Throughout 2017, we will remember the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It was during the dark days of the sixteenth century that the light of God’s Word came bursting forth from the dungeons of the Roman Catholic Church. Each year at the end of December, many people choose a reading plan for the upcoming year only to find themselves failing to keep pace as the weeks pass. It may surprise you to know how many people in your church have not read the entire Bible. This year would be a wonderful time to read the whole Bible. Consider these three important reasons why you should read the whole Bible in 2017.
The Reformers’ Sacrifice
Although the Reformers had no idea that we would turn on our Bibles in smart phone applications 500 years later, they embraced a new technology in their day called movable type and the advanced printing press. As Johannes Gutenberg learned how to create books, the Protestant Reformers harnessed this breakthrough technology to get their Bibles out to the general public.
It was William Tyndale who worked tirelessly to translate and print the New Testament into English. The Roman Catholics hunted him down, arrested him, and then burned him at the stake. His friend, John Rogers, would take up his Old Testament manuscripts and work to complete what Tyndale had started. Eventually, Rogers was caught too and he would become the first of the martyrs under the reign of Queen Mary I, known as Bloody Mary.
When we consider the labor, sacrifice, and commitment of the Reformers to get us our Bible—why would we deprive ourselves of opening the book or turning on our Bible and enjoying the precious Word of God in our language?
The Reformation Principle — Tota Scriptura
One of the five latin slogans known as the Solas of the Reformation is, sola Scriptura. This phrase means – Scripture alone. The Reformers were committed to reading, preaching, and submitting to the unadulterated Word of God. They were opposed to the additives of the Church of Rome. They stood courageously upon the Scriptures as their authoritative guide for life and worship.
Another slogan that was often repeated by the Reformers was the principle of tota Scriptura. Although the slogan was never as popular as its cousin—sola Scriptura, it was at the very core of the Protestant Reformation. Tota Scriptura means—all of Scripture, or the totality of Scripture. The Reformers were men of the Book, and they believed in preaching the full counsel of God’s Word.
Consider how many congregations have not heard a single sermon from the book of Deuteronomy in years. Those same congregations would likely go back for decades before finding a time when a preacher expounded the entire book. It may be discovered that the church has no record of going verse-by-verse through Deuteronomy. That’s why men like John Calvin were systematic and faithful in their preaching. Calvin’s preaching was straight exposition year after year.
- Nearly five years in the book of Acts.
- 46 sermons through 1-2 Thessalonians.
- 186 sermons through 1-2 Corinthians.
- 86 sermons through the pastoral epistles.
- 43 sermons through Galatians.
- 48 sermons through Ephesians.
It was on Easter of 1538 that Calvin was banished from his pulpit at St. Peter’s. He would not be allowed to return by the City Council until September 13th, 1541. When he entered the pulpit on the Lord’s Day, he literally picked up in the next verse where he left off over three years before. He was firmly committed to not skipping lines, phrases, vocabulary, and difficult doctrines. It was believed that the totality of God’s Word should be proclaimed.
Rather than skipping and hopping through the Bible on a devotional journey, why not read the whole Bible this year?
Paul Preceded Luther and Jesus Preceded Paul
Before there was a Luther and a Calvin, there was a Paul and Jesus. When Paul was preparing to leave Ephesus, he gathered the elders of the church together to bid them farewell. He warned them and he charged them. In doing so, Paul said the following:
You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:18-21).
Paul understood the importance of not leaving doctrine behind. He proclaimed the full counsel of God’s Word to the people in Ephesus. It was Luther, Calvin, and Tyndale who would eventually stand upon the shoulders of Paul. However, before Paul ministered in Ephesus, Jesus made a very important statement in Matthew 4:4. Jesus, when being tempted in the wilderness by Satan, said—“It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus was quoting from Moses in Deuteronomy.
It doesn’t matter if you focus on Jesus, the apostle Paul, or the Reformers of church history—they were all committed to the totality of Scripture. If Paul ministered today, you wouldn’t find him skipping over doctrinal depth in order to put together a little series for seekers in his community. As we consider the love Jesus and the Reformers had for the Bible, why would we not possess that same love too?
