The Book We TrustErwin W. Lutzer | September 10, 2006
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Bible claims to be the Word of God: eternal, Spirit-born, and error-free. Yet it also displays the styles of its various human authors on every page. So did man write the Bible, or did God?
In this message, Pastor Lutzer helps us to understand how this book is both human and divine. He reminds us that perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of the Bible’s power is in the lives of God’s people. All over the world, Christians suffer for the Bible, skeptics are transformed and converted by reading it, and it’s even banned in some countries. The Word of God is powerful and living, and it is available to all.
I begin today with a question: is the Bible a human book or is it a divine book? That’s the question of the hour. Yesterday I was reading in the book of Jeremiah. In chapter thirty-four Jeremiah was asked by God to write a scroll. God gave him the wisdom to do it and after writing it he gave it to his scribe to read to the people because he was banned. Then it was read to the King. When it was read to the King, the Bible says that as his assistant read it column by column the King took a knife and cut it and put it in the fire in defiance. Later on God said to Jeremiah, “Jeremiah, you’re going to have to redo that.” I often wonder, did he come up with exactly the same words that he had used previously or did he change it a little bit without affecting its meaning?
We come to the book of Mark in the New Testament and you find that Mark loved the vivid present tense. Over a hundred and fifty times Mark would say, “Jesus goes to Jerusalem, Jesus heals.” He loved it. His Greek is very different from the Greek of John, who also wrote a book in the New Testament. You get to Luke and Luke actually says, “Many people decided to write about the life of Jesus. I have investigated what they’ve written and now I’m putting things in order and writing my own account that you might believe, oh Theofolus.”
Then you think of Paul and I Corinthians. I Corinthians 1:16 says, “When I was with you I baptized some people and also the house of Stephanas, but I can’t remember whether I baptized anyone else.” If Paul had a better memory would he have put some other names in the Bible for us, in God’s holy book?
At the end of II Timothy he says, “”Timothy, when you come bring my coat.” After all, he is in prison and he’s cold. So he says, “Bring my coat and the books and especially the parchments.” It sounds like a very human book to me. On every page you can see its humanness through the styles of the writers.
Yet at the same time we’re confronted with this question: is it only a human book? More than 1,500 times the Bible claims to be the word of God. Jeremiah had the experience of the scroll being burned. It says in chapter one, verse two, “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.” Four other times in chapter one it says that, “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.” And Paul, who couldn’t remember whether he baptized other people, having a senior moment himself, going through that experience says in I Corinthians, “If anyone is spiritual let him know that I am telling you the commandment of God.”
Is the Bible human or is it divine? The answer is of course it is both human and divine. The best example of that is Jesus. Was Jesus human or divine? John chapter four says, “So Jesus, being wearied from His journey sat on the well.” Well, we say Jesus is God. Are you telling me that God got tired and had to sit down for a few moments? Jesus is both God and man. When I speak about Jesus the Son in this doctrinal series we are going to talk about the incarnation and its complexity and mystery.
What is Jesus called in the Bible? Among other names He is called the Word of God. In the beginning was the Logos, the Word. The book of Revelation expressly calls Him the Word of God. The parallels between Jesus and the Bible are astounding. Both are eternal. Jesus is eternal, “Yet thy word, oh Lord, forever is settled in heaven. Heaven and earth shall pass away but my word shall not pass away.” Both were conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, yes, but also the writers of Scripture were born along by the Holy Spirit, the Bible says.
Let’s also keep in mind that both are without error. Jesus was a man and yet sinless. The Bible is a human book. But because it is also a divine book, it is without error. It is inspired by God and kept free of error. You say, “Pastor Lutzer, what do we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired? Do we mean that it is just an inspiring book?” We don’t mean that. There are plenty of inspiring books that are out there. Quite frankly there are parts of the Bible that you read and at times they might not be that inspiring, especially when you get into the Old Testament. It’s much more than that.
