Why I Am a Christian, Part 4a: Because of the Bible

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1: Because of Experience

Part 2: Because of Jesus

Part 3a: Because of the Resurrection

Part 3b: Because of the Resurrection

Part 3c: Because of the Resurrection

Underneath the experiences that have led to my sustained adherence to the Christian faith, and closely connected to my knowledge of the crucified and risen Christ, is the written revelation of God, the Bible.  Holy Scripture is a treasure beyond human estimation, and its witness to Christ has sustained the faith of the church for two-thousand years. 

No one, whether believer or unbeliever, can deny that the Bible is an important and remarkable book, and everyone must decide how he or she will respond to it.  Personally, I have found that it warrants my faith; I believe that Scripture is divine communicative action, and as such it commands that I assent to its testimonies and teachings, obey its precepts, and trust in the Savior that it reveals.  In this post and in the following I will sketch in a brief justification for this warrant. 

I must say first that neither I nor anyone else can assume a neutral position with reference to the Bible in order to weigh its claims objectively and settle the question of its trustworthiness by reason alone.  If I could do that, then I would be denying the Bible’s own teaching, for Scripture says we are radically corrupted by sin, and that includes our reasoning capacity.  The testimony of Scripture is that no one seeks God on his or her own (Romans 3:9-20), and therefore no one is capable of coming to faith on rational principles alone.  There is no neutrality with Scripture, just as there is no neutrality with Christ.  We approach either in faith or in unbelief. 

For this reason, my argument will have some elements of circularity to it.  But I don’t see that as a problem.  Every worldview must stop at some point of ultimate authority beyond which there is no appeal, and in so doing, every worldview has at least some element of circularity.  Those who trust in reason alone cannot justify reason on its own principles, for example.  So long as we are not caught in a vicious circle, I think the charge of circularity does not necessarily undermine our claims.  If there is anything that postmodernism has taught us, it is that presuppositions are inescapable.  God did not make us with a capacity to escape our own situatedness in an attempt to transcend our limitations and weigh all truth claims from a neutral vantage point.  Try as we might, we simply cannot do that, for we are human, and to be human is to be involved in a matrix of experiences and preunderstandings.  To be human is to see from a particular, limited perspective.  So it is best to give up all attempts at neutrality and recognize that we either respond to God in faith or we turn from him in sin.   

So then, why do I believe the Bible is the word of God?  There are several interrelated reasons, none of which stand on their own; rather, all mutually support one another within one coherent framework.  There are three primary reasons and several secondary ones.  I will deal with the primary reasons in this post.

First, the Bible claims that it is the word of God (references are too many to list, but preeminent verses are 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 2:19-21).  At first, this may sound like an extremely weak argument.  But let’s think carefully about it.  At the very least we can say that, by believing that the Bible is the word of God, we are not attributing to it anything that it does not claim for itself.  That is an important point.  It may seem like this argument opens up the flood gates to all of the holy books of the world that make the same claim.  Surprisingly, however, very few books make this kind of claim.  In fact, the only books that claim to be the word of God are books that belong to religions that are spin-offs of Christianity.  Islam has its Koran, but, as a Christian heresy, Islam borrowed the idea of a written revelation from the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Mormonism did the same thing.  The other major religions of the world, which do not conceive of God as a transcendent, personal being, do not have books that claim to be his very words, and for good reason.  A pantheistic religion like Hinduism cannot conceive of divine communicative action in a verbal, personal form.  It is important to recognize that the very idea of a written divine revelation from a monotheistic, transcendent-personal God is an idea that would not exist if not for the Bible.  And though it may sound viciously circular to say that the Bible attests to its own authority, we must consider what the alternative would be.  If we appeal to some authority outside the Bible to ground its authority (reason, the church, tradition, etc.), then we have undermined our own claim by making the Bible’s own authority dependent on that of someone or something else.  If we claim that the Bible is the word of God but then elevate some other authority over it to give it credibility, then we have subordinated the word of God to something else and have contradicted ourselves.  Given the nature of the claim being made by Scripture for itself, we cannot expect that it will then derive its authority from somewhere else.  To be sure, other authorities can and do confirm the Bible’s credibility, but the ground of its authority is God.  Beyond his own words, there is no appeal.

The second reason I believe the Bible is the word of God is because Jesus affirmed it to be the word of God.  Why should I trust what Jesus says?  For that I would refer you to the arguments in part 2 and parts 3a, 3b, and 3c.  I won’t rehash that here.  Suffice it to say that we have warrant to believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, not only because of his radical claims but also because of his miracles, his fulfillment of the Old Testament expectation, and his resurrection from the dead.  The only alternatives are to call him a diabolical liar or a man who was completely out of his mind, and very few today are willing to make those claims, seeing how clearly a man like Jesus commands our respect.  This Jesus, whom I have every reason to take at his own word, repeatedly gave testimony to his understanding that Scripture is the very word of God.  In order to keep this post from getting two long, two passages will have to suffice for now to make this point.  In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [a shorthand reference to the Old Testament Scripture]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”  Jesus affirms the enduring and meticulous truthfulness of Scripture by saying that not even the least stroke of a pen will fail to be accomplished.  In other words, Scripture is completely true, and every part of Scripture is completely true.  Obviously, Jesus never said this about the New Testament, for the New Testament had not been written during his ministry.  Nevertheless, there is an expectation that the prophetic ministry that was reinaugurated with the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus would continue until God had finished speaking, giving written testimony to his Son.  And that is one reason why Jesus commissioned the Apostles, who became his authoritative witnesses.  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth, speaking not his own words but the words of the exalted Christ to them (John 16:12-15).  And when I encounter the New Testament documents, I do not encounter the work of deceivers; I hear the testimony of those who have been with Jesus, and I have no reason to doubt the truthfulness of their testimony.  Jesus commands not only my respect but my worship, and if he says that Scripture is the word of God written, then I am obligated to believe it.

The third primary reason why I believe the Bible is the word of God is because I hear the voice of God in it.  Jesus said that his sheep know his voice (John 10:27).  This miracle of spiritual perception is the result of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit to the word of God.  John Calvin made this argument as a way of honoring the supreme authority of Scripture.  Against Rome, he argued that the church cannot stand above Scripture and certify its authority, for the word of God has greater authority than that of man, not vice versa.  Against the enthusiasts on the opposite side of the spectrum, who basically left Scripture behind and relied on their own subjective “revelations,” Calvin affirmed again that the word of God has greater authority than that of man.  For this reason, we must rely on the Holy Spirit’s internal testimony to open our sin-darkened eyes to the true beauty of Scripture so that we may see that its self-attestation is true and trustworthy.  This is the only way to honor the claim that Scripture is, indeed, the word of God.  Any other claim would subordinate it to another authority.  Because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I hear God speaking in this amazing book.  And just as I know that honey is sweet because I have tasted it, so do I know that God has spoken because I have heard him. 

These are the primary reasons that I accept Scripture as the word of God.  There are other, secondary reasons as well, having to do with evidences that confirm (but do not ground) Scripture’s authority.  I will treat some of those in the next post.

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