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Trusting the Bible

The Bible is not just another book.  It is unique in a number of ways.  A Collins dictionary defines ‘unique’ as “single in kind; having no like or equal; peerless.”

The same dictionary defines ‘believe’ as “to regard as true; to trust (somebody’s word); —to have a firm persuasion, approaching to certainty; to have faith (in); to think; to suppose.”

Now these two definitions sum up the situation that I wish to put before you.  The Bible is unique in a number of ways, and I believe it is thoroughly trustworthy.

What is the Bible?
The Bible is a book that has many unique features.  Consider a few of them:

¨    It was written over a period of 1500 years.

¨    It was written by over forty authors from every walk of life:

·       Moses, trained in the presence of Egyptian pharaohs

·       Joshua, a military general

·       David, a shepherd boy and musician

·       Solomon, a king

·       Amos, a herdsman

·       Daniel, a prime minister

·       Matthew, a tax collector

·       Luke, a medical practitioner

·       Paul, a Rabbi.

¨    It was written in three languages:

·       Hebrew

·       Aramaic

·       Greek.

¨    It was written in a variety of circumstances:

·       in times of  war—David

·       in times of peace—Solomon

·       in the desert—Moses

·       inside prison cells—Paul

·       while travelling—Luke

·       while in exile—John

·       on three different continents

·       Its subject matter covers hundreds of controversial subjects, and yet all its authors speak in harmony!


Bible harmony 
Consider the logical outcome of the factors that have just been listed.  Consider the span of years, the variety of backgrounds of the contributors, the diversity of languages used, the differences in circumstances and locations, the range of topics discussed, and it would be unbelievable to expect any measure of uniformity of expression.  And that constitutes factor One in the uniqueness of the Bible—for even the sternest critic must search the thousand or more pages to find a handful of ‘apparent anomalies’, for they are only ‘apparent’, and are not real, since each has a logical explanation.

How can such harmony be explained?  Well, let’s consider what is involved in order to get such harmony. There are two possibilities that could eventuate in harmony:

·       Each author had knowledge of the preceding author, and so could endorse and possibly develop each of the themes in a orderly manner

·       Each author coincidently had the same knowledge on each theme.

Let’s examine each possibility.  What is involved in the first option?

Theme Development 
Well, the first writer would have virtually a free choice in what he wrote about, because it would be he who was setting the base for subsequent writers.  But from then on, each writer would read up what had been written and develop the subject matter a little further.  Then by the time the Bible was completed, covering both Old and New Testaments, there would be a logical theme development beginning in the first book, Genesis, and finishing in the final book, Revelation.

There are Bible editions that make use of the principle of theme development, and are termed ‘chain reference’ Bibles.  They are indeed very handy in enabling one to study a theme, from Genesis through to Revelation simply by listing beside a topic, the previous reference to that subject, and the next reference to it.  For example, in Genesis 1:5, one chain reference Bible has a centre-margin reference for the topic ‘Day’ indicating chapter 8:22.  That verse expands on the concept of Day, to include also seasons and cyclic temperatures.  That passage reference in turn, indicates chapter 1:5 as the previous reference and Job 38:12 as the next.

The last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, refers to a scene in which ‘the tree of life’ is mentioned.  A river is also pictured as flowing through it.  Such is also the description of the Garden of Eden as given to us in Genesis 2.  The Bible ending reflects the Bible opening.  Genesis 5 begins with the words, “The book of the generations of Adam.”  The first New Testament book, Matthew, begins with the words, “The book of the generations of Jesus Christ.”  Again, the newer part of the Bible reflects the older part.  Other similar repetitions occur between the Old and New Testaments.

Is such a pattern purely coincidental, a reflection of people copying or imitating another author, or does it have some other explanation?

