FAQ: Is the Bible Reliable?

Welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey.  And today we are beginning a short series we are calling FAQ’s – and the idea is that each week we will spend some time talking about whatever you all want to talk about.  What questions do you have about the bible, about God?  About Christianity?  What doubts do you have – what have you always wondered about and maybe hoped we’d address but you’ve never heard us talk about it from up front?

Write your questions down – even if you write them on a slip of paper or on a card anonymously – give us some stuff to talk about.  I do have a list of FAQ’s – that have come up from time to time – and we can address those – but I’d love to hear your questions you might have that we will address them in the next three weeks or so.

I’d like to start with some quick hitters each week – questions that are worth answering but probably don’t take that long.    For instance – and I only use this as an example because I know this place is filled with people who think they are funny – and in deed a vast minority are very funny indeed – and so for those of you who were thinking of asking this question – I’ll head you off at the pass…  the last time we did a series like this someone asked a very important question:  Did Adam and Eve have Belly Buttons? 

Thanks for asking this hard hitting question..  and here’s Obviously the answer is no, since they were not born but created, there was no need for belly buttons.  Plus, belly buttons are gross and obviously a result of the fall.  Especially outies.  Little known fact – The anti-Christ will have an outie.  Some if you are like, Hey I have an outie!  Well, you might be the antichrist.  Only time will tell. 

Here’s another quick hitter – and this one is an often asked question and it’s asked because people love their pets.  And I get that.  So the question is – Will I see my pet in heaven?

The answer:  Probably not cats or bunnies – due to their fornication problems.  They have loose morals.  See how easy this series is turning out to be?

No seriously, will you see your pet in heaven?  Well, we don’t find anywhere that dogs or cats or pets have souls that need to be saved.  But we do find animals mentioned in heaven.  Horses and lions and lambs.

Romans 8:21-22 tells us that 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 

So it very well be that animals are part of the created world that groans, awaiting to be redeemed and made right when Jesus comes back.

It’s interesting to me that at least twice we find animals talking in the Bible.  The serpent starts talking in the garden before the fall.  And Eve doesn’t freak out.  And later, Balaams donkey starts talking.  The donkey sees an angel that Balaam cannot see and refuses to move forward, so Balaam starts beating him – and the donkey basically says, Why you all hitting me with the stick?

Could it be that when creation is restored animals will talk?  Perhaps.  I don’t know – but I do think it’s fascinating.  But right now, as part of the created order, they do not need to come to faith in Jesus.

Now this morning – I want to spend the rest of our time answering questions that center around the Bible.  Why?  Because we believe that the Bible is the Word of God.  And we believe that it is the guide to life itself.  We believe it is without error in the original forms and that is a trustworthy, infallible guide to life.

People often ask – why doesn’t God speak to me?  And the answer is – he has.  It’s right here.  And it is the primary way he speaks to us.  In fact – any other way he might speak to us – needs to measure up to what is written here.

In other words – if – when the time comes to build our church building – and we hear the construction person say – I need a 2X4 cut to exactly 7 feet 4 inches- what will you do.  Do you just go – this feels like 7 feet 4 inches.  No – you grab a tape measure.  otherwise your house will collapse.

In that same way – we use the Bible as the authority of our life.  We submit to it’s teaching.  We are the ones who change to it.  It’s not the other way around – where we stand over the Bible and change it to our liking.

The Bible is much more than a book.  It purports to be written by people – but people who were guided and carried along by the Holy Spirit.  And so the personality of the writer comes through, but that person was carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore – the bible claims to be alive. Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

It’s been said that the Bible is the first book that reads you.

Now- a skeptic might say – that just because it says these things about itself doesn’t mean they are true.  And that person might have some questions.  So let me ask a few FAQ’s that I’ve heard in the past regarding the Bible.

First:  Are there any of the “original” letters or books that comprise the New Testament?

The Bible is one book but it’s actually a collection of 66 different ‘books’ or letters that were written by about 40 different authors.  The Old Testament has 39 books, and the New Testament – events from the birth of Jesus onward – has 27 books.  And most of these new testament books are actually letters – written by early church leaders like Paul, or Peter or James or John.

And so – the question is – do we have ANY of the originals of these 27 books of the NT?  Can I go to the Louvre and see Paul’s handwriting for myself?

The answer is – no.  Not one.  So why not?  If these are so important, why don’t we have any of the originals?  And if we don’t how can we know that what we are reading is the real thing?  How do we know it hasn’t been corrupted through the years by either shoddy copy work, or intentionally manipulated by the church for the churches own benefit.  How do we trust it?

First – why don’t we have any of the originals?  Most likely, the churches that received these letters did not know that what they had was so important.  They did know that other churches wanted to read these instructions from the early church leaders.

