For the last several weeks Bill and I have been hammering the importance of reading the Bible. Over and over we have exhorted and encouraged you to spend time regularly in the Word of God. It's a new year and a great time to start a program that will take you through the Bible in a year. How many of you are attempting to read through the Bible this year? We encourage you to spend time in the Bible, because we believe that it is God's inspired Word. Is that just faith or wishful thinking on our part? Is the Bible really trustworthy? Is it really the Word of God?
Today, I want to look at what makes the Bible the reliable standard we can trust. A book that can be counted on to bring spiritual clarity and direction for someone who is truly seeking to know God's will. My goal is that by the time you walk out of here today you'll know just a few of the reasons why it makes sense to believe the Bible.
So, let's take a look at this book. I believe we discover four validating characteristics of the bible when we dig deep into its character and content.
The first is that the Bible is Unique. In fact, people read and study the Bible because it is unique:
A. It is Unique in Composition:
Unlike the average book, the bible was written over 1600 years, on three continents - Asia, Africa, and Europe - and in three languages - Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. It was written by 40 different authors - all from radically different backgrounds: fishermen, philosophers, peasants, kings, scholars, tax collectors, poets, and statesmen. It's divided into 66 smaller books. Yet there is a continuity and consistency of one common theme woven through its pages.
B. The Bible is also unique in Circulation:
The Bible has been copied and circulated more extensively than any other book in human history. In the last year alone, 530.6 million Bibles, New Testaments and excerpts of the Bible were distributed worldwide. It's been on the best seller list since the day records were kept.
Those statistics are even more impressive when you consider the fact that of all the new books that are written and published every year, less than one percent are still being produced just seven years later.
C. And it is unique in Translation:
The Bible is the single most translated book in history. It is written in over 1,700 different languages have the Bible. No book comes close to the Bible's availability.
D. It is unique with regard to its Durability:
It has survived bans, burnings, ridicule, and criticism. Kings, princes, and rulers have all tried to eradicate the Bible and have been unsuccessful. The Bible has been subjected to more abuse, perversion, destructive criticism, and pure hate than any other book. Yet, it continues to stand the test of time while its critics are refuted and forgotten.
E. But most of all, The Bible is Unique with respect to the effect people claim it has had on their lives personally. People read lots of books, usually finishing and then going on to the next one. Not the Bible! People read it over and over. They memorize it, and write songs using its words. People carry it with them. They even own multiple copies.
In the most intimate of moments, the Bible is the book we turn to for comfort, healing, and hope because; we believe its words are alive. No other book has that kind of effect on us.
But the Bible is not just unique. When you dig deeper into the evidence, you encounter a second discovery: Not only do people open the Bible because it is unique, but critics respect the Bible because it is authentic.
Based on the evidence, critical thinkers have concluded that the Bible is an accurate and credible ancient document; so accurate that it has earned their respect. In determining the authenticity of an ancient document, there are several tests that historians apply. The first is how many copies of the manuscript are still around and how similar are they to one another? The higher the number and the greater the similarity, the more likely that the copies are true to the original writing. In the case of the New Testament, the vast number of ancient manuscripts is overwhelming evidence of its authenticity. In fact, there are more ancient copies of the New Testament than any other document in all of literature.
Did you know that the New Testament weighs in with an astounding 24,300 copies from the first few centuries? And did you know that as textual experts have studied these manuscripts from all over the Middle East, they have discovered only minor variations, none of which change the meaning of the passage in which they are found?
Another evidence of the authenticity of the New Testament is the relatively short interval between manuscript dates and authorship dates. The shorter the span between the date of the oldest copy still in existence and the date of the original writing, the less likely that the copy has deviated from the original.
What about the New Testament? It was completed in A.D. 70 and the oldest fragment still in existence is of John 18. It's dated at A.D. 125, an interval of only 55 yrs from the original writing. That's the shortest time span of any ancient work. That's why one scholar has concluded, "If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt." (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? p. 15.)
You can be sure that the text from which your Bible was translated into English is virtually identical to those written by Matthew, Paul, and the other New Testament writers.
But what about the Old Testament, that part of the Bible written long before the time of Christ? How do we know it hasn't changed? The authenticity of the Old Testament is confirmed by the consistency of manuscripts over an incredibly long time span. Let me explain what I mean.
In the 1948 printing of his book, Our Bible and Ancient Manuscripts, the great scholar, Sir Frederick Kenyon, wrote that he doubted scholars would ever find manuscript copies of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament that were older than the Massoretic text.
