Justifying the Claims of the Bible
In this session, what we want to do is complete our analysis of and application of, to our own lives, the Westminster Catechism’s answer to how we can know that the Bible is God’s word. We’ve just dealt, really in quite an extended way just because it was so big in my own experience, with the statement that the scope of the whole is the glory of God, and why from John 7:16–18, John 5:41–44, Romans 1:19–21, and our experience of the natural world, causes us, when we open and immerse ourselves in the Bible, to say, “This is it. This is the explanation. This coheres with who I am and what I have seen.”
The Evidence of Effect
Now, the last words in that answer of Westminster are this: “By their light and power” — that is, the Scriptures — “to convince and convert sinners to comfort and build up believers unto salvation.” I’m going to pass over some of these because I want to get right to the main ones as I’ve experienced them. So this is a John Piper text. It’s me. Second Corinthians 4:4–6, I think, comes close to explaining what that means so that it works for me.
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).
So what Satan tries to keep from happening is the seeing of a certain kind of light. It’s the light of the gospel. So it’s not physical light. This is troubling because it may suddenly feel like, “Whoa, that’s kind of outside my experience. It’s a light that you can’t see with your physical eyes because it’s not a material, physical kind of light.”
It’s the light of the gospel, and that gospel is the gospel of the glory, the radiance, the outshining, of Christ as the image of God. What that’s saying is that when the gospel is faithfully preached — when you tell the story of Jesus Christ, perfect man, God-man, dying for sins in your place, rising again from the dead, conquering death, conquering hell, conquering sin, conquering Satan, and being exalted to God’s right hand, all according to the Scriptures, testified to by eyewitnesses — there’s a light. And it’s the light of a magnificent person that shines out, and the heart sees it unless Satan is blinding the heart.
And if you see it, you know it’s true. It’s like saying, “Is that light on up there, shining me right in the face, causing me not to be able to see you very well? Is that light on?” If I said, “It’s on,” and somebody put a gun to my head and said, “How do you know it’s on?” I would say, “It’s on. That’s the way light works.” And so there’s an immediacy in the gospel that vindicates itself, according to this text. It continues in 2 Corinthians 4:5:
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
And then 2 Corinthians 4:6 parallels 2 Corinthians 4:4:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” (the original moment of bringing light into existence) has shone in our hearts . . .
That’s how this light happens for us fallen, blind creatures. This is the new birth happening here, I believe. The passage continues:
[He] has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Glory Through the Gospel Preached
That’s how you come to credit the gospel. The gospel is preached to you, whether Billy Graham does it, or somebody does it on the radio, or you read a tract, or you’re reading your Bible, or you go to church on Sunday, or you go to an apologetics seminar at the university, and God does that. The God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” shines in your heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. It’s a self-authenticating kind of glory that you see written across that story that cannot be accounted for any other way, which is why I don’t think it’s irrational.
Jonathan Edwards argues this way in his sermon Divine and Supernatural Light: Immediately Imparted to the Soul. If you’ve never read that sermon and you want to know more about what I’m saying here, get Jonathan Edwards’s sermon. You can find it online. Just type that into Google and it’ll come up — A Divine and Supernatural Light: Immediately Imparted to the Soul. He argues that it’s rational, meaning there is a real reason for believing the gospel; we’re just blind to it. But you can see it and it is self-evidencing. Just like there’s a real reason for me to believe that that light’s on up there, there’s a real reason to believe that there’s a light on in the gospel. You just have to see it with the eyes of your heart, which are designed by God to see glory if they aren’t so blinded by Satan and our own sin.
The Miracle of the New Birth
Let me refer to this one just because it’s right off the front burner of my preaching right now, and I’m going to do it again tonight and carry us forward into John 1. In 1 Peter, talking about the new birth, he says:
You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:23, 25).
The good news that was preached to you is the gospel. That word preached is euangelizō, which means it’s the gospel. So what that is saying is that when the story, the gospel, is told in the power of the Holy Spirit, new birth happens for people. New birth means that a miracle takes place. And one of the marks of the miracle is that light dawns and you see things as irresistibly true and attractive that you didn’t see before, and you embrace the gospel.
What Westminster is saying when it argues that, “By the Scriptures light and power to convince and convert sinners, we know that it’s the word of God” — that’s what I’m arguing now from 1 Peter 1:23 and 2 Corinthians 4:4 — is that this light and power to convert means there is a miracle that happens when the gospel is faithfully preached and we are enabled to see authentic, self-vindicating light and glory in the person of Jesus Christ.
