Friend (said the following to an acquaintance with no religious background):
… I encouraged you to read the bible. You said what many say- that it’s confusing, not knowing where to start.
I suggest you start with the book of John, the forth book in the new testament, easily found in the table of contents. There are two “testaments”. The first contains the writings prior to the birth of Jesus; the second are the writings after the birth of Jesus. The first one, “Old Testament” is significant in that it describes God, infinite in power and knowledge, perfect in holiness. I suggested to you that the holiness or righteousness of God is the fundamental question for all mankind. He is either unjust enough to overlook some sin, or He is not. If He is unjust enough to overlook some sin, then you would not need anyone to die in your place. That makes no sense if you are not condemned to die in the first place.
Christianity, alone, dares to acknowledge that God is totally holy. He is patient for a time (described in the scripture as “longsuffering”) but not unjust. He will, one day, judge every wrong thought, goal, word and action. If that’s true, I’m a dead man, unless I can find someone to take the heat. But that someone must be a man, must be willing to die for me, and must not have any sin of his own to condemn him. A dead man can’t die for me.
The rest of the religions of the world would affirm God’s holiness, but would quickly add that He’s also merciful. What you get is a mixture- part justice and part merciful. But mercy is the setting aside of justice. I wouldn’t be asking for mercy if I weren’t guilty.
God is perfect justice and perfect mercy, not a mixture. That can only exist at the cross, where He (God the Son) bore in my place, all of His (God the Father) righteous wrath for my sin. That would be the ultimate in child abuse if there were any other way, but it’s the ultimate in love if there was no other way.
Be aware that much of what is called Christianity looks to Jesus as a good example, one who “saves us” by modeling for us a life acceptable to God. That only works if you can live it perfectly. True Christianity looks to Him as their substitute. No one else offers one. They hope God will grade on a curve. You must find this for yourself. My word is not what matters. His word is. Read the book of John, regarded as the most personal look at Jesus. As you read, ask God to help you understand. I believe He will
Friend, you mentioned to your acquaintance the following: “I suggested to you that the holiness or righteousness of God is the fundamental question for all mankind.” However, it seems to me that we cannot begin to talk about the righteousness of God until it is first told to us the God is indeed righteous. Also, we only know that God is righteous because the scriptures tell us so; therefore, it seems as though the more fundamental question for all mankind is how do you know that this book you encouraged your acquaintance to read is in fact the Word of God? You mentioned that your acquaintance had no religious background. If I were this person, I would wonder why I should focus on the Bible and not the other sources purporting to posit information about the biblical God (i.e. the Quran, the book of Mormon). Once this more fundamental question is answered (correctly), I believe that the question concerning the holiness of God is less of a question and more of a given.
Secondly, I commonly find that Christians tend to refer folks to the gospel of John as a starting point when reading the Bible. Since the bible is pretty much chronologically laid out, I would have suggested Genesis as the place to start (particularly the first 11 Chapters). After all, in John 1:29 it is proclaimed that Jesus is the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world but the book of John starts out by assuming that the reader understands that the world has sin, and the significance of Jesus as the ‘Lamb’ of God as opposed to some other creature. With no religious background in particular, I would wonder what sin was, how it entered the world, how it was dealt with to this point etc. Just some thoughts
Thanks for your thoughts. It is fundamental and increasingly important that we be able to give evidence that the bible is the word of God. Just yesterday I was visiting with someone who responded “But it was the church who culled through and determined what would be presented as “The word of God”. Right now, I say something about: Consistency of themes notwithstanding multiple authors, languages, over 1200 years. Hangs together remarkably well. Fulfilled prophesy hard to explain away. The remarkable history of the Jewish nation that produced it. Consistant declarations “Thus saith the Lord,” History/actions of Jesus, who declared the writings (OT) were the word of God. Ultimately, I rely on the Holy Spirit to open eyes, convict and convince as one reads it. I wish I was much better equipped. Do you have succinct material on point? How do you approach this issue?
My answer may probably surprise you but I do not believe that it is possible to provide evidence that the bible is the word of God. Please allow me to explain; I have good reasons for reaching such a startling (in light of the prevailing thought within the church) conclusion.
Through the internal teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 10:27, Matthew 23:8, John 16:13, John 3:33, Romans 1:18-19) and not through the church, we are informed that the 66 books of the bible are the word of God. That the 66 books of the bible alone are the word of God then becomes our axiom.
