PHIL: Well, John, the end of this month, the last day of this month, actually marks the five hundredth anniversary of the day when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. And so we’re very close to the five hundredth anniversary of what’s really the symbolic start of the Protestant Reformation.
Thinking about the Reformation, there are two principles that stand out. One is the principle of sola fide: justification by faith alone. And we’ve talked a lot about that, you and I. We’ve had several conversations about the gospel. That principle sola fide is generally known as the material principle of the Reformation.
And the other principle is sola Scriptura, known as the formal principle of the Protestant Reformation, and it’s about the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. You’ve also written and talked a lot about that, but I don’t think you and I have ever had one of these conversations about it. So today I want to talk to you about Scripture, and especially some of the challenges to Scripture that are floating around out there today.
JOHN: Yeah, Phil, there is no question that the Protestant Reformation was essentially the direct result of an affirmation of sola Scriptura, sola fide, Solus Christus, soli Deo gloria, sola gratia, all come out of Scripture. That’s why it’s called the formal principle, because it was the foundation of the whole thing. And truthfully, every movement in the history of the church toward the truth and the true gospel was always a scriptural-based movement; and that’s where it all comes from.
PHIL: Right. Now today there’s a lot of people who profess to be Christians and say that they revere the Bible. I heard a guy who’s a college professor and a well-respected conservative college professor say that he thinks we should respect the Bible because our civilization is founded on its principles. But as Christians, there’s more to the authority of Scripture and the ground of our belief system than just the fact that it’s traditional, right?
JOHN: Well, yeah. If our society is founded on the Bible it doesn’t say much for the Bible. This society doesn’t look anything at all even remotely like something that would be founded on the Bible. That is a bizarre statement for somebody to say. And I don’t even think the fathers of our country understood the Bible. I think for the most part they were deists who weren’t Christians at all. I mean, they believed in God. History would tell us that they actually needed God to create some kind of moral threat, some kind of moral ought to make people behave well. So it wasn’t by any means a true Christianity. If you base something on the Bible, I mean really on the Bible, you’re going to get full biblical Christianity.
PHIL: Right, yeah. And, you know, even back to the founding of our nation in that era, deism was on the rise. And one of the hallmarks of deism is an assault on the authority and inspiration of Scripture.
JOHN: Right. What deism says is that God started everything, He’s the Creator and kind of a law-giver and judge, and He started it all and walked away. And now we’re on our own, and religion is, even Christian religion is man trying to figure out God on his own, of course rejecting Scripture. And so we go back to where we started. Whenever there is a true revival, whenever there is a true recovery of the gospel, whenever God is glorified as He should be in a society, it is because there is an affirmation of the full inspiration and authority and inerrancy of Scripture.
And I would even bring up another illustration. I’m continually concerned about the fact that so many so-called evangelical Christians reject the Genesis account of creation and the fall, and Adam and Eve; and they try to feed into it some evolutionary idea that does not exist in Genesis 1 and 2, and they do that on the basis of so-called science. Science can’t tell us anything about creation. Science cannot tell us – I’ll say it again – anything about creation. Science can only observe what is happening. Science can only observe what is going on today. It can’t say anything about before there was anything to observe. And if you try to apply the laws of science – uniform science, you know, uniform action in the creative world – then you have basically tried to attempt to use something that is useless, because the original creation couldn’t have a scientific explanation the entire universe came into existence in six days.
There’s no science to fit that. I mean it would be like trying to do a scientific analysis of the resurrection of Lazarus, or do a scientific analysis of Jesus walking on water, or a scientific analysis of our Lord’s own resurrection. There are no scientific ways to explain miracles. And the most massive miracle in the universe was creation – massive, massive, massive miracle that defies all scientific explanation. And the reason I mention this is because if you’re not going to accept the Bible’s clear, personal, eyewitness account of creation by the Creator, then you have assaulted Scripture at the very beginning.
You know, I say this so often: when I look at our church and I look at The Master’s Seminary and The Master’s University, even Grace to You, what has kept us faithful – and in the case of the school since 1927, the seminaries since 1985 – what keeps us faithful, the anchor, the sort of weight that holds us down is this view of Genesis 1, 2 and 3. We take the Bible to be true even where it is most dramatically and relentlessly attacked and assaulted.
PHIL: Now I want to come back to the issue that science poses a challenge to the authority of Scripture. But I want to start really with the basics. Let’s talk about inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, the inerrancy of Scripture, why we believe the Scriptures are authoritative.
