Why We Believe the Bible

Session 4

The Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Authority of the Bible

So far, we have looked at the Westminster of Catechism with these six or so indications — sometimes called indicia, or traits of the Bible — which are its own way of validating itself in the minds and hearts of people. We’ve looked at its majesty, its purity, and now we come to the consent of all of its parts. In other words, the Bible, as diverse and big as it is, with all of its different authors, is an amazingly coherent story.

Justifying the Claims of the Bible

There’s nothing like this book. Nothing written across all those thousands of years by all those different authors has a storyline so amazingly coherent as this book. You won’t find any book like this anywhere in the world, composed like this by so many writers, across so many years, having one consistent, redemptive, historical storyline that comes to consummation in somebody, and then works its way out into the world. So let’s look at the specifics.

This is what they’re trying to get at in the Westminster Catechism, that when you take the Bible as a whole, what’s the impact that it makes on you that would either lead you to believe or not believe in it?

The Evidence of Coherence

The confession is saying that it leads you to believe in it by the amazing consent or agreement of all of its parts. Acts 10:43 says:

To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Now that way of talking is a testimony to the coherence and the unity of all that the prophets bear witness to and how it is all centering on the Messiah, and how he is going to bring about the forgiveness of sins. Acts 26:22 says:

To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass . . .

The prophets and Moses were saying what Paul is saying. So you have one part of Scripture, Moses — that’s the Pentateuch — and another part of Scripture, the Prophets, and another part of Scripture, Paul. And Paul is saying, they’re all agreeing.

Acts 20:26–27 says:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Now, the reason the phrase whole counsel of God is important is that I think it implies that when Paul spent two and a half years in Ephesus, he delivered to them, probably teaching five hours a day, six days a week, a package called the whole counsel of God. In other words, there was a coherence to it. There was a wholeness to it, and it related to the counsel of God.

A Unified Witness

So his understanding is that as he unpacked the Scriptures — Moses, the Prophets, the Writings — and as he opened the way they’re all fulfilled in Jesus and the way of salvation through Jesus, he was thinking in terms of a whole counsel of God. That’s what these Westminster divines believe you see when you read the Bible from cover to cover with the right heart. Paul, writing to the Romans, said:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed . . . (Romans 6:17).

That phrase, standard of teaching, gets at the same idea as the whole counsel of God. There’s a wholeness, a coherence, a standard of teaching that they were passing along as they read their Old Testaments and fleshed it out in the New Testament.

The Evidence of the Bible’s Scope

Now, this is the one that has been most significant to me — this piece of the Westminster Catechism argument for how the Bible brings us to the confidence that it’s true. This is about the scope of the whole Bible, which is to give all glory to God. I thought a long time about that, about 11 years ago or so, when I first was preparing my seminar on this. I thought, “How does that work to help us be confident in the Bible?”

Well, before I try to show you how it works for me in my heart — because I want to be a testifier here and not just an explainer — let’s look at a few texts to see what they’re getting at. Romans 3:19 says:

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God (KJV).

The whole world now is guilty before God, because of all the God-dishonoring sins that have been listed there in Romans 3:9–18. And so what’s at stake here is the global glory of God and the indictment of the world by God for their failures to glorify him. Then Romans 3:27 says:

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith (KJV).

In other words, all human glory and all human exaltation is down in the Bible, and all God-exaltation is up in the Bible because faith is the way you magnify God, and unbelief is the way you magnify yourself and your independence.

Teaching from God

This text was not listed in the catechism so I added it, because I’m trying to think through this for myself, I’m not just trying to parrot what they said. I want to know how it works for me. And so now you’re going to see what starts to work for me. John 7:16–17 says:

So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.

Now I want to know, is that true? Is this of God? That’s what he’s claiming. He’s claiming to be from God and not just making this up out of his own human mind. He’s claiming that his teaching is divine. Everything hangs on the truth of that claim. How does he warrant it? The passage continues:

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

I remember saying that during my junior year in college when I was going through some really signific wrestling, and it just blew me away. I thought, “Really? If my will is to do God’s will, I’ll know if Jesus is true?” That became for me a pivotal way of thinking. Why is that? He goes on:

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

This is one of the closest places Jesus comes to simply answering the question, “How can you know if you’re true?” And he says, “If you want to do the will of God, you’ll know.”

Seeking the Glory of Another

Why? How does that work? He continues in John 7:18:

The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.

That’s his argument. So what is it? Can you restate it? If your desire, your heart, is to do God’s will, when I talk and teach and work, you’ll see in me that I am from God and my words are from God, because written all over my life is, “May God get glory from my suffering.”

