Lukas: What do you mean “Living Book?” Is the Bible as alive as Pancho the monkey?
MB: Exactly! God, through His Holy Spirit, wrote the Bible through the means of many individuals. Through the Bible, God sends us truth, descriptions of Himself (so that we may know Him and His ways), and directions on how we should live. When we read the Bible, we are not just reading any book but rather one that is alive with God’s Spirit.
The Bible declares itself a “living, breathing document”:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 nas)
RS: Look at the influence of the Bible in our world. If you stuck a syringe into human history and sucked out the influence of the Bible, I think Western history as we know it would completely collapse. Just look at the influence of the Bible on our Declaration of Independence. The Bible has had a direct impact even on the lives of those who have tried to prove it is wrong.
Every believer knows there is a direct actual involvement of the Bible in his or her life. They read passages this year that they read last year; and because of the circumstances in their life now, changes that have occurred, or greater yielded-ness to God, they see things they didn’t see before. The life of the Book is very obvious to them.
MB: That life is the Spirit of the Lord speaking to them through the words of His book at that moment. I had an incredible experience a few years ago that demonstrated this. It was December 26, 1986. I was on a flight to Honduras, and there was an incredible view out my window. We were above a cloud deck at 33,000 feet; it was in the early afternoon. The white light of the sun was making a starburst pattern on the window of the Boeing 737 with white clouds below, deep blue sky and ocean all around. I sat there for an hour totally captivated by this incredible sight, having moments of conversation with the Artist of this masterpiece.
Finally, I said, “Lord, if there was any time that You would want to speak to me, I am listening right now.”
I took out my Bible and randomly opened the pages; it happened to be in the Book of Psalms. My eyes fell on the page, and the first line that I read was “How lovely are Thy dwelling places, Oh Lord of hosts!” It was Psalm 84 that I “happened” to turn to. God was speaking directly to me, sitting in seat 19F, on a flight to Honduras.
I read on, totally enthralled at this encounter with the Living God through His Living Book, finally coming to verse 10 and 11: “For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand outside.” Looking out the window, I had to agree. There was more¾a very personal message for me, a single man who was at the time wondering about career and family issues: “For the Lord is a sun and a shield. The Lord gives grace and Glory. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. Oh Lord of Hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in Thee!”
Looking back many years later, I realize what a specific word this was to me. He has not held back many good things from me. I have the best wife, good children, and a great job. All good things in life He has given me, just as He said He would on this day, as I sat in seat 19F on the Boeing 737!
RS: I had a similar experience recently when I was in front of a group in a question and answer session. In our work, we often are in situations explaining Judaism to Christians and vice versa. Often, these sessions are very uncomfortable due to the nature of the questions being asked, as I find myself on the firing line of their theological debates.
They say the definition of a pioneer is the guy who gets all the first arrows, and I found myself in this particular situation, pioneering a new trail, talking to a group of people about some of the practices they were involved in. That morning, I awoke and knew I was in trouble because I was facing a question and answer session, and my morning reading in Galatians 2 read: “I withstood Peter to his face because he was to be blamed.” I said, “Oh no Lord, what am I getting into?”
I got in front of these people, who were very nice people trying to do the right thing, and they began asking some tough questions. I remember standing behind the lectern saying, “Lord, You need to give me the verses because it needs to be something so powerful and to come directly from your Word.”
I kid you not, three times I opened my Bible, three times it dropped open to the exact verse to answer the question. Now, this is not the recommended kind of preparation. I am a believer in preparing and studying, but I didn’t know what they were going to ask. So it happened on the first question, then the second, and finally, by the third, the group thought I knew all the answers, and I stood there chuckling to myself because I knew none of them. It was a wonderful opportunity, not only to see God at work, but also to see God at work through His Word to His people. The great legacy He has given us is this living love letter from Him.
MB: This letter is the table on which we lay all extra-biblical “revelation” that we receive from God to see if it matches what He has already said in principle in His Word. This is so important; we have this standard to measure our “spiritual experiences” by. Recently, we were in Berea together; this is where a crowd listened to Paul’s message about the Messiah. They went home and “searched the Scriptures” to see if what Paul said washed with God’s Word. It did, and they became believers.
