As someone who once lost faith in the Bible during his time in seminary, Stephen knows firsthand the struggle many face when it comes to trusting this sacred text. Surprisingly, his journey to find faith in Jesus without the Bible led him to a strong confidence in its reliability. With a significant decline in trust amongst Americans, Stephen shares with us how he found answers to his questions and ultimately came to believe in the Bible's reliability.
Join us as we explore the epic story of the Bible, composed of 66 books written over 1500 years by 40 different authors in three languages. We'll discuss the Reformation's impact on allowing ordinary people to access the Bible and the process behind determining the Canon of the Bible. Furthermore, we'll examine the historical reliability of the Bible, specifically the four Gospels, which were based on firsthand accounts of Jesus' life and ministry.
Jesus invites us to test the Bible for ourselves and see if it's reliable. When we approach this incredible library of books with humility and openness, we can start to understand God's love for us and the story of God. So, let's explore the teachings of Jesus together and examine the reliability of the Bible, so you can make an informed decision about whether or not to trust this life-changing collection of books.
Well, welcome to Madison Church, to our online audience. I'm Stephen Feith, lead pastor of Madison Church, and I'm glad you're all here today. I'm glad you're watching or listening online. I hope that you join us in person sometime. I want to extend that invitation to you Now. It may come as a surprise to you, but I struggled with our topic today, not writing and preparing to talk to you about it, but I'm saying I personally, as a believer, as a follower of Jesus, struggled with today's topic. Today we're talking about is the Bible reliable? Can I trust the Bible? And it was early on in my faith. I found Jesus at the end of my high school journey and it was actually when I was in seminary. So about five years later after graduating, i found myself in seminary and I was wondering, as I was taking New Testament classes, theology classes, old Testament classes, is the Bible reliable? Like, how do I know that? what I have, how, what you have next to you, how do we know that that's been preserved for us the right way? How do we know that somebody, like a thousand years ago, wasn't messing around with it? Could we trust it? How do we know the originals were preserved for us properly? At that point I was just getting started and studying for, again, a master's in theological studies, and so at that point I knew enough about the Bible to be trouble and to ask hard questions, but I didn't know enough to be helpful and to answer the questions, and so I was struggling and I really wanted to know if it was preserved for us. And, to be honest with you, i lost faith in the Bible. I didn't lose faith in God. I had experienced God. That was undeniable in my life but I lost faith in the Bible. And so the journey I began to go on was what does faith in Jesus look like without the Bible? That was the journey I went on because I said I don't know if I can trust this. Again, i didn't know enough about it. So I go on this journey. We're going to follow Jesus without the Bible. That was my intent. That was going to be the destination, and the more I learned, the more I studied at the learning about God and Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit, the more questions I had And some of you know that We talked about that last week when Sarah was here faith and doubt, and she said it's perfectly normal as you learn and as you grow in your faith, that you begin to have more doubts as more questions come. But we don't stop searching for the truth. If we just search for the truth, jesus tells us, we will find Him. And so I searched for the truth And, to my surprise, my search for faith in Jesus without the Bible led me to a very strong confidence that I still have today in the Bible. Because the more I studied about the Bible the look for answers to find it, to figure out which parts were good and maybe which parts were the more I studied it, the more I became convinced, not just of its origins but of its reliability and how it's been preserved. And I was convinced then, as I'm still convinced to this day, that what we have the Bible sitting next to you, is as good as it can get. It's as good as it can get. It's been accurately preserved. I'm going to unpack that. You don't have to take my word for it. That's the purpose of today. I'll unpack how I came to this conclusion. My professors would add I did an awful lot of extra work to get to this point. They say well, if God could raise people from the dead, don't you think He could publish a collection of books. I said good point, but I needed to know for myself if I could trust this collection. I know that I am not alone. Some of you today might be struggling with the Bible. Actually, that might be the point in your faith. Where you're struggling the most is with the Bible. Americans trust in the Bible is significantly declining. A recent study shows this. They found that the percentage