We live in a pluralistic society with dozens of competing claims to truth. A bewildering variety of religions, philosophies, political ideologies and personal codes of conduct all attempt to convince us that they have special insights into reality and the proper way to live. To many people, the historic Christian gospel appears as just one more voice in the marketplace of ideas. All of this raises the question of why anyone should believe that what we have to say is any different. In other words, who is to say that Christians are right when we claim that the gospel is uniquely the truth?
Providing compelling reasons to people who question the Christian Faith is called Apologetics. We don’t have space in this article for more than a brief explanation of some of the more compelling pieces of evidence, so I will simply deal with some of the good reasons we have for believing the gospel under the following headings:
- The reliability of the Bible
- The amazing evidence for the Bible’s inspiration
- The compelling body of facts affirming Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the risen Savior of the world.
- The Evidence of History and Archeology
- The startling transformation of the disciples of Jesus
- The unstoppable spread of the gospel across time and cultures
- The millions of supernaturally changed lives over the past couple of thousand years.
The first thing we must tackle is the issue of the Bible, and specifically:
- Is the Bible trustworthy as a document? That is, can we understand our current Bible versions as accurately representing the original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments? To answer this question we must rely on the evidence of the manuscript tradition. And, along with that is another question–
- Is the Bible inspired by God? In other words, is the Bible more than just a collection of merely human writings? Put simply, can we discern the hand of God in the books of the Bible?
OK, back to the first part of this question: You may already be familiar with the fact that the Bible comes from the ancient scriptural writings of the Jews, mainly in Hebrew, and from the Greek writings of the early Church. As far as anyone knows, no actual documents from the original writers still exist. That means we must rely on ancient manuscripts copies of these original documents. But how do we know that when we pick up the Bible to read Genesis or Romans that what we are reading is a faithful and accurate representation of what was originally written by say, Moses or the Apostle Paul?
Old Testament Evidence. Let’s begin with a quick look at the manuscript evidence for the Old Testament. What Christians accept as the Old Testament, Jews have been using for centuries as their sacred scriptures. By the way, they don’t call it the Old Testament: they use terms like Torah, Tanach or simply the Hebrew Scriptures.
Until 1947, the standard Hebrew manuscripts available for making copies of the Old Testament were the Massoretic Texts. These documents, dating from around 900 AD, were used as the basis for making more current copies of the Old Testament. Since the conventional date for the writing of the books of the Old Testament is between 1400 and 400 BC, and the Massoretic Texts date from around 900 AD, that leaves an average of more than 1,500 years between the originals and the copies being used for Old Testament study and translation. In other words, there appeared to be lots of time for copyists to make copying mistakes, or even deliberate changes.
But the situation changed in 1947 with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of the documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls are dated from before 100 BC and the collection includes every book of the Old Testament except Esther. So, suddenly we have manuscript copies a thousand years closer to the source.
These fragile manuscripts from well before the time of Christ have been compared with the Massoretic Texts in order to discover how much the material of Old Testament might have changed over centuries of copying. The result was the amazing discovery that little or no significant variation occurred in more than 1,000 years between the Dead Sea Scrolls (around 100 BC) and the Massoretic Texts (around 900 AD). It proved what Jewish and Christian tradition had always claimed: that Jewish scribes followed rigorous copying procedures to ensure accurate transmission of the text of the Hebrew scriptures.
New Testament Evidence. If we are encouraged by the evidence for the Old Testament, the evidence for the integrity of the New Testament is even better. The text used for study and translation of the New Testament is derived from literally thousands of early manuscripts. Just for starters, there are the more than 5,000 manuscripts in the original Greek in which the books of the New Testament were written.
To be fair, not all of these manuscripts are complete copies of the New Testament. Some are just fragments of books. But even so, this is an impressive amount of evidence. Add to this, the very early copies of the New Testament in other languages, which can be used for comparison with the Greek copies, This adds up to a total of more than 20,000 early manuscripts on which our current New Testament is based.
Latin Vulgate: 10,000+
If that were not enough, virtually the entire New Testament can be reconstructed from quotes found in the writings of early Christian leaders (called the Patristic Writings). These date from the Second to around the Seventh Centuries AD.
What does all of this tell us? Just that we can be highly confident that what we are reading in our mainstream English translations (or Spanish, French—or any other language) is a highly accurate rendering of what was contained in the original documents of the Old and New Testaments.