It’s also much more than the notion that the Bible is reliable in matters of doctrine but not in matters of science and matters of history. That notion just does not wash; it is illogical. The reason is because history in the Bible is doctrine. Is the resurrection of Jesus a matter of history or a matter of doctrine? The answer is that it is both. Is the creation of the world a matter of science and not theology? The whole creation lies at the very root and the heart of scripture and doctrine.
Furthermore, think about it for a moment. If we cannot trust the Bible in matters of science and history, if it is wrong there, why should we believe it and trust it in matters of doctrine? If it’s wrong in these issues it might just as well be believed that it is wrong in everything. So that’s not what we mean when we speak of inspiration.
You say, “Well does it mean that just the ideas were inspired?” That’s a popular notion. The problem is that words and ideas are bound together. Sometimes your salvation rests on a single word. Jerome, translating the Bible into Latin, translated the words of Jesus. He did not translate it, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He translated it, “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Maybe he thought that the word penance meant repentance. The problem is that from that word a whole tradition of penance developed. When Luther discovered the error it was revolutionary. One single word!
You say, “Pastor Lutzer, didn’t the writers of Scripture have any leeway?” Scholars can see very clearly their styles. The answer is, “Of course they had leeway.” For the most part the Bible was not dictated. Holy men of God were moved by the Holy Spirit. Some of it was dictation but much of it wasn’t. You see, Mark loved the present tense. He says, “Jesus goes to Jerusalem.” Matthew writing about the same event might say, “Jesus went to Jerusalem.” Maybe John says, “Jesus proceeded to Jerusalem.” Another writer might say, “Jesus arrived at Jerusalem.” God says, “Choose whatever word you want within your style as long as you remain within the boundaries of truth.” The Bible is a human book and it is a divine book.
Years ago when I was in Bible college, that is more years ago than it used to be, I remember memorizing this little poem, and I don’t know who wrote it. Speaking about the Bible it says, “Deep strike they roots oh heavenly vine into our earthly sod, most human yet most divine, the flower of man and God.” You hold in your hand today if you brought your Bibles like I assume you did, you hold the flower of man and God.
We believe in what is known as verbal plenary inspiration. The word plenary means full; it extends to all of scripture. Verbal has to do with words. So I came up with this definition based on other similar definitions: God superintended the authors, that although they used their background and style, they nevertheless wrote His message to us without error in the original autographs or manuscripts. What they wrote and taught was without error.
You say, “Yeah, but we don’t have the originals.” That’s true, we don’t. Thank God we don’t have the originals. We’ve already got enough people lining up to see a piece of bone that belongs to someone in the past. Can you imagine if we had the originals of Paul? People would be worshiping that piece of parchment. We have copies of copies. Here’s the deal: yes there are variations, but that is what scholars do. They go back and they reconstruct the original and through many different sources are able to reconstruct essentially exactly what Paul wrote and what Mark wrote.
It is often times said that when you open your Bible you know that the text upon which it is based is 99.5% exactly what the original was. The other little one half of one percent has to do with variations that do not affect doctrine. Let me say to you with authority today that when you hold this book in your hands, with confidence you can say that you are holding the Word of God that lives and abides forever. This book is God’s book, God’s love letter to us. This is His word.
Now the question is, “How do we know that the Bible is the word of God?” Come with me to a University classroom, I may be twenty-five or twenty-four, taking a course in philosophy in a Canadian University. The professor is teaching us logic, good professor, and he brings to class a snippet that he cut out from a newspaper. It says that a Christian was asked, “How do we know that the Bible is the word of God?” And the Christian said, “We know it’s the word of God because it claims to be the word of God.”
The professor said, “This is an example of circular reasoning.” It was the best example that he had. The Bible is the word of God because it claims to be the word of God. You are assuming the point to be proven. I think that all of us would admit to say that the Bible is the word of God because it claims to be the word of God. That sounds a little bit like, “Well I knew that he was telling me the truth because he told me he was telling me the truth.” We know of course that is logically to be suspect.
