The Role of the Bible in Theology and Apologetics

bibleSince the time of the Reformation, Christians have summarized their beliefs about the Bible in four words. These attributes of Scripture form an acrostic, SCAN, which stands for sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity.

  1. The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible contains everything we need to know for salvation and living in a way that pleases God (2 Pet. 1:3). Nothing needs to be added in order to make up a lack in it. It is a finished, complete document that communicates all that Christians need to know about God in order to be rightly related to him and to live godly lives in this world (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Sufficiency also means that Scripture is the final word from God (Heb. 1:1-2). Just as Jesus in the final revelation of God, and is the living Word of God, the Bible objectively declares all that God wants us to know about him. This is why nothing can be added or deleted from the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). While tradition can help us understand how faithful Christians of the past have understood the Scripture, and gives us a pattern for faithful Christian living, the Bible is the final arbiter of truth.

  1. The clarity of Scripture means that the teaching of Scripture about salvation and godly living can be understood by all who seek to study it in belief. This does not mean that everything in Scripture is equally clear, for there are some parts that are difficult to comprehend. It does mean, however, that God has not hidden the meaning of his revelation behind vague and esoteric language. Most of the Bible is written in rather plain, straightforward language. It is pictured as a lamp that lights one’s path (Psalm 119:105), leading clearly to truth and understanding.

Clarity also means that we do not need a religious expert to interpret the Bible for us. Every Christian possesses the indwelling Holy Spirit, who leads us into truth (John 16:13). This does not mean that we can determine the meaning of the Bible for ourselves, or that we don’t need to build on the theological understanding of Christians of the past, but rather it means that the Bible is not incomprehensible to us unless a priest or religious authority tells us what it means.

  1. The authority of Scripture means that the Bible is revelation from God himself, and that we are obligated to listen to it and obey it. Whatever the Bible speaks about is the truth, and it should arbitrate between competing truth claims. This does not mean that other human endeavors do not help us know our world, but if they contradict a clear statement in Scripture, the determination of truth lies with Scripture. The reason for this is that the Bible is the very Word of God, so it possesses the authority of God himself.

The authority of Scripture implies that it is also trustworthy, without error, and reliable. This has been challenged in countless ways by science, history, archaeology, philosophy, and others, but the Bible has always proven itself to stand the scrutiny of the human mind. Unbelievers want to elevate their own reason and authority over the Bible, but this has failed them every time. Whatever man considers to be wiser than God is shown to be foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18-21)

  1. The necessity of Scripture means that apart from God revealing himself to us, we could not know God. While many things about God can be known by general revelation, what can be seen in the created order (Rom. 1:19-20), the Scriptures are necessary for us to know that Jesus died and rose again to save us. God is divine, perfect and infinite. We are creaturely, fallen and finite. God is so different from us that we would have no way of knowing him. But God condescended to reveal himself so that we might be restored to him. God has spoken to us in a way that is clear, translatable, objective, and able to be preserved.

If God had not revealed himself in the Bible we could not possibly know all the story of redemption that he has worked on our behalf. Because he has given us his Word, we can know the full riches of his gift of salvation through Christ. The necessity of God’s Word for salvation means that unless someone brings the Word of God to unbelievers they won’t know how to be saved (Rom. 10:13-15).

Conclusion

In order for us to defend the Christian faith, we must know what the Bible teaches about itself, and what Christians have always believed about it. The Bible is the bedrock of all that we believe and serves as the foundation for all that we call knowledge. It is important that we firmly grasp the truth about Scripture, especially in light of the many misconceptions and challenges raised against its reliability.

In addition, it is important for Christians to read and know the Bible on a personal level. It does no good to defend the Christian faith, share the gospel, and proclaim the truth of the Bible if we are not daily reading and meditating on it ourselves. The Bible is not a fact book to memorize; it is the revelation of the living God that is to be understood, believed, and lived. Only then will have the transformative effect that it is meant to have. The Scriptures transform more than just our knowledge; they completely renovate our hearts and minds, our words and actions, and our very being.

This is one reason why earlier in this study we learned that one of the best ways to become a good apologist and evangelist is to know the Scriptures and sound doctrine thoroughly. When we eat, sleep, and breathe the Scriptures, our senses are sharpened to discern and refute arguments that are false and idolatrous (Heb. 5:11-14). The Holy Spirit uses our knowledge of the Scriptures to give our minds the sharp ability to know what to say at the right time. As you consider the role of the Bible in apologetics, it is my hope that you will become a thoroughly biblical apologist.

The Doctrine of Scripture for Apologetics, Part 2

File%22-Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles%22_by_Valentin_de_BoulogneThe Bible did not fall from heaven as a finished product placed in the hands of men. Neither was it, like the claims of both Mormonism and Islam, translated from golden plates found in a hillside or cave. Rather, God communicated to human authors in various ways, and guided their writing so that what was written was what God wanted to reveal to them. While 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us what Scripture is, the clearest passage that describes this process is found in 2 Peter 1:16-21.

In this text we see that those human authors who wrote the books of the Bible did not do so on their own initiative (2 Pet. 1:19-21). They did not decide to sit down and write sacred texts. Rather, as the Holy Spirit moved in their hearts and minds they wrote divine thoughts, mediated through their personalities and styles. The end result is Scripture that accurately communicates what God wanted to say, with humans as the instruments of God’s revelation. The word translated “carried along” or “moved” is also used to describe the effect the wind has on sails. The wind blows into the sails, which moves the ship forward. Peter is saying that as the Holy Spirit initiated revelation to the authors of Scripture, they wrote under His influence and guidance.

