If the Bible is the Word of God…

An open Bible being read

Every generation wrestles with how to understand the Bible. Not just in terms of content (though there is that), but with regard to what the Bible actually is. And often, the wrestling winds up offering a take on the Bible that suggests we should respect and honor it, is doubtful as to its trustworthiness as a revelation of God’s will and character. Essentially, what you wind up with is a book that’s pretty much like any other. You can embrace the parts you find helpful and toss the rest.

But if the Bible is indeed the Word of God, that means what it says is what God says. It has authority. Correction: it is the ultimate source of authority for a Christian. It is truthful in everything that it teaches, without exception. It is a book overflowing with wisdom; it is “profitable” for us, equipping us in every way to live to the glory of God, even if that way seems strange to the world around us (2 Tim 3:17-18).

And this, I think, explains this tendency to redefine it. It’s an issue of authority. What this book says, God says. It tells us about how we were created to live, yes. But it does more than that. It tells a story about humanity. It speaks about humanity in a way no other book does. It doesn’t present us as being on a journey of progress, or as heroic figures, as any human author naturally would. Instead, when we read the Bible, we discover, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”[1. Walt Kelly, in the comic strip “Pogo”, April 22, 1971.] We don’t have all the answers. We aren’t good enough, smart enough, or doggone likable enough to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and realize our own potential. We need Someone to rescue us; to not just teach us how to be better people, but to make us new people. People with a desire to love, honor, and obey the One who created them. People who want to tell the entire world about Him!

That’s why this book matters. It is a book like no other. It’s the most humbling, frustrating, and awe-inspiring book you’ll ever read. But it’s the only one that has the answers to all the questions we don’t even know to ask.


Note: this post is part of an informal, periodic series exploring different theological concepts for another project I’m working on. As such, application is going to be limited. Hopefully the knowledge will be helpful. 

You don’t really love the god you control

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One of my favorite things is to hear my kids tell me they love me. Hannah, my middle girl, always wants me to be home. Always. In fact, after coming home from one trip, she told me in tears that I should never go away again. I should just stay home, and go to work, and then come back home again at night. When I get home from work, Hudson excitedly shouts, “Hey guys! Dad’s home!” and then rams his head into my pelvis while giving me a hug. Abigail loves nothing more than to cuddle, whether it’s convenient or not.

I am indeed, a much loved and very blessed man, friends. I try to do lots of fun things with the kids whenever possible, but they don’t love me because I’m the “fun” dad. They love me because, along with their mom, I help provide stability to their world. That’s what we do with schedules, routines and even discipline. And because they have a stable home, they are free to be themselves.

Strangely, we don’t seem to look at God the same way. While it’s understandable for the non-Christian, sure, but even many believers struggle to be thankful that God is on his throne. Many seem to want him to be anywhere but. Many would prefer a god of love—a god who is love, but who wields no authority. What they want, though, is god they can control. And when they’re reminded that this god doesn’t exist, they lash out.

Spurgeon reminded his hearers—and us today—of this truth when he preached,

 

Men will allow God to be everywhere except on his throne. They will allow him to be in his workshop to fashion worlds and to make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, his creatures then gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and his right to do as he wills with his own, to dispose of his creatures as he thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on his throne is not the God they love. They love him anywhere better than they do when he sits with his sceptre in his hand and his crown upon his head. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon his throne whom we trust.

We don’t want a God who has authority in our lives. We want one we can control. We think it’s easier. We think it’s even possible. But it’s not. Even if we believe in a toothless god, we don’t really love it, because we know in our hearts it doesn’t exist. And we don’t have any confidence in such a god anyway, because we’re left without any real sense of stability. We merely have what seems right in our own eyes. And that is an unstable foundation for even the most consistent person.

But we do have something, or rather, someone, better: the true God—the maker of the heavens and the earth, and Father of our Lord Jesus. The one does sit on his throne, and who does what is right and just, whether we like it or not. This is the God we ought to run to because he is the only one worthy of love.

Honor authorities, but fear God

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First Peter 2:13 starts with six words most of us probably really, really hate: “Be subject to every human institution.”

Admit it: you just bristled, didn’t you?

None of us particularly like authority. That is, in large part, because we are sinners prone to wanting to be our own authorities. But some of us also have a habit of being so concerned about our human authorities that we forget that they are also under God’s authority.