The issue of inspiration. The Bible is littered with claims that it is much more than just the words of its human authors. In the Old Testament, some writers passed on messages directly from God. For example Isaiah 44:6, “This is what the LORD says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” In fact, the phrase “Thus saith the Lord” (or its equivalent) appears more than two thousand times in the books of the Old Testament. Others received messages from God in dreams and visions, while still other writers like Samuel and Ezra saw themselves as guided by God to record events in Israel’s history.
In the gospels, Jesus affirmed the infallibility of the Old Testament in Matthew 5:18 and he cited other passages as predicting aspects of his life and ministry. Verses like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 affirm the Old Testament to be from God. Then in 2 Peter 3:15, the Apostle Peter refers to Paul’s New Testament writings like Romans and Galatians as being inspired in the same way as the Old Testament scriptures.
However, the Bible is by no means the only book claiming divine inspiration. The Qur’an of Islam, the Book of Mormon and a variety of other religious books make similar claims. So, what evidence is there that the claims made in the Bible have any basis in fact? To answer this, we will look at the evidences of:
- Fulfilled prophecy, and of—
- The Bible’s uncanny insight into human nature.
Let’s take just the prophecies specifically fulfilled by Jesus:
- Jeremiah 23:5 says that the Messiah will come from of the family line of David. This is fulfilled in the life of Jesus in passages like Matthew 1:6 and Luke 3:31.
- Micah 5:2 gives Bethlehem as the place where Messiah will be born. Again, this is shown to be Jesus’ birthplace in Matthew 2:1. Some might bring up the fact that other of Jewish men in the First Century could make those claims. That is certainly true. Nonetheless, only those who could make these claims would have been candidates for Messiah. So, this shows that Jesus’ claims were at least valid.
- Messiah will be born of a virgin in Isaiah 7:14? Luke 1:26-35 claims this is fulfilled in the angelic announcement to Jesus’ mother, Mary. Again, some would point out that a virgin birth would be hard to prove. Granted, but on this point there is independent evidence that there was indeed some irregularity about Jesus’ birth. Oddly enough it comes from a source not exactly positive toward Jesus or Christianity–the Talmud of ancient Judaism. It says, in reference to Jesus’ birth: “His mother was Miriam (note—we call her Mary), a women’s hairdresser. As they say, ‘This one strayed from her husband’.”
The Talmud says in another place, also speaking of Mary, that she was, “… the descendant of princes and governors, who played the harlot with carpenters.” In other words, it was a well-known fact that Jesus birth was unusual.
Let’s move on to some things which would clearly be far-fetched for Jesus to fulfill through his own efforts:
- According to Isaiah 50:6, the Messiah will be beaten and spit upon. This was fulfilled in Jesus’ experience according to Matthew 26:67.
- His hands and feet will be pierced: predicted in Psalm 22:16 and fulfilled in Luke 23:33.
- His clothing will be divided by casting lots; predicted in Psalm 22:18 and fulfilled in John 19:23-24.
- His bones will not be broken: this is predicted in Psalm 34:20 and fulfilled in John 19:33.
- His side will be pierced, according to Zechariah 12:10. This is fulfilled in John 19:34.
One statistician calculated that the odds of Jesus accidentally fulfilling just eight of the more than sixty prophecies attributed to him would be on the order of 1 in 10 to the 17th power (that’s 1 in 10 with 17 zeros behind it). Plainly stated, the chances are simply astronomical [Peter Stoner in Science Speaks].
The Evidence of History and Archeology. How about the many historical and archeological confirmations of the Bible? Those who question the Bible sometimes ask questions like: “Don’t history and archeology show that the Bible contains significant errors, which bring the entire Christian Faith into question?”
Fortunately, many claims made by the Bible can be tested historically. People, places and events mentioned can be directly confirmed through various types of inquiry. For instance:
- The strange three-hour period of darkness which Matthew 27:45 describes as covering the land at Jesus’ death, and which is referenced to Amos 8:9-10. But can this be believed? The claim that darkness covered a significant portion of the Mediterranean world between noon and 3:00 pm on the day Jesus was crucified might seem a bit hard to believe. And yet there are those very intriguing references to such an event in non-biblical Roman sources.
For instance, the Second Century Greek author Phlegon, is quoted in the writings of Origen [Against Celsus, Book 2] as saying, “During the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon.” Another mention of this event comes through the Third Century author, Julius Africanus who says concerning this mysterious darkness, “Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably as it seems to me…”.
So why would the writer Africanus consider a solar eclipse to be unreasonable as an explanation for the darkness during the crucifixion? The answer is because a solar eclipse can only occur when the moon is directly between the earth and the sun. But Passover season, when Jesus was crucified, only happens when the moon is full—that is with the earth directly between the moon and the sun. In other words, a solar eclipse was impossible at that particular time.