But let me ask you this question: is it wrong to find out what the Bible says about itself? Is that illegitimate? I think that’s a very good enterprise. Let’s suppose that you had a visitor come in a very strange boat and land on some distant shore. Wouldn’t it be okay to interview him and ask him where he came from? If he gave an explanation we would look for consistency and we’d also bring in experts in boat manufacturing and clothing to try and verify it. But it would be alright, in fact, maybe helpful. Maybe he would tell us things about his origin that we couldn’t learn in any other way.
It is legitimate to ask what the Bible teaches about itself. Even in a court of law the defendant is able to stand up and defend himself. I think it’s very right that we should ask the Bible, “What do you say about yourself and your origin?”
I’ve already told you that about 1,500 times the Bible claims to be the word of God. The Bible claims to be God-breathed. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, by the breath of God. Psalm thirty-three says, “The heavens were made by the breath of God, the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” The very same breath that God breathed out by His spirit resulted in the book that we call the Bible. It claims to be inspired of God.
In fact it goes on to say, “The words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace refined seven times.” It is the pure word of God. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” said Jesus, “but my word shall not pass away. The flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” Almost on every page of scripture it claims to be God’s book.
There are some people who we call religious liberals. I’m not talking about political liberals now but religious liberals. They say, “We don’t believe that the Bible is a word from God. We think it is a purely human book. It’s the story of the Jews in the Old Testament coming to grips with monotheism and that’s all it is. Nonetheless, we should treat it with reverence because it has so many good things in it. We have to respect it.”
Oh, really? You’re going to respect a book that has at least 1,500 lies? You are going to respect this book? I don’t think so. You say, “Well let’s put the best face on it. These guys were not writing God’s word but they thought they were.” Are you going to accept the words of authors that were so befuddled that they couldn’t tell the difference between their thoughts and God’s thoughts? I don’t think so!
Let’s suppose someone wrote a biography of Winston Churchill and throughout the biography said, “Churchill said to me so and so.” Then we discover that the guy never met Winston Churchill even once. Would we say, “Well, he was wrong regarding that and it’s true he told all these lies, but I think this is a very helpful biography.” I think I’d use it to warm myself in winter, quite frankly.
What I’m saying to you today is this: if the Bible is mistaken regarding its origin then it has nothing else to say to us that is worthwhile. There are some wonderful sayings that Jesus gave on the Sermon on the Mount, but a lot of those can be found in other religions. How do you respect a book that is wrong so many times? You simply can’t.
Either the Bible is a good book or it is a bad book. Either it is a book that tells us the truth or it tells us a pack of lies. Either it was written by honest men who heard from God or it was written by diluted prophets and men whose meanderings are not worth reading. It is one or the other. So I say to you today, make up your mind as to what you believe about the origin of the Bible that claims to be God’s word.
One reason why we believe the Bible is the word of God is a logical reason. Even skeptics admit that the Bible has had a good influence on people. Are you going to say that this book, written under such fraudulent circumstances is good? I don’t think so. I think what we need to do is bow humbly and accept the fact that God spoke through holy men of God and they recorded His will in Holy Scripture.
There’s a second reason and that is the authority of Jesus. Once you’ve established that the New Testament documents are reliable on their own grounds, on independent investigation that is not connected with faith but just with matters of history, you discover this Jesus who really believed in the Old Testament. This is critical. Jesus accepted the history of the Old Testament. He believed in Adam and Eve.
In some Seminaries that are of a liberal tilt they say, “We accept a lot of the Bible but we don’t like the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. We don’t believe there was a flood and we don’t believe in creation or Adam and Eve. But we believe in God. We are theists.” Oh my. So you’re telling me that you claim to be a Christian and you don’t believe what Jesus believed? It’s very strange to me.
Jesus believed in Adam and Eve, in Jonah, in the flood and in Moses. He quoted the Bible over and over again when He encountered Satan. He said, “It is written, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’” “It is written, ‘Man shall live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” He is quoting the Old Testament. That’s the way Jesus handled it.
