SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES



Is the Bible Really God's Word?

By Tom McGovern

(edited)


The question of whether we can accept the Bible as an authority in our lives is one that has concerned people ever since the Scriptures began to be written. What makes the writings that are found in the Bible any more valuable or reliable than anything else that has been written down over mankind's history? Does the Bible really spring from a divine source? Would the God of the Universe really condescend to communicate with mortal, sinful humans? What process was involved in the development of the biblical text? These are all valid questions and the answers to them are both edifying and satisfying.

Would God Reveal Himself?

The first thing we should consider in approaching this topic is whether a holy, infinite God would ever reveal Himself to finite, sinful humans. Observation of the created Universe and of our fellow humans furnishes the most basic clues. The magnificence of nature reveals to us a God of infinite power and wisdom, but the makeup of the human personality reveals more. People are capable of emotions and motives that we would consider noble; the faculty of conscience demonstrates a measure of moral character that is common to all. These moral qualities could only have been implanted by the One who created us and they are reflective of His personality and character. Such a God would reasonably be expected to have compassion on His creation and an active interest in their lives. It is completely in accord with that sort of character that He would wish to reveal Himself to His intelligent creation.

Further, the level of power that is shown in the creation of the Universe clearly demonstrates that God is able to reveal Himself. And because God has endowed man with an intellect, it is also apparent that man would be able to understand the revelation that God provided. It seems highly probable, therefore, that God would reveal Himself to mankind and we may conclude that He has done this primarily in two ways. The first, as already mentioned, is through the display of his power and character in His creation, and the second, a more specific and detailed revelation, is in Scripture.

But Why the Bible?

We may at this point acknowledge that it does seem reasonable that God would reveal Himself in written form to mankind. Why, however, should we accept the Bible as being that revelation? What factors make the Bible stand out from all the other "holy writings" of the various religions of the world? There are many, but we discuss here only a few because of space limitations:

The Bible has stood the test of time. Age alone does not necessarily imply a divine origin, but given the brief shelf life of most written works, it is reasonable to expect that a work that has its origin with God would be one that survives. The Bible has been preserved more remarkably than any book in history. From the beginning of its writing around 3500 years ago to the present day, no written work has faced more opposition or more attempts to destroy it than has the Bible. Nonetheless, it continues to be the most widely circulated book in the world, today more than ever. That is exactly what we would expect from a work that is the revealed Word of an omnipotent God whose will is that His word be preserved for all generations.

The Bible is unified. It was written by about 40 human authors having greatly differing personalities, over a period of more than 1500 years, under vastly different circumstances and using a wide variety of literary forms. Yet the reader of the Bible sees a remarkable unity; it tells one consistent story from beginning to end.

Bible prophecy is fulfilled. There are literally hundreds of prophecies in the Bible, and not one has ever failed, though some are still awaiting fulfillment. However, the many predictions that have already been fulfilled have come to pass with an accuracy that is beyond human capability to attain. Repeatedly, the futures of nations and peoples have been predicted and have occurred exactly as written -- in some cases, extending all the way down to the present day! Additionally, a very large number of prophecies from the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and came to pass down to the smallest details.

The Bible is historically accurate. No discovery of historians or archaeologists has ever disproved so much as a sentence of the Bible. In fact, there have been cases in which the work of historians needed to be corrected in order to conform to the Bible as more archaeological evidence was discovered. Kings and peoples that were mentioned in the Bible were thought by historians in the past to have been fictional, until actual evidence was unearthed that proved beyond a doubt that the Scripture was accurate.

The Bible's influence is unique. Unlike the holy books of other religions, the Bible has literally changed the world by changing the lives of people. It offers the highest moral standard and has influenced people and society as a whole for the better. Additionally, the Scriptures have encouraged artists, architects, musicians and writers to produce their finest works as a tribute to their great Author. No other book has ever come close to the Bible's impact on human society.

The Bible changes lives. Even more profound than its influence on society as a whole is the effect that the Bible has had on individual lives. Through its pages, men and women have met its Author and formed a personal relationship with him that has transformed their lives for the better. There is no scoundrel or criminal whose life is beyond God's power to redeem. It is in the pages of Scripture that God's power is found by those who explore it with a willing heart. Hundreds of millions throughout history have testified of the work that God's power has done in their lives as a result of what they read in the Bible.

How Was the Bible Recorded?