Over the past century or so, a growing body of archeological evidence has also given its support to the overall picture of Bible events and conditions. During this time, several prominent archeologists have become convinced that the evidence overwhelmingly tends to confirm the Biblical record. For example:
- William Foxwell Albright (dates), of John’s Hopkins University and Director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, said this in his book, The Archaeology of Palestine: ”The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible…. has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.”
- Dr. Nelson Glueck (dates), world-renowned expert of the archeology of Palestine and President of Hebrew Union College put it this way, “..it may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted (disproved) a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made, which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible.” Rivers in the Desert, pp. 31.
Here are some examples of archeological and anthropological confirmations of the biblical record:
- Legends of a catastrophic flood found among widely scattered ethnic groups worldwide cast an intriguing light upon the story of Noah in Genesis 6-9.
- The fact that Mesopotamia (parts of Iraq Iran and Syria) was the cradle of world civilization confirms the biblical account of early human culture from the early chapters of Genesis.
- Various ancient documents, such as the Ebla, Amarna and Nuzi Tablets both confirm and shed new light on various cultural practices of people mentioned in the Bible. (Thompson, pp.1654-55, 1633, 1883)
- In 1975 a clay seal surfaced, inscribed with the name of Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch, authenticating the existence of that biblical character.
- During archeological excavations in 1994 in northern Israel, workers found an inscription mentioning for the first time independently of the Bible, the Israelite royal House of David.
- Archeological findings at Delphi in Greece authenticate the words of Acts 18:12-17 that Gallio was governor of the city of Corinth in 51 AD. No mention of this fact had been available until this discovery at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Psychological Arguments. Moving on to evidence that might be described as more psychological, the Bible has what I would call a supernatural knack for accurately describing human nature. In example after example, it accounts in realistic detail, as no other religion or philosophy does, for the heights of our nobility as well as the depths and extent of our degradation.
Take for instance the case of King David who, in the book of Psalms, wrote some of the most moving devotional poetry ever composed, and yet who also deliberately committed sins of adultery and murder. I could cite numerous other examples from the lives of Abraham, Moses, Peter and others whose lives are praised for their faith and heroism but who also had very typical human failings.
What does this tell us? It seems to me pretty clear that the Bible realistically portrays human behavior. It also tells us that God is truly gracious in using real people to accomplish his will and in his urgency in redeeming us. In other words, the biblical accounts ring true as they show real people relating to God.
Given the Bible’s inspiration and reliability, we can go on to make a case for other aspects of the Historic Christian message. For example:
- The miracles of Jesus are a powerful indication that his claims of being the Son of God were valid. The Gospel accounts show Jesus doing things no one has done before or since. With a simple word, he healed the sick and raised the dead. He walked on water and turned water into wine.
Certainly other religions make claims that their founders worked miracles. But the way in which the Gospels depict Jesus as doing the miracles and then downplaying the sensational effects they generated, certainly says that these events were performed by someone extra special and that they were performed for purposes which have nothing to do with common publicity value.
Then of course there is the resurrection. Here is a topic worthy of discussion all by itself. The resurrection is the supreme evidence that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. From a historical point of view, it is clear that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Even his enemies agreed about that. But their explanation that Jesus’ disciples overpowered the guard and stole the body doesn’t fit with the demoralized spirit of the disciples at the crucifixion. It doesn’t fit with their initial unbelief when the women announced that his body was missing. Neither does it account for the dramatic change in the behavior of these disciples or the astounding growth of the early Christian movement.
The incredible impact of the Jesus’ resurrection shows that his crucifixion did achieve reconciliation with God and the making of a new humanity.
- Let’s move on to consider the absolute conviction of the Apostolic generation. Nearly all of them were willing to die horrible deaths for the message they proclaimed. The argument has been made in numerous other settings that it makes no sense whatever that men would willingly die such deaths if they knew (or suspected) that their message was false. Yet they remained unshakeable to the end. That fact communicates huge confidence that the gospel message is truthful.
- How about the impressive basic consensus of the Christian community which transcends generations and ethnicities. Whether it was the unprecedented coming together of First Century Jews and Gentiles through the redemption of Jesus, or the gospel’s appeal in the Early Middle Ages to the barbarian tribes of Europe, or its spread in more modern times to the diverse peoples of every continent, the message of Jesus resonates in every time and culture.