Could Moses write? 
To start off theme development, we would need the base authorship of the first book.  The Bible infers that not only the first, but also indeed the first five books, collectively called the Pentateuch, were written by a man called Moses (refer Mark 7:10; 10:3–5; 12:26; Luke 2:22–23; 5:14; 16:29–31; John 5:45–47 etc. cf. Exodus 24:4,7; 34:27; Deuteronomy 31:9,24–26 etc).  The book of Exodus carries the record of this man’s birth and upbringing through childhood (in Egypt) into adulthood.  It used to be said that this ancient claim of authorship could not be true, since writing was a much later invention.  However, many ancient texts have been found that predated even the time of Moses.  Mursilis’ treaty with Dubbi-Tessub, for example, is a Hittite document in which King Mursilis imposes a suzerainty treaty on King Dubbi-Tesseub.  It is dated in the mid-second millennium BC.  More closely related to the Genesis record is the Egyptian record of experiencing seven years of low Nile and famine, which, by a contractual agreement between Pharaoh Djoser (28th century BC) and a god, will be followed by prosperity (cf Genesis 41).


The author of Exodus had an intimate and thorough knowledge of the geography of Egypt.  He knew the character of the Nile riverbank and surrounding desert (Exodus 2:12), knew of places such as Ramses and Succoth (Exodus 12:37), Etham (Exodus 13:20) and Pi-Hahiroth (Exodus 14:2).  He also used a goodly number of Egyptian words, particularly those of weights and measures.

W F Albright, in his book The Archaeology of Palestine, Baltimore: Penguin Books, revised 1960, states on page 225 in reference to the Pentateuch:

“New discoveries continue to confirm the historical accuracy or the literary antiquity of detail after detail in it.”

The followers
If it can be confidently believed that Moses did write the Pentateuch at that time, then couldn’t this have served as the base documentation on which successive authors could develop further as later learning evolved?

Perhaps so, if such documentation was freely available to all those who wished to contribute.  But this was not a real situation, for the Old Testament was not brought together until about BC450, by which time many of the authors had been dead for a very long time.  So not until the 5th century BC would it have been possible to survey previous authorship in order to get the ‘feel’ of what they had collectively been saying.

Likewise for the New Testament.  This was not brought together until about the mid-third century AD, by which time at least two centuries had passed since the death of the last contributor. So it would not have been possible for each, or any, contributor to research the writings of the others.

So how was their uniformity of thought captured if it was not by pre-reading the writings of their predecessors or contemporaries?

Biblical Inspiration.
There are two explanations remaining.

·       Each author through natural causes and/or experiences, had similar thoughts about life and conceptions of the future

·       Each author was somehow provided with similar thoughts about life and conceptions of the future.

The chance of the first condition being met is not really credible.  For example, if a person had a 50% chance of being correct on any one problem or topic—provided it was a yes/no decision—then the chance of his being correct would be 1 in 21 (equals 1 in 2 chance).  If two authors were to agree, it would be 1 chance in 22 (1 in 4).  Three authors would be 23 (1 in 8).  That forty authors would all agree on just one condition would be 240, or 1 in 1,100 billion. If each chance was represented as a five-cent piece and lined up one against another, the coins would go around the world over 1600 times.  Imagine a band of 5-cent (19mm diameter) coins more than 30m wide going around the entire globe. Now if only one of those coins had, say, a 1998 date on it, then picking the right coin from that trail would be an equivalent chance to having 40 authors to agree by chance on just one single decision.  And yet they agree unanimously on not just one thing, but on each topic that they shared!

So we can rule out the first possibility that it was chance! It leaves only the second option - that it was not chance, but they were somehow informed as to what they should write.  And the Bible itself confirms this:

“For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  2 Peter 1:21

And this phenomenon was not restricted to the subject of prophecy, for the Bible also states,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”  2 Timothy 3:16


Biblical Prophecy
Let’s not think that just because the Bible itself claims to be God-breathed, then that must be so.  Politicians frequently make claims that they have all the answers to the country’s problems, but just because they make that claim doesn’t mean that the claim is true.  Hardly a person today would believe a politician’s word, so would the Bible’s claim made regarding itself be any better!