Frankly, that may sound kind of weird as the foundation of your faith in the Bible, but it isn’t. If somebody asks you, you should have a long answer and a short answer ready. You should have a short answer when someone says, “You’re one of those born-again types. Why do you believe this stuff?” One short answer would be something like this, and I hope this is real for you. You would say, “When I read the story of Jesus in the Gospels, of how he lived, what he said, what he did, how he died, and how he rose, he wins my trust. I can’t reject him. He wins my trust.”
I think the person talking to you will not despise that answer. Because if they do, we could come back to them and say, “You know, how do you come to trust somebody? How did you get to trust your wife?” There’s no mathematical answer to that. There’s no historical argument. There’s just, “Well, I watched her. I dated her. I looked at her from a lot of angles.” And that’s the way I feel about the apostle Paul.
I have spent so many hundreds of hours talking to this guy — mainly listening, but I talk back a lot. I can’t regard Paul as a buffoon. I just can’t. I can’t. That’s the way I feel about Jesus. I say, “No man created what’s here.” I know it’s nice to develop arguments for the validity and the reliability of the Synoptic Gospels and Johannine writings and so on, but in the end, the story as it reads in the Bible, wins me. I think that’s what they’re getting at there.
The Witness of the Holy Spirit
Let me go to the last part of the Westminster answer, which says, “But the Spirit of God, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.” What does that mean? I’m going to go to Calvin here and unpack his doctrine because I think they were influenced by him, and I think that’s okay. I think he’s right in what he says. It says, “The spirit of God, bearing witness” — this is what’s called the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit — “brings us to believe that the Bible is the very word of God.”
So here’s my little section on John Calvin’s doctrine of the internal testimony. Here’s what he says, in relation to the problem of relying on the church:
A most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church.
In his day, he regarded that as a pernicious error. I would guess that error is still abroad today. He continues:
As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men! . . . Yet, if this is so, what will happen to miserable consciences seeking firm assurance of eternal life if all promises of it consist in and depend solely upon the judgment of men?
That’s his dilemma. If you don’t base it on the judgment of the church, what will you base it on? That’s what he’s trying to answer here. How shall we know? Here’s his answer: the internal testimony of the Spirit. Here’s what he means:
the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted . . . for this very reason, until he enlightens their minds, they are tossed to and fro in a sea of doubts.
How Does the Spirit Bear Witness?
Now the crucial question here is, how does he do this? How does the Holy Spirit persuade us of the truth of Scripture? So Calvin keeps going:
Let this point, therefore, stand, that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught, truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated.
Now, be sure you get this. The testimony of the Holy Spirit, he’s going to argue, is not added information about the Bible. If I say, “Seek the full experience of the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the truth of the word of God,” that does not mean, “Go into the woods, leave your Bible at home, and ask the Holy Spirit to tell you that the Bible is true.” That is exactly not what the testimony of the Holy Spirit is. It is not a second revelation, as if to say, “Here I’ve got the revelation of the Bible, and here I’ve got words coming from the Holy Spirit, like words of prophecy or words of wisdom or words of knowledge, and they’re coming and they’re saying, ‘The Bible’s true. The Bible’s true. Pick it up and read it.’” That’s not the case. That’s really pulling rank on the Holy Spirit in the word.
That’s not what Calvin means, and that’s not what I would mean. He’s saying that when the Holy Spirit testifies to you, he does so by illumining the Word as self-authenticating. That’s why he uses this word here:
Hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning (even though he has a whole section on the secondary values of argument and historical reasoning, it’s not subject finally to that). And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by this power (to see what’s really there), we believe neither by our own (this is amazing) nor anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God.
Gazing Upon the Majesty of God
That right there is a most remarkable statement. We do make judgments, but he’s arguing that the witness of the Spirit — that is, the effect that the Spirit has in making us able to see what is really there — is so immediate that he says it’s not by virtue of any long train of arguments formed by our judgment.
This is what I’m talking about in 2 Corinthians 4:4. It’s the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, to see what’s really there. Calvin states:
But above human judgment, we affirm with utter certainty, just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself.
