The first time I saw a Bible was when I was a little boy in Pampanga, Philippines. My dad who finished only the fifth grade in Elementary school has this thick Bible written in the Pampango dialect.
Although I grew up in the province yet I did not understand it because it was written in the old vernacular. All I know is that it was a very thick book, covered in brown paper with a plastic cover.
“It’s a holy book,” my dad told us. It was the only Bible we had in our house. Although he did not finish his elementary school level, yet I am amazed at the quality of education during my dad’s generation. My dad can read English. I remember many nights before going to bed where my dad was reading portions of it. I remember him sharing with us the stories of Joseph as a slave in Egypt, David defeating Goliath and Peter walking on water. For me, as a young boy, it was an exciting book. There were times when my dad will tell us that the book is a mysterious book and that no one can fully understand it.
Nevertheless, I believe those experiences led me to going deeper into a study of the Bible and becoming a pastor for the past 30 years.
Today, there are literally dozens of versions of the Bible that come in different languages and in various types of bindings. We also have computer programs that give us access to hundreds of reference works at the touch of a keyboard. And we have discovered that answers to hard questions and explanations of difficult scriptures are not as clear-cut as we once thought.
In recent years, we have seen the Bible itself come under increasing criticism. Many are contesting its validity. Some critics are just opportunistic trying to cash in on the wave of interest by an ever-growing secular society. But others are well researched, and written by serious scholars, well qualified to offer their point of view.
What are we supposed to do with all these information? Is the Bible just a collection of old manuscripts gathered together and preserved by ancient writers? Can we trust the Bible? These are valid questions and must be addressed. In fact, we must not be afraid to face these tough questions.
Here is a question I heard many times. Does the Bible contradict itself? The answer is yes and no. The Bible is written in many literary styles. Some of these styles communicate in ways that we are not used to in the modern world. They use figures of speech like metaphors and symbolic language that don’t immediately make sense to us.
If everything in the Bible is taken in a simplistically literal manner, there will be some contradictions. Even the most conservative reliable scholarly statements about Scripture admit that the Bible contains grammatical irregularities, exaggerations, imprecise descriptions and inexact quotations.
Our ability to understand and to reason is shaped by our personal experiences and the traditions and ways of thinking that shape our ideas and worldview. People living thousands of years ago had very different worldviews from ours. Even today, because of different traditions and experiences, equally sincere people come to different conclusions about what the Bible teaches, especially in regard to the details.
The Bible is not always as user-friendly as we have come to expect literature to be in the 21st century. But the main, overarching lessons of Scripture are not really controversial. As Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
So can we still consider the Bible as a trustworthy guide to ALL aspects of life today? Once again, yes and no. Many don’t realize that the scriptures do not profess to tell us everything we need to know about all subjects. For example, when the Bible talks about the stars and the moon, its purpose is not to make a statement about astronomy. When it calls a mustard seed the smallest seed (Matt. 13:31-32), it is not trying to give us a botany lesson. However, the Bible claims to be a trustworthy guide for our relationships with God and with other humans. The scriptures give truth about faith, worship, salvation, morals and ethics (2 Tim. 3:15-16). But they do it in a way where people can understand it if they study it.
Remember, the Bible is intended to reach out to people across the ages — in New Testament times, during the Dark and Middle Ages, through the 19th-century industrial revolution, the two World Wars, the last half of the 20th century — as well as today. And unless Jesus Christ returns in the near future, the Bible will still be reaching out with its message to countless future generations all over the world. It is meant to reach out to people across time and continents from before the Dark Ages through the today’s Information Age.
Is the Bible historically reliable? Compared to most other ancient writings it is very reliable. But its standard of accuracy is looser than the expectations of modern science and history. Genealogical lists may be incomplete (Matt. 1:8; 2 Chron. 22-24), the length of kings’ reigns may be misinterpreted due to co-regencies, narrated events may be out of sequence (Matt. 4:18-22; 8:14; Luke 4:38-5:11), predicted events may not be fulfilled in every detail (Acts 21:11, 32-33; 27:10, 22), etc.
Although all biblical statements are true, yet some are imprecise and incomplete. The “truth” about a subject does not require that we accept every biblical comment as historically or scientifically precise. Most alleged discrepancies in the Bible are easily resolved, and they do not alter the essential message of the story.
Each part of the Bible should be evaluated according to its own usage and purpose. Its purpose rarely includes details of history and science. Some things we need to know, and others we do not. God is not primarily concerned with whether we understand astrophysics, botany, and chronology, and we err if we try to use his inspired book for purposes for which it was not designed.
Am I saying it doesn’t all apply to us? Let me explain. Some parts of the Bible are designed for a specific situation in a specific culture, and it would be wrong for us to take them out of that context and indiscriminately impose our modern situations and ways of expressing ourselves on them. First-century Christians were advised to pray with their hands raised (1 Tim. 2:8). Slaves were advised to submit even to harsh masters (1 Pet. 2:18). Virgins were advised to remain virgins (1 Cor. 7:26). Women were told how to dress when they prayed (1 Cor. 11:5), and men were given advice regarding hair length (v. 14). Similarly, people were told to greet one another with a kiss. These behaviors were appropriate in first-century Mediterranean culture, but are not necessary in Western culture today.
If the apostles could speak in our culture, they would quote the Old Testament in a different way, or maybe even use different scriptures. Parables might refer more to urban life, and advice about slavery would not be included. The Bible was written in a different culture and for a different culture. Its truths were given with words and styles shaped by that culture. The fact that it is able to speak across cultures, to address situations that never existed when it was written, is also a testimony to its abiding authority. Its timeless truths are given to us in cultural clothes.
Isn’t that encouraging a “pick and choose” approach to living by every word of God? No. At least, not in a way that allows you to just accept the parts that you like and discard what you don’t. But most of us use a filter on the Bible — a filter that in most cases we haven’t thought much about. We claim the Bible is an authority for our beliefs and practices, yet we rightly do not accept parts of it as being normative for our life. The reason I emphasize this is because who many others have misused the Bible and have promoted mythology and grew into cults.
For example, the Bible says you must destroy your house if it has persistent mildew (Lev. 14:43-45). But most of us would not take that seriously. Common sense clicks in to allow us to place this scriptural instruction in its original setting and purpose.
However, I am not suggesting that you should routinely ignore the Bible and follow your common sense. We do not have to choose between such extremes. But Christians should think about the kind of authority the Bible has. Its purpose is to introduce you to the good news of the kingdom of God, and to make you wise unto salvation.
Personal experience helps us understand that the Bible has authority. This is the book that has the courage and honesty to tell us about our own depravity, and the grace to offer us a cleansed conscience and eternal life. It gives us spiritual transformation and strength, not through rules and commands, but in an unexpected way — through grace and the redemptive work of our Lord.
The Bible testifies to the love, joy and peace we can have through faith — realities that are, just as the Bible describes, beyond our ability to put into words. This book gives us meaning and purpose in life by telling us of divine creation and redemption. Can we trust the Bible when it comes to knowing WHO God is and knowing His ways? YES! We can trust the Bible.
I realize that not everyone will be comfortable with that understanding. Others come to different conclusions about the reliability of the Bible. Some Christians believe that every word should be taken literally. Others claim that it is less reliable than I have described here. I respect their faith in Christ, but I repeat our belief, in summary, that the Bible is the inspired word of God, authoritative and reliable in matters of faith, worship, morals, and ethics. It is a book that introduces God, who invites us to participate in His love.
The Bible tells us that someone out there is personal and that He really cares.
If you have any further questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.