Friday, 5 September 2014

All Scripture



2 Timothy 3:16-17 - All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

How perfect is the word of God, actually?

Even though I am a Christian, this is a huge question on my mind.  After all, the Bible is only as useful as its trustworthiness.  If the Bible is not perfect, how do I know which parts I can trust, and which parts I can't?  How do I know anything in it is true if some part of it is proven to be false?


Different Manuscripts, Different Words

One doesn't need to be smart or go to seminary or have theological debates to see how this question can arise.  All one has to do is open up a copy of the Bible.  On the bottom of bible is all sort of footnotes that are easy to ignore.  Yet if one doesn't ignore it, they can see that there's statements such as "some manuscripts do not include ______"or  "some manuscripts have say ______."  If there are differences between manuscripts, how do we know the manuscripts haven't been changed from their originals?

After doing research, we can discover how much discrepancies between manuscripts there really are, and it's a mindboggling high number.  Yet, as much discrepancies as there is, there is very few consequential discrepancies:  there are very little differences between manuscripts that would have any kind of significant impact on overall belief system of Christians.

One reason there are so many differences between manuscripts is because we have so many manuscripts of segments of the Bible.  The fact that the majority of them are so similar is actually more of a convincing point of how trustworthy they are rather than the opposite.  For instance, three witnesses of an event all telling relatively the same story is much more convincing that all three are being honest.  There may be a few differences in wording and perspectives in their stories, but as long as the main message behind their words remains constant we attribute truth to their words.  In fact, one person's perspective may fill in information that is lacking in another person's perspective, helping build the story.


The New Testament, For Instance 

I once saw a secular lecture on how the gospels were written, and the running theme was that certain writers were borrowing information from earlier gospels (I believe Mark was shown to be the earliest one written, and thus the shortest).  Of course, the skeptic may want to use this as proof that the writers were not actually eyewitnesses, or even using the accounts of eyewitnesses, but rather fabricating stories based on previous stories.

But that's far from a sound argument.  A believer in the inerrancy of the gospels could easily say that yes, the older gospels were referred to in writing newer ones, but only because one person's perspective and memory could only accomplish so much.  If the early Christians had indeed witnessed Jesus preach and do miracles, they wouldn't want to only report their own perspective, but a more complete story, and so using earlier gospels as reference would be convenient.


The Skeptic's Main Argument

So far in this article, I have not revealed enough for us to be certain one way or the other about how perfect the Bible is, looking at things objectively.  After all, just because there are many copies of the same thing doesn't mean that this thing is true.

I have heard many theories of why the early Christians would hold onto a false belief.  Most of them don't fly, including the theory that the disciples wanted to get fame and power.   By spreading the testimony of Jesus' divinity, they were putting their lives in danger, and they knew it.  If they wanted earthly advancement, this would be the wrong way to go about it.  This is especially true for Paul, who wrote a large portion of the New Testament.  Formally Saul, the self-proclaimed apostle of Jesus had all sorts of fame and power before his conversion.  He went from having prestige among the Jews to being the target of their persecution.

I'm open to any additional thoughts on the matter, but to me the skeptic's most convincing argument is that the reason Christianity spread so fast wasn't because it was necessary true, but because it gave the commoners and underprivileged something to believe in that would make their lives bearable.  After all, if God really loved them so much that he would send his son to save them, they didn't have to be overcome by earthly hardships because they know that they are loved and that "Heaven" is in store for them.  They clung to the belief out of necessity; believing anything contrary to Christianity was far less appealing, especially since it takes relatively the same amount of faith to believe in one unseen entity as another.


My Counter Argument

If you have already read "From Science to Jesus - PartIII: Science and Jesus," you'll know the bulk of my argument against what I believe is the skeptic's best attempt at calling the New Testament false.

The atheist discounts the role of miracles in the spreading of Christianity.  If the disciples and early church believers were really performing miracles, as the New Testament claims, this would easily explain not only the fact that Christianity became so popular, but the rapid speed that it did so.

