This sermon explores the question of whether or not it is reasonable that we can claim the Bible as inspired. We are often presented with emotional or illogical reasons for why the Bible is inspired. This sermon is an effort to understand if we do indeed have a logical reason for claiming that the 66 canonical books are inspired. I preached this sermon on 3/24/2019. Below is the manuscript. The main portion where it differs is in the textual criticism section.
Tonight, let me begin by telling you a story. Several years ago, there was a child born to Christian parents. His parents couldn’t provide lavishly for him physically, but they filled his life with the Word of God. At the age of eight, he professed Christ as his Lord, even though he didn’t understand all that was involved. Through his teenage years, he was more or less a good kid. At least, he didn’t run away from home or do drugs or anything like that. But there was something in his soul—a question: is this really true? Is Christianity true? He pushed those thoughts aside and devoted himself to the church. He canvased the neighborhood every Sunday sharing the Gospel with people. He worked in Bible clubs and was faithful in church attendance. Yet, the question remained—is it really true?
He pushed on through college where he majored in Bible and began to learn so many things. But he became critical. He saw the inconsistencies between what the Bible said and what the teachers taught. He saw how they demanded that he do all these things to be a good Christian, preaching as if these rules were Bible-truth. The doubt began to grow. “If what these people taught as Bible truth was not actually Bible truth, how can I trust them?” But he pushed these doubts aside and continued on in the faith. In doctrines class, he was taught that we should trust the Bible because the Bible says it is the word of God. The doubts crept up again. “Well, Koran and the Book of Mormon also claim that they are the word of God. What makes the Bible special?” He pushed on. He graduated and started working. His faith was challenged on a daily basis. But he decided to go back to seminary and finish what he had started.
But in seminary, the doubts grew so much worse. He learned of the Gospel of Thomas and other pseudepigrapha. He studied the apocrypha and other works. His doubts grew more. “Why did Christian’s only accept 66 books and not the others? Where their many Christianities in the early church and what we hold to as orthodoxy just happen to be the prevailing party?” The doubts did not stop there.
He left off his daily time with God—he was just too busy. And at school, he began reading critical scholars who tore the Bible to pieces. His doubts grew until he was doubting if God even existed—all this while studying in seminary. “Is there really a God? Am I putting in all this effort and work to get a degree in a religion I don’t even believe in? What good is all this to me?”
The breaking point came one evening. He was tired. Exhausted. Alone. He didn’t care about it anymore. He wanted to give it all up and go get drunk to forget all this misery. Thoughts of suicide slipped into his head every now and them. He stepped out into the moonlight and looked up at the stars. “God, if you’re real, show me! If the Bible is true, show me! Otherwise, I’m done! I’m done with seminary! I’m done with church! I’m done with Christianity! And I’m done with You!”
And that guy was me. And if God had not spoke to me that night, I would not be here today.
I don’t count myself as spiritual Christian—I’m just not. I’ve never been very good at living the Christian life. As far as experiencing God’s love emotionally, that was rare to me. Only occasionally have I ever felt overwhelming emotion for God. And those moments pass quickly. So, when God spoke to me that night and in the months following, he spoke to me though my reason. Reason had gotten me to the point of desperation. And, with the power that only an Almighty God can wield, He turned that reason back to Himself so that I trusted Him again.
As the words fell from my lips, I gazed up toward skies. It was a clear night, a rarity for the humid south. Stars filled my view. The most beautiful verse in the Bible which I memorized in Hebrew class popped into my head: “Yom lәyom yabia’ ‘omer; vәlaylah lәlaylah yәchaveh-da’ath.” “Day to day gushes forth speech and night to night declares knowledge.” This verse, of course, pointing to the fact that there is a God who created all things. And that creation itself screams GLORY TO GOD!
God reminded me of the statistical impossibility of this world coming into existence from purely natural causes. He made me think of DNA, amino-acids, and the complexities of cellular biology. Of the alinement of the sun, earth, and moon so perfectly that life can exist. The vastness of space and tiniest subatomic particles. The miracle of life. And even if evolution were true, it would take the hand of an Almighty God to cause it to happen. I knew there was a God. But what I didn’t know was that the Bible was true and the truth about God. My heart’s cry was “God! I believe! Help my unbelief!”
