The Christmas holiday brings with it questions of both the incarnation and the trustworthiness of its record.
Was Jesus just a man claiming to be God or God pretending to be a man? If the Bible was written by men, can we really trust it?
In this two-part post, we’ll see the fully human, fully Divine nature of both God’s Word (post 1) and Jesus, God’s Word made flesh (post 2). So this week, lets examine the reliability of the Bible, which bears the record of the God-Man, Jesus.
The Word of God is fully human
a) Human agents, with their own personalities and backgrounds, wrote the Bible
The Scripture was written over more than a millennium-long stretch of time by several dozen authors from various cultural backgrounds. Therefore to consider that God could speak one distinct message for His people through such different people in different times and different places is surely a miracle. Students of the Bible can tell you that the message of God’s Word, whether Genesis or Revelation (or anywhere in between) contains the same components of God’s holiness, man’s depravity, and God’s glorious plan to save sinners through the sacrifice of Christ.
b) The Holy Spirit inspired these human authors to write the very words of God
Peter, Moses, Ezra, and Paul wrote what they felt God wanted them to communicate to the people. It was their thoughts, their background that came out, their words and arguments to their various audiences. However, in the most amazing way, the Creator was moving upon them to write His words for His people throughout all generations. Only God could have written a book that would communicate the same beneficial truths to 21st Century Americans as to 6th Century exiled Jews. What is so mind-blowing is to think that God has communicated to us with letters and words and sentences and paragraphs and books. He has written so much to us that people must plan well to read the whole thing in a period of 365 days! Isn’t it amazing that the Creator of the stars and planets somehow, in His infinitely wise mind, created a way to communicate to us His creatures in language we understand? Who but God could have discovered a way to move the prophets and apostles to write His words with pen on paper and put it in a book? We ought to cherish our Bibles, for they are the very words of God in black and white. Also, lets not forget those, like William Tyndale, who gave their lives to get it’s message to us in our English language. Lets not be casual readers of God’s Word, but serious students.
c) Not dictation, like Allah did to Muhammed
Its important that we don’t confuse how God communicated His Word to the prophets and apostles. In other religions, like Islam and Mormonism, their sacred writings were communicated to them in dictation style. An angel or god spoke and the “prophet” quickly jotted down the words. Dictation then becomes a problem for future copies not being equally authoritative. One Muslim friend once told me proudly that Muslims have the original Quran, so where is our original Bible? He didn’t believe the Bible in my lap was the Word of God unless it was the parchment Paul wrote on and the ink was still wet. The Bible, however, was written by verbal, plenary inspiration. J.I. Packer states it this way: “When biblical inspiration is said to be plenary (as opposed to partial) and verbal (as opposed to the idea that God gives only inklings and insights, without determining in what words they should be expressed), this does not imply a Koranic view of inspiration, whereby translations of the original are precisely not the Holy Book. As Reformation theology used to say, it is the sense of Scripture that is Scripture, and all translations are in truth the Bible, at least to the extent that they are accurate.” 2 Peter 1:21 records things this way: “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.” Kevin DeYoung remarks that it was basically as if God were dictating His words to the prophets and apostles (though He wasn’t) because He was able to say exactly what He wanted to say through them. Because of that, our Bibles are authoritative as they accurately communicate God’s message.
The Word of God is fully Divine
a) When the Bible speaks, God speaks
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Scriptures we possess in the Bible are literally the exhalation of God. This is why some have put it, “Where the Bible speaks, God speaks.” It’s as if when we read the Bible the Creator of the heavens and the earth is opening His mouth and uttering a command from the throne of heaven. This means that the Scriptures are the sole and perfect rule of faith and practice for every Christian. Perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews can say, “The Word of God is living and active” (4:12).
b) No errors in the original manuscripts
If God has indeed revealed Himself in a book, doesn’t it make sense that this book would be free from errors? After all, if our God couldn’t communicate to humans without making a mistake (doctrinally or otherwise), what does that say about Him? Maybe you’re thinking, “Yes, but what about all the translations we have today which do make the occasional error?” Of course translating words from one language to another, is not a mathematical equation. Translating Hebrew concepts like ‘chesed’ or ‘shalom’ into English is a very difficult task that requires skilled and knowledgeable translators. Not to mention the multiple word connections seen in the Greek New Testament that cannot be perfectly presented in the English. It is totally understandable that we will not have the exact, word-for-word text as the original, but we’re pretty darn close. There are translations that unintentionally or intentionally (New World Translation) present unbiblical doctrines, but most of our English translations are very reliable to the original. Also, of course, Bible printers may accidentally make a grammatical error, but we’re talking about the original manuscripts.
Maybe it worries you that we don’t have the exact text of the Bible. Maybe you’re thinking, “Whoa, so then what confidence can we have that we even have the words that God wanted us on the page?” Once again, if our God cannot keep communicating His word to people thousands of years into the future, then what kind of God is this? But our confidence in God also has external evidence. We have more than 5,500 manuscripts of the Scriptures in various different languages spread across the known world. Many dating to the first Century. To give you a hint of how astounding this is, the next closest would be Homer’s Illiad, with a mere 600, and even those are hundreds of years after the original. Even the most ancient manuscripts discovered align with our modern Hebrew and Greek copies to the 99th percentile. I do think pastors and teachers should learn enough Biblical Hebrew and Greek to become acquainted with the original languages, for there are jewels to mine in every text for the people of God and we ought to be doing the hard work of revealing these to them. This doesn’t mean your pastor should be regularly teaching you Hebrew or Greek words, but it does mean he should regularly say things like, “The original wording sounds more like this” or “There is something striking here that doesn’t transfer to the English.” Hearing a pastor say these things builds the confidence of God’s people in God’s Word and helps us all remember to study the text well.
c) The Bible is our sole source of authority
As I’ve heard it said, “God has spoken and He didn’t stutter.” The accounts of Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension are all accurate. This means we would do well to heed the voice of Him who speaks from heaven. Let us all read our Bibles with serious focus. SO now that we can trust the record of Jesus’ life, we’all look next time at how Jesus can be both fully human and yet fully Divine.