Well I’m excited to be starting a new series this morning called ‘Inspired’ How God Speaks Through Scripture
And what I’m hoping will be accomplished in this series is that we’ll return to a place of gratitude for this amazing thing we call the Bible.
And we’re going to talk about: What it is and how to get the most out of it.
Bible – great loves The Bible for me is one of the great loves and great passions of my life. Right out of high school I went to bible college with no plans to ever be in ministry of any kind, but I simply loved the Bible. And I STILL love the Bible and have devoted a significant portion of my life to being a bible teacher.
And as we discuss scripture, just to let you know, this is where I come into my strength as a pastor.
Not all pastors have the same concoction of spiritual gifts. HOPEFULLY, all pastors share the spiritual gift of the pastor, but there’s other gifts that accompany that gift, that can vary from pastor to pastor.
And so there are a lot of other Pastors, and a lot of other Christians for that matter, that have been gifted in what I might call the ‘Sensory’ gifts. Where they sense something or they see something in the spiritual realm. So you might hear these types of people say ‘So I went into that room and I could instantly tell there was a demonic presence there.’ And so you should know, that depending on who the person is saying that, I completely believe them. That is absolutely a real spiritual gift. Paul calls it the ‘Discerning of Spirits’ and he lists that in a list of spiritual, charismatic gifts that are given to some and not to others as the spirit determines. So it’s completely real and completely valid.
So something you should know about me, that’s not my strong suit. And that’s totally fine, that’s what I have you for.
And so I say that to let you know that I have been gifted with the gift of teaching. That teaching you how to understand scripture, and benefit from scripture, and form your life around the Jesus that is revealed in scripture, that’s something I have been gifted with.
My life, personality, and priorities have been PROFOUNDLY influenced by my discipleship to Jesus, guided primary through the life and teachings of Jesus as revealed in scripture.
We’re a group of people that want to follow Jesus. To be a Christ follower is to be more influenced by Jesus than anything else. B/C if you were more influenced by something else, let’s say television. Let’s say you are influenced mostly by TV and secondly by Jesus. Well that would make you a TV follower, not a Christ follower. To be a Christ follower is to be influenced more by Jesus than by anything or anyone else.
In order to do that, we have to know how Jesus lived and what Jesus taught. Which brings up the question: How do we get to know the teachings of Jesus? If we’re all about Jesus, where do we go to find out who Jesus is, and what Jesus taught.
That’s of course the Bible. That’s why as people who follow Jesus, the Bible is very very dear to us. We don’t worship the Bible, we worship Jesus, and that’s why we read the bible.
A man who loves his wife will love her letters and her photographs because they speak to him of her. So if we love the Lord Jesus, we shall love the Bible because it speaks to us of Him. (John Stott 1956)
You don’t need someone interpreting the Bible for you. You can understand the Bible for yourself.
Hearing something from a preacher, then going to the Bible yourself to make sure the preacher isn’t full of bologna, is a great thing that the Bible actually encourages.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
Interesting. Here we read about this group of new Christians that Paul is discipling, and it says they were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, because they listened to what Paul said, but then they went to the scriptures to double-check him. So we’re not people who say ‘The paid professional preacher man said it, so I have to believe it.’ No, we’re not into group-think here, you can think for yourself. All I can present to you is an idea. But then it’s up to you to do your own homework and decide if you agree with me or not.
So on your handout you should see this question: What is that in your hand?
This is of course the question God asks Moses at the burning bush.
What is that in your hand? And, and Moses answers “it’s my staff”.
Now you’ll remember that this staff that Moses carries, very man-made, very natural, becomes imbued with God’s power.
And that staff becomes the vessel through which many of the God’s miracles happen.
- Moses throws his staff down and becomes a snake. This happens multiple times, in fact at one point, the snake staff eats the other snakes of the Egyptian magicians.
- That staff is used to bring about the Egyptian plagues.
- The staff is used to part the Red Sea
- The staff is used to bring water from a rock.
And on and on.
And this becomes a great metaphor for scripture. That the Bible you’re holding is absolutely a man-made thing. It was ‘penned’ by humans. It was copied by humans, it was canonized by humans, it was translated by humans.
But at the same time, it has been imbued with the power of God, and it is the most reliable source in existence to point humanity to Jesus. And because of that, the Bible, outside of God himself, is one of the most powerful forces in the world.
So this morning, by way of introduction, we’re going to go through 3 quick sections:
- A Brief History
- The Logic of Inspiration
- Start Somewhere
A Brief History
Ok so first, what IS the Bible.
Well first off, the Bible is not a book. It’s a library. A collection of books. 66 books to be precise. 39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament.
And today they’re book, but they started out as scrolls. Rolled up scrolls. I don’t know how much space you’d need to transport 66 scrolls from home-church to home-church but I’d imagine a fair amount. Also, they would deteriorate quick, and so these translators would copy them and pass them around.
Well eventually, a new system was invented, called a Codex. Which is instead of one long document, we’ll break it up into smaller segments, let’s call them pages, and let’s sow them together. And the Codex was the first appearance of what we call a ‘Book’.