Evidently, that is self-authenticating. If you bump into a person and you can tell that his teaching is all about ego gratification and not about God’s honor, you don’t need to pay any attention to their words. But if you bump into a person and everywhere you look in that person’s life they are totally angled on God getting the glory and not themselves, you better listen. That’s what he’s saying.

He is the perfect embodiment of that way of life. Let’s read it again because this is huge for me. This was absolutely huge. It remains huge in how I think about why I believe in Jesus, when I think about my own ministry and the person I want to be, and why anybody should pay attention to me as a pastor. It says:

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory . . . (John 7:17–18).

In other words, the person who speaks on their own authority doesn’t have any respect to God’s glory. He’s just on an ego trip and wants to be somebody. Don’t stumble over this. Jesus was God, and so he had to at times say huge things about himself, but he is speaking here as your model man now, and why this God-man should be believed. He continues:

But he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true . . . (John 7:18).

And so he’s simply saying, “Am I? Watch me. Look at my life, what do you see? Am I totally devoted to my Father’s glory? When I go into Gethsemane and sweat drops of blood, what sustains me there? Not my will, yours. Get it done. You are God.”

When you see somebody like that, you better listen, because they are speaking not from themselves. He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him. So, when I read that — the Westminster folks saying one of the ways that the Bible vindicates its message is by the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God — this is the way I understand it for myself. When I see a book that, like Jesus is saying, “God gets the glory. God gets the glory. God gets the glory. And man is sinful. Man should be humbled, and God alone should be exalted,” there’s something about that book with that scope that rings true to me, but it doesn’t ring true for everybody. And you just have to decide, does it ring true to you?

How Can You Believe?

Let me give you one other text before I unpack natural revelation, and then we’re going to look at the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. I’m continuing now the teaching of John 7:16–18 from John 5:41–44. This was another huge one for me personally, in my own life. This is Jesus:

I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you (he’s talking to Pharisees, who worshiped God every day). I have come in my Father’s name (Jesus is putting himself under to lift up the glory of the Father again), and you do not receive me.

When they analyzed a God-exalting man who puts humans down and indicts all of our sin and hypocrisy and lifts up the glory of God alone, they did not like what they saw. He continues:

I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him (John 5:43).

Why? Why? What does he mean there? He looks at the Pharisees and he says, “Now I’ve come in my Father’s name. I’m doing everything for the glory of the Father. I am testifying to my unique authenticity by humbling myself to the point of obliteration at the cross in order that my Father will be magnified. That’s who I am and you don’t like that at all. I’ll tell you, what you would like would be if I came in my name, then you’d like me.” Why? Because he would fit their values. They want to live for their own name.

They obviously want to be around people like that because they get convicted otherwise. They get indicted when they’re around God-glorifying people, who just love the glory of God and don’t want to take any credit for themselves, and they live for the majesty of God. And here they are wanting to stand on the street corners with long prayers so that people will say, “Oh, look how holy you are.” And they’re looking at how different Jesus is, and the only way to protect themselves is to kill him. He explains:

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:44).

Now that’s a rhetorical question, right? All the TBI guys here have learned in arching what to do with rhetorical questions — questions that don’t have any answers in the text. They assume an answer. You restate them in a way that states the answer. And when it says, “How can you?” the answer is, “You can’t.” So let’s state it that way. He is saying, “You can’t believe — namely in me, in the Bible, in the truth — when you are bent on self-glorification and not keying off of all the glory that God is and shares with us who live for him.”

Faith in the Bible is impossible for people like that, which shows you the kind of thing we’re dealing with in apologetics. We would like people, ourselves included, to believe what’s true and not to push it away and say, “Crucify him, crucify him.” We really would like to embrace whatever is true. And therefore Jesus says, “You better, therefore, have your heart so changed that you love the glory of God above everything.” If you see the glory of God as supremely valuable, you will be able to recognize my truth because that’s what I say about God. That’s the way he’s arguing here.

Percieving God in Creation

Now, obviously, in this way of arguing, there’s a missing premise. Something is missing, like, “Where does that come from? How does a human heart start to do that? Where do you get any clue that the scope of the Bible being the glory of God means the Bible is true?” There’s a premise that has to be supplied there, such as God is really glorious and all things are for his glory. Where do you get that? And that’s why I wrote the little note to myself on natural revelation. I’m not a scholar of the Westminster Confession or Catechism. I don’t know exactly whether they meant what I’m taking them to mean, but I’m finding what they said that I think they mean very helpful.

So let me take you to the missing premise and how I think it works. This is a note on natural revelation. Natural revelation refers to the way God has communicated to us in nature, not in the Bible. Nobody’s going to get saved by natural revelation, but oh, how important it is. This is a little section here on it.