So the Christian message is not tied to a certain group of people or a particular era in history. It is truly trans-cultural and adaptable to a variety of peoples and situations.
- That brings us to a final piece of evidence: the changed lives of millions upon millions of individuals over the centuries. I could relate the stories of people like Augustine who changed from a philosopher critical of Christianity to the greatest defender of the Faith during those dark years when Rome was collapsing. Then there is John Newton, who was actively involved in Britain’s slave trade during the late 1700s, but who was transformed into an opponent of slavery and an advocate of God’s amazing grace.
These examples represent thousands more. In fact, the kind of proof for Christianity which is compelling to average people, isn’t the somewhat technical material we discussed earlier, but the truly changed lives of real believers living among us.
This is just a fraction of the evidence Christians can point to supporting the claims of Christianity. A complete course in apologetics includes much more extensive evidence and arguments for the Christian Faith. But let’s be realistic: none of the evidence is absolutely irrefutable. There will always be arguments against any of the points we could make.
But then, for nearly everything in life, fool-proof evidence is hard to come by. Even in our courts of law, jurors are asked to decide difficult cases based upon evidence that is merely “beyond a reasonable doubt”. So what I have presented may simply be dismissed by those heavily committed to other points of view. It boils down to this: I believe that, taken together, the evidence for the Christian faith is compelling in a way, which no other religion or “rival gospel” can match. In other words, the evidence for Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world authenticates itself in every area of human inquiry and experience. That means we can share the good news about his with great confidence.
Michael Bogart (I owe much of the data for this article to Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell.)
Until 1947, the earliest Hebrew manuscripts available to serve as the basis for Old Testament study and translation were the Massoretic Texts of eastern European Jews. These texts of the Hebrew Scriptures date from around 900 AD. The translators of the Authorized Version (King James Version) used these texts as the basis for their Old Testament translation.
Besides the Massoretic texts, the Christian Church had always used the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament made around 200 BC. The Septuagint was used to compare with Hebrew Massoretic Texts to check meaning and accuracy. In the 1800 and 1900s other early Old Testament documents were discovered, adding more textual information.
Add to all of this, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Qumran) in 1947, and the huge impact made on biblical scholarship by these very ancient documents. The Hebrew and Aramaic scrolls of Qumran date from the 200s BC to the 100s AD and include every book of the Old Testament except Esther, as well as other kinds of writings. These have been compared with the Massoretic Texts, the Septuagint and other manuscripts to discover how much the text of the Hebrew scriptures may have changed over time as manuscripts were copied.
The result was the amazing fact that little or no significant variation occurred in more than 1,000 years of copying from 200 BC to 900 AD. The only major differences in the texts were the Massoretic invention of Hebrew vowel points as a refinement over the mainly consonantal biblical Hebrew.
So, the tradition that Jewish scribes used extreme care in copying the scriptures proved to be correct and those who study and live by the Old Testament can do so with confidence.
The New Testament Books by Category and Theme
The Synoptic Gospels
- Matthew: The gospel to the Jews
- Mark: The gospel to the Romans
- Luke: The gospel to the Greeks
The Supplementary Gospel. John: The gospel to the world
History. Acts of the Apostles: A record of the early Christian Church
- Paul’s Travel Epistles: Romans: Most comprehensive discussion of salvation; 1 Corinthians: Correction of Corinthian errors and divisions; 2 Corinthians: Paul defends his authority and concern for the Corinthians; Galatians: Salvation by grace apart from works; 1 Thessalonians: Clarification about the resurrection of believers; 2 Thessalonians: Clarification about the timing of Christ’s return
- Paul’s Prison Epistles: Ephesians: The Church as a united new people in Christ; Philippians: Joy at Christ’s presence through adversity; Colossians: Warnings against participation in heresy; Philemon: A personal letter to Paul’s friend about Onesimus
- Paul’s Pastoral Epistles: 1 Timothy: Instructions to Timothy about Christian leadership; Titus; Titus is instructed to set standards of sound doctrine and good works; 2 Timothy: Paul’s final words given to Timothy
- Miscellaneous Epistles: Hebrews: Christ is superior to the Torah (Mosaic Covenant); James: Practical issues for Christian living; Jude: God’s judgment on false teachers
- Petrine Epistles: 1 Peter: Courage under suffering; 2 Peter: False teaching is strongly condemned
- Johannine Epistles: 1 John: Warnings against Gnostic teachers; 2 John: Cooperation with false teachers is forbidden; 3 John: Cooperation with teachers of the gospel is commanded
Apocalypse: Revelation: Preparation for Christ’s return
The last book of the Bible was written 1,900 years ago. In that time, empires have risen and fallen: Rome is gone; Charlemagne’s empire has vanished; mighty Britannia has given her children their freedom. Major wars have been fought. New philosophies have come into vogue and have declined. Electronic technology has improved and become common place. In light of all this, the Bible may seem like a quaint but archaic book, good only for gathering dust on the shelf or for analyzing in a classroom.