Historians tells us that the Codex was largely created because of Christians needing a better way to transport scripture.
The Bible is written by over 40 authors. We don’t know exactly how many because a number of the biblical authors don’t credit themselves. Hebrews is a classic example of this. We this is was most likely not written by Paul (who wrote great deal of the New Testament) because Paul starts his books with ‘Hi Guys, Paul here.’ Well the book of Hebrews doesn’t have that so we don’t know who wrote it. We can speculate, and that’s fun, but we don’t know for sure.
But other 40 authors writing over at least 1500 years.
I want to you think about that. 40 authors, writing over 1500 years who’s writings all come together and form one cohesive story.
So let’s compare that to the
- The Quran which is said to have been delivered by an angel to one man. You either trust him or you don’t. But it all rests on one person.
- Or The Book of Mormon delivered by an angel, to one man. You either TRUST him or you don’t. But it all rests on one person.
See, the Bible is different.
You have 40 Different authors writing over 1500 years , all writing from different perspectives, and upbringings, and miraculously, they tell a cohesive story. All pointing towards Jesus or reflecting back on Jesus.
It is an entire library under one cover.
It’s written in 3 Languages:
And they’re not all the same KIND of book. There’s lot of different genres. You have:
- Official Church Correspondence
- Personal Correspondence
- Apocalyptic Literature
- Old Testament – Before Jesus
- New Testament – After Jesus
And so it’s important to understand the diversity of writings in the Bible. If you struggle to understand the Bible, this can really help you.
If you don’t understand the structure of the Bible and just flip it open and have no idea who’s writing, when they’re writing, and what they’re writing, it’s all gonna be greek to you. Literally. You know, you flip open to some random section today and then tomorrow you flip open to some other random section, they’re not gonna be the same kind of thing. If you don’t even know what kind of book you’re reading, you’re in for a world of confusion. But if you can take a little time to understand the overarching structure and story of the Bible and as you read understand where you are, it can bring tremendous clarity.
The Logic of Inspiration
When I was young, if someone were to ask me this question: “Do you believe the Bible is the word of God?” I would say “Yes, absolutely.” And if they would ask “Ok, why?” Well I would say “Because the Bible says so”. Boy, I thought that was a great answer. Now, not so much. Now I understand that that’s what’s called ‘Circular Reasoning’.
You know, because The Quran also claims to be the word of God. Now is that PROOF that the Quran IS the word of God? No of course not.
Ok, so why is it that we believe the Bible when it says it’s the word of God, but don’t believe the Quran when it says the same thing?
Well let me show you my process for believing the Bible is God’s word.
Now this is starting from total scratch.
1. The Gospels are historically valuable.
Not talking about inspired by God, or God’s word, just historically valuable.
Effectively everyone, all pastors, all professors, all historians, all agree that the Gospels (and by that I mean the first 4 books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are first century documents. – Some would argue for more MID first century, others would argue LATE first century, but effectively no one debates that the gospels are first century documents. They are.
And in historical terms, that’s incredibly close to the events they describe.
That is helpful of course, because it reduces the risk of stories getting inflated over a few hundred years.
Also, there’s more accountability when writing about current events than ancient events.
So for example, let’s say someone came out and said ‘Plato never existed’. Well they would get a lot of criticism for that, but it’s kind of difficult to PROVE that it’s untrue. Now let’s say someone writes and says “Donald Trump never existed.” They would be a laughing stock. It’s much more difficult to deceive someone when they’ve personally experienced it.
Contrast that with the earliest writings of the Buddha, that come about 500 years after his historical time on earth. That’s kind of a long time to say super specific stuff that he did. “And then he winked.” – 500 years ago?! You’re gonna remember a wink from 500 years ago?!
Telephone Game Think of the telephone game you would play as a kid. Where the phrase would start out with “I love Elvis” or something and by the end it has something to do with pizza.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, (Luke 1:1)
just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. (Luke 1:2)
With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, (Luke 1:3)
so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:4)
In the first century, writing was an incredibly expensive thing to do. It’s not like now where anyone can just get a blog for free and spew whatever nonsense they want.
So a community or sometimes someone of wealth, in this case, theopolis, would sponsor the project. But this was a very expensive thing to do. So the people paying lots of money to sponsor the writing of these historical documents would NOT have tolerated made-up stories.
The Gospels are valuable because they document the most influential man in the history of the world. And they were written in a precise way very soon after the events took place, by people who were motivated to get the facts right.
2. Jesus is trustworthy.
This is the next step. – To learn about Jesus, to be impacted by Jesus, and to find Jesus trustworthy. And to let him become your teacher.
So here we’re not worried about whether or not the Bible is the word of God, any of that. We just recognize that the gospels are historically valuable, and so we read and learn about Jesus, and even in that small move, Jesus is compelling us.
3. Jesus validates the Hebrew Bible’s divine origin.
I hope this isn’t confusing for you. When I say the ‘Hebrew Bible’ I mean the Bible they would have had at this time in history. Which is essentially what you know as the Old Testament.