This is about the immediate knowledge of God that comes with human consciousness in the world. And here again, I’m operating, not just at the exegetical level, but at the testimonial level, because I have tried my best to feel whether I’m just aping words from the Westminster Catechism or experiencing what they’re talking about. I don’t want to just be a second-hander that reads a 400-year-old document and says, “There’s why you should believe the Bible. Go do it,” instead of wrestling. Am I experiencing what they’re talking about? Do I see what they say should be seen? Or am I just playing games here with words? So this is part of my wrestling that you’re watching here.

This is from Romans 1:19–21. Let’s read the whole section:

What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

He’s arguing that people everywhere in the world know him. They know about God. He’s evident within them. He continues:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

Without Excuse

So he’s arguing that his invisible attributes are clearly seen in the universe — molecules, galaxies, trees, oceans, insects, fish that spit insects out of tree branches and when they fall in the water scoop them up, spiders that come up, get a little bubble of air, go down to the bottom, build a nest at the bottom of the lake, and bring air from the top of the lake down and put it underneath so that they can live down there. That’s weird. That’s counter-evolutionary, big time. Why would that happen? Think of those kinds of things — millions of them. Just get into astronomy, get into biology, get into chemistry, get into physics, and worship. That’s what this is talking about. Paul says:

So they are without excuse (Romans 1:20).

This knowledge is so clear that every unbeliever in the world has no excuse at the Judgment. They won’t be judged for not believing in Jesus if they’ve never heard of Jesus. They will just be judged for not owning up to the knowledge available to them and for repressing it because it says we all do that. We repress it. It says:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him . . . (Romans 1:21).

You’ll never work with anybody at your office who doesn’t know God, according to that passage right there. Your job is just to figure out how to get at it.

Clearing Away the Cobwebs

Now, here’s what I’m after in reading the Westminster Catechism. One of the reasons that we are drawn to faith in the Bible, believing the Bible in a warranted and justified way, is that its scope as a whole is to glorify God. And I’m going to link that to this text and all of our experience in the world of God before you even read the Bible. That’s what I’m doing.

I’m saying that there is something about the very world we live in and the heart being created in the image of God, that if the cobwebs could just be taken out of the way, which is what the Holy Spirit does, what we see in the Bible would so click with what you see in the world that you would say, “That’s God’s book.” That’s where I’m going.

I’ll give you another little story here before I give you my testimony. I’ll give you Professor Goppelt’s testimony. Professor Leonhard Goppelt was my doctoral father in Germany until he died while I was there, six months before I finished in 1970, he died in December of 1973. He was a very godly man, I believe. He didn’t believe everything I believed, he didn’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. He believed in the truth of the gospel, but he had, I think, a very defective view of the Bible.

I remember sitting in one class on Acts, in which he just came to a text in chapter eight where it said people had only been baptized in the name of Jesus and hadn’t received the Spirit, and he said “Das ist nicht möglich (that’s not possible). We must apply a critique here — that is, we must criticize the Bible with the substance of the Bible and deny that what Luke wrote there is acceptable. That’s not acceptable.” That just blew me away. I admired this man so much. I was sitting in class and he just said, “This part of Acts is wrong.” So there came points where I really wanted to understand this man’s faith — a faith that could talk like that about parts of the Bible.

I asked him one day. I can remember standing in the hall of the bibliothek, and I ventured a risky question. There I was, a 26-year-old American studying, and he was my doctoral father, so he could just junk me any minute. And I said, “Professor Goppelt, warum glaubst du überhaupt an Christus? Why do you believe in Christ at all? Why are you a Christian?” And his answer was quick, immediate, and I thought, good. He said, “Herr Piper, of all of reality as I experience it, see it, and know it, nothing fits reality like the message of the Bible.” That’s the way he answered me. It was a big, sweeping, global kind of answer. He was saying, “What I see in the world, my experience of the world, my sinfulness, the world as I look at it, and then the Bible as I see it as a whole, when they come together, they just fit.”

I think he was articulating something of what we’re on to here; that when they say one of the reasons the Bible wins for itself confidence, is that its big scope, namely, the glory of God, fits with an illuminated mind; that is, when we’re not blinded by our sin, that’s what we see in the world.

Knowing God Through the Known World

Let me walk with you through several steps of my own experience in this regard. First, in Romans 1:20, the phrase invisible attributes is translated from aorata, meaning invisible things — things about God that are invisible. These are evident, it says, because God has made them evident. That’s just reiterating what we’ve seen. Now here are the next steps that I follow:

Second, the existence of the invisible God is known, and things about him are known (Romans 1:19–20).