Yes, respect and obey the earthly authorities—whether parents, pastors, police or presidents—but don’t forget: they’re not the primary authority. God is.

The higher authority

 

In Luke 12:4, Jesus tells His disciples, “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.”

“Those who persecute you, those in authority over you,” he says, “the worst they can do is kill you. So don’t be afraid of them.”

Instead, fear God. Why? Because he can kill you and after that, he has the authority to cast you into hell.

So yes, we should obey the civil authorities, but we are to “fear” God over them. Simple, right?

Well, what happens when what the government orders comes into conflict with what God commands? Simple: We obey God first.

This is what the Bible continually shows us as the pattern of behavior for Christians. We are to honor the authorities over us, but not at the expense of our obedience to our Lord and Savior. Consider two brief examples.

Fearing God in the face of the fiery furnace

In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar sets up a golden image of himself that all the citizens of Babylon are to worship. But he learns that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—three Jews brought into the royal house as servants—refused to worship.

He calls them to him and asks, “Is it true … that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound… and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan. 3:16-18)

Their answer? No. We must worship God alone. We believe that he will rescue us—and even if he doesn’t, we still cannot worship false gods.

Fearing God in the face of religious leaders

And in Acts 4, Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews because they have been preaching Christ. And the council “charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4-19-20).

The council ordered them to stop talking about Jesus. Their answer: We must speak of what we have seen and heard because it is from God—and we must obey him.

Respect authorities but fear God

A lot of Christians in North America are wringing their hands about what is to come. They’re afraid of losing their religious liberty. They’re afraid of it perhaps becoming illegal to meet publicly, unless we are willing to tone down our message. They are afraid of the possibility of persecution (though thankfully it has not come to that yet).

But should the day ever come when Christianity is outlawed, what will we do? We’ll still meet together. Why? Because God has commanded it. We’ll still preach the gospel. Why? Because the gospel demands it. We must fear God and obey him over any earthly authority.

But we’re not there yet. The gospel is increasingly offensive, it is true, but by and large we are free to do what we are called to without fear of reprisal. And we should be thankful because as long as their requirements do not conflict with God’s Word, we should have no issue obeying what the law demands of us.  We should have no issue showing them the respect their position demands.

 

But we need never fear them. Fear is reserved for God alone.

 

Can I Really Trust the Bible?

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There are a lot of really great books out there on the trustworthiness of the Bible. Some of these tend to be on the academic side, demonstrating the historical reliability of the Scriptures, the formation of the canon and so on. Others are more devotional in nature, designed to edify and encourage believers as they seek to have confidence in this book which is so important.

These approaches are good and helpful, but many readers want something that’s a bit more direct and to the point. This is what Barry Cooper offers in Can I Really Trust the Bible?, the latest in The Good Book Company’s Questions Christians Ask series. Over the book’s five chapters, Cooper offers compelling answers to three key questions:

  1. Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?
  2. Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?
  3. Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?

The inescapable force of circular logic

These three questions absolutely essential to any serious study of the nature of the Bible. If the Bible does not claim to be, seem to be, or prove to be God’s word—if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny—then we must reject the notion of the Bible being God’s word. If it’s a duck, we cannot call it a swan. And so we are wise to consider what the Bible says about itself in order to verify its nature.

Which, of course, leads to that common critique many Christians face—the charge of circular reasoning. But, Cooper notes, “When you think about it, it’s impossible for any of us to avoid this kind of circularity in our arguments: we all appeal to authority of one kind or another, even when we don’t realise it.” He continues:

…if I say: “The Bible is my highest authority because it can be proved rationally”, the argument would be self-defeating. I’d be appealing to an authority other than the Bible (rationalism), implying that it (and not God’s word) was the real measure of trustworthiness.”

This level of candor is refreshing to read in any book on this subject, and very much needed. We don’t need to deny that, yes, we’re use circular logic—why? Because (as Cooper notes above) appealing to anything other than the Bible implicitly places authority over the Bible in something other than the Bible.

Authority and evidence

 

This doesn’t mean, though, that appeals to outside evidence are invalid. For example, one of the most common challenges to the Bible today is whether or not we can know for certain what it said in its original manuscripts. If we can’t have any certainty on this, we can’t have any real confidence that what is found in the Bible as we know it today is what was intended by its original authors. But the embarrassment of riches we have in the form of ancient manuscripts—some dating back to within just a few decades of the events described—are a wonderful example of how God’s people have faithfully maintained the message.

