Romans Lesson 35 - The Sacred Book
Through the diligence and meticulous work of Jewish scribes, the Scriptures were preserved throughout the ancient world in their entirety. But how do we know that what was preserved are God's words and not man's? Can we have confidence that the Bible we hold in our hands is everything God wanted us to know and nothing else? Stephen continues to answer these questions in his series, 'How We Got Our Bible.'
The Sacred Book
When Bergman, the Swedish film director, stood in a cathedral one afternoon, staring at an ancient painting of Christ. A portrait of Christ hung on the wall of that cathedral in Europe and Bergman whispered repeatedly, passionately to it the words, “Speak to me . . . speak to me!” His experience that day, I have read, would become the motivation of his movie entitled “Silence” which portrayed people who despaired in trying to hear from God.
Another film director by the name of Woody Allen once lamented, “We have no spiritual center – we are drifting alone in the cosmos.”
Both quotes taken from Erwin Lutzer, Seven Reasons You Can Trust The Bible (Moody Press, Chicago) 1998, pp. 15, 18)
When the Jew said to Paul in Romans chapter 3, “What advantage is it to being a Jew? If our blood line to Abraham isn’t good enough; if our rituals and observances don’t find us a place in heaven . . . if our suffering as a nation doesn’t get us in favor with God . . . then what good is it that we are Jews?”
And in Romans chapter 3 verse 2 Paul said, “Oh, your advantage is incredible – you were the first people to receive the oracles from God! You were the ones through whom God delivered the sacred Book.”
That statement alone opens up a lot of questions to the 21st century believer and unbeliever and I believe we need to stop for at least one session and answer some of them.
I won’t answer all of them – we have a Catalyst course being taught on Sunday evenings dealing with this very subject – I recommend you take it.
There are four basic views about the Bible:
- The Bible is the word of God (obviously the fundamental belief of the believer).
- The second view is that the Bible is a collection of fables, folk tales, myths and legends. The Bible is simply rejected outright.
Just a few days ago I read about one author named Ernest Renan who has evaluated the text of the Gospels and written a book entitled, The Life of Jesus. He says that all the miracles of the Bible are legends. Lazarus had never completely died. The family wanted people to believe in Jesus so much that they staged the whole deal and had Lazarus pretend he was dead in order to set up a phony resurrection. Mary and Martha helped plan the whole thing.
He also said Jesus never healed anybody but Jesus only aided sick people by His gentleness so that they felt better. Here’s one I especially liked – I found it hard to believe he could write it and keep a straight face at the same time. According to Renan, at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus never actually walked on the water – he wasn’t walking on water but was stepping on a very heavy growth of lily pads.
What about the feeding of the 5,000? Renan declares that a large quantity of food was stored in a nearby cave, Jesus knew about it and ordered His disciples to sneak it out and bring it to Him to disperse to the crowd.
John MacArthur, Jr. How To Get The Most From God’s Word (internet manuscript)
Frankly, it takes as much, if not more, faith to believe Renan than it does the record of scripture.
3) Perhaps a more challenging view of the Bible is the growing, popular view that the Bible is a combination of God’s word and fables, myths and legends.
Of course, the problem with that view is no one has any apparatus for determining objectively what the words of God are and what are the words of man.
In fact, once you get into this particular canoe, the raging water of unbelief will sweep you to a tragic end.
For several years now, a group of pseudo-Bible scholars known as the Jesus Seminar meet to discuss and vote on what Jesus truly said and what is make believe.
Their stated purpose is to “change the way people think about Jesus.” And I assure you, it isn’t to think better of Him. They want to “free the Bible from the religious right” – they want a Jesus that speaks to things that concern modern society like feminism, multiculturalism and political correctness.”
Erwin Lutzer, Seven Reasons You Can Trust The Bible, p. 114
After studying the Gospels, they concluded that only about 18% of the words ascribed to Christ were actually spoken by Him. Which means 82% of it, Christ never said. They met and voted recently on the Lord’s prayer and decided, after much scholarly debate and discussion that the only words Jesus actually said in that prayer were the words, “Our Father.” Frankly though, I was actually surprised they had agreed on the word, “Father.”
Others, out of their unbelief have rejected the New testament as authoritative and whatever you want to believe about Christ, you can believe. Some have written that he was a Jewish reactionary; a charismatic rabbi even a homosexual magician.
