• johned@aibi.ph

Tough Questions on the Bible

These are actual questions I have been asked by people on-line - and some of my answers. This months questions are all about the Bible:

And you know this is true because? Do you know for a fact the the bible is true? If so, I would like to see some proof.

1. The Bible is true pragmatically - when people follow it (properly interpreted and in context, not some whacko out-of-context stuff) it works well in their lives and benefits humanity bringing peace and integration.

2. The Bible is true existentially - it provides meaning to life and the basis for a constructive and meaningful existence based on a unconditional positive regard of others.

3. The Bible is true morally - its moral code has been gradually adopted into the legislature of most nations because commandments such as not stealing, not murdering, not swindling, are seen as morally correct for the functioning of society. The Bible provides a sound basis for moral and ethical judgment. When the morality of the Bible is ignored or deliberately violated it is found that the consequences of violating the morality of Scripture is dysfunctionality and even in some cases the emergence of blatant evil.

4. The Bible is true historically - modern archaeology generally serves to confirm the reports of Scripture. In the late 1800's it was commonly assumed that science and archaeology would disprove the Bible and much of this thinking is still with us today. However discoveries at Qumran show that the Hebrew Scriptures were transmitted with great accuracy and archaeological discoveries such as that about co-regencies have eliminated many of the so-called inconsistencies within Scripture.

5. The Bible is true prophetically - the prophecies made concerning the Messiah some 800 years before he came were fulfilled exactly. It has been calculated that the odds of any one man fulfilling the main 36 prophecies concerning Christ exactly would be 1 in 10 exp 210 i.e. 1 in 10 with 210 zeros after it. Other prophecies such as that given to Daniel regarding the successive world powers that would control Palestine are so incredibly accurate that they astonish people and arouse skepticism. The Bible is not like some cult books full of prophecies that never come true, rather it is an astonishingly accurate and powerful predictor of future events.

JZ: I just thought I'd start a new debate. This time about the Bible itself. For the first series of questions I shall assume the Bible is divinely inspired.
JZ: Is there a divinely inspired list of contents? If yes: when did God dictate it to us?
If no: who put the Bible together, and when? Were these folk divinely inspired at the time?

Is there a divinely inspired list of contents? No, not as such, nowhere in Scripture does it say "these books constitute Scripture and none else.." if that's what you mean. Thought the "list of contents" may not be "divinely inspired" it is certainly subject to spiritual discernment and divine guidance of believers as to which books are and are not Scripture. Three categories were mainly used to filter the books included "the canon" from those not included "non-canonical". These tests are generally listed as:

1. Right doctrine
2. Widespread use across all of the churches.
3. Apostolic authorship.

However a fourth test needs to be added that is probably the true and predominant reason:

4. The witness of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the average believer as to what is truth and what is not truth.

The Holy Spirit was given to guide us into all truth - John 14:26, 16:13-15, 1 John 2:20,27, 1 Cor 2:10-16 etc. and certainly the canonicity of Scripture is one of these matters. The early church achieved consensus on the books constituting the New Testament well before any council pronounced judgment. or any bishop produced a list. The books of Scripture had the ring of truth and had stood the test of time and were accepted, those such as the Didache that fell just short did so for good reasons (overly prescriptive legalism in the case of the Didache) but can still be regarded as worthy books but not inspired.

The Old Testament is a much bigger problem. It is generally said that the OT Council was settled at the JEWISH Council of Jamnia in AD 90. This was not a Christian Council but a council of those defending their faith from Christianity which was now far larger. Thus some of the books excluded from the canon point very clearly to Christ (2 Esdras and Ecclesiasticus - the Wisdom of Solomon). The question of the Apocrypha is still open and is being debated by Protestant scholars as is the appropriateness of the inclusion of books such as Esther which have Jewish but not Christian significance. My personal view is that we cannot consider ourselves bound by the Council of another religion and must examine the Scripture ourselves.

JZ: Is the Bible to be our sole rule of faith? Why or why not?

Well Jacco you HAVE asked a beauty..."Is the Bible to be our sole rule of faith.." Yes....and No. It depends what you mean by "sole rule of faith". If you mean "the only thing we can properly test reality by" then No..God has given a great deal of common wisdom to mankind lying outside the Bible but not contradictory to it. Maths tables, the confirmed aspects of science, common sense about relationships etc. Christians should be wise people and pick up wisdom from wherever it can be found - even a few pagan kings make it into Scripture as Proverbs (e.g. chapters 30,31)! But if you mean "the sole thing we are to look to about Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection, ascension mission and second coming...." then you are spot on. The Bible is our sole true guide to spiritual things and books such as the Rg Veda, Book of Mormon or Koran while interesting and in places even profitable are in no way to be a guide to the Christian life. It may help if I generate the following categories for literature as to their usefulness so you can see what I mean.

