“That Book in Your Hand”
The first sermon in this series on the nature of the Bible was on the inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16 (summarised discussion with links here). The second sermon was on how the Spirit moved in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21 (summarised discussion with links here).
In this post I’ll deal with thoughts related to my third sermon, which looked at what is commonly called “inerrancy”, the complete reliability of God’s Word, and why it matters to us.
Is God’s Word true? How can a Book be without error when it talks about rabbits chewing their cud?
God is True
We know the Scriptures are true, because God is the Author, and He is true.
1. God Does Not Lie.
Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Titus 1:2 In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
See also Malachi 3:6.
2. Truth is Part of God’s Very Nature. It is not just that God doesn’t tell lies, but He is true in His very essence or nature. His truth is not limited to what He doesn’t do (He does not lie), it pervades His existence. Thus, He also does not “leave out” truths or fail to act truly. Also, because He is all-powerful, He is never hindered from acting or speaking truly. God will speak every truth that is needed to be spoken, and will act in full agreement with that which is true.
II Timothy 2:13 If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
This attribute of God is specifically revealed in God the Son, Jesus Christ:
John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
I John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
3. God’s Truth is Inextricably Linked to What He Says.
John 17:17 Thy Word is truth.
Psalm 12:6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
Isaiah 25:1 Thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.
God is true, and His truth and His Word cannot be separated.
The Bible is True
We say the Bible is inerrant, fully true.
1. The Bible is from the True God.
II Peter 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
I John 5:6 And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.
2. The Bible Claims to be True.
Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
Notice the words used to describe the Scriptures here: perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and righteous.
The skeptic will say this is circular reasoning, and to a limited extent, he has a point. If the only evidence of the truth of Scripture is what Scripture says about itself, it would hardly be convincing. On the other hand, a Book that is completely true and purports to tell us all we need for spiritual life would have to tell us about its own truth and reliability. If it didn’t claim to be true, we would know it isn’t. The absence of such claims would be certain proof that it is not a true guide for spiritual life.
Or to put it another way, the skeptic doesn’t care about the Bible’s claims, but if they were lacking, he would have an irrefutable accusation to lay against it. To be what the Bible claims to be, it has to make those claims.
3. Jesus Said the Scriptures are True.
Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
This record of Jesus’ teaching was written while many eyewitnesses were still alive — there is little doubt He said it. Jesus made multiple statements like this affirming the truth of the Scriptures. Unless one wants to reject Jesus as totally false, His testimony as to the truth of Scripture is compelling.
4. The Truth of Scripture Has been Validated by History. The skeptics like to claim that the Bible is historically inaccurate, but the evidence is to the contrary. I’ll just give one example of many — Belshazzar in Daniel 5.
Belshazzar is called the king, and described as reigning in Babylon when the city fell to the Medes and Persians. Yet, Herodotus, who visited Babylon around 70-80 years later, made no mention of Belshazzar, and identified the last king of Babylon before its fall as Nabonidus. Belshazzar was completely unknown to history. He simply didn’t exist, as far as historians were concerned.
For many years, the skeptics mocked the Biblical account of Belshazzar — until archaeological discoveries, the first in 1854, clearly identified him as the son of Nabonidus. Nabonidus made him co-regent, and left him in charge of defending the city. Thus, when Daniel read for Belshazzar the handwriting on the wall, Belshazzar made him “third” in the kingdom — Nabonidus was first, Belshazzar second, Daniel third.
The Biblical account proved true, even though “history” had “proved” it was false — eventually, historical knowledge caught up with what the Bible said all along. This is only one example where Scripture was true, and the historical evidence outside of Scripture was simply incomplete. Recent archaeological finds have provided evidence of David’s kingdom, Hezekiah’s building work, and other support for the accuracy of the Bible’s historical record.
5. The Truth of Scripture Has been Validated by Science. Many will dispute this because some scientific theories, especially to do with the origins of the world and the universe, do not agree with Scripture. These theories, though, have to be continually revised as more evidence is brought to light. Even Einstein’s theory of relativity has been called into question by recent experiments which appear to show a particle moving faster than the speed of light.
When we look at what can actually be proven by the scientific method, though, we find much in the Bible which is clearly true, even though it may have been questioned at some time in the past. For instance, how could Isaiah know in 700 B.C. that the earth was circular (Isaiah 40:22)? How could Job have known that the earth was hanging “upon nothing” (Job 26:7)? How could it have been known, around 2000 B.C. and long before the days of telescopes, that the number of stars in the sky is so immense (Genesis 15:5)? The Bible made statements which were scientifically accurate and, as far as we know, well beyond the common knowledge of the time in which it was written.
