In our 21st century American culture we have Bibles everywhere. Perhaps this has caused us to lose our sense of awe for the Scriptures. So when you open that drawer in your hotel room or pick up the study Bible from your bookshelf, how can you regain the sense that what you hold is more than just a revelation . . . it's a miracle? In this message Stephen helps us settle that question once and for all.
“The Breath of God”
Let’s take a personal survey this morning – you don’t have to turn to any scripture. In fact, I would recommend you don’t write anything down – but calculate in your mind the answers to these questions?
How many hours this past week did you spend reading the newspaper, or magazine? 15 minutes, an hour or 2?
How many hours this past week did you spend watching television, videos or going to the movies, watching basketball . . . 3 hours, 4, or 5?
Now put down how many hours you spent reading and studying the Bible.
Now we could argue about the value of hobbies and playoff games and movies and the newspaper and never really get anywhere – in fact, I’m not even suggesting that any of those things are wrong.
My argument is not along the lines of any inherent value in any one of those things; my concern has to do with the influence those things have on the believer’s mind and heart.
We seem to be exposed to everything but the Bible.
One author recently wrote that if all the Bibles were dusted simultaneously, we would have a dust storm that would hide the sun for an entire week.
Is it any wonder that the average Christian today knows a lot about the world
but little about the word?
We can discuss the events of the Middle East, yet know nothing about the Minor Prophets.
We can identify fashion but not define our faith.
We can defend our political preferences but we cannot defend the gospel.
We can quote stock prices but cannot quote scripture.
We know the popular actors and actresses by name, but not the Books of the Bible by heart.
Are we people of the world? Or are we people of the Word?
What the people of God need today is a return to the Word of God.
It is in the Word where we learn to pray; it is in the Word where we learn to commune with God; it is in the Word where we learn to walk in the Spirit; it is in the Word where we discover how to glorify and please our Lord.
Yet, we seem to be everywhere but in the word.
In light of that, consider what King David wrote about the word of God in Psalm 19:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple,
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the dripping of the honeycomb.
In other words, if you want reviving, invigorating, wisdom, joy; if you want endurance and the understanding of what is really right and what is really wrong; if you want something better than gold in the bank and sweet honey to eat, take the Word of God and learn it and live it.
In our last discussion we noticed Paul’s encouragement to the Jewish nation in that they had this incredible distinctive. There are many – Paul will deal with a longer list of benefits to being Jewish in chapter 9. But here in chapter 3 he highlights one which he considers pre-eminent. But you have received the oracles of God.
In our last discussion we reviewed the four views about the Bible:
- It is a collection of fables
- It is a combination of both the word of God and fables
- It is the word of God but not the last word
- It is the final, inerrant word of God
Now the skeptic would say that to believe the Bible is the word of God just because the Bible says it is the word of God is circular reasoning. I mean, everyone would agree that a person on trial for murder can’t simply say, “I’m innocent because I say I’m innocent.”
However, even the most hardened skeptic of scripture would agree that the accused murderer at least should have an opportunity to mount the witness stand and speak in their own defense. Yes, let him be cross-examined. Let’s find out if his story is consistent, worthy of belief. Where are his witnesses. Then the jury will weigh the evidence and see if they are indeed telling the truth.
Erwin W. Lutzer, Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust The Bible (Moody Press, Chicago, IL) 1998, p.36
Can the Bible hold up under close scrutiny?
I remember reading about four high school students who were several hours late for school. They were sent to the principals office to explain where they had been. On the way there they put their heads together and agreed that their story should be the same. They would all say, their car had run over some glass and they had gotten a flat tire. When they arrived at the office they all told the same story. A car had a flat tire! The principal immediately sent them to four corners of a room, with their backs to each other, and he told them to write on a piece of paper, which tire was it that went flat.
A lie is an awful thing to try to defend – and more than likely, over time, the lie will be revealed as a lie. In fact, the more people involved in the lie, the more likely it will be that someone will slip up and mess the story up!