The Masoretic Text of the Old Testament was produced in A.D. 900 by a group of Hebrew scribes known as the "Masoretes" (that's why it's called the Masoretic text!).
When Kenyon wrote his book in 1947, it was the oldest ancient manuscript of the entire Old Testament. But at virtually the same time his book was rolling off the presses, thousands of miles away, a young Arab boy was walking along the shore of the Dead Sea. For fun, he picked up a stone and randomly threw it into one of the hundreds of caves in the cliffs that surround it. To his surprise, he heard something shatter. When he crawled in to investigate, he found a broken pottery jar and some old manuscripts, the first of the collection that came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Soon archeologists were excavating caves throughout the area. They were amazed to find fragments of every Old Testament book and several complete copies.
Investigation revealed that the scrolls had been produced at Qumran, a Jewish settlement, which existed between 125 B.C. and A.D. 68. That means that the newly found manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls version of the Old Testament, had to have been produced around 100 B.C., which is almost 1,000 years prior to the Masoretic text.
If errors and changes had crept into the Old Testament over time, it would surely be discovered when the Masoretic text was compared to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Guess what? The only variations over 1,000 years amounted to what could be categorized as minor spelling errors!
I can't even sign my name the same way twice! Yet Jewish scribes had been accurately transcribing the scripture for a millennium. That amazing consistency has led most scholars to conclude that the Old Testament text has been preserved from the time of the originals, and that the Bible we read today contains the authentic writings of Moses and David and the prophets.
When you dig deeper into the evidence, you encounter a third discovery: Not only do people open the Bible because it is unique and authentic, but we also find that it is accurate.
How do we know that what the Bible says happened, really did happen? How do we know for sure that there really was a man named Jesus who claimed to be God, or that some guy named Abraham really did become the father of many nations?
The greatest evidence of the Bible's accuracy is the continuing archaeological confirmation of disputed historical details. Jewish archaeological expert, Nelson Bloch, states: "It may be categorically stated that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Even when there have seemed to be contradictions with the most up-to-date discoveries, the eventual evidence maintained the accuracy and integrity of the Bible."
Let me give you an example. In Daniel 5, the Bible references a man named Belshazzar as the King of Babylon. The historical records held that another man was King of Babylon. This was a clear-cut contradiction. However, in 1956, archaeologists unearthed three stones that contained the inscribed information that solved the problem. It seems that the man who was King decided to lead his armies into battle and so he temporarily installed Belshazzar as King. Once again, it was the Bible that had the more precise account.
An important recent discovery is evidence for the existence of King David. The Bible says the young David slew the Philistine giant, Goliath, and went on to found Jerusalem. David's story is an exciting tale of murder, adultery, deceit, and extraordinary faith and courage. The story is so fantastic, many biblical scholars have long thought, that even David must have been made up.
Then came what Seymour Gitin of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in East Jerusalem calls "one of the greatest finds of the 20th century." In 1993, Israeli archaeologists digging in the Golan Heights unearthed a piece of stone from an ancient monument. Inscribed upon it, in ancient Aramaic, were the words "King of Israel" and "House of David."
The story so shook some scholars that they insisted the find was phony or the inscription incorrectly translated. A year later, however, archaeologists found more fragments of the monument with additional inscriptions referring to the ancient king. Today the new scholarly consensus is that David was real. "Not because the Bible says so," says Ronny Reich of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, "but because archaeology has found it."
Recent expeditions at Shechem, where the Bible says Abraham built an altar to God, prove an organized community existed there during Abraham's time nearly 4,000 years ago.
Archaeologists sifting through a 2,000-year-old garbage dump at Masada in Southern Israel unearthed a wine jug inscribed with the name of King Herod. It was the first object ever found bearing the name of the great Judean king mentioned in the Gospels.
The bottom line is that when it comes to the issue of reliability, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the Bible is an authentic and accurate portrayal of real people and real events.
4. Divinely Inspired:
It's one thing to say that the Bible is trustworthy because it is unique, authentic, and accurate. It's quite another to say that it is "divinely inspired." Yet, that is exactly what the Bible claims for itself.
2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
What that means is that, through the Holy Spirit, God revealed Himself and his plans to particular individuals, who wrote down his message for his people. That doesn't mean that they went into a trance, and God moved their hands to write. Using their own minds, talents, language, and style, God led them to write what needed to be written. The claim of the Bible is that God was in control of its writing.
