This is a text of my sermon that I preached on September 12 at LEMC on the Bible.
I. Introduction: Have you noticed how the term “Religious Books” have been used in the news a lot this week? Many religions look to books for the answers to life.
Americans who think the Bible is just another book of teachings written by men containing stories and advice: 11 percent
Americans who think the Bible has no errors: 56 percent
-Americans who say the Bible is the actual Word of God and should be taken word-for-word:
-Americans who said this 30 years ago: 38 percent
Some might object saying such things as:
“It can’t be trusted because it’s full of inaccuracies and contradictions?” 19% believe this.
“It can’t be trusted because it’s just a bunch of stories that has changed over time?”
“It’s too old. It can’t be relevant to me today.”
In actuality, the Bible is as relevant today as it was when it was written because it is the very Word of God. I want to answer your tough questions today about the Bible. Is it trustworthy? Is it from God?
I would say that there is no greater book than the Bible. It is the most important book ever written. It is the most influential book ever written. There is no other work, religious or otherwise, that is as important as this book.
The Bible stands above them all. It is by far the most widely circulated book in history. In 1992, the estimate was that 6 billion Bibles were in print. Today, the United Bible Societies report a distribution of 633 million portions of Scripture a year. The Gideons International distributes 80 million full copies a year. It has been translated into 400 languages and parts of it into 2,500 languages.
Let’s start with some basics because this is a very unique book and there is no other book like it.
II. Basic background regarding the Bible.
A. Have you ever wondered where we get the name “Bible?” The New Testament speaks of the Old Testament as Scripture, for which the Greek word is graphe, meaning “writing.” The word bible comes from the Greek word for book: biblio.
B. Two sections – The Old and the New Testaments. I heard a comedian one time joking about the names of these two sections. He said that the Bible is pretty old. Maybe we should rename it the Old Testament and the Older Testament. The names do not come from age, but rather they speak to what these sections are about. The Old Testament is a record of God working in human history up until 400 years BC and the New Testament is the story of God working since the time of Jesus birth. Both are important and describe salvation history: how God is redeeming His people.
Open your Bibles to Table of Contents.
These two sections are divided up even further into books. The Bible is really a collection of 66 books. The OT contains 39 and the NT contains 27 books. They are arranged chronologically somewhat, but not exactly. For example, Genesis 1 speaks about creation which obviously took place first. But, most scholars agree that the first book that was written was Job. What we see in the Table of Contents is that the books are arranged by genre, or type.
4. Prophets: Major and Minor
In the NT we have the gospels first, then a book of history (Acts), then the epistles (arranged by author and length, and ending with the book of revelation.
III. Who wrote the Bible?
The Bible was written over a 1,500 year span.
3 different continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe
3 different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek
40 different authors: including a doctor, a fisherman, a rabbi, a military general, a king, and a tax collector.
And yet it is consistent in its message and its theme: it’s all about God’s love for us and his redemption of mankind through the work of Jesus. How did this happen?
Let’s turn to 2 Peter 1:20, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Turn to 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says that all Scripture is “God-breathed.” That is a made up Greek word that Paul created to illustrate how the Scriptures game to us. If you read through the OT you see the phrase “thus says the Lord” hundreds of times. According to some scholars, the prophet’s acknowledgement that they were speaking by divine authority occurs 3,800 times.
The OT was the Bible that Jesus read, memorized, and preached from. In the NT, we see that some of Paul’s letters were accepted as Scripture very early after they were written.
In 2 Peter 3 Peter refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture.
IV. How did we get the Bible we have today?
I’ll start with the NT because more people question those books over the OT. It might be because the OT is the Jewish scriptures, but either way, the process is pretty much the same.
So how did we end up with the books of the New Testament? Basically the early church fathers brought together in one collection, or canon, those books/letters that were already identified as Scripture. “Canon” literally meant “measuring rod.” So they would hold up a book and compare it to what was accepted as Scripture.
This became necessary because people began to write books and falsely attribute them to the apostles. This practice was common during this day and it was known as pseudographical writings. The early church fathers did not accept the practice because it was not truthful. In the same way that today, if I were to write a book and put Atilla’s name as the author just so people would read it, then everyone would call me a liar.
