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"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23)

Is the Bible Trustworthy?

by J. C. Wenger

The question of the trustworthiness of the Bible is one that requires both careful investigation and genuine humility. At the very outset it must be confessed that Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God, a revelation that the Father has in His love and grace given to men through the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. In a very real sense, Christians are not judges of the Word as much as the Word is their judge. On the other hand, Christians are aware that God does not ask anyone to close his eyes to the character of the written Word, for it is the function of that Word to make them "wise unto salvation" as they read and ponder its precious pages. As they read those pages they do so with the knowledge that God did not hand His Word down from heaven in a basket; rather, He moved His prophets to write as they were "borne" of the Holy Spirit. The Bible does not, from beginning to end, read like a pure oracle from God; it contains more than lust the declaration, "Thus saith the Lord." The Bible contains all kinds of literature: historical narratives such as the lives of the patriarchs; beautiful poetry in which the writers bless their God, or confess to Him their doubts and fears; prophecies of that glorious Day when God will reconcile men to Himself by the substitutionary death of His Servant; wisdom literature such as the Proverbs, and the book of Ecclesiastes; four portraits of the Lord Jesus in the days of His flesh; an account of the further life of Gods people after the Day of Pentecost had fully come; a score of letters for the guidance of the early church; and a glorious drama, the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse. The man who goes to the Bible expecting t to read as if it came only from God, and as if it possessed no evidence of its human authors, is in for a surprise! We may therefore summarize our first observation: the Bible is, paradoxically, both the word of man and the Word of God. It is rot partly human and partly divine; it was all written by human beings, and it is all the very Word of God.

In the second place, it cannot be forgotten that the Bible is a religious Book, Take the beautiful account of the creation, for example. The Babylonian myths of creation contain, to be sure, various points of similarity to the Mosaic account. And yet the differences are even more striking. Whereas the myths of the ancient Near East are full of imaginary details, and are saturated with polytheism, the Genesis account is sober, chaste, and monotheistic. If a university professor of today were to write an account of the creation it is likely that sooner or later he would get around to the scientific details of the earth, the solar system, and our galaxy. He would tell us of the size, shape, and mass of the earth, of the size and shape of its orbit, of its relation to the sun and to the other planets of our sun, of the moons of the various planets, of the elements which make up the crust of the earth, and of the plants and animals and their modern classification as to kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, and sub-species! Now if the Bible must contain classifications which were devised by scientists within the last two centuries, or face the charge of being "unscientific," we are destined to be disappointed! But surely that would be unfair to the Bible. How could we demand that a collection of books which were written from possibly 1,500 B.C. to around 100 A.D. should contain viewpoints which were still undreamed of in 1,500 A.D.? The Bible has a far more important task than to record the scientific theories of either B.C. 1,500 or A.D. 1,500. It was written with a religious purpose in mind. And although it does contain more than just religious truth, its whole orientation is religious. Genesis 1, for example, looks at earth, sea, and sky; at plants, trees, and animals; at sun, moon, and stars: and declares simply that God made it all. And He did it in an orderly manner, in six creative, divine "days." And at the end He "rested," that is, He desisted from further labor, thus giving to Israel a theological basis for her holy day of rest.

In the third place, it is not the primary concern of the Bible to write history, although the Bible contains much history. But that history-writing is in Scripture not an end in itself, never! Rather, the history which the Bible gives is to provide a framework for the redemptive acts of God. Here again we have a major difference between the essentially non-historical myths of the ancient Near East and the solid historical consciousness of the prophets of Israel. God did call Abram. He did lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage by "the hand of" Moses. He did make a covenant with His people at Sinai, and give them His law. He did allow His disobedient children to go into foreign captivity, and with a mighty hand He brought them back to their land of Canaan: cured forever of their fascination for idols. The Lord God did effect a mighty miracle in the Holy Spirit conception and virgin birth of our Lord. He did allow wicked men to crucify the Son of God, and on that cross of Golgotha He did reconcile the world unto Himself, not imputing to them their trespasses. On the third day after Good Friday He did raise His Son from the dead, and ten days after His ascension to glory, He did send His blessed Helper, the Holy Spirit. The Bible is surely a book of history. But that history is written only to provide the framework for the redemptive acts of God. It is rot "scientific" history, always dating each event in terms of an Egyptian or Assyrian or Roman calendar, with footnotes, verbatim quotations from secular authorities, etc. And although is not cluttered with the trappings of scholarship, those simple narratives may be depended upon to lead us into a true understanding of who the Lord of history is, and what He has been doing. Furthermore, the archaeologists are now telling us that the very portions of the Bible, which wee formerly scoffed at by "scientific" historians, portray precisely the conditions of the period involved: the patriarchal narratives, for example. Finally, it must be pointed out that the greatest verities of the faith cannot be "proved" by secular research, For example, the Genesis accounts of Abraham do ring true to the life of that place and period. But most important truth about Abraham was his call from God to leave Ur and become God's pilgrim, and that truth we must accept by simple faith.