It was 500 years ago that the Reformers were giving their lives and working diligently to get the Bible to the people in their language. When we consider the sacrifices, the advanced technology, the privileges we enjoy, and the fact that many people still don’t have the Bible in their own language, it makes sense that 2017 would be a wonderful year to make the commitment to read the entire Bible in twelve months.
So it doesn’t matter if you prefer to open a book or turn on your Bible app, there is a plan for you. Make this the year. If you’re up to it, there are some excellent plans available for you over at ESVBible.org.
Andy Stanley knows the Bible. As the son of the popular Baptist pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley, he has grown up under Bible teaching and preaching. As a pastor of a very large megachurch, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, Andy Stanley has spent much time reading and studying the Bible. So, why does it seem that Andy Stanley has a problem with the Bible on so many different levels?
Over the past few years, Andy Stanley has managed to stay in the light of controversy regarding his positions on key issues of the faith. Is Andy Stanley operating by the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”? While Stanley may not be seeking bad publicity, the fact is, he has managed to keep controversy stirred up around him in recent years. Exactly where did Andy Stanley go off course? As we examine the controversial statements made by Andy Stanley, there seems to be an undeniable connection between his errors and the manner in which he approaches the Bible.
Is Verse-by-Verse Preaching Cheating?
Andy Stanley is not an expository preacher. In an interview with Ed Stetzer in 2009 regarding his book titled, Communicating for a Change, Stetzer asked Stanley about preaching. The question was, “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?” Andy Stanley responded, “Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.” It’s quite clear that Stanley isn’t a fan of verse-by-verse preaching, but what does that communicate regarding his overall approach to the Bible?
Is the Bible Sufficient for Church Growth?
In 2010, at the pastors’ conference for the Southern Baptist Convention, Andy Stanley appealed to big corporations such as Chick-fil-A and Intel in order to drive home his church growth message to thousands of pastors in attendance. He repeated this phrase, “If you make your church better, they will come and make your church bigger.” His entire sermon was positioned squarely on pragmatism rather than the Word of God. In his sermon, Andy Stanley said, “We’ve created church for church people.” He then scolded church leaders for an unwillingness to make it easier for unchurched people to feel comfortable in our churches.
Is the Bible Clear on Homosexuality?
Andy Stanley’s seeker sensitive approach to church growth is perhaps the lightest problem in recent years. In 2012, Stanley was the center of controversy once again with statements (and a lack of statements) regarding the sin of homosexuality. In a sermon he preached titled “When Gracie Met Truthy,” he described a couple in his church that had to be asked to step down from leadership. Two men were engaged in a homosexual relationship, but the reason they were asked to step down was what Stanley called “just good old fashioned adultery.” Stanley explained, “You’re in a sexual relationship with someone else’s husband.” Stanley capitulated on the whole issue calling out the sin of adultery while refusing to call out the sin of homosexuality. Albert Mohler writes:
The most puzzling and shocking part of the message was the illustration and the account of the homosexual couple, however. The inescapable impression left by the account was that the sin of concern was adultery, but not homosexuality. 
Although Andy Stanley wasn’t clear on the subject of homosexuality, we can be sure that the Bible is abundantly clear. So why does Andy Stanley continue to feel the need to distance himself from a clear and historically orthodox interpretative method of reading and applying the Bible?
Is the Bible Authoritative?
In 2014, Andy Stanley stood on a stage at Exponential, a church-planting conference and communicated to 5,000+ people that they should stop using the phrase “the Bible says” in their sermons. Andy Stanley said, “Don’t say the Bible says. Say the author’s name who wrote the book. Paul said… (by the way he hated Christians, but then wrote this) Give 2-3 sentences about who the author is.” Andy Stanley made his point in print through his book titled, Deep & Wide suggesting that his goal is evangelism and it keeps skeptics engaged.  With a goal of keeping skeptics engaged, we must ask an honest question, has he cast a shadow of doubt upon the authority of the Bible?
Is the Bible True?