You know, the most challenged, I think, feature of Scripture is its inspiration. So explain what we mean when we say that we believe the Bible is inspired.
JOHN: Well, you know, that basically comes from, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” Paul’s words to Timothy. And what that is is the Greek word theopneustos. All Scripture is God-breathed, it is the breath of God. That is to say it has a divine origin with God. So when we say Scripture is inspired we mean that the Scripture, as given to man, came from the mouth of God. It is God-breathed. And the Bible supports that, you know, Peter’s words that, “No Scripture is of private interpretation, but holy men were moved by the Spirit of God.” Scripture is the very breath of God. It is the Word of God. That’s what inspiration means, that it is God-breathed.
PHIL: Yeah, and I think a lot of people confuse that, because we throw that word “inspiration” around carelessly. But just to be clear: you’re saying, not that God breathed some kind of insight into the human writers of Scripture, but that the Word itself is the breath of God, as if it was breathed out by Him.
JOHN: Yeah, that is the claim that every word of God is true and pure. Over and over again the Scripture says, “The Word of God, the Word of God, the Word of God; God has spoken, the Lord said.” No, we’re not talking about inspirational like a song writer might have, or inspiration like an artist might have, or inspiration like a preacher might have for some ideas or some noble virtues; we’re talking about the actual breath of God. The actual words come out of the mouth of God.
PHIL: Now, there was a huge debate in the 1970s and ‘80s, and you were part of it. Over the question of inerrancy, are there errors in the Bible? That was the debate. And you defended the position that every word of God is true. That’s under attack again today, isn’t it?
JOHN: Well it’ll always be under attack, because that’s the strategy of Satan since the garden: “Has God said?” right?
JOHN: “Oh, God didn’t say that.” And then not only do you deny what He said, but you add to what He said. So Eve says something that God didn’t say. She adds something God didn’t say. The devil wants to take away what He did say; she wants to add what He didn’t say. Tampering with the true Word of God by subtracting from it or adding to it, so serious that the Bible ends by saying if you do that, if you add or take away anything, shall be added to you the plagues that are written in this book, the book of Revelation.
So the Bible claims in itself to be the Word of God. We believe that the Bible is its own greatest defense. You can use arguments to validate the inspiration of the Bible, that God actually breathed the very words by looking at the specific prophecies of the Bible and their replete all through the Old Testament. And there’s evidence of many of them that have come true. You could take what I think is the single greatest prophetic passage in the Bible that has been validated historically, and that’s Isaiah 53 where you have every detail in the life of Jesus through His life all the way down to His trial, all the way through His beatings to the cross, out of the grave, and even ascending back into glory, every detail seven hundred years before He ever came to this world, so that the Bible in and of itself – and I like to think of it this way: it has its own glory, it is its own greatest defense. You can argue outside the Bible for its veracity, but the Bible itself is its own greatest argument.
PHIL: Yeah, I think it was Spurgeon that said the Bible’s like a lion; you don’t have to defend it, just turn it loose, it’ll defend itself.
JOHN: Right, just open the cage and let it go.
PHIL: Yeah. One of the common complaints you hear these days from people who want to question the inerrancy of Scripture is that the principle of biblical inerrancy is a novelty, that it just came up in the twentieth century and all. But you’re actually going all the way back to the garden of Eden and saying, you know, “This is taught in Scripture itself.”
JOHN: Well, look, if it is the Word of God, and God cannot lie, and God cannot make a mistake, and God cannot err, then Scripture cannot err. So somebody’s going to say, “Okay, that would have been the original – grant that, that’s the originals. But here we are, you know, thousands of years after the originals in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and how do we know that we still have the pure, revealed Word of God?” And I think that is one of, in my mind, the most fascinating of all subjects to study, because this is where the critics arguments really collapse.
We can trace the history of the versions of the Bible we have now back to their earliest ancient manuscripts, going back even to Old Testament manuscripts before the time of Christ, we can find them in different places and they are identical. We can track the accuracy of transmission as the Spirit of God guarded the truth from generation to generation, language to language to language to language, so that what you have now, if you have what we would call a literal or formal translation of the original, you actually have the Word of God. It’s remarkable, the history of manuscript study validates the accuracy of the texts upon which the Bibles of today are being translated. There is no reason to doubt that God has preserved His Word.