Looking at the light, I can see that light is on. I’m not reasoning about that light being on. I’m not concluding there’s a little bit of pain in the retina of my eye, as if to say, “I think that’s only caused when lights are on, ergo that light is on.” I’m not doing that. I’m just saying, “It’s on.” And he says, “That’s the way the heart sees the glory of God in the Bible, in the gospel.” He continues:
That it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean (even though he gives lots of those, that’s not the immediate, final, decisive, work of the Spirit). But we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork. This we do, not as persons accustomed to seize upon some unknown thing, which under closer scrutiny displease them, but fully conscious that we hold the unassailable truth.
Distinguishing Light From Darkness
I have one last paragraph on this. This is all in The Institutes of Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 7. So if you want to follow up on this you can read it. He continues:
Nor do we do this as those miserable men who habitually bind over their minds to the thralldom of superstition. But we feel that the undoubted power of his divine majesty lives and breathes there (in the Bible). By this power, we are drawn and inflamed knowingly and willingly to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by mere human willing or knowing the immediate sight of God’s reality in the word.
How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church? It is as if someone asked, “Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter?” Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully, as clear evidence of its own truth, as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.
Now I’m going to give you JI Packer’s restatement of all that view, and then we’re going to go to a text in the Bible that I think teaches just what we’ve seen, so that you don’t think, “Oh, this is just Calvin’s speculation.” We’ll go to a text. So here’s Packer’s interpretation of Calvin’s view of the inward witness:
Calvin affirms Scripture to be self-authenticating (he’s picked up on that phrase that we saw) through the inner witness of the Spirit.
So don’t let Calvin, Packer, or Piper be interpreted as saying, “The witness of the Spirit, to your reality or the Bible’s reality — yours in Romans 8 or the Bible’s as we’re going to see in 1 John — is an extra message sent to you about the Bible, as if you have two ways of being conscious. One is that you read your Bible, and the other is that you listen to the Spirit. And when the Spirit says, ‘Believe the Bible,’ then you go back with confidence.”
If you go about that way, you will be disillusioned big time and you’ll probably become a heretic because you will be open to all kinds of messages coming from outside of the Bible, and you’ll be distorting the Bible because that little message is going to tell you what the Bible means over and over again. And then, people who see it not in the Bible are going to try to tell you it’s not in the Bible and you won’t listen to them because you have this other message going. That’s where all sects and heresies come from. So Packer is onto that, and I think that’s right. Packer continues:
Calvin affirms Scripture to be self-authenticating (he’s picked up on that phrase that we saw) through the inner witness of the Spirit. What is this inner witness? Not a special quality of experience, nor a new private revelation, nor an existential decision, but a work of enlightenment whereby through the medium of verbal testimony, the blind eyes of the spirit (human spirit) are opened, and divine realities come to be recognized and embraced for what they are. This recognition, Calvin says, is as immediate and unanalyzable as the perceiving of a color or a taste by physical sense. An event about which no more can be said than when appropriate stimuli were present, it happened. And when it happened, we know it happened.
Understanding the New Birth
Now, that might unsettle you, because you might say, “I’ve never thought about my experience with the Bible that way. I’ve never thought about my experience with the gospel that way.” Don’t panic. God does this for the simplest of people. It can happen to a six-year-old who couldn’t begin to articulate what has happened. And unless he’s well taught, as he grows up — 12, 18, or 28 — he’ll never articulate what happened, because he’s so badly taught.
Now, I don’t know where you are in how you’ve been taught about how you came to believe, but there should come a point, maybe it’s right now, where you will have to say, “I’ve never even analyzed why I came to believe. I just remember believing when I was little and I’ve always taken the Bible to be so.” That’s not a bad thing, provided there’s reality there. This is just a way of putting a template on your experience to see if you can think this through to the bottom.
I had to do that. I had to think, “Now, is that my experience of the Bible? From age six to 62, having walked through unbelievable challenges to my faith in various schools and experiences in Germany, with people confronting me and people mocking my views, has my inability to walk away from this been simply owing to tradition and stubbornness, or has God opened my eyes to see what I can’t turn away from?” Whatever name you put on it, I just can’t walk away from the Jesus I’ve seen in the Gospels. And I think, if you’re born again, you will have the same experience if you let yourself just think about what happened to you.
The Testimony of God
Now, here’s the text. It’s 1 John 5:7–11. Where does John Calvin get all this stuff? Where should you go to the Bible to argue that what I’ve just said in the last 10 minutes is biblical? And here is probably the most important text, though there are others. In fact, I think the ones from I Peter 1:23–25 and 2 Corinthians 4:4–6 are very pertinent to this issue, but this one uses the word “testimony” in relation to the Spirit. So let’s go to 1 John 5:6–11. It says:
And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
So there you have the witness of the Spirit. So what is he talking about?