In early 2015, Zondervan released a series of Bible study lessons by Andy Stanley titled Starting Point. You can see the first session on YouTube where Andy Stanley casts doubt upon the trustworthiness and reliability of the Bible in his opening statements. In fact, Andy Stanley went as far as to say, “We went off to college and discovered that even though it [the Bible] was sacred, it wasn’t scientific. Even though it was something to appreciate, it wasn’t necessarily something that was factual. Even though there were stories in here [the Bible] that were inspirational, they weren’t necessarily true.” Sure, it seems that Andy Stanley is playing along with the thought process of what the skeptics actually believe, but he spends more than 50% of his time dealing with such issues leaving him very little time to explain the text of Scripture from Acts. Why must Andy Stanley consistently cast doubt upon the inerrancy of the Bible? Isn’t he a Bible preacher?
Are Small Churches (like the ones in the Bible) Bad?
Recently, Andy Stanley hit the news again with statements about small churches. He called out parents who refuse to take their children to megachurches by saying, “If you don’t go to a large church, you are so stinking selfish…and don’t care about your kids.” Keep in mind, many of the churches in the cities that we see appearing in the New Testament are relatively small. Sure, some of these churches experienced great growth, but many of them remained small.
Andy Stanley sought to explain his point as he retracted the perceived meaning in a subsequent interview with Christianity Today. However, if you listen to the rant in the original sermon, it’s hard to imagine how a preacher could make such statements with profound conviction and not really mean it. What exactly does Andy Stanley think about small churches today? What about the small churches in the Bible?
Is the Bible a Poor Starting Point?
On Easter Sunday, Andy Stanley opened his sermon with a statement that was aimed mostly at the unbeliever. He said, “If you said to me one-on-one, ‘Andy, I’m not a Christian, I’m not a Jesus follower, but I’m going to let you take your best shot at convincing me to follow Jesus’ – Here’s what I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t try to defend the history of the church, because the church has done some really goofy things and there’s some really embarrassing (not just weekends of church history) seasons of church history. And, I wouldn’t try to defend a lot of things that Christians have said or the ways that Christians have treated you….and I wouldn’t try to convince you with the Bible.”
Stanley went on to explain, he said, “There were thousands and thousands and thousands of Christians before there was a Bible.” He then went on to say, “I would start with the resurrection of Jesus.” Why is it that Andy Stanley seems to distance himself from the Bible? Is it possible to present the resurrection of Jesus without the Bible? Could it be that some other historic account of Jesus’ resurrection carries more authority than the Bible? How would Andy Stanley pull from the evidence of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection without using the Bible?
Paul, a man who had seen the risen Jesus, wrote 1 Corinthians 15. Before Paul went to the eyewitnesses and other supporting evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, he started with the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul said the following:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
Notice that Paul’s starting point is the Bible (as Paul said – the Scriptures). Apparently Andy Stanley and the apostle Paul have very different starting points when it comes to defending the Christian religion. Before appealing to evidence, point to the authority of the written record that was prophesied (Psalm 16) and validated (1 Corinthians 15) in the sacred account of the Scriptures.
Immediately after stating that he would start with the resurrection of Jesus rather than the Bible in order to convince people of Christianity, Andy Stanley said, “There were tens of thousands of people who believed in the resurrection of Jesus before there was a Bible.” Exactly what does that statement mean? Is that a true statement? Was Psalm 16 considered to be part of Scripture before the resurrection of Christ? What exactly was Paul referencing in 1 Corinthians 15 when he appealed to “the Scriptures”?
Andy Stanley is a gifted communicator and apparently a good leader. He has a stunning résumé when it comes to church growth and leadership. However, Andy Stanley has positioned himself to the far left in recent days regarding his approach to Scripture and his position on other key Christian doctrines. His method of preaching the Bible has led to his capitulation on biblical doctrines. We can all learn a great lesson from Andy Stanley. As a pastor and leader in the evangelical world, Andy Stanley has been gifted with a platform and a voice, but sadly he has consistently pointed people off course. For that reason, we must beware of Andy Stanley and his ministry. He has demonstrated an inappropriate care for God’s Word and God’s sheep. The person who casts a shadow of doubt upon the Word of God likewise casts a shadow of doubt upon himself.
- R. Albert Mohler, “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” (AlbertMohler.com – 5-1-12)
- Kevin P. Emmert, “Should Pastors Stop Saying, ‘the Bible Says’?” (Christianity Today Magazine, July-August, 2014).