Spiritually poisonous, to be burned - Occult and magic texts, pornography, Masonic literature, spells, Book of the Dead, Course in Miracles.

Rubbish, should never have been printed - Gossip magazines, pulp fiction , misleading material.

Limited Usefulness, some truth - Psychology and self-help books, hobby magazines, motivational books...

True but not in any spiritual way - Text books, history, non-fiction, general knowledge, life wisdom.

Mixture of spiritual truth and error - Koran, Sayings of Confucius, Jewish rabbinical teaching,Zen sayings, great discernment needed to sort out the wisdom. Do not point people to Christ however and may turn them from the truth.

Attempt to be spiritually true and Christ-centered but have some serious weaknesses and need to be read with a grain of salt. Most Christian books on the market today. Well intended but not deep. Generally point people to Christ but do not mature them to any great depth. People are saved however by reading these books... praise God!

Spiritually true and Christ-centered - Pilgrim's Progress, Imitation of Christ, Augustine's Confessions etc not inspired as Scripture is but nonetheless extremely profitable and useful for Christian encouragement.

Non-canonical literature, Maccabees, 2 Esdras, Shepherd of Hermas, Didache, Ecclesiasticus, Prayer of Manasseh, Gospel of Thomas books that - have at some time been serious contenders for a place in the Bible but have missed out. Well worth reading and learning from but not to build doctrine on.

Canonical literature ( - Genesis , Exodus ... Revelation.) - that which is accepted without reserve by all branches of the Christian Church and can safely be relied on for faith and practice. It has stood the tests of time, usage and criticism and is as reliable today as ever. It needs to be approached reverently and with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer.

JZ: Did God stop revealing things to His people after the last book of the New Testament was written?

There are three answers to this question depending on what level you take it:

Level 1. There are no more eyewitnesses to Christ's ministry and resurrection and no more people qualified to write Scripture as the early apostles were. That is closed. The canon of Scripture is finished.

Level 2. There are certainly individuals who, at the personal or congregational level receive revelation from God for that moment in time. As such revelations can contain a "flesh component" they must be tested by Scripture and the spiritually mature members of the congregation. The presence of the "flesh component" can lead to such prophesy being despised, however Paul warns against this by saying "1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 Do not quench the Spirit. {20} Do not despise the words of prophets, {21} but test everything; hold fast to what is good; {22} abstain from every form of evil." verse 22 is better translated "reject every outcropping of evil..." so that the prophecy is sifted, the good held to and the bad rejected. Similar instructions are given in 1 Corinthians 14:29 "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said."

In the New Testament the prophets never wrote Scripture -that was the job of the apostles. For the change in prophetic role between OT and NT and its generalization amongst the body of Christ see Wayne Grudem's balanced work "The Gift of Prophecy". The NT gift of prophecy does not add to or over-ride Scripture but is always in subjection to it. It can bring valuable localized revelation to a specific situation - God speaks to his household of which we are part. (Eph 2:17-22)

The canon of Scripture is in no way added to by the presence of these revelations because (a) They are for temporary situations that will pass away (b) They are for localized situations and not the whole body of Christ (c) Their sheer quantity and repetitious nature would make recording them all in a book for all posterity boring beyond belief and a waste of time, though individuals and congregations should record them for their own reference. (d) There is no absolute 100% perfect way of eliminating all the "human element" (e) Most importantly they were never intended to be canonical. The difference is a bit like that between statute law (the Bible) and council dog-catcher regulations (localized prophesy). We need local laws but they are of limited application and not intended for the whole land just as a particular NT "prophecy" is not intended for the body of Christ for all time.

Level 3. God still reveals new truths from old words, as Luther said "There is yet more light to break forth from the Word of God". Five hundred years ago ideas embedded in Scripture such as the need for missions, the abhorrence of slavery, every-member-ministry, and salvation through faith alone , were largely lost. Since Luther's day many ideas have broken forth from the word of God and the modern church in its international scope and freedom and literacy and use of every member in ministry would be almost unrecognizable to Luther. God is still revealing Himself to us, and I think the new understanding of the ascension and other aspects of the faith is God shining yet more light from His word. The canon of Scripture is not changed it is just, at long last, being understood - a little more.

That's all for this month.... If you have a tough question e-mail it to me and I will see what I can do.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.