For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood . . . (1 John 5:7).
That’s very perplexing. Perhaps this refers to the Spirit’s coming to Jesus at his baptism and the water being his submission to all righteousness in water baptism and blood being his crucifixion. I’m not sure about the full scope of 1 John 5:8, but that’s my inclination, what I just said there.
And these three agree (1 John 5:8).
Christ’s life from his call, baptism, and death; his whole life is a testimony. John continues:
If we receive the testimony of men (which we do), the testimony of God is greater (now we have it again, the “witness of God” ), for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son (1 John 5:9).
The witness that he has in mind is a witness about Christ; that’s he’s real, that he’s true, that he is who he says he is.
Whoever believes in the Son of God (now believing comes in) has the testimony in himself (1 John 5:10).
I think that means that if you have been brought to faith and it’s authentic faith in Jesus, the reason is because you have the witness of God functioning in your life. The Holy Spirit has done something. The Spirit has borne witness in such a way that you have yielded to his authority, to the authority of Jesus in the gospel, and you’ve recognized the Son and you’ve believed in him. You have the witness in yourself.
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son (1 John 5:10).
And this part is very important:
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son (1 John 5:11).
The Witness of Life
Now, just think about that with me for a minute. Does that fit with what Calvin is saying about the the witness? What witness? Well, probably the witness concerning his Son, the witness of the Spirit, the witness of God; it’s all the same witness. It says:
And this is the testimony (witness), that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Here’s what I think that means. If you ask me, “What is the witness of the Spirit in your life, that the Son of God is who he says he is?” my answer is, “I’m alive.” This is the witness that he has given me life, eternal life from the dead. The witness is, “I see him. I’m alive. I was dead, and in my deadness I was in rebellion. I was in blindness. He was boring to me, foolish to me, and I was disinterested. I wanted to write to websites like the one I read last night, doing some research.”
I don’t even want to tell you the name of this website. There are more websites out there than you know that hate the Bible and are bent on destroying the Bible. I found one and the whole website is to undermine the Bible. They talk about contradictions, lies, and so on, about the Bible, that they say the Bible commits. That’s who I was. One person said for example, “Here’s a lie in the Bible: Whatever you ask, believe that you have it and you’ll have it.” And then he adds, "Try praying that I’ll become a Christian in five minutes, and you’ll see that’s a lie."
That’s the kind of anger there is out there toward the Bible and towards Christianity, and that’s who I was. And then, something happened, and I saw the gospel differently. I saw the glory of Christ differently. I saw the crucifixion, not as foolishness and a stumbling block, but as the wisdom of God. What happened? What was the testimony? The testimony wasn’t, “The gospel is true, change your mind.” That’s not what happened. Life was given, and the heart that was dead and rebellious and hostile and indifferent now was alive to spiritual things. The new birth happened. The call of God happened. The illumination of the Holy Spirit happened. The internal testimony of the Spirit opened my eyes to see what’s really there. And I cannot not believe it.
Exposed to the Story of the Bible
So I think this text does in fact bear witness to what Calvin was trying to explain regarding the internal testimony of the Spirit. Here I’m giving you my bottom line answer to all of you non-historians, non-scholars, who have to stake your lives on whether the Bible and the gospel at the center of it is true. It’s going to come down to this. As you look at the world, know yourself, think about reality, and then expose yourself to the story of the Bible, does the Spirit remove blindness so that you see self-authenticating beauty and truth there, that’s really there?
Scholars have to spend their lives trying to unpack it in objective argumentation, and I am thanking God for them because there were key phases in my life where I just had to have some of those answers given for why these two texts weren’t a contradiction. But that solution didn’t make me a believer. Some other smarter guy is going to come along with a PhD at the university, and he’s going to bring me another problem and then my faith is all up for grabs again. I can’t live that way. I have to have access to God’s truth in a more reliable, firm way than whether the latest PhD is on my side. It always feels good to have a good scholar writing a book to defend your point, but then another book comes out five years later.
