The Unreliable Bible

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

I never get tired of seeing those words. When they flashed on the screen during Rogue One immediately there was a sense of coming home. That opening line has become as iconic to the movie franchise as Darth Vader’s breathing. When you see them pop up on the screen, you are instantly transported to a land of spaceships and space knights, evil dictators and freedom fighting rebels, the Death Star and the Millennium Falcon. If you’re like me, your heart beats faster and you tingle with excitement at what’s about to unfold. And I’ll tell you, this movie did NOT disappoint. It was one of the best Star Wars movies ever! But we all know it isn’t real. Even though it says it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we don’t imagine that this is a documentary or a biopic or even a “based on true events.” Those movies, like The Finest Hours, more often than not flash a date and place on the screen right at the beginning to give the movie context. “Wellfleet, Massachusetts. November 1951.” It gives you a sense of place and time, a window into what you’re about to see. Like McFarland USA, “Boise, Idaho. August 21st 1987.” They do this also to give the movie authenticity, to root it in history.   Because when you locate an event in history, you can verify that it happened. Saving Mr. Banks, Maryborough, Australia 1906. If we want people to believe a story, they need evidence. They need to know it wasn’t just in a galaxy far, far away. They want specifics. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” That’s how we know that it happened. That’s why Luke was so careful in how he described the events in Jesus’ life. He wanted to root it in history. He wanted to give it authenticity. He wanted us to be able to verify it actually took place.

We don’t have faith because of the Bible.

We don’t have faith because of the Bible. You might have seen bumper stickers with the phrase, “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it.” But the problem with that kind of belief is that everything rests on the complete authenticity and validity of the Bible. There can be no errors. There can be no mistakes. Everything must make complete and perfect sense, because if you take the Bible literally that’s exactly what you are saying. EVERYTHING in the Bible MUST be directly from God as God meant to say it, so if there are any errors or if the Bible says something that contradicts something else, then the whole Bible is wrong and your whole faith comes crumbling down. And I’ll tell you that anyone who has actually read the Bible knows there are things that are contradictory. In fact, there is something contradictory in the very first chapter. The story of creation. The first chapter tells us that God created the Heavens and the Earth. Then he created the seas and the land. Then he created the plants and after that the animals. And only after everything else was created did he make people. It’s very clear on the created order of things. But in the very next chapter of Genesis, it says God made man and breathed life into him before any other living thing. When Adam was created, there were no plants or animals. Just him. Only one of these stories can be true. They are mutually contradictory. You can’t have all of humanity created after the animals and then before the animals at the same time. It’s an irresolvable inconsistency. So which story do you believe? If every word That’s not to say that the Bible isn’t useful. As Paul wrote to Timothy in his letter, “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 (2 Timothy 3:16-17).” I believe that. I believe that Bible IS useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. But that is not where our faith rests. Our faith rests in Jesus Christ. Our faith does not rest on the Bible. Our faith rests on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 19).”

Some of my favorite Bibles
Some of my favorite Bibles

Christianity does not exist because of the Bible. The Bible exists because of Christianity.

Christianity does not exist because of the Bible. The Bible exists because of Christianty. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please turn to the book of Acts 4:13-22. Acts 4:13-22. We do not believe in Jesus because it’s in a book. We believe in Jesus because he was born to a virgin, lived amongst us, performed miracles only God could perform, died for our sins, and rose from the dead. And while the Bible chronicles the life and teachings of Jesus, the Bible is not why we are Christian. Andy Stanley used this example in a sermon. He said you don’t exist because of your birth certificate. If something happened to your birth certificate, you wouldn’t cease to exist. Your birth certificate documents something that happened.[1] In the same way, the Bible documents something that happened. And this is exactly why Christianity spread, because the early disciples believed that Jesus rose from the dead and died for their sins.

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

Peter and John weren’t putting their lives on the line because of the Bible.

The Bible didn’t exist and would not exist until hundreds of years after their death. In fact, some of the most important letters and teachings of the Bible were written or said to be written by them. But Peter and John put their lives on the line because they believed that Christ was the risen Savior, and they believed because they witnessed him after his death. They said to the Jewish elders who were putting them on trial, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It didn’t matter their lives were being threatened, they could not deny their own experience and so eventually the Sanhedrin had to let them go. They believed because of what they knew. Not because of something they read or some theory they heard. They believed because of what they knew and eventually they wrote it down and it became part of what we know to be the Bible today.

But no one in the first century came to believe in Christ because of the Bible.

They didn’t believe because of the Bible in the second century either. Or the third. It wasn’t until Easter in the year 367 that Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, first issued the 27 book list that we call the New Testament.[2] It didn’t become officially canon until the Council of Hippo in 393.[3] And during that time, Christianity grew. Despite persecution, their numbers went from a dozen men to thousands of people to literally millions, until by the year 300 they accounted for 10% of the population of the Roman Empire.[4] In the year 313, Emperor Constantine made Christianity legitimate and by 380, Emperor Theodosius made it the official state religion of the Empire.[5] So for the first 360 years of its existence, Christianity grew from a small group of followers to a Jewish sect to the official state religion of the biggest empire in the known world, and that whole time they didn’t have a Bible. How in the world did they come to believe?

People believed in Jesus Christ because of the transformative power of faith.

People believed in Jesus because of the transformative power of faith. It wasn’t because of a book. It was because they saw for themselves how faith in Christ changed those around them. I’m sure the same is true for you. Although you may have read the Bible as a kid or sung that song we all know and love (“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”), that’s not why you believed in Jesus. It’s because you trusted whoever it was that took you to Sunday School. It’s because you thought your pastor knew what he was talking about. It’s because your grandmother had such overpowering faith that you felt compelled to learn more about God. No matter how it happened, you came to have faith in Christ because of the people around you who in either overt or subtle ways convinced you this was something worth believing in. But you didn’t come to faith because of a book. You came to faith in Christ because it was made real to you through the love of those around you, just as it did for Peter and John and Matthew and Luke and Mark and Paul who were so overwhelmed by the love of Christ they had to write about it and tell it to everyone they knew. Love became real for them and through that love they had faith.

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The Bible is important.

Please don’t misunderstand that point. I do believe the writers of the Bible were inspired by God. I believe that the words within it are useful to teach, rebuke, and correct as Paul wrote to Timothy. But I also believe that human beings are incredibly fallible and we have often read the words contained inside of it wrong. I believe that human beings even with the best of intentions interpret the Bible in ways that do NOT reflect God’s will. And I know the Bible contains contradictions we cannot resolve. And if the Bible has been used in your life to make you afraid; if the Bible has been used against you as a weapon; if the Bible has been the justification for causing you pain and anguish, I am so sorry. Because that was not why the Bible was written. The Bible was meant to tell the story of God’s great love. A love so great that Jesus gave himself up on the cross for us as a sacrifice for our sins. A love that moved dozens and then thousands and then millions of people to love one another so radically that it convinced others to do the same, and hopefully it has or will do the same for you. The next time you read the Bible, keep that in mind. If you have given up your faith in Christ because of the Bible, please come back. If you have stayed away from believing in Jesus because of the Bible, please give it a chance. And if you have doubts because of the Bible, please feel free to share and ask about it. But know that we believe in Jesus not because of a book, but a book was written because we believe so strongly and wanted to share that love with the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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[1] Andy Stanley in his sermon, “Who Needs God?: The Bible Told Me So,” August 27, 2016.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_New_Testament_canon#Muratorian_fragment

[3] https://gotquestions.org/canon-Bible.html

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_church_of_the_Roman_Empire

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_the_4th_century

 

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