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Feb 17, 2019

Is the Bible reliable?

Passage: 1 John 1:1-10

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: Explore God

Category: Explore God

Keywords: authority, bible, infallible, inspired, scriptures, word of god


Explore God week six: Is the Bible reliable? Frederick Buechner writes, “There are people who say we should read the Bible as literature. The advice has a pleasantly modern and reasonable ring to it. We are all attracted . . . Don't worry about whatever it's supposed to mean to religious faith. Don't bother about the hocus-pocus. Read it like any other book. The trouble is it's not like any other book. To read the Bible as literature is like reading Moby Dick as a whaling manual or The Brothers Karamazov for its punctuation . . . There are good reasons for not reading it . . . The barbarities, for instance. The often fanatical nationalism . . . The self-righteousness and self-pity of many of the Psalms, plus their frequent vindictiveness. The way the sublime and the unspeakable are always jostling each other . . . And yet just because it is a book about both the sublime and the unspeakable, it is a book also about life the way it really is. It is a book about people who at one and the same time can be both believing and unbelieving, innocent and guilty, crusaders and crooks, full of hope and full of despair. In other words, it is a book about us. And it is also a book about God . . . If you look at a window, you see flyspecks, dust, the crack where Junior's Frisbee hit it. If you look through a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a holy bore and those who see it as the Word of God, which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past into the depths of ourselves.”


When did you decide to trust

that the Bible was the Word of God?

I point to some experiences:

As a kid my bed was at the top of the stairs

from the kitchen.

My dad would get up early

and sit at the kitchen table

to read his Bible before going to work.

I could see the light from the kitchen

way before we had to get up

and I knew my dad was reading the Bible.

To know someone as powerful as one of your parents

still answered to a greater power,

and that authority was the Word of God,

drew me to the Scriptures.


Back then you went to church early.

None of this coming in after the service started.

We would sit in our bench

a good 15 minutes before the worship service began.

Back then you didn’t talk to anyone else,

maybe a nod or a wave to say hello,

but that time was supposed to be quiet,

a time to be still before God.

I would take the Bible out of the rack

and what I looked at first were the maps in the back.

Not only because they were maps

of strange and faraway places,

and not only because they were places

spoken about and referred to in the Bible stories,

but because this told me these stories

and the people in them,

the coming of Jesus as one of us and as God with us,

actually happened in these places.

It helped make the Bible real for me.

I knew it was holy history,

and in Christ’s holiness it was my history, too.


Later in life,

I opened the family Bible of someone close to me.

On the first pages were pages to note family details:

marriage date

births and baptism dates

but the next page caught my attention,


And written on that page

was the date and the name

and a note about the funeral

of this friend’s spouse.

And I could picture him sitting at his table,

widowed now,

quiet in the house and alone

after all the busyness of the funeral.

He opened the Bible at this time of grief,

and wrote the name of the one so loved

and now gone from this earth,

committing in silence this loss with deep trust

in the One and Only God

that promises resurrection and eternal life

and to be with us so we’re never alone.

With a tear in his eye he added his story

to this grand story of God.


These are some of the experiences I have had

that keep me trusting in the Bible

as the inspired true revelation of God,

draw me to its pages,

and find my life and place in this grand story of God.

It is here that I meet Jesus

the true God

who shared my life

and is with us each and always to the very end.


How about you?

Many of us have heard the Bible from early on

to the point where we think it is normal

to trust its words.

We’ve learned some verses by heart.

It gets read at holiday gatherings.

It was spoken to us when we graduated high school.

You got married to it.

At times of crisis you have turned to it,

hearing its words at hospital bedsides

and funerals and gravesides.

Many of us read it almost every day.

More, many of us would testify

that certain verses shape us,

comfort us,

change us for the better.


So at some point

for some reasons

you valued the Bible so highly

that it has this central place

in your life and your faith.

It is worth finding the words for this

because here is a good way to

have a discussion about the question

whether the Bible is reliable, is it true?

Those who value the Bible highly

and receive the Bible as the inspired word of God

have reasons for doing so:

intellectual, emotional, social, reasonable,

even supernatural reasons,

that those who object need to be made aware of.


For today an increasing number of Americans

assert the Bible isn’t reliable, isn’t true

and for some of them the Bible is sinister.

And to those who say this

I would ask the same sort of question,

when did you decide that the Bible is not

the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God?

And can we talk for a moment about

those times in our lives

where the Bible has revealed

the presence of God to us

with the hope and sure promise of salvation?


Because I think the more helpful response

to questions about the Bible is to answer

why we should each read the Bible.

It’s so easy today to argue about Scriptures

or have an opinion about the Bible

without ever really reading it.