The Ancient, Unassailable Truth
I was saying to Nathan, last night as we were driving home in the car, that it is so good to be 62, maybe it would be even better to be 82, because you’ve seen so much come and go. And right now we’re all up in the air with Bart Ehrman about text criticism and whatnot. Guess what? In 15 years he’ll never be heard of again. How many of you remember, I doubt that a single hand is going to go up, The Passover Plot? One, two, three people? Okay, good, these are older folks. There I was, a junior in college, and this Jewish guy, I forget his name now, wrote the The Passover Plot. It claimed to be a big exposé about how Jesus did not die on the cross. It was everywhere on the news with breathless media attention.
I had to write a paper on it in Millard Erickson’s apologetics class at Wheaton College, and everybody was talking about the book. You’ve never heard of it. It’s just totally gone. And so will everything else be. It’s good to be old. You just watch them come and watch them go. It’s like they have pea shooters against the Sherman tank of the Bible. And the media is focused on, “Look at that pea. Look at that pea.” But the Bible is just there like a rock, like Gibraltar. So I hope that you don’t get shaken to the foundations with the latest attack.
Maybe one other comment about that. “Thank God for liberalism,” Everett Harrison said, “because by its very nature, liberalism is self correcting.” And it’s for this reason: Conservatism means people are comfortable with conserving old, true things, and they don’t feel any impulse to be new. If they’ve seen something and it’s old, and it’s true, they think, “Let’s conserve it.” That’s conservatism. Liberalism means, generally, you have to have new stuff.
Well, what a wonderful thing. Because that means they’ll always reject the old and write something new, but then guess what? In 20 years, what’s old? The new is old. And so, liberal scholars must always deny what liberal scholars in the previous generation said, otherwise they become conservatives. If they were to conserve the error of 30 years ago they would become conservatives, so they find creative ways to say what Bultmann and Brunner and Barth and Käsemann and all the liberals said. Well, Barth wasn’t exactly liberal, he was neo-orthodox.
Dr. Harrison said, in our course on Paul at Fuller, “Just be patient, because even if you don’t have the time to write a book in response to this liberal denial of the Bible, some liberal will deny it eventually because it’s going to be conservative within 20 or 30 years, and no liberal wants to be conservative.” That was very liberating to me and made me a more patient person. That’s all I want to say about step number five, as to why we credit the Bible. And please, let me remind you again, it isn’t the whole story. There are so many more ways to go about crediting the Bible, but that’s the one that I live with most existentially.
Step Six: What is the Nature of the Bible’s Inerrancy?
I’m going to tackle some comments about the meaning of the Bible’s inerrancy so that you don’t say the Bible has errors in places where it doesn’t. I’m just going to draw your attention to a few places or the kinds of things that I mean.
What do I mean when I say, or when the Bethlehem Affirmation of Faith says, “We believe that the Bible is the word of God, fully inspired and without error”? What does “without error” mean? Here’s what I’m going to say it means: It means the Bible is without error in the sense that all that the biblical authors intended to teach is true and does not conflict with reality or with the will of God. So let me unpack that little phrase for just a few minutes.
What do I mean by intended? A writer should not be accused of error because someone construes his words in a way the writer does not intend. The meaning of a text is not what anyone can construe from the words, but what the writer intends for the language to teach. For example, if I say to a friend in Detroit, “I’ll be there at 10:00 a.m,” meaning and intending Eastern Standard Time, and he construes the meaning of my words to be 10:00 a.m. Central Standard Time, I have not erred if I arrive an hour earlier than expected. I may have been unclear, but I was not wrong. So the meaning of a writer should not be considered false just because the words could be used to express error. To me, this is basic common sense.
If you write a letter to somebody, a love letter or a contract letter, whatever, and they take you to mean what you didn’t mean, and then they use some hermeneutical mumbo jumbo to say, “Language is open-ended. I can make it mean whatever I want. That’s the way I read poetry, so that’s the way I’ll read your letter.” You will feel offended. You will feel like, “You didn’t treat me the way you like to be treated.” Because if I said, “I wouldn’t,” and you said, “Wouldn’t here means would.” You can’t do that. A person might say, “I can, too.” So I’m just saying common sense says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” which means, when I write, try to figure out what I meant. Don’t say, “Oh, it could mean . . .” But what did it actually mean? Give me the break. Try to get at my intention. That’s the honorable, kind, loving thing to do, and I’m just saying do that with the Bible as well.