Sometime ago I was in conversation with Leonard Verduin, a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, and the translator of the complete writings of Menno Simons. Verduin commented that the Bible is written in such a way that it does not make research in any area of humor learning unnecessary. A bit of reflection will substantiate this observation. As a result of archaeological research, we now know more about the history of Israel's neighbors than can be picked up from the references to them in the Bible. We now know much more about the various plants and animals of the world than we can learn from the Bible. We know the numerical value of pi much more accurately than did the writer of I Kings 7:23 (diameter times 3 is the circumference of the "molten sea" temple lover). 3 1/7 would have been more precise, and today we sometimes write 3.14159265-although even that s not quite perfect! But I Kings 7:23 was not written to help us find the exact formula for pi, it was written to tell us the approximate size of the lover 15 feet across, 7 1/2 feet high, and 45 feet around. All Biblical data (weights, measurements, distances) is given in the rough approximations of common people. It is often so stated: "about" a Sabbath day's journey, "twenty or thirty" furlongs, and the like, We may therefore stand on solid ground by stating that the Bible tells us who made this world, who is sustaining it, who is its ultimate Ruler, and who will bring history to its great consummation: but scientists must engage in research to unlock many of the secrets of this amazing creation of our God.

No matter how many yardsticks of human measurement we apply to the Bible it always measures the same: an ancient book with many of the characteristics of ancient books: ordinary language, the observations of honest but common witnesses (not modern scholars), the vocabulary and viewpoints of ancient men and women of faith. Even what might crudely be called a Hebrew accent shows up! Tiglath-pileser sometimes is written the way a Jew would have been inclined to pronounce it, Tilgath-pilneser (I Chron. 5;6)!

God also allowed the later copyists the freedom which gave us a text which is remarkably accurate but not infinitely perfect. Slips were most often made in the transcription of numbers was it 700 or 7,000 Syrian charioteers who fell in battle (II Sam. 10:18; I Chron. 19:18)? Certain letters were sometimes mistaken for each other, especially D and R. With a D a certain word means Edom, and with an R it means Syria (I Chron. 18:11; II Sam. 8:12). A few mistakes of the ear got into the text: one Hebrew word pronounced "Lo" means "not", while a quite different word, "Lo", means (roughly) "his" (see the text and the margin, KJV, of Psalm 100:3). *

If then the Bible has certain human characteristics in common with ancient books, wherein does its unique value as the Word of God lie? The answer is, In the disclosure it makes of God's nature, will, and plan of salvation through Christ. Our Lord Himself rebuked the Jews of His day for making the Bible an end in itself, He told them that they searched the Scriptures, thinking that in them eternal life was to be found, whereas it is the true intent of the Scriptures to point to the Lord's Christ, and the Jews, alas, were for the most part unwilling to come to Christ and to find eternal life in Him (cf. John 5:39, 40). After His resurrection from the dead He rebuked the two disciples on the way to Emmaus for being foolish and "slow of heart' to believe the full witness of the prophets. It was, Christ declared, the intention of God that His Messiah (Christ) was thus to suffer "these things," and to enter into "His glory." There upon, He began with Moses and all the prophets and expounded to them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself. All three divisions of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets, and "Psalms") witnesses to Jesus Christ (Luke 24:25, 26, 44one involving the term "ordained," from tetagmeno from tasso, which was once used with a meaning close to election.47). The highest value of the Scriptures is therefore to bring men to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Tim. 3:15, 16. This requires more than the letter; t calls for the Holy Spirit to shine into the dark human heart and bring that illumination which enables men to see Jesus in all the Scriptures (II Cor. 3, 4:6). With the blessing of the Spirit the Scriptures are therefore a trustworthy guide to the Saviour.

J. C. Wenger taught at Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana, and at the Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana. The date of this paper unknown date. The source of this article is bibleviews.com.

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