What could the Bible possibly have to say that would be relevant to us and our particular needs in the Twenty-first Century? Surprisingly, it has a lot to say! This is partly because fundamental human needs haven’t changed at all in 2,000 years and partly because God inspired scripture to speak to people in every age. So, the Bible we have today continues to answer the basic questions people are asking. You can look up the scripture references yourself and see what you think. For example:
- Is there a God, and if so, what is He like? (See Psalm 14:1, Romans 1:19-20, John 3:16, etc).
- How did the universe come into being? (See Hebrews 11:3, Genesis chapters 1 and 2, etc.)
- Why do humans have a strong tendency to hurt others, break widely accepted rules and live for themselves? Is there some basic flaw in us? (See Genesis chapter 3, Romans 1: 18ff, 3:9-18, etc.)
- Is there some way to correct this flaw and have acceptance with God? (See John 14:6, Romans 3:22-23, Galatians 5:24).
- Is there any basis for real brotherhood among people? (See Genesis 1:27-28, 10:32, Romans 10:12, etc.)
- Does life have any meaning or purpose? (See John 10:10, John 17:3).
- Is there life after death? (See Revelation 20:11-15, Luke 23:40-43, John 14:2, Revelation 7:9).
These questions and many others are answered in the book of books, known as the Bible. I challenge you to search for its answers yourself. You might just be delighted by what you find!
A Basic Explanation of English Bible Versions
One of the most frequently asked questions among Christians these days is, “Which version of the Bible should I use?”. The wide variety of English Bible translations have indeed been a great blessing in many ways; but at times they have also been a source of confusion. The person hearing a sermon or attending a Bible class may be at a loss because the version they are using reads slightly differently from the one being used by the leader. So how did the English speaking church go from the time in the early Twentieth Century when the King James Version (also known as the Authorized Version) was nearly universal among Protestants, to our situation today with easily a dozen widely used translations?
Before we go into a brief history of the English Bible, we should remember that neither the Old or New Testaments were originally written in English. In fact, the English language (as we would recognize it) was non-existent during the period of time in which these documents were being composed. The books of the Old Testament were written over approximately 1000 years, beginning around 1400 BC, with the majority written in ancient Hebrew, while a few of the later ones were penned in the related language of Aramaic. The New Testament was composed in a type of ancient Greek known as Koine (common or trade Greek) during the second half of the First Century AD.
When these biblical languages could not be understood by a significant number of God’s people, there were attempts to translate the scriptures into the languages spoken by them. For instance, in the book of Ezra, Ezra the priest had the Hebrew scriptures translated into Aramaic for the Jews who had been exiled to Babylon and could no longer speak the native language of their ancestors. Several centuries later, in around 200 BC, other Jewish scholars did the same thing for Jews living in Greek-speaking lands. The New Testament was translated in the first several centuries AD into Latin, Ethiopic, Syriac and other languages of early Christians.
The English-speaking people did not officially convert to Christianity until the 600s AD. Along with the rest of the Western Europe, they used the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible in worship. Consequently few people had access to the Bible in its original languages. Due to the Roman Catholic policy of using a uniform version of the Bible among its people and closely guarding those scriptures from misuse by untrained people, centuries went by without any serious attempt to translate the scriptures into English. The first successful effort to do so was by the priest, John Wycliffe in the 1370s. He used the Latin Vulgate as the basis for his work, rather than Greek or Hebrew manuscripts. Though Wycliffe’s translation was second-hand at best, its major contribution was to create in the common people a hunger for the Bible in their native English.
The first attempt to use the original languages for translation was by William Tyndale in the 1520s. His excellent work was supplemented in the years that followed by other versions, such as the Coverdale Bible, the Geneva Bible and the Bishops’ Bible, which were the first English Bibles to be used for public worship. With the growing influence of Puritanism in the late 1500s and the inheritance of the English throne by King James I, there was a renewed desire for a standard English Bible to be used in all the Protestant churches. King James commissioned this project in 1607at the Hampton Court Conference, with a panel of 50 scholars who worked on the translation for four years. This Authorized Version was published for use in 1611 and became the standard for English use for the next 350 years. It is a remarkable combination of quality translation (given the manuscripts available at the time) and an elegant English style.
