. Then came the 5th Alexander the Great (332 B.C.). The Roman/Jewish historian Josephus tells us:
“And when the book of Daniel was shown to him [Alexander in 332 B.C.], in which he had declared that one of the Greeks would destroy the empire of the Persians, he [Alexander] believed himself to be the one indicated; and in his joy he dismissed the multitude for the time being.”– Antiquities of the Jews book 11:8.3
Did you catch this? This 1st Century Roman/Jewish Historian says in 332BC Alexander read Daniels prophecy about himself and got all happy cause it says he will defeat Persia—He didn’t read the rest. History tells us Alexander conquered the known world in 7 years, died of alcoholism at age 33, his 4 Generals kill his 1 year old son, divided His Kingdom into 4 empires. Just like Daniel said. Josephus tells us Daniel was written at least before the 4th C. BC. Yet he predicts what Kings and nations will do. Then…
Daniel foretells the date the Messiah will come–32 A.D. (Daniel 9). I’ve done messages on this you can see on our Explore God tab in the website—he foretells exactly when Jesus would come.
Messiah will be killed before the Temple is destroyed. (Daniel 9) Actual history prewritten, we have proof–Jesus was crucified around 32-33AD, then Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. God foretells it through Daniel that
Jerusalem and the Temple will then be destroyed (Daniel 9). Temple still has not been rebuilt.
Isaiah (680 B.C.) foretellsthe Messiah will come from Galilee (Isaiah 9) – history confirms Jesus claimed to be this Messiah and lived and taught in Galilee. This is very specific–God foretold the time and place of Jesus’s coming.
Messiah will be rejected, suffer disfiguration, pierced through His hands and feet (Isaiah 52-53) – Mel Gibson’s the Passion of the Christ is graphically foretold in Isaiah 52-53, 680 years before Jesus was flogged, tortured, mocked and crucified by nailing his hands and feet to a Roman cross. Foretold in a scroll we possess that’s older than Jesus.
Messiah will die to pay for our sins (Isaiah 53) – Isaiah foretold why Jesus would do it.
Messiah will be buried in a rich man’s grave (Isaiah 53) History tells us Joseph of Arimathea, one of the rich Religious Leaders who had Jesus crucified, became a secret believer and put Jesus in His expensive tomb.
After Messiah dies for our sins, He will see the light of life (Isaiah 53) – historians all agree the followers of Jesus claimed they’d seen him risen from the dead, and 10 out of 12 disciples were martyred for not recanting that belief in a resurrected Jesus—but Isaiah foretold it.
All the Nations will rally to this Messiah (Isaiah 11:10) – Faith in Jesus is growing fastest in China, Africa, and South America, the fastest growing church is in Iran, where it’s the death penalty to follow Jesus. How do you explain that Jesus is worshipped around the globe—and how did Isaiah write it in 680 BC? God’s Word.
God will scatter the Jewish people across the globe for rejecting the Messiah (Isaiah 11:12) – Jesus said this would happen because they rejected him—and from 70A.D. to 1948 there was no Israeli nation, no land or government, yet for 2000 yrs Jewish people miraculously retained their identity around the globe. Jeremiah said,
God will gather the Jewish people back to Jerusalem and Israel will be reborn (Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 66) Jeremiah said As a sign to the world of God’s reality. In 1948 Israel became a nation overnight [NEWS PIC]. How did these prophets know the history of entire nations? It’s God’s Word:
Has a nation ever been born in a single day? Has a country ever come forth in a mere moment? But by the time Jerusalem’s birth pains begin, her children will be born. Would I ever bring this nation to the point of birth and then not deliver it?” asks the Lord. Isaiah 66:8-9
Amazing proof the Bible is God’s Word—there’s much more—but don’t miss the point.
God foretold it, so we will love God and follow Him, Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth. Isaiah 45:21-22
There’s only one explanation that makes sense of all this—the Bible really is from God. And that leaves you with a more important question: “Will I listen and follow it as God’s Word?” Jesus said “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise.”Who will you listen to? Will you trust God’s Word—even when you don’t understand everything?
I want to challenge you to do a daily reading plan during this seris. Download Gateway Austin App (iPhone OR Android) right now if you don’t have it. Eric Bryant created a daily reading plan “Connecting with God (Luke)”— a reading plan in the Youversion Bible App—Connecting with God goes through book of Luke (who interviewed eyewitnesses of Jesus life and teachings) and includes videos from The Bible Project to help us understand context.
Don’t start in the Old Testament—start with Jesus, God’s clearest revelation, and ask as you read “Am I willing to listen and follow?” The reason to not start with the Old Testament is it’s fulfillment is found in Jesus—so there’s a lot of confusing things in the Old Testament, like the treatment of women, slavery, genocide—people get confused thinking that’s God’s will just because it’s in there—it’s not–and next 2 weeks we’re going to help you with all that, but let’s commit to not let the unknown keep us from what’s known—let’s learn to encounter the Living God in His Word.