Should You Really Trust an Ancient Religious Document to Guide Your Life in the Modern World?


There are times in our lives when it will feel like we are in the dark as the fog descends and we can’t see the horizon. We will experience a spiritual form of spatial disorientation, where, because of the emotions associated with fear, guilt or peer pressure, we will be tempted to steer the plane in the wrong direction.

This is why disciples of Jesus must become instrument certified in the Scriptures, which begins by hearing and believing the pardoning voice of God, where his grace to you in Jesus through the cross becomes the True North of your life.

You are saved. Forgiven. Having been bought with a price you are his and he will never let you go.

Then, with Jesus as Savior, we follow him as Lord, where for his glory and our good, we begin living by the instruments, trusting the wisdom of God revealed to and for us in the Holy Scriptures.


Trusting the Instruments

At 3:00 a.m. Baghdad time on January 16, 1991, the United States launched Operation Desert Storm with an extensive aerial bombing campaign.

That date was chosen because of the high cloud cover that prevented allied planes from being detected by enemy defenses. Flying in total darkness, the pilots were completely dependent upon their instruments for navigation.

That night, F-15 pilot Lt. Col. Jeff Patton escorted a large formation of bombers to destroy a chemical weapons plant just north of Bagdad.

Shortly after crossing into Iraq, an enemy surface-to-air missile radar locked on to Col. Patton’s F-15. He violently maneuvered the aircraft to break the radar’s lock. His maneuver was successfully but created a new problem. Such violent movements in the dark threw off the fluid balance in his inner ear, causing him to become severely disoriented.

Although it felt as if the plane were in a steep climb, his instruments indicated he was in a 60-degree nose dive. He was physiologically convinced that he was in a climb and his emotions demanded that he lower the nose of his aircraft. But his instruments instructed him to do just the opposite.

Because he was flying in total darkness, he had to decide quickly whether to trust his emotions or trust his instruments. His life depended on making the correct choice… in three seconds.

Though it took everything within him to overcome what he was feeling, he decided to trust his instruments. He pulled the F-15 upward and the plane leveled out.

Trusting his instruments saved his life!

God has given us instruments, too. Not the dash of an F-15, but what Paul called the Scriptures — what we commonly call the Bible.

However, just like the instrument panel on an F-15 may look overwhelming, so may the contents of the Bible.

This post is designed to help you understand the basics of the Bible so that you can live by the instruments of God’s wisdom. Like Col. Patton, trusting the instruments just might save your life.

Background

The English word Bible comes from a Greek word, biblos, which originally referred to a collection of written documents, usually inscribed on papyrus and contained in a scroll.

Today, when we think of a book, we don’t think of a scroll as much as a collection of pages bound together within a cover. Yet, with the advent of the internet and e-books, scrolls, at least digital scrolls, are making a comeback.

The word bible simply means book. To distinguish the book we call the Bible from other books, we refer to the Bible as the “holy” Bible to signify that we are talking about a special, unique, sacred book.

Of course, the Bible as a book actually is a collection of sixty-six separate books divided between the two major sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament was written over a thousand-year period from 1,400 BC to around 400 BC and contains 39 individual books that include genres ranging from history to poetry, to wisdom literature, to prophetic writings.

The New Testament

The New Testament, which was written entirely in the first century AD (mid-40s to mid-90s) contains 27 books that include historical narratives of the life of Jesus and the early church, personal letters to churches and individuals from apostles such as Paul, Peter, James, and John, and John’s apocalyptic vision called Revelation.

I know what you may be thinking. Can such an old collection of writings that describe life in ancient cultures have any real application for people living in the 21st century?

Good question!

The short answer is that while cultures change, the human condition has not changed, making the Bible as relevant today as when it was originally written.

Nevertheless, should we really allow the Bible to be the authoritative guide for what to believe and think and how to live in the modern world? Can we really trust the Bible as being given from God, or is it just an interesting, old religious text?

Let’s find out.

2 Timothy 3:14–17

In 2 Timothy 3:14–17, an apostle named Paul writes to a younger pastor named Timothy.

“14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” — 2 Timothy 3:14–17

A STAGGERING CLAIM

In verse 16, Paul makes a staggering claim, saying, “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

The Greek word for “all” is pas, which can be translated as “each, every, any, or all,” meaning that each and every word inscribed into the Bible is exactly what God wanted to be written from him to us.