Tonight, I want to take you on a journey. The journey that God took me on to show me evidence that the Bible is not only true, but it is the truth. This is not a sermon about why I believe the Bible is true. What I believe does not matter to anyone else. What matters is the truth. And will you and I accept it. This is a sermon about why the Bible is the truth, regardless of anyone believing it or not.
I guess the question that gets to heart of the matter is this: is the Bible inspired? I mean, does it have a divine origin? I know the reasons that people give to me that it is divinely inspired. The Bible claims to be divinely inspired. The Bible is accurate in every matter of history. The Bible speaks to my heart assuring me that it is inspired. But these claims, while true, do not necessarily prove that the Bible is inspired. The Koran claims to be of divine origin, why do we not hold that it is inspired? A good history book, one hopes, is also accurate in every matter of history. But we certainly do not claim that these are inspired. As for it assuring my heart that it is inspired, this is precisely what the Mormons capitalize on concerning their Book of Mormon. But we would claim that book false and ours is the book from divine origins. And really this statement boils down to Disney level theology: follow your heart. I needed something more. Something that didn’t rely on my emotions.
So here I was, broken, not sure whether the Bible came from God or not. But God soon brought several things together to show me that, yes, the Bible is truly inspired. It was through the answers to two questions that I finally understood. First, did Jesus claim to be God? And second, did he prove His claim? If Jesus can be proven to be God, then I must trust His words and obey them. And if He authorizes the 66 canonical books for me to follow, then I must follow those books.
The Text of the Gospels
But before we can discuss Christ’s claim, we must ask if we have a reliable witness of Christ’s claim. And here, I am specifically addressing the Gospels. The Gospels are accounts of Jesus’s life and works, and specifically about His death and resurrection. But in our modern world, there are many, if not the majority, of Biblical scholars who doubt that the Gospels are accurate accounts of the life of Jesus. And so, we must ask, are these accounts accurate?
First, the attack is made on the manuscripts themselves. The claim usually goes like this: we cannot trust the New Testament manuscripts because they have more variants in them than they have words. This is true. There are more variants than words, but that’s because we have an unbelievable amount of manuscripts. And since each manuscript is hand copied, you will find variants.
But this does not mean that we have no clue as to what is going on in the original texts. Many of the variants are simply misspellings or nonsense words. It would be like someone spelling the word dog as dawg. We all know what the right spelling is.
But there are other variants which are a little trickier. Let me pull an example from outside the Gospels. First Thessalonians 2:7 has one of the harder variants. There is a word that in some manuscripts reads hippoi. But in other manuscripts it reads nepioi. And yet in a third manuscript reads epioi. You hear how they sound the same? Here are their translations. The first one reads: we were horses (hippoi) among you. The second: we were gentle (nepioi) among you. The third: we were little children (epioi) among you. Obviously, it makes no sense for Paul and company to act like horses among the Thessalonians. So, we can dismiss that reading. But is it that they were gentle or little children? The answer is probably gentle because the context would point us in that direction. But even if it isn’t gentle, the image of little children is very close to the idea of gentle so that you practically arrive at the same interpretation.
I’m not going to spend much more time with this, because it is not the intent of this message to discuss textual criticism. I bring up all this information to just make the point: we have the text. The number of variants does not challenge our understanding of the text at all. There are many other evidences too that indicate the reliability of the texts. The church fathers quote early and often from the Gospels. We have manuscripts that date within 100-200 years of the original (which is unparalleled for any other ancient document). We have a chain of command—that is, we know where the apostles were and who they left in charge after they died and who came after those people. The evidence is so good, that any scholar with the slightest bit of honesty is forced to admit that we have the first century documents. In the end, any scholar who implies that we have no clue what the original says is lying to you.