One day when I was in Bible college I remember a student saying something that I had thought of myself. He said, “You know, I find it easy to accept the New Testament as the word of God. But I find it so hard to accept the Old Testament.” There are passages in the Old Testament that I read and I confess I say, “I don’t understand that and I don’t know why God did it this way.” There are some very, very difficult parts of the Old Testament. So I understand where he was coming from.
I remember a skeptic saying, “The only way we could know if the Old Testament is true is if there was an omniscient being who knew all the details.” If you’re sitting here today as a skeptic you have your wish today in Jesus. He was a man, yes, but He was also an omniscient being who knew all the details. He looked at the Old Testament and said, “The scripture cannot be broken.” Jesus believed it and I believe it is important for you and me to believe it too, just like He did. We can’t get out of it.
Jesus believed in the authority of the Old Testament, he believed in the teaching of the Old Testament and he believed in the prophecies of the Old Testament. In regard to the law Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” and I am paraphrasing here, “Not one crossed T or dotted I shall pass until it’s all fulfilled.” Can you believe less than Jesus if you are His follower? I hope not.
We know that the Bible has been vilified and criticized, cut up and spoken against. I can do no better than to read the words of Bernard Ram, “A thousand times over the death knell of the Bible sounded, the funeral procession formed, the inscription cut on the tombstone and the committal read, but somehow the corpse never stays put. No other book has been so chopped, sliced, sifted, scrutinized and vilified. What book on philosophy or religion or psychology or letters of classical or modern times has been subject to such a massive attack as the Bible, with such venom and skepticism, with such thoroughness and erudition upon every chapter, every line and every tenant? Yet the Bible is loved by millions and studied by millions and the corpse never stays put.” We will remember that it is always there.
Do you realize what people have had to endure because they believed in the Bible? Years ago when persecution broke out against France you had the Huguenots who were believers influenced by the great John Calvin in Geneva. They came to faith in Jesus Christ and they were banished from France under Louis XIV, who thought he was doing God a favor. He actually said he thought he should enter heaven because he had done God such a favor to get rid of these people.
In a monument in France to the Huguenots there are these words: “Hammer away ye unregenerate hands. Your hammer breaks. God’s anvil stands.” You skeptic out there, take your hammer and pound it on God’s anvil. See which breaks, your hammer or God’s anvil. God’s anvil will take a lot. It’s probably taken a lot more heat than you are able to give it.
We hold in our hands today the living, true word of God. We take it for granted though, don’t we? We really do. When I led a tour to the sights of the Reformation in England last year I took the tour group right outside of St. Paul’s cathedral and showed them the place where all the Bibles were burned. When Wycliffe trained his young men to share the Bible and had scribes transcribing it prior to Gutenberg, the first thing he taught them was how to die for the faith. Hundreds were put to death. I asked the bus driver to go to the place where it happened. Now you can’t even see it because it’s full of traffic lights and streets. Hundreds have died because of this book that we take for granted and leave on our shelves.
There is so much more that I could say. I could talk about history, I could speak about archeology or science, but we have time for only one more reason. The first reason is logical. The Bible claims to be the word of God. The second reason is Christological. Jesus believed in the Old Testament. You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer how do I know that the Old Testament of Jesus is the same as our Old Testament?” That’s a good question and one that I am going to answer tonight as I speak about Canonicity.
The third reason is personal – the power of the word. Let’s suppose you were driving through Los Angeles right after the riots that took place there many years ago. You are in the riot district because you are lost. Suddenly your car drives over a piece of metal and you realize that you’ve got two flat tires. You have no cell phone and you are sitting there wondering what in the world to do because people are roaming the streets. Suddenly a door from a building flings open and about fifteen young men come strutting out and they surround your car.
First of all, what emotions would you have at that moment? Second, would it help your emotions if you knew that they were on their way home from a Bible study? I think even atheists would feel better if they knew that! It’s amazing what the word of God does. Its power is amazing.