The famous Albert Schweitzer wrote his own biography of Christ and concluded that Christ went insane and in His insanity He claimed to be Divine.
Erwin Lutzer, Seven Reasons You Can Trust The Bible, p. 115
One British author wrote that Christ was simply a good, Jewish lad with a brilliant flair for moral teaching . . . but He would have been shocked to think that people would ever worship Him as God.”
One woman who has taught on the college level once wrote that Jesus was part of the sect living in Palestine; he was married and had three children; then he divorced and remarried.
One author believed that Jesus never died on the cross, but lived and traveled with Paul on his missionary travels. It was with Paul in Philippi that Jesus met his second wife.” If that was true, then what in the world was Paul talking about in his letters? They are filled with references to Christ’s death and resurrection!
Several authors, such as some I’ve just referred to were at least honest enough to admit that, quote, “In order to reach such speculations, we are obliged to read between the lines, fill in certain gaps, deal with omissions and with references that are, at best, oblique.”
One author made the jump from John 11 where Mary poured ointment on Jesus’ feet and then dried them with her hair, which was the role of a slave, to actually marrying her and having 6 kids. That’s reading an awful lot between the lines.
Why not? As soon as you view the Bible as anything less that the word from God., and not man, you are open to all sorts of fanciful and even blasphemous notions.
You have, in fact, placed yourself as the authority over the Bible and you now determine what is true and what is not.
Augustine said centuries ago to his own generation, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”
Erwin Lutzer, Seven Reasons You Can Trust The Bible, p. 117
A fourth view that has unfortunately found a warm welcome inside the evangelical church, but also leads to doctrinal danger and abuse is the view that the Bible is the word of God but it isn’t the last word from God.
Men who believe this usually parade about their church platforms announcing their latest revelation from God. God told me this and God told me that. And their congregations are given additional revelation from God – and tragically they have opened the door for the Muslim who says, “I believe that too – and Mohammed in the 7th century heard from God too.”
Of course Muslims believe that Jesus will one day come back to earth as a Muslim, marry, have children, die and be buried near Mohammed. Other Muslim traditions believe when Christ comes back He will kill all the Jews, convert the Christians to Islam and reign as King of all Muslims.
Patrick Sookhdeo, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Islam (Christian Focus Publications and Isaac Publishing, Great Britain, Berkshire) 2001, p. 22
And what can the Christian say about that after being taught implicitly and explicitly that God is still speaking to their leaders? Hey, if this isn’t God’s final word, who can say the Muslim is wrong?
Whose to say they’re wrong. Who is to say that Benny Hinn was wrong when he announced in his crusade in Nairobi the week before I visited the believers there that God had told him that Jesus would appear with him on stage one night during the crusade. I was asked the question – “Did Benny Hinn get that word from God?” Churches were actually splitting over that crusade into those who believed Christ had appeared and those who believed He hadn’t appeared.
I was able to tell them that say, “No.” Why? Because this Book doesn’t end with a comma. It is the last word from God, until Christ appears.
The only thing the true teacher and preacher of God will do is teach what God has already said, not come up something God supposedly just said. That’s why you have never heard, and will never hear me say, “God said to me one night…”
There are many today who hold to the equal authority of apocryphal Books such as the Gospel of Barnabas (not actually included in the Roman “apocrypha”, but one of the disputed books that circulated in the ancient church).
If you read the Gospel of Barnabas, which may have been written as late as the 14th century, you discover the life of Christ rewritten to agree with the tenets of Islam. It denies that Jesus is the son of God; denies the crucifixion.
Patrick Sookhdeo, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Islam, p. 71
By the way, many Muslims believe the Gospel of Barnabas contains the ultimate truth about Jesus Christ – in other words, they believe that God spoke again in the 14th century.
The Mormons believe that God spoke again to Joseph Smith and his writing, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants, are equal to scripture.
The Christian Scientists follow Mary Baker Eddy who believed that she, in her own words, was “the revelator of truth for this age.” She said, “My Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures has God as it’s author – I was only a scribe.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their publication, The Watchtower is “a magazine without equal on earth, because God is the author.”
David Berg, who leads the Children of God refers to himself as a latter-day prophet, and he said in an interview with Christianity Today that his letters written to his followers are “God’s word for today.”
The Bible is God’s word but it isn’t the last word from God.