Toward the end of the 1800s a number of Bible scholars and clergy began to sense that the Authorized Version was no longer adequate for several reasons. More recent discoveries of ancient manuscripts had added to the knowledge of the original language texts. Along with this, English had changed dramatically since 1611, so that the English itself needed updating as well. These concerns led to the Revised Standard Version of the 1880s, which was updated again in 1952. The Twentieth Century saw an explosion of Bible translations. The New American Standard Bible in 1971 was an attempt to translate the Bible into a distinctively American English. While the English style has been accused of being awkward, it is actually one of the most precise translations in the English language.
New theories of translation in the late Twentieth Century added to the mix of versions available. Rather than a closely literal approach, many opted for what can be described as either a paraphrase or a thought-for-thought translation. Among these are the Living Bible (1962), which is a paraphrase, originally designed for children, the Good News Bible (1966) which is another paraphrase designed for people in the counter-culture, and the New International Version (1978) a thought-for thought translation aimed at the entire English-speaking world. The NIV has become one of the most widely-used versions because of its simple, generic English and its accuracy of translation. All of these translation efforts have used the reconstructed original language manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments.
There have also been some recent revisions of older translations. The New King James modernizes the English of the Authorized Version, while at the same time, adjusting the translation from updated manuscript data. The New Revised Standard Version is a gender –neutral update of the older Revised Standard Version. Other popular versions of the Bible include the Phillips expanded paraphrase, the Message, which is a more recent paraphrase, and the Roman Catholic New Jerusalem and New American Bibles.
So, which Bible is best for you? Many people like to use a paraphrase or a thought-for thought version for reading, while relying on a more literal version for study. Try sampling a few to find out which suits your needs. Stay away from off-beat, inaccurate and agenda-driven translations, such as the New World Translation of the Watchtower Society. Otherwise, find a Bible you will use regularly and use it!
April, 15, 2009 Dear friends,
This has been a very full spring so far. I am involved in my two half-time ministry positions (Director of the JARON Bible Institute and Associate Pastor at Campus Bible Church of Fresno, California). Beyond these responsiblities I will have taught five college and university courses by the time June 1 rolls around. So you can see that it was a nice break (and a very fulfilling experience) to interrupt the schedule and travel to Texas and northern Mexico to engage in a week of intensive ministry (March 6-15) with my cousin, Roger Tomlinson of Dayspring Outreach.
One of the personal benefits of this trip is the chance to take an extra couple of days and visit my brother, Marty Bogart and his family in south Texas. Marty, Roger and I usually spend time catching up and reminiscing about our childhood days in the 60s. For us, at least, it is a lot of fun.
On Sunday, Roger and his wife Carolyn and I drove across the border into Mexico, crossing a narrow arm of the state of Tamaulipas and pushing on into Nuevo Leon. Our destination is the village of La Haciendita, about ten miles outside Cadereyta, which in turn is 20 miles or so from the third-largest city in the country: Monterrey.
With all of the news about drug-related killings along the Mexican border, we were extra-watchful on our journey. The only signs of tension we saw during this week were beefed-up checkpoints of the Mexican Army along the route. This time about half of the soldiers were wearing ski masks to hide their identities against possible reprisals by the bad guys. It was a bit sobering, but as far as we were concerned, perfectly routine.
The week of teaching began on Monday with classes in apologetics for the mixed class of about 15 Mexicans and Americans. Apologetics is the reasoned defense and explanation of the Christian faith in response to various questions and attacks. I had to brush a bit of dust off my notes from the last time I taught this course at JARON BIble Institute and then reformat them in the weeks before the trip. It was a pleasure to review this information and interact with the students –all of whom are very bright and eager to learn. I became friends with nearly all of them.
The Americans come mostly from widely-scattered parts of the Midwest. Likewise, the Mexicans are from several different regions of that country. Though they come from diverse backgrounds, they all share the passion for ministry in the unchurched cities, villages and rural areas of Mexico. It was my privilege to take part in their training.
Dayspring Outreach has several facilities in the country–two in Nuevo Leon, one in Oaxaca and one in Vera Cruz— and there may also be others I am unaware of (For more informatiuon on Dayspring, check out the link on the homepage of this website). I was very impressed by the work Roger has been doing these past twenty years or so. He is obviously very committed to the spread of the gospel in Mexico and shows a high degree of innovative ability and persistence to accomplish what he has.
