Ever wondered about the complex journey of the Bible from ancient manuscripts to the book on your nightstand? Join me, Stephen Feith, as we traverse this historical landscape, piecing together the remarkable story of the scriptures. We dive into the Bible's origins and its enduring narrative—a narrative that centers around the figure of Jesus, whose life reshaped history and whose teachings have transcended generations. This episode promises to deepen your understanding of the Bible's compilation and the profound impact of oral traditions in preserving the story of Christianity's cornerstone.
Could the New Testament's claims about Jesus withstand the scrutiny of historical inquiry? We examine the robust evidence supporting the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, acknowledging the challenges and affirming the extraordinary nature of his story. As followers of Christ, we are often called to defend the faith against skeptics, and this episode equips you with the historical context and archaeological findings that underscore the reliability of the Gospel accounts. We'll also discuss how the early Church Fathers' writings contribute to our confidence in the New Testament, even in the absence of the original texts.
This episode is not just about learning; it's about transforming our engagement with the Bible into a personal and enriching experience. We acknowledge the pressures and expectations that can sometimes make scripture reading feel like a chore, and instead, invite you to rediscover the scriptures as a story that includes you—a narrative of a God who loves deeply. Let the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ remind us that the Bible is not a source of burden but a gateway to a personal, meaningful connection with the divine. Join us for a thoughtful journey that aims to mature your faith and refresh your perspective on the world's most influential book.
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Welcome to Madison Church Online. I'm Stephen Feith, lead Pastor. I'm so glad that you're watching or listening. I want to extend an invitation to you to join us in person soon and perhaps during this new series and, as I mentioned, we're beginning a new series called Mature Audiences Only and we're talking about the Bible, and this is gonna be the first of three installments of a series that we're calling or leading with, mature Audiences Only. We're gonna talk about the Bible this time. We're gonna talk about prayer next month and then we're gonna talk about the resurrection in March and we're gonna talk about the questions. I know you have questions. You have things that have been unanswered in your faith journey. You've been given little canned answers and then you meet someone who's kind of smart and they disagree with you and then they kind of really throw your canned answer away. You're like that makes a lot of sense and they don't believe what I believe and perhaps because they make sense and I don't have an answer for this, I should believe what they believe. I mean, we're gonna be talking about the next couple of months, the subject matter that Sunday School teachers hope kids don't ask on Sundays. And so for those of you who grew up in Sunday School. These are the things that you might have asked, and then you were told oh, let's change the subject. Or what's the Sunday School answer? Jesus, right, because of Jesus. Oh yeah, that's great. We all have questions, I have questions, you have questions. We all have questions that no one seems to have a good answer for, and that's what makes this series for mature audiences only. Note there will be no vulgar language or nudity. Okay, I know some of you are wondering if that's what was gonna make us mature. It's not that. I usually reserve my bad language for the golf course, and so that's not it. The reason this is for mature audiences only is because it does demand maturity. The content that we're dealing with does involve maturity, adaptive understanding and an open heart. I understand that there are those of you in the room you're watching or listening online. You outgrew your faith. Some of you didn't know that was possible. You outgrew your faith because your faith is still in the nursery. You left your faith up in the baby room because you grew up and your faith did not. For example, some of the first theology we ever learn as kids is Jesus loves me. This I know, see, you knew it? How do we know Jesus loves us? It's not because of his life, not because he lived the life you should have lived. It's not because he died the death that you now deserve. It's not that he did all of that for you. The reason that you know that Jesus loves you is because the Bible tells you. It's a simpler answer, but it's also complicated, because what if I find issues with the Bible? What if I find holes in the Bible? There are things I don't understand about the Bible. Does that mean Jesus doesn't love me anymore? Because the whole reason I believe Jesus loved me was because the Bible told me, not because of his life and death and resurrection, but because of the Bible. So out goes the Bible, then out goes my faith. Does that mean Jesus doesn't love you anymore? Well, if you worship a veggie-tails Jesus, then yes, probably that's what's going on. But over the next few weeks we're gonna talk about growing up our faith. We're gonna talk about maturing