This fourth view also, of course, has for centuries been the belief of Roman Catholicism. (I’m obviously trying to offend just about everybody this morning – if you feel I’ve left you out, see me afterward)
I’m not trying to offend you – I’m not trying to upset you. I am trying to warn you and protect you as Paul told all who would lead and teach the people of God – our role is to protect the flock from false teaching that would lead them astray (Acts 20).
My friend, the greatest danger facing you has to do with what God has revealed and whether or not you take it seriously and live it or rebel against it.
The very first temptation recorded in the Bible was when Satan slithered up to Eve and said, “Has God spoken?” In other words, “Does God really know what He’s talking about?” Is God’s word the final authority in your life?” And that temptation is still his favorite one.
What are you gonna do with the Bible. Is God’s word the final authority in your life?
In the Roman church, the Pope claims to speak the very words of God. They speak the words of God on whatever subject they address and they make no error. In other words, God is still speaking, and He speaks through them.
These are four views about the Bible:
- The Bible alone is the word of God.
- The Bible is a collection of fables and legends.
- The Bible is a combination of God’s word and legends.
- The Bible is the word of God, but not the last word from God.
We believe that the Bible is in fact a closed Book. That it is the last word from God until Christ comes again.
How do we know that? Because we believe what the Bible says. If it indeed is the word of God, then it says of itself, don’t add anything else to me – and don’t take anything away.
In the Book of Revelation, chapter 22:18 we read, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book;
19. and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. 20. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 21. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
Someone might say, “But that’s only talking about adding to the Book of Revelation.” Before you follow that reasoning too far, remember that Revelation was placed last because of it’s obvious content – it contains the revelation from God about the end of the world as we know it. This is the end of human history – as it empties into Divine, heavenly eternity.
Because of that, it was placed last in the order of sacred Books. Therefore if you add to the Book of Revelation, you are adding to the Bible.
In this life, perhaps not. But in the eternal life to come, oh the horrors, the plagues, the torment upon those who trifled with the word of God and invented their own systems of belief so that people would follow them – are they not plagued now?
Where is Nostradamus now? The man who came from a long line of astrologers and occultic soothsayers, who claimed to know the future of the world and future events up to through the year 8,000 A.D. A man admitted to be wrong many times by his most ardent followers. And how often could a true prophet of God be wrong? Never!
One prophecy that was proven false was a death sentence to that supposed prophet.
Was it possible for a false prophet to get it right? Was it possible for a false prophet to predict some near event correctly, evidently given information by the underworld? Yes. But listen to the Lord’s warning in Deuteronomy 13:1 If a prophet . . . arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2. and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ (in other words, If a supposed prophet comes along and says, “If I predict that you’re gonna break your leg tomorrow and your favorite cow is gonna run away and lightning’s gonna hit your barn and all of that will prove that Jehovah is not the God to follow any more but follow after me and my gods – and guess what happens tomorrow – your cow runs away, lightning hits your barn and you break your leg trying to put the fire out – man, this guy must be for real!) 3. you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4. You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.
In other words, it’s possible for a prophet to predict something that actually comes true – and if it does, it becomes a test to the believer – will they continue to follow the revealed word of God, or follower the prophet who ultimately leads them away from God?
It’s possible for miraculous things to happen even in the name of God, while the messenger, claiming to be a man of God who is speaking in the name of God through Jesus Christ, but is, in fact, a false prophet.
You remember in Matthew 7:22. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23. And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
What if an angel did visit Mohammed and deliver to him in Arabic the Quran and called it further words from God? It denies the virgin birth of Christ, the death and resurrection of Christ, that Christ is God in the flesh.
What if an angel did visit Joseph Smith centuries later and deliver to him new words from God in Egyptian hieroglyphics which became the Book of Mormon? It denies that Christ is God in the flesh, the only true and living God who as God was uncreated and eternal.
Listen to Paul in Galatians 1:6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7. which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
And what of the prophets of scripture. How do we know they told the truth?
One author I read told a story that came right out of the CIA files to illustrate proof of identity.
A Soviet double agent was stranded in Mexico. He received his instructions about how to identify himself to the secretary of the Russian ambassador in Mexico who would meet him and hand him his passport.
Five prearranged signs were given to the ambassador and to the spy so there was no possibility of misidentification.
- When in Mexico City, the spy was to write a letter to the secretary confirming his presence and signing his name on the letter as “I. Jackson.”