RS: Technically speaking, a theologian would use the term “revelation” for that which God reveals that is otherwise not known ahead of time. If I buy you a new car and I have a covering over it, and you have never seen it, and no one else has seen it, when I take the cover off, it becomes a revelation. The word for God revealing in my heart is biblicalillumination. That is the “light going on” for me. God revealed His Word inside His text. God is in the business of revealing Himself to mankind and then through a second process of revealing Himself to you specifically by taking little cloaks off your eyes and hearts, allowing the light to go on where there was before darkness. Before there was me; now there is Him.
RS: I can hear in the background that there will be skeptics. The skeptics will say, “This Mike and this Randy; they are just fanatics.” By the way, a definition of a fanatic is one that cannot change their mind or the subject. The whole process of illumination is not that I am so rooted in fanaticism but that I can change my mind, as God shows me in His Word. The characteristic of a person who is filled with God’s Spirit, walking with God and is spiritually mature, is a person who has flexibility.MB: There is nothing more special to the believer than when that light comes on; when you feel yourself flooded with God’s presence and an understanding of something you know is just for you. I have piloted some of the fastest jets, eaten in some of the finest restaurants, skied down the best mountains in the world, but there is nothing more special than this personal experience with God through His Word.
Flexibility is what Jesus was highlighting in Luke 15 when He told about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and, finally, the prodigal son. In the latter story, the older brother refused to come to the banquet because he did not forgive his younger brother. The whole purpose of Luke 15 is to say, “You who are mature should be the most willing to embrace that new person or new thing I am doing in the life of another person.” It seems to me, in my Christian experience, that more often than not, the more “mature” an individual is, the less flexible he or she is. But that is not at all a scriptural way of being. The Bible characterizes maturity as “flexible and able to change.”
MB: In fact, it was Jesus Himself who said:
“Every teacher of religious law who has become a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a person who brings out of the storehouse the new teachings as well as the old.” (Matthew 13:52)
There is a dynamic here to be recognized. We should always be ready to be touched by God’s Spirit, to be continually changed and to realize things that He told us today He may tell us in a different way tomorrow. It is like when I talk to my eleven-year-old son today. I talk to him in one way, and then when he is sixteen, I will talk to him in a different way, telling him different things. It is the same way with God. That’s why the Bible to us is such a living document. It’s our heavenly Father speaking to us personally on a daily basis if we let Him. It is our choice.
For many years, it was my choice not to read the Bible. After my years at university studying history, I considered the Bible nothing more than Jewish mythology and men’s opinions. That changed in 1981 when God began to show me this book was an important input into my life. I then began rereading the Bible through the eye of an historian, and I discovered the Bible is good history.
RS: In the time in which we were growing up, we were in an “enlightened age of rationalism.” Ultimately, what people were saying was fundamentally, “There is no God. Therefore, all this is nonsense.”
We have the more modern rationalizer who says, “I think there is a God. I think the Force is with us. But to actually pin down what God is saying is difficult. Man has to be the final judge of revelation.” The problem with all of that is the Bible is self-authenticating. It begins with “In the beginning . . .” God takes no time to express, “By the way, let Me prove I exist.” He says instead, “And now a word from your Creator¾I exist.”
You can believe or not believe it. In the same way an ostrich sticks his head in the sand when a rhino is charging at him, you can say there is no God, and that’s not going to change the end result. Ultimately, the rationalistic kind of age we live in tries to find a way to say, “Look, there is no God.”
But the Bible says, “I am God. I AM and I spoke.” Those are the two fundamentals of my faith. If I am going to come to God, I must understand that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Both of those presuppose that I know He exists and there is a way to find Him. We need in our society to articulate a standard of truth. If God does indeed exist, then there is a standard of truth.
MB: It’s not the situational ethics type of truth we are taught in school but solid truth we can plant our feet on. To me the definition of truth is simple: It is God’s opinion on the matter. How does God feel about this? What does He think? That is truth.
However, today we have relative truth. Truth that is good for me may not be good for you. Some dictionaries are now defining truth as “values shared by a group of people”. There is no indication of the right or wrong of the value, just the sharing by a group. We see the natural extension of this in terror groups who justify their killing by their “truth,” organized crime members taking from others because their belief system has become their truth, and child pornographers who demand the right to an open Internet website because their morality is just as correct as anybody’s.
RS: Some years ago, there was a change in the logical standard in which education was done. It happened to be 1961, when there was a shift in the educational policy in the US, in particular. Up until that time, they had used a standard called Aristotelian Logic. This Aristotelian Logic is very simple. If A is true, and B is opposite of A, then B is false. It is the standard we use in business, economics, and mathematics. But in ethics, we changed to what is called Enlightened Logic. A is true. B is true, and A can’t tell what is true for B. It has become “my truth or your truth.”
The funny thing is, when you lay that down against the simple business community practices, it doesn’t work. Aren’t you glad it is not “my math” and “your math” when you go to the store? I feel like some banks already have my math and your math. I want to be able to pick up the ledger and read the math. I want to know that if I have $100, and you take $80, I will have $20 left. I need to know that is always going to be true and is not relative.
When it comes to things like ethical standards in life and things rooted in Scripture, people react against any biblically based ethics and suddenly throw out the logic that has been part of Western civilization for ages. They go back to Pilate’s famous question to Jesus, “What is truth?”
MB: If you just observed things in life, there cannot be my truth and your truth. There is a standard of truth that fits all situations. In the simple tasks of flying an airplane or driving a car, there is truth of using the physical laws of aerodynamics and staying in your lane. Crashes happen when pilots ignore these aerodynamic truths and do what they “feel” is right. In some places in the world, driving truth is relative. In the third world, traffic lanes are often meaningless (“It’s only paint on the road,” says a friend from Nigeria), and traffic signals only “advisory.” You see the resulting chaos on the roads: It’s “my traffic rules and your traffic rules.” We may all have values that are shared by our groups, but God also has His values. He is the definer of truth, and He gives it to us in the Bible¾His Living Book. This is why the Bible is so important.
Lukas: Just a minute! How do we know for sure that what David, Matthew, Peter, and those other guys wrote is what we are reading today?
MB: That’s a good question! There are certain tests historians make on an ancient document that give us a reasonable level of certainty that what was written then is what we are reading today.
Lukas: Historians?! Is the Bible really a good history book?
MB: Well that’s the basic issue. Is the Bible historically reliable? A book that claims to be the truth and written by God must be a good history book, right? That’s the conclusion I came to, and I addressed this issue during my first years on Maui. I used to think the Bible was nothing more than Jewish mythology and some men’s opinions. But once I got turned on to the Lord, I began making serious inquiries into the validity of the book. I was a history major at university in Luxembourg, and we had a class called Historiography (the study of the techniques of historical research and historical writing) in which Dr. Herbert Oerter taught us how to evaluate of works of ancient literature. The three tests we historians use to judge the accuracy of ancient works of literature are: manuscripts, internal evidence, and external evidence. Can you stand a slight digression into some technical but very valuable information?
Lukas: As long as you keep it simple!
MB: Then let’s look at the first.
Test # 1 Manuscripts
Specific questions to ask when you evaluate a piece of ancient literature are:
- How many manuscripts of the document do we have, and what is the length of time between the oldest one we have and the original writing?
- How does this book compare to other works of ancient literature?
Remember, before the Guttenberg press, all copies were done by hand, which means the more time between the original and the copy we hold in our hand, the more margin there is for error.
As far as the New Testament, we have over 25,000 manuscripts, and the closest one is the Ryland manuscript of the Book of John that dates from about 125 a.d., which is about thirty-five years after John died. That’s very close to the original date of writing—a very small margin of error.
On the other hand, Homer’s Iliad was written about 900 b.c., and the earliest copy dates from about 500 b.c. That’s about 400 years between when it was written and the earliest existing copy. We only have 643 “ancient” copies of the Iliad. Compared to the New Testament, the Iliad has a greater margin of copying errors, yet scholars accept the modern version of the Iliad as what Homer wrote.
By accepted historical standards, the Bible stands out as having enough manuscripts close to the actual dates of writing to verify what we hold in our hands is almost without a doubt what was written.
Arielle: So, what you are saying is that we are probably reading what the guys wrote, right?
MB: Yes! This was confirmed a few years ago by a discovery down by the Dead Sea. Isaiah is a book in the Old Testament written by the prophet Isaiah in the seventh century b.c. The earliest manuscript we have is the Massoretic text, which dates from about 916 a.d. If you look in your Bible, your Old Testament is probably an English translation of this 1,000-year-old-plus document. There is a gap of about 1500-2200 years between the time these books were written and the copy we use for our English translations. This gap has caused critics to speculate that our modern translation does not accurately follow the original text and has been changed over the centuries.