It’s hard to believe that another year has passed and 2016 is knocking on the door. As you consider the upcoming year, take time to do an honest evaluation of your past year. How much Bible reading did you accomplish? Do you have any way of tracking it? I want to encourage you to choose a Bible reading plan and chart it out during 2016. This will enable you to stay on a set schedule and chart your progress throughout the year.
Choosing From the Bible Reading Plans
First, you need to choose how you will read the Bible. Are you a tangible book person? Would you rather spend time reading your daily Bible passages from a physical book rather than through a phone or e-reading device? Perhaps an app for your phone that automatically synchronizes with your tablet would be a good pick for you. In either case, you need to develop a plan. Many different Bible reading plans have been organized over time and some of the most popular are listed below:
- Beginning to End: Read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
- Historical: Read through the Bible as they were written historically, based on the estimated date of their writing.
- Chronological: Read the Bible as the events occurred in real time. This plan tried to organize each event in the Bible and put it in an orderly flow.
- Old and New: Each day includes a passage from both the Old Testament and New Testament. One of the most popular is the Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Calendar.
Choosing a Good Time and Place
It may seem crazy, but organizing the time and location for your Bible reading is important. This will enable you to stay on track through the year without allowing unnecessary distractions to hamper you on a daily basis. It’s also important to think about your vacation and travel calendar so that you can mentally prepare yourself to compensate for the “off routine” approach during those days.
If you’re like me, you like to get up early and start the day by reading (and drinking coffee). I learned a long time ago that planning my time and location for reading is critical for me to stay on track. Otherwise, a long list of distractions are waiting for me throughout the day and before long, I’m way off track.
Recommended Reading Plan
I personally like the ESV app that’s available in the app store. It works on your phone and tablet. One of the things that I really enjoy about the app is the simple approach that it provides. Some apps are so bulky and complex that it works against the user at times. I have found the ESV app to be a really easy and simple approach to reading through the Bible.
If you have the ESV app, you will notice a small icon at the bottom of the screen that resembles a calendar. If you click on that icon, a list of reading plans will appear. There are 16 different Bible reading plans that include daily readings in the Psalms and Proverbs and several different 1 year Bible reading schedules. Once again, choosing a full year schedule is a great way to stay on track, and they’re all really good – it’s really about your style and preference at this juncture.
Some plans will allow you to read Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs all in a single day. Other plans will balance between the Old and New Testaments. For me, I personally prefer the M’Cheyne Bible reading schedule that was developed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne. It does a good job of balancing the Old and New Testaments.
In the ESV app, once you choose a plan, it automatically provides your daily Bible reading for you. There is also a percentage tracking system that shows you each day how much of the Bible you have read by percentage.
Proceed With Caution
Robert Murray M’Cheyne understood the advantages of a good Bible reading plan, but he likewise understood the dangers. He wrote to his church and warned them of reading the Bible out of formality, self-righteousness, carless reading, and out burdened approach (from a heavy yoke that’s too heavy to bear).
Reading the Bible is about knowing God and growing to love Him in a more intimate manner each day. If you’re merely reading words on a page rather than seeing and experiencing God from the Bible, you’re missing the point. God isn’t going to grade us on our percentage of Bible reading at the end of the year. However, a disorganized reading plan will likewise minimize spiritual growth, and that’s one thing we seek to avoid in choosing a good plan. God wants His children to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. What better way to accomplish this than by a good systematic Bible reading plan. Rather than merely opening up the Bible at random, read it verse-by-verse. As an older man, George Muller once said the following to a group of young believers:
“Now in brotherly love and affection I would give a few hints to my younger fellow-believers as to the way in which to keep up spiritual enjoyment. It is absolutely needful in order that happiness in the Lord may continue, that the Scriptures be regularly read. These are God’s appointed means for the nourishment of the inner man. . . .Consider it, and ponder over it. . . . Especially we should read regularly through the Scriptures, consecutively, and not pick out here and there a chapter.” 
- George Mueller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealing with George Muller, Written by Himself, Jehovah Magnified. Addresses by George Muller Complete and Unabridged, 2 vols. (Muskegon, Mich.: Dust and Ashes, 2003), 2:834.