…although we no longer have access to the original biblical documents, all is not lost. The truly enormous number of surviving copies enables experts to reconstruct the original with great accuracy. This process of comparing copies is called textual criticism, and as a result, scholars are able to say: “For over 99% of the words of the Bible, we know what the original manuscript said.”

 

It’s appropriate to mention evidence like this, not as a gotcha, but to help illustrate the point: if early Christians didn’t believe the Bible was God’s word, why would they have been so meticulous in making copies, so much so that the variations that exist affect no major doctrine of the faith (and most are limited to things like typos)? Evidence of this sort doesn’t prove the point, but it does lend additional credibility to the point the Bible itself makes.

Breaks no new ground, but refreshing nonetheless

Having said all that, readers should be aware that they’re unlikely to find anything they’ve not already read in any number of other books on this subject. The arguments are as solid as what you’ll find in Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word, R.C. Sproul’s Can I Trust the Bible? or Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited. And while Cooper may not break new ground, Can I Really Trust the Bible? is a refreshing and encouraging read that would be excellent to share with those looking to study this important topic.


Title: Can I Really Trust the Bible?
Author: Barry Cooper
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

Jesus’ authority engenders terror in the merely religious

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Not everyone recognizes Jesus’ authority; others sense the power but do not respond with faith. Even some who naturally belong to the kingdom, that is, the Jews who had lived under the old covenant and had been the heirs of the promises, turn out to be rejected. They too approach the great hall of the messianic banquet, lit up with a thousand lamps in joyous festivity; but they are refused admission, they are thrown outside into the blackness of night, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12). The idea is not that there will be no Jews at the messianic banquet. After all, the patriarchs themselves are Jews, and all of Jesus’ earliest followers were Jews. But Jesus insists that there is no automatic advantage to being a Jew. As he later says to those of his own race, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (21:43). An individual’s faith, his or her response to the authority claims of Jesus, will prove decisive. The alternative to entrance into the kingdom is painted in horrible colors: literally the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, to emphasize the horror of the scene, the former suggesting suffering and the latter despair. The same authority of Jesus that proves such a great comfort to the eyes of faith now engenders terror in the merely religious.

This is not a teaching that is very acceptable to vast numbers in western Christendom today. It flies in the face of the great god Pluralism who holds much more of our allegiance than we are prone to admit. The test for religious validity in this environment is no longer truth but sincerity—as if sincerity were a virtue even when the beliefs underlying it are entirely mistaken.

D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 166 (photo: iStock)

The church is closest to heaven-sent revival when…

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photo: iStock

The authority of Jesus to heal and transform is implicit in his person and mission. The authority is already his. He needs only to will the deed, and it is done. Few lessons are more urgently needed in the modern church. Hope for reformation and revival lies not in campaigns and strategy (as important as such things may be), but in the authority of Jesus.…

Our generation is in danger of forgetting this.… The church is closest to heaven-sent revival when it comes to an end of its gimmicks, and petitions the great Lord of the church, who alone has the authority to pour out blessing beyond what can be imagined, who alone opens doors such that none can shut them and shuts them so that none can open them, to use the full authority that is his (Matt. 28:18) to bless his people with repentance and vitality and thereby bring glory to himself. Only his authority will suffice.

Government and Godliness

The closer we get to Dominion Theology the closer we get to living by the sword. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my disciples would fight.” This seems to mean that we are not moving toward a true understanding of the kingdom of God in this world as we move toward a greater and greater use of the sword to authorize kingdom values.

It is not the priests who are given the sword but the magistrates. And the magistrates rule not by virtue of their claim to revelation but by virtue of their claim to providential authorization. In some cultures this providential authorization has been through a line of kings, in other cultures through various contests, and in our own culture through a democratic representative process.

It seems that the theocratic ideal of Israel in the Old Testament was specifically abandoned in the New Testament as the Gospel ceased to be focused on an ethnic and political reality called Israel (Matt. 21:43) and became a multicultural, multiethnic worldwide movement without ethnic or political definition. It will be fitting, when Christ returns, that he be given the right to establish a kingdom of more specific political boundaries. But in the meantime we do well to exert our influence in ways that do not put the sword into the hands of the priests.

By John Piper © Desiring God