our faith. It has to change, otherwise your faith will not be sustainable in our world today. Some of the things we're gonna talk about next week Sarah's gonna talk about how often, when we read the Bible and we're reading certain sections, segments, passages, verses. We completely missed the point. We just completely missed the point. So, for example, next week she's gonna talk about Genesis 1 and 2, which I know for a lot of you, you think it's about creation and then it's about science, but the original writers and the original audience had no comprehension of what we call science and creation. Today she's gonna talk about revelation, one of the things that I do at our membership lunch I like to talk about. I'm always like we don't have a position on that. We, like you, argue, for example, pre-trip, post-trip. You're like what does that mean? Doesn't matter, because we missed the point when we read revelation, because the point of revelation isn't here are God's secrets to the end of times and here's a roadmap. And if you figure it out, look, a lot of people have written a lot of books on this. They've made a lot of money. I've considered doing so myself. It just wouldn't be intellectually honest for me, but we're gonna learn that revelation was not written for that. We're gonna talk about how we shouldn't read the Old Testament the same way we read the New Testament. Some of you are almost there. Some of you, because you know you can have bacon and you know that you and your favorite, your favorite t-shirts are your tri-blend ones, right? So you know that, like you, don't follow all of the Old Testament. But you might not know why we're gonna talk about that. We're gonna talk about apparent contradictions and in planning and preparing for the series which started about a year ago, I have to acknowledge right away as I do almost every series how diverse you are in your faith backgrounds, your religious upbringings. We're a non-denominational church and I know that we have people who grew up Catholic and Lutheran and non-denominational and Pentecostal, and you're all here today. Some of you grew up with kind of maybe no faith at all in the home and so, as such, you all have a different relationship with the Bible. Some of you it's father, son, holy scriptures, right, like the Bible is God essentially. Some of you you didn't have a Bible in the house at all. Some of you were encouraged to not talk about the Bible. Just go to church, listen to the guy talk. He'll teach you everything. You know you're gonna get in trouble if you start reading this thing or you're gonna lose your faith. But for a lot of us and statistics would actually show that the average American household has three or four Bibles. That's just on average. You have at least three or four of these books laying around somewhere. For most of us, you grew up with a Bible in the home and then, when you had questions about it, jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me. So, okay, great, and we're starting to learn, starting to read about that. There's something that doesn't make sense. And you ask the question and adult doesn't know and they say the Bible says it, that settles it. And now it's circular Because I can't argue with the Bible because the Bible settled it. End of discussion. But I have questions, doesn't matter. She has faith, not in God, but have faith in the Bible. Ironically, the Bible doesn't even say that about itself. The Bible doesn't even say well, I settle it, drop it. The Bible doesn't say don't ask questions. The stories within the Bible are actually stories of people like you and me, who doubted, who weren't confident, who didn't know the next step, and they wrestled and we see a God that interacts with them. And that's not to like throw shade at the adults who told you that I'm sure they loved God, they loved their church. They just didn't know why they believed what they believed either. They would benefit from being in this room as we do these series of talks. And so you heard this. The Bible settles it, and maybe you're still going with that, though Maybe what I just described about the adult who doesn't know the answers you're watching online, you're like well, that's me. I don't know why I believe what I believe, but I know I believe. But many of you won't do that. Many of you won't just keep going on. You're an honest person and you can't just look at these parts of the Bible and ignore it. And well, what about this and what about that? And as a result I know this to be true Some people have walked away from their faith because of the Bible, because of the text, because of misunderstandings or misinformation. People have walked away from Christianity, and maybe you're not there yet, but if you're being honest with yourself, you know you're heading in that direction. But the more you engage with the text, it's getting a little bit harder to believe. It's not that odd. For those of you who have never considered it, consider this Andrew Sadell. He's a lawyer right here in Madison. He works for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. As a lawyer, he says the road to atheism is littered with Bibles that have been read from cover to cover the road. He isn't saying we became atheists because we didn't have the Bible. That's not what he's saying. What he's actually saying is the reason you're a follower of