One of the main questions Christians face is based on the reliability of the Bible. How do you know the Bible is true? Why do you believe the Bible is the Word of God? On what grounds do we embrace the Bible? The Bible is a unique book to say the least. It was compiled over a period of 1,500 years by forty different authors from various different geographic locations. These authors were all different in many ways. For instance, there were two kings, one tax collector, and a lowly goat farmer who make up the diverse list of human authors of the Bible. Yet, the question remains, how do you know the Bible is true?
First, we should avoid the really poor reasons that many people give to this question. It doesn’t matter if your pastor said it’s the Word of God, that’s not a good enough answer. If a skeptic asks you to give an answer to why you believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, the fact that your parents raised you in such a way doesn’t hold much credibility. So, why should we believe the Bible? This ancient book has been around for a long time, so how do you know the Bible is true?
The Jesus Answer
When answering the question – “How do you know the Bible is true?” – Jesus really is the answer. I realize that “Jesus” is often the answer to most questions during Bible study time for children. However, don’t overlook the child’s answer too quickly. If you examine the majority of the nonChristian religions, their major similarities are often their attack on the deity of Jesus Christ. The Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Muslims all three assault the deity of Jesus. However, Jesus has proven that He and the Father are one (John 10:30) and that He is indeed God who came to us in human flesh (John 1:14). What’s the proof? The resurrection of Jesus from the dead. B.B. Warfield writes:
A dozen ignorant peasants proclaiming a crucified Jew as the founder of a new faith; bearing as the symbol of their worship an instrument which was the sign of ignominy, slavery and crime; preaching what must have seemed an absurd doctrine of humility, patient suffering and love to enemies – graces undreamed of before; demanding what must have seemed an absurd worship for one who had died like a malefactor and a slave, and making what must have seemed an absurd promise of everlasting life through one who had himself died, and that between two thieves. 
Christianity would have been nothing more than a strange man proclaiming a strange message, and the Bible would be nothing more than a strange book in a long line of strange writings from ancient religious history without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The resurrection changed everything. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus validated the Bible.
The way in which Jesus used the Bible matters. Did He embrace it as reliable? Did Jesus approach the writings of the Bible as authoritative? Read through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7 and see how Jesus preached the Word, interpreted the Word, and embraced the Word as divine in nature. Jesus used Jonah as an illustration of His resurrection in Matthew 12:38-40. Not only did Jesus predict His own resurrection, but He used an Old Testament text to illustrate it. In doing so, we get a peek into the way Jesus approached Jonah. Apparently Jesus, who was raised from the dead, believed in a literal interpretation of the fish swallowing the prophet Jonah and spitting him up three days later. Jesus approached the Scriptures with respect and dignity, and embraced them as God’s Word (Matthew 22:41-45).
The Self Authentication of the Bible
How do you know the Bible is true? The Bible is unlike any other book. It has the tone of authority that vastly supersedes other books. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we see the internal claim of the Bible to have God as its source. Tatian, a second century disciple of Justin Martyr, took time to examine the writings of pagan religions. Tatian was a man who had a brilliant mind and it was through this God given ability that he looked at the world of religious writings. Notice what he says about the Bible in his work titled, Oration to the Greeks (c.165):
I was led to put my faith in these by the unpretending cast of the language, the inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centered on one Being. And my soul being taught of God, I discern that the former class of [pagan] writings lead to condemnation, but that these [Scriptures] put an end to the slavery that is in the world (29). 
Interestingly Tatian was captivated by the fact that the Bible itself bears the mark of heavenliness. In other words, the Bible has the mark of divinity, holiness, and authority in ways that cannot happen through the mere hand of a human author. As Tatian speaks of being taught of God, we are reminded of the words found in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The Unity of the Parts
How can one book written over a period of 1,500 years, by forty different human authors, in three different original languages, from three different continents, with many different genres possess such a unified message? As we read the Bible, the unity is apparent from the beginning. From Genesis to Revelation, there is one unified voice, one unified purpose, and one unified mission. The totality of the Bible is centered upon Jesus Christ. Jonathan Edwards once said, “Go often to your Bible to hear the great God Himself speak to you. There you may hear Christ speak.” 
