Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why trust the BIble (1)

(The first part of my script from RUCU's Rebel Apologetics Group)

How do we know what the Bible says is from God and not what a bunch of people made up?

Other Evidence.

I want to start by looking at the historical evidence from outside the Bible that the Bible is true. But before I do I want t say that when we do this, we’re on dangerous ground somewhat. As Christians we accept the Bible as our final, ultimate authority. Not history, or other writers or other data. Just the Bible. So while the evidence from outside the Bible is useful and interesting, we must be careful never to present this evidence as the final proof, as then that becomes our authority over the Bible itself. I’m increasingly convinced that the best way to argue for trusting the Bible is from the Bible itself, which we’ll be doing for most of the afternoon.

That said there is a lot of historical evidence to trust the Bible. The science of textual criticism is the science of discovering the reliability of a text. The higher the number of copies we have and the less time that passes between the original and the copies being made the more reliable the text we have in those copies is. Serious history books like Herodotus have a very large time gap, and only eight copies, whereas the Bible has, literally, thousands of copies and a time gap of, at the most, just three hundred years. The blink of an eye in terms of ancient history texts. One historian puts it like this: the text of the New Testament stands alone amongst ancient prose writing in terms of reliability.’ Other contemporary historians such as Josephus mention Jesus in their histories. One even says that ‘he was more of a God than a man.’ We’ve found ruins of places and buildings mentioned in both testaments and nothing historically or geographically in the Bible contradicts what we also believe to be true. We’ve found court records from some of the Kings mentioned in the OT and some that even mention their courtiers. The book of Daniel for example mentions King Nebuchadnezzar, and specifically that at one point late in his reign, he lost his mental faculties for a while. The madness of King Nebuchadnezzar is a recognised period of ancient history. Esther talks about King Xerxes, a well known King from the period where Esther is placed.

One further piece of evidence is how unlike other 1st century writing the Gospels are. CS Lewis puts it like this: I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this. Of this (gospel) text there are only two possible views. Either it is reportage...or else, some unknown ancient writer...without known predecessors or successors suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic realistic narrative

In short, whether you think it is necessary or not, there is a huge weight of historical and circumstantial evidence that we can trust the Bible. This evidence isn’t enough on its own though, so we must look to the Bible itself for authentication. If these seems like a slightly circular argument to you we’ll deal with that in a moment.

Bible Evidence

What about evidence from the Bible itself. There is some overlap here between this section and the section on how the Bible was recognised and put together. We need to know that this authority is what the Bible claims for itself. We see this in the OT phrase ‘Thus says the Lord’ which appears hundreds of times and would have echoed the words ‘thus says the King’ read before royal edicts. The words that fall under this banner constitute a large part of the OT and show that the original authors clearly thought they were recording God’s words.

As well as this we see what the NT says about the OT and about itself. 2 Timothy 3:16 says ‘all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ The word used for scripture here is graphe, which will become important in a moment. 2 Peter 1:21 says ‘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.’ Matthew 19:5 ‘and said therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ Which is of course a quotation by Jesus of Genesis 2:24.

So even from that small selection we can see that there is no reason to mistrust the OT as far as the NT is concerned. We’ll cover some more reasons later. What about the New Testament though? How do we know that it wasn’t made up by man? Well, 2 Peter 3:16 says: …there are some things in them (Paul’s letters) that are hard to understand which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.’ The word Peter uses here to describe Paul’s letters is graphe, the same word Paul used to talk about the OT. 1 Timothy 5:18 says ‘for scripture (again the word graphe) says you shall not muzzle and ox when it treads out the grain, and the labourer deserves his wages.’ What’s fascinating about that verse is it quotes Deuteronomy and Matthew and refers to them both as scripture, or, that word again, graphe. So from this we see that addition were being made that the term ‘scripture’ was applied to, so we can, feasibly apply 2 Timothy 3:16 to the NT as well as the OT.

Internal Evidence
Secondly, we are convinced of the authority of the Bible as we read it. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 says: Now(A) we have received not(B) the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this(C) in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit,(D) interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.[a]
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are(E) folly to him, and(F) he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

A conviction that the Bible is true does not come apart from reading the Bible. You can not know what the Bible says about itself unless you read it; you can not experience the inward testimony of the Bible unless you read it with faith. We are convinced of the Bible’s claims as we read the Bible. It’s words are self attesting. This is why I’m not keen to jump on the non Biblical reasons to prove the Bible, because the Bible is the final, self attesting authority.

