The Power of Scripture

The Bible is not a mediator to God. Jesus is our mediator. Through his death and resurrection he opened the only way to God. Don’t read the Bible because you think it will make God love you and don’t feel like God is upset with you for not reading the Bible. However, you must read the Bible if you want to grow as a Christian. Without Scripture you will be a stunted, anaemic, defeated, broken, confused, weak shadow of the man or woman in Christ you should be. It is your choice how much of it you will digest. Growth in Christ your choice. No one else’s. You do not need it to be saved but you need it to grow.

Many people don’t read, study and memorize Scripture because they don’t realize the power of what is available to them in the Holy Bible. Until we discover the infinite, life altering power of Scripture, the majestic truths it can unlock in your life remains hidden from you. And for many of us the extraordinary is masked by familiarity. It’s like owning a golden compass, or magic sword with time travel capabilities, but you don’t know it’s potential because it’s just there all the time.

So this begs the question what is the Bible? And what does it promise its readers? Consider what the Bible says about itself. In 2 Peter 1:16-21 Peter is defending the gospel. That’s the context. He does so by verifying his account saying that he was an eye-witness.

16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”[a] 

Then he does something insightful. He places greater credibility for the gospel on the Old Testament prophets or Hebrew Bible than on his own eyewitness account of Jesus.

18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 

He says “and we have the word of the prophets made more certain…” vs. 19. In other words I saw Jesus being declared Son of God, I actually was there. This is not some story that was made up. But don’t believe me alone you have the more reliable testimony of Scripture. Pay attention to the Old Testament and you will see Christ in them. Why does Peter have such a high view of Scripture?

Because the Bible is not mans interpretation

The first claim of the Bible is fascinating, because people still say this today; the Bible is just man’s interpretation. Have you heard this? We can’t believe the Bible because it’s just someone’s interpretation. It always fascinates me how the Bible answers contemporary questions because it’s a prophetic book. He goes on to say:

20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.

The Bible is not manmade. It did not originate from people. Moses and Joshua, Paul, Peter and the other authors aren’t giving you their interpretation of events.

It’s from God

 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The guys who wrote the Bible were carried along by the Holy Spirit. The origin of the Scriptures is God himself through people. That is why 66 books, written by more than 40 very different authors, over a period of 1500 years, in three different languages, over three different continents carries the same message. Consistently the Bible proclaims that Jesus Christ is the great Messiah, Lord and Saviour. How did it achieve such consistency? Because God carried people along as they wrote.

Do you see that what we have here is more valuable than any of us can fully comprehend? We are sitting with the words of truth. The power for a transformed life, changed behaviour, freedom from depression, all of this is before me and you. This is why we should, read the Bible daily, study the Bible constantly, hear the Bible taught, and most importantly, memorize Scripture. Memorizing Scripture is in my view the best way to read Scripture.

 

Why memorise Scripture?

1       For meditation – Psalm 119:13, 15, 23, 27, 97, 148

I must memorise Scripture if I am to meditate on the Scriptures day and night, then I must have it hidden in my heart, readily accessible to my mind. I am able to recall every word and allow the Holy Spirit to bring revelation at any time while meditate on Scripture.

2       For warfare – Ephesians 6:17

I must memorise Scripture for with it “I can strike the Devil in the face, with the only force strong enough to injure him” (Quote from John Piper). What will you strike him with? He is a million times stronger than you, a million times smarter than you. He started planning your demise before you were born, he knows your every weakness better than you do. He knew your parents weaknesses better than they did. He knew your grandparents. He hates you and wants to kill you. How anyone can walk through this Devil ruled world without a sword, I don’t understand. He will not wait until you have your Bible open in front of you before he tempts you, before he taunts you.

3       For Faith – Romans 10:17

I must memorise Scripture because faith comes from hearing the Word of God. I hear the Word of God when I read it and recall it, repeat it, speak it, sing it, whatever means you choose to get the Word into you. Your faith needs sustenance. You will grow spiritually anaemic without internalizing the Scripture.

4       For holiness – Psalm 119:9, 11, 45, 127-128, 133

I must memorise Scripture to overcome my flesh, sin nature with truth. You don’t overcome sin by trying to stop it. You overcome it by spending time with God. The way to keep your flesh dead is through considering, thinking about, weighing up the promises and warnings of God in his Word.

5       For practical wisdom and council – Psalm 119:24, 69, 98 – 100, 130

Jesus said my sheep they know my voice. So he speaks to me. If I know the Bible I can recognize his voice more easily. If I know his voice, he can speak to me and I can speak to him in prayer. We can communicate.

6       For a complete worldview – Romans 12:2

I memorise Scripture because it acts upon my mind, renewing it, reshaping it, conforming it to God’s patterns not the world’s patterns. My entire worldview must change, the whole system of thinking must change, you are born again and you grow up through learning Scripture.

7       For protection from false teaching

I must memorise Scripture in order to more readily detect and guard my heart from false teaching.

8       For teaching and ministry – Colossians 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:16

I must memorize Scripture so that I am never unprepared for ministry and teaching. If you are a parent or you are going to be a parent you must always be ready for questions your kids may ask. If you are a young adult or a student or a working person you must always be ready with Biblical answers to people’s question. Paraphrasing things in your own words does not have the same effect as direct quotations with the Scripture reference.

9       For perspective – Psalm 119:81-83, 105

I must memorize Scripture to maintain perspective on my life and my mission. Everyday brings me down, and then I must rise up on wings like eagles and see afresh God’s higher perspective. The word is a light to my path, it is a guide.

10  For powerful prayer – John 15:7

I must memorize Scripture so that I can pray in line with God’s will so that my prayers will be answered favourably. I ask God for what I know I will receive so I ask confidently.

11  For joy – Psalm 119:1, 14, 16, 18, 20, 24, 35, 40, 47, 50, 52, 72, 103

I memorise Scripture because it is a great source of delight. Our hearts long for God and Scripture helps you experience God. Just like worship music, or sermons, or someone with a prophetic gift. I love his Word, I long for his word, when I meditate on his Word it makes me happy, it fills me with joy.

12  For refuge – Psalm 119:114, 147, 165

I memorise Scripture so that I may find refuge in it. I hide myself in God’s word. When I am fearful, when I am persecuted, or ridiculed, when I feel insecure, I hide in God’s Word. I remind myself of His promises to protect me, to vindicate me for righteousness, of his steadfast love for me.

The Scriptures will feed you and strengthen you like nothing else but it’s your choice. What you will do with this?

Advertisements

You cant take the Bible literally, can you?!

“I’d like to believe, but I’m a rational person and I can’t rationally accept that the bible is trustworthy”

Have you ever spoken to someone with this view? I have. In fact that person was me a long time ago.  The truth however is that I had been lied to. It’s a really old lie and it goes like this “did God really say?” See, at the center of all the arguments against the reliability of the Scripture as a trustworthy theological historic document is this lie: the Bible was written long after the events it speaks about. The aim of this lie is to breed distrust in the God of the Bible, namely Jesus Christ.  All the arguments against the trustworthiness of Scripture hinge on this false theory that the Bible was written a long time after the events it speaks about.

The theory goes like this: the gospels and most of the Bible originated as oral traditions of various church communities in the Middle East. The stories about Jesus contained elements of fact but where shaped by these communities to answer the questions that the churches were asking. Leaders made sure that the Jesus in their stories was a Jesus that affirmed the beliefs and policies of their churches. The gospels where then passed on through the years, evolving as additional legendary information was added to them. After many generations had passed the gospels were written down. By this point the original person and work of Jesus had grown into a tall tale, reflecting the imagination of people rather than the actual historic account of Jesus. And eventually in 3 AD the Emperor Constantine decided which books of the bible to include in the Canon of Scripture so that the state could leverage power. So, you may believe very little of the Biblical accounts of Jesus, his conception through the Holy Spirit, his miracles, his sinless life, his crucifixion, his claim to be God and his resurrection is legend information. They were added to the original story much later by church leaders and politicians who wanted a compelling Christ figure so that they could control people.  That’s basically how the critics both Christian and non-Christian will tell the story.

It’s time to dispel, debunk, deconstruct and clear up this outlandish and untrue theory. The Bible was not written long after the events it describes by church leaders with a political agenda and it does not contain legend information.