This question is for all of us,

because if the surveys are true

even those who confess the Bible true and reliable

aren’t reading it regularly.

When we opened the Bible a few moments ago

and listened to the reading of 1st John

was that the first time you read

from the Bible this week?

In Hamlet Queen Gertrude says

‘The lady doth protest too much’

to say she is suspicious there are other motives involved

in another’s objections.

And I think we can say that about the Bible,

so if you are struggling today with it

consider the real reasons that keep you from it.

The Bible hangs heavy on many a conscience, says Frederick Buechner,

and Dwight L Moody famously said, The Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible.


One of the greatest objections to the Bible today

is not because of what’s written on its pages

but how those who say they read it

speak and act.


So do you hope for those you love

to take the Bible to heart?

How about we start by showing  that more

in our own likes, words, and acts?


What are your reasons for not reading the Bible?

That's what you have to answer.

Even if you say you are a Christian,

but don’t read it as often as you should.

The temptation and real issue

is to keep the word of God

in my control and under my personal authority

instead of submitting to it,

confining it to the limits of our reasoning and logic.

You can try to object to the Bible by saying there are scientific inaccuracies

or internal inconsistencies

or incredible claims,

but there are different reasons

you don’t want to give your assent to the Bible

than the objections you find on google or watch on youtube.

The real issue is not whether

 the Bible is factually reliable,

historically true,

or compatible with science discoveries, it is.

The bigger issue, the more important issue

 is about the power and authority

of the Bible and its claims about itself

regarding your life.


What do Christians confess about the Bible,

Why do Christians confess the authority infallibility and inspiration of the Bible?

“We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it,” we confess in our Belgic Confession.


The deeper struggle to accepting the Bible

is about those claims:

inspiration, authority and infallibility and perspicacity


1 John 1 – helps us:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard . . .


The phrase ‘that which was from the beginning’ echoes back to the first words

of the Gospel according to John,

‘in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God,’

which itself harkens back to the first words

of the Bible in Genesis 1,

‘In the beginning God created

the heavens and the earth.’

The subject is Jesus,

God who became human,

and by his incarnation

came to save the world and not condemn it.

This is who the Bible is about.

This is its revelation.

This is its truth

to bring us into the presence of Jesus,

God and Savior and Lord.


What the author says is striking:

which we have heard,

which we have seen with our eyes,

which we have looked at

and our hands have touched,

this we proclaim to you.


What we have in the Bible are eyewitness accounts.

This itself sets the Bible apart

there are no second hand takes or spins

on the ways of God or the life of Jesus.

What we have in the Bible

are eyewitness accounts of Jesus

and the work of God

corroborated by witnesses.

It’s hard to make things up

when you’ve got multiple witnesses.

You can’t fudge accounts

or spin them to your liking

when other people are watching.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,

that’s the message here.


And what they have seen and heard is Jesus,

this human being

who by his life and death and resurrection

showed himself to be God.

‘This we proclaim concerning the Word of life.’

That refers to Jesus.


When we say the Bible is the inspired Word of God

what we mean is that the stories and explanations

and wise sayings

and historical accounts

were directed to be included in the Bible by the Lord

so God would leave us with a clear and understandable and accurate revelation.


The Bible is written in a certain time

so like Jesus was incarnate

and limited himself to a body,

a language, a time and place,

so the Bible speaks out of similar limitations,

and therefore won’t speak

on every modern issue specifically

or with every scientific thought

and theory in mind;

its power and authority is shown

in the revelation of who Jesus is

and the person and work and way of God in Christ.


Verses like these help us

be open to its revelation

because we’re getting to the source.

Richard Bauckham observes:

“The period between the time of Jesus

and the writing of the Gospels is relatively short (between 30 and 60-some years,

depending on the Gospel),

and during that entire time

there were still eyewitnesses

who could act as checks and balances

to the formation of the early Christian tradition.

The “period between the ‘historical’ Jesus

and the Gospels was actually spanned . . .

by the continuing presence and testimony

of eyewitnesses,

who remained the authoritative sources

of their traditions until their deaths.”


Like these verses describe:

real people,

known people,

sharing their experiences

and confirming their experiences

within the fellowship of one another.

The picture is of a community people

believers who were most often threatened

and on the run for their beliefs -

there was no earthly gain to be had

by believing that Jesus was Lord and risen Savior  -

these witnessed about the person and work of Jesus

and the grace and truth of God.


They didn’t have the time or resources

to fabricate an account,

these folks were being pursued by authorities,

scattered by persecution

and fearful for their lives.

They were not the victors but the outcasts,

they had everything at stake in getting it right.