An axiom by definition is a first principle and is thus not provable; if you find yourself able to prove your axiom then it is not your axiom since something more fundamental or certain than your axiom exists. All men and all philosophies have axioms; they all must start their thinking somewhere. For example, a common axiom that most humans espouse is that their mind or memory is reliable; one cannot prove this axiom because that would mean that there is something more fundamental that precedes this proposition. In this case, there isn’t. After all, the only way you could demonstrate that your mind was reliable would be to use your mind which is a classic demonstration of circular reasoning. Also, if your mind were really unreliable (contrary to your own opinion) how would you know since your mind is ultimately all you have to make that (or any) determination? Hopefully I haven’t confused you; my main point was to define an axiom as an un-provable proposition. This talk of axioms is very important to the fundamental question I posed earlier (How do you know that the Bible is the Word of God?) because eventually all persons need to answer an even more fundamental question which is: How do you know whatever it is that you know? Your answer to this question determines your epistemology; thus, epistemology is the study of how you know what you know. The epistemology I described above is called scripturalism or propositional revelation.
Scripturalism holds that God reveals truth. Christianity is propositional truth revealed by God, propositions that have been written in the 66 books that we call the Bible. Revelation is the starting point of Christianity, its axiom. The axiom, the first principle, of Christianity is this: “The Bible alone is the Word of God.” (John Robbins – An Introduction to Gordon H. Clark)
Hopefully, the background I have provided as a backdrop to my answer will clue you in to why as a Christian, it is impossible to provide evidence that the bible is the word of God. The proposition: The Bible alone is the Word of God” is a truth statement. As such, only God can authoritatively arbitrate that proposition (Roman 3:4, Colossians 2:3, 1 Corinthians 2:7). The minute we decide to present evidence that “proves” the bible is the Word of God we admit that it is possible to arrive at truth without God’s arbitration. Do not get me wrong, it is uplifting and encouraging that God’s truth is confirmed by our experience (e.g. manuscript evidence, archeological findings, fulfilled prophecy etc.) but our experiences do not prove that the bible is the word of God or that God exists; they merely confirm these truths that are only revealed in scripture.
It is impossible to discover truth through sensation (our experiences) because the bible says that truth is hidden and unsearchable (Col 2:3, Romans 11:33). This is why revelation is indispensible (1 Corinthians 2:11). It may be worth noting that the view I have just exposited is not the majority view in the “Church” and you will be hard pressed to find any pastor teaching such things today (at least I haven’t). The prevailing philosophy that the church has embraced is empiricism; the belief that sense experience provides us with knowledge (in opposition to 1 Corinthians 2:9).
Consider also the following excerpt:
Scripturalism does not mean, as some have objected, that we can know only the propositions of the Bible. We can know their logical implications as well. The Westminster Confession of Faith, which is a Scripturalist document, says that “The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is Truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God” (emphasis added). By these words, and by the fact that the Confession begins with the doctrine of Scripture, not with the doctrine of God, and certainly not with proofs for the existence of God, the Confession shows itself to be a Scripturalist document. Continuing with the idea of logical deduction, the Confession says: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.” Notice the claim of the Confession: “The whole counsel of God” is either expressly set down in Scripture or may be deduced from it. Everything we need for faith and life is found in the propositions of the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly. Nothing is to be added to the revelation at any time. Only logical deduction from the propositions of Scripture is permitted. No synthesis, no combination with unscriptural ideas is either necessary or permissible. Logic — reasoning by good and necessary consequence — is not a secular principle not found in Scripture and added to the Scriptural axiom; it is contained in the axiom itself. The first verse of John’s Gospel may be translated, “In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God.” Every word of the Bible, from Bereshith in Genesis 1 to Amen in Revelation 22, exemplifies the law of contradiction. “In the beginning” means in the beginning, not a hundred years or even one second after the beginning. “Amen” expresses agreement, not dissent. The laws of logic are embedded in every word of Scripture. Only deductive inference is valid, and deductive inference – using the laws of logic — is the principal tool of hermeneutics. Sound exegesis of Scripture is making valid deductions from the statements of Scripture. If your pastor is not making valid deductions from Scripture in his sermons, then he is not preaching God’s Word. It is in the conclusions of such arguments, as well as in the Biblical statements themselves, that