At this point people will say that this is a hopeless circular argument. That we believe the Bible because we believe the Bible. In a way this is true. But that’s ok, it doesn’t invalidate the argument because any argument about final authority must appeal to that authority. Otherwise that authority would not be authoritative. It’s not a problem unique to Christianity. For example people might argue ‘my reason is my ultimate authority because it seems reasonable to make it so’ or ‘I know there can not be any ultimate authority because I do not know of any such ultimate authority’

The ultimate truthfulness of the Bible will commend itself as being far more persuasive than other religious books. The Bible will be, and is, fully in accord with life around us, whereas other texts, or logical constructs will not. The Bible will commend itself to us in this way if we view life, and ourselves, and God in a clear way.

And here is yet another problem that sin causes in our hearts. Sin pollutes our hearts and our minds so that we are blind to the bell toll of Biblical truth, so that we can not see that glory of God in the face of Christ shining from the pages. It’s no coincidence that the people who have the deepest love for the Lord have the clearest understanding of the Bible. So in that sense the Biblical argument for Biblical authority isn’t a circle, but more a spiral. The more we are convinced of the Lordship of Christ over every area of life, the more we will be convinced of the authority of the Bible, and vice versa. This is a wonderful path to walk, and ultimately far more satisfying that relying on historical data, however worthy that may be. Of the Bible Jean Calvin says: ‘…if we turn pure eyes and upright senses towards it, the majesty of God will immediately come to view, subdue our bold rejection, and compel us to obey’.


Tom said...

Good start. But if you want to build a persuasive case (I found your argument very weak) I think you'll need to concentrate a little less on theology and a little more on philosophy, listening and giving actual reasons. I can think of 10 or so major objections to the Bible that you've shot a little wide of. E.G. How do we know that what was written down is accurate? Can bias influence the recording of historical data?
Unless you tackle these outstanding intellectual challenges, you are in danger of adopting a "simple gospel" or "gospel only" Gospel, and that is not the fully fledged gospel of scripture. You must give better reasons, and you've affirmed a non-rational way out of the problem of circularity. Have a look at the answer to this problem in the apologetics books - if you can see them, they are the ones gathering dust!

FloydTheBarber said...

Hey Tom, i did actually take questions as i went along, but trying to remember/blog them is a different matter. And thats only 1/4 of what i talked on!

By a 'gospel only' Gospel, do you mean a 'first four books of the NT gospel'?

Tom said...

"Gospel only" or "simple gospel" is a view of theology and evangelism, that plays down human rationality. It's a very popular view, but it isn't at all biblical. This view rejects the need to give a rationally persuasive case, alongside a presentation of the gospel (core message of Christian faith sense), and a coherent, defence of the Christian worldview. The "simple gospel" or "gospel only" approach, leaves the questions hanging in the air, and instead gets on with 'preaching the gospel.' The underlying belief is that people come to faith by the action of the gospel as a message, on their underlying will or volitional centre, and that the gospel is the only think that can break through their 'blindness' to allow them to come to faith. As, I said, it is incredibly popular, despite being unbiblical and ineffective.

Tom said...

Really exciting to see you engaging in persuasive evangelism Ed. I had been thinking that you had been lost and gone the way of so many useful evangelists who end up being more interested in theology and doctrine than evangelism. Can I encourage you to keep going?!

FloydTheBarber said...

Hey Tom, thanks for your comments. Surely being more interested in doctrine/theology than evangelism is a bit like being more interested in flames than in fire? Doesn't thoelogy and doctrine simply inform our evangelism as they inform the rest of our lives?

I guess the 'Gospel only' Gospel argument comes back to wisdom/power in 1 Corinthians?

Tom said...

Hi Ed :)

There is a difference between the (a) theological activity - including time and money spent - on reading and studying theological material (b) theology as 'trying to think God's thoughts after him'.

I'm saying that spending too much time doing (a) is bad. You are saying that I'm saying that (b) is bad. Not so.

A LOT of people are doing (a) too much, instead of developing and growing in a more whole and human way.