Fortunately, the Bible’s claim can be checked against what its writers have predicted and what has been fulfilled by history in the years since the predictions were made.  After all, even the last of the predictions made in the Bible was made about two thousand years ago, which leaves plenty of time to check on subsequent fulfilment.  Some of the Bible prophecies were made over 3000 years ago.  Did they work out?

Psalm 22
The Old Testament book of Psalms is a collection of poetic writings made by several writers over a lengthy period of time.  Most Psalms are attributed to David for authorship, and this David was king over the nation of Israel about 1000BC (probably BC1010–970 as king).  Psalm 22 is attributed to his authorship.  One or two of the Psalms are from a much later period, as shown for example by Psalm 126, which was written by the captives returning from Babylon to Palestine about BC450.  But all had been written and compiled by the time of Nehemiah, about BC430.  Certainly, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, about BC250, the completed book of Psalms was an integral part of the Hebrew Scripture.  There can be no doubt whatever, then, that Psalm 22 was written well before the time of Jesus Christ—at the very least 250 years, but I believe more like a thousand years before the time of Jesus.  We emphasise this because of what the Psalm says. 
 
But before looking at that Psalm, let us first consider what a New Testament writer, Peter, records,

“Concerning this salvation [the subject that he is addressing in that portion of his letter], the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”  1 Peter 1:10, 11

Peter speaks of “the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow”, and it is exactly this that the Psalm we shall consider, predicts.  Verses 1 through 21 tell of Christ’s sufferings, and verses 22 through 31 tell of his glory.  One of the remarkable features of this amazing Psalm is that while the first part has been fulfilled in amazing detail, the second part has not yet been fulfilled.

Let’s look at the first part:

·       in verse 1, we have the cry of Jesus.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:6; Mark 15:34

 ·       in verse 6 we have the scorning of men and despising of people.

“They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him ¼ They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.  After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him.”  Matthew 27:29–31 
 
·       in verses 7 and 8, we have the mockery of the bystanders.

“ ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.  He trusts in God.  Let God rescue him now if he wants him¼” Matthew 27:42,43

·       in verses 14, 15 & 17, the agony of the crucifixion.

·       in verse 16, the piercing of the hands and the feet, indicating the exact method of killing that was practiced by the Romans.

·       in verse 18, the disposing of the garments.

“When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”  Matthew 27:35 


Coincidence?
Of course, this may have all been coincidence—or perhaps the later Gospel records were contrived to look as if they were fulfilling what was expected from Psalm 22.  Before we examine those possibilities, let us note two factors of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion that don’t appear in the prediction of Psalm 22.

·       The fact that his side was pierced with a spear.  The narrative is recorded in John 19:33, 34.

“But when [the soldiers] came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”

·       The fact that an earthquake followed his death. Matthew records what happened the precise moment that Jesus died.

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth shook and the rocks split.”  Matthew 27:51

Now if we look again at Psalm 22 we can appreciate why these two events of the crucifixion have not been recorded.  The whole Psalm has been written in the first person. It is describing the feelings of a person actually experiencing crucifixion.  And here is the remarkable thing—it stops relating the events surrounding the crucifixion at the immediate point of death!   Jesus was unaware of the earthquake —he had just died! Jesus was unaware of the spear piercing — he had been dead for quite a while.

Isn’t it remarkable that this Psalm, while accurately revealing the action ‘blow by blow’, omits the actions that took place when the participant was dead!

But then, couldn’t the writers of the Gospels have contrived all this?

There were four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  They would need to have collaborated in order to put forward a story that is so compatible and consistent between the four Gospel records.  But more than this, their stories must have been credible to their readers; else they would have been rejected by their readers, and would have never made the grade for inclusion in the New Testament.