of Americans who believe that the Bible is the inspired, true Word of God is down more than 21% since 2000. Since 2000 it's down. This parallels a similar steep 50% decrease in biblical worldview in America, the United States, over the same period of time, from 12% to the current 6%, the lowest number ever recorded. This was a study done called the American World View Inventory 2020, produced by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. So today, in our series searching for answers, we're going to talk about the reliability of the Bible. If you ask the question, can I trust the Bible? Because, as the study would show, statistics would show many of you in the room you're just not sure. So let's talk about it. I think it's a fair question to ask. As I mentioned, we're in a series called searching for answers Now. Every week at Madison Church we teach about Jesus Jesus of God and people and connecting people with God and each other. We do so in and through the biblical text. I've even taught on the table of contents and footnotes before here. Okay, so we teach on the Bible, but today we're going to talk about the Bible And my focus isn't what the Bible says about itself. Some of you are familiar with 2 Timothy 3.16. The Bible is the inspired word of God, useful for this, this and that. We're not going to talk about what the Bible says about itself. We've done that before in other talks that are available on YouTube. The focus for me today is to ask the questions how does the Bible stack up against other historical works to determine if, scientifically, we can trust the Bible? That's what we're going to talk about today. Now here's I'm going to start with my challenge. Usually I end our talks with the challenge, but I want to begin with the challenge today. My challenge for everyone in the room watching and listening online is to keep an open mind. It's easy to say this is what I believe. Especially when it comes to talking about a topic like the Bible, it's easy to just kind of shut down and maybe briefly listen, but not really listen, or engage a little bit but not really engage. All I want to ask is that you keep an open mind. Maybe you don't believe the Bible is reliable. This morning I hope to show you that it is, with evidence, and it's not about me being right or you being wrong. I just want to pursue truth with you. I want to pursue God with you. So keep an open mind, even if you don't believe the Bible is reliable. Maybe you do believe that the Bible is reliable and I know this from experience here at Madison Church. You're a little offended, or maybe really appalled that we would even talk about this subject, especially in terms, as I've already stated like is the Bible reliable? Question mark. How could you, the pastor of this church, even ask the question? shouldn't you be just telling people to have faith in the Bible? The Bible says it. That settles it. This I know, for the Bible tells me so, and I would say I've studied enough of the Bible to know that neither of those phrases are biblical. If you're a follower of Jesus here today, you don't need to be offended or appalled about the question. Can we trust the Bible? Jesus doesn't ask you to have blind faith, as we're going to learn a little bit later on. He's okay with you asking really tough questions, especially about the Bible. He gives us permission to kick the tires, so to speak. So before we get going any further, let's briefly talk about what the Bible is, maybe. What's the Bible? That's a good place to start. They're all around you in this room, they're on your phone. Some of you have the Bible app on your phone And, according to stats a different stat, even if you don't believe in the Bible Americans average having at least three Bibles at home. So some of you have six Bibles at home. Some of you have one Bible, but it averages out that the average American has three to four at home. So what is the Bible? The Bible is a library of books. There are 66 separate writings within the Bible. So let me point out stating the Bible says dot, dot, dot is an inaccurate way to say anything. The Bible doesn't say anything. The Bible is a collection of books. An accurate way to talk would be to say it says in the Bible or it's written by Luke. This is written in Psalm one. But the Bible, by definition, is a collection of books. So when we're gonna talk about what's in the Bible, we should talk about what's in the Bible. What's better to cite if you're talking to your friends about what's in the Bible is to directly quote whoever you're talking to. These books were written by men and in some cases we believe women contributions as well. So we say Paul says James wrote would be the most accurate way when we're talking about works within the Bible itself. The collection of writings in the Bible were written in three different languages Hebrew, aramaic and Greek. Three different languages that nobody speaks those versions of those languages anymore. They're all dead languages, so you gotta go to school to learn how to speak or read those languages. The reason it's written in three different languages is because the 66 books were written over the course