So we go back and say this: if God is God and cannot lie and cannot err, then what He said is absolutely true. If God gave us an inerrant text, it would be folly for Him not to preserve that in its transmission. And so we assume the God who controls history and controls the minds of men, and who lives and dwells in His church by means of the Holy Spirit would guard the truth so that it would be preserved and protected through its history. And validation of that comes when you study the ancient manuscripts and compare them with what we have today. So God cannot err, therefore what He said is true, and what He has said He has preserved.
PHIL: Now it’s my impression – tell me if you agree with this – it seems to me that there are people today who are trying to sort of soften the edges of what we mean by inerrancy. They’ll say, “Yeah, I believe in biblical inerrancy, but,” and as soon as you hear the “but” you know something you’re going to disagree with is about to come. And they’ll say, “That doesn’t mean that all the historical claims or scientific claims that are made in the Bible should be taken as absolute truth.”
JOHN: Look, there’s only one reason why people want to create doubt about the veracity of Scripture, and that is because there’s something in there they want to escape; it’s the only reason. There is no honest intellectual reason to deny the inerrancy of Scripture. I mean, look, you mentioned the Biblical Council on Inerrancy that went for ten years. For ten years, one hundred of the best scholars in this nation wrestled with the issue of inerrancy, and they came out with that Chicago statement on inerrancy, which is a masterful statement produced by a hundred scholars. I remember it. There were ninety-eight, ninety-eight academic scholars and two pastors – myself and Jim Boice. We were the only two pastors in the whole group. These were the brightest and the best of all scholastics, and they came to the conclusion that the Bible was inspired and inerrant. They defended the inerrancy of Scripture so very well, so that they basically answered the intellectual arguments. They answered the arguments of the academics.
Now what we have are people making arguments against the inerrancy of Scripture in order to escape some biblical standard that they don’t want to live by. I mean, if you’re LGBTQ and you want to call yourself a Christian, you can’t believe in an inerrant Bible. You’ve got to take the edges off. You’ve got to say, “Well, you know,” – as I’ve heard, you know, openly from people I’ve discussed this with – “the Bible’s unsophisticated, it’s a primitive book. People didn’t understand society today, they don’t understand the social constructs of today, and they don’t understand the thinking of today, and that’s an ancient time.”
So my conviction is, there is no legitimate reason for an intellectual rejection of biblical inerrancy, there are only moral reasons for it. And if you don’t like something in the Bible, the easy way out is to say, “Well, you know, we don’t have to accept everything in the Bible.” But that’s coming at it purely on an experiential level based on some kind of escape from the moral ought of Scripture rather than anything honestly intellectual.
PHIL: Yeah, it seems like the loudest attacks on the authority and inerrancy of Scripture today are coming from people on YouTube who probably have never really read the Bible. They heard something about it, and so they make these attacks like, “The Bible’s not sophisticated.” That claim really never comes from people who have thoroughly studied the Scripture.
JOHN: Well, look, we’ve been at this a long time. You have, Phil, and I have. I’ve studied it I guess about as thoroughly as a pastor could study it.
PHIL: Have you ever found even an apparent contradiction in Scripture that you couldn’t resolve?
PHIL: Not one.
JOHN: No. No. And it’s not – I mean, that’s kind of a minimalistic approach to it. The Scripture is so far from, “Oh my, there seems to be – that looks like an apparent contradiction.” It’s so far beyond that, that every week when I study the Scripture – and I’ve been doing this for fifty years – I’m in awe of its unity. I’m in awe of the essential, noncontradictory nature of this Book written by over forty people spread out, you know, over a millennium of time, and all different cultures from all different places, and no commonality among all these various authors until you get to the writers of the New Testament – the apostles and those who were with them. The Bible is so clearly a singular book written by a singular mind where there are no contradictions; it’s staggering.
You know, I don’t live on some kind of edge that says, “Oops, I’m going to another passage, I hope I don’t find a contradiction.” It’s so far from that. It’s so replete with its own authenticity that it just comes at you like a force. The more you study the Bible, the more convincing it is that God is the author. This is just not possible for men to concoct.
PHIL: Right. And why would they anyway? Why would discreet men across centuries of time conspire together to put together a big lie?
JOHN: Well, the irony of all that is, if you think that they did that, then why did they condemn themselves to hell for doing it? If men put the Bible together it wouldn’t be the way it is. It wouldn’t provide a salvation that had nothing to do with what men did, and it wouldn’t damn the whole human race for everything they are and do.
JOHN: So it’s very nature itself – the very depth of it, the very irreconcilable realities of the sovereignty of God and the wretchedness of man would all be resolved by some committee if men put the Bible together.