In theology, we call this “verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible,” which affirms that not only are the parts of the Bible inspired, but every single word in Scripture is “breathed out” from God.

The Greek word we translate “God-breathed” is theopneustos, which is a compound word made up of two Greek words Theos, the Greek word for God, and pneustos, meaning breath, wind or spirit.

In fact, when we read of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, the original Greek word is pneuma, a form of pneustos. He is the Holy pneuma — the Holy breath of God.

Paul is saying that the Bible contains the very words of God that he breathed out from his own mouth by his Spirit through human authors.

The concept of human agency in authorship is described by the apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 1:21, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

When Peter says, “carried along,” he does not mean the authors wrote in a trance, but that they were internally and supernaturally influenced, being led to write using their own personalities and vocabularies and from within their own cultural contexts.

This is why the original Greek text of the apostle John is so different from Paul’s Greek. Paul was a brilliant, educated scholar. John had been a fisherman. Therefore, we would expect Paul’s use of vocabulary and grammar to be more complex than John’s.

While the Scriptures of which Paul speaks to Timothy refer to the writings of the Old Testament, in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter speaks of Paul’s writing being of the same nature and authority as the Old Testament prophets, saying, “[Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

The original Greek word Peter uses that we translate Scriptures is graphe, which is the same word Paul used to speak of the writings which were “God-breathed.”

Therefore, both the Old and New Testament writings claim God-breathed status.

It is encouraging to note that, not only do the biblical writings (which were collectively inscribed over a 1,000 year period) prove remarkably consistent and cohesive in their theological and prophetic symmetry, the authors of Scripture in both testaments were attested by God to validate their role as a mouthpiece for God.

For example, in Hebrews 2:4, the author says, “God also testified to it (to the message of the gospel preached and written by the apostles) by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

Here is the point. The prophets and apostles were known as authenticated spokesmen for God by virtue of their ability to perform a variety of supernatural acts.

THE QUESTION OF AUTHORITY

If the Scriptures are the very words of God spoken through human authors then the implicit consequence is that the Bible is the final authority for all matters of what to believe and how to live. What should we believe about God? What about the origins of the universe and life itself? What is the problem with the world and what is the solution? What are the parameters for human flourishing? What about gender issues, social issues such as abortion, poverty and climate concerns? How should a church organize itself? What are the qualifications for leadership?

We could list thousands of questions.

What we need in addressing them all is a solid foundation — an authority to which we may appeal as a referent for truth. Without a reference, as we saw in the last post, life is not only chaotic but meaningless.

God, as Creator and Redeemer, has provided us with the authoritative guidance we need in the form of the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

A divinely inspired, revealed, and authoritative written word from God would have been expected for the early Christians, who were largely Jewish believers. They had embraced the writings of the Hebrew Bible for generations, expecting the word of God to be inscribed into a text and passed on to future generations.

Jesus himself affirmed the authority of the written words of God through the prophets in the Old (or First) Testament. J.I. Packer writes, “Jesus Christ, so far from rejecting the principle of biblical authority, accepted and built upon it, endorsing it with the greatest emphasis and the full weight of his authority.” (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 54)

Jesus, appealing to the written documents of the Old Testament, would often say, “It is written,” and would ask, “Haven’t you read?”

Following the lead of Jesus the church “proclaimed its continuity with Israel… by claiming the Jewish Scriptures as a Christian book.” (Packer, 57)

With the church being called the New Israel, it makes sense that we would expect a new canon of Scripture to be developed alongside the old canon of Scripture. In fact, in the same way that the Old Testament was to be read in the midst of the gathered congregation of Israel, the writings of the apostles were to be read to the assembled congregations and passed from church to church (Colossians 4:16).

In summary, we may appeal to the wisdom of the Westminster Confession of Faith (I:6):

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

BUT WE DON’T POSSESS THE ORIGINAL TEXTS

To ask how we can maintain the trustworthiness and authority of the Bible as the literal word of God without having our hands on the actual papyrus of Moses, Isaiah, Peter or Paul is a fair question.

What I have found helpful is to distinguish between the original autographs and the autographic text.

What? Let me explain.

The “autographs” are the original manuscripts written by the prophets and apostles. The autographic text is that which we are able to discern through comparing the thousands of manuscript copies through manuscript analysis.

It is well established that there are exceedingly more copies of the biblical text than any other document from antiquity. We now have access to almost twenty-five-thousand copies of Greek texts, some of which date to within less than a hundred years of the original’s composition.