What they gave their lives to get right

was the testimony of who Jesus really is:

God come in the flesh

God with us to save.

As verse 1 says about him, ‘the Word of life.’

That’s what they came to know about him.

In him was life.

And the Bible is God’s revelation

of this truth so we can know and live by it too.


The letter is a message:

that is, it communicates the meaning of Jesus:

3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.


Just as the grace of God allowed them

to know Jesus

and thru him to live in the love of God,

so this Word is given to us

as a grace so that we too live in a right relationship with Jesus, Lord and Savior.

God created you and me to know the Lord . . .

and the Bible is the main means for doing so:

Belgic Confession -

Article 7: The Sufficiency of Scripture

We believe

that this Holy Scripture contains

the will of God completely

and that everything one must believe

to be saved

is sufficiently taught in it.


When Christians profess the Bible is infallible

this is what that means:

the Bible does not fail to present the

revelation and the power of that revelation

of Jesus to us, in all truth.


So why read the Bible?

Because our human temptation

is always to make God in our own image,

even long time believers,

even spiritual persons

are tempted to spin the truth to our own liking,

even when it comes to God.

But the Bible won’t allow that.


1 John 1 says,

5 This is the message we have heard from him

and declare to you:

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

6 If we claim to have fellowship with him

and yet walk in the darkness,

we lie and do not live out the truth.


We need the Bible,

otherwise it’s too easy to stay in the dark

when it comes to God, our relationship to the Lord,

and how we choose to act and live.


The best reason for reading the Bible

is that Jesus read it.

And he invites people to do so:

He asked those who came to him with questions,

What do the scriptures say?

And he asked those who struggled,

how do you read it?


Here is an invitation from Jesus

not to let the cultural masses think for you

not to parrot clichés you’ve heard about the Bible and risk your identity and life

 on what others glibly say.


Our encouragement today is to develop

the spiritual discipline or practice of reading Scripture for transformation and not just information.

So we not only open the Bible,

but pray the Spirit open our hearts to listen,

for, 2 Timothy 3:16-17

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful

for teaching, rebuking, correcting

and training in righteousness,

17 so that the servant of God

may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.


How shall I read?

In Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book

he reminds us that if we do not do it correctly, reading the Bible can get us into trouble.

People can read the Bible badly.


We tend to read the Bible for information.

And there is some need for that:

studying the Bible is a good practice.

But how about reading the Bible for transformation, and not just information?

To be changed by the living Word,

from restlessness to peace,

from emptiness to fullness,

the wholeness of a saved life,

destined for heaven?


I have had glimmers, tastes of this.

Times when even I could see

that God was in control of his Word

in the shaping of who I am for the Lord.

Like, that verse that strikes you

though you have read it a hundred times before,

and it was like you have never seen it,

never really heard it before.

Surprise, the Spirit was there!

And even those times when you thought your life was going to be about one thing,

but now you graciously see it is about God’s desires

and claims on you resulting in something

you never would have found on your own.


You can’t do that quickly.

You must quiet your mind and life,

take some time over the words of the Bible,

listen to it a few times,

focus on it in prayerful expectation that the Spirit may change you at the point where Christ most needs to be formed in you.


I’m comforted in knowing this Word has come to us carefully by the direction of the Holy Spirit,

the Comforter,

giving us the Word from our living Friend,

from Jesus who is called the Word of God.

So this hard word is also a safe word,

a life-giving word.


My change may be hard for me,

but it happens in a safe place.

Robert Mulholland –

Our cross is the point of our unlikeness

to the image of Christ,

where we must die to self

in order to be raised by God

into wholeness of life in the image of Christ

right there at that point.

The first step is confrontation.

I won’t do that myself,

but the severe mercy of the Word of God can.

Like these last verses in 1st John 1:

If we claim to be without sin

we deceive ourselves

and the truth is not in us.

If we confess our sins

he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins

and purify us from all unrighteousness.


As you read the Bible

listen actively by asking different questions

along the way –

don’t focus on the information,

who said what and when or what might that mean,

instead, ask where you fit in the story,

what word or phrase strikes you

in terms of your faith or doubt,

what spiritual emotion are you left with:

joy, hope, peace, assurance?

and what might the Spirit

be guiding you to do in response:

confess sin, repent of unholy desire,

give thanks, find the courage to sacrifice?


Mike Yaconelli

Looking back over the years,

 I realize the Bible isn't magic, but it is corrective;

it isn't an answer book, it is a living book;

it isn't a fix-it book, it is relationship book.

When I confront God's word, I am confronted;

when I read God's word, it reads me;

when I seek God's presence, He seeks me.


Could you share with someone else

your experiences with the inspired word of God?