of 1500 years 1500 years. There's nothing else in history like that One book written over 1500 years by 40 different authors in different genres, all pointing to the same story. What's most remarkable, i think, about the Bible is not just that it was written over 1500 years, not that it has all of these different authors, but that over the course of almost two centuries it tells one story. It tells a lot of little stories in there, but it tells one overarching story And the Bible is the story of God. To begin to really understand the Bible, it's the grasp That is. It's this epic story of God. It spans centuries, it crosses borders, it breaks down ethnic and cultural barriers to reveal God's identity to his people. It's God's story. It's a unified story. It's the story of how God creates the world. And whether you believe that was a literal six day creation some 6,000 years ago, or you believe that God worked through the evolutionary process, I don't think the Bible had ever set off to answer that question. Whatever you believe, what we're told is that God is the creator And the centerpiece of his creation. it's hard to believe, but it's you, it's me, people are the centerpiece of his creation. He wants a relationship with you and with me, and what we see is in the analogy of a fruit tree, or perhaps it's a literal tree. We see people make decisions that go against God's will. As people do, as you and I do, as we did last week, as we'll do next week, as we did last year, as we'll do next year We make decisions. We just don't trust God always. We know this is right, but we don't wanna do it yet, we're not ready to. Yet. We see, it's the story of how God doesn't give up on people. He doesn't just wipe the earth clean, all right. Well, experiment number whatever didn't work. Number one, let's try this again. We see God continue to pursue people. We see God pursue Abraham and Abraham's family. This is the nation of Israel. We see God pursue them And what do we see them do? They mess up. They make a bunch of choices. So, even though God relentlessly pursues them out of his love for them and a desire to be known by them, we see people continue to make poor decisions. The pinnacle of this story is when Jesus comes. This is the pinnacle of the story. Jesus lives the life we should have lived. He dies the death we all deserve. To do what? To undo the bad choices that we've made? There's separation from God, god being holy and perfect and us being unholy. We were cut off from God And what Jesus does is he provides a way, a supernatural, spiritual way, for us to re-engage our Father. And the cool part is that that's not where the story ends. That's just the pinnacle, because the story has continued for 2,000 years. It's your story and it's my story. We are all now part of God's story. Everyone who is living and breathing in here today. You are now a part of the story of God. So what is the Bible? 66 books and it's God's story. Now, how did we get the Bible? As I already mentioned, they're all around you. They're different translations, they're all in English. How did they get here to Madison, wisconsin, right next to you, in paperback form? Let's back up a few hundred years to the Reformation. They determined a couple things during the Reformation. I'm not a big church history geek. I don't think that any of you are, so I'll be real brief here. The Reformation they did two really big things. One they said normal people like me and like you should have access to the Bible, because before this they didn't. You just had to take the pastor's word. You just had to take the church leaders, the deacons, the elders, the priests. You just had to take their word for it. What they were teaching was it In the Reformation? they had an issue with that. They said normal people, ordinary people, should be able to have the Bible. And then they said we're gonna go back to the early churches. Canon Canon is a really fancy scholarly term for the 66 books that we have today the Canon, what they chose? Because at some point over the course of a thousand years they added a few extra ones Stuff that was written between the Old and New Testaments and they kind of started to begin to elevate that to the same level. And the Reformation said we don't think so, let's go back to the early churches Canon. Well, what was the early churches Canon? That is the 66 books that you have in your Bible. This was determined in the fourth century. As the world continued to expand and the churches reach grew. We weren't just in Israel anymore, we were growing out of the Middle East. You could go as far as India. They're going down into Africa, europe, all of these places. As the church began to expand. And remember, we went from like a hundred, some followers right after Jesus died, to around 3.5 million. At the time that we're talking about Canonization, church leaders said you know, we need to get together and decide what's what, because some libraries had Jude but other libraries didn't have Jude and some had James and others didn't have James. And so the early church gets together and say you know, it hasn't been an issue before, but now it's kind of becoming an issue