Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Is The Bible Reliable?

These thoughts come mostly from a lunchtime talk given by Chris Evans. (not that one!)

There are, it seems, three answers to this question. Yes, no and maybe. We'll examine each of those answers in depth, but first we'll look at each of them briefly. First of all, YES the Bible is reliable because It does what it claims to do, it has said the same thing for about two thousand years and, perhaps most importantly, it has internal consistency, it backs up all that it says in itself. So what about the nos? NO the Bible is not reliable as a means of divine dictation, it must be treated as it is. It doesn't answer every question you might have (what colour were Jesus eyes, how does molecular biology work?) but then, it's not meant to. Nowhere in the Bible does it say it will. And now to the MAYBE. Does what you think of the reliability of the Bible depend on what you think of Jesus Himself?

As I touched upon earlier, the Bible is self authenticating. It 'does what it says on the tin', certainly in the case of John 20:31, the Bible is written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The Bible is not then, a book that tells us about life and death, but one that tells us about Jesus Christ, and the hope we have through Him in eternal life. A book about God bringing Himself glory through the redemptive history of man. In that sense then, the Bible is reliable yes. A thousand times yes! It tells us about Jesus Christ, our hope for the future. It tells us about Him before He lives, and after He dies and rises again.

But what about translations? Surely the fact that it exists in may translations in English alone, never mind all the other languages mean that at some point human error and contradiction have slipped in. Well, it think this is good evidence that the Bible is greatly reliable. For a start, whatever your opinion of the various English translations of the Bible (a problem only someone who believed the Bible was reliable anyway would have) Mark 9:23 carries the same message be it in ESV, NIV or NASB. Now there is obviously much debate over the validity of some modern translations (something I might come back to if I remember) but that's not the issue here. Also Genesis 1:1 carries the same message be it in English, Bulgarian or French. Surely this does nothing but back up the reliability of the Bible? The message of the Bible has remained the same despite modern colloquialisms.

The Bible also backs itself up with the same theme running through it. It tells the same story over thousands of years. That would surely be impossible if it was made up, or fabricated. How could something made up be sustainable over that length of time anyway? Isaiah 53 tells the story of Jesus on the cross, being pierced for our transgressions and His soul an offering for sin...Six hundred years before the things recounted in the Gospels even happened! Simiarlaly, in Job, the protagonist longs for someone to mediate between him and God. Now no one's really sure when Job lived (I say no one, I asked Bish and he didn't know, that's good enough for me!) but it could have been as much as a thousand years before Jesus! That's amazing! Job know's his redeemer lives, and one day He will stand upon the earth. 1000 years before Jesus! That's great!

So how about the No's then? Well, the Bible is not a divine dictation. The Mormon Bible claims to be based on the divine dictation left to Joseph Smith on Golden plates left on the top of a mountain. The Bible itself does not claim any such thing. It is not a divine dictation, it is not a dictation from God. As Bish amongst others has shown us this week, context is vital. The Bible contains history, prophecy, apolcalyptica and songs of praise. These must be treated as such. You can't use what the Bible says to decide how to react to every decision, or to answer your every question. It is how God speaks to us today, of course, and is brimming with practical advice on life, but if you want to know what to wear or who to go out with, its not going to help you! It is not a divine dictation and therefore not reliable as such.

The Bible is not a history text book. It won't give you an accurate record as to what was going on in China 4000 years ago. If you want to know that look at a history textbook, not the Bible! The Bible will do what it says, but it won't always do what you want it to. And neither should it.

So what about the maybe answer? Well, if you believe that Jesus Christ lived, died, rose and ascended to Heaven, then it could well be in part because you believe the Bible is a reliable account of what it claims to be. If not, perhaps its because you don't believe the Bible to be an accurate record of what it claims to be. The story of the Cross is key to the Bible, as it is to Christianity itself. But surely, a God who can raise people from the dead is capable of inspiring sixty-six books about him...?

No comments: