Just What Makes You So Sure The Bible Is True? Part III
You becoming a Christian does not rise of fall on believing the Bible is true.
Let me repeat that in case you have a habit of not reading sub-titles. You becoming a Christian does not rise of fall on believing the Bible is true.
Long before there ever was a New Testament, millions of people came to faith without it. The early church had some of these writings circulating which later became our New Testament but very few had ever read all of them, some none of them and very few knew much about the Old Testament. According to Wikipedia, literacy in the 1st century AD was less than 3%. Even today there are millions of people in third world countries where the Bible hasn't even been translated into their language yet, but are coming to faith just watching the Jesus Film. The gospel at least in the first hundred years of the church was communicated almost exclusively by word of mouth, orally. In other words, they were not saved by believing in the Bible and neither were you, or will you!
Everyone who comes to faith does so because of a person, an event and as evidenced by the transformed lives of people who went on to change the world because the Holy Spirit empowered them to do so.
The person of course was Jesus Christ. People believed his claim as taught by the Apostles that he was the Son of God, that they were sinful and that their only hope for this life and the next was believing in him, repenting of their sin and living as he taught. The following verse is so familiar that the power of it's truth is often lost.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9
The event that changed the world was Jesus' death, burial and resurrection and here's why. If Jesus died and stayed dead, why would anyone believe he was who he said he was? But he proved he had power over death which authenticated his message, and in essence he was saying to us even today, "Trust me to transform you in this life and to raise you from the dead someday as well."
"If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9, 10
The best evidence for believing in Jesus and the resurrection doesn't rest on believing the Bible to be true. It's that first and second century Christians spawned a movement that transformed the world! They lived such radically changed lives that everyone took notice.
We read this in the book of Acts, describing what began happening within weeks of Jesus resurrection right in Jerusalem where it all happened. Peter was preaching to a large number of people, many of whom had heard Jesus speak, but who prior to this did not believe. When he finished we read this;
"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off_-for all whom the Lord our God will call.' Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:37-38, 41, 44-47
And this movement of people who loved others more than themselves spread like wildfire. Everyone noticed. We read this account of Aristides a Greek philosopher to the Roman Emperor Hadrian around 130AD.
"Christians… have the commands of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah himself etched into their hearts. They keep these commands, looking forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. They do not engage in adultery or sexual immorality, and they do not bear false witness. Neither do they covet that which belongs to others; they honor father and mother, love their neighbors, judge according to justice, and do not do to others anything that they do not wish to be done to them. They comfort those who injure them, even trying to win them over as their friends. They are eager to do good to their enemies. They are gentle and easy to approach with an appeal. They abstain from unlawful lifestyles and all impurity. They neither neglect the widow nor oppress the orphan. What each one has, he is willing to give freely to care for the one who has nothing. If they see one of their number outcast, they take him under their roof and rejoice over him as they would over a brother. For they call themselves brothers, not according to the flesh but according to the spirit. They are even prepared to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the Messiah."
Notice Aristides doesn't appeal to Scripture, or Christian theology to prove the Bible or Christianity is true. Instead he presents the radically transformed moral lives of Christians as proof of their faith.
It is estimated that by 250 AD there were more than one million followers of Jesus in spite of Roman persecution and torture. Christianity didn't spread like wildfire because people sat in their homes doing Bible study, or showed up for church once a week. The fact that you don't see many "Christians" today who know the Bible well, living like Aristides described discredits Christianity the religion, but not the message.
The greatest evidence for the claims of Christianity is in the transformed lives of those who put their faith in a person, Jesus and an event, his death burial and resurrection. It is true that almost everything we know about Jesus comes from our reading the Bible, or some evangelist or missionary did so they could communicate it to others. But people do not come to saving faith because they believe all the stories, or teachings in the Bible are true. And nowhere in the Bible does it say believing in the Bible is a requirement for salvation, or you can lose it if you don't. However, and here's the huge caveat; while you don't need to believe in the Bible to come to faith, it is almost impossible to live like a true Christian if you don't!
Why should be obvious. Because almost everything we know about God and how he told us to live out this faith in practical, ethical and loving ways we get from the Bible. Have some Christians twisted, or ignored certain passages of the Bible to oppress others, or to live as they wished? Of course. Horribly. Nevertheless, the fact that some teachings in the Bible have been abused does not change the truths it teaches.
God's Constitution The Bible is the constitution for the kingdom of God. We believe it is God's gift to humans to help us flourish. It lays out for us how we are to relate to God, each other and the world. But instead of "We the people it begins with the phrase, "In the beginning God." Christianity isn't a democracy, it's a theocracy. Chrisitans have a king. He's never asked our opinion, or a show of hands on what we think is right or wrong. Just imagine what it would be like living in the U.S. if every person chose what parts of the Constitution they believed in and would obey. None of us like every law on the books, but each of us understand that those laws give us predictability, safety and order. Without them it would be chaos. We're living through that right now in our country because we no longer trust institutions or the court's interpretation of our Constitution.
Here's the problem with cherry picking the parts of the Bible we choose to believe. How in the world would you or I ever decide which stories are metaphors and which actually happened? There are some Christians who believe some characters in the Bible are fictional, like Adam, Eve, Noah and others, but nevertheless God used these fictional stories as metaphors to convey truth. I suppose that's possible. But how could I possibly have enough faith in a book to have it be the owner's manual for my life, if I thought it was full of errors, or filled with Aesop's Fables type stories, which aren't actually true, but teach truth. If Adam and Eve is just an allegory, then perhaps the resurrection story is just an allegory as well. That idea feels foolish to some- that we would order our life, our loves and our moral behavior around a book written thousands of years ago. However, the Bible is so much more than a book of rules.
It's also a book about us. The Bible honestly lays bare the human condition that often tears apart relationships and causes so much self-inflicted pain. But God doesn't leave us there. He provides an alternative way for humans to flourish if we're wise enough to trust God's often counter-intuitive instructions. More than 40 years ago I made the decision to believe all of it and to try to live under its authority. Call me naive, but I just don't trust myself to edit God. Do you? l've never met a serious follower of Jesus, who wasn't ultimately convinced the Bible was true, and I doubt you'll be the first.
Which of these "soft proofs" about the Bible made the most sense to you? Which did not?
Do you believe the entire Bible is true, or do you doubt some stories, or teaching? Why?
If you're not sure the Bible is completely true, what criteria would you use to determine fact from fiction, or metaphor from a true story?
Do you think it's possible to have saving faith in Jesus and still not believe the entire Bible is true?
Are there any important teachings in the Bible that you believe were cultural, that is they were given only for that culture and period in time and are no longer authoritative for us? If so, how can we know that?
What do you think of the idea that the Bible is a Christian's Constitution? What if you don't like or agree with parts of it, how does that affect your confidence in it?
Next Weeks Topic: : Why Do Christians Think Jesus Is The Only Way To Heaven?