The second attack comes on the writers themselves. The charge is often made that between Jesus’s death around AD 30 and the writing of the Gospels around AD 60, the stories about Jesus were hopelessly exaggerated. People misremembered Jesus and invented new memories about Jesus. Then the Gospel writers came and wrote all this down uncritically and passed these things off as the truth. The scholars declare with the upmost certainty that there are no eyewitness accounts in the Gospels, but they are reports that a person heard from another person who heard from another person who knows someone who happened to see Jesus.
Again, it is not my intension to dismantle the many other arguments that people raise against the eyewitness nature of the Gospels, but I will say this. Most of the arguments are arguments from silence. In other words, they do not have any documentation, archaeological evidences, reports or anything else that denies what Scriptures says. Instead, they build their arguments on the nonexistence of information. Also, their arguments are filled with speculation. After casting doubt on the text, they then proceed to construct a possible alternative scenario. Their scenarios make sense, but again, they are built on the lack of evidence—i.e., they are built on nothing. And like you would trust a house that has no foundation, so too you should trust their arguments.
There is much more that could be said here, but I do not want to spend time on it. If you have any questions about these things, come talk to me later. I also will recommend three books. First, a very understandable book by Jim Wallace called Cold Case Christianity. He was an atheist and a homicide detective who investigated the Gospels and found them to be convincing eyewitness testimony. A more detail book is by Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Finally, the most technical version written by F. F. Bruce, Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?
The Inspiration of the Words of Jesus
Let us return to our original questions. Did Jesus claim to be God? And did He prove it? First, turn to Mark 2:5. This is the passage that talks about the four men who lowered their friend through the roof to be healed by Jesus. Let’s read it:
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. 6 But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? 9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? 10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12 And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all.
Begin turning to John 10:22 while I comment on the Mark passage. While Jesus did not directly say, “I am God,” He claims the authority to forgive sins—which is a prerogative of God alone. Thus, He did indeed claim to be God. And then he proves his statement with a miracle.
In John 10:22, you have another confrontation with the Jews.
22 And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. 23 And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. 24 Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. 25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. 26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and my Father are one. 31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? 33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
This is perhaps the clearest statement that Jesus makes regarding His deity. In the statement “I and my Father are one,” He is not just saying that they are one in purpose, but that they are one in their beings. They are the same. And the Jews correctly interpret this statement as Jesus claiming to be deity. There are many other passages that we could turn to. For example, Jesus claims to be the I am in at least seven different places. And remember, Jesus was ultimately condemned for claiming to be God. But lets move on to the question: did He prove it?
Turn to Matthew 12:22. It is one thing to claim to be deity, but it is another thing to prove it. We have already seen the miracle of Jesus healing the paralytic. But there is an even greater miracle that Jesus gave to prove who He was: the resurrection. In Matthew 12:22, the Pharisees demand a sign from Jesus to prove who He was. Let’s read:
38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. 39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Jesus says something similar in John 2:16. He just finished throwing the money changers out of the temple and the Jews. He made this statement: “Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.” Here he makes the claim again that God is His Father. And if you remember back to the passage from John 10, Jesus claims that He and His Father were One. So, in essence, He is claiming authority over the temple because He owns the temple with His Father. The Jews however push back against Him and state:
What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? 19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body.
The Jews wanted a sign to prove He had the authority to do what He did. They were asking Jesus to prove who He was. And part of what Jesus claimed about Himself was that He was God. And the sign that Jesus gave was His resurrection.
The next question, then, is did Jesus rise from the dead? Besides the accounts in Gospels, let’s consider a few other proofs for his resurrection. First, there is the evidence that His disciples strongly believed in the resurrection. We see this through all their preaching and through the epistles. But did they believe it, or did they make it up? Let’s consider this conspiracy theory for a moment—that they made it up. This conspiracy would involve at a minimum twelve people who knew that this whole thing was a hoax. They would have had to come up with the same lie and then keep it consistent for the rest of their lives. Most of the time, though, when you make a lie, you don’t go out and proclaim it to the world and convince other people of it. You especially do not stand in Jerusalem and preach this doctrine to the very people who saw the whole thing. This is the one place on earth that people could easily fact check you. They had the means to fact check and they also had the motive to fact check. All that they had to do was produce a body, but they didn’t. They could have brought the two guards of the tomb forward, but again, they didn’t. Instead, many people believed.