One question often raised pertains to the reliability of the Bible after all these years. Many critics charge that we could not possibly know what the original words of Scripture were because of errors in the copies. Two examples help dispel that notion. First, the Old Testament was carefully preserved by trained scribes in Israel whose main duty was to preserve the ancient texts. Their success in this is demonstrated in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 in Israel. Among the scrolls found was a copy of Isaiah that was dated to about 100 B.C. Before this discovery, the oldest known copy of Isaiah dated back to 900 A.D. The difference in the copies, then, were about 1,000 years apart. Scholars were amazed to find that these copies were virtually identical to each other, showing very little difference. The only differences were minor spelling mistakes that did not in any way affect the meaning of the text of Isaiah.

The New Testament manuscripts are equally reliable. When we compare the almost 6,000 Greek manuscripts that date back to the 2nd century A.D., they are more than 95% identical to one another, and the remaining 5% of differences are spelling variations and simple errors made by later copyists that can be clearly identified as copy mistakes. None of these differences affect the teaching or doctrine of the Bible at all. In addition to Greek copies, we possess more than 20,000 early copies of the New Testament in many other languages also, including Latin, Syriac, Coptic (from Egypt), Gothic, Armenian, Nubian (from Sudan), and many more. All these show remarkable consistency over the centuries.

The conclusion to this is that the Bible is extremely reliable, even though parts of it are 3,500 years old. That means that when we confess that the Bible is our source of truth for doctrine and life, we can hold it confidently. So, what role does the Bible play for Christians and their doctrine?

In the next post, we will look at the Reformation principles of Scripture that make it central to the Christian faith.

The Doctrine of Scripture for Apologetics, Part 1

 

2945978650_d15a7f6130The doctrine of Scripture is one of the most important doctrines to know in depth since the Bible serves as our foundation for knowing what we know. The Bible is also the target of many attacks on Christianity, so the better we know how it was written, what it says about itself, its historical nature, and place in Christian theology, the better we will be able to defend all of the Christian faith.

What IS the Bible?

There are many ideas about what the Bible is. Some believe it is like many of the rest of sacred religious books from around the world—pious people’s reflections on their experiences of the divine. Others believe the Bible is simply a collection of myths that some people mistakenly take to be divine. The Christian view, however, is that the Bible is the revelation of God about himself and his divine plan to redeem the world. The Bible, then, is the very Word of God to his creatures for the purpose of establishing a relationship with him. Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that the words of Scripture are the very words of God breathed out by God himself. This is what we call the doctrine of Inspiration. God the Holy Spirit moved human authors to write his words so that each word, and the final finished product are exactly what God wanted to be written and without any errors. This is what we call the doctrine of Inerrancy.

Because God is the ultimate author of Scripture, all his power and authority are invested in it. The Bible is not a dead book or an inert substance that has no power. Rather, the words of Scripture, being the very words of God, have incredible power to expose, convict, and transform the human heart (Heb. 4:12). Unbelievers often think that Christians merely follow the instructional teachings of a lifeless 2,000-year-old book of facts and commandments. In reality, Christians follow the living God who has spoken through his Word, which is a living and powerful document. When we defend the Bible, we should do it with this in mind.

Our relationship to the Bible is not like reading instructions on assembling a bicycle, but rather is like reading a personal, handwritten invitation by the President of the United States to dine weekly with him at the White House. Such an invitation would contain some instructions, of course, but its primary intent would be to invite you into a relationship with a kind and powerful ruler who wants to invite you to serve him in a prestigious position.

Sometimes unbelievers will fault Christians for believing in the Bible while missing this very point. Christians don’t believe the Bible because they want to live with as many rules as possible. No, Christians believe the Bible because they have discovered that it lays out the path to a restored relationship to God. And the Bible goes further, clearly teaching how we can participate in God’s great work of redemption in this life, and how we can have peace and joy for all eternity in the next life.

Another detail about the Bible many unbelievers don’t know is that, while it is a single book, it is also a collection of sixty-six books with a unified message. It is a library of books bound by a single theme of redemption. The Bible was written over the course of 1400 years by more than 40 authors, and yet is unified in its message. The Old Testament was written over a 1,000-year span, and the manuscripts were carefully preserved by the Jewish people to ensure accuracy. The New Testament was written over a 50-year span and was carefully preserved by the Christian church. (The reliability of the Bible will be covered in more detail in a later lesson).

In addition, the books of the Bible are comprised of many writing styles, or genres . In the Old Testament these include law books (Genesis-Deuteronomy), history (Joshua-Esther), poetry and wisdom literature (Job-Ecclesiastes), and prophets (Isaiah-Malachi). In the New Testament we have Gospels, or biographies (Matthew-John), history (Acts), epistles (Romans-Jude), and apocalyptic literature (Revelation). Each of these genres serves a different purpose in the unfolding story of redemption.

This is important, because unbelievers often know nothing about how the Bible came to be. They know that the Bible is old, but don’t know much else about it, except that there are miraculous stories written in it. The Bible is actually an amazing piece of literature in its own right, in addition to being the revelation form God so we can be rightly restored to him. One of our goals in apologetics is to get unbelievers to read the Bible for themselves. Countless unbelievers through the ages have been save simply by reading the Bible for themselves.

In the next post we will look at the way we got the Bible and its reliability.