Why do I say teach? Inerrant things are inerrant in that this intention to teach is not in error. The word teach reinforces this point by implying that a writer might say things that he is not teaching. For example, I may say to my son, “Pick your mother up at the town square.” Now, my teaching is that he should get his mother at the place known as the town square. I am not teaching that he should lift her off the ground in his arms, even though I said, “Pick your mother up.” Nor am I teaching that the town square is the same length on all four sides, even though I said “square.” If the town square is 100 feet by 105 feet, I have not erred. And if my son never touches his mother, but brings her home from there, he has not disobeyed. Both the words intended and the word teach are meant to protect a writer from the accusation of error when there is none. That’s the way language works.
Implications for Reading the Bible
Here are some implications of this for reading Scripture. Accurate descriptions of natural events as what one simply sees are not scientific errors. The sun rising in the East is not a scientific error; it’s a matter of observation. Joshua 10:13 says:
And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
The point here is not to teach a pre-Copernican worldview that has the earth static and the sun moving around it. That’s not the point. The point is that all of them were watching and it stopped. That’s what the point was. It would just be so contrary to the Bible’s intentions for you to say, “Ah ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha — not scientifically accurate! Sun doesn’t stop. Earth stops rotating,” even if you believe in the miracle.
Or Revelation 6:13, which says:
The stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.
You can see a scientist saying, “Do you know how big one star is? They are a billion times bigger than the earth. They don’t fall to the earth like grapes.” So, is this a big mistake? No. Because the word “star” is a picture of heavenly bodies that are up there, and when they start falling, a meteor shower, they’re falling. No honest person would want to come to texts like this and say that God is foreseeing some astonishing falling to the ground of heavenly bodies. These writers did not know what we know scientifically. They’re just using the word “star” to describe all the things out there that you see, whether they’re a planet or a star or meteors. They don’t know what a meteor is. They just think, “Boom, there they come.” So I’m arguing that what you see can be described and doesn’t have to be described in scientific language that accords with what we know today.
A second one would be that idiomatic exaggerations are not errors. “Scared me to death” would be one of ours. Genesis 22:17 says:
I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.
Are there that many Jews? No. There aren’t that many Jews. There are about 14 million Jews. There are way more than 14 million grains of sand on the sea, and way more than 14 million stars. The point is not one-for-one. The point is that one is innumerable and the other is innumerable, as far as their ability to enumerate them. Here’s the interpretation in Jeremiah:
As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David . . . (Jeremiah 32:22).
Step Seven: How Then Shall We Handle the Bible?
I think I’m probably going to pass on the rest of these, seeing how much time we have left, and conclude with my single sheet on step seven. I’ve just been pointing you in a direction with the nature of inerrancy to say, “Let language function the way it normally functions so that you don’t find errors where there aren’t any.” That was the point of that unit. And this is our conclusion and I’m just going to tick these off in the last few minutes.
If all this is true and the Bible is God’s word, how then shall we handle the Bible?
First, handle the Bible with reverence as holy. It is a unique, precious, written word from God. Don’t make light of the Bible.
Second, cherish — that’s an affection word — the word of God as supremely valuable, only under God himself. I tried to find my source last night and I couldn’t find it, so I’ll just paraphrase a quote that JI Packer used in one of his messages, where he said that a puritan preacher in a time of great persecution stood up and he said, “Take our houses, take our clothes, take our children, and take our wives, but don’t take our Bible.”
Third, study the word of God, seeking to understand its original meaning with your mind.
Fourth, pray over the word of God that God would illumine your mind to see what is really there, even though God has done that for you decisively so that you’ve been able to see it is true if you’re a Christian. There’s so much more to be seen. And every day Satan is trying to cloud you and shoot fiery darts at you. We need to pray earnestly that he would be defeated.
Fifth, meditate on the word of God, reflecting both on the meaning and the implications for your life.
Sixth, memorize the word of God so that it feeds you, transforms you, and is available for use in blessing others. Memorizing has two effects. First, it has a transforming effect on your worldview and on your way of thinking to have memorized Scripture in your mind and in your heart. And second, it’s there, ready to bless other people in times of ministry.
Seventh, spread the word of God by supporting missions and translation work and by giving away copies and portions to others. Oh, that you would carry around little pieces of the Bible, little Gospels of John; that you would be giving Bibles away; that you would be leaving them in hotel rooms. Let us be a disseminating people. The Bible has power in and of itself. So let’s get it out, especially to nations and languages that don’t have it at all.
And finally, eighth, obey the word of God as the highest authority in your life. And that’s the end of the matter, isn’t it?
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18–20).
You give yourself to knowing, studying, teaching, disseminating, and doing the word of God, and you have the promise, “I’ll be with you to the end of the age.”