How Can We Trust The Bible?

Well good morning folks! Great to see you here. Now there are three things you're going to need this morning:

  1. Some ears – why don't you just check they're still there and that they're switched on
  2. A seat – and can I just give a big shout out to those who are in our newly refurbished gallery. How's the view?
  3. If you're one of the primary aged children here, you'll need one of these Doodle Sheets with questions you can answer during this talk. There is a prize, so if you didn't get one on the way in then stick your hand up now and the Stewards will come around and make sure you get one.

Right folks, Let's dive straight in with a little game of Real or Fake?! Seeing as Christmas is just round the corner – I'm going to give you some present ideas that I found offered on the internet. The only thing is some of them you can actually buy, but others you can't. So you have to guess whether each one is… Real or Fake?

  1. Giant Gumball Machine – It's over 6 feet tall and holds 20,000 (yes, 20,000!) gumballs.
  2. Full Sized Lego Batmobile – with bricks, bulletproof glass and rocket boosters.
  3. Giant Inflatable Unicorn – A 6-foot-tall inflatable unicorn. A perfectly respectable alternative to a Christmas Tree.
  4. Adult Naughty Step – I'm mean who says naughty steps only work on kids? How cool would it be to tell off your grown-ups by putting them on the first step if they're 'quite naughty' or the second if they're 'really naughty' or the third 'if they might go to prison'?

Answers: 1. Real, 2. Fake, 3. Real, 4. Fake

Well folks I'm not sure how many you were able to get right – but I guess that we wished some of those things were real… but sadly they're not. And many people would say that about Christianity – it's a great story and we wished it were real, but it all rests on this book which is really old and is sometimes really hard to understand – I mean, "How Can We Trust The Bible?" That was a question I asked when I was growing up. It was around about the time I started wearing braces and growing my fringe out that I kept having this discussion with people at church:

  • I would ask: How do we know we can trust the Bible?
  • Answer: We can trust the Bible because… it's the word of God.
  • So I would ask: Yes, but how do we know it's the word of God?
  • And folks would say: Well duh! The Bible is the word of God because... the Bible says it's the word of God!

Which I have to say was the most disappointing and unsatisfactory answer I had ever heard. Only I didn't tell anyone just how disappointing that answer was, because I'm British and so I am supposed to be polite. It was only when got to University that I asked a friend: 'Is there any evidence outside of the Bible that shows it could be true?' And he took me to the library and introduced me to:

Clue Number 1: Evidence From Outside The Bible

Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, Sutonius, Tacitus, The Jewish Talmud, Lucia of Samosta – not Samosa, that's a yummy Indian snack… not an ancient Greek historian. All of these guys wrote Greek, Jewish or Roman history. Yet in their writings they speak of Jesus' miracles, the claims of his disciples that he rose again from the dead, the confirmation of the darkness and earthquake at Jesus' crucifixion… and more.

Now spending an afternoon in the university library checking up on that little lot doesn't make one jump up and grab people by the shoulders shouting: 'The Bible is definitely true! You better believe it!' But what it does show is that there is strong historical evidence outside of the Bible suggesting that a special person called Jesus was alive in the 1st century AD, and that his followers from the very start were claiming that Jesus was God and had proved it by rising from the dead.

Clue Number 2: You Wouldn't Die For A Lie!

'Well ok,' you might say 'this guy existed & he was pretty cool, but maybe his disciples exaggerated what happened a bit. Maybe they told a few lies to make their friend Jesus out to be a bit bigger and better than he actually was.'

But people only tend to lie when there is something to be gained from their lies, don't they? So I might tell you that I used to be a Premier League Footballer. Why would I do that? Well my reward might be that you would be impressed and like me and want to talk to me and invite me to your parties. But sadly that's not quite true as I only had a trial for a Premier League Football Club. Ok that's not quite true either – as it was a 'Scottish' Premier League Football Club. And even that's not quite true as I failed to turn up for the trial as I got the days mixed up!

But what about the gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Or Jesus' other disciples? What was their reward for any fibs they might have told? A more successful church? Well history clearly tells us that the early Christians were often rewarded with… death. People tried to shut them up for what they were saying about Jesus. Now just imagine that you're about to be thrown to the Lions, or crucified upside down, or imprisoned on a desert island for what you've said or written – wouldn't it be at around about that time you came face to face with the lion that you would say, 'alright, alright, I'm sorry. I was just making that Jesus stuff up – please don't kill me!' Only they didn't – they went to their deaths because they were so sure of who Jesus was and what he came to do that they died to keep that truth alive. Now you might say that people die for their beliefs all the time – but they don't tend to die for something they know to be a lie. And that was the case with the disciples.

