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Is The Bible True?
June 8, 1997

2 TIMOTHY 3:10-17

Is the Bible true? A young woman was reading the Bible on a bus when she was asked by the man next to her if she believed every word in the Bible. "I certainly do!" she replied. "You mean you believe that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and then coughed up?" he asked. "Certainly!" she replied, "but when I get to heaven Iíll ask Jonah." "Suppose Jonah isnít in heaven?" he asked. "Then, you ask him!" she snorted. How true is the Bible? Is it necessary to believe that Jonah was swallowed by a fish? How true is true? Is it necessary to believe that the Bible is the inerrant (without error), infallible, literally written Word of God to believe that the Bible is true?

One of the speakers at Pastorsí School last year was a gifted American Indian story teller. He told us the ancient stories and said, "All stories are true, and some of them actually happened." The Bible is true, and some of it actually happened! To try to take all of the Bible literally misses the truth. You donít have to believe that Jonah actually lived and was swallowed by a fish to hear the truth of the story. What is true about Jonah is that Godís salvation is for all people, even Nineveh, in spite of reluctant Jonah. Reading all of the Bible literally and as historical fact is not necessarily reading the Bible faithfully. Sometimes the truth of the text is missed because we in the scientific west donít understand the mindset of Hebrew people. Hebrew people, like the American Indian, thought in story form, not literally as we do.

If I have now thoroughly confused you, let me put it another way. To discover and experience what is true in the Bible, do four tasks.

1) When reading and studying the Bible, ask: what type of literature is this text? Is it a parable-- a story with a truth? Jesus was a great story teller. His stories are true, and some of them might have happened. The good Samaritan who befriended the ambushed traveler may or may not have actually lived, but the Samaritan did not have to actually live and do the good deed for Jesusí story to be true. We donít expect to take parables literally. And, the book of Jonah is a parable, a wonderful story that is true.

Nor do we expect to take poems literally. All the psalms are poems. They are actually hymns which are poems set to music and are then sung, rather than spoken. The music has been lost so we now speak the Psalms; although many classic and modern composers have set some of the psalms to music. When Isaiah foretold the return of Israel following their captivity in Babylon, he burst into poetry, Isaiah 55:12, "The mountains and hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." This is poetry. We donít expect the hills literally to sing or the trees literally to clap their hands.

The first chapter of Genesis is a poem, a magnificent poem of creation. Creationists attempt to take the poem literally and make a science out of it. A poem not only points to truths, but the sheer beauty of a well-written poem is a truth in itself. To try to take a poem literally is to miss the point. This summer, I am preaching a series of sermons on the Apostlesí Creed. The sermon on July 6 will look at creation specifically.

Not only is the first chapter of Genesis a poem, it and the first eleven chapters of Genesis are myths. Ancient peoples, including American Indians, including Hebrews and the other inhabitants of the Middle East, told myths about the beginning of life and the great flood. Again, myths are stories. Bible myths are stories that are true. The events do not actually have had to happen literally to be true. Narrative history begins in the twelfth chapter of Genesis with Abraham and Sarah.

2) When reading and studying the Bible, apply the consistency test. How consistent is the passage with the rest of the Bible? When I preached about women pastors, I mentioned this test, and concluded that the few passages in the Bible about keeping women "in their place" are not consistent with the actions of Jesus and Paul, nor are they consistent with Paulís magnificent inspiration-- "in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female."

Applying the consistency test to the first chapters of the Bible make for an interesting adventure. The second chapter of Genesis, beginning with verse four, which tells the Adam and Eve myth, is not consistent with the magnificent creation poem in the first chapter of Genesis. In the first chapter, God begins creating with chaos and water. In the second chapter, verse four, God begins with a desert. Again, what is true in a myth is not dependent on literal historical events.

3) When reading and studying the Bible, apply the historical test. When was the passage written? Who wrote it? What was happening? In other words, what was the historical context? Then ask, what was the word of God and how does it apply to us now? It is a mistake to read each passage as if it were written to you personally, or to our times.

When I was in high school, I was fascinated with the apocalyptic literature in the Bible, the passages that I thought dealt with the future. I listened attentively to radio preachers and let them scare me with Danielís and Revelationís prophecies about the imminent end of the world. Today, radio preachers are still scaring people, and Christian bookstores are full of scenarios written about the end times that are fantasies, having little to do with what the Bible says. Why? Because they are disregarding history. Most of what Daniel and Revelation were prophesying has already happened. The Antichrist in Revelation was the evil Roman Emperor who was killing Christians because of their loyalty to Christ. They proclaimed, "Jesus is Lord" and refused to say, "Caesar is Lord".

Besides applying the historical test, look at the type of literature. Revelation is a poem and a dream. John is relating a dream, a vision. Dream and vision interpretation is a whole new ball game! What is true in Daniel and Revelation is that Jesus is Lord. God will ultimately prevail. God will be victorious, and oh, how we will gather around the throne of God and praise!

4) When reading and studying the Bible, pray for guidance and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Our text this morning is from 2 Timothy, "All scripture is inspired by God." Even though there was no New Testament as such when these words were written, we can safely include what we now call the New Testament as scripture. Notice, it says scripture is inspired by God, not written by God, not dictated word for word by God, but inspired. Look at what the Bible says about itself. In 2 Timothy 3:15-17-- we find that God inspired the writing of scripture for two reasons:

First, v. 15, "The sacred writings are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." All we need to know in order to be saved, all we need to know about relating to God, all we need to know about eternal salvation, is revealed in the Bible. We need no other book. No other additions are necessary. The Bible from cover to cover tells one message: God has acted and is acting even now as we speak for your redemption, and the redemption of all humankind. To be saved, the Bible points you to Jesus, and Jesus is all you need.

Secondly, God inspired the writing of the Bible to instruct, equip and train Godís people to do Godís work. vss. 16-17, ..."for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work." After salvation is received and experienced, the purpose of the Bible is to teach us how to clean up our act, and train us to do Godís work.

Notice in this passage what the Bible does not say about itself. It does not say the Bible is a science book. Biblical people were not very interested in how God created, they were much more interested in how to get along with the God who created them. They were much more concerned with "who" and "why" questions, then "how."

Likewise, the passage does not say the Bible foretells future events. The Bible sings about the victory of God, it sings about the glory of Godís kingdom, it rejoices in the God of our salvation, but the hymns and poems are not to be used to work out a fantasy of the end times and then proclaim the fantasy as true!

God inspired the writing of the Bible for our salvation and living a Christian life. This is what the Bible says about itself. And, the Bible is true!

The scriptures are inspired by God. Not only did God inspire the writers of the Bible, God inspires the readers of the Bible as well. The Bible is not just any book. The Bible is a book where you can hear God speak to you. When you are open to the Holy Spirit, God meets you within the pages. There is power in the Bible, power to change your life. The Bible is a living word, able to touch you at your depths where you encounter Jesus Christ. The Bible doesnít do you much good sitting on your coffee table or on a shelf. The Bible is to be read, studied, and prayed over. The Bible can speak to you. The Bible can speak the truth to you, because the Bible is true!

ã 1997 Douglas I. Norris