Third, the things that are known about God are things that make us accountable to honor him as God and give thanks (Romans 1:21). So this must include his existence, his beneficence and our indebtedness to him for life (otherwise we wouldn’t thank him), and enough of his nature or excellence so that honor is called for.

I pause at that moment, and I say, “Is that the way I experience the world?” And it is. I’ve tried to be a skeptic. I’ve tried. This is risky. Don’t do this very much. But in order to have some integrity and honesty that you’re not just kidding yourself because you grew up in a Baptist home, and you believe all this stuff because your parents believed it, you should ask yourself, “Are you really real? Have you ever come to a crisis where you had to deal with whether it’s true or not? Have you ever looked at the world and said, ‘Can I believe God doesn’t exist?’” I’ve tried. I just can’t. I’m just hung on what I see.

It seems to me that the world is such a kind of world. And you could lecture a thousand lectures on the specifics of what I’m saying right now, but we don’t experience reality in that way. We just walk through the day and we see things. Are you like me? Sometimes, you’re brushing your teeth and it just hits you that you’re a human being, and it just blows you away that you have consciousness. You know yourself, you think about yourself, you love, and you feel; you’re different from a dog. Everything in you is testifying that you are amazing. I don’t mean qualities; I mean the existence of the human soul just hits you, saying, “This is big.” That happens to me, not often, just periodically. And I think those are moments where the clouds are just parting, so you can see what you really ought to see all the time.

The Backstop of Ultimate Reality

Then the same thing happens with flowers. I think, “Look at this flower. Look at the complexity of this flower.” I bought my wife five red roses for Valentine’s Day, and I bought my daughter one red rose. And then I wrote a poem as to why Talitha got one and Noël got five, but I won’t tell you. Well, I don’t mind. She’s 12, but Noël is 60. You do the math. But the point is, these are really good red roses. If you get them Aldi they stink to high heaven, and nobody wants to be near them. I used to do that. They only cost $2.95 for a whole bunch, and I thought that was cool. I thought it was good stewardship. And she would put them way on the other side of the room because whatever they do to preserve them just stinks to high heaven.

So I get them now at Chicago Lake Florist, and the little old lady in there takes all the prickly thorns off the roses, and she puts little white things with them and bundles them up and they last forever. They’re real, they smell like roses, and they’re about two feet long and they feel romantic, not mechanical. I watch them and I think it’s incredible. This rose just blooms and blooms for about four days, and then you cut it again. She said, “Do that and they’ll last another four days.”

That’s two out of several million possibilities to think about. I cannot not believe in the raw, sheer existence of — I’m going to use the contemporary jargon — an intelligent designer. Now there’s a lot more to God than that, right? He has attributes, and we should be giving him thanks. You have an option here. If there’s a God, he’s either impersonal or he’s personal. An impersonal god would be like a gas that created everything and caused the order we see, and a personal God would mean a person, who thinks and feels.

There’s nothing in eternity that would define ultimate reality. This discovery was really big for me. Ultimate reality has always existed. It can’t come into being. It’s just there. You can’t go from nothingness to something-ness. There’s ultimate reality forever in the past. And the question is, what nature did it have? And it’s a wonderfully liberating discovery to say, “Before it, there was nothing to define it or determine it. It just was.” Which means, that what it was is totally open. It could have been anything. There’s no pre-supposition that could say it could not have been X because there was nothing out there to say it couldn’t have been X. It could be a gas, it could be a person, it could be whatever.

As I feel my own existence, and look at this world and look at you, for me to say that this is all just a combination of energy and time and matter is impossible. I can’t do it. I can’t look at you and look at me, and look at the world that exists, and look at history, and say, “That’s all gas. It’s just an elaborate development of gas.” I can’t. I’m being set up. You see I’m being set up by my own looking around and whatever God is doing to get cobwebs out of the way to set me up, to read the Bible in a certain way.

Absolute Existence and the Suppression of Truth

Fourth, these known things about God come through “what has been made” (Romans 1:20). Our immediate consciousness of the world that is given to us by virtue of our existence constitutes a knowledge of God

Fifth, the effect of sin is to make us resist honoring and thanking God (Romans 1:21). This resistance is so damning that we cannot live with the consciousness of it. The result is that we “suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18), and become futile in our thinking and darkened in our hearts — that is, there is either a denial of God or a distortion of God to make him tolerable.