Clue Number 3: So Many Copies That Look Exactly The Same

'Well ok, maybe we can trust the Bible writers.' But the next question then has to be: 'So how do we know that what they wrote all those years ago, hasn't been changed down through the years?' Because this isn't what Jesus' followers wrote down in the first place; it's a copy of what they wrote. That's hardly surprising because they were documents made of dried leaves, which are hard to keep intact for 2,000 years. That's why we don't have the original documents from around 60AD. Instead they had to keep copying it out by hand, until the printing press was invented in the 15th Century.

That's why many people imagine this copying period (from 1st C to 15th C) as being like a massive game of 'Chinese Whispers'. You know how Chinese Whispers works don't you? One kid whispers into another kid's ear something like 'All cows eat grass' and by the end of the line it comes out as 'I have lousy gas'. Now if that was how the Bible was copied out down through the centuries then there's so much room for folks to make errors or change the message that this book isn't worth the paper it's written on. But… that's not how the Bible was copied! A better way of explaining how the Bible was copied would be something like this: The first kid in Chinese Whispers whispers 'Jesus is Lord' to two other kids, they whisper it to another two and so on until at the end of the line there are dozens and dozens of the original statement. Now if one of the final versions is 'Jesus is bored' and another one is 'Pieces of board' and another 'Freeze us a toad' then you can be pretty sure that the message got changed somewhere along the line. But what if all the final versions are the same? What if every kid at the end of the line ends up with: 'Jesus is Lord'?

Well just imagine this one sheet of paper represents one surviving historical manuscript New Testament, at the end of the copying line stretching from the 1st to the 15th century. We've got:

  • Over 5000 manuscript copies in Greek (2 big boxes)
  • 10,000 copies in Latin (4 big boxes)
  • 8000 more in other languages such as Ethiopian, Slavic, & Armenian (2 big boxes + 6 reams)
  • 1000 other miscellaneous manuscripts and manuscript fragments (2 reams).

And the amazing thing is – get this – that they all say the same thing! You'll find some differences in spelling and stuff like that, but 99.5% of the manuscripts match up. Undoubtedly they made some mistakes – but unlike Chinese whispers where half the fun is in messing it up – these guys were serious about their work. They so desperately wanted to pass on the amazing news about Jesus that the only mistakes they made were tiny. Now, I don't know about you – but if I heard 9 kids out of 10 at the end of a Chinese whispers game all saying 'Jesus is Lord', I'd figure that's what was said in the first place. When 24,000 manuscripts all say virtually the same thing, it makes sense to believe that they are accurate copies of the original. And any sensible Historian would agree. So let's just compare the New Testament to something that Historians take to be historically truthful, like:

  • Caesar's Gallic Wars – This is a record of Caesar's wars against the Gallic tribes of Western Europe fought from 58-51 BC. How many surviving manuscript copies are there? 10 copies.
  • The New Testament? 24,000 manuscript copies!

So we've got the evidence from outside the Bible, the disciples being willing to die for their faith and the massive weight of manuscript evidence. And there's more! But I haven't time to go into that – so let me finish with a challenge – Try it and see!

Clue Number 4: Try It and See - It Works!

Did you hear what Psalm 19.10-11, which we read earlier, said about the Bible, about God's words?

"More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward."

Perhaps you know Winnie the Pooh – the honey obsessed bear. In one story he is sitting, starring at a jar and wondering if he can be sure of what's inside:

"It had HUNNY written on it, but, just to make sure, he took off the paper cover and looked at it, and it looked like honey. "But you never can tell," said Pooh. "I remember my uncle saying once that he had seen cheese just this colour." So he put his tongue in, and took a large lick. "Yes," he said, "It is. No doubt about that.""

Now Pooh may have been a simple bear in profound danger of early onset diabetes, but what if we were to approach the Bible in the same way as he approached honey?

  • We can look at the outside of the jar and ask whether there is good evidence that the Bible is God's word.
  • Then we take off the cover and peer inside as we ask whether the Bible seems to be God's word. Does it look like something only God could have written?
  • But most of all what we need to do is dive on in and see what it tastes like.

Jesus said that the ultimate test of the Bible's trustworthiness is actually to read it and live it out! And as you do that you find that God or Christians are not deceiving you – God is guiding and helping you to find the best that life has to offer. Because the bottom line is… that it actually works! Let me pray for us:

Father God we thank you that you have brought freedom and fullness to so many, down through the years through your word. So we pray that you would help us as individuals, as a church, as a nation to trust it – and we ask that you would give us a hunger to learn from it and then to put it into practice in our lives. We ask this for our good and your glory. Amen.

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