PHIL: Yeah, good point. Plus some of those doctrines like the wretchedness of man, and the idea of hell even.
JOHN: Well, yeah, that’s the point. Men don’t write books to extol their wretchedness and send them all to hell forever. And then to give only one possible way of escape, and that’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And not only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but apart from works; and you sacrifice your life, and you take up your cross and you follow Him, and you deny yourself, and you die to yourself, that’s just not what people come up with.
JOHN: Nor can they invent someone like Christ, nor can they write prophecies that come to pass in detail, nor can in ancient times they say that God hangs the world on nothing while the Hindus were saying it’s on the back of elephants. The Bible itself is its own defense.
PHIL: Well, we’ve talked about inspiration and inerrancy and all that, let’s talk about some contemporary challenges to the inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and power of Scripture. And I’ve got seven of them here that I want to ask you about. First, there’s a challenge of relevance. There are people who say, “Scripture isn’t relevant for our time.”
JOHN: You know, this is what is behind some of the attacks on formal equivalent translations. This is what has led to The Living Bible and The Message, both of which are awful translations. The Message is awful. And even lately, the guy who authored that, Eugene Peterson, has revealed himself to be not even a believer in what the Bible says. So this kind of relevance idea has unleashed tampering with the text, tampering with the ancient text.
But beyond that, thinking that the Bible is irrelevant has been for many people an excuse to turn preaching into some kind of psychological pep talk, some kind of clever analysis of life and personality and destiny with a few Scripture ideas thrown into it. I am convinced that if you’re a preacher and you’re not explain the Word of God, you don’t understand where the power is. The Word is sharper than any two-edged sword; it’s more powerful than any weapon. So when you see a person preach and only pop up, you know, selected translations of this verse or that verse, it’s really about his own insights and his own stuff and his own shtick and whatever he can come up with in a clever way, that betrays a kind of de facto lack of confidence in the power of Scripture; and that betrays a tragic failure to understand what this Book really is. The power is in the Book; the power is in the Word itself.
So I think, while preachers wouldn’t say, you know, “I don’t believe the Bible is true,” or they might not say, “You know, I don’t believe in inerrancy,” they will acknowledge in their own minds that the Bible is not relevant, because they really don’t deal with it as if it was in all its detail.
You know, it was R. L. Dabney who said this: “There are three stages that preaching goes through historically. There’s the golden age of preaching, which is Scripture truth in Scripture dress.” What he meant was, you preach the biblical passage in its own context, and God speaks through the context of the Scripture itself. That’s the golden age of preaching.
Then he said, “It starts to slide, and you have Scripture truth in cultural dress. And now you say, ‘Well, the Bible’s not relevant, it’s an old book, it’s an ancient book.’ You have to get the truth of the Bible out of the Bible, because the context is too irrelevant; and you have to put the Scripture truth in a cultural context. And preaching has slipped when you come to that conviction, because the third step” – said Dabney – “is cultural philosophy in cultural terms.” You end up abandoning the Scripture all together. First of all, its context seems irrelevant. And then you try to preach its truth in a cultural context, and its truth is too offensive. So now you hold onto the culture and that’s all you’ve got left. You accept cultural philosophy in cultural terms.
PHIL: That’s how you end up with a gospel of self-esteem.
JOHN: Exactly. Exactly.
PHIL: Now, how would you answer someone who says, “But there are portions of Scripture that even you would say are out of date. We’re not obliged to obey all the dietary laws in the Old Testament, laws regulating dress and all of that.” Answer that argument.
JOHN: We don’t make animal sacrifices either.
PHIL: Right. A lot of people are confused by that, and particularly in this day and age where you have people who call themselves Christians aggressively arguing for a wholesale change in morality. They say, “Well, you don’t believe that oysters are unclean, therefore why do you think, you know, homosexuality is unclean?” How do you sort out which parts of the Old Testament apply and which don’t?
JOHN: Well, the Bible sorts that out by itself. The dietary laws have all been set aside; that is clear. In the book of Acts, Peter is stunned because he’s got a Gentile situation, and he says, “I don’t eat unclean things, I can’t do that.” And he gets a vision from heaven, and the Lord says, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat. That’s over.”
You have Paul in Colossians saying, “Don’t let anybody tell you, ‘Taste not.’” You know, nobody can tell you that, “Keep a Sabbath, keep a new moon, keep a feast day.” That’s a shadow; that’s gone. You have the apostle Paul go so far as to say there are going to be some false teachers who are going to want to limit what you eat, and are going even limit marriage. This is wrong. So whatever in the Old Testament has been abrogated, has been abrogated clearly by something in the New Testament.