Jesus is because you haven't read it. He's saying if you did read it, you'd be over here with us. Ironic, isn't it? We all know people. It might be your kids, it might be your parents, it might be your friends, it might be a co-worker, it might be a neighbor, but you know somebody who has abandoned their faith because of this book, because of what they thought about it or because of what other people told them about it. As a result, in the United States today, statistically speaking, more people are skeptical of the Bible than are engaged with it. It's not even really that close. More people are skeptical than engaged, and that is why we have to do this series. I want to let you know on the front end what some of my goals and hopes for you throughout the series are. What I hope happens is that when we get to the end of this five weeks, I've got to have five weeks with this. I don't think that these things are going to just happen in one Sunday. I've got a lot to talk about, but at the end of our time, I want you to read the Bible and be engaged with the biblical text in a better, healthier and more fun way than you've ever had in your life before. There are a variety of ways of doing this. I'm not going to talk about them today, so hang with me. I want everyone to take a step to have more confidence in the accuracy of the books of the Bible, and not because I'm asking you to Don't take my word for it. I'm standing up here, I have the microphone, the camera's on. Don't just say well, stephen says I should have more faith in it. I'm going to have more faith in it. Make me prove it to you. Make me prove it to you. If I say something and you have questions, use your connection card, because I will incorporate your questions going forward the next month. Now, those are what some of my goals are. Let me tell you what I don't want to do. My goal is not to convince you that what I think or what Madison Church believes about the Bible is the right way or the true way, that the other churches are wrong and that we have somehow figured out the one right way. That's not my goal at all. Our mission at Madison Church is pretty easy connecting people with God and each other. I don't want to convince you that we're right about the Bible. I want to convince you to have a better relationship with God as a result of reading the Bible. Let's begin today by asking a question when does the Bible even come from? Have you thought of that? Some of you haven't really thought about that by the time I posted it this week. By the time you got your Bible and you open it up, there are these numbers in there. There are chapters and verses. You may not know this, but those weren't always in there. Actually, in the age of the Bible, the chapters and the verses are relatively new development. They didn't come around until the 16th century and the 13th century. I would guess that for most of you, your Bible is in like a modern version of English, which that didn't happen until the 16th century. Which books are in your Bible was decided about 2000 years ago not quite 2000 years ago, but almost 2000 years ago, depending on who published it and yes, your Bible has a publisher. Don't fall for the signed copy. That's not actually a thing. I've seen that picture floating around. You're getting scammed, but depending on who published your Bible and it might be like mine you have footers or footnotes and headers. You have cross references. Maybe at the back you have maps. In other words, when you got your Bible, the Bible you're holding, it was all done. It was all done. As a matter of fact, if you bought it new, it probably came in a box. It was packaged. It was all done. It was packaged. This is the important part. Listen closely. That's not how the world got the Bible. How you got your Bible is not how the world got the Bible. The process of how you got your Bible is not reflective of how the world got the Bible, and this distinction is pivotal as we dive into the complexities of its origins. The Bible that you have. In the original language of the word, the Bible, it actually means library. So the Bible in and of itself is not a book. It is a collection of books by literal definition, and within that library there are 66 books that were written over the course of 1500 years by 40 plus authors and authors in three different languages, and it all tells one story. There is not another book in the entire history of the world, another collection of writings like the Bible. And what is this one story that it tells? Well, that's kind of maybe the oddest part of the story. This is the story of a Jewish rabbi named Jesus. Why would anyone, why did anyone, let alone multiple writers, 2000 years ago, feel compelled to document the events around the life and death of a man called Jesus? Why would they do that? Writing was expensive because you couldn't just go to the store and buy pieces of paper. That technology wasn't out yet you didn't have an ink pen. This took work, it took money, not to mention you had to know how to read and to write, which most people didn't. So why? The answer is it's undeniable and it's obvious Something happened, something extraordinary happened. There were lots of rabbis in that time. There were lots of religious leaders, there were lots of governors and political leaders. There were conquerors. So why is so much of our history of that era