Jesus recognizes the Hebrew Bible as scripture. As the Word of God. Jesus does. I’ll be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for that, the Old Testament would be really hard for me. I would feel like a lot of it is fable. – A huge fish swallows a man who hangs out in the fish stomach for literal days and then is vomited out onto the beach and survives. – How stupid. A huge Flood, yeah right.
In fact, there’s an early church movement called ‘Marcionism’ where effectively – You believe in Jesus and all he taught, but you reject the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. And in a sense, it sounds pretty good. As long as you don’t think about it. Here’s the problem: Jesus recognizes the Hebrew Bible as scripture. As the Word of God. Jesus does.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
“The Law & Prophets.” – What’s he talking about? The Hebrew Bible
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
This is not the talk of someone who finds scripture untrustworthy.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matthew 19:3)
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ (Matthew 19:4)
and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (Matthew 19:5)
Haven’t you read that before? Genesis 2. So here Jesus is basing his opinion about divorce on something he read in Genesis 2.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, (John 5:39)
yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:40)
Jesus here acknowledges the Hebrew Bible as Scripture and says that the scriptures talk about him.
While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? (Mark 12:35)
David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’ (Mark 12:36)
That’s amazing. Jesus quotes Psalm 110 and says that David was inspired by the Holy Spirit when he wrote it.
Obvious implication: If you follow Jesus, you need to take the Bible as seriously as he did.
Right? He’s the model for how you are to live. Not always easy.
I’m saying: If you find Jesus trustworthy, you have to take the Bible seriously, because Jesus took it seriously.
4. Jesus promises God’s spirit will inspire his disciples.
It makes sense to me that if Jesus really is showing us a new way to be human. That he’s wanting his message to not just die after one generation, that he would have a plan on how to get that information out. – And writing, at this point in time was the primary means to make this happen. – And so it makes sense that Jesus would think through HOW he’s going to get his message out cleanly. So picture Jesus sitting the apostles down before he’s going to leave and the writing projects will begin. He sits them down and says this:
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)
Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is going to help them remember what he said. Jesus said that was going to happen.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. (John 16:12)
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)
He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. (John 16:14)
All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:15)
Same thing. The spirit not only is going to help the disciples remember what they saw, he’s going to show them MORE about Jesus.
5. The early church validates the New Testament writings.
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. (2 Peter 3:15)
So here we have Peter writing about Paul’s letters.
He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)
Interesting. Here you have Peter talking about Pauls writing and says “They distort Paul’s writings as they do the other scriptures.” – So here Peter is calling Pauls writings scripture.
I don’t have time to get into it, but there’s more examples of this kind of stuff. Like we see Paul refer to Luke’s Gospel as Scripture.
The Final Canon
And it’s also the early church that gives us the final canon.
Canon is a word that means “the rule” that where they drew the boundaries around the Bible, what’s in and what’s out. Because there were other writings at the time.
The final canon was developed in the fourth century, that’s the early 300’s. This is where the church drew a solid line around which books ran which were out based on the 3 criteria.
They had 3 criteria:
That’s not to say that it had to be in support of the institution of church, catholicity means ‘universality’. Essentially it’s: Did the early church receive these as scripture?
Were they first century documents? There’s other accounts of Jesus that come later. Which could have worked great for the Bible. The Gospel of Thomas for example. Which is cool in that it shows Jesus as the all-powerful light. It was very validating to the Christian faith. But the looked at it and said ‘Sorry, it came out in the 2nd century, and that’s too late.’
Which is is to say they were theologically correct in what they taught. And for all of the books in your New Testament, the answer to those questions is yes.
1. Get a Bible
Paper is better than screen
It’s 2022. the Bible is everywhere. I have like 5 bible apps on my phone. I have every bible translation imaginable in the Bible software on my computer, along with 1000’s upon 1000’s of pages on commentary and word studies.
And for a new Christian, I’d say that an app on your phone, is a cool place to start.
But if you would allow me, a paper bible is better in a number of ways. In particular for a someone who’s wanting a better grasp on the Bible as a whole.
The way I like to think about it is that a bible app is 2D, whereas a paper bible is 3D. So there’s not just up, down, left and right. There’s also how much bible you’re holding in your left hand vs your right hand.
The Bible is basically chronological. And so every time you flip open a paper bible, you remember where you are in the story.
And I don’t read Leviticus (near the beginning, where nobody knows about Jesus yet) and Romans (near the end of the Bible, now that Jesus has come and changed everything), I don’t read those 2 books the same way. Not at all.
Team translation is better than individual.
Study Notes are better than None
What you will use is better than what you won’t.
2. Read it alone and together.
Study, Pray Meditate
Bring it to church
3. Discuss what you’re learning with others.
Friends, family, church family.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16)
so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:17)
Invitation – As I read scripture, I invite God in to be my tour guide. And my posture is “God I need your help to rightly understand what I’m reading.” And the first step in that is, of course, receiving Jesus and your Lord and Savior…