because we're starting to have some in fighting because Lindsay's church they don't have Jude, but my church does have Jude. So now we're fighting Should Jude be taught or no? Should I be teaching my people to read Jews? Should I be teaching them to follow what Jude is saying? So the church leaders, they get together, they prayerfully discern, they say, okay, well, they collect all of that library. It's the information. They go okay, these guys have these, these guys have these. This is well documented. You can Google it, wikipedia, chat, gpt it. This is well documented. All the libraries and which books of the Bible they had. They came up with a test and they said well, it has to be written by an apostle, it has to be written by somebody who knew Jesus, or at least knew somebody who walked with Jesus, and so that was one of the big ones that they came up with, and so there were a couple more in there. But that's how they canonized it and that's how you got the 66 books in the Bible that you have Now backing up. Before that, how did we get the 66 books that we use today? The New Testament letters were written. A lot of other stuff was written. We have some weird little letters that came out of that. But our books, our letters were written during the New Testament and then they were copied down. They didn't have the printing press, so you had to write it down over and over and over again. This will be good news. I'll tell you why later. It might make you a little bit nervous that they didn't have like a copy of machine there, but this is actually really, really good news And that's how you got the Bible As it is today. The Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, was determined, established long before Jesus ever came, so we don't need to unpack that. That's good to go Like. That has not changed ever. But the addition of the New Testament and that is how we got all the way here today. And so now we're gonna talk about historical reliability and other ways that we know that the Bible is reliable. Let's talk about three reasons that I believe the Bible is reliable. Hang in with me, i know we're talking about some really deep and heady stuff here, but three reasons that I believe the Bible is reliable. First, it's historically reliable. Okay, the ancient texts have been tested in a scientific method over and over again. It's been tested, it's been tried and over and over again, it continues to prove it's reliable. So not just eyewitness accounts but historical facts. And to explain what I mean by historically reliable, i wanna focus just on the biographies of Jesus Matthew, mark, luke and John. So we're just looking at that historically and scientifically. The Gospels of Jesus, his biographies, are historically reliable. We're talking about science. History is a form of science. They're scientifically reliable, historically reliable because they're based on firsthand accounts of Jesus' life and ministry. Now you and I might disagree with was he resurrected, but there's no doubt we can't argue about the historical person of Jesus. Matthew was an eyewitness account to Jesus' life and teaching. He walked with Jesus. He saw these things firsthand. Mark got his information from Peter. Okay, mark didn't walk with Jesus, but Mark was a traveling companion of Peter and we know Peter well. Peter was an eyewitness to these things. Luke had no connection to Jesus other than as an investigative journalist. Theophilus, a guy, sends Luke on a mission to investigate the life of Jesus. Theophilus has heard all of these crazy things about this rabbi from Galilee. I wanna know if it's true. Luke go investigate it. In the process of Luke's investigation, he converts. He's investigating this. He has no reason to convert, but he's investigating. Oh my gosh, this is true. This actually happened. As he investigates, it's similar to my journey of following Jesus. Now I'm gonna investigate this myself and, oh my gosh, here's Jesus. I found him. John was among Jesus's closest friends and recorded what he saw. When we talk about the Bible being historically reliable, what we mean is that the gospels give us an accurate representation of the life of Christ and his ministries, and it's due to these eyewitnesses eyewitness accounts. They're so powerful. For a little contrast, you're like well, how does that stack up against other historical figures? You have Jesus. You have four copies of that. We have one account of Alexander the Great's life One in four of Jesus. We have one of Alexander the Great. That one account of Alexander the Great was written 400 years after he died. Jesus's four were written within a generation of his death. Now, none of you probably have a hard time believing in Alexander the Great. You've read about him in history books. You were taught about him in high school. You've probably watched a bad movie about him and you don't question that, and Jesus has substantially more evidence that he was here and what he did. It's not just eyewitnesses accounts, though. We want to ask a question. When we're determining historical documents. We want to know how many years passed between the earliest work, the original work and the