You trust your family doctor and a druggist for your pills
You take them every day and believe they'll cure your ills
And you want a lawyer present when the business deal goes down
But you're scared to death of preachers talking Hell and Heaven Bound
If you don't believe God's Holy Bible
And your faith is not in the Lord
You can't get to Heaven to receive your just reward
If you don't believe the Bible then you don't know the Lord
Ricky Skaggs "If You Don't Believe the Bible"
I started writing the next section of Christianity 101, all about what it means to be a Christian, but I kept getting stuck. I'd get a few paragraphs written, and then I'd have to go back and rewrite them to include an explanation of the explanation, complete with references to the Bible. And then I'd read what I had written and it would be more about the Bible than about being a Christian.
Being stubborn and a bit slow on the uptake, I kept blasting away at the post. I'd said I was going to write about what it meant to be a Christian, and by God I was going to fulfill that commitment. Eventually, I realized that the constant digressions were "by God," and I was being directed to write something else.
This post, in fact. So here we are talking about the Bible.
Looked at through purely human eyes, using only the intellect, the Bible appears to be an almost random collection of ancient texts, gathered over centuries, transcribed and translated by hand over and over again, with all of the creeping errors attendant to that arduous process. There are 66 books in our Bible, written by 40 or so authors, over 1,500 years or so. From a human perspective, any coherency they might possess, and by coherency I mean uniformity of theme and content, is more due to the editorial process than anything else.
Not only that, but the historical accuracy of some of the stories is questionable, if not downright unbelievable. I mean, how many people do you know who have walked on water, changed water into wine, been swallowed by a fish, followed a burning pillar through the desert, or risen from the dead? It has to be mythology, right? No different than the Greek/Roman myths we studied in school, just stories made up to help a primitive people understand a complex and frightening world.
I mean, that's all the Bible is, right?
There's a key difference between the Bible and every other sacred text out there. Prophecies written in the Bible have come true.
Now let's think about that rationally for a just a minute and start with the assumption that I just made a true statement, that prophesies in the Bible have come true. Let's define it strictly so we know what we are talking about. I'm saying that the Bible contains verifiable written descriptions of events that would happen in the future, and that those events occurred as described. What would that mean to us in the real world?
The simplest explanation is that somehow, the prophets were able to access information from a source that was outside of time. Now that's a pretty strange thought, but even stranger is the realization that modern physics tells us that standing outside of the flow of time is actually the most accurate description of the universe.
Let me explain that last thing a bit. Most of us have heard about Einstein and the theory of relativity and e=mC2, but most of us have no idea what it means beyond the most basic level, that is, if you convert a small amount of mass to energy, you get a lot of energy. 1 kilogram, roughly 2.2 pounds for us undereducated Americans, totally transformed to energy will give 90*1015 joules, which means nothing to us, or 2.5*1010 kilowatt-hours, which still doesn't mean anything to most of us.
Let's put it this way. If every home used 2700kw-hrs of electricity per month, 2.2 pounds of fuel would power 150,000 of them for 5 years.
Like I said, a lot of energy.
But the thing about that equation is that it isn't just about matter and energy transformations. Energy is defined as moving a mass at a velocity, and velocity involves moving through a certain distance in a certain amount of time. What Einstein showed is that space and time are two aspects of the same thing, just like energy and matter are two sides of the same thing. He went further and said that not only were they the same thing, but that they should be freely transferable, just like matter and energy. We can convert matter to energy and vice-versa, we should be able to convert time to space as well. Only there's this little thing called entropy that gets in our way. Entropy for our purpose here can be considered as the arrow of time. It allows us to move in only on direction through time and at a prescribed rate.
The really cool thing is that entropy is now understood not as a material part of the universe, but as an effect of our own limited ability to perceive the true nature of the universe. As Einstein said, "The difference between past, present, and future is a stubbornly persistent illusion."
Now, when the smartest man of his generation tells me that the slow stately progression of time is an illusion, I tend to pay attention, even though I am completely unable to pierce that illusion due to my limitations as a human.
But think about the impact that has on the question of Biblical prophecy. Science tells us that the true state of the universe is timeless, at least, so far as we understand time. The Bible tells us that God is timeless, at least, so far as we understand God. How hard then is it to make the leap that God, who stands outside time, gave the information to His chosen prophets, who recorded that information into the writings we call the Bible?
I walked through a few of the prophecies in an earlier post, and you can take a look at it to see some of the precise details written centuries before His birth that were fulfilled by Jesus Christ, but I want to spend more time talking about something I touched on earlier, and that is the mechanism of delivery of these prophesies.
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.
Peter tells us that prophecy comes directly from God through the Holy Spirit. We use the word inspired to describe this process, yet we often neglect to look at what the word really means. From the Latin roots, the word literally means 'moved by the indwelling spirit' or 'the spirit coming inside,' in this case, the Spirit of God. In a very real way, the prophecies were given by God, authored by the Holy Spirit, and communicated by His chosen messengers.