Is the Bible trustworthy?

Anne Rice, became famous for her novel and movie Interview with a Vampire. Growing up she attended a Catholic church but lost her faith at university. She became a Novelist, married and atheist and became rich writing about Lestat a Vampire Rock Star, who is much stronger than that wimp of a vampire Edward Cullen. So, it shocked the media and literary world when Rice announced that she was a Christian again.

Why did she do it? Well, she was writing a book titled “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” when she started reading about Jesus quite extensively. As she read the counter evidence for Jesus being the divine Christ, she was brought to faith.

Some books were no more than assumptions piled on assumptions… Conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all… The whole case for the non-divine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified… that whole picture which had floated around the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years – that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.

So I have three questions to answer:

  1. How did the New Testament get to us?
  2. How did the original autographs get written?
  3. How can we be sure legend material was not added?

And the answers to these questions will prove:

  1. We have more reliable texts for the gospels than for almost any other ancient writing.
  1. No substantial challenge was posed for the accurate reconstruction of the events of the Gospels.
  1. The Gospel events were written down when they happened on account of eye witnesses.

1. How did it get to us?

The New Testament that we have has been translated from the Greek version of the Bible. The Greek text was constructed by comparing thousands of ancient copies with each other. It is estimated that we are in possession of as many as 24000 copies. These copies of the original autographs were made from approximately 120 AD which are a few years after some of the Apostles died. To put this into perspective there is an ancient writing called “The Jewish War”. There are only 9 remaining copies of this book, and there is a 400 year gap between the oldest copy and the original. But historians and textual critics are confident that “The Jewish War” is a sound document. In contrast there are thousands of copies of the New Testament that date to only 50 years before the original autographs. The truth is that we have more reliable texts of the gospels than almost any other ancient work.

The quality of the New Testament document that we have is measured by how much Textual Variants occur. The copies are compared to each other and when there is a difference between the same Bible passage they mark it as a textual variant. But the difference in the copies that we have of the New Testament is so minute that they are insignificant. Textual Critic Daniel Wallace puts it this way:

“the great majority of these variants are inconsequential—involving spelling differences that cannot even be translated, articles with proper nouns, word order changes, and the like—and that only a very small minority of the variants alter the meaning of the text, the whole picture begins to come into focus. Indeed, only about 1% of the textual variants are both meaningful and viable.”

For example, see Matthew 6:33:

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”

However, earlier copies of this passage don’t have the two words “of God”. This doesn’t however change the meaning of the sentence, since the context and sentence still implies that Jesus was referring to the Kingdom of God.

Sum Up: How did it get to us? 24 000 copies, only written only 50 years after the events it describes, where synthesized to produce the New Testament, the quality is 99% accuracy with 1% textual variants which don’t change the meaning of any Scriptures or effect Christian doctrine. We have more reliable texts for the gospels than for almost any other ancient writing.

2. How did the original autographs get written?

They were written very early in the 1st century and were written in a culture that practiced the oral tradition. I have just returned from Mozambique. South African tar roads end at the Ponta Dora Border Post in Mozambique and all that you are left with is lush coastal forest. It wasn’t even five km’s into this 4×4 road and I had no idea where we were, were we were headed, and were we had come from. I was amazed at how anyone could find their way in this jungle. But people who live their skillfully commit massive terrains to memory. In fact it’s psychologically proven that there is a much higher incident of people with photographic memories in rural settings than there are in cities. The point is that the Jewish culture has a rich tradition of memorizing stories and retelling them with great accuracy which most of us do not posses. Only 15 to 20% of people were literate in the 1st Century. This meant that commerce, business, trade, health care and all sorts of important communication happened via story telling.

Not only did they live in a culture that was highly proficient at passing on Biblical stories, but the gospels were first written down within the life times of many eye-witnesses. Theologians and Textual critics are in agreement that Mark was written no later than AD 60-70. Jesus died in AD 33, so there is no more than 27 – 30 years between the event and the written record of the event. In a culture where people make a profession of remembering stories, a people that remembered the Old Testament stories over hundreds of generations without variants, which is now proven by the Dead Sea Scrolls, in this culture 28 years and hundreds of eye witnesses pose no challenge in reconstructing an accurate account of the events. And if you would like detailed scientific textual evidence that proves the gospels were written down as early as AD 70 then please read Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Sum Up: How did the original autographs get written? They were written 27 – 30 years after the original events happened, that’s during the lifetime of the original eyewitnesses, in a culture that practiced the oral tradition for thousands of years. No substantial challenge was posed for the accurate reconstruction of the events of the gospels.