So, let the Bible take the witness stand on it’s own defense. It has 40 authors, written over 1500 years. Let it be cross-examined. And allow it to bring forward the witnesses of history and prophecy and archeology and science and sociology and philosophy and the record of Christ himself to the stand.
In our last discussion we look at the prophets – just 5 prophecies alone of Christ were fulfilled with precision – from his birthplace, to his crucifixion to words he said while on the cross to his burial in a rich man’s tomb. In other words, the Bible came true. And if the Bible came true in it’s prophecies of the Messiah, we have every reason to believe, based on objective evidence, that the Bible is telling us the truth about the future.
In other words, if the Bible was telling the truth about Christ’s first coming, the Bible if very likely telling the truth about Christ’s second coming. . .as detailed in the Book of Revelation.
Can you imagine that future day when Jesus Christ, will give testimony to the holy scriptures. In Revelation 19:13, we read of that moment when Jesus Christ returns to earth and, “He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called the Word of God.”
In Romans chapter 3 and verse 2, Paul tells the Jews – you received the logia of God. The oracles, the revelation, the very words of almighty God.
Well, just what do these oracles say about themselves?
Do they consistently claim to be the word of God? There is absolutely no doubt about it. In fact, more than 2,000 times in the Old Testament alone, the Bible claims that God spoke what is written within it’s pages. From Genesis to Malachi, it claims to be sourced from God.
In the New Testament, more than 40 times you’ll read the phrase, “the word of God.”
- In Mark 7:13 the New Testament is equated with the Old Testament.
- In Luke 5:1, we’re told that Jesus Christ preached the Old Testament.
- In Acts 4:31 we read that the Apostles preached the Word of God with boldness.
- The word of God was the message the Gentiles heard as Peter preached in Acts 11:1.
- It was also the content of Paul’s preaching throughout his missionary journeys in Acts chapter 13,15, 16, 17 and 18.
- Paul was careful to tell the Corinthians that he preached the Word as it was given directly from God and that he had not changed any of it (2 Corinthians 2:17, and 4:2)
- In Colossians Paul announced that the word of God was the foundation and source of his teaching and preaching.
By the way, for those who say that Jesus Christ is only a good man, a good teacher of moral truth and nothing more. Well, they evidently don’t know who He claimed to be. Over and over in the New Testament he claimed to be the embodiment and revealer of Deity. He claimed to be older than Abraham. He claimed to have created the universe. He claimed to be able to forgive sins. He claimed to give people eternal life. He claimed to be the only way, the only truth and the only life.
If Jesus Christ was not telling the truth, then untold millions of people have, and still are, following a liar. If He was not who He said He was, then He is not a good teacher – He is not a good man, He is, in fact, the greatest deceiver to ever walk the face of the earth.
Well, in that same way, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bible is not a good book at all unless it is, in fact, what it claims to be - the very words of God. If it is not the revelation from God about God and man and the universe as it claims it is; if it does not hold the secret to eternal life as it says it does; then it is not a good book but a wretched, deceiving, manipulative Book of lies. It is not a even little good and a little bad. It is either true, or it is the greatest hoax ever put into print in the history of mankind.
You cannot get away with saying, “It is only a good Book!” For the Bible undeniably claims to be the words, the oracles, the revelation of God.
Well, just how did God deliver His words to mankind? Did he write it in the sky – hide it in some dark cave – reveal it with magic or strange markings on stone tablets?
How did mankind receive from God His words? I’m so glad you finally asked!
In the Book of 2 Peter we’re told that the authors of scripture were men “moved by the Holy Spirit as they spoke from God.”(2 Peter 1:21) That phrase, “moved by the Holy Spirit” translates the Greek verb, pheromenoi. It means to be swept along by power outside oneself.
The same verb is used in Acts 27 where Paul is in a storm at sea about to shipwrecked. Luke records in verse 14. But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; 15. and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along . . . 17. After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along.
Just as the ship was moved along and controlled by the wind, so the human authors of the scriptures were moved along and controlled by the Divine author in their hearts and minds. (40 authors over 1500 years . . .)