PHIL: And in that case repeatedly. I think Jesus had said, “It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him.”
JOHN: It’s what comes out of the man.
PHIL: And the gospel writers say at that point, “Thus He declared all foods clean.”
JOHN: Right, exactly. So, it’s not as big a question as people want to make it. It’s crystal clear that God had designed certain social patterns, dietary patterns, even clothing norms for the people of Israel for the sole purpose of isolating them from easy interrelationships with the pagans around them, as a way to keep them separated, so that they would become the people that He designed them to be as his witnesses in the world. All of those things were temporal, external things that were set aside when Israel failed and the new covenant came in. And salvation obviously always been by grace through faith. But now there’s a new people of God. They’re not marked out by social identity; they’re not marked out by diet; they’re not marked out by occupying the same land. They’re not a group of people in a nation surrounded by a sea of pagans. So everything goes internal; and that message is clear in the New Testament.
I think one way that I’ve looked at it is this: if you have kind of a permanent reality, then you have permanent conditions for that reality. For example, if you go to the Old Testament and you’re looking at marriage, you will find laws regarding marriage in the Old Testament that have to do with adultery and have to do with divorce. Well, marriage didn’t end with the new covenant. So what God saw marriage to be in the Old Testament, starting with the garden all the way through, is going to stay the same, because when Jesus starts to talk about marriage the first thing He says is that God made Adam, and made Eve, and brought them together: one man, one woman; one flesh for life. And that follows all through the whole New Testament. So where you have family, you have a patriarchal pattern for the family, starting from Adam all the way through the New Testament.
So you have clearly transcendent relationships and transcendent categories, for which the divine standards don’t change. But when you have those identifiers that were uniquely given to Israel for reasons to protect and preserve them especially, those become clearly abrogated in the New Testament. And maybe the biggest illustration of that there is is the ending of circumcision.
Circumcision was the mark of an Israelite. And Paul says circumcision is nothing. I mean, he says that, it’s nothing. Those people who were advocating circumcision he said, “I wish they’d be castrated.” That’s gone. So the Scripture is not unclear in setting aside the things that need to be set aside. They were true then, they had a purpose then. They were the ABCs when God was instructing His people then. But clearly, we know how to deal with those.
I think there are things like the miracles as well. People say, “Well, there were miracles then; why aren’t there miracles now?” You can see even in the book of Acts the end of miracles. All of a sudden people are sick and they don’t get better, and there aren’t any miracles being done. So there’s a progress of redemptive history and a progress of how God works with people. Some have chosen to call that dispensations or economies in which God worked in a certain way. But they are self-evident, I think, in Scripture.
PHIL: Yeah, self-evident. But that’s another argument why you have to study the whole of the Bible over a lifetime; and you can’t just pick and choose what’s familiar and read little snippets here and there.
JOHN: Yeah. It’s so sad really, Phil, because I don’t know that there’s ever been a time in the history of the world when there was so much available information, so much good material accessible to anybody in a split second on the truth of the Bible, and such massive indifference in the quote-unquote “evangelical world” for anything deep about the Word of God.
PHIL: Yeah. Yeah. But, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and profitable for doctrine and reproof and so on.
JOHN: I’ve never found a Bible verse that wasn’t profitable.
PHIL: Yeah, interesting.
JOHN: Even the genealogies have a message to communicate to us. You know, I guess if I could speak on anything it would be after fifty years of spending virtually every week of my life, trying to understand the Bible, that it is so overwhelmingly rich, profound, life-shaping, life-transforming, blessing, profitable, you know. When I came in today to talk to you, and I kind of indicated that I would rather be somewhere else – it was because I was so deeply immersed in the Word of God, preparing for a couple of messages that I have to preach on Sunday, to extract me from that is an intrusion.
JOHN: And you know that –
PHIL: I do.
JOHN: because you live in the same world that I do. So I don’t even want to hear from somebody who says to me, “I don’t believe the Bible is relevant,” unless that is the comment of someone who’s just spent the last, what, at least ten years in deep study of the Word of God. And you’re to come out and tell me it’s – if somebody says to me, “The Bible is not relevant,” that is a dead giveaway that they’re absolutely ignorant of Scripture.
PHIL: Right. Well, so that’s your answer to the challenge of relevance. The Scripture is thoroughly and inherently relevant.