What scheme of humanity could span such vast time periods, geographic locations, and linguistic barriers to come together in a cohesive unity that points to Jesus Christ as the savior of the world (John 4:42)? Sure, when one person writes a book and makes claims of divinity, it’s easy to remain unified, but when a book spans such a vast time period and possesses shared human authorship while remaining unified is abnormal to say the least.
The Preservation of the Bible
I was recently talking with a man from our church, and he was telling me about his conversations with a co-worker who refuses to believe the Bible. The skeptic was trying to throw off my friend by talking about discoveries through archeology and science. My friend said, “The more they discover as they continue to dig and explore, the bigger my God becomes with each new discovery.” That is a very true statement indeed.
If a person is on trial for breaking into his neighbor’s home and stealing jewelry, before the individual can be prosecuted and convicted of the crime, the jury will need some tangible evidence to prove he committed the crime. For instance, they will need some form of evidence such as finger prints, DNA, or perhaps pictures from a security camera. When it comes to the Bible, people ask for proof that it’s reliable and can be trusted. The good news is that we have proof in the manuscript evidence. The manner in which the Bible has been preserved over time validates its reliability.
If you take the other writings from history that predate the printing press, you will find that they too have manuscripts. Just like the Bible, they were copied down by scribes. For instance, we have 7 copies of Plato’s historical writings. We have 2,400 copies of the historical writings of Homer. When compared to the manuscript evidence of the New Testament, we have over 5,800 manuscripts. This dwarfs the other writings from other authors from ancient history. In fact, we have copies dating back to within a couple of hundred years of the original author for the New Testament Bible while manuscript evidence of the average classical author are no earlier than 500 years after his original autograph. The point is clear, the Bible has been preserved well over time without the printing press, without the Internet, without high definition copying systems, and the sheer manuscript evidence alone speaks volumes about the reliability and veracity of Scripture.
In the mid 1940s, a little shepherd boy was walking alongside the desert, and like little boys often do, he started throwing rocks. He aimed into a cave as he passed by, and when he heard a strange noise, he entered the cave to see what his rock had hit. What he discovered in that cave has become known to us as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those manuscripts provided additional clarity and support to the already vast manuscript evidence of the Bible.
The 1689 London Baptist Confession, in Article 1.4 on the Scriptures states, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God its Author (Who is Truth itself). Therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.” Throughout time, earthly kings have assaulted the Bible, skeptics have attacked the Bible, nations have rejected the Bible, heretics have perverted the Bible, atheists have ignored the Bible, and agnostics have avoided the Bible. However, the Bible remains true, trustworthy, and authoritative. The Bible reigns as king in the library of human history. From internal and intrinsic evidences to archeological discoveries and tangible manuscripts, the Bible continues to be validated as the Word of the living God. The prophet Isaiah was right when he wrote these famous words, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
- The Divine Origin of the Bible, Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1991, I.432.
- How Do You Know the Scriptures are from God? One Testimony in the Early Church
- Selections from the Unpublished Writings of Jonathan Edwards, Ballantyne and Company, 195.
Last summer, my family and I visited Washington D.C. and had the opportunity to visit the different museums around the historic city. While I’m quite sure my son enjoyed the visit to the US Bureau of Printing and Engraving more than any other attraction, I enjoyed the visit to the National Archives building where we stood over the Constitution of the United States of America along with the Bill of Rights and other historic documents.
If you want to really pick a fight with people, just talk about amending the Constitution and changing the historical document. Many people are extremely sensitive about the Constitution and believe in preserving the intent of the founding fathers of our nation. As I think back to my visit to see these old documents, I was struck by much more than the signatures of John Hancock and former presidents. I was amazed at the high tech security and security guards positioned next to the casing where the documents are housed in the museum. Much effort goes into preserving these historic pieces of paper.
When it comes to the historic documents of our nation, we seek to preserve the intention of the authors and signees, but when it comes to the Bible, why are we willing to play “fast and loose” with the biblical text? For many conservative Christians, they approach the Bible as a book written by God. However, they don’t pay much attention to the authorial intent of the specific text they’re reading. What did Paul intend for the church at Galatia? What about the church at Corinth? What was his overall goal with the church at Ephesus? What about young Timothy, why did Paul labor so much near the end of his life to write to Timothy?