around this Jewish rabbi named Jesus? Something extraordinary and remarkable happened. Not something remarkable was written, something happened that they decided to write about. We got to get the order here correct, because, for a lot of us, we started to believe, not because of something that happened, but because of something that was written, because you got your Bible in a package, but for how the world got their first story, the first gospel message. It was not shared like that. What happened first was that the people who actually saw it had to tell people about it. There were eyewitnesses, there were people like Matthew and John who were followers of Jesus, and there were direct eyewitnesses to his life. There was a man named Luke. We just got through a little series introducing Luke to you and Luke says I'm going to investigate it. And Luke goes and he asks eyewitnesses, what did you see? What did Jesus say? What did you experience it? We have a gospel written by Mark and we know from other historical documents that Mark was a traveling companion of Peter. Peter could not speak Greek. According to the kind of the legend the story goes, peter could not speak Greek. He spoke a Galilean Aramaic for those of you who really want to get nerdy and dive into that but he couldn't speak Greek and that's what Mark is written in. And so Peter is telling Mark his buddy who's traveling, what happened and Mark is writing it down, because Peter was also illiterate, he couldn't read or write. So you have four gospels of eyewitnesses who are telling people this is what happened. What happened came first and what was written came next. How the story was told was word of mouth and before it ever showed up in John or Mark or how you have it today, it would have been passed around by oral tradition in the form of a creed. Now, you guys are probably familiar with some of, if you grew up in the church, in a more liturgical church, these big kind of apostolic creed, nicene creed. But there were creeds even before that. Within somewhere between three and five years of Jesus' death, there was already a creed going around. That Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15. Paul writes I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. The very first statement of faith, the very first creed, was who was this? Jesus. He died for our sins, he was buried and he raised from the dead. That was what they were running with the very first followers of Jesus. They didn't have a New Testament. They didn't have a New Testament. They didn't have a New Testament. They didn't have a New Testament. They had a couple sentences and they ran with it and they continued this oral tradition. And then we can compare now, oral tradition, which what was written by the eyewitnesses? Going further, the gospels, along with all the New Testament. Really, we have so many manuscripts, almost 6,000. You might say, well, I don't know how that compares. 6,000 doesn't compare to the New Testament. 6,000 wouldn't be a lot, but by that ancient, expensive, illiterate standard, the next best history of the world that was going on in that time. They have 30 copies of that and that would have been the history. It influences the history you were taught in school and no one questions the one that has 30 copies. We'll come back to that in a minute. Within the Gospels, one of the proof, one of the things we say okay, well, we got the story eyewitnesses, it was written down, it was passed around. Are they reliable? Some of the evidence for that that historians and scientists use are undesigned coincidences. What does that mean? It means in one Gospel, one of the writers who doesn't think it's important, says a servant of the Lord cut off this Roman guard's ear the night he was arrested. And another one who's writing, who doesn't know about that one yet, writes Peter cut off the guy's ear the night Jesus was betrayed and so it's undesignated. It wasn't like they got together and exchanged stories. They're writing a different story in a different light. They include different details, but these details that go together nicely. There's historical and cultural and archeological evidence, the things that Luke writes about in John and Matthew and Mark. They're verified by archeology a ton like a lot. And even in the last 100 years there've been developments. So there are things in Luke that you can say, even 100 years ago they said, yep, see, luke is wrong because he got that detail wrong. And then archeologists will find something and have them. They're like actually we were wrong and Luke was right. We just said, no, he was right. They cite people, places and events that align with the history that, as they tell it in the Gospels, they also include. I love this detail that the historians and the scientists they like how do you know something's real? Well, I don't know. Is it embarrassing? Because if you were going to lie and tell a grand story about yourself, you'd leave out the embarrassing stuff, wouldn't you? And don't forget, in the first century this is a very kind of like, in some ways, our culture can be, but this was all shame and guilt. You wouldn't want to bring shame on yourself intentionally, but they were so dedicated to the truth that Peter, talking to his buddy, mark, says no, I didn't deny him two times, it was, it was three. Yeah, yeah, it was three. And so they