But not only this, they believed in it so much that they were willing to die for it. People do not die for what they know is a lie. They will spill the truth before they are killed. And if there is any doubt in someone’s mind about the subject, they will very quickly give up belief in it. But here, we do not see people denying Jesus’s resurrection, but we see them dying for it.
Further, you have the example of the Apostle Paul. As you know he was the worst persecutor of the Christians, but then he is converted and strongly believes in the resurrection. He gave up his prominence among the Jewish Elite to preach about a Carpenter from the backside of nowhere. For his pains, he was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and rejected. Yet he believed in the resurrection and Christ so strongly that he pushed on through these things until his death. You don’t get this persistence from someone who doubts that the resurrection is the truth. You only get this from someone convinced of it.
Again, there are many other evidences for the resurrection that we could point to but let’s let this suffice. Back to our original questions. Did Jesus claim to be God? The answer: YES! Did Jesus prove that he was who he said he was? The answer, again: YES! Therefore, since He is God, He is our Creator. And since He is our Creator, we are under obligation to hear Him and obey Him. Therefore, we must listen to the words of Christ and imitate His action.
As far as inspiration goes, we know, up to this point, that we must follow the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. But how do we know that the Epistles and the Old Testament are also for us to follow? This is what we will cover next.
The Inspiration of the Apostolic Writings
Please turn to John 16:12. While you turn, let me raise this question: why do we limit the post-Gospel writings of the New Testament to the writings of the Apostles and those associated with them? Why do we not include the apostolic fathers, or the early church creeds or the other so-called “gospels” which come later? Why do we say that the Gospel of Thomas is false and non-binding, but we accept the Epistle of Jude? Here we get to the issue of authority. And, I hope to show you, that the Apostles had the authority of Jesus to continue His work on earth.
In the upper room discourse, Jesus made this statement:
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. 13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. 14 He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. 15 All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
Notice how Jesus had much more to say to the Apostles in verse twelve, but they were unable to accept them. However, Jesus said that the Spirit would come and would speak to them what He—the Spirit—had received from Jesus. Thus, by the Spirit Jesus would continue His teaching through the Apostles.
When did this happen? Acts 1:4 gives the time: “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.” Then, of course, the Spirit who was that promise came at Pentecost and anointed the disciples. Filled with the Spirit, they proclaimed the message that Jesus wanted them to proclaim. This authority, then, extends not just to their preaching but also to their writings.
But what about Paul? He was not in the upper room. This special authority extends to him also because he was chosen as an Apostle as “one untimely born.” Jesus personally selected him for this status, as He said to Ananias: “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). And he more than any other Apostle promotes His status as Apostle. In the first line of the book of Galatians, he states: “PAUL, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead).” There Paul claims his Apostleship is from Christ, not from man
He claims that his message came from Christ in the first two chapters of Galatians. Notice in chapter one verse six he says,
6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Here, he speaks of the Gospel which he preached to them and—which is the same throughout his letters—as the Gospel of Christ. Thus, his letters carry the full weight of the power of Jesus and they keep His authority. This authority is the same for the other writers of the New Testament, which currently we do not have the time to explore.
But this authority was not available to everyone in the church. For there is a marked distinction between the authority of the Apostles and the authority of the pastors. For Jesus gave to the church “some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). Did the office of the Apostle continue? Well, nobody has met the requirements after the New Testament era. What are the requirements? As Acts 2:21 states “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.” That is, they were to have been with Jesus for His entire ministry and had seen Him post-resurrection. Thus, it seems this office quickly ended after the days of original Apostles.
What do these facts lead us to conclude? That Jesus gave His authority and His words to those first apostles. Therefore, because they had the authority of Christ, their writings bear Christ’s authority. Thus, their writings are inspired, coming, as it were, from the very lips of Jesus. Therefore, later writings such as the early church fathers and the other so-called gospels are not inspired and bear no authority for the Christian. More could be said on this subject but let’s move on to the inspiration of the Old Testament for sake of time.