You are dead right to tie back the problem to 1 Cor 1 and 2. That is why I questioned your exegesis of those verses a few weeks ago. I disagreed with your view that the wisdom of the message of the cross should be presented as something that people would find foolish. Instead of telling us to be non-rational, Paul is actually advocating a presuppositional level counter attack on the accepted Greek and Jewish epistemology (or wisdom).

FloydTheBarber said...

Hey tom

I'm saying that spending too much time doing (a) is bad. You are saying that I'm saying that (b) is bad. Not so.

Gotcha, in which case we agree!

I'm still not sure i'm with you on the whole 1 Cor issue. I don't think i ever meant, and i'm sure Paul never meant to say that 'the message of the cross should be presented as something that people would find foolish'. I think i mean, and i take Paul to mean that when we preach the cross the message seems foolish to men's ears. As it's bound to.

I think this is why Paul contrasts men's wisdom (which makes nothing of the cross) with God's power (which makes everything of the cross) rather than with God's wisdom. Not because i'm arguing against rational apologetics, but because i think apart from God shining the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ into our hearts we'll never believe the Gospel, wisely presented or not...

Tom said...

I wonder if you're overemphasising the 'power' aspect of the communication and playing down the wisdom aspect. 1 Cor 1:24b reads, "to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." Remember that some Greeks and some Jews saw wisdom in the gospel and indeed came to faith, specifically after Paul's persuasive and reasoned evangelistic engagements with them. And I couldn't agree more with your view that God reveals himself to people.

But I want to caution you against buying into this idea about the 'simple gospel' or the 'magic gospel message'. Quite honestly it is lazy theology as well as lazy listening. God doesn't act as a manipulating agent when we speak the gospel message over people. It's a very, very popular view at the moment, people are saying stuff like, "Did you preach the gospel?" and regarding that as more important than whether or not you heard and engaged with peoples questions. Of course we need to preach the gospel, but if we jettison real rational engagement, in the favour of this manipulator-simple-gospel we will get nowhere and we'll have absorbed liberal theology. This has no scriptural warrant. The gospel has power, but that isn't what that means at all.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

FloydTheBarber said...

Do you mean that when people ask us questions about the validity of the Bible or about why we should trust a cross, or why Jesus has to be the only way we should engage with those questions rather than 'just' preaching the 'simple' Gospel? In which case i couldn't agree more. I guess this is what someone (Ramsden? Rico Tice?) calls removing the barriers.

What i'm trying to get at is that we can remove all the barriers and answer every rational objection we can, but unless people see Christ as more attractive than anything else, they're still not going to be saved. Does that make sense? I think that's where God's power comes in, to show people that Christ is attractive rather than jusr rationally plausible.

Could you outline how you would do a 5-10 mins gospel presentation?

Tom said...

"but unless people see Christ as more attractive than anything else, they're still not going to be saved. Does that make sense? I think that's where God's power comes in, to show people that Christ is attractive rather than jusr rationally plausible."

Ah, ha. This is exactly what the simple gospel people say over and over! Then they say, 'And the mind is blinded to the gospel.' You are one aren't you? You're not are you???

Can I gently point out that this is actually logical mistake. The mistake of going beyond the inference range of the thing you've said. It doesn't really follow.

Here's why: It isn't a question of who does the converting. It's a question of how the converting happens. You've made a statement about God being the one who ultimately makes Jesus attractive to people. Evidentialists, presuppositionalists, etc. all would agree with you that it is God who ultimately reveals himself to people and draws them to you. What is relevant is HOW THAT HAPPENS. That is what we are talking about.

"Could you outline how you would do a 5-10 mins gospel presentation?"

Sure. I'll give you my top down approach. I don't see apologetics and evangelism as different things. I think that they are basically identical. So I would have subversive, persuasive and proclamational threads in a presentation. Subversive - getting inside their worldview and pulling their heads out of it, showing them that they know that some elements of the Christian w'view are smarter (E.G. Real sense of moral reality), and also loosening the foundations by asking questions. Art, philosophy, cultural analysis and raw experience are the main tools here. Persuasion - sharing and giving reasons for the truth of the Christian gospel. Critiquing the dominant symbols and authorities of the worldview of the person/group I'm trying to reach. Proclamation - unpacking the core truths of the gospel. Presenting the atonement in a balanced way, describing the three key aspects of the atonement (Christus Victor, Moral Exemplar, Vicarious substitution), and not forgetting THE RESURRECTION or adding it on as an ad hoc add on on the end.