After the return to yet another Dayspring base, this time in south Texas, my brother Marty scheduled a venue at his office for me to present a basic seminar on the background, teachings and goals of Islam. I developed this workshop out of my 17 years of teaching courses in world religion as an adjunct professor in various colleges and universities in central California. I have enjoyed presenting it dozens of times in a variety of formats and venues–sometimes presenting the basic facts of the subject and other times contrasting it with Christian faith.
This gathering turned out to be rather small–only a few of us around a conference table in my brother’s accounting office, but I found the more informal setting very refreshing. The next day, Marty dropped my off at the local airport and I flew home through Dallas to resume my spring schedule.
Let me describe one incident that really stuck out during that week of ministry. Imagine wanting to call your family from a rural area in a foreign country a couple of thousand miles away from home. So, after dinner, one evening I borrow one of Roger’s cell phones and take a stroll . It is dark and chilly and the rain is coming down in a fine mist. With flashlight in hand, I climb to the unfinished top floor of a small apartment block being built in the Dayspring compound for the permanent staff. No roof or walls have gone up yet on this upper storey, so I stand there savoring the damp darkness in this far-away corner of the world. I dial the access code for the US and then my home number. The call goes through and I am talking to Melinda as clearly as if I were next door. Then the signal is lost for a moment, so I dial again, this time standing in a different corner of the roof-top where the signal is stronger. The conversation continues, this time with no interruptions. After checking in and sharing about my day, I sign off, climb down and head for my room to prepare for the next day’s classes.
I know that in the Twenty-first Century, calling someone long distance sounds pretty normal. At home, I use a cell phone regularly to call all sorts of people. Yet it struck me, standing in the rain on that dark roof in rural Mexico, how interconnected the world has become and how relatively convenient it is to do business or missions work almost anywhere on the face of the globe. It is truly a pleasure to serve Jesus Christ and his coming kingdom in these very interesting times of ours.
Thanks for listening,
It has been said that the Bible is merely an ancient set of writings which may contain noble ideas, but that it is not inspired by God in any special sense. This type of statement has been made so confidently and so often that many people have come to believe it without ever studying the issue or reading the book itself.
The fact is, the Bible makes specific claims to be inspired by God. Let’s see if there is any evidence to support its claim.
Here are just a couple of examples from the Old Testament. Referring to the Law of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy), Psalm 19:7-11 consistently calls it, not the words of Moses, but God’s word. Jeremiah 1:1-2 claims that this book is the result of the word of the Lord coming to Jeremiah. This is typical of the prophetic writings and is found throughout both major and minor prophets.
In the New Testament, 2 Timothy 3:15-17 tells us that all scripture is inspired by God (literally “God-breathed”). Even more specifically, 2 Peter 1:19-21 tells us that the inspired words of the prophets have been confirmed (made more certain) in the New Testament. This short passage goes on to say that scripture did not originate in the mind of any man, but originated with the Holy Spirit who moved men to speak (or write).
Perhaps the greatest evidence of the inspired nature of the Bible comes from Jesus Christ himself in Matthew 5:18: “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.(NKJV)”. In this verse, Jesus most solemnly affirms not only the general inspiration of the message of Scripture (speaking here of the Old Testament) but explicitly of the words and letters, down to the smallest strokes of the pen which distinguish letter from letter (the tittle is the little overhang which makes the difference between the Hebrew “he” ה and the “chet” ח). In other words, Jesus is saying that the scriptures are inspired and unfailing in their divine purpose.
In addition to its own claims, consider some of the following facts which show the Bible to be absolutely unique:
It consists of 66 books, some of which are further divided into sub-books and sections. It was composed over a period of some 1,500 years. The Bible’s human writers number at least 40. They came from all walks of life and lived under widely differing circumstances. Some where highly educated; others came from a relatively humble background. Some were people of great influence, while others were oppressed by the powerful. These writers had highly diverse personalities and backgrounds.
The Bible contains several distinct types of literature, including poetry, proverbial wisdom, philosophy, love songs, genealogical lists, creation accounts, historical sagas, apocalypse (vivid prophetic imagery), as well as straight narrative prose.
The original text of the Bible was written in three different languages: Hebrew Aramaic and Koine Greek. Its subject matter includes dozens of highly controversial topics that people throughout history have struggled with. Yet despite these huge obstacles to its cohesion, the Bible flows as a single work, retaining amazing unity of purpose, consistency of ideas, and continuity of theme.
Here are some other facts worth considering: The Bible is the most published book ever. It is the most translated book of all time. In fact, the Old Testament was the first major book ever to be translated (around 200 BC from its original languages into Greek).