3. How can we be sure legend material was not added?

3.1 The timing is too far early

The gospels were written 30 to 60 years after Jesus had died. Textual critics place Paul’s letters at only 15 years after Jesus had died. This means that the eye witnesses to Jesus where still around when Paul wrote his public letters to churches and when the gospels were written. In Luke 1:1-4, Luke says that he got his information from… eye witnesses!

Now consider this:

a.      Paul and the gospel writers use the names of eye witnesses deliberately to assure readers that what they are writing is authentic. Consider this. Let’s say you belong to a church or group where everyone knows everyone, like my small church. If I write a public letter about my friend Amy (who goes to my church), and I tell you that Lizzie (who also goes to my church) was around, Davi (also at our church) saw it happen and a policeman named Jan from Bergvleit police station (our church is in Bergvleit) was present when the event occurred. Then you can verify whether I am lying or not. The Gospel of Mark for example says; the man who helped Jesus carry his cross to Calvary “was the father of Alexandre and Rufus” (Mark 15:21). There is no point in the author telling us about Rufus unless we physically know who Rufus is and have access to him. Mark is saying; if you don’t believe me ask Alexandre and Rufus what happened.  Paul does the same in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6. Paul even goes as far to say that there were 500 eyewitnesses who saw the risen Jesus Christ at once. That gives license to his original audience to verify what was saying, ‘if you don’t believe me go and ask so and so or so and so”.

b.      Furthermore, it was not only Christians who where eyewitnesses. There where opponents, public figures, officials and the orthodox Jewish leaders who heard Jesus teach, seen his actions and watched him die. For a legend to captivate the public’s imagination the opponents of the legend and the eyewitnesses and their children and their great grandchildren should be dead. Otherwise they will simply debunk the myth and say it’s not true. Instead what we find, is exactly what we expect to find. The officials, the opponents and the non-Christian Jewish leaders simply write about Jesus rather than deny he ever existed.

a.      Greco-Roman references to Jesus

i.      Julius Africanus, a third century writer, refers in his work History of the World to a first-century Greek historian named Thallus who, he says, discusses the darkness that occurred at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (see Mark 15:33).

ii.      Shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, a man named Mara bar Serapion, in a letter to his son, refers to the Jews executing their “wise king”. Most scholars regard this as a reference to Jesus, although it is not some scholars debate its clarity.

iii.      Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor in Bithynia, wrote in early the second century AD that Christians met regularly and sang hymns to Christ “as if to god” (Letters 10.96.7).

iv.      At a similar time, the Roman historian and friend of Pliny the Younger, speaks of a riot between Christians and Jews that broke out in Rome because of someone named “Chrestus” (Life of Claudius 25.4). This is almost certainly a reference Christ as the contexts indicates.

v.      Lucian of Samosata (AD 115-200), a famous Greek writer, speaks of “the one whom [Christians] still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine…” (Death of Peregrinus 11)

vi.      Around AD 175, another Greek writer called Celsus says that Jesus’ mother had an affair with a Roman soldier, and that Jesus’ miracles were actually Egyptian magic.

The point is clear. If the resurrection and divinity of Jesus was legend material added much later then the aforementioned guys should have no knowledge of people worshiping him, miracles that match the New Testament account or any claim to his divinity.

b.      Non-Christian Jewish  references to Jesus

i.      Jewish Antiquities, first-century Jewish (note not a Christian)historian name Josephus wrote. (in brackets I’ve placed the dubious sections questioned by scholars):

Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, [if it be lawful to call him a man], for he was a doer of surprising deeds – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the gentiles. [He was the Christ;] and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, [for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him;] and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day. (Antiquities 18.13-64)

ii.      A section of the Talmud (a compendium of rabbinic teaching) that dates from between AD 100 and AD 200 says that someone called Jesus was “hanged” on the eve of Passover, and that he “practiced sorcery and led Israel astray: (b. Sanhedrin 43a-b)

iii.      A later section of the Talmud (probably written after AD 200) claims, like Celsus that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier (b. Shabbat 104b).

c.       Excavations also prove that the geographical locations described in the bible are indeed accurate, and are not fuzzy logic projected back by later Christian writers. For example the 1888 discovery of the pool of Bethesda (John 15:2) was found and matched the biblical description of five porticoes.