include embarrassing details. What's an embarrassing detail? That the person that you followed for four years was arrested and then was like, barely clothed, hung on a cross, blood to death, bodily fluids everywhere. That's an embarrassing detail, and you know you're telling us we should follow him. Why wouldn't you leave that part out? The conclusion is they must be telling the truth, and the last time I love this last one. It actually came in on a question in the connection cards and it was. It says you know, we talk about the Bible about once a year is essentially the question Like, or we talk about it a lot, how does the Bible stack up and what the gospel writers say and the Christian writers say, how does that stack up against non-Christian writers? Cause there were non-Christian writers taking history and and writing things down. What do they say about it? I love the question and I learned a lot of new stuff in looking this up, and so I think I imagine for you it would be a lot of new information If you take away all Christian sources, ignore Paul's letters, ignore the entire New Testament, ignore the creeds, ignore early church fathers, anybody who would identify as having a bias toward Jesus. Just get rid of it, and then only have the non-Christian writers, jewish and Roman historians in that era. Here's what you find out about Jesus. He was a Jewish teacher. He performed healings. People believed he was the Messiah. He was rejected by the Jewish leaders and then crucified under Pontius Pilate. Despite his shameful death, his embarrassing death, his followers who believed that he was still alive spread beyond the Jerusalem and went to all places around the known world. Multitudes of them and all kinds of people, from the cities to the countryside, men and women, jew and Gentile, slave and free, began worshiping Jesus as God. It's a lot of information that we already knew about Jesus from the New Testament, but those outside of the New Testament aren't even arguing with that. Yeah, like that's the rumor, that's what everyone says he did as a matter of fact, it's great. You find one like little fragment of an old Jewish writer who's trying to like really poo poo on Jesus Like he. He led Israel. Stray is what he says. He says Jesus was a magician, a sorcerer. He was bad. He was in it with like Satan doing these things. So they're not even denying that Jesus did the miracles. They got to find an alternative explanation, somebody who's trying to prove that Jesus isn't who he said he was said. Well, I can't lie and say those things didn't happen, because everyone knows those things happen. So what could be an alternative reason? Well, he's not God, so he must be Satan, and that's what they're doing. They confirm so much of what we already know about Jesus. They say he was a teacher, a healer, a Messiah. He was crucified. His believers believed that he overcame death. The Gospels have been subjected to rigorous scrutiny. There is no other ancient document that has been put under the microscope like your New Testament. And every time this thing comes out more reliable in history as it unfolds, in archeology, as it comes out, it continues to back it up. Are there still questions? Yes, don't mistake me for a second. I'm worried. I'm making it sound like there aren't questions. There are questions. There are things we don't know. There are archeological findings that could still happen or may not happen. That's not the thing, but my point is out of all of these histories, these things that we accept, the New Testament is some of the most historical, confident documents of that era. I found this out too. If you got rid of all of the New Testament and you only used writings from outside of the New Testament, like Church Fathers and sermons, you could actually reconstruct the entire New Testament. So we would still have the New Testament today without the 6,000 copies of the New Testament we have from that era. You can get rid of all of it and based alone if we're verse engineering what early Church Fathers said. We can put it back together. Now I know and this was another question that came up I do spend significant time on the Gospels. When I talk about the Bible's reliability, you say why not talk more about Paul or these other letters written by Jude and John? And well, the reason is is that if the four Gospel writers are wrong, nothing else matters. I mean, if Matthew, mark and Luke are wrong about Jesus and Jesus isn't who we said he was I don't care about the fake religion Paul is trying to peddle throughout the Middle East, and we focus on the Gospels because everything hinges on them, and this is a good time. I wanted to come back to this to mention that if you didn't know what the message of those Gospels were, everyone would accept it like historically as accurate. It'd be the gold standard. Everyone would be finding new bits of archaeology and papers from that era and they'd say, well, how does it stand up to Luke Objectively speaking? But because we know the message. That's why it gets the scrutiny, because of what they claimed happened, because they claim there's this man who was also God, who lived this life and he healed people and he did miracles and he was killed, just as their prophets have been prophesying for hundreds of years. And then he came back from the dead. And so, in the face of just objective