copies. English versions of classic literature are reproduced from copies called manuscripts And if the gap between the original work whenever John wrote, whenever Mark wrote, we're looking for whenever that is, to the next copies, and the longer the gap is, the bigger the problem we have. So if Mark wrote in 50, the year 50 AD, and the earliest copies we have are 400, that's kind of a problem in terms of historical reliability. That's not good. But if the gap isn't long, that's great because that shows we can go back that far. So Homer's Iliad let me break this down again. Homer's Iliad was written in 800 BC. The earliest copy we have is 400 years later. The annals have a 950 year gap between the original writing and the earliest works. In contrast, the oldest fragment of the Gospels we have, john's Gospel, was discovered in Egypt in 1920, and they dated back to 125, the year 125. They believe that was written around 70 AD. So it's about, you know, 50 year difference. So you have the Iliad 400 years. You have the annals almost a thousand year difference in that account. And then within Jesus we have a 50 year between the original manuscripts and the copies that we find. So there's only a 50 year difference. Another thing that we ask is how many copies of the original document we have, because if it's just me and Megan and we're the only two people with copies and hers is substantially different than mine, how do we know who's right? But if every single person in this room we're watching and listening online, we all had the same copy of the same document and only Megan's was different. Well, we know who's wrong. We know who got the wrong copy, the bad copy. We know who might be trying to change it. The more copies you have, the more you can check to see if the various copies are accurate or if they've been significantly altered. 1800 copies of the Iliad, the original Iliad exists. 31 copies of the annals exist. Any guesses on how many copies of the New Testament? we have 6000. Okay. So again, not only is it some of the earliest historical work that we have, not only do we have a ton of copies of it, but it's all. Every way that we count historical reliability, the Bible thrives and passes. The New Testament, the Gospels do. And again, i know this is heady stuff, but I want you to see that in comparison to other literature, in the same time historical ancient works, the Bible exceeds all of the standards that we have for historical reliability. So if you're going to throw out the Gospels today, you're watching and listening and you're going to throw out all of the Gospels. To be consistent, to be fair, to follow your logic and reasoning out, you'd have to throw away most of what you learned in history in college, in high school, in an elementary school, if you're using the same criteria to judge that history as you're using with the Bible. And so the Bible is historically reliable, the Bible is also culturally reliable. Can we trust the Bible? Most of us are not asking about the history of it, although that I think that's critical. Most of us are asking about the cultural reliability. I asked chat GPT, as the kids do these days, right, you pull it up on your browser and you ask chat GPT. I said is the Bible reliable? And what chat GPT wrote was that It's a matter of debate because some people have an issue with the cultural Reliability about it. And what? what I mean by talking about cultural reliability is that you read the Old Testament. You're like kind of seems really regressive, oppressive, it seems outdated, it's out of sync with current lifestyles, current realities and therefore we can't trust the Bible. I can't unpack this too much. I'm running out of time, but last year we did do a series called how not to read the Bible, in which case we took on cultural reliability head-on, and again those are on YouTube and podcast. I definitely encourage you to look that up if cultural reliability is something that you're struggling with you. What do we do with slaves? What about the oppressiveness of women that we see in the Bible? I read about unicorns the other day. What's up with that? Check that series out, because we we answer all of that. But the big point for us today is that Dan Kimball, who writes the book that the series was based on, was that this idea that the Bible Was written for us, not to us, and that's a big word play. It's huge, because there isn't a letter to the church in Madison. There's not a letter to the church in Madison, but the letters to the churches and Ephesus and Corinth and Rome. Those are for us, those are for our church in Madison. We begin to get in trouble when we read any book of the Bible, as this is exactly written to me and for my exact situation? Well, it might not be. Every part of the Bible is good and it is for us, but it might not be speaking directly in the same context. The Bible reflects the cultures in which it was written. When you read the Old Testament, you're reading about Hebrew culture and Hebrew times and thousands of years before that. When you read the New Testament, you're reading Paul. You're reading about a very Greek mindset that you know was birthed in Rome. So