JOHN: Well, look, it is for every nation in every generation, every person who’s ever lived on the planet, the Word of God is relevant to every person, and God holds them accountable for its truth. Every person in every nation, every society, at every level, for all of human history. This book lives. It doesn’t become obsolete, it doesn’t become irrelevant.
PHIL: Here’s a second challenge that’s sort of unique. It’s uniquely the spirit of our age that it reflects: the challenge of relativism. We live in a postmodern era where people believe that all truth is relative, and so you can’t have an objective source of definitive truth, like the Bible. They rejected on top of – you know, without even looking at it, right off the top. They reject the Scriptures because of the claim the Bible makes that this is absolutely true.
JOHN: Well again, Phil, this is not intellectual, this is moral. This is just flatly moral. They don’t want the Bible to be truth, because if it’s true, they’re going to have to change their behavior. If you say the Bible is – I mean, look, we don’t live in a relative reality, we live in a relative fantasy. If you think the laws of God are relative, go jump off a five-story building and see how relative the law of gravity is. If you think we live in a relative world, stand in front of the next locomotive on the tracks and defy the power of that engine and see if you can walk away. I mean, this is absurdity. You know, drive your car off a cliff, smoke excessively for the first fifteen years of your life and see if you can defy the law of the carcinogens that corrupt your human body.
This world operates by law. When we send all these people into space, we shoot all this stuff, it flies all around, all based on absolutely fixed laws. If there weren’t fixed laws in the universe, nobody would be taking off in an airplane. Whatever the law is that holds an airplane up ever changed for ten minutes across the planet there would be a disaster of proportions that would be mind-boggling. I mean, everything’s fixed. Everything in this world is fixes and set. And why would we think that the moral world is some kind of random sphere where anything goes and you can do anything you want?
The Bible doesn’t tell us about the fixed laws of science because they’re obvious. And the only time you would deny them was when you’re living in Romans 1 and you have a reprobate mind, and you’re insane. If you deny fixed laws that’s a kind of insanity. And that’s where we are, right?
PHIL: Yeah, it’s becoming clearer and clearer.
JOHN: That’s the transgender thing. Some guys says he’s a girl, that is insanity. There’s no such thing as a transgender person. There might be somebody who has, you know, a birth defect. But that’s insanity. But that’s the ultimate insanity of relativism. That’s like – like I saw a guy on television one night saying, “I am a six-foot-seven Chinese woman,” and the guy said, “That’s ridiculous. You’re not a six-foot-seven Chinese woman.” “Well why can’t I be a six-foot-seven Chinese woman even if I’m a five-foot-four Jewish guy? That’s what I want to be.” How is that any different than saying, “I’m a man when I’m a girl.” I mean, this is relativity’s utter insanity that defies reason. And of course, that is – when you get to that point you’re under the judgment of God.
Truth is absolute. Everybody gets it, everybody knows that. Scientific truth is absolute. The laws of nature are absolute, they are fixed. They aren’t alterable; they aren’t random; they don’t change. Why would we think that the God who created such an ordered world physically would have some kind of random chaos? Well, we wouldn’t know what the rules were really if God didn’t write the law in our heart. So we have that; and we even try to defy that.
And then God gave us His written word, so we could understand fully the laws of the spiritual realm. If we reject the only, the only source of moral law and spiritual life, and the hope of salvation for sinners, which is the Word of God, we are doomed and damned.
PHIL: Okay, so you point to science as an example of a truth that is absolute, and this takes us back to where we started our conversation yesterday; you were talking about evolution and all of that. There is the challenge of science. A lot of people both within the church and out of it, in the visible church, lots of people saying that the Bible and science are incompatible. What’s your answer to that?
JOHN: Well it’s ridiculous. Of course, the Bible and science are not incompatible. God wrote the Bible, and God is the author of all creation. God knows the way things are. You can find the whole pattern of hydrology in the Old Testament in the book if Isaiah. You can find comment in the book of Job that He hangs the world on nothing. As I said yesterday, that the earth is a sphere. It’s turned like the clay to the seal; it rolls on an axis. All of that in ancient biblical accounts.
The Bible never is scientifically inaccurate, though it isn’t written as a scientific book. And somebody says, “Oh, well, the Bible says, you know, the sun stood still.” Well, from the human perspective it appeared to be that. The earth stopped rotating, but it appeared from a human viewpoint that that was what was happening. So the Bible will give a record of how people perceived something. But there are no scientific – the Book is not a scientific book, but there are no scientific inaccuracies in the Book, because God knows the truth about everything.