In fact, it isn't just prophecies that were written in this manner, but all of the books of the Bible.
Paul tells us this in his letter to Timothy
All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Now this would be a circular chain of logic, claiming that the Bible is Divinely inspired because it says it is, except that the prophetic record of the Bible backs up the claim it makes. Hundreds of prophecies have been fulfilled, and none have been proven false. Even more astonishing, a close reading of the Old Testament shows that nearly every verse has prophetic implications. As an example, Gen 3:15 says:
And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."
Moses's word choice is very interesting here. Generally, women do not produce seed; that's up to the man. The woman nurtures the seed. But here, through Moses, God is telling us that His Son will bruise the head of Satan.
Here in this verse in the third chapter of the first book of the Bible is a distinct prophesy of Jesus Christ, that He will be born of a virgin mother and that He will defeat Satan. If that seems a bit of a stretch to you, then read Isaiah 7:14, where that prophesy is made much more explicit.
When the choice of one simple word can give a verse a prophetic aspect, then the only way for the Bible to have been written is through the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And that means the whole Bible, not just the pretty parts we all like to think about.
I got into a discussion at another website over Bible interpretation, and I asked the people there how they decided which parts of the Bible to believe, and which parts to dismiss as irrelevant or wrong. No matter how many times I asked that simple question, I got no answers, only challenges to my own beliefs, along with a side order of snark and condescension. Apparently the concept of the Bible as an integral whole has fallen into disfavor among the more enlightened Christians among us, and that's sad, because it is impossible to be a Christian without the Bible. (At last! He gets to the point!)
Think about it logically for just a minute. If the Bible is not wholly and completely inspired by God, and parts of it are in error, then what parts are most likely wrong? The parts that run counter to our own experiences of course. Think back on that list of miracles I went through at the beginning of this post. All pretty unlikely, right? So why believe they happened if the Bible is full of mistakes? Did Jesus come back from the dead? Did he actually walk on water? Did he perform actual miracles, or are these things myths and legends?
And finally, if you believe these things are myths and legends, then how can you call yourself a Christian?
On the other hand, if you can believe in a real Risen Savior who died on the Cross to save us from our sins, then why do you find it so hard to believe that sin is real, and that the Bible that tells you that Jesus is Lord is the same Bible that tells you what He calls sin? If Jesus is God, then who are you to question His Law?
That's what this is all about ladies and gentlemen.
If you believe in God, and you believe that Jesus Christ was His Son, then you must believe the Bible is His Word.
Look at it another way. The Bible is the tool given to us by God so that we can know Him, and through His Son, be justified to Him. Without Scripture, we are left to our own intellect to define God, and we've already seen how limited that intellect is. We're trapped in time, unable to discern why we did what we did, much less predict what we're about to do. Any God we create will be no greater than the mind that created it, and I don't know anybody with a mind strong enough, smart enough, and advanced enough that could create a god I'd want to follow. Gods created by man tend to suffer from all the idiosyncratic weaknesses of men. I have a simple principle I follow; if I understand everything that a god says, if it all makes sense to me, then that god is no greater than I am, and I know how much I screw things up. It follows that a God worth following is going to have aspects that are beyond my understanding. He will say things and require things that make no sense to my intellect. Just as my parents had rules that I didn't understand when I was a child, I expect God will have rules for me that I don't understand. And like a child, I have faith that those rules are in my best interests because like my parents, God loves me.
So when I see something in the Bible that makes no sense to my intellect, I thank God for the reminder that He is smarter than me, and then I pray for understanding, not through the intellect, but through the Spirit. Then, after the Spirit gives me understanding, then I can approach it through intellect.
I want to close this up with a little demonstration of inspiration. Actually, if you were paying attention, I opened it up with that demonstration. This post is a demonstration of God's inspiration. I'm not claiming prophesy or perfect understanding here, and I mean this in all humility, but I could not write what I thought I was supposed to. And as long as I fought to write what I thought I was supposed to write about, the words wouldn't come. But once I stopped arguing and listened, I discovered that I was supposed to write something different. That it was important that I do this before that. The cynic would call this the action of the subconscious and dismiss any other explanation, not realizing that the whole concept of the subconscious is just as nebulous as the soul. I know otherwise. It was a God moment, when I stopped arguing and started listening. There was no burning bush, no small still voice, not even the ringing of a bell. Just an idea that I should probably write about the Bible first, since it's impossible to talk about being a Christian without accepting the Bible.
Next time (maybe), we'll talk about Biblical inerrancy, the different versions and translations, and what I mean when by "The Bible," since it's not as simple a subject as we'd like it to be.