What’s even more fascinating is that God’s controlling and moving in the hearts of the human author’s is actually likened as well to the wind.
In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that “All scripture is inspired.” The word inspired is a compound Greek word – theo meaning God, and pneustos, which literally translated is wind, or breath.
Thus the scriptures are the breath of God! They are sourced as it were from the very mouth of God.
That’s the same idea Paul used in Romans chapter 3 verse 2. He tells the Jews that they had been given the stewardship of the oracles – the very words from the mouth – of God.
The question remains – how did human authors, under the controlling power of the Holy Spirit, as we’ve seen, record, receive, the breath of God.
First of all through ordinary developments.
Luke, for example, wrote to his friend, a official of some sort, named Theophilus. And Luke told him in his opening comments that he had done careful research before he wrote his account of the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Listen as he writes his opening remarks to Theophilus. “In as much as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2. just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3. it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4. so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
In other words, Luke researched, journaled, recorded, interviewed, developed and time-lined in consecutive order the events he had heard from eyewitnesses. And Luke wrote it down – while at the same time, under the moving wind in his sails from the breath of God.
Secondly, the Bible was received through ordinary descriptions.
God moved among these human author’s, controlling the product of their quills and yet giving them at the same time the freedom to write in their own style, through their own personality, with their own descriptions of events.
Paul writes with his legal mind with complicated grammar and vocabulary. Mark writes with his youthful enthusiasm, with rough grammar and simple words.
And they recorded very human elements. Paul writing to Timothy says, “When you come to me bring along my coat – I left it at Troas with Carpus . . .” (I’m so glad Paul forgot something . . . gives me hope!)
At the same time, not one of the Bible’s contributing assistant authors ever wrote, “I think I am right on this one, but I could be wrong . . .” or “You probably won’t agree with me about this, but . . .” No, they wrote, “Thus saith the Lord. . .”
Thirdly, through Divine dictation
There were times when God spoke to man. Moses didn’t one day sit down and say, “Let’s see, I wonder how this whole world came about . . . it seems to me that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .” No, Moses wasn’t there and he could have never conceived of it without both the record of God brought down through time and the Holy Spirit revealing the inside details – right down to exactly what was created on what day.
Furthermore, Moses never said, “I need some rules for all these people to follow, cause if I don’t give ‘em some rules, I’ll never get this nation under control. . . so I’ll come up with, oh let’s say 10 of them . . . I know, I’ll come up with 10 commandments.” No.
Isaiah could have never sat down, centuries before the birth of Christ and come up with, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign; Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Virgins don’t conceive . . . and God doesn’t become a baby!
God spoke through the Old Testament prophets this way – in Deuteronomy 18:18 we read as God announces, “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
By the way, In fact, we’re told that the prophets didn’t even understand at times what they wrote. Listen as Peter writes, “the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11. seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you. . .” (I Peter 1:10-12)
The mystery of inspiration is this dual authorship. That God collaborated and controlled mankind to produce inerrant text – the written word of God.
This same mystery of collaboration, by the way, of the Written word is seen in the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. God collaborated and controlled a woman named Mary and sinless God the Son became flesh robed deity.
By the way, if you can understand the incarnation, you can understand inspiration. Chances are, you, like me, cannot begin to understand either one.
Now I’ve been asked a number of questions about this topic that I’ll never be able to answer if we ever hope to make it to verse 3 in Romans chapter 3.
I have in my hand a wonderful, easy to follow defense of the Bible by Pastor Erwin Lutzer, one of my favorite authors. It’s a book entitled Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust The Bible, published by Moody Press. I recommend you get it for your library.
But before we close, let me at least address a couple more issues. One of them is the issue of the canon of Scripture.
Now, lest you think I’m talking about firearms, let me explain.
The word canon is actually a metaphor – a play on words. It comes from the Greek word kanon which means “a rod or a measuring bar.” The Greek term came from a root word that meant “a reed.” In Bible times a reed was used as a Hebrew unit of measure. So, the word came to mean, in a metaphorical sense, a measuring standard.
