Is The Bible The Inspired Word of God, or What?
They're not the only ones concerned about the lack of biblical literacy in the Christian community. You wouldn't believe how much ink has been spilled and hands have been wrung by pastors and denominational authorities over the fact that we seem to be fighting a losing battle when it comes to passing on Bible knowledge to emerging generations.
Here's the thing, I am aware that it's nigh to impossible to cover the complexity and depth of the Bible in three sermons---which is why I am only taking on three major questions about Scripture that most of ask:
1. Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?
2. What sort of authority does the Bible have over our lives?
3. Is the Bible really a guide for Christian living?
As you can tell by the title of this post, we'll be dealing with the question of inspiration first.
After we take a quiz:
A Bible Knowledge Quiz
How many books are there in the Old Testament?
__ A. 39 __ C. 55__ B. 40 __ D. 66
How many books are there in the New Testament?
__ A. 24 __ C. 35__ B. 27 __ D. 37
Who is the traditional author of the Gospel of John?
__ A. John the Baptist __ B. John, son of Zebedee
__ C. John of Arimathea __ D. The Beloved Disciple
Place these Old Testament Kings in order:
__ A. David __ C. Solomon__ B. Josiah __ D. Saul
Number these in chronological order
__ Moses __ Noah__ Abraham __ Ezekiel__ David
In which Gospel is found the story of Jesus’ ascension into
__ A. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark
__ B. The Gospel of John
__ C. The Gospel of Luke only
__ D. The Gospel of Thomas
__ E. None of the above
What is the name of the last book in the Old Testament?
How long was Jesus’ earthly ministry?
__ A. 1 year __ C. 3 years__ B. 2 years __ D. 4 years
Answers: A, B, BorD, Saul-David-Solomon-Josiah, Noah-Abraham-Moses-David-Ezekiel, E, Malachi, C
So be honest... how many of those did you get right?
I read this awesome quote this week in a book by Peter J. Gomes:
"The Church is in bad shape when the only person who knows anything about the Bible is the pastor."
Here's the truth of the matter... Most of us are quite content with surrogate living. We cheer for other people who play sports while we sit on the couch. We read newspapers and watch particular news shows so we will know what to think and how to vote. We let advertisers tell us what we need to buy, wear, drive and eat.
We're consumers. And Christians in our culture are consumers, too.
And so it shouldn't be a shock that like good consumers most of us Christians go to church so that someone else will read the Bible for us, and tell us what it means. Even further, in most churches across America worshippers don't bring their Bibles to church with them, and don't even open the ones that are typically provided in the pews.
And this is why I think it's important for us to address the three questions I posed earlier... We need to reverse the trend of biblical illiteracy in our churches, and learn to fall in love with Scripture as our inspiration, authority and guide in life.
Now to inspiration...
If you asserted that the Bible is the "inspired Word of God" in a crowd of people there is bound to be some controversy. It's a loaded term in our current culture. Some might argue about which parts of the Bible you might be referring to. Others would begin picking apart the definition of "inspired." Still others would question your motives for saying it in the first place. It might turn out to be a spirited discussion about theories and theology.
But in the end, those spirited discussions aren't going to matter a whole lot. And they certainly aren't going to lead to transformed lives or a transformed world.
We need inspirational encounters with inspired Scripture not theories about how Scripture is inspired.
Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The key word in this passage is "God-breathed"
Paul used this term because he wanted his readers to understand some things about Scripture---that because of it's status as "God-breathed" it is infallible and authoritative.
I realize that this statement raises the hackles of some people. "Infallible?" they might say, "Certainly not! There are discrepancies, contradictions, questionable authorship, blah-blah-blah-blah!"
Manuscripts were lost throughout the centuries. Monks copied things incorrectly from time to time. Scholars have spent over a century or more trying to debunk Scripture and discredit it.
And still the Bible remains and is the most widely read book in the world. And still we have this line from Paul: "God-breathed."