In 1947, a shepherd boy named Mohammed Dib was down by the Dead Sea in a place called Qumran, looking for some lost sheep. There are many caves in this desert region, and the sheep sometimes wander into these caves or fall into holes in the ground. Mohammed threw a rock down into one hole, hoping to hear movement of his sheep but instead heard the sound of something breaking. He crawled down inside the hole and discovered his rock had hit and broken a clay jar. There were other clay jars; many containing leather scrolls with writing and immersed in oil.
He took these to a friend, and eventually they ended up in Jerusalem where they were identified as books of the Old Testament, dating from about 125 b.c. Suddenly, we had a text of the Bible that dated almost 1,000 years earlier than the Massoretic text, much closer to the time they were written. All this was happening while the Israeli War of Independence was being fought!
Lukas: Are the Dead Sea scrolls the same as our Bible?
MB: There are cases where the scrolls don’t match up exactly word for word with other manuscripts (like to the Masoretic Text, commonly used for the Old Testament), but in terms of theological differences, there are none. Let me give you one example: Of the 166 words in Isaiah chapter 53, there is only one word (of three letters¾light¾in verse 11) in question, along with some punctuation marks, none of which changes the meaning of the passage. Now that the Dead Sea scrolls are available to the general public, it is fun to read some of the translations. You will notice some differences in wording and obvious spelling errors, but they are remarkable in their confirmation of the biblical record.
RS: Remember that in a scriptorium where the Essene community at Qumran copied the scrolls, one person is reading, and all the other people are writing and copying. Now, I defy any audience anywhere to take a document like Isaiah that has the specifics it has in it and the kinds of funny words and names, even in the Hebrew language, and copy it and not have any spelling mistakes. And every scroll is going to yield that. But what is essential to us is, “Does that mean that what I am holding in my hands is an accurate reflection of the original writing?” Not in terms in spelling. I’m not concerned if the word archaeology has a second “a” (as in Old English) in it or not. What I am concerned about is: Does it say,archeologist; is it the same word?
When I see there was such a precise way these texts were transmitted, I am amazed. To understand that the Essene community, whom we believe lived in Qumran and devoted themselves to the copying of the Word, took such attention to detail that they were washing themselves seven times every time they wrote the name of God. Which is fine, until you get to Exodus 34 when you have twelve names of God right in a row. These had to be the cleanest guys who were ever writing anything.
It’s important for us to understand that the Bible is not a “whisper down the lane.” This is a very important transmission of something that, in the Hebrew mind, was highly, highly kept track of.
MB: The bottom line is the Dead Sea scrolls confirm the biblical text with great accuracy. They show that the Bible we hold in our hands today passes the test of manuscripts with flying colors! This is the first test historians use to judge the accuracy of an ancient work of literature. Are you ready for the second test?
MB: Here’s test number two.
Test #2 Internal Evidence
- Is the record from eyewitnesses (primary source)?
- Does the book describe how people of that time reacted to the events?
- Are all the facts and themes consistent with the work?
Peter and John, who together wrote seven (really eight, as Mark’s gospel is probably Peter’s gospel narrated to Mark) of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, leave no doubt they were eyewitnesses.
Listen to Peter:
For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming again. We have seen his majestic splendor with our own eyes. (2 Peter 1:16)
John testifies in a very personal manner:
The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life. (1 John 1:1)
How did contemporary witnesses react to the words of the apostles?
Here’s Peter speaking before a large crowd at the temple in Jerusalem:
“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.”
Peter’s words convicted them deeply, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter replied, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church—about three thousand in all. (Acts 2:22, 37–38, 41)
Peter appealed to them about an event that all of Jerusalem had witnessed¾the crucifixion of Jesus¾and explained its meaning. Did the people shout “No Peter, you are lying!”?
Mikaela: Well, no, not according to the Bible.
MB: You’re right! Instead, they were convinced in their hearts and over 3,000 accepted Jesus as their Lord that day! Another example was Paul testifying before Festus and King Agrippa. Read the record of that conversation in Acts 26:1-29. What was Agrippa’s reaction to Paul’s testimony? He asked if Paul thought it would be that easy to convert him!
“King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do—” Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can make me a Christian so quickly?” (Acts 26:27–28)
The reactions of these contemporary witnesses leave no doubt that the events that were described were acknowledged and accepted as having happened. This is very strong historical evidence!
Lukas: Aren’t there some contradictions in the Bible?