It would be super hard to explain the intense shockwave Christianity had on the world without the real, visceral, experience of the supernatural in one form or another.  If the religion was made up, there would be no real miracles to be seen.  Sure, there would be the placebo effect or the overall power of positive thinking, which can be a formidable force, but not so formidable that could convince mass amounts of people to start spreading lies.

Plus, if the earliest Christians' main goal was to present an appealing belief system that would make earthly life more bearable because of the hope for a better afterlife, there would be so much better ways to go about it than Christianity.  After all, it would have been so much easier to leave out the part where Jesus claimed to be the only way to get into Heaven.  The attitude of many in society today, particularly among the "spiritual but not necessarily born again Christian," is a good example of how the trend is for the majority of people to believe something more because they wish to than because they find the majority of evidence proves it to be true.

The people who reportedly initiated Christianity were Jews, and a large portion of them already believed in a God who loved them and in an afterlife to hope towards.  The commoners and underprivileged already had a large number of religions to believe in without Christianity, and there was no reason for masses of them to abandon tradition, and in a lot of cases, their families and friends, to turn to this belief system unless it presented something special and real that they were not able to get from just any religion.

Well maybe the early disciples weren't making things up, per se, but were still deluded into thinking what they were spreading was the truth."  Although this would be more motivation for an evangelizing and missionary spreading spree, there would have to be a large number of people deluded.

And what would they be fooled about?  Jesus' death?  Jesus' resurrection?  After all, Jesus' death and resurrection is the foundational miracle of the Christian faith.

Once one truly understood the nature of crucifixion and the torture Jesus went through, believing anything other than the fact that he died would be delusional.  I know there's many (many, many, many) people who believe Jesus didn't actually die.  Although I prefer not to, if I am pressed to, I will dig up resources and information on this topic.

In Acts 1:3 we read that Jesus gave the disciples many proofs that he was alive.  The disciples were only as deluded as the modern day scientist, going with the evidence.  And it wouldn't just be a handful of deluded people either, 1 Corinthians 15:6 tells us that Jesus appeared to over five hundred people.

The Christian can take comfort knowing the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection.  But the Bible contains more than just this monumental event, and this article is our journey to discover if we can trust in the rest of God's Word.


Scripture

 Before we start asking the question of how the Bible is infallible, we must first ask the question of what is meant by "Scripture."  We can't very well say "Scripture is that which is God-breathed, and it's God-breathed because it is Scripture."

I found this link helpful in finding out how the Bible was originally put together:
http://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/who-decided-what-went-into-the-bible.html

 The critic might wince every time people describe the formation of the Bible with words along the lines of "God decided what would be in the Bible."  This, of course, can be said to be a circular argument as well:  "God is real because the Bible says he is, and we can trust the Bible because God says so."

However, we have more than just a the word of a hypothetical deity to go on in figuring out what is meant by "Scripture."

The Old Testament was the group of books already accepted by Jews as Scripture, being as it consists of "the Law and the Prophets."  It contains literature both in the historical genre as well as prophesies.  We are able to see the Law as Scripture not only because it contains the fundamental traditions connected to Judaism before Christianity, but because the historical aspects of it have yet to be proven wrong by the historical data we are able to gather by other means.

The prophets that are alongside the Law gives it some additional support.  The God of the Old Testament showed himself to be real when he spoke through the prophets of things that hadn't happened yet, and their prophesies came true.

When the Gospels, the eyewitness accounts of Jesus and his teachings, came around, the early Christians had no problem accepting as Scripture.  After all, as I have aforementioned, eyewitness accounts of Jesus miracles made it easier for its recorded accounts to be accepted.

Although the nature of the complete canon (list of books) of the Bible is not universally agreed upon, the basic, Protestant canon consisting of sixty-six books are generally accepted as Scripture by any Christian institution.

There are so many manuscripts out there, which one is the actual "Scripture?"