Bible critics are keen to establish that the Gospel records were written well after the events, when memories have become tarnished, and no-one is able to verify the true facts because any eye-witnesses have long since died, and even friends of eyewitnesses have died as well.

The Gospel of Mark.
When it comes to the dating of the four Gospels, that of Mark, the briefest of the four, has traditionally been accepted as being the first written—in the fifties or early sixties.  Some, however, account Matthew as the first, putting his authorship in the early fifties.

In 1955, nineteen fragments of written papyrus material (in the Greek language) were recovered from a cave in the Qumran area on the western coast of the Dead Sea, and at that time were considered to be more fragments of the Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the Old Testament.  Little was done until 1962, when one fragment was identified from Exodus, and another one from the apocryphal Letter of Jeremiah.  The remaining 17 fragments were dated ‘no later than 50AD’, and put aside, assuming them to be further fragments from the Septuagint.  But in 1972 the largest piece (now identified as 7Q5—ie., Cave 7, Qumrun, piece 5) was recog-nised as four separate lines coming from Mark 6:52-53.  Twelve separate words were recognisable.  Three more of those fragments were subsequently identified as coming from Mark’s Gospel. This finding, therefore, established that Mark’s Gospel was in existence by the year 50AD.  This puts the Gospel within twenty years of the date of the crucifixion of Jesus.  This means that Mark’s basic text was in the hands of the people in that area as early as 50AD, and had to meet the critical scrutiny and comment of eyewitnesses. The Romans were still there at that time, and, along with the Jews, had Mark’s report been anything but accurate, it would not have survived.  Christ’s first followers must have accepted it as trustworthy history.

And for this reason, so do I today.


But, even apart from the issue of when the Gospels were written, or the possibility of contrived records, how did the writer of Psalm 22 become aware of the Roman method of crucifixion?  The Roman Empire only began when the Greek empire was overthrown in BC63.  This was 200 years after the Septuagint was translated, the latest possible time for the writing of Psalm 22.  Yet that Psalm was already in the Hebrew Old Testament, which had been established about 200 years prior to the Septuagint.  How did the writer know about crucifixion as a future method of killing?

There is only one answer—God provided the information to the writer of Psalm 22.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”  2 Timothy 3:16

“For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  2 Peter 1:21  

Bible Disharmony?
What about the discrepancies that are pointed out by those who attempt to discredit the authority of the Bible?  If the Bible message came through those who were ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’, how is it that some parts appear to contradict themselves?  For example, from consecutive verses in the book of Proverbs we have:“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. 
 
“Answer a fool according to his folly, 
          or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Proverbs 26:4, 5

Although these statements are opposites, there is an obvious truth in each statement.  From the first, it is plain that we should not stoop to the fool’s level, but we recognise that sometimes folly must be plainly exposed and denounced.  So in real terms, there is no conflict—both sayings are true, though opposite.

Some specific details may vary between two accounts of the same event, but can be explained by the two writers having differing perception of, or angles on, the same event.  Take, for instance, the comment made in 1 Corinthians 10 concerning the occasion when the nation of Israel committed fornication in the wilderness.

“We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.”  1 Corinthians 10:8

Now the record of the event is provided in Numbers 25:9.

“Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000”

Here there is a ‘discrepancy’ of 1000 people, which some critics love to highlight.  But the difference is accounted in the two records: the Numbers record clearly reads as the total number who perished, whereas the New Testament writer (who would have been familiar with the Old Testament account) specifically states the number that died within a 24-hour period.  Obviously, one thousand survived passed the first day, but died subsequently.  We see, therefore, that there is no real discrepancy between the accounts. 