MB: One common problem is that two statements in the Bible can differ from one another, but this does not mean that they are contradictory. To be contradictory would be to say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and in another place say that he was born in Nazareth. For example, Matthew 20:29 tells of two blind men that were healed by Jesus at Jericho, but the same story in Luke 18:35 mentions only one blind man. Luke only mentions one man, but he does not say there was not more than one. If you saw your aunt and uncle at the mall today, and later your mother asked you if you saw her sister (your aunt) while you were at the mall, you would reply “Yes.” Later, your dad asked you if you saw his fishing buddy (your uncle) while you were at the mall and you would reply “Yes.” Are you giving contradictory information? No. Only partial information.
Another problem comes from translation of Greek and Hebrew words into English. An example of this happen in the differing stories of Paul’s conversion:
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. (Acts 9:7 nkjv)
And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. (Acts 22:9 nkjv)
These two descriptions of the same event appear to be contradictory until you discover the Greek verbs for “to hear” used in these passages are different. In Acts 9, the verb means that they heard a sound but did not understand what it meant. In Acts 22, the verb doesn’t mean they didn’t hear but just that they didn’t understand or comprehend the voice. Compare the New King James translation of Acts 22:9 to the New American Standard, which reads:
And those who were with me beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. (Acts 22:9nas)
Sometimes a translation that is more word for word (as the NAS is) eliminates these problems. Another problem occurs when the Bible records what a person says, but this does not mean the person was telling the truth. A good example of this is when Saul fell on his sword and died to escape torture.
Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and pierce me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. (1 Samuel 31:4 nas)
Later, an Amalekite came to David and reported:
“So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown which was on his head and the bracelet which was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.” (2 Samuel 1:10 nas)
The Amalekite was a battlefield scavenger. He lied to David, hoping to gain favor. David had him killed.
RS: Maybe I can explain it this way. There are three things that Scripture contains: facts, truth, and myth.
Fact is most of what happens. But remember, when you tell a story, you summarize it. You don’t give every detail, just the facts that make your point. The result in a biblical narrative is often only partial information.
For example, Matthew gives us fourteen generations between one person and another, but clearly there are more if you look at other records in the Bible. The point is there are fourteen that he is mentioning¾the ones that he wants you to know about. John says at the end of his Gospel:
There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they werewritten in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life. (John 20:31)
Truth is a little harder to grasp. Often when Jesus teaches, He uses a parable such as: “There was a man traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem,” and you can imagine the crowd yelling out, “What was his name?” What did he do for a living?” It doesn’t matter. The parable, or illustration, gives us a true biblical principle, an everlasting truth that is applicable to all of mankind in all cultures. The point of the parable is just a truism. Details don’t necessarily matter. Hopefully, the illustrations that we use are like windows, opening our eyes to a principle of truth.
The third category is much more difficult to lay your hands on. This is myth. These are often capitalized on and misused by various groups trying to use the Bible to prove a particular point. Myth is when the Bible records accurately something that is not true. There is Satan saying to Eve, “You surely shall not die!” Now you can read that in the Bible, but it doesn’t mean it’s true. It is true to say there are untrue things written in the Bible, but you have to read it understanding that the writer is saying this is not true, but this is what was said.
There is a major difference in the Bible between a narrative of what happened or what was said and instructions for the believer. In the text, we have to ask ourselves, “Is this an instruction or a report of what was said?”
MB: Paul understood the difference between narrative scripture and instructional scripture and wrote the following to his friends in Corinth:
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. (1 Corinthians 4:6 nas)
Sometimes we place more meaning into a passage of Scripture than the writer intended. Paul cautioned the Corinthian church not to do that.
Here is an example of narrative scripture:
Late one afternoon David got out of bed after taking a nap and went for a stroll on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent for her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. (2 Samuel 11:2)
This is obviously a narration of something David did that was not a good thing for him or his country. Can you use this scripture as a justification for adultery? Of course not! Instructional scripture is different:
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 5:29)
This is a clear instruction of how to speak to others. The differences may seem obvious, but through the centuries, groups and individuals have taken portions of Scripture that are meant to be narratives and turned them into instruction and built their churches around them. Even in our modern culture this issue has been confused. One example of this was a group of well-meaning believers in California in the ’60s who taught that you couldn’t own private property because the church in the Acts chapter two “held all things in common.”
What about Gideon? He was a man who received a specific command from an angel and responded by the famous “fleece test.”
Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.”
And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water.
Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.”
God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground. (Judges 6:36–40 nas)
Are we to lay out fleeces when God commands us to do something? This seems to be a common practice in our present Christian culture.