All of these facts indicate that the timing of these stories was too early for the gospel accounts to be legend. These people are not followers of Jesus and were simply recording and interpreting what was happening around them.

3.2 The content is far too counterproductive

The popular view, the Dan Brown view, is that the church wrote the Bible much later on and shaped its content so as to promote their policies, consolidate their power, and build a movement. This doesn’t make sense for several reasons:

a.      If this view was correct we would expect to see Jesus taking a side in debates related to the early church, like whether gentile Christians should be circumcised or not. But we don’t because the authors of the bible did not feel at liberty to add to God’s Word.

b.      Why would the early church make up a crucifixion story? In both Greek and Jewish culture crucifixion was associated with crime, weakness and shame. Such a story would be treated with contempt and suspicion as indeed it was.

c.       Why make up a story where the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus are woman. In the first century a woman wasn’t even allowed to be a witness in a court of law. The society had a very low view of woman, so why include this in your story? Because it actually happened that way.

d.      Why do the gospels constantly portray the churches chief leaders, that is the 12 disciples, as dim witted, slow, petty, jealous, self – righteous, cowards? The great apostle Peter even cursed Jesus his Master (Mark 14:71). That’s no way to win the trust of the public and potential church members. And in a shame based culture, where you have to save face, no Christian would have wrote that part of the story down, unless Peter himself was actually the one to recount and give his permission.

e.      And lastly, it’s the Gnostic gospels of Judas and Thomas that assimilate the policies and beliefs of the Roman Empire, not those included in our Canon of Scripture. Since they were written much later, earliest date 175 AD and they reflect Greek Gnosticism.

The content of the gospels does not favor the powerful, nor does it help the church leaders, and it simply was not legend.

Sum Up: How can we be sure legend was not added? The timing of the gospels are far too early for legend to develop. All sorts, not only Christian people know about and refer to Jesus. And secondly the story is far too counterproductive to legend. The gospel events were written down when they happened and not long after by church leaders with political agendas.

The New Testament is a trustworthy historic account. The real reason why the world will continue to rage against the Bible has very little to do with its historical accuracy and everything to do with but its demand for faith in the true hero Jesus!

A call to faith

Now, the Bible says that the Holy Scriptures are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). The purpose of the Scripture’s is to lead us to believe and trust in Jesus Christ, to bow the knee to him as Lord and Savior. Jesus is the climax of the Bible narrative, he is the beautiful crescendo that the symphony of Scripture declares, he is the champion of this drama of redemption.

  • Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them – Matthew 5:17
  • These are the Scriptures that testify about me – John 5:39
  • And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself – Luke 24:27
  • “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures – Luke 24:44-45

The main thrust of the Scriptures is to call you and me to repentance and belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is what the Bible is all about. The Father of lies, that serpent called the Devil has been working hard at his smear campaign against the true hero of the Scripture; Jesus. Jesus is the embodiment of the Scripture and is called the “Living Word”. John says that the world was made through Jesus, so in the beginning Jesus spoke the world into existence. Do you have trouble with relationships? Well Jesus made your first parents in the Garden of Eden? He can bring you love, joy and peace. Do you struggle with fear about the direction of South Africa? Luke tells us that Jesus is the great King of kings that the book of Daniel spoke about. Do you feel tired, anxious and weak? Peter says that Jesus is the great Sheppard of Psalm 23 who leads you by quiet waters and restores your soul. The Bible is an extension of Jesus, that’s why its words carry power. Jesus is the hero of Scripture and he wants to be the hero of our lives. It’s also the reason why there will always be criticism leveled at the Bible. May you find renewed trust in the true God of the Holy Bible, may you reject the doubts of the evil one and turn to Jesus. Amen.