"Pt.4— Is the Bible True?" Sermon Notes for January 30, 2022



Psalm 119: 105

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet

and a light to my path.

2 Timothy 3: 16-17

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is[a] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Peter 1:20-21

20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Notes:

  • We continue in our sermon series that addresses lingering questions people may have that serve as a stumbling block to faith. We’ve covered how we can believe both in science and in God; how there can be evil and suffering in the world when there is a good, compassionate, and loving God who we say is in control; and how the wounds left in the wake of evil, pain and suffering can be healed. Our reference point for our analysis is the Bible. That then might then highlight the question, is the Bible true? This, like all the other questions, is not new. Even in the Bible itself, Jesus cites how his own disciples were slow to believe the prophetic witness put forth in the Torah (the extent of the scriptures that existed at the time.) The disciples themselves were among the first skeptics of the Bible.

  • There are those who walk away from the faith because of things in the Bible. For example, the way, at least on the surface, women are treated and slavery seems to be upheld. Then there are the fantastic stories like Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the whale; the whole universe being created in 6 days; and the horrific violence done in the name of God. Then there are the opposing accounts like the two creation narratives in Genesis and the seemingly contradictory teaching on divorce—the prophet Ezra says all foreign wives should be divorced but Malachi says God hates divorce. Then there are differences in the gospels—did Jesus give the sermon on the mount or on a plain? What about the differing accounts of the resurrection narrative—in one case there are two angels (John) and in another account, only one encounters Mary (Matthew). Or discrepancies between the Old and New Testaments—for example, laws pertaining to dietary restrictions, who is allowed to enter the temple, who can speak in the temple, the right of men to have multiple wives.

  • Answers to some of these questions might include:

  • The fact that sometimes, there is a different focus- for example regarding the number of angels present at the resurrection-Matthew’s account focuses on the fact that one particular angel spoke to Mary while John reports how many angels were present. No contradiction, just different focus.

  • Some things are descriptive and not prescriptive— men may have had multiple wives but that doesn’t mean that that is what God intended or preferred (and look at all the head aches that came from that?)

  • God’s Word was inspired, revealed to various writers over time, and in stages and in certain contexts. When we read a text, we must understand the culture and the context within which it was written. For example, piercings and tattoos were forbidden at least in part because the pagan cultures that surrounded the Jews at the time were heavy into those practices. In the early days of the formation of God’s people as a holy and separate people consecrated unto God, God wanted the Jews to be separate in the way they looked and in the way they behaved.

  • Perhaps a better way of looking at the Bible is not as an autobiography but rather a biography. Ordinary human beings were inspired by God and God breathed life into the words they were writing and at the time God deemed appropriate, the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. God didn’t send a book but rather Jesus to make clear all that had been and would be written to inform our understanding of God and the pathway to connect to God. Ordinary human beings wrote their insights and experiences under the influence of the Holy Spirit as they were situated in their culture and time in history.

  • God’s infallible word is Jesus. Think of the times Jesus said, you have heard that it was said, but I say to you…; Moses said this, but I say…. Jesus doesn’t overturn the law, but he does offer insight into interpretations. For example, if a woman was caught in adultery she was to be stoned to death, but Jesus says when confronted with the choice to condone a woman’s stoning, you without sin, cast the first stone.

  • When we are reading the Bible, we should read it through the lens of Jesus. The most essential things remain. Are Jonah and the whale, Noah and the ark, Job factual accounts? Scholars debate, but perhaps the more fundamental question is what is essential about these stories—what do they tell us about God’s character, desire to forgive, to be patient and merciful, and what do they tell us about us—our tendency to sin, be obstinate, unforgiving, and disobedient and our need to repent?

  • Can we just ignore the Old Testament or parts that don’t seem to make sense? No! Struggle with the text. Read the Bible in its entirety before dismissing anything. Look for subversive ways the Bible actually condemns the very practices we find troubling like the subjugation of women, minorities, and immigrants.

  • Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, has summarized the way to approach our reading[1]:

  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

  • Read all scripture through the lens of Jesus, the one who came to be the definitive word of God.

  • Remember the Great Commandments— Matthew 22:37-40

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

  • Remember the Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

  • Look for the themes of love, compassion, justice and mercy laced throughout.

  • Discuss and debate with others (Bible study or consulting commentaries and scholarly works.)

  • Use reason and experience along with the traditions of the church. Today’s scripture alludes to that, instructing Timothy to remember what he had been taught (the traditions passed down to him.)

  • As we open our minds and hearts to the Word of God through the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit, faith is born and nourished, our understanding is deepened, and the possibilities for transforming the world become more easily discernable. Then a book of other people’s stories can become our story. Then in life’s most challenging moments, the words are not only in a book but come to life in our hearts.

For example, scriptures often committed to memory that come alive in times of struggle:

From the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

From Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

From John 14 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.

2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

*Sermon Series based in part on work of Mark Clark in his book, The Problem of God (Zondervan, 2017).

Bartlett and Taylor (eds.) Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vl. 4, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) p. 182-187.


[1] Adapted from Adam Hamilton, Sermon Series, “Wrestling with Doubt/ Finding Faith,” Is the Bible True? Jan. 16, 2022. He has also written a book Making Sense of the Bible that can be consulted as a resource on this topic.