PHIL: Right. It’s like we still say the sun sets; and we know the sun doesn’t move.
JOHN: Of course. Yeah, we don’t say, you know, “It’s a beautiful earth revolving this morning.” It’s a sunrise. Yeah. So those things are clearly obvious in the Word of God.
There are no scientific errors in the Bible. And the point is this: science cannot explain origins because there was nothing uniform about a six-day creation. This is a massive supernatural miracle where God speaks things into existence that do not exist. And He speaks them into existence in their full functioning form. There’s no scientific explanation for that.
And you say, “Well, maybe God used evolution.” No, He did not use evolution because He said He did it in six days, and it was a morning and an evening; so it wasn’t talking about long ages, He was talking about a time for the earth to go through its normal rotation. That doesn’t need a scientific explanation any more than any miracle needs a scientific explanation.
So you’re going to say, “If you believe that, then go to the book of Revelation,” when it says that the Lord is going to create a new heaven and a new earth. He’s going to destroy this one. As Peter said it’s going to basically be burned up in an atomic implosion. Does that have to be something that lasts for tens of thousands of millions of years? Or can God take out of existence in a split second what He brought into existence? you start tampering with the divine miracles of origination and consummation, and you essentially have denied God and God’s acts.
PHIL: By the way, you have a whole book, The Battle for the Beginning –
JOHN: Battle for the Beginning, yeah.
PHIL: that answers questions that some of our listeners may struggle with on the question of evolution and origins.
JOHN: Yeah, I recommend people to read The Battle for the Beginning not because of what I say in there, but because of the power of the biblical account; and any reasonable approach to the biblical account sees how amazingly, amazingly careful that account is, and how it matches reality.
PHIL: Let me move quickly to another challenge against the principle of biblical inerrancy, and that would be the challenge of authority. Our culture hates authority, and there are people who despise what Scripture says simply because Scripture claims to be an authority and demands our obedience. And in fact, one social commentator said, “The concept of authority is one of the most controversial notions of modern times. Who is our authority?” How do you respond to those people who argue that a book that was written thousands of years ago cannot possibly the authority for all people today?
JOHN: Yeah, and that would be true, unless the book was written by God who is the sovereign authority. No, people fight against authority. That’s what Adam and Eve were doing in the garden. God had set the rules, He was the authority. They said, “No, You’re not. We’re going do what we want.” Then the whole human race catapulted into corruption.
It’s always a battle of authority. What is the primary sin? What is the sin above all sins? What is the premier sin? What is the sin at the top of the list? Pride.
Why did a third of the angels rebel against God, and led by Lucifer, and get thrown out of heaven? Why? Because Lucifer led a rebellion based on the fact that his heart was lifted up, and he said, “I will be like God. I will be like God. I will be like God.” “What do you mean by that?” “I’m going to be in charge. I’m going to be the authority. Nobody’s going to tell me what to do.” That’s why the angels fell.
And that’s the same thing with Adam and Eve; and you know, they’re going to do what they want to do. “I’m going to do what I want to do; You’re not going to tell me what to do. I’m not going to trust Your word.”
Look, I am not at all surprised that people have an issue with authority, because in their own minds they are the captain of their fate. They are the masters of their souls. They will be king and emperor over their own domain.
And by the way, the society in which we live has completely obliterated any, anything that smacks of humility. Humility is seen as some kind of blight. You’re supposed to be proud, self-centered, think highly of yourself. Narcissism is a new virtue, elevating yourself. So naturally, people who think they’re the most important person on the planet don’t want somebody else to be the authority.
But God has revealed Himself to be the absolute authority. And not only is He the authority, He’s the Lawgiver and the Judge. And by the way, we need to tell people that. I don’t care whether they like the idea of authority or not, they need to know He is the authority, and they will answer to Him.
PHIL: Another challenge to the principle of biblical inerrancy is the challenge of translation. And for this one, I want to play a question that came on our Q&A line from a listener named Jose. He has an important and practical question about Bible translations.
AUDIENCE: This is Jose. Hi, John. I just wanted to ask, there’s a big attack on the authoritative, you know, position of the Bible. How do we know that the Bible and all of its translations and, you know, all the different versions of the Bible and way back through time that it was made and put together, how do we know that it hasn’t been made in error, or if things in the Bible may have been mistranslated, or you know, if someone’s asking how we can trust that the Bible that we have toady, you know, is the authoritative Word of God. But, yeah, that’s my question.