Article in GreenHouse Notebook, Extra, Extra by John MacArthur entitled, How To Get The Most Out Of The Bible, p. 24
Eventually, the term canon was used to refer to the completed list of books given to man by God. Athanasius, the godly bishop of Alexandria in the 4th century referred to the 27 books of the New testament as the completed canon.
Before him was Melito, the bishop of Sardis writing around A.D. 170 and he actually listed the Books of the Old Testament. No apocryphal or other dubious writings were included in the lists.
It wasn’t until more than 1,000 years later, at the Council of Trent, that the Roman Catholic Church officially declared the Apocrypha to be part of the canon. It is significant however to know that the Council of Trent was the response of the Roman church to the teachings of Martin Luther, a converted monk as well as the rapidly spreading Protestant or protesting movement.
Wayne Grudem wrote some insightful words in his Systematic Theology: he records that by affirming the Apocrypha as a part of the canon, the Roman church affirmed writings that supported their doctrines such as prayers for the dead and justification by faith plus works. More importantly, Roman Catholic leaders could hold that the church has the authority to constitute what is Scripture, while Protestants held that the church can not make something to be scripture, but can only recognize what God as indeed revealed.
Grudem went on to use an analogy or illustration. He said, a police officer in his investigation can recognize counterfeit money as counterfeit and can recognize genuine money as genuine, but he cannot make counterfeit money to be genuine, nor can any declaration by any number of police make counterfeit money to be something it is not.
Today when we use the term “canon of scripture” we are actually saying the 66 Books of the Bible is a complete record of Divine revelation. And I would add with my Protestant forefathers, that no church or council has authority over sacred Scripture. No, sacred scripture has all authority over the church.
But how did the early believers identify true scripture?
- Through the providence of God’s protection and preservation.
We know that Paul actually wrote more letters than God preserved. But the Bible says it is sufficient for every good work . . . that means we won’t discover one day that the believer has lived for 1,000’s of years without some N.T. Book written by Paul or someone else that he or she needed all along in order to live an obedient life for God’s glory. No, God preserved everything for us that we needed.
- Through the record of authorship – a prophet or a member of the Apostolic community wrote the Books of the canon.
- Then there is the test of content (this is actually where it gets obvious as to what God breathed and what man created).
For instance – the Shepherd of Hermas claimed to be sacred writings yet it teaches the necessity of penance and the possibility of the forgiveness of sins at least one time immediately after baptism. In other words, you’d want to save up a really big sin for right after you got baptized because it would automatically be forgiven.
The Gospel of Thomas which was held by many to belong to the canon ends with this strange conversation8: “Simon Peter said to them “Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said,: “Lo, I shall lead her, so that I may make her a male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling all males. For every woman who makes herself a male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Above comments taken from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI) 1994, p.54
- Through the test of usefulness and spiritual growth
In other words, the impact of scripture on a life, radically changes the lifestyle. That was one of the ancient tests of authenticating scripture.
Dennis Prager and an atheist professor named Jonathan Glover of Oxford were publicly debating on the authenticity of scripture. Prager posed this question, “If you, Professor Glover, were stranded at midnight in a desolate Los Angeles street, and if, as you stepped out of your car with fear and trembling, you were suddenly to hear the weight of pounding footsteps behind you, and you saw ten burly young men who had just stepped out of a tenement house coming toward you, would it or would it not make a difference to you to know that were just leaving a Bible study?”
The world knows that those young men who’ve just finished studying the Bible would be most likely, not to hurt that man, but to help him.
Ladies and Gentlemen, other books were given for our information. This Book was given for our transformation.
These are the sacred words, the very breath of God.
Let’s explore this thought a little further . . . just what does the Word of God Do?
In the life of the church:
For starters, the Word makes the difference between being a dead church or a living church. Have you ever walked into a church and felt death? I have. I can smell it. It’s nothing more than a morgue with a steeple.