Another apparent discrepancy is claimed in the writing on the Cross—the Gospel records each provide different wording:

·       Matthew   “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”  (Matthew 27:37)

·       Mark          “The King of the Jews”  (Mark 15:26)

·       Luke           “This is the King of the Jews”  (Luke 23:38)

·       John           “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”  (John 19:19)


The record of John states,
“Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.”  John 19:20

It is very likely that the above variants arise from the language (or language combination) selected by the Gospel writer.  What is more valuable than the apparent differences in this example, is the fact that each of the four writers states that there was a sign affixed to the cross, and that there was a message on it.  A real discrepancy would arise had one or more of the writers claimed that there was no message fixed to the cross!

It has been claimed that a discrepancy exists in the accounts of the number of angels that were in Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection.  Mary saw two angels (John 20:12),  ‘the women’ saw two  (Luke 23:55; 24:4), but in Mark 16:5 the named women saw only one angel.  But a check between these verses reveals that the inspections of the tomb were on three separate occasions, and there is nothing to say that two were present all the time, and that one may have been temporarily absent.

Obviously, to those who wish to denigrate the Bible, such ‘discrepancies’ can be found in many areas.  They do not, however, diminish the Bible account in any way, since they are not valid discrepancies in the first place. 

What remains as an undeniable fact, is the extraordinary harmony that exists in a collaboration of so many writers over such a long period of time.  It is proof of its Divine authorship.

God’s principle
One of God’s early Hebrew prophets, Amos by name, had this to say:“Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”  Amos 3:7

The apostle Peter in writing his second letter to the Christian believers wrote,

“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns, and the morning star rises in your hearts.  Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  2 Peter 1:19–21

I cannot over-emphasise the tremendous importance of this particular passage.  What Peter is saying is that we must pay attention to Bible prophecy, as it is the light that we need to sustain our faith until the morning star takes a place in our hearts.  The morning star is defined for us in the closing chapter of the Bible, in Revelation 22 at verse 16.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.  I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
 

Personal responsibility
I recall many years ago having a discussion with the chief engineer at the place where I worked.  I illustrated to him the incredible odds associated with the proven fulfilment of just one Bible prophecy. I remember clearly his response:“I know that the prophecies have but one possible explanation.  But I can’t accept that explanation, because then I would be responsible to God, and that is something I could not do.” 

That person died a few years back now, having never accepted his responsibility to his Maker.  He had recognised that Biblical prophecy was uncannily correct, but he was unable to accept the logical conclusion that God was real, and that He was the true source of information to the prophets.  He did not let the Morning Star arise in his heart.  He shut out the Lord Jesus Christ.


The prophet Daniel spoke of a time we believe is now close at hand, when God will intervene dramatically in human affairs.  Daniel wrote,

“At that time there will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.  But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”  Daniel 12:1,2

There is a choice placed in front of each of us.  We can believe the Bible as being the Word of God, or we can reject it as myth and legend.  If we take the former choice, we can gain faith by studying its prophecies and their fulfilment until we admit Jesus Christ into our hearts, our minds, and our life.  If we take the latter choice, and ignore the Bible as the Word of God, we will forever remain in the grave. Eternity can be a very long time.

Reading the Bible. 
To gain confidence in the Bible, and to become familiar with its contents, and especially the valuable prophecies, we must read the Bible.  We cannot leave the reading of it to others, and let them tell us what is in it.  They might or might not tell us the truth about it.  We must read it for ourselves, to convince ourselves that we have the correct understanding of it.

To this end a reading plan is included with this booklet that will, in the course of a year, introduce you to the key chapters of the Bible story.  This reading will allow you to begin to form your own perspective on the Bible message.  When you are satisfied that you are achieving this, then you will be ready for reading plan No.2, which in the course of a year, will lead you through every chapter of the Bible, covering the New Testament twice.  It is available free of cost by down-loading from the web site at www.bible.co.nz.

John recorded the following message from Jesus Christ.

“Whoever believes in the son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”  John 3:36

The choice is yours. I believe the Bible. I trust the Bible - do you?



Comments   

 
# Phillip Alexander 2011-10-31 12:38
John 17:17 Jesus said
sanctify them in Thy truth, Thy word is truth;
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
 

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