A young man took a Bible that his mother gave him and flung it out of a train as far as he could throw the thing. He hated her and he hated her God. That’s what happens to young people. Years later he repented of his sins and thought he would go back to where he had so desecrated God’s holy word. He did some investigation and discovered that the Bible that he had flung out of the train had been found by a family that read it and believed on Jesus. Now they were changed and he was changed.
What book is there that can take the heart of an angry young man and the heart of a family and transform them and make them different except God’s holy word? There is no book out there that can do that. That’s why the first thing you should do with skeptics is to get them into the word of God. Don’t argue about Aristotle’s Laws of Motion which were used by Thomas Aquinas to prove the existence of God. They are too complicated.
What you do is you get them into the book. The Bible says that the word of God not only heals us and helps us, but the word of God actually converts us. “You have been born again,” the scripture says, “not of corruptible seed or perishable seed but by imperishable, by the word of God that lives and abides forever.” It’s the word that explodes in the human heart and we have to trust the word.
Two weeks ago my wife and I were in a restaurant with some friends. As we came in they introduced me to the waitress as their pastor. So I asked her where she was on her spiritual journey. She said, “I am investigating all the faiths.” She told me about a book that she was reading that introduces all the different faiths. I said to her, “How much adult consideration have you ever given to the Bible?” She said, “None.” I said, “Have you ever read the New Testament?” “No.” This is the best that you can do in a passing connection. I said, “Please look into my eyes and promise that you will read the New Testament.”
That was the best thing that I could do in the few seconds that we had together. Why? It is the word of God that will germinate in her own heart. People read the New Testament and they read the Gospel of John and they say to themselves, “There’s no way somebody could have made up this story of Jesus.” They become captivated by Him and before you know it they believe in Him.
Why do you think that the Bible is banned in so many countries today, like Islam for example? Why is it that a young soldier told my daughter, “If I’m found with a Bible when I return to my homeland I could be put to death.” It is because people fear the word of God. They know it has power. It is the living word of God that lives and abides forever. It is the two-edged sword that pierces asunder the soul, spirit, joints and marrow of the heart.
“If I were the devil,” said J.I. Packer, “one of my first aims would be to stop folks from digging into the Bible. I should do all I could to surround it with the spiritual equivalents of pits and thorns and hedges and man-made traps to frighten people off.” If you were the devil that is what you would do. Those of you who have no scriptural reading program, those of you who begin and read a few verses and then put the Bible away, you are falling into the trap of the devil. That is his strategy because this book can bless you.
Can I read what Spurgeon said about it? He said, “This book has wrestled with me, this book has smitten me, this book has comforted me, this book has smiled on me, this book has frowned on me. The book has clasped my hand and the book has warmed my heart. The book weeps with me, sings with me, whispers to me, preaches to me, maps my way, and holds my goings. It is the young man’s best companion and is still my morning and evening chaplain.” That’s what the word of God can do. No wonder we find it so hard to study it.
I’m going to conclude with the words of Robert Chapman to impress upon you the need to love the Bible. If God were to do something mighty among us here at The Moody Church, one of the things we would notice is that people would be reading their Bibles and reading their newspapers less. God generates within us a love for His holy word.
Robert Chapman writes, “This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts binding, its histories are true and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s character. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened and the gates of hell disclosed. Jesus Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, the Glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, test the heart and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory and a river of pleasure. It gives you life and it will be opened at the Day of Judgment and remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest laborer and condemns all who will trifle with its sacred contents.” My friend today, this is the word of God.
Let us pray. “Father, forgive us for the times that we have neglected your book. Forgive us Father that we have not loved and delighted in it like your word says we should. “Delight in the law of God and you will be like a tree planted by streams of water.” We have too many other delights. May we repent of those today, we pray. I pray that this may be a congregation in love with the word. May skeptics who are present open their New Testaments and begin to read your word. We pray that it may be in our minds and in our hearts. We pray that as we meet other people it may always be our guide. May we cleave to its promises that will take us all the way to eternity, we pray in Jesus name, amen.”