Tuesday, November 27, 2012

No Book in History


“Why do you think the Bible is a good determiner of moral standards?” challenged one of my Facebook friends recently. That’s a surprising question for those of us who’ve been alive long enough to remember a culture that took the book at its word. We didn’t always follow the directions, but we saw that as our own error, not the Bible’s.  One of my most loved family members once explained his disdain for the Bible by pointing out that it was just written by a “bunch of old men 2,000 years ago” and therefore couldn’t possibly bear any relevance for today. Really?

Under these two objections lies the assumption that the nature of man is markedly improved, that we’ve got everything under control and no longer need to follow the instructions. I do function like that under some circumstances – I’ve been sewing for over half a century and rarely read the pattern instructions. I take a glance at a recipe and then I’m off on my own. I get the attitude. But there’s a big difference – the evidence shows that I need neither; I’m an excellent seamstress and a good cook, if I do say so myself.

But let’s look at the larger assumption – where can we find evidence that mankind has improved morally? Intellectually? Socially? We’re still having wars, torturing our enemies – now we even kill the innocent unborn. People still break their marriage vows, abuse their children, and steal from each other.  We continue to gossip, lie, and practice terminal arrogance. Nothing indicates that we’ve become good at being good.  Perhaps it’s time to ask for directions.

But why assume that this ancient book produced by a foreign culture and written in foreign, paleolithic languages would be of any help? Simple logic. Now, granted, if you have really bought into the idea that the universe is just a product of three kinds of nothing getting together and exploding, then the rational approach may not work for you. But if we start with the concept of God, the only useful explanation for our awareness of good and evil, then we can find answers to both concerns. Follow my thinking:
If God is good, fair, unchanging, rational, and truthful (read this as a 1st class condition in the Greek – “and He is.”) and He made us and put us here, then He must
1)    have a reason, a purpose for doing so,
2)    have found a way to let us know what that is.

If God has told us how to function, He would do so in writing so that it would be fair, then, for Him to hold us accountable for understanding it.

If He were going to write His message to us, He would use human minds to do so to ensure that readers would understand. And He would use many different minds so that we wouldn’t worship the messenger.

Because He is absolute perfection, even though He directed the writing of His Word through human minds, there would be a clear continuation, a harmony between all segments since it all came from Him.  Anyone who has studied the book has marveled at its continuity. Even though its 66 books were written by 40 different men, over a period of at least 1500 years, its major themes, approaches, symbols and motifs remain consistent.

If God is omniscient (and He is) He would have known that we would form many different cultures, spread all over the globe, and continue as a species for thousands of years.  The Bible is the world’s longest running best-seller. It has so affected people of all cultures that people have risked death, faced death in order to study and preserve it. Evidently it gets to the heart of what bugs us all. Odd that one old book could do that.

If God is also omnipotent and sovereign, (and He is) and He knows that we must all have access to His message, then He is capable of and duty-bound
1)    to disseminate the message everywhere it is needed,
The Bible has been translated into more languages than any other book. It has been smuggled from country to country sewn into the linings of clothes. One man, Constantin von Tischendorf, a German Bible scholar in the 19th century, rediscovered a 4th century Bible text (Codex Sinaiticus, also known as Codex Vaticanus) in the library at the Vatican. The Pope would not let him remove it for study, nor would he allow Tischendorf to bring writing materials into the library, so every day this scholar walked into the library and memorized a chapter and went home that night and wrote it out. The next day he would review what he’d memorized the day before, and then do a new passage until months later he had a complete copy of the manuscript. Bible history is full of heroic stories – the happenstance recovery of a codex that was being burned for fuel at St. Catherine’s monastery at the base of one of the mountains considered to be Mt. Sinai, the errant rock thrown by a shepherd in a cave by the Dead Sea and the shattering of a clay jar containing part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. God has indeed preserved his word.
2)          to preserve that message through the ages,
The methods used to copy the original manuscripts not only demonstrates that the Hebrews revered their “Law,” but it also helps us understand how we can be sure that what we call the Old Testament today is what God told the Israelites thousands of years ago. When a Jewish scribe copied a page of scripture, he first washed his hands. Then he counted the letters on a page from top down. Then he recounted from the bottom up. Next, he copied the page. When finished, he counted the letters in the copy. If the count was off, he started over again. God obviously watched over His Word.
3)            to provide accurate translations from one language to another.
We have available for study thousands of biblical manuscripts – both codices (entire books) and lectionaries (copies of smaller passages for use in worship). No other ancient manuscript comes even close to the redundancy and richness of biblical manuscripts. The Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Koine Greek (the Greek of the New Testament) beginning in the 3rd century B.C. This translation, which is quoted often by Paul, gives us a clear idea about Jewish understanding of the ancient Hebrew manuscripts. Whereas some modern translations have given into the temptation to alter meanings to fit the times and the trends in theology, the richest and most accurate (the KJV and  the NKJV) translations are still easily available.

If His message is “required reading” then He is also responsible
1)    for providing adequate evidence that it is truthful,
In the last century a wealth of both scientific and historical/archeological evidence points to the accuracy of biblical accounts, but that’s another post.
2)    for seeing to it that we can either read or hear the Word read to us, and
3)    for preparing men who can spend their lives studying and teaching this Word.

Do you follow my logic?

If the Bible is truth, then it should
1)    be consistent within itself,
Which it is. From God’s instructions to Adam and Eve after the Fall to the end of the prophetic book of Revelation man is said to be saved only by believing in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. Thousands of years before Jesus set foot on the earth people understood that. “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness."(Genesis 15:6)
2)    connect with both science and history, and
3)    be an accurate portrayal of human nature.
It is fun to read of the exploits of the Bible’s “heroes,” for they are remarkably human. King David seduces his general’s wife and then has him killed. Paul has a high squeaky voice. Peter denied that he knew Jesus. No writer of legend or myth would admit to such imperfections, but there they are – just as flawed as the rest of us, but they conquer it all. See Hebrews 11.

No book in history has had as much effect on humankind as has the Bible. I know from my own experience what a different person I am today, how differently I see the world than I used to before I began making it part of my soul. But, as Paul so succinctly says, “The words of the cross are folly to those who are perishing.” (1st Corinthians 1:18) I have little hope that I can change the minds of those who persist in denying its majesty. But I can hope, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

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