They weren’t able to share it with a click on social media.  So when a church in Greece heard that the church in Philippi received a letter – they naturally asked – will you send us a copy?

And when church number 3 heard that church number 2 had a copy – they asked – can you send a copy to us as well?  And then – well – the church in Galatia also had a letter?  Make us a copy and we will send you a copy of what we received from the church in Rome.  And pretty soon all these churches were passing these letters back and forth amongst themselves.

Which is exactly what we would have done.  And the result is that we actually have hand written fragments of copies of the bible from all over the world – thousands and thousands of copies.

This papyrus, number 46, was discovered in 1931 in an ancient egyptian garbage dump.   It can be dated by a variety of tests, to before 200 ad.  And it contains huge sections of scripture – Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, as a matter of fact all but three of Paul’s letter.  Interesting to people like me, you can download an app on your phone and read this papyrus – it’s sitting in the University of Michigan

This is papyrus 66.  It was found in 1952.  What is interesting about this is that it is the complete book of John – dating to the early 200’s ad.  So – in essence – they discover this time capsule – this fragment lost in time for 1800 years – and when they find it – they compare it – and find that what we have now – is what they were reading then.

It proves that when people made copies, they used utmost care.

The most famous example of the careful transmission of scripture from one copy to the other is found in the example of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.  These scrolls were discovered in 1946 by some Bedouin shepherds – archeologists found in these 11 – scrolls that were written 200 years before the birth of Jesus.

In the scrolls is a complete book of the Old Testament book of Isaiah.  So here’s a book of Isaiah that no one has looked at in 2200 years – and they open it up and compare it to the book of Isaiah we read today – and low and behold it’s 99 percent exactly the same.  There were insignificant changes – like one version says he sacrificed three bulls, and the other says one bull.

So having all of these thousands of fragments – how do they help us today?

Two ways – first – they show us that what we are reading today is the same thing they were reading then. Great care was taken in the preservation of these original letters.

Secondly – it also gives Bible scholars a chance to note any discrepancies they find between copies.

For instance- I showed you that book of John from 200 AD – identical to what we have now – with the exception that the story we read about in John 8 – the woman caught in adultery – in not found in that manuscript.  And so – if you turn in your bible you will see than – when you turn to John 8 – it will note – the earliest manuscripts don’t include this part.  But this passage does appear – like in other manuscripts in the book of Luke – or other parts of John – it’s like the church knew it was true, they weren’t sure where it went – and so it’s like a free standing story.

But your Bible will note this.  In fact – the bible’s we have now are filled with footnotes that will let you know anytime there are discrepancies – sometimes they are ridiculously unnecessary – like the end of Mark 16 – that includes the part where – you can let snakes bite you and you can drink poison and it won’t hurt you.  Yes it will!  Don’t drink poison!  It shouldn’t be there – but they are like – well, some have it we will just inform people it probably ought not be.

Now what you don’t get though are any manuscripts that say – Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.  or Jesus lived to be an old man.  Or – what you have is what they had.  You can rest easy.

Now – next question I hear about the Bible from skeptics is – how did the church come about choosing these 27 books of the NT as THE 27 books of the Bible.  I mean – what about the Gospel of Mary – and the Gospel of Thomas?  Why were they excluded?

We live in a very conspiracy theory driven kind of world.  And so the idea that I hear from people is that the Early church – in an effort to retain power and control, excluded some books – but the reality is far less exciting than a novel like – Dan Brown’s the Da”Vinci code.

The reality is that as Christianity grew, people who were starting their own religion just decided to co-opt Jesus into their movement.  It happens all the time.  Cults use the name of Jesus all the time.  There has never been a shortage of cults that try to claim that Jesus taught exactly what they taught.

Even what are major world religions – claim Jesus as theirs.  Islam holds Jesus as one of their major prophets.  Mormonism is built upon claims that – here’s the rest of what Jesus told us as revealed to Joseph Smith in 1830.  Interestingly both Mormons and Muslims make the claim that – well the bible we have now is not the original one.  Ignoring frankly, the thousands of careful manuscripts that have been handed down through generations.

And the same was true in the early days of Christianity.  Faith in Jesus is growing.  People don’t have the internet – so – the Apostle Paul had a problem – he would go and preach and start a church and then when he left town other people – legalists – would come behind Paul and say – oh, Paul doesn’t know the rest of the story – and these people would try to lead people back into legalistic behavior – which is why – the earliest letter in the New Testament was the letter tot eh Galatians – where Paul says – listen to me – don’t believe these people who are telling you that in order to be a good Christian you have to follow all the laws of the Old Testament.  e is writing o warn and correct them.

And so the church in Galatia sends copies out to other churches saying – Paul sent this to us to warn us to be on the lookout for anyone who preaches to obey the law.