The fancy “seminary” word for Bible interpretation is hermeneutics. The word hermeneutics, in brief, means the science of biblical interpretation. Most church members in the average evangelical church don’t use the term – hermeneutics, but they do employ specific interpretative methods each time they open their Bible. You see, it matters how we approach the Bible.
Are we merely cherry picking verses or quotes of Jesus about a selected topic or are we seeking to read the Bible in the broad context through a specific lens? Are we approaching the Bible in order to change the historic meaning to a more updated meaning that better suits our lifestyle or our culture? Do we have a right to assign meaning to the Constitution of the United States of America? The simple answer is – no. Why do so many people seem to think the Bible is an open book that provides us with revisionist license to change and alter meaning?
When we read Exodus are we connecting the dots to Jesus’ death on the cross and His priestly office as described in Hebrews or do we simply soldier through Exodus as if it’s disconnected history? Martin Luther rightly stated, “No man understands the Scriptures, unless he be acquainted with the cross.”
When reading the Bible, it’s vital to ask good questions about the text such as:
- Who wrote this particular book?
- What was his purpose / goal?
- How is this single text and the events taking place in this text connected to the history of redemption or the big story of salvation?
- What difficult words and verses are in this text that make it difficult to understand? Is there another place in the Bible where these same words are used by the same author? What about outside the specific author of this text? When reading the overall context, what does the natural definition of the words seem to mean?
- What is the single meaning of this text? Keep in mind, there is only one meaning for the text.
Does this remove the joy of reading the Bible? I would argue in the opposite direction. I think it increases joy as you’re able to unpack truth that will come to play in your life. There is a certain amount of joy in uncovering and discovering truth in the Bible – otherwise there is no end goal or purpose in your Bible reading.
As you hear people (especially during heated political conversations) talk about preserving the intentions of the founding fathers as they’re recorded in the historic documents of our nation, let that be a simple reminder about the necessity to preserve the meaning of the human author in each text of Scripture. Whatever God wanted to communicate is exactly what the human author wrote. However, he was not writing as a robot. God specifically chose and designed each human author so as to write and communicate from a certain perspective, with certain vocabulary, and with a certain personality. In short, what the human author wrote is what God wrote. This is the beauty of biblical inspiration. The goal in biblical interpretation is to unearth the gems of divine truth each time we read the Bible.
The Bible may be old, but it’s relevant. It may seem outdated, but it’s more relevant than our modern publications – including the morning’s newspaper. The Bible may seem insufficient to deal with the complexities of a modern culture, but each time we examine the hot topics being debated in the town square or the Supreme Court, they always have a connection to this old book that we call the Bible. Therefore, how we read it matters.
Thomas Watson once said, “The Scripture is to be its own interpreter, or rather the Spirit speaking in it; nothing can cut the diamond; nothing can interpret Scripture but Scripture.”1
1. Thomas Watson, A Puritan Golden Treasury, compiled by I.D.E. Thomas, by permission of Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA. 2000, p. 37.
Yesterday, thousands of people packed into Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California for the 2015 Summit on Biblical Inerrancy (aka – 2015 Shepherds’ Conference). Many people are questioning the reason for such a summit while others insist that the “Battle for the Bible” is over. It only takes a brief review of the current news regarding the Bible to see that the battle over inerrancy is far from over, and if history is any indicator, it is likely to repeat itself.
Rob Bell, a former megachurch pastor (Mars Hill Bible Church), has now departed from the church and is now “churching” with a group of friends as they now journey through life together and serve their community. Bell has turned into somewhat of a spiritual advisor for Oprah Winfrey and she is promoting Bell as a spiritual leader, coach, and expert on spirituality. Oprah has herself stirred up a dust cloud with her troubling beliefs about Christianity. Oprah’s views about God have been raising eyebrows for years. A video posted on Youtube titled, “The Church of Oprah Exposed” has been viewed literally millions of times. In that short video, Oprah denies the exclusivity of Christ. Bell, like Oprah, has been creating quite a cloud of controversy with his bold inclusivism and a clear departure from the church and the Bible as the Word of God. His book, Love Wins, created quite a stir in the evangelical world. In his book, Bell basically argues for a form of Universalism (Tim Challies’ review of his book was helpful). In his teachings on the Bible, Bell writes:
First, circular arguments are not helpful. For example The Bible is divinely inspired because it says it is. Any book could say that. Not only is this argument not helpful, but it’s terribly confusing for people who have never read the Bible.
