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Why The Bible?

• Greg Boyd

In Week 5 of our “Sure.” series (where we are honestly wrestling with challenges that our post-modern, post Christian, pluralistic culture presents to our faith), Greg addresses the (apparent) imperfections, errors, and contradictions in the Bible, and shows that they don’t distract from it being God-breathed… but contribute to it.

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Jesus said we are to worship God with all our heart and soul and MIND. Most people gloss over the “mind” part out in Christian circles. The mind is meant to think, to try to wrestle with things, to figure things out, and to make sense of things. We worship God with our mind when we’re authentically and honestly trying to make sense out of things; when we are passionate about being honest with issues we’ve got to wrestle through.

So why should we believe/trust the Bible in the first place? If you ask most Christians why they believe in Jesus, they’ll respond, “Because the Bible says that Jesus is Lord.” Then, if you ask them why they believe in the Bible, they’ll say, “Because the Bible is Divinely inspired.” If you press further and ask how they know the Bible is Divinely inspired…they’ll quote Scripture and say something like, “the Bible says it’s inspired.” This is what’s called, circular reasoning.

Circular reasoning is when you assume the truth of your conclusion to prove your conclusion…it’s not really an argument, it’s just repeating its claim in the form of proof. Thus, reasoning in a circle (example: “You know that I’m telling the truth, because I always tell the truth”).

Rather than basing your belief in Jesus on the Bible, Greg submitted that we base our belief in the Bible on Jesus. There are many strong arguments that validate Christ is who He says He was and did what the Scriptures say. But the strongest of these arguments are historical in nature – and we have compelling historical reasons to accept that the early disciples were not lying and were not passing on a legend. Consequently, we have compelling historical reasons to accept that the Gospels are basically reliable and to therefore accept that Jesus is Lord.

-Jesus clearly believed the Old Testament is the inspired word of God

-He pre-authorized the New Testament as inspired as well.

-If He is, in fact, Lord and we confess Him as such, we are in no position to correct His theology…especially on such a foundational matter as the inspiration of Scripture.

The Conclusion of the matter then, must be this: All who confess Jesus to be Lord must consider both the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired word of God. It’s on the authority of Jesus…not the other way around.

In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Apostle Paul says that all Scripture is inspired by God. The Greek word for “Inspired by God” is theopneustos. This is a combination of the root words: Theos – which means God. Pneustos – to breath. When put together, theopneustos literally means, God-breathed. What does it mean to say that something is “God-breathed?”

Evangelicals tend to assume that if you believe the Bible is “God breathed,” then you have to believe that it’s a perfect book – free from errors, contradictions, and historical inaccuracies. And if you spot any, then you have to try to explain that they “are only apparent contradictions.” They reason that if God is perfect, then the book He breathes must be perfect as well. The term used for this viewpoint is inerrancy, and for most evangelicals, this is the litmus test to tell if you are a “true believer.”

Greg asserts that this is a dangerous view that has caused many young people (including him in college) to lose their faith. It sets people up for a fall if your taught that the Bible is perfect and free of error, but then you take a college level class, read a certain book, or talk to a knowledgeable friend that points out errors that can’t be explained, they reason the Bible can’t be true, therefor Christianity can’t be true and they lose their faith. This need not be.

So let’s talk about the imperfections in the Bible, and not dismiss them, but show how they actually point to Scripture’s Divine Inspiration rather than take away from it. The Bible can be imperfect and still be inspired.

  • Ancient (Pre-Scientific) Cosmology

Scripture is written by people way before there was anything like science, who understood things as they appeared.

Here are a few examples:

-In the Ancient Near East, people thought the sky was a dome that holds up water (Job 37:18; Genesis 1:7). It’s hard for us to understand this, but to a pre-scientific world. But if you look up at the sky, it looks like a dome – and it looks like water.

-They also thought the world was held up by pillars in the midst of these surrounding waters (Psalm 104:2-3, 5-6; Job 9:6; 26:11; Psalm 75:3). If you asked them what held up the pillars, they would have no answer (much like a scientist today attempting to explain what cause the tiny cube containing all the matter in the world to explode billions of years ago in the “Big Bang”).

-They also thought there were windows in the Heavens that YHWH would open for rain to pass through (Genesis 7:11; 8:2; Isaiah 24:8; Malachi 3:10).

-They thought YHWH implanted lights into the dome (Genesis 1:14).

  • Mythological Sea Monsters

People in the Ancient Near East that there were monsters lurking in the waters that circled the Earth (such as Leviathan and Behemoth), and the people looked to God to keep these at bay.

The Bible describes some of these monsters as having:

-Many heads Psalm (74:14).

-Blows smoke out its noses and fire out of its mouths (Job 41:18-21).

-Even “the gods are overwhelmed at the sight of him” (Job 41:9).

-This monster can eat iron like straw and crush bronze as if it were decayed timber (Job 51:26-27)!

People in the Ancient Near East looked at these mythical creatures as spiritual threats, much like we would view the “principalities and powers of the air” and the forces of evil that we know are a reality today.

  • Contradictions

There are also contradictions in Scripture.

Here are two:

2 Samuel 24:1 (The Lord incited David to count his army) vs. 1 Chronicles 21:1 (satan incited David to sin by counting his army).

Exodus 34:7/Numbers 14:18 (God judges generations based on their parents’/ancestors’ sins) vs. Ezekiel 18:20 (God will not judge generations based on their parents’/ancestors’/ sins)

  • Human Mistakes

The examples in this category all have to do with common mistakes in human memory -including instances where they quoted the wrong citations to their own Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 1:14-15 (Paul changes his story within the verse)

Mark 1:2 (Mark quotes a Scripture reference and says it’s from Isaiah…but it is actually from Malachi 3:1).