RS: Just because Gideon put his fleece out doesn’t mean we must teach our churches that we must all go out and buy fleeces, put them out, and that is how we make decisions. That is a report, a narrative of what Gideon did. Actually, the fleece test is the result of a man of God not believing a message from God given through an angel.
The instruction is to study the Scriptures, to know the Word, and then to walk with God through His Word not through fleeces.
MB: This is the principle in this passage, and God showed Gideon a lot of grace by responding to his fleece test. God met this man of little faith right where he was. I think God also gave Gideon a great faith-building lesson in a rather humorous manner by whittling his army down from 32,000 to 10,000, and finally down to 300 soldiers carrying ram’s horns and clay jars. (Judges 7:7). It was almost a fleece test in reverse!
Does the Bible pass the test of internal evidence? The Bible was written by at least thirty-nine different guys, and the correlation between their thought is amazing. Even secular writers acknowledge this fact. The historical facts presented are consistent. Apparent contradictions disappear when you understand the historical and cultural context and the literary styles of the time.
The internal evidence is exceptionally good. Are you ready for the last test?
Mikaela: OK, Pops, we are still with you.
Moselle: Can we move on please!
MB: Here is test number three.
Test #3 External Evidence
- Is what was written consistent with other records from that same period?
Archeology in the past seventy years has discovered many artifacts of ancient civilizations. Pottery, clay writing tablets, leather scrolls, paintings, tombs, statues, staella (columns of carved stone with writing and pictures), palaces, homes, temples, and even entire cities have been discovered, uncovered, and recovered. I’ve been to some of the sites in Central America, Europe, and the Middle East.
It is safe to say there has not been one archeological discovery contradicting anything in the Bible. Instead, the artifacts discovered support the lifestyles and cultures described in the Bible. Often, exact names and dates discovered on the artifacts match the information given to us by biblical accounts!
There are many writings existing from early Christian writers (Justin, Eusebius, and Polycarp, among others) that contain large portions of Scripture, which match our modern records. The information in these second-, third-, and fourth-century documents supports the information given to us by the writers of the Bible. The writings of contemporary historical figures, such as Josephus, support the biblical account of history.
RS: Archeology is a baby science. We have had “archeologists” around for over a hundred years, but the early ones were “plunderers”¾a’ la Raiders of the Lost Ark. We are really in the infant stages of understanding and interpreting what we find on a site. I worked in Old Testament Jerusalem, the city of David, on a dig where we found a series of small rooms attached to the side of the homes, and these rooms were stacked against each other like steps as they descended the Kidron Valley. Each of these rooms was about a meter square, and found inside one of the rooms was a round, donut-shaped stone with a hole in the top. Yigal Shilo, the head excavator, with years of study under Dame Kathleen Kenyon and others and with an excellent academic background, studied this and declared these small rooms to be “cultic rooms”¾rooms for worship.
The following year we dug down a little further and discovered connecting pipes and realized that these were bathrooms¾more exactly, toilets. (Isaiah had flush toilets.) They were on a slope so that you could use the facility, dump a bowl of water, and everything would flow downhill. Here were some of the best minds that we have, and they totally missed it for one season. What I state emphatically this year may be overridden by the evidence found on the dig next year.
It is true to say that there are problems between archeology and the Bible. Just getting from Joshua chapter 2 to 10 and dealing with Jericho and dealing with Bethel and Ai and succeeding events brings up unresolved archeological problems.
Every academic person is going to come to the dig with a base. It’s like when you are an artist painting and you have to decide which medium you are going to use. You start with canvas and decide the base is going to be blue since the painting will be a naval theme.
I come to archeology with the Bible as the truth I am going to hang the illustrations of archeology on. Many archeologists do not have that base. Theirs is that the archeology is going to determine whether or not the historical record of the Bible is accurate. Our predisposition will determine what we find on the site. I know we will find a lot of rocks, pottery, and other implements, but how we interpret them will depend on our base we are working from.
I find it startling that an archeologist will go to a dig at Masada near the Dead Sea and start reading from Josephus, the Jewish Roman historian who wrote a history of the revolt against the Romans, and be so willing for Masada to validate Josephus as an historical record. But when that same archeologist works on a site from Bible, he is critical of the Scripture and is trying to find a way to show “Well, you really can’t trust the Bible.” I think it has to do with his predisposition and not his finds.