information, you say well, it's historically reliable. So what do we do with the history? Because the history is almost unbelievable and because of that they go through extra scrutiny. And that's exactly why they were written, though. It's exactly why there were creeds and it's exactly why, going back to the first question, why would anyone write about it? Because it was so important that what happened that we needed to get it written down. We needed to save it. We weren't going to let this oral tradition die with us. We weren't going to let there be 30 copies that you could potentially burn down a couple libraries and get rid of this message. This message and what it tells us became so important. John summarizes it this way at the end of his gospel this is kind of how he wraps it up the disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. John said Jesus did so much, couldn't even record it all, had to kind of pick and choose. But there's more. But these are the ones written so that he's giving you the reason why. Why does John write? So that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. He emphasizes again that there are like a ton of other things that Jesus did and we had to pick somewhere. So we picked what we thought was the most important part. And then he goes to answer the question because he already knows you're thinking about it. Why? Why write? Why write about this rabbi in the first century? So that you may believe you. He writes an open letter you today, in Madison, wisconsin, in 2024, you believe that you can continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Here's what I saw. I saw Jesus heal. I saw him do the miracles. I saw him do this, this and this, and I know it's hard to believe, but that's why I have written it. He says Jesus was the Messiah. He lived this life that you and I should have lived. He dies this death that we all now deserve. He introduces this concept of sin. He says you know that stuff and how the world feels broken and screwed up and there's so much hate and at times you participate in it. You got to be made right. You can't just say I'm sorry and then, like it, go away. He says there's something going on. Maybe if you were just physical and emotional, that would work, if you were just relational creatures. But John says you have a soul, you have a spirit and what you do with your body affects that soul and that sin that you have. It needs to be forgiven. And, as a result, because of God's love for you, john writes earlier in his gospel because God loves you so much, jesus came and he loves you so much that he died for you. And John says and that's why I wrote so you would know that if you've experienced God, you're someone who has faith. You're watching or listening online, but the Bible is holding you back. I want to encourage you and invite you Would you take a step? Because, remember, our faith is based on what someone did, not what someone wrote. Take a step toward God. The Bible doesn't have to be the reason you walk away. I disagree with the atheist thinkers who think that I think our misunderstandings of the Bible can be a reason we walk away. I think that what other people tell us about the Bible can be a reason. But studies, again going back to some data they just collected, they show that there's a ton of evidence that a young person is more likely to continue in her faith if she's engaged with the Bible than if she's active in a local church. That's borderline heresy at Madison Church, because our mission is connecting people with God and each other. But they say the data shows you know what's better than this, right here in this room, and this is pretty sweet. Let's not lose this. This is important. There's other data that shows that. They say what's more important than this one thing is being engaged with what was written. Now, I know that some of you came up in an environment, in a home, where there was substantial pressure to read the Bible every day on your knees 5am, grandpa did it for two hours Now, all of a sudden, like that's the standard of holiness. So I got to do it for two hours. And then, if you didn't do it, not only did you not feel good about yourself, but you felt like a failure, you felt like a sinner, you felt worthless. Why don't you love God more? Those were maybe the things that you hear in your head. So when you hear the data about reading the Bible gives you a better relationship with God, you're like I don't think so. I want to understand that. But perhaps it's not the Bible, it's not the message that's the problem. Maybe it's the outside stuff. It's once again those people, people who tell you how to read the Bible, what to read, how often to read, where to read. That there's a right way of doing it. So I don't want you to feel challenged this morning. I want you to feel invited. I want you to feel included. This story isn't just the story of a Jewish rabbi. It's my story and it's your story. It's the story of the world. It's the story about a God who loves us so much that he came to this earth. He lived the life we should have lived. He died the death we all deserve so we could be forgiven and experience life to the full. And his first followers didn't just die with that message. His first followers thought that was so important that they wrote it down and passed it around to make sure that you, 2,000 years later, would have it.