The Inspiration of the Old Testament
We understand the that the New Testament is inspired, but what about the Old Testament? This, perhaps, is the easiest point to verify. We know that Christ Himself said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mat. 5:17). And Jesus also acknowledge in John 10:35 “the scripture cannot be broken.” Peter spoke of the Old Testament saying, “the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21). Paul also spoke this concerning the Scriptures: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim 3:16).
But what were the books of the Old Testament canon? While we do not have a list of the books which Jesus considered inspired, we do however have a very clear inference from a statement that Jesus made. Before I quote that statement, I need to give you this little bit of information. The Hebrew Bible is the same content as our English Bibles, but the order of the books is different. They start with Genesis and end with Second Chronicles. There are reasons for this order which I will not get into here. This is important because Jesus made this statement in one of His interactions with the Pharisees: “From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple” (Lk. 11:51). He was talking about the first myrter—Abel—and the last martyr—Zacharias. Who was Zacharias? This is not Zacharias who wrote the book in the Old Testament, but the one whom Joash killed in the temple. He is the last martyr to die in the book of 2 Chronicles. With this phrase, Jesus references the first book of the Bible—Genesis—and the last book of the Hebrew Bible—Second Chronicles. Thus, we reasonably imply that the canon Jesus had in mind is the same canon which comprises our Old Testament.
This is why we do not accept the writings about the Maccabees or Enoch because they do not fall inside this canon. Instead, we believe that the 39 books in our Old Testament were inspired by God and are authoritative for our lives.
Where does this leave us today? First of all, if you are questioning—whether as an unbeliever or a believer—why we only hold to the 66 canonical books as inspired doctrine, this sermon provides the beginning of the answer. Of course, there is much more information concerning this topic and I challenge you to explore it on your own. You can also use the resources I’ve mentioned earlier to dig deeper into the subject. If you would like me to give those to you again, just see me afterwards.
But here you are presented with the evidence that the Scriptures are truly inspired. What will you do with this evidence? How will you react? If this argument is true, then you are obligated—as a created being—to listen to and obey the Word of God, which is the Bible. The Scriptures are not something you can lightly dismiss or ignore like you would a novel. No, you must pay attention and at the very least investigate it for yourself to answer your doubts.
Second application, and this is to you who are not doubting the inspiration of Scripture. Can you defend the truth? Can you make the case for why the Bible is true? You say, “Nate, that’s boring apologetic stuff. That’s good for you who are going into the ministry, but I just need to focus on living the Christian life.” You’re wrong, Christian. Say that to yourself when your child or grandchild asks you if the Bible is really true. Answering “it is true because I know it is” will not answer their questions. And they will turn to other people who can give a reasonable answer. But they are liars and they will turn your children or grandchildren away from the truth.
Further, this very inspired Word of God demands that you “be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks.” And in another place, God chides us for not having a deeper understanding of the Word of God. He said through the author of Hebrews: “when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” What is God’s command? “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” And he goes on to defend and explain the priesthood of Jesus after the order of Melchizedek—very deep theology. God wants us to be able to know deep theology and teach it to others.
Therefore, Christian, because we have the inspired Word of God, every one of you must know the Scripture and be able to teach it to others! You must be at least willing to learn more and proclaim its truth so that those who are doubting can have the answers which they need. This is not just the pastor’s job, but it is your job as a follower of Christ.
We close now with a song about what we learned tonight. It is The Bible Stands. But I’ve changed some of the lyrics in order to better reflect what we learned tonight. They will be on the power point and I will read through them for you before we stand and sing.
The Bible Stands: Modified Lyrics
The Bible stands like a rock undaunted
‘Mid the raging storms of time;
Its pages burn with the truth eternal,
And they glow with a light sublime.
The Bible stands tho’ the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble;
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation,
For the Bible stands.
The Gospels stand for they bear eyewitness
To the life and work of Christ.
And through the ages they have been tested,
And their acc’racy verified.
The Epistles stand for they have been written
By the men Christ authorized
To testify over land and ocean
That from death Jesus is alive.
The Prophets stand for they foretold Jesus
With unfailing acc’racy.
The Law and Psalms, Jesus oft repeated,
Would not fail for eternity.