Even if we acknowledge the Bible's uniqueness as a book, we may wonder in what way it is different from any human writing. The Bible makes the claim to be "inspired of God". We often speak of a particular book, painting, or musical composition as being an "inspired" work. Is that what is meant -- that the Bible is merely the product of very talented and creative individuals operating at peak levels?

The Bible itself testifies that more is involved. At 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 we read, "All Scripture is God-breathed [1] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." So the Bible claims that all of it -- not just parts -- has its origin with God, a concept that theologians refer to as plenary inspiration. Also, we see in this text that the Bible is sufficient for all of man's spiritual needs. Finally, it is the text itself ("Scripture"), and not the human writers, that is said to be God-breathed; theologians refer to this as verbal inspiration.

There is, of course, much variance among translations of the Bible, but it is important to remember that it is the original manuscripts of the Bible that were God-breathed and not copies or translations. Though we do not today possess the autographs (original manuscripts) of the biblical writings, the science of textual criticism assures us that by using the copies and translations we do have, we are able to be certain of the original text to a very high degree of accuracy. We can therefore be certain that the Bible we have today is indeed the Word of God as He gave it.

The process of inspiration is discussed at 2 Peter 1:20, 21: "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." This text discusses how Scripture "came about", that is, how it came into existence. So it isn't talking about how people understand Scripture that already exists; rather it is saying that nothing in the Bible came as a result of human ideas, philosophies or interpretations. Scripture was given to man by God.

Peter says that the writers of Scripture were "carried along", as a wind carries a ship along the sea. The captain of such a ship still has control of his vessel, but he relies on and is at the mercy of the wind to reach his destination. Similarly, the process through which God breathed His words into existence allowed for the full expression of the writer's abilities in phrasing, type of literature and style; nonetheless, the finished product is the Word of God. It was overseen by the Holy Spirit in such a way that the words written were the very words that He wanted recorded.

A Personal Testimony.

I was raised in a home where religious observance was largely absent. However, I was taught as a child to revere the Bible as a book from God. That teaching and my acceptance of it has made a profound difference in my life. Though I only began as a teenager to learn very much about what the Bible said, it was at that age that I was sufficiently moved by its words to give my life to Christ as Lord and Savior. Because I was not diligent about studying the Word and had no reliable source of guidance, I was easy prey for cultists, and spent many years in a group (WatchTower Cult) that claimed to have all the answers about the Bible while distorting its teachings. Nonetheless, in His time, the Lord opened up His Word to me. Ultimately He made the way for me to come out of that cult, allowing me to serve Him fully and to experience a great deal of enlightenment from Scripture. One of my great concerns upon emerging from the cult was to understand the ways in which the Bible was distorted and to become familiar enough with it that I could not be deceived again. My education with Moody Bible Institute was a great help in that regard, and the Bible continues to impact my life in significant ways.

Conclusion.

The above has only been a brief summary of the reasons to believe that the Bible is the very Word that God has given to men and the process by which He did so. Much more detail could be added. But I believe that this short discussion has at least provided the framework for further study and inquiry and has demonstrated that there is good reason to regard the Bible as God's unique revelation to mankind, worthy of our study and devotion.


Footnote:

[1] Many Bible translations use the term "inspired" here rather than "God-breathed". However, I concur with Grudem (p. 75), who asserts that "God-breathed" (used in the NIV) is the better term, since it more exactly carries the meaning of the original Greek term (theopneustos) and because it avoids confusion with the common usage of the word "inspired" to apply to purely human efforts.


Bibliography:

Baker, William H. Survey of Theology 1 Study Guide. Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 2004 rev.

Barker, Kenneth, Gen. Ed. The NIV Study Bible, 10th Anniversary Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

Dorman, Ted M. Faith for all Seasons, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000 rev.

Thiessen, Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999.


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EIGHT POINTS TO UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE

(CORRECT EXEGESIS)

By Daniel Hall

(edited)


1. The Holy Spirit

The Bible is a spiritual book. It is only the Holy Spirit who can teach us spiritual things. Jesus promised at John 14:26, 15:26, and 16:13 that He was going to send us the Holy Spirit and that He would teach us all things.

Paul said, "The natural man (flesh, human thinking) cannot understand the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him." (1 Cor. 2:14).

To understand the Bible, the Word of God, we must have the Holy Spirit teach us. How do we receive the Holy Spirit? Jesus told us that our heavenly Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. (Luke 11:13).