My own experience of God as an immediate effect of my consciousness in the world as a human being is what I’ve been talking about. My existence in the world confronts me as soon as I’m conscious of a single originator of all that is. That’s just what I’m confronted with as soon as I am conscious because it just immediately won’t work to say there are two of these forces out there of equal power. Infinite can’t have an equal, and he’s infinite. We know he is. He created the universe that exists.

He is one who is totally self-sufficient with no dependence on anything outside himself to be all that he is. Here I am experiencing nature and humanity and my own soul, and as I just try to let reality speak to me, I say, “This God that made all this and accounts for all this is self-sufficient. He’s not dependent on anybody for anything.” It can’t be any other way, because he’s out there before any of it; therefore, he can’t be dependent on it. He brought it into being, so he’s not dependent on it. That’s just there, immediately.

He is one without beginning or ending or progress from worse to better. I just regard process theology as experientially ludicrous; that God is coming into being; that God is reforming; that God is being shaped; that God is somehow progressive. He’s just there. Absolutely there. That’s what our consciences testify, as we behold this world and look at ourselves. He is, therefore, one on whom I am dependent moment by moment for all things — none of which I deserve — and he is, therefore, beneficent.

I just think that that follows. I say, “Okay, he exists. He’s self-sufficient. He’s eternal. He accounts for all the order I see, and he accounts for the personhood I see. Who am I? What am I? Nothing. In fact, I have lived so much of my life in utter obliviousness to this person that if I am alive at all, he must be good.” That just follows. I just feel that in my bones.

Written on Our Hearts

I don’t feel like I’m creating any big chain of arguments. It’s just bang, there’s a God. I’m not God. I’m alive. And I’ve been bad. My conscience tells me that.

There is one who is personal and accounts for the transcendent personhood of human beings. There is one who accounts for the intelligent design manifest in the macro and the micro universe. There is one who knows all, who cannot not know all. He created all. He guides all. He sustains all. It’s just a given with the reality of God. There is one who deserves to be reverenced and admired and looked to for guidance and help. And oh, how little have I done it?

I just think all that’s written right on the universe; that God should be reverenced; that he should be admired, and that we should look to him for guidance, if perchance, for reasons we may not understand, he might be willing to give it to us who have not loved him as we ought, but mainly have led our lives in total obliviousness that he is there holding us in being. And yet we’re not smashed every day.

There is one who sees me as guilty for failure in not rendering him what he deserves, and who thus gives the ultimate explanation to a universal bad conscience. Why are there bad consciences? Why? Animals don’t suffer from what we suffer with. We’ve got a law written on our hearts. We got personhood. We have standards, though they may be totally wrong. We just set them for ourselves, then we don’t keep them. None of us.

Choose your standard, you failed. Choose God’s standards, you really failed. Whatever standards you set — and you all set standards — you fail. You all feel guilty. Every person in this room feels guilty. Why? Because you know you’re accountable to a Being. And that Being explains the moral dynamics of the world. This is why, incidentally, whether it’s Holocaust or the Gulag, whether it’s Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Christian survivors, people have found God and believed in him because of evil, not in spite of evil. It doesn’t happen that way for everybody. It just has for Solzhenitsyn and it has for others.

Seeing God Through Tremendous Evil

Here’s the way it works. You see in front of you something absolutely unspeakably horrible like Elie Wiesel’s book The Night, describing the hanging of a 12-year-old boy who wasn’t heavy enough to die, and they made them watch him for half an hour.

Now, I would understand up to a point, a person who says, which Wiesel said, “God died. He died. I’m done.” But others are so enraged at this wrong, they have to come to terms with, “Where did this rage come from? Where did this concept of justice come from? Where did this high level of indignancy about this immorality come from, if we’re just gasses here?” It won’t work. That wrong is a problem for how God can be good. I admit that. We’ll work on that. But this indictment of it with moral rage is only explicable if you’re more than gas. What would you feel if somebody walked up to you as you were expressing your moral indignation and they said to you, “Oh, that’s just your idea. Oh, that’s just chemicals in your brain”? You would be furious with somebody who said that. And that’s what’s being taught in our universities every day. The moral outrage you feel at injustice is only explicable in terms of the moral consciousness in which you participate in the world.

And therefore, God is one who might save me, but we need to do it in a way that overcomes my evil impulse to resist him and would have to make a way for his honor to be sustained while not punishing me for treason. And there’s no answer in nature to how that can be done, which leads us to the Bible. I’m going to close with this and we’ll take a break.

My point here is that when you see the Bible stretched out with its scope in the glory of God, and a history of redemption that answers perfectly to where I’ve arrived in my natural revelation, and see no answer in natural revelation, I think I’m onto why the Westminster Divines said, “That too is how the Bible comes to be vindicated in your heart.”