JOHN: Yeah. Well, thanks to Jose. And look – maybe because we don’t have a lot of time for this – when I did the last message I did on the whole New Testament I was at the end of Mark. Do you remember that, Phil?
JOHN: And I gave a message on the final text that’s in Mark. And in your Bible or anybody else’s Bible, all the translations recognize that that is a noncanonical portion that was added later. In other words, it’s in there, but it’s in brackets, and we recognize that that doesn’t belong in there, so it was added later. And so that allowed, that triggered the opportunity for me to dig into how we know we have the accurate Bible and how we know what belongs and doesn’t belong.
So if I can just defer to that, I would suggest to anybody who cares about that question, get into the website and download that message on Mark 16:9 to 20, I think it is, and listen to what I said, because in explaining how that got there when it doesn’t belong there. And we know that, that I went through a very extensive explanation of this whole manuscript issue, we know what the original autographs – we don’t have the actual original, but we have – we know what the original autographs said because we have so many ancient documents that are different from each other; and when you pull them all together they’re all the same. So we know there was fastidious care in keeping those originals accurate, even though we don’t have the originals anymore.
PHIL: Yeah, and to be clear, those differences are so minor.
JOHN: Oh, they’re very slight. And we know where we see them. There are literally thousands of manuscripts of the Scripture, and they can all be compared, and they are in the science of what’s called biblical criticism or lower criticism. And you can be sure that if you have a true translation – now The Message, The Living Bible, The Amplified Bible, and I don’t know, maybe others, are not actually translations.
A translation is a word-for-word equivalency translation, and you take the original and you translate it word-for-word. When you have one of those based upon the best manuscripts – which is what you have in the New American Standard, what you have in the ESV, and some others, I think Holman Christian Standard is based on the same original texts – you know you have an accurate translation. They’ll differ a little bit, because you can shift the words around and you might use a synonym. But they are basically giving you an accurate translation of the original. So when you see something that’s a paraphrase or an amplified, that should never be called a Bible, that should never be thought of as a Bible; that’s one person’s extrapolation or interpretation of the Bible.
PHIL: John, there’s so much more I’d love to ask you about this, but we are running out of time. And I just wanted to ask you one more question. We had a Q&A recently where I heard a person ask you this question, and I thought your answer was brilliant. So I want to ask it again. This person in a live Q&A stood up and asked you, “After you’ve been studying the Bible for fifty years, does it ever get old? Do you ever look at a passage and say, ‘I just don’t see anything fresh there’?”
JOHN: No, and I don’t remember the exact answer I said, but I can tell you the answer now: no. In fact, Scripture is as exhilarating or more exhilarating to me now than it has ever been, because it’s inexhaustible. And I know what I know, but the discovery never, ever, ever stops.
Just today, spending hours in the Word this morning, the most fulfilling, the most enriching, the most encouraging, dealing with things that I knew already or passages I knew about, but probing further into those passages, comparing them with other passages, again there’s an almost euphoric realization that you’ve just captured something that maybe you’ve never seen like that before. And it’s divine, and it’s alive, and it’s powerful, and it’s exhilarating, and it’s encouraging.
And, you know, one of the things that people have said to me in my preaching, and maybe because I’m getting a little older it doesn’t come across quite as much as it used to, but it is that I seem very enthusiastic and very passionate about what I say. It’s not about yelling, but it’s about this desire in my heart to communicate this. That is a direct product of the exhilaration with which I hold the discovery of what’s in that text.
I’ve been doing it a long time, but every Sunday when I get up in the pulpit and I start to preach there’s something burning in me that is saying, “This is so good, not because it’s my sermon, but the truth is so good, so rich, so important, you have to get this.” And I think it’s the compulsion in my own heart that shows up in the preaching.
And that’s one of the reasons who I never wanted to be a traveling preacher with, you know, twenty sermons and twenty suits, saying the same thing over and over again. I want to spend my whole life in the discovery process. And I’m still doing it, and it’s still as exhilarating as ever. It hasn’t diminished at all.
PHIL: And that does come across. That’s why so many of us love your teaching; that passion for God’s Word is contagious.
JOHN: Yeah, it’s the truth that sets my heart on fire. It’s the truth that I love. The truth is my life. I mean, I live to learn the truth, to understand the truth, to understand it well enough that I can communicate it to the people, because I so desperately want them to see it and value it, and let it do its work in their lives.
PHIL: Well, thanks for what you do, and thanks for this time these two days; we’ve enjoyed.
JOHN: Oh, thank you, Phil, as always.