How do we know that the Bible is the inspired Word of the Living God? The first piece of evidence is fulfilled prophecies. No other book in the world contains the kind of specific prophecies found all throughout the pages of the Bible. There is no comparison, for example, between the Oracles of Nostradamus and the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ. The prophecies of the Old Testament are often so obvious, that many secular scholars have unsuccessfully attempted to assign later dates to some of these prophecies to make it appear that the prophecies were made up after the events. That's how stunning some of this stuff is.
Let me give you an amazing example from the prophet Ezekiel. He made a number of predictions about the destruction of the Tyre. Tyre was a Phoenician stronghold. Tyre was a fairly significant city, a large city on the west coast of Phoenicia, now known as Palestine. And the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel in verse 2 of chapter 26 telling about the destruction of the place:
Ezekiel 26:2 (NKJV) "Son of man, because Tyre has said against Jerusalem, 'Aha! She is broken who was the gateway of the peoples; now she is turned over to me; I shall be filled; she is laid waste.'
In other words, because Tyre mocked Jerusalem:
Ezekiel 26:3-14 (NKJV) "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: 'Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against you, as the sea causes its waves to come up. 4 'And they shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. 5 'It shall be a place for spreading nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,' says the Lord GOD; 'it shall become plunder for the nations. 6 'Also her daughter villages which are in the fields shall be slain by the sword. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.' 7 "For thus says the Lord GOD: 'Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, with chariots, and with horsemen, and an army with many people. 8 'He will slay with the sword your daughter villages in the fields; he will heap up a siege mound against you, build a wall against you, and raise a defense against you. 9 'He will direct his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. 10 'Because of the abundance of his horses, their dust will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen, the wagons, and the chariots, when he enters your gates, as men enter a city that has been breached. 11 'With the hooves of his horses he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people by the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground. 12 'They will plunder your riches and pillage your merchandise; they will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses; they will lay your stones, your timber, and your soil in the midst of the water. 13 'I will put an end to the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps shall be heard no more. 14 'I will make you like the top of a rock; you shall be a place for spreading nets, and you shall never be rebuilt, for I the LORD have spoken,' says the Lord GOD.
Now that's pretty detailed stuff, folks. I mean, that is not some kind of general prophecy. This is very specific. This is a great Phoenician city. From the seventh century B.C., it controlled Phoenicia. It had strong walls, about 150 feet high and fifteen feet thick. And it was flourishing when Joshua led Israel into Canaan. Hiram the first was its king. He helped David build the palace. And according to 1 Kings 5:10, he helped Solomon build the temple.
Here's what actually happened as verified by secular historians: In 590 B.C., Ezekiel makes his prediction. Four years later, in 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar attacks the coastal city of Tyre. Nebuchadnezzar came and laid a 13 year siege on that city. They were walled cities so all you had to do was, if you couldn't get into the city, you just cut off anything coming into the city, and they eventually starved. It took him 13 years from 585 to 573. Finally, the city surrendered, because they were all dying. And Nebuchadnezzar broke down the walls and the towers, destroyed the city, did every single thing Ezekiel said he would do, and, of course, he wasn't reading Ezekiel when he did it.
He got in the city. He didn't find the spoils. He thought he was going to find spoils, but they had used their fleet to take the spoils out. They took all the spoils to an island a half-mile off the coast because, Ezekiel said, that his army would receive no wages from Tyre. And that is exactly that happened. When he got there, they had taken all the valuables off to the island, Nebuchadnezzar had no naval force to go off and get it.
Ezekiel 29:18-19 (NKJV) "Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon caused his army to labor strenuously against Tyre; every head was made bald, and every shoulder rubbed raw; yet neither he nor his army received wages from Tyre, for the labor which they expended on it. 19 "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: 'Surely I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; he shall take away her wealth, carry off her spoil, and remove her pillage; and that will be the wages for his army.
The island then became the new city. And it flourished for 250 years out on that island.
Only part of the prophecy was fulfilled; the part about Nebuchadnezzar, the part about destroying the walls, smashing it down, slaughtering the people, not getting the spoil, but not all of it was yet complete. The ruins were still on the old sight. The rubble was still there. After 250 years, a 24-year-old guy by the name of "Alexander the Great" showed up. He had 33,000 infantry men, he had 15,000 cavalry. He had just defeated the Persians and he was on his way to Egypt. He needed supplies. So he came by the now island city of Tyre and he sent word, "I want you to supply all of my men and all of my horses and all of my army." And they said, "Forget it, buddy, you don't have a navy, and we're on an island, we're not going to help you at all."