Second, insisting that this book was written by God is not helpful. It was written by actual people. For people who are new to the Bible, telling them that it wasn’t written by people is terribly confusing as well. Start with the human, claim that first, then work your way to the divine.
Third, the Bible is not an argument. The people who wrote these things down had very real experiences of the divine and did everything they could to put those experiences in words. Those experiences were filtered through their consciousness, culture, worldview, and personal history. The stories in the Bible were told because they meant something profound to the people who first wrote them.
All doctrine and dogma and theology was first mystical experience. Someone had an encounter with the divine. And then they set out to articulate what happened.
What is really confusing and unhelpful is to suggest that all theology was first a “mystical experience” that was later written down. Theology is the study of God and it begins with God – not experience. God is revealing Himself through His Word, and the Bible is not the product of mystical experiences as Bell suggests.
In a recent interview with Oprah, Bell issues a warning to the churches that refuse to accept homosexuals into their membership. He said:
I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.
The point is clear, in a world full of progressive thinking, shifting politics, and a combination of postmodern and new age mysticism, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy matters. For those men and women who have never known what it means to battle for the Bible, it’s important to know the issues at hand and to be able to give an answer to the skeptic who asks, “Why do you believe that book – the Bible?” The doctrine of inerrancy is directly connected to the core of Christian truth. Is Jesus the only way to be reconciled to God? Did Jesus really rise from the dead on the third day or is that just a nice little story for children’s church?
In Paul’s final letter before he was beheaded for preaching the gospel, he took time to address Timothy – his son in the faith. As you read Paul’s letter, he doesn’t sound anything like Rob Bell. There is conviction and urgency in his tone. Before he arrived at the climatic passage in his letter found in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, he wrote these words in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The Greek term, “breathed out by God” is “θεόπνευστος” and it’s a unique word that contains “θεός” (God) and “πνέω” (to breathe or blow). The literal rendering could be – “the breath of God.”
Paul instructs Timothy by using this word, which was found only in that one place in the New Testament and no other place in all of Greek literature prior to Paul’s usage. Many scholars believe that Paul coined the term himself. Nevertheless, the point was clear to Timothy and has remained so through church history. From Clement to our present day, the term “θεόπνευστος” has been used as a technical term to describe the divine origin of the Bible.
To “tone” down our preaching and to become more inclusive in our approach as opposed to quoting “letters from 2,000 years ago” would be tragic. Yet, that very thing is playing itself out in the American culture today. It’s more than homosexuality. That is merely one issue among a lengthy list of ideas that are standing in line to test the waters among the evangelical church. Will the pastors today have the backbone to remain steadfast and immovable in the face of growing hostility? We must remember the conviction for God and His Word that men such as William Tyndale and John Rogers once possessed. Where are those faithful men and women who would rather be stoned or burned at the stake for God’s Word than to compromise in one jot or tittle? Once upon a time such men roamed the earth. As I stated in my sermon in the 2015 G3 Conference, we can trust our families, our churches, and our souls to the truth of the Bible. Rob Bell’s world may be increasing, but the promise of God delivered to us by Isaiah remains true, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Rob Bell’s world may seem far away from your world, but just a glance at the evening news or a conversation with a teenager will reveal why inerrancy matters.
B. B. Warfield writes, “θεόπνευστος is ‘God-breathed,’ produced by the creative breath of the Almighty. And Scripture is called θεόπνευστος in order to designate it as ‘God-breathed,’ the product of Divine spiration, the creation of that Spirit who is in all spheres of the Divine activity the executive of the Godhead…What it affirms is that the Scriptures owe their origin to an activity of God the Holy Ghost and are in the highest and truest sense His creation. It is on this foundation of Divine origin that all the high attributes of Scripture are built.“1
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1. B. B. Warfield, The Works of B. B. Warfield, Vol. 1, Revelation and Inspiration, 280.