Our Credible Bible (Lesson 1)
Prepared by Dr. John E. MarshallRuth and I are in our fifth year of hosting a college Bible study group in our home on Thursday nights during the school semesters. We have fallen in love with our students, and enjoy sharing life with them.
In these studies, Ruth and I have learned a painful truth. We are often reminded students can be unknowledgeable and unappreciative of the Bible.
Even students who grew up in church often show a lack of knowledge about rudimentary Bible truths. Even more alarming, they can be lax in their commitment to Scripture as the authority in their life for belief and behavior.
Due to this disconcerting observation, I took a three-week study break in January 2016 to investigate certain scholarly theological books that would help me better defend to our college students the truthfulness and reliability of Scripture. The six books listed here helped me immensely:
Bird, Michael F., “The Gospel of the Lord” (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI,
Blomberg, Craig L., “Can We Still Believe the Bible?” (Brazos Press, Grand
Rapids MI, 2014)
Cowan, Steven B., and Wilder, Terry L., “In Defense of the Bible”
(Broadman and Holman, Nashville TN, 2013)
MacArthur, John, ed., “The Scripture Cannot Be Broken” (Crossway,
Wheaton IL, 2015).
Ward, Timothy, “Words of Life” (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL,
Warfield, Benjamin Breckenridge, “The Inspiration and Authority of the
Bible” (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg
NJ, 1948 reprint).
Warfield’s book is the greatest book I ever read regarding the Bible. I think the other five authors in the above list would pretty much agree with this assessment. I think I can safely say Warfield’s book is referenced in the other five books more times than all other sources combined. It would be hard for me to express how refreshing it was to read a masterful, scholarly book that was 100% totally sold out to the Bible being the Word of God.
Through 50 years of ministry, I have been guided by a firm belief that without a commitment to the truth of Scripture, we have no chance of living a successful spiritual life. The Bible is the crux of our faith. I respect and love the Bible. I want our college students to do the same—thus this class. I pray it will effectively teach the importance of Holy Writ.
I feel the timing is right for a class like this. Forces seem to have been let loose in our land that want to convince us the Bible has no current value for our culture. Sadly, these attacks sometimes come from within the so-called Christian movement. Some see it as antiquated, an ancient relic irrelevant to today. But many of us believe what the Bible says, God says. We feel we can make this claim based on rational, reasonable research.
People are prejudice against the Bible before they even give it a fair hearing. Nothing in the writings of the ancients has near the verification and support the New Testament does, but people do not reject the other writings.
Many reject the Bible on predetermined factors totally unrelated to the reliability of Bible manuscripts. Often they have a sin they don’t want to forsake; thus the Lordship of Christ is not a welcome thought. Sometimes our interpreting the Bible is inconvenienced by its interpreting of us.
Others hate the Bible’s worldview. They have no use for a God who became flesh through a virgin birth, lived a perfect life, died for the world’s sins, rose from death, returned to Heaven, and is the only means of salvation.
THE APOSTLE PAUL AND MY DAD
On Paul’s second missionary journey (AC 15:36-18:22), Paul founded the church at Thessalonica (AC 17:1-4). Philippi was Europe’s first church. Thessalonica was second. (Maybe they called it Second Baptist.)
Within months of the church’s founding, Paul felt a need to write his first letter to the Thessalonians. He probably took a pen made of hard reed that was cut diagonally across one end with a finely cut slit through the point. His ink would have been made of soot with burnt resin or pitch. Thicker and more durable than our ink tends to be, Paul may have had to use water to thin its gumminess. An inkstand discovered at Herculaneum, Italy, which was destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., contained ink as thick as oil, and was still usable for writing.
Paul’s writing material would have been either papyrus or parchment. Papyrus, the more common, was made from the pith of a water plant that grew along the banks of the Nile. Parchment, sometimes called vellum, was made from the skins of cattle, goats, and sheep that were scraped till smooth.
Armed with pen, ink, and papyrus, Paul wrote his name in Greek, “Paulos”, thereby penning the first word of Holy Writ in almost half a millennium. His letter was the first New Testament writing, and is our oldest extant written Christian document. The year was 51 A.D.
In 1951 A.D., the year I was born, my dad began preaching from a Bible, which I now own, that contained a copy of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The purpose of this class is to analyze what happened to the message of that letter and of the other New Testament books in the intervening 1900 years. Can we be sure that the book my dad preached from was conveying the same message Paul wrote 19 centuries earlier?
Questions about the reliability of Scripture have to be viewed through the lens of Archaeology, which has become our true friend. (CW, pages 236-239, lists several significant archaeological discoveries.) Over the past few decades the archaeologist’s spade has become a witness on our behalf.
I learned this on my study break. It had been 40 years since I had read in-depth theological books. I was surprised at how much more corroboration there is for Biblical reliability now than I was exposed to in seminary.
For example, in my seminary days, Rudolph Bultmann, the liberal German scholar, was a force to be reckoned with. Now, almost none of his tenets are widely accepted. That’s a game-changer for me. I am grateful we have left his arguments behind us.
Though Archaeology is our friend, news outlets still seem to prefer to publicize any find that might in any way possibly contradict Christianity. Digs sometimes turn up factors that are quickly analyzed, and prematurely assumed to disprove some historical tenet of Scripture. These are almost always later shown to not evidence Bible error, but the damage is done.
The story of Archaeology’s finest hour fits well here. Much criticism of the Old Testament was made passé by the greatest archaeological find ever–the Dead Sea Scrolls, which pushed back 1000 years the date of our oldest Old Testament manuscripts.
The scrolls helped us better appreciate the reliability of the text we have. We now know the Masoretes accurately conveyed Holy Writ to us.
For me, the Dead Sea Scrolls’ biggest contribution is; they gave us copies of the Bible that predate Jesus. This is earthshakingly vital to me.
We have always known Jesus believed the Old Testament Scriptures were true and divinely inspired. He said, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law” (Matthew 5:18b). Critics, though, could say, “Yes, but we don’t know for sure what the Old Testament manuscripts said in His day. We have no manuscripts extant within 1000 years of His lifetime.”
They can no longer make this claim. Now we know what the Scripture of His day said. Dead Sea Scrolls have portions of every OT book except Esther. The most striking result of these 972 or so Dead Sea manuscripts, ranging from from 250 BC to 50 AD, is how similar they are to the Masoretic texts of a thousand years later. A stunning example of this is the handful of minor differences the huge scroll of Isaiah brought to the table.
Jesus’ judgment is the most valuable one we have, and the Dead Sea Scrolls have shown that what we have now is what Jesus had then, and He verified them all as trustworthy and holy. We know precisely what He was referring to when He claimed, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17).