our knowledge consists. Some will object, “But don’t we know that we are in this room, or that 2 plus 2 equals four, or that grass is green?” To answer that objection, we must define the words “know” and “knowledge.” There are three sorts of cognitive states: knowledge, opinion, and ignorance. Ignorance is simply the lack of ideas. Complete ignorance is the state of mind that empiricists say we are born with: We are all born with blank minds, tabula rasa, to use John Locke’s phrase. (Incidentally, a tabula rasa mind – a blank mind – is an impossibility. A consciousness conscious of nothing is a contradiction in terms. Empiricism rests on a contradiction.) At the other extreme from ignorance is knowledge. Knowledge is not simply possessing thoughts or ideas, as some think. Knowledge is possessing true ideas and knowing them to be true. Knowledge is, by definition, knowledge of the truth. We do not say that a person “knows” that 2 plus 2 is 5. We may say he thinks it, but he does not know it. It would be better to say that he opines it. Now, most of what we colloquially call knowledge is actually opinion: We “know” that we are in Pennsylvania; we “know” that Clinton – either Bill or Hillary – is President of the United States, and so forth. Opinions can be true or false; we just don’t know which. History, except for revealed history, is opinion. Science is opinion. Archaeology is opinion. John Calvin said, “I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, nor what is by diligence acquired, but what is revealed to us in the Law and the Prophets.” Knowledge is true opinion with an account of its truth. It may very well be that William Clinton is President of the United States, but I do not know how to prove it, nor, I suspect, do you. In truth, I do not know that he is President, I opine it. I can, however, prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That information is revealed to me, not by the dubious daily newspaper or the evening news, but by the infallible Word of God. The resurrection of Christ is deduced by good and necessary consequence from the axiom of revelation.
Any view of knowledge that makes no distinction between the cognitive standing of Biblical propositions and statements found in the daily paper does three things: First, it equivocates by applying one word, “knowledge,” to two quite different sorts of statements: statements infallibly revealed by the God who can neither lie nor make a mistake, and statements made by men who both lie and make mistakes; second, by its empiricism, it actually makes the Biblical statements less reliable than those in the daily paper, for at least some statements in the paper are subject to empirical investigation and Biblical statements are not; and third, it thereby undermines Christianity.
Revelation is our only source of truth and knowledge. Neither science, nor history, nor archaeology, nor philosophy can furnish us with truth and knowledge. Scripturalism takes seriously Paul’s warning to the Colossians: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and you are complete in him….”
One naive objection to the axiom of revelation crops up repeatedly: Don’t I have to read the Bible? Don’t I have to know that I have a book in my hands and that that book is the Bible? Don’t I have to rely on the senses to obtain revelation? First, this objection begs the epistemological question, How does one know, by assuming that one knows by means of the senses. But that is the conclusion that ought to be proved. The proper response to these questions is another series of questions: How do you know you have a book in your hands? How do you know that you are reading it? What is sensation? What are perceptions? What is abstraction? Tell us how some things called sensations become the idea of God. The naive question – Don’t you have to read the Bible? – assumes that empiricism is true. It ignores all the arguments demonstrating the cognitive failure of empiricism. An acceptable account of epistemology, however, must begin at the beginning, not in the middle. Few theologians, and even fewer philosophers, however, want to start at the beginning.
But there is another confusion in this question: It assumes that revelation is not a distinct means of gaining knowledge, but that even revealed information has to be funneled through or derived from the senses. A conversation between Peter and Christ will indicate how far this assumption is from the Scriptural view of epistemology:
“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’
“And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’
“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven.’ “
Presumably Peter had “heard” with his ears and “seen” with his eyes, but Christ says that his knowledge did not come by flesh and blood – it did not come by the senses; it came by revelation from the Father. That is why Christ forbids Christians to be called teacher, “for one is your Teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23). It is in God, not matter, that we live and move, and have our being. (John Robbins – An Introduction to Gordon H. Clark)
I cannot go into all of the detail that I would like to but for now I can refer you to some of the writings of Dr. John Robbins (www.thetrinityfoundation.org). Dr. Robbins, a pupil of Dr. Gordon Clark, was an elder in a Reformed congregation until his passing. I hold him in very high regard (with a few exceptions). His best series (which is available freely on the web in audio mp3 format) is called “Thinking Biblically.”