When I go to Jericho and I look at what is at the ancient site of Jericho, I am confident that I cannot show a single wall from the time period of Joshua. Yet I, as an archeologist and historian, believe the wall fell as recorded in the book of Joshua, just as it was written. How do I do that? First, I go to the site and investigate as many have.
In 1920, John Garstang went with an expedition financed to find the wall of Jericho. He dug, and with his predisposition of believing the wall existed (and pressure to produce from the expedition sponsors), he found a wall he declared to be “the Wall of Jericho.” In the ’60s, Kathleen Kenyon went to Jericho and dug in the site and discovered thestratigraphy (or layers) used by Garstang was wrong and that this was not the wall. Immediately, everyone in the Church accused her of being a skeptic. It posed an interesting problem. She was predisposed to disbelieve the Scripture, and Garstang was predisposed to believe it. Neither was right. Neither examined what was there without a predisposition to prove something.
If I go to Jericho and don’t find the wall, maybe I am at the wrong site. Yet, we have found pottery on the site with the word Jericho written on it. So we have the right site. Maybe I misread the verses. So I go back and read, and it seems very clear that they marched around the city seven times and the walls fell down. So what happened?
The only thing I can figure is that the verses go on to say, “When you come into Jericho, leave this site as a corban¾as a sacrificial site. Don’t rebuild the site.”
Now as we travel around the land visiting archeological sites that have been abandoned and left alone, what is the state of the site? What do you see? Has the site grown or diminished in size? Actually, it diminished, as it appeared the stones were taken away and used to build at another site. It is what we call human erosion. It is easier to build with stones already cut and shaped. The fact that Jericho was sitting and not rebuilt in my view was the result of obedience of the people. If the people had disobeyed and tried to rebuild, as others later tried to do, they would have preserved a layer. But the upper layer is gone simply because they obeyed.
Archeology is often misused, even by evangelical, Bible-believing people. They are rushing off to look for the chariots in the Red Sea or other things with any wind of scientific basis. Always look to see who is doing the exploration. Is this person trained to do this? If someone tells me I am healed of a terrible disease that I have, I want to see his credentials and know if they have any background to interpret the laboratory tests, not just someone who had a dream and an opinion of how they think it might be.
There are a lot of books both written and bought by people who really love the Lord, but we are wasting our punches on ridiculousness. We have guys who have “discovered” this or that, and if you send $29.95, they will be glad to send you the video. I even got one of these tapes. A guy showed a picture of the Ark and ended with “If you send an additional $19.95, you will get the actual footage of the location.”
MB: Major archeologists have set out to prove the Bible is inaccurate, only to find it is indeed an excellent history book and a source book for their digs. Sir William Ramsey, head of the British Museum, was one who doubted the historical validity of the Bible. After exhaustive research, he found the Bible to be a valuable asset in his projects. He was especially impressed with Luke, who reported things such as prevailing winds, tides, geographical features and locations, and details of travel with great accuracy.
We visited the dig at the recently discovered ancient site of Bethsaida (the home of Peter, James, and John on the north side of the Sea of Galilee) and saw many examples of biblical accounts being verified through the buildings, walls, wine cellars, fishermen’s homes, and other artifacts they discovered. We also saw the recently uncovered ruins of Roman temple that was built to honor Julia, the mother of Caesar. Coins were found verifying that this temple was built in 30 a.d.
There has always been a question of why the Zebedee Fishing Company and Peter left their hometown and economic center and moved around the lake to Capernaum. With this discovery of a pagan temple, we finally have a reason why the boys left town¾it was because of that temple built by the Romans. Religious Jews could not live in the same town where a pagan temple existed. They would be continually “defiled.” The head Israeli excavator who discovered the coins did not come to the same conclusion¾probably due to his predisposition! For us, it was a profound experience to walk the streets of a recently discovered village that Jesus visited and performed miracles in and to know that all that was uncovered supported the biblical account. Indeed, the external evidence is extremely good. I think it is safe to say the Bible is a very good history book.
Lukas: How does it compare to a religious book like the Book of Mormon?
MB: Ever read Alice in Wonderland? The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh? The Book of Mormon is a nice story, but there is no historical evidence for the events described in the book. None. That’s the difference.
The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is a book, not only historically accurate, but for those who read its pages with faith it has dynamic power. As you read it, words jump off the page and speak directly to you. I believe it is indeed “God-breathed” as the original Greek text (2 Timothy 3:16) says, and it is indeed a “living book.”