In the science of manuscript evidence, the sheer volume of copies is extraordinary. Especially when we consider the scant manuscript evidence we have from similar ancient texts Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Demosthenes, Caesar, Livy, and Tacitus. Although we possess less than 10 copies on average of each document, with the earliest from the 9th century AD, we still consider their copies accurate.

What we are able to do with the extraordinary number of manuscript copies of the New Testament is compare them for possible copyist errors. Have we found errors in the copies? Absolutely. But what we are able to do is go back through the centuries to find where the copies line up, showing us — with 99.5% accuracy — the actual text of the original manuscripts!

What is even more encouraging is that we know exactly which 0.5% of the text is in question. To put it in perspective, out of 20,000 lines of New Testament text, we question the authenticity of 40 lines, none of which influence or challenge any biblical doctrine that isn’t clarified elsewhere in the Scriptures.

In summary, we can agree with The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy(Article X), which states, “We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.”

AN EPIC STORY

As a collection of God-breathed documents, the Bible tells an epic story.

In verses 14–15, Paul exhorts Timothy, “14 Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it (referring to his mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois — see 2 Tim. 1:5), 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

These matriarchal influences in Timothy’s life had taught him the true story of redemption contained in the Scriptures, which centers on a person, the main character of the story named Jesus.

Side note: How encouraging this must be for mothers and grandmothers! The most influential person in Timothy’s life wasn’t Paul. It was his mother and grandmother.

The meta-narrative of the Bible can be told in four major acts.

Act 1: Creation

The first act is creation, where God designs a beautiful world and fills it with a myriad of creatures, giving mankind the privilege and responsibility to cultivate and manage this world on God’s unique representative.

The only commands God gave the humans were (1) to be fruitful and multiply, (2) to rule over creation, cultivating and caring for it, and (3) to avoid eating the fruit from only one tree among the thousands in the garden — a garden filled with an extensive variety of delectable and satisfying fruits and vegetables.

Act 2: Rebellion

The second act is rebellion, which theologians call “the fall,” not referring to a season, but to a condition. Distinctively created as image-bearers of God, Adam and Eve had that image shattered through willfully defying the word of the Lord by eating from the one tree that had been forbidden. They were like Humpty Dumpty, whose broken condition was so severe that none of the King’s horses or men could put Humpty back together again.

What made this simple act of defiance so heinous is the underlying reason for which they ate the fruit. Tempted by Satan in the form of a serpent, the first humans rejected the truth of God in favor of the lie of the enemy.

They committed what R.C. Sproul is famous for describing as “cosmic treason.”

We are like Adam and Eve. We are like Humpty. Fallen. Broken. Under the just sentence of condemnation for our own cosmic treason that we have committed against the Creator-King.

In literary analysis, we would call this fallen, broken condition the conflict that needs to be resolved.

Creation. Rebellion. And now…

Act 3: Redemption

The third act is redemption, where God reveals and fulfills his plan to atone for sin, reconciling sinners back into fellowship with himself. What human kings, horses, intellect, and strength couldn’t do, God did, by sending his Son, Jesus, to rescue the fallen by taking the fall for them.

As the plan of redemption unfolds, we see shadows of Jesus throughout the Old Testament, from the animal slain in the garden to cover Adam and Eve’s guilt and shame to the formalized sacrificial system designed for the nation of Israel, it all foreshadows and foretells of the cross, where Jesus, the obedient, faithful, righteous one serves the sentence the disobedient, unfaithful, and unrighteousness deserved so that the unrighteous may be fully absolved of their crimes and reconciled to God.

The very heart of the story is substitution.

At this point, the crucifixion and resurrection loom as the high-point of the story, casting its shadow over the whole, fulfilling the promises of the Old Testament and paving the way for the evangelistic mission of the church.

In act three, we notice overlap with the other acts, as every human experiences both creation and rebellion. Yet only those who by faith alone receive the gift righteousness of Jesus through his act of substitutionary atonement experience the blessing of act four.

Act 4: Consummation

The fourth and final act is consummation, where believers are resurrected unto eternal joy in the presence of God on a new earth where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” — only the fullness of joy.

There also will be a resurrection of the unrighteous at the final judgment. They too will experience consummation, but not one of blessing. We will discuss that in more depth in a later post.

For our purposes now, the fourth act is where paradise lost becomes paradise found — a paradise far more glorious than the original.

FINDING MY PLACE IN THE STORY

The narrative of grace that began in the garden and continues today invites us to find our place in the story. Every human experiences creation and rebellion. Every human will experience a consummation, where the path of history will take two very polar turns, one to eternal joy and the other, eternal despair.

The question that remains is whether or not I have experienced redemption. What have I done with the third act?

It is here that the apostle John provides a road-map to joy as he pens directions in 1 John 1:7–9,

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

The Psalms tell us that Scriptures are like a lamp for our feet. Sadly, it is possible to read that moralistically, as if the lamp is merely to guide us in godly behavior. Before we are concerned with behavior we need to see a Savior, as the lamp of the Word shows us both our need for mercy and God’s provision of mercy.

To walk in the light is to be honest about our rebellion and need for redemption. It is to be like the first humans in their post-rebellion condition, whom the Lord called to come out of hiding in the garden. Coming out as sinners not only was humiliating (as the light would expose their moral nakedness) but frightening (as they expected to die for their act of treason).

But the light also would enable them to receive mercy as the sinners would have their guilt and shame covered with the skin of the slain animal.

The blood of that substitutionary beast was a shadow of the blood Jesus would shed — as the ultimate and final substitutionary sacrifice given to atone for the treason of sin.

In the gospel, the King gives himself in death for those who deserve to die.

In light of such a selfless sacrifice, we are forced to make a decision.

Will I remain in the darkness by denying my need for atonement or will I come into the light to be covered with Jesus’s blood that redeems me from the pit and places me upon a rock of safety, where I can know with certainty that God will “forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”?

Not purify us from many or even most of our sins and unrighteousness, but all!

The Bible is not a self-help book, or a book of virtues, or a type of Aesop’s fables that teach us moral lessons on how to be good girls and boys. Rather, the stories are intended to show us how badly we need a Deliverer to set us free from our bondage to sin’s penalty and power. We are as broken as Humpty and need the true King to make us whole again.

This is why Paul, in verse 15 says that salvation is “through faith in Christ Jesus.” We are not saved by our works, but through trusting in the work of Jesus on our behalf.

When I receive Jesus as my Savior-King, something strange happens. Something transformative. I begin to experience a renewed desire to have my heart, mind, and life shaped by his word.

Even Jesus himself said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Jesus didn’t need to be saved, but he still found the Scriptures to be his daily source of spiritual nutrition and guidance for living as the Son of the Father.

In verses 16 and 17, Paul shows us how (and I hesitate to use this phrase) functionally profitable the Scriptures are for our ongoing discipleship as followers of Jesus, saying, “All Scripture… is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

By telling Timothy to “continue” in the Scriptures, Paul is saying what he said in Ephesians 4:14, that with Scripture as our True North, “We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”

Let us be convinced that this is for our good.

Just as a fish was created to thrive in water and not on the carpet with the family dog, if we are tempted to jump out of God’s design for human flourishing, thinking our wisdom greater than God’s, onto the floor with Rover, we soon will discover that God’s ways are not intended to prevent us from thriving but just the opposite. God’s wisdom in his word is the means of human flourishing.

VISUAL FLIGHT RULES

On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his wife, Carolyn, along with a sister-in-law, Lauren, took off after dark in his Piper Saratoga from Essex County Airport in Fairfield, New Jersey to attend a family wedding on Martha’s Vineyard, an island just off of Cape Cod, Mass.

They never made it.

JFK, Jr. was certified to fly under visual flight rules but did not have an instrument certification. He had not learned to fly by the instruments in case of poor visibility conditions.

His previous flights to the Vineyard had been clear skies with the horizon easily identifiable by the lights on the ground.

But on July 16, the sky grew hazy with low lying fog and he couldn’t see the ground. He was forced to fly by his feelings, became disoriented and crashed the Saratoga into the Atlantic, killing all three upon impact.


What is the Bible — Review and Discussion Guide

  1. How is living according to Scripture for faith and life much like flying by instruments?
  2. Describe how the Bible is not just one book, but a collection of many books.
  3. How does the Greek word theopneustos describe the nature of Scripture as “inspired,” or “God-breathed?”
  4. Describe the four “acts” that make up the meta-narrative story of the Bible.
  5. In what way is the Bible not “not a self-help book, or a book of virtues, or a type of Aesop’s fables that teach us moral lessons on how to be good girls and boys?”
  6. What would it look like for you to become “instrument certified” in the Scriptures?

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