What Biblical Inerrancy DOESN’T Mean
1. It DOESN’T Mean the Bible is a History or Science Textbook. Though the Bible’s statements about history and science are true, it is not intended to give a complete historical or scientific record. It never mentions Nabonidus in the account in Daniel mentioned above. Nabonidus would have been of interest to a historian — but he was irrelevant to Daniel’s purpose in writing. The Bible mentions the “circle of the earth” but doesn’t tell us in detail that the earth is a sphere orbiting the sun. It doesn’t need to, because it is an account of God’s dealings with man, not an astronomy guide.
2. It DOESN’T Mean there isn’t “Casual” Language. Psalm 113:3:
From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD’S name is to be praised.
Everyone knows that the sun doesn’t really rise — the earth rotates. But no one would say I lied or was mistaken when I say that I was up before sunrise today. References to the sun rising are casual, non-scientific language.
I may say that it is three miles from our house to the church, when actually it is 3.2 miles. When an army of 500,000 men is mentioned (II Chronicles 13:17), it wouldn’t be an error if the army was really 501,000 or 499,000 men. This would only be an error if exact precision is being claimed — and it isn’t. Thus, II Chronicles 4:2 is not trying to give us information about the exact relationship between the diameter and circumference of a circle. It is using casual language with rounded numbers.
In Leviticus 9:5, it tells us that the coney “cheweth the cud.” Rabbits don’t chew the cud as we use the term technically today, but they do re-ingest and digest their pellets. In both cases, food which has been partially digested is chewed again and digested more fully. This appears to be simply an ancient text using “casual” language rather than the precise language of modern science.
Inerrancy means the Bible is accurate, but it doesn’t mean that every numerical fact is given to the greatest precision, or that it uses technical scientific descriptions.
3. It DOESN’T Mean the Bible Doesn’t Record Lies. Acts 23:25-30 records a letter of a Roman officer in which he “slanted” the story of what had happened to make himself look better. In other words, he lied — and the Scripture records it. Nor does the Scripture explicitly say that he lied — you have to look at the context to see it. The Bible provides an accurate record of what happened, but when it records what people say, it may be accurately reporting their lies (or even their honest mistakes). When it records a lie of Satan, it isn’t saying he told the truth. It is simply giving an exact account of his evil words.
4. It DOESN’T Mean Everything Looks True at First Glance. It is fair to say that we may not understand everything the Bible says, especially when parts of it were written in ancient languages and cultures. A reader today, at first glance, would be entirely honest in saying, “That looks wrong. Rabbits don’t chew their cud.” But then, as I’ve suggested, that may have simply been casual language. In any event, who knows exactly what was meant by the Hebrew term for “chews the cud” 3400 years ago? We should not be so arrogant as to assume any ancient document should be read within the parameters of our modern culture and understanding, especially when language takes on precise, technical meanings in our modern culture.
There may be things which appear to be inaccurate, at least at first glance. I may not have all the answers, just like scholars didn’t have the answers about Belshazzar for many years. But the more I have read and studied, the more I have found that what is in the package matches what is on the label. This Book is true.
Why Inerrancy Matters
Our eternal destiny is based on what the Bible says. If it is false in what we can see, why should we trust it for eternal matters?
No human being has gone into eternity and written a letter back to us to tell us how things are there. The human writers of the Scriptures were just men. If God didn’t give them the things to write, there is no reason to believe they know anything true about spiritual matters. If God did give them things to write, and some of those things are wrong, then God is not credible, and we can’t trust Him for matters of eternity, either.
The Bible never pretends absolute truth doesn’t matter. II Timothy 2:25-26 talks about the need to acknowledge the truth. II Timothy 3:7 says that those who are destined for judgment have never come to the knowledge of the truth. Jesus said it is the truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32):
31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
A Book (and a God) which emphasises truth so strongly has to be true, or it is useless. Without a true Bible, we can have no knowledge of the truth that saves us, that sets us free from sin, from the fear of death, and from the power of the devil.
It is not just that truth saves us, it also sanctifies us (makes us holy, cleans up our lives, makes us what God wants us to be). John 17:17-19:
17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
It is the truth of God’s Word that cleans us up (John 15:3):
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
I called this blog “Mind Renewers” (based on Romans 12:2). We need our minds to be renewed so that we can be transformed into what God wants us to be. If we don’t have a true Word of God, we are being transformed into something that is partly false. We need truth, and God’s Word gives it. True because He is true, it sets us free and sets us right.
Next main article: His Word Will not Return Void — Summary