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Lukas: So, it seems like there are more than a few reasons why I should be reading the Bible.
MB: You are absolutely right! Here are at least seven reasons why you should be studying the Bible.
- So that you can personally know God. God tells us of Himself and His ways through His Word. Reading the Bible is a great way we can really get to know God. Paul believed knowing God was the best thing that he could do in this life.
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8)
- Because you need to know the truth. Truth is not relative. It is absolute. Truth is simply God’s opinion on the matter. Over the door of my junior high school in Ohio were the words “You Shall The Truth And The Truth Shall Set You Free”. I later discovered that this was an incomplete statement. Jesus said if we first become His disciples by obeying His teachings, then we will know the truth and then we will be set free. It’s a three-step process. We cannot know the truth unless we are truly disciples of His.
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32)
- To receive guidance in your daily life. With all the conflicting advice offered in this world, we need to know God’s will when it comes to making decisions in our lives.
Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)
- The Bible is the ultimate source of wisdom. Other books have their value, but it is the Bible that sets the standard for wisdom in our culture.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. (2 Timothy 3:16)
- We are commanded to study and know the Bible.
Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
The kids we work with in Miskitia all know how to handle a machete. At age four, they begin using this versatile tool. They can clean a field, plant crops, harvest food, clean a fish, and build a house. No Miskito child could survive without knowing how to use this tool. It’s the same for God’s children and the Bible. We must be familiar with it so we can use it as a source of wisdom as well as a spiritual weapon in this life.
- 6. Knowing the Bible will keep you from falling into error. With so many different teaching going on in Christian circles, it’s very important to check everything you hear from a teacher (including things in this book!) against the Word of God. God wants us to walk in truth, not in doctrines that just “tickle our ears.”
And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to check up on Paul and Silas, to see if they were really teaching the truth. (Acts 17:11)
- 7. So that you will be blessed! There is great blessing that comes from reading and meditating on God’s Word! As we incorporate this discipline into our lives, we will see many things come forth. The psalmist describes a process of watering, bearing fruit, not getting worn out, and prospering in all that we do. Can we ask for more than that in this life?
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of theLord, And in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1–3)
Let’s wrap up this session with this perspective from Laura.
The Search for Truth
by Laura Bagby
Pilate therefore said to Him, “So You are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37–38)
We seek truth continually, often looking to books, to man, to universities. We continually seek it but seek it ever too frequently in the wrong places, using the wrong methods. We want to “know,” yet we fall short in our search, for we do not go to the Source in our seeking. The Source of truth has it all, yet we grope, wonder, rationalize, deny, and go on in our busy lives, forgetting to look where we can find it all—all that pertains to life and true freedom living.
“If you abide in My word, then you are truly my disciples of mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (Spoken by Jesus in John 8:31–32)
There is a source of truth. It is one that many of us have read and studied over the years but yet often mechanically and without inspiration. Yet the Bible claims to be “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and applicable to every area of our lives.
Where is the zeal? Where does it go? It seemingly evaporates as time passes. . . . Years go by and we think we are all the more wise because we know doctrine; we’ve read every Bible story at least ten times. Doctrine isn’t an end in itself; it is the mere beginning. It has to work. It has to affect our lives and all the lives around us.
“Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
We learn a lot about God from Scripture and do not know Him at all. The goal is to know Him and to keep our love alive and fresh for the Lord Jesus Christ. Without a growing, ever-dependent love, we simply will be “working” for our Master rather than serving Him in love and dedication. Eternity cannot be impacted in this manner. In our knowing Him, we become like Him. In becoming like Him, we will shine His character forth. He increases while we decrease.
We often encourage memorizing Scripture instead of thinking scripturally. We are to incarnate the Word of God, having our lives transformed by it and our minds renewed by it (Ephesians 4:23-24).
“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
As Scripture becomes alive in us, we become alive to others and show forth His mind, His heart, and His ways.
It is a shame to admit that we often hear the Word and then don’t do it. We are people who are educated beyond our obedience. The will of God cannot be played out unless our level of obedience is up to par with our level of knowledge. We “know” more than we practice. It is sin to know and not do.
“If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)
The Word of God has a special personality ingrained in it. These are not mere words written in a book. The Bible is indeed a unique book, filled with life itself. In reading it, we come to know the Creator better and experience His true love for us more deeply. We are then able to give His love out more sincerely; thus, impacting the world around us for eternity.