In Revelation, the Lord rebuked a well known church that had left obedience to the scriptures by saying to it, “You have a reputation for being alive, but I know you are dead.” (Rev. 3:1)
Jesus Christ rebuked the church in Laodicea as well in Revelation 3. He told them they were blind – they couldn’t see spiritual issues clearly. He said to them, “I know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind. . .” Not a list of things a church wants to be, right? He said, to them, “You’re blind.”
It’s more meaningful if you understand that Laodicea, the city where this church was located, was famous for producing a medicine called the tephra Phrygia. It was exported in tablet form and then ground down and mixed with water and applied to the eyes. The Phrygian powder was held to be a wonderful remedy for weak and ailing eyes. It was to the church in this city that Christ said to them in verse 18, “I advise you to buy from Me eye salve to anoint your own eyes, that you may see.”
What’s the solution – for both of these churches – it was to listen to the written warning, the sacred words God.
What does the word do in the world?
It is the instrument for bringing unbelievers to saving faith
Paul wrote in Romans 10:17 Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
The Apostle Peter wrote, “You have been born again . . through the living and enduring word of God.” (I Peter 1:23)
What does the word do in the believer’s life?
The Bible is the complete, sufficient resource for living a holy life.
2 Tim. 3:16, 17 All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable . . . that the
believer might be thoroughly equipped.. – the word equipped was used for a wagon that was fully stocked for the journey. The Bible says, “As you go through the journey of life – stock your wagon with the Word . . . it’s everything you need.”
You’re not missing a Book by some prophet, or a letter from some Apostle. You have everything you need. The better question is, “Just what are you doing with what you have been given?”
My friends, your response to the study of the word should never be – “I’m gonna think about doing the things God wants me to do . . . I just might put some of them into action . . . I’ll think about it.” No, the true student of the word opens it’s pages with the attitude, “I will do them” . . . I will believe Him . . . I will obey Him.”
Let me tell you a story and then we’ll have to leave. Let me say again, that if you would like spiritual council or prayer, we have counselors sitting at the front each service who would be delighted to pray with you and open the scriptures with you – I’ll be here as well until everyone who wants to has had an opportunity to speak or to pray with me.
There was once a businessman who had to leave town for quite some time. He as the president of his own business and had several hundred employees. Before he left town he sat down and wrote a long letter – detailing projects he wanted accomplished, clients he wanted contacted and, in general, what he wanted them to do while he was away. He finished it, put it in the company post office box and flew away. He was gone for several months. At last he returned, and has he drove his car up into his company’s parking lot, he immediately noticed the grounds were in disarray. The grass hadn’t been cut for weeks – there were a couple of broken windows. He parked his car and went in. Employees were lounging at their desks – drinking coffee and talking. Feet propped up on tables and most of the employees were dressed in anything but work clothes. He immediately called a meeting of his entire staff. They assembled. He said, “I can’t believe what I’ve seen – everything’s different than what I expected. He asked, “Did you get my letter?” Oh, they brightened up, “Yes, sir, we did – we love that letter – we read it just about every day – in fact, one man spoke up, I’ve memorized a paragraph from your letter – it’s so clear, they all said.” Another spoke up, “Sir, we’ve organized some study groups and we gather at least once a week and re-read your letter to make sure we understand it all.” The president said, “But, did you call those clients, did you finish those projects? Did you do the things I asked you to do?” Everyone sort of hung their heads. Then one man spoke up for all of them and said, “No sir, you see we’re still studying your letter.”
My friends, the problem is not what we do not understand about the Bible. The problem is what we understand, and do not do.
We all, my friends, have been entrusted with the very sacred breath of God, the inspired letter from God. What are you going to do with it today? What are you going to do about it tomorrow?
It’s one thing for us as a body of believers to simply say, “We believe the Bible!” It’s another thing to behave, just like you say, you believe.
May our belief and our behavior be one and the same, for the glory of God and in obedience to the breath of God – His holy word.