The Bible has had an amazing ability to survive the rigors of history. For example:
It has survived the tendency of time to corrupt its text. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has shown that the copying process of the Old Testament has remained accurate in the extreme over many hundreds of years. Likewise the reliability of the New Testament’s manuscripts is shown through exacting comparison of hundreds of ancient copies.
The Bible has survived repeated attempts to destroy it by various enemies. Roman emperors, pagan rulers and communist governments have done their best to burn, confiscate and limit its availability—all to no avail. It has also survived more than 2,000 years of attacks aimed at discrediting and disproving it. The dozens of theories “disproving the Bible” can be read about in history books, but the Bible still remains a living and relevant book today. If anything, as a result of the probing of its critics, it has shown itself to be more reliable not less.
So, there is plenty of evidence that the Bible is truly what it claims to be: God’s inspired word. Such a book deserves our study, our respect and our willing cooperation with its teachings and discipline.
The last book of the Bible was written just over 1,900 years ago. Empires have risen and fallen in that time: Rome is gone; Charlemagne’s empire has vanished; horrendous wars have been fought; new philosophies have come into vogue and declined; technology has improved. In light of all this, the Bible seems like a quaint, but archaic book, good only for gathering dust on the shelf. What could it possibly have to say that would be relevant to us and our particular needs in the Twenty-first Century?
Surprisingly, it has a lot to say, partly because basic human needs haven’t changed at all in 2,000 years and partly because God speaks to every age. I never cease to be amazed at how the Bible answers the fundamental questions people are asking. For example:
Is there a God, and if so, what is He like? See Psalm 14:1, Romans 1:19-20, John 3:16, etc.
How did the universe come into being? See Hebrews 11:3, Genesis chapters 1 and 2, etc.
What is the cause of the human tendency to do wrong? Is there some basic flaw in us? See Genesis chapter 3, Romans 3:9-18, etc.
Is there some way to correct this flaw and have acceptance with God? See Romans 3:22-23 and Galatians 5:24.
Is there any basis for real brotherhood among people? Genesis 1:27-28, 10:32, Romans 10:12, etc.
Does life have any meaning or purpose? John 10:10, John 17:3.
Is there life after death? Revelation 20:11-15, Luke 23:40-43, John 14:2, Revelation 7:9.
These questions and many more are answered in the book of books.
People sometimes ask, “Does the Bible speak to issues that make a practical difference in my life? So what if it deals with the big questions, such as, ‘Does God exist?’ or ‘Is there life after death?’ What about daily living kinds of questions? Does the Bible have anything at all to say about those? A fair question. How about these issues?
What is the key to personal happiness and fulfillment? See Ecclesiastes 3:9-14, Philippians 4:11-13, etc.
What is real success and how can I achieve it? See 2 Timothy 4:7-8, Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, Romans 5:1-2, etc.
How should I regard money and possessions? Matthew 6:19-21, 1 Timothy 6:6-10, etc.
How can I make lasting relationships? Proverbs 17:17, 27:17, John 13:34, etc.
What can I do to build a strong marriage and family? Colossians 3:18-21, Proverbs 22:6, Exodus 20:12, etc.
How can God be fair if sometimes people suffer deeply? Romans 5:3-5, Psalm 145:17, the book of Job, etc.
Is there really only one true way to know God? John 14:6, Acts 4:10-12, etc.
These and scores of other questions have their answers in the Bible. But don’t take my word for it: I challenge you to seek out the answers for yourself. Don’t just accept the word of anyone. You must be satisfied yourself. And remember: the Bible does you no good unless you read it!
The chart below represents a comparison of certain popular English Bible versions. The chart is listed in the following categories:Bible Version; Year Completed; Group of Origin and Reading Level (approximate).
CEV (Contemporary English Version) 1991 American Bible Society 5.4
KJV (Authorized or “King James” Version) 1611 Anglican / Puritan 12.0
LB (The Living Bible) 1971 Evangelical 8.3
MES (The Message) 2002 Evangelical 5.0
NAB (New American Bible) 1970 Roman Catholic 6.6
NASB (New American Standard Bible) 1971 Evangelical 11.7
NIV (New International Version) 1979 Evangelical 7.8
NKJV (New King James Version) 1982 Evangelical 8.0
NLT (New Living Translation) 1996 Evangelical 6.4
NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) 1990 Mainline (gender neutral) 8.1
PHL (J.B. Phillips Translation) 1963 Anglican 4.0
RSV (Revised Standard Version) 1952 Mainline 10.0