He didn't like that. And it wasn't good to get Alexander mad. He didn't have a fleet, so he decided he had to get a way to go to that island, so he did what Ezekiel, the prophet, said would be done. It said that the place would be scraped bare as rock and all the rubble would be thrown into the sea. Well, what conqueror in his right mind would ever do that? Why waste your time once you've conquered the place, picking up everything and throwing it in the ocean all the stone and all the rest of it? But that's exactly what had to happen. So Alexander did it. He took all the debris and built a 2,000-foot long, 200 foot wide causeway all the way to the island with all the debris.
Now the island had fortified itself as well with powerful walls that reached right down to the edge of the sea. And as Alexander got closer, he realized he's going to have to get over those walls. So, in order to pull it off, he built these massive towers, 165 feet high, according to the record, 20 stories high, and they held artillery and they held a drop bridge. They just pushed the towers out the causeway, shot at the people from them, when they got to the wall, dropped the bridges down and walked right in. In the process, of course, all the way along the people are throwing things and shooting things off the wall, and they invented what were called tortoises, big shells that they held over the workers who were building the causeway. It took him seven months. He went in and murdered 8,000 people, over a period of a few months executed 7,000 more and sold 30,000 into slavery and fulfilled every single detail of the prophecy. And though the city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt 17 times, Tyre has never been rebuilt. And that's exactly what God said. You will be built no more.
Today, the original mainland site of Tyre is as "bare as a rock." And you know what they do there today? They dry fish nets there, just as Ezekiel said. There is a city named Tyre, but it exists only as a small fishing village down the coast from the ancient city. Ezekiel couldn't have guessed that those things would happen. The story of Tyre and others is evidence that God directed the writing of the Bible.
Historical Prophecy makes you ask, "How did the Bible know?" The New Testament tells us how it knew:
2 Peter 1:21 (NKJV) for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament concerning Jesus of Nazareth also point to divine inspiration. The writing of the Old Testament was completed several hundred years before Christ's birth, so there is no way any of these predictions could have been written after Jesus was born.
There are over 300 prophecies that were literally fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. What are the chances that so many prophecies could all come true in the life of one man? Peter Stoner in his book, Science Speaks, says, "... the probability that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled just eight of the prophecies is 1 in 1017. That's 1 with 17 zeros after it."
In order to comprehend this, imagine taking 1017 silver dollars and laying them on the face of the state of Texas. They will cover the entire state two feet deep. Then mark one of the silver dollars and somehow stir the whole pile thoroughly, all over the state. Put on a blindfold, travel as far as you wish, and on the first try, pick up the marked silver dollar. The chance of that happening is the same as the chance of eight messianic prophecies coming true in any one man.
And remember, that's just for eight of the 300 that have been fulfilled. And that's why one researcher writes, "God designed fulfilled prophecy to be an open demonstration of the divine origin of the scriptures."
Over three thousand times, the bible says, "Thus says the Lord." The bible claims to be God breathed. It never makes the claim that it is just a good book. To disagree with biblical inspiration is to disagree with the Bible itself.
People, it should be clear to all who look into it that the Bible is the Word of God. And because that is true, we should pay close attention to it's commands and promises.
The Bible teaches that apart from Jesus Christ, no one can have a relationship with God:
John 5:23 (NKJV) "that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
1 John 2:23 (NKJV) Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
I was talking with a woman about God. She said that she believed that the Bible was the word of God, and she said she also believed that there were many different ways to heaven. I told her she couldn't have both. If the Bible is God's Word, then it is authoritative and it states that there is only one way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ.
Acts 16:31 (NKJV) So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."
1 Timothy 1:16 (NKJV) However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
To reject the claims of Scripture is to spend eternity in the Lake of fire.
Believers, since we believe that the Bible is God's Word, shouldn't we spend more time in it? We know that faith pleases God:
Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV) But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
And we also know that faith comes from God's word:
Romans 10:17 (NKJV) So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
If we want to live lives pleasing to God, we must have faith, and since faith comes from hearing the Word of God, the more time we spend in it the greater our faith will grow, and the more we will live lives pleasing to God. Jesus said:
John 13:17 (NKJV) "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.