Good point.  Even if the original documents were accepted as Scripture, it doesn't mean the copies we have now are loyal to the original and should be regarded with the same reverence.  But it can also be said that the more true the copies stay to the original, the more we can attribute them with truth.  We may or may not have original manuscripts, but we can discern by the copies we have of the original that they are close enough to be regarded as Scripture; through studying our available resources we can see that they are saying the same thing as the original.

Which Scripture is referred to in 2 Timothy 3:16?  People may wish to claim that Paul was only talking about the Old Testament because at that point the gospels and letters had not been collected and formally labelled as the New Testament.  There's also this verse that goes along with this mindset:
Romans 3 (NIV):  1What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

Is Paul writing this alongside the claim that his own writing is also "Scripture?"

In Ephesians, Paul claims that to have special access to divine inspiration:
Ephesians 3:1-5 (NIV) -  For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,  that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.  In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,  which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

Since Paul is claiming to have access to information unknown to previous generations given to him by the power of the Holy Spirit, I would personally say that Paul himself would indeed refer to his own writings as Scripture. 


God-breathed

It is a big deal to call any literature "the Word of God."  Connecting the Bible to God not only implies that the Bible is perfect, but that God, as the driving force behind it, must shoulder the responsibility of any of its faults.

The image people have of God is only as trustworthy as the basis they have for forming this image.  A faulty foundation for a belief will lead to a faulty image of God.  It's imperative for Christians that the Bible is proven to be inerrant, or else we won't be able to trust our viewpoint of who God is.

Fortunately we can be assured that Scriptures are God-breathed; we can take comfort in knowing that although the words in the Bible were indeed penned by man, they were written under inspiration of his power.  Although I've already touched on these points before, here's reasons why I stand by the claim that all Scripture is God-breathed:
- it says it is
- prophesies therein have come to pass
- the God of the bible is still active today just as throughout history
- there is no other presented worldview by which we can see the evidence in this world and have it make sense.  Especially when you take into consideration the question of morality, the supernatural, and justice

I already know the firepower the skeptic has on their side.  I know about the list of supposed contradictions in the Bible.  I plan on addressing these concerns eventually, as I do not want to leave the skeptic with an ounce of an excuse not to believe the Bible is truth.  For now, I wish to leave you with the following conclusions I have made about the Bible:
1.  The original writings of the Scriptures were inspired by God, and the copies we have now don't differ in any significant way; the manuscripts we are using as source material do not differ so much that the message behind their words change in a way that the main message behind their words are not certain. 
2.  The original writing of the Bible was perfect.  The way we interpret the Bible is not perfect.   We cannot blame God for the failure of language to convey his message exactly the same throughout the course of history.  Even though language is constantly changing, the Word made flesh, Jesus, never changes and is the center of the message of the Bible.
3.  When we read the Bible, we need to take verses in the proper context - not only in the context of the surrounding text, but in the context of the audience that the text was initially written for.
4.  Because the whole of Scripture is true, we can't pick and choose the parts we want to believe.  You either need to accept the whole thing, or reject it as any kind of solid basis for truth.



It's All Good

So far the only part of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that I have addressed is "all Scripture is God-breathed."  But it was not a mistake that I included the whole of the two verses at the very start of this article:  we need to go from the claim of the initial prepositions to its practical implications.

"All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching..."  We can go to the Bible as a source of knowledge, a textbook of the way things really are.  There may be parts of the Bible that we don't understand, but there's still a great deal that it's very clear about.  We can proclaim these things as truth.  We can use the Bible to educate people on the way things are.

"...rebuking, correcting..."  We know things are wrong by measuring it by the standard the Bible sets.  Yes, when rebuking or correcting others we need to make sure we are doing it in a way that is loving.  Yet, something that is unloving is letting a person live on in ignorance until it becomes the death of them without at least attempting to set them on the right path that leads to eternal happiness.

"... and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

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