Tag Archives: morality

How Can I Be Sure of the Bible’s Moral and Spiritual Reliability?

There are many factors that give the Bible unparalleled moral and spiritual authority. The Old and New Testaments are deeply rooted in a historical and geographical record that is linked to laws, poetry, and predictions that express timeless life-changing wisdom. Even the parts of the Old Testament with parallels in Mesopotamian literature (the creation story, the story of the flood, etc.) are incomparably superior to the pagan versions.

1 Although it is an ancient document, its realism is stunning and contemporary. The records of the Bible portray people in all of their complexity and inconsistency, with not only their achievements but also their sins—and the consequences of their sins—clearly displayed.2 J. B. Phillips expressed in a few words what countless others have noticed about the New Testament: It has the “ring of truth.” There are few people of any religious tradition who are familiar with it that don’t hold it in high esteem. Further, the historical accuracy of Scripture has been demonstrated time and again—often to the surprise of skeptical scholars.

The authority of the Bible is by far the most well-attested document to come out of ancient times. The reliability of the Old Testament was confirmed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a remarkable collection of ancient documents found preserved in caves in the Judean desert in the mid-20th century. The age of these documents, which included large portions of the Old Testament, was determined by several independent evidences, including:

  • Carbon 14 tests made on the linen wrappings of the scrolls.
  • Coins associated with the scrolls, which date from 325 BC to AD 68.
  • The type of pottery found with the scrolls.
  • Comparative paleography (science of handwriting), a science which has already been well-established for many generations.
  • Linguistic analysis of Aramaic documents found in the caves.

What made the Dead Sea Scrolls such a remarkable find in confirmation of the reliability of the Old Testament was the fact that prior to their discovery the earliest text in Hebrew, the Masoretic text, dated only to the 10th century AD. Biblical scholar Gleason Archer noted that in spite of 1,000 years separating the Scrolls and the Masoretic Text, “The texts from Qumran proved to be word-for-word identical to our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted primarily of obvious slips of the pen and spelling alterations” (Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1974], p. 25).

Similarly, no serious scholar, Christian or non-Christian, has historical grounds to doubt that the modern New Testament—regardless of translation—corresponds closely to the original form in which it was written. In his book Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell quotes a number of authorities on the reliability of our Bible. Here he quotes scholar A. T. Robertson:

“There are some 8,000 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate and at least 1,000 for the other early versions. Add over 4,000 Greek manuscripts and we have 13,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament. Besides all this, much of the New Testament can be reproduced from the quotations of the early Christian writers.”

Historical evidence for the reliability of the text is overwhelming. But its spiritual authority can only be seen by someone who is seeking truth. It would require thousands of pages just to list the names of the outstanding people in every area of human endeavor who have looked to Scripture for their ultimate values. A random list of just a few might include:

  • Philosophy: Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Soren Kierkegaard
  • Science: Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal
  • Music: J. S. Bach
  • Literature: Dante Alighieri, John Donne, John Milton, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, T. S. Eliot, J. R. R Tolkien, C. S. Lewis
  • Politics: William Wilberforce, William Gladstone, Abraham Kuyper

The fact that the Bible provided the foundation for the personal values of some of the greatest figures of Western history doesn’t constitute a “proof” of its authority. But, along with the Bible’s age, textual reliability, and character as great literature, its appeal to such people certainly calls for an open-minded, respectful approach to its contents.

  1. Anglican physicist/theologian/priest John Polkinghorne remarks on the value of scholarly comparison between ancient biblical and Mesopotamian texts:
    Those who disdain a scholarly engagement with the same text will also miss the fact that, though the accounts are clearly influenced to a degree by neighbouring Near Eastern cosmogonies, they differ in a most marked and important way from those other creation stories. It is deeply impressive that tales of conflict among the gods, with Marduk fighting Tiamath and slicing her dead body in half from which to form the earth and sky, are replaced by a sober account in which the one true God alone is the Creator, bringing creation into being by the power of the divine word. Equally significant is the insight that human beings are not destined to be the slaves of the gods (as in the Babylonian epic, Enuma Elish), but are created in the image of God and given a blessing so that they may fulfill the command, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28 ). (Science and the Trinity: The Christian Encounter with Reality, pp. 44-45). Back To Article
  2. To have a clear understanding of biblical authority, it is important to understand the nature of biblical inspiration. Inspiration has two aspects. One is its authority in providing truth without error in the words of Scripture. Scripture is truly the written Word of God. The other aspect of inspiration is that it was written by human beings who wrote with their own vocabulary, cultural background, and personal style. This fact does not controvert inspiration. Just as Christ was both truly man and truly God, the divine element in inspiration doesn’t exclude the human limitations of the Bible’s writers. For a clear discussion of the topic of inerrancy from a theological perspective, we recommend that you buy or borrow a copy of Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology. This theology originally came out in a 3-volume set, but currently is being offered in one volume. His discussion of inerrancy can be found in chapter 10, “The Dependability of God’s Word: Inerrancy.”  Back To Article
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Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Law?

The Mosaic law was not given to the Gentiles (Romans 2:1-16) but to the people of Israel (Exodus 20:1-17). It was intended to reveal the goodness and wisdom of God, bring awareness of sin and guilt, and show the need for divine redemption (Leviticus 17:11; Romans 3:19-20; 7:7-13; 1 Timothy 1:7-11). The law, however, was not given as a performance-based means of salvation. Abraham was saved by faith long before the law was given through Moses (Hebrews 11 ).

Because Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law (Romans 5:5-8; 8:1-4), we are no longer under the external law of Moses. When we are obedient to the Holy Spirit, we manifest God’s love and exhibit righteousness, which fulfills the law (Romans 13:8-10). The New Testament contains numerous passages that clarify the Christian believer’s distinctly altered relationship to the Mosaic law (Galatians 3-5; Philippians 3; Colossians 2).

The Lord’s declaration in Matthew 5:17 that He had come not “to abolish the law but to fulfill it” should be understood in its context. He said this just before explaining the spiritual meaning of the system of laws given to Israel by Moses. By contrast, the Pharisees of His day missed the spirit and intent of the law while overemphasizing conformity to external legal and ritual elements. Jesus emphasized the thoughts, motives, and attitudes behind the deeds. The contrast He set forth in verses Matthew 21-47 is not between the law and His own teaching but between the ideas of the Pharisees and the real meaning of the law. Christ had so much respect for the law that He would not cancel even one small demand until after He had fulfilled it.

However, Jesus Christ did fulfill the law both in His life and in His death. He obeyed it perfectly. He never broke even one of its commands. Of the entire human race, only He never sinned (see 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22). He also laid down His life to pay the penalty for sin demanded by the law (see John 3:16; 10:11-l8; 11:50-52; Romans 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In all of this He became the reality of whom all the Old Testament sacrifices and rituals were only symbols.

When the life of God’s perfect Lamb was given as the ultimate sacrifice for sinners, the Mosaic law, as a national, legally binding system came to an end. Second Corinthians 3:2-18 makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments were part of a “dispensation/ministry” that has passed away. If we read