- After exactly three days beyond the postmark, he was to go to the Plaza de Colon in Mexico City.
- He was to stand before the statue of Columbus
- He was to have a guidebook open with one of his fingers pointing to a paragraph in the guidebook
- When approached, he was to say, “Isn’t it a magnificent statue; he was then to say that he had traveled to Mexico from Oklahoma.”
Following the fulfillment of those 5 signs, the Russian ambassador could be convinced that this was truly a Russian agent.
Just five signs. Frankly, if all those came true at the right time, in the prescribed manner, the odds were incredibly high that he was in fact the double agent.
Erwin Lutzer, Seven Reasons You Can Trust The Bible, p. 102
There are literally hundreds of prophecy’s in the scriptures, in fact, a huge percentage of the Bible is prophecy.
What did they say about the Messiah, and did they come true in Jesus Christ?
Let me give you five signs:
1) Micah the prophet who said, “But as for you Bethlehem . . . from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.” In other words, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2)
Fulfilled in Luke 2. But someone might say, “Yes, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but He didn’t go on to rule in Israel.” That’s right – you need to keep reading the Prophets.
A second sign: Isaiah said, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers” (Isaiah 53:7)
Fulfilled in Matthew 27:13-14, “Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so that the governor was quite amazed.”
A third sign comes from the pen of King David. He wrote in Psalm 22, “A band of evildoers has surrounded me; they pierced my hands and my feet . . . they divide my garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots” Can you believe that?
Centuries later, those very things happened at Christ’s crucifixion.
A fourth sign would be the words of Christ on the cross. David began Psalm 22 by writing the words of the future Messiah, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
Also fulfilled in Matthew 27 as Christ uttered those very words in agony as fully man, abandoned by the Father and the Spirit.
The fifth sign that Christ was in fact the Messiah comes from the prophecy of Isaiah who wrote with incredible precision of the Messiah, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death.” (Isaiah 53:9)
His grave was assigned with wicked men . . . in other words, Christ, like any other criminal would have been taken from the cross and thrown into a garbage heap or open grave with others who had died as criminals. Yet, Isaiah said, “He would be with a rich man in his death, because, Isaiah adds, He had done no crime [violence].”
Fulfilled in Matthew 27, listen, “And when it was evening, there came a rich man named Joseph . . . he went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given over to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock.”(Matthew 27:57-60)
Christ was with a rich man in his death.
It is simply not possible for several men to have seen so far into the future, writing at different times, yet having their words come to fruition with exact precision.
Someone might say, but I want another sign that the Bible is telling the truth about Christ and redemption. Give me something else besides the scriptures and I will believe. . .I want more proof!
To you I refer to that time when Jesus was preaching to a crowd of people. He told the story of Lazarus and the rich man . . . the rich man was an unbeliever who died and went to Hades, the place of torment, while awaiting the final judgment and placement in hell, according to Revelation 20.
The rich man begs that Lazarus be allowed to come back from the dead and tell his father and brother’s about eternity, and their need to follow after God.
Luke records this amazing afterlife event.
The rich man begs Abraham with whom he is being allowed to converse, 27. And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—28. for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29. But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30. But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31. But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:27-31)
Did you catch that? If a person doesn’t believe the prophets, they won’t believe a man who comes back from the dead.
My friend, what is your view of the prophets? What is your view of the Bible?
Is it a Book of wonderful stories, fanciful legends, and moral teachings?
Is it a combination of God’s word and things men made up to feel better about themselves and life in general.
Is it God’s word, but you want more – you want some additional word and you’ll believe.
Or, is it the word of God, completed, finished, sufficient to equip you for life and eternity?
Have you found the Redeemer calling from its pages?
Have you found light for your path in it’s guidance?
Have your found conviction of sin from the wounding of it’s words;
Have you known forgiveness of God from it’s bloodstained pages?
Have you felt the pleasure of God as you’ve wandered through it’s truth?
To love this Book my friend, is to love its Author. And to obey and love its Author is to love and obey this sacred Book.
Listen to what John Wesley wrote in the 18th century about the Bible:
I am a creature of a only a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God, just hovering over the great gulf ‘till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing – the way to heaven. How to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one Book. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone. Only God is here. In his presence I open, I read His book [and I find] the way to heaven.”
James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume One (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan), 1991, p. 279
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