Human authors did speak in Scripture, but they were carried along by the Spirit of God. We use the language of metaphor when we have no words to describe what we experience. And we can be confident of the way the heart of God becomes thoughts expressed in words, even words that don't do God justice.
When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy he wanted to express something called a "present relevance"---that Scripture was relevant for today's issues even though it may have been written in another context and another time. Of course the Scripture that Paul was referring to was the Old Testament, which leads some people to say, "See! You can't say that the New Testament is God's Word! Even Paul didn't believe that."
While it is true that Paul didn't have the Gospels, Epistles and History "books" of the New Testament, he did have an understanding of how the "Old" Testament pointed to Jesus---what some scholars call "authoritative continuation." Jesus said that the Old Testament Scriptures "testify about me." In it's entirety Scripture declares God's promises, the human plight and God's solution for salvation.
Paul also outlined four ways that "God-breathed" Scripture should be used:
1. Teaching - Paul believed that the study and exposition of Scripture helped to build up the Body of Christ
2. Rebuking & Correcting - this is the most challenging use of Scripture for most of us, but Paul meant it as "discipline" and "adjustment." When we know what needs to be corrected to lead a "God-breathed" life, we can make the necessary adjustments to do so.
3. Training in Righteousness - this is the application and progression aspect of Scripture. When we ask, "What does this mean for me today, and how can I apply it?" when we read the Bible, we can then begin to move forward in discipleship.
4. Complete Sufficiency - through Scripture we can come to a knowledge of God's will in the world and how we fit into it. This is the "others-oriented" aspect of the transformational work of Scripture.
I have to say this... We need this now more than ever. In a world that seems more and more uncertain... When the Church seems to be straying farther and farther away from it's mission and purpose... Surrounded by a culture that devalues truth, purity, peace, hope and love...
We need the kind of inspiration that comes from the God-breathed words of Scripture. The kind of inspiration that changes lives.
This week I read the story of a priest Signor Antonio of Minas who prior to entering the priesthood did everything he could to destroy Christianity. He bought a New Testament to burn and as he tore the pages out, his eyes fell on the words of the Sermon on the Mount. He began to read, and stayed up all night reading the Bible. By morning, he knew that he believed.
There is the story of Vincente Quinoga of Chile, a nonbeliever who was walking the beach after a tidal wave had destroyed the coastline. A few pages of Scripture floated ashore and he began to read them. He immediately sought out a Bible to finish reading and gave his life to Christ.
I read the story of a robber in Sicily who sought to rob a minister of his money and as an act of terror was about to make him burn his books. The minister began to read from his books, which were all Bibles, and the robber would say, "no not that one, not that one..." Eventually he took one of the Bibles with him, left the minister without robbing him and fled. Years later, he became a preacher.
When I was a kid I remember hearing our pastor tell the story of a man who checked into a hotel room intent on killing himself. He laid the gun on the bed and sat on it. He was looking for something to write a suicide note when he saw the Gideon's Bible in the drawer. He began to read it, and stayed up all night engrossed in the pages. By morning he gave his life to Christ and returned home.
All over the world people are reading smuggled Bibles in countries where Christianity is persecuted and the Bible is forbidden, both officially and unofficially. As they read their Bibles, sometimes in fear for their own life, they find life and hope in the pages.
I have been studying the Bible my whole life. Sometimes I did it because I was made to by my parents, teachers and youth leaders, but even then I secretly didn't mind. I've memorized long passages from the Bible, taken Bible classes in school, was on a Bible quiz team when I was a high schooler, and then spent several years in Seminary and nearly 15 years serving in ministry, teaching, preaching and talking about the Bible.
And it still lights me up. I still don't feel like I read it enough. Every time I open it, I learn something new about God, faith, life and everything.
The inspiration contained in the Bible saved my life---correction is saving my life.
We need inspirational encounters with Scripture, not theories about how Scripture is inspired.