2. Avoid previous mind-sets, beliefs, or world-views.

If we read the Bible from a preconceived notion or doctrine, we will fail to understand the Word. From childhood we were raised and taught human reasoning. Human reasoning is opposed to God.

To establish what they believe to be truth, the Watchtower Society uses the concept, "If it isn't reasonable. it probably isn't true." The problem with this is, "reasonable to whom?" What is reasonable to humans is not reasonable to God. " `For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways.' says the Lord." (Isa. 55:8).

3. Understand the context and the historical facts of the situation.

The cults take scriptures completely out of their proper context and apply them in bizarre manners. To understand any particular verse or chapter, analyze its context. Acknowledge who it was written to, when it was written, the subject under discussion, and the circumstances of the account.

For example, the entire Old Testament was written as a historical account, but was written to and for the nation of Israel.

While the principles are for our benefit today, the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are also historical accounts of what Jesus told the Israelites prior to the transition to the New Covenant. The thrust of these accounts is to show that no one (except Jesus) could live up to the Law Covenant and therefore everyone, Jews included, needed a Savior.

The accounts of Matthew 24 and 25 which the Watchtower Society and other such groups use, really are directed to the nation of Israel during the Great Tribulation.

Even though the Acts of the Apostles records events of the early church, it is an historical account and we need to use caution if we are using the book of Acts to establish foundational doctrines.

Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, and his letters were written to most of us, the Gentles who are of the body of Christ. It is important to notice, for example, that Paul never spoke of or warned about the Great Tribulation, but rather, that the bride of the Son would be spared from God's wrath.

The book of Revelation after chapter 3 is future and is yet to be fulfilled. The Great Tribulation, which begins in chapter 6 through 18, is on the fleshly nation of Israel to bring her to repentance.

4. Understand the meaning of words. especially in their grammatical & historical application.

In many cases it is essential to use a concordance or lexicon for a word study to help discern the intent and meaning of the writer in the context of his subject and circumstances.

5. Avoid eisegesis and esoteric applications.

Eisegesis is reading things into texts which are not there. Esoteric cultic groups use extensive eisegesis.

For just one example, Malachi 3:1 says, "Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight. Behold, he is coming says the Lord of hosts."

The Watchtower applies this to mean that Jesus came to the earth around 1919 and reviewed all the religions, chose the Watchtower and rejected all other religions. You will have a difficult time finding any such concept in that verse or the context, or for that matter, in the entire Bible.

6. Avoid dogmatism.

To the Watchtower and other such groups, there is no gray area and everything must be either "black" or "white." But, there are many peripheral doctrinal issues which are not clear in the Word, and various understandings are acceptable within the body of Christ.

7. Accept the Word as literal, unless a spiritual application is evident.

When aberrant religious groups cannot explain a particular text, they will say, "Well, that is what it says, here is what it means," and then they "spiritualize" it so they can "explain it away." Only when there are valid reasons apparent in the text, should we look for a spiritual application.

For example, in Revelation 14:4 speaking of the 144,000 chosen out of Israel, it says, "These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins." Could this mean that they will be only men and all virgins in a fleshly sense? This does not likely apply in a fleshly sense and therefore probably means that spiritually they are virgins, similar to the bride of Christ who is spoken of as a "chaste virgin."

We also need to understand figurative language such as allegories, which make use of something literal to symbolize a principle or truth. For example, Jesus' use of worms that don't die and fire which never goes out to describe absence from God, are not literal, for in the literal, they cannot exist together.

In most cases the Word of God is literal and means exactly what it says. We want to let God speak for Himself and His written Word speak for itself.

8. Read God's Word from God's perspective.

When we read God's Word, we will either view it from the standpoint of legalism or grace. If we attempt to read the Bible from the standpoint of law, we will never understand God's Word. We did that in the Watchtower. The law covenant was given to make sin manifest, to prove that men could not live up to God's standard of holiness, and that we all needed a savior.

If we bring in one drop of legalism into the Christian life, we destroy the grace of God. God's grace is pure grace and He does not adulterate it with our flesh works. If we could actually place one drop of "YOU GOTTA," into God's grace, it would then mean that the grace of God was NOT unearned, undeserved, and unmerited! Pure grace is the only kind of grace there is, but men constantly attempt to mix flesh works with God's grace.

At John 3:6, Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit and no matter how religion tries, they cannot mix the two.