Today, we read articles about “the lost books of the Bible” or “the gospels that early church leaders banned from the Bible.” It’s not that they were “banned” or “lost,” they weren’t included to begin with. The big one that I can think of is the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas because I think they were mentioned in the DaVinci code. The main reason that they probably weren’t included is that they weren’t written by Thomas or Judas.
So here is the “Canon” or “measuring rode” that was used by the early church leaders to identify which letters were inspired and which were inferior:
There were three particular traits of each book:
1. Was the book written by someone with eyewitness testimony to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?
2. Did the book agree with what the rest of Scripture taught?
3. Was it received by God’s people and did it show the power to change lives?
If the letters could pass this test then they were accepted into the collection of books that we know call the Bible. This process occurred in about 125 A.D. but it wasn’t formally accepted until church leaders from all over the known world got together at what was called the Third Council of Carthage in 397.
So the next logical question that you might ask is: How can we know that what they said was true is the same Bible that we have today? Don’t you think errors have crept in within the 2,000 years? Well, I’m glad you asked….
V. The manuscripts
When determining the reliability of ancient literature, one of the tests that you can do is compare the quantity and quality of copied manuscripts, as well as how far removed they are from the time of the originals.
Plato’s writings are from 380 BC. The earliest copy that we have is from about AD900 which means that there were 1,300 years between the two. There are also about 7 copies of those early manuscripts.
Aristotle wrote about 350 BC. The earliest copies we have from him are from AD 1100 which leaves a gap of 1,400 years. We only have 5 copies of his writings.
Pliny the Younger (who wrote a letter describing early Christian meetings on the first day of the week) wrote about AD 70. We have copies of his writings from AD 850 which is only 750 years and there are 8 manuscripts of his.
Homer, author of the Iliad and The Odyssey. He wrote in 900 BC and the earliest copy in existence is from 400 BC which is only 500 years. There are also 643 copies of his works. From what we have available, we could reconstruct 95% of his works. Obviously, you would think that his writings are the most trustworthy writings from antiquity.
The New Testament was written around AD 60 and the earliest copy we have is from AD 130 (with one scholar claiming to have a piece of Matthew from AD60), only about 100 years of separation. There are more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts; 8,000 Latin manuscripts; and 1,000 other languages. Not only that, but we can reconstruct 99.5% of what the text said. Only about 400 words are in question and those have no bearing on the passage and are usually footnoted in your Bibles.
At one time, this was a serious question from skeptics regarding the Old Testament as well. People said that fables arose over time and the text became corrupted. In 1947, a small shepherd boy settled this debate forever. He was walking along, throwing rocks into a hole in the side of a mountain. He heard pottery smash and he climbed the hill to look inside. What he saw was clay pots and inside of them were leather scrolls wrapped in linen cloth. He didn’t know at the time the significance of what he discovered. But today we call them the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was 40,000 inscribed ancient fragments and from these about 500 books has been reconstructed including a complete copy of Isaiah from 125 years before the time of Christ which is 1,000 years earlier than we used to have.
God has preserved His word over thousands of years with amazing accuracy. The Bible is trustworthy. The Bible is from God. The Bible is about God.
Where does that lead us? So what?
1. Trust your English translation of the Bible because it is accurate.
2. Scripture is our authority. It is above us, we are not above it. Psalm 19:7 “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” Psalm 119:105 call it a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
3. Interpret the Bible literally: Do not read into scripture what you want it to say, but read it carefully to read the truth out of it.
4. Read and study the Scriptures, and do it intentionally.
5. Don’t confuse principles with methods. (Ex. Colossians 3:16).
6. Distinguish between texts that are descriptive versus those that are prescriptive.
7. Read scripture seeking principles for application.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to a person that isn’t.”
VI. Final word:
The Bible is trustworthy. The Bible is from God. The Bible is about God. But we don’t worship a book. We worship the One who wrote the book. Jesus accused the Pharisees of missing the point of Scripture in John 5:39: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”
The BIG IDEA though, is that it’s all about Jesus.
Last week we learned that God created us. But the Bible says that we are sinners. And sin separates us from God. It leads to death.
But the good news is from Romans 5:8 but that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
If you are not a Christian, if you don’t know Christ, why don’t you receive him today?
If you are a Christian, pick up your Bible and read it this week. It’s trustworthy, it’s powerful, it is the Word of God.