there's gonna be cultural nuances and there's something else that's worth considering. So we need to like interpret that. We gotta figure out What's the principle in the text and then drag it into our times. We're not trying to go back to all. Let's all just live in sandals and go back to the first century. That's not what the Bible is about. But it's about understanding the principles, applying it to our lives, something else worth considering. A lot of us we we reject parts of the Bible because we don't agree with it. We reject parts of the Bible. We read something like oh, i don't, i don't agree with that. Well, that's probably a good thing. Like if you only ever agreed with the Bible, maybe you're not worshiping God, maybe you're not studying God. See, god is different than you and God is different than me, so naturally, god and I are gonna have different stances and perspectives on things. God's perfect and holy. Stephen is imperfect and unholy. So if God and I are always agreeing, there's a good chance. I've made God in my image. Instead of trying to conform to his image, i would encourage you when you're reading the Bible, there's a principle that you struggle with. That's okay. Engage it. There's probably an area of growth for you. God is calling you to something Better. Throughout history, and across cultural and across cultures, the Bible has been an equal opportunity offender for all people everywhere, but it transcends culture. The Bible the 66 books that we have in the Bible has been good for all languages and all cultures all around the world When we read it the right way. I know some of you not many of you, just a few of you probably love talking about this and want to do a Deeper dive, and you're gonna have to do that on your own, and I encourage you to do it, though. It's good for your faith to study these things, but for the rest of us, let's set aside the academic and philosophical stuff for just one moment. The primary way that I believe that you can find out whether or not the Bible is Reliable is what I call the personal reliability test. Personal reliability test. This is what Jesus challenges us to do and John 7 17. He says anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Says put it to the test. Take something I taught, do it, live it out, and The fruit of that will show you whether or not what I'm speaking has come from God or not. We're supposed to be doers of the word. If you doers of the word And if you consider yourself a Christian, a follower of Jesus, what Jesus thinks about the Bible should be the most important thing We think about the Bible. Jesus doesn't ever say the Bible says it, that settles it. He doesn't say I love you. This you know, for the Bible tells you. So Jesus says I love you, i died on a cross and some eyewitnesses are gonna tell you about that and that's gonna get passed on. He says you can test this thing. You can test the New Testament. Go ahead, test James, test Luke, test Matthew, test my teachings, put it to the test and see that it's reliable. And so when we ask the question is the Bible reliable, can I trust the Bible? Well, we have historical evidence that, yes, you can. We have cultural evidence that, yes, you can and should. We have a personal test that you can put out this week And what we'll find is that the Bible is not simply a book of history. It's not simply a set of rules that do this, do that. We'll see that. It's an incredible library of books God gave us to help understand who he is and how he wants to be in relationship with us. If you're starting out on a spiritual journey and you have questions about the Bible or you're skeptical about the trustworthiness of the Bible, as I already mentioned, you're not alone at all. When we come together in a thoughtful approach, a thoughtful approach to faith and life, we're gonna find the truth, and I hope that you know that in this community, you can ask questions. That's okay. I won't be appalled, i won't be offended. I'm asking if you're a follower of Jesus and you've been a follower of Jesus for a while. I'm asking that you don't be offended and that you don't be appalled either. Let's meet people where they are, as Jesus met you where you were once, and let's go on a journey with them. I love what Pastor William Coffin once said It is a mistake to look to the Bible to close a discussion when the Bible seeks to open one. When we're talking with our co-workers, family, friends, neighbors, about God, god's love, the story of God, the Bible, it's not about being right or them being wrong. It's not about winning an argument. It's not about closing a discussion. It's about opening one. It's about the story of God and showing people that God loves them and that they could love God. So let's open the Bible and continue to search for answers together, as we're gonna do the next few weeks. Let's try on the teachings of Jesus this week and let's see if they prove reliable or not, and let's see if we can encounter God, the God of the Bible, in the process, because in the end, these words are meant to lead us to Jesus. If you honestly and earnestly engage the Bible this week, i believe that you will find Jesus.