Now all of these false religions had their own writings – and some thought – well, this Jesus guy – his gospels are all anyone is talking about.  Let’s write as if there is a gospel of Thomas – who happens to tell people what WE are preaching.

At some point it was inevitable that the churches would have to make an authoritative decision to make it clear – these are the true letters and gospels that we know the church has been using from the beginning.  It’s these and no others.

They set up parameters – like  Was the author an apostle or have a close connection with an apostle?  Was it accepted by the early church as authoritative? 

By the way – you can read the Gospel of Thomas for yourself – or the gospel of Mary Magdalene.  And you will be able to tell in less than 30 seconds why it was easily rejected by the church – as obvious hacks.  Because you can read it and you will discover it’s total trash.  And if I had time I’d put up a verse or two to show you – but – well okay I have time for one.

Next question I hear about the bible.  Who cares if it is or isn’t – don’t you pick and choose anyway from the bible?   Doesn’t the Bible say not to eat lobster – you don’t quote that verse.  You Christians pick and choose bible verses and are all hypocrites.

Here’s the Gospel of Thomas (114) Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.”
Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

It’s a conspiracy!  people say – and meanwhile – Christians in the 4th century are like, are we really wasting time telling people that this is garbage?  Like, can’t people figure it out pretty easily?  All in favor of acknowledging the gospel of Thomas as a complete forgery say Aye.

Last question – and this one is more pertinent to today – people often ask about the Bible – don’t you pick and choose bible verses?  I mean doesn’t the OT say not to eat shellfish?  Yet – you eat shrimp and lobster.  You hypocrites!

Now, I get this question.  This question is understandable.  And it’s usually asked by people who just don’t understand how the bible is supposed to be read.  In fact – this is the issue that Paul is fighting for in the book of Galatians – well meaning people who say to Christians – you have to obey all the Jewish laws to be a good Christian.

Well, it’s true that the OT has regulations that the nation of Israel were meant to live under.  However, in the New Testament,  it’s Jesus who tells us that he has fulfilled the law – and in the book of Acts we read about the Apostle Peter who receives a vision from God filled with all the animals that once were considered UnClean in the OT but God tells Peter in Act 10- God’s made it clean.

We don’t follow the OT because Jesus brought a New Covenant – and his laws aren’t written on stone tablets but on our hearts.

Really, what we find in the NT is a changeover – from laws telling us how to live – to descriptions of the kind of human beings God will turn us into through faith in Jesus.  And the reason is that laws never work – we only work hard to find loopholes and workarounds.

God wants to turn us into people who naturally and easily, are loving and kind.  And not loving and kind through grit teeth, because we have to be.

One last question you might be asking but probably would not write down – but someone might ask – who cares anyway – it’s still a 2000 plus year old document – why would I think it has any bearing upon life today in 2020.

I’d say two things.  First – we have to be careful when we say things like, we know so much better than what they knew then.  We want to be careful that we don’t fall victim to this cultural superiority.  Where we say we are the enlightened ones and they were stupid.

And so – for instance – we have a tendency to look at the way people live in 1950 with disbelief.  How could they live like that.  Everyone smoking – the ways husband and wives – it’s just so weird and foreign to us and they were so ignorant. I read this week that George Washington died – he got sick and went to the doctor and said – you better let some blood out of me – I’m not feeling well – and they eventually removed 40 percent of the blood of his body.  And he died.  Surprise?  We say I can’t believe they were so dumb!

But what will they say in 50 years about you and me today?  What will they say in 2070 about us today – I can’t believe they used to live like that?

It would be pure speculation.  We are blind to our own cultural issues.  But what we do know is that the Bible has endured as relevant for 2000 years of life.  Because the Bible has one theme – which is we are sinful and in 2070 we will still be dealing with our selfish nature.

And the Bible teaches us that God cares for us and will be with us through thick and thin.  And there will be times that are thicker and thinner in the future as it was in the past.  And the Bible acts as a mirror for us to peer into to see what need adjusting and changing, as it has for 2000 years.

And it tell us we can become people who love others, treat people with respect, work hard, be good bosses, how to love our wives, and respect our husbands, and teach our kids, and live in our country.

It handles all of life’s best questions – Like what is wisdom.  What is love.  What is the meaning of life?  How to handle hardship.

It’s all here.  And worth reading.  And all of our FAQ’s we will answer in the coming weeks are going to be answered with – what does the Bible teach about how to answer this question?

And I’d encourage you to be reading it.  Not just reading about it.  Not just listening to sermons on it.  But picking up your bible and reading it in 2020, just like they did in 120.

Read it.  Memorize it.  Meditate upon it.  Listen to God through it.  Set up a reading plan and read through the New Testament.

Post a comment