Mark 2:26 (Jesus references an incident that took place under “ Abiathar the high priest,” but the high priest during this instance was actually Abiathar’s father – Ahimelech in 1 Samuel 21:1-6).

Matthew 27:9 (Jesus references a scripture from Jeremiah…but it was actually found in Zachariah 11:13, not Jeremiah).

  • Un-Christ-like Pictures of God

The Bible also contains pictures of God that aren’t consistant with the character of Christ (whom we know is the exact representation of what God is like, John 14:9). If you assume that the Bible is a perfect book…these sorts of objections will cause you to struggle and possibly lose your faith.

Deuteronomy 20:16-17 (God commands the death of men, women, children, and, animals). This gives us a distorted image of God.

God’s Perfect Revelation

The disciples and many Jews in the 1st Century had assumptions of what the Messiah would be like when he. Even today, most people think that when God reveals Himself, it is in grandiose display of miraculous power. When Jesus shows up, He doesn’t look anything like the common pictures of Messianic leadership.

It’s dangerous to make assumptions of what a perfect God is going to do.

Instead of assuming, look to the place and the way God reveals His true nature…the cross. Because Jesus has a funny way of blowing apart all of our images and assumptions about God…and when God actually reveals Himself…He allows Himself to be crucified.

1 Corinthians 1:18, 24 – Paul says that the way Jesus allows Himself to be ripped apart on the cross is foolishness to the world. They say, “What kind of Deity lets Himself get killed in front of those He’s trying to show His character to?”…

…But if God revealed Himself through Christ – the One who bore ALL the imperfections of the world, why would we assume that the Scriptures (which are God-breathed) would be through perfection? If God breathed His fullest revelation through something foolish and weak (the cross), wouldn’t we expect Scripture to include sin and imperfection, thus pointing to the cross as well?

God’s “breathing” is not unilateral…He’s relational. He allows Himself to become entwined in our imperfections so that He may reveal His perfection in our midst. So if this is true (it is) shouldn’t we read the Bible with the same lens? Shouldn’t we read the Bible knowing that it beautifully shows God acting toward us, but also shows us acting in sinfully destructive ways toward Him.

Also, each writer of Scripture comes from their own culture, time-period, language, assumptions, and writes in their own genre and style. God knows this. God probably has perfect Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic…but the writers of Scripture do not. Mark, Paul, Peter, and John do not. They misquote Scriptures and memories fail them at times. He still chooses to use them as they are. If God still chooses to use, move through, and liberate through imperfect human vessels today…why wouldn’t He do that through His God-breathed book?

These imperfections in the Bible don’t distract from God’s breathing…they contribute to it!

The cross reveals a God who stoops down to our level and enters into solidarity with us and uses us in the midst of all our sin and imperfections and weakness and foolishness – as we are.

The imperfections in the Bible show that God has always been a God that relies on His self-sacrificial love rather than the power of coercion, who manifests His power through human weakness and His perfection through human imperfection, His beauty by entering into human ugliness, and His holiness by entering into human sin. He has ALWAYS been a God who is willing to bear the sin and imperfection of His people and take on an appearance that mirrors that sin and imperfection. He breathes through and uses us just as we are.

The mistakes, errors, contradictions, and imperfections in the Bible are part of the good news. If He could breathe His written revelation by using imperfect, fallen, infallible, foolish, and simple people – then there’s hope for me and you. That God can use you just as you are. Not someday when you’re “clean” and perfect and free. If that were true – we wouldn’t have a Bible. As you are right now, God loves you and can use you just as you are. Get into the “game” as you are now and participate and be part of this beautiful, imperfect Kingdom of a beautifully perfect God.

Is the Bible infallible? Absolutely…IF you read it with the purpose God intended it. The imperfections help do that. They don’t detract from the inspiration of Scripture…they contribute to it. Because God revealed Himself fully on a foolish and weak looking cross, and uses sinful and foolish people like us.

That’s a beautiful message. That’s Good News.

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Topics: Controversial Issues, Defense of Christian Faith, Discipleship, Faith

Sermon Series: Sure.

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Focus Scripture:

  • 1 Corinthians 1:18, 24

    For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God....we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

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2 thoughts on “Why The Bible?

  1. trevor says:

    @ minute 27, Greg goes into an example of why we shouldn’t presume to know what a perfect God-breathed Bible should look like, and uses Jesus as Messiah for that example – he wasn’t at all what they expected.
    Isn’t this the very reason that Jesus encourages his audiences (almost completely Jewish) to ‘believe in him’ as Messiah?
    And if that’s so, how did we (Gentiles) get to the salvation formula that boils down to ‘believing on Jesus’ ? what does believing that Jesus is the Messiah have to do with me as a Gentile, and my connection to God? Am I in the same place now as Jews were then?


  2. Peter says:

    Hi Trevor, the type of questions that you raise are little different to what goes through the mind’s of most non-believers before they became a believer. In fact, whether you ask ten questions, a hundred questions or a thousand questions or more…while this gives you information, it may in the end, be better to ask a believer what changed their mind and thinking to now know Jesus as their Lord and Savior?

    Given your apparent skepticism in relation to aspects of the Christian faith, it may be better to go down this path with Greg himself. For those who know Greg through his messages are aware of his dysfunctional lifestyle during his upbringing and the influence his father had over him. However, all this changed when God brought order out of the disorder to Greg’s life to where he is today (although some may jokingly argue what has changed!).

    One legacy of Greg’s situation was a book he wrote following his conversion that comprises series of correspondence he had with his non-believing father. This correspondence addressed the type of questions you raise and, in this case, eventually led to his father becoming a believer.

    So if this interests you, it could be the starting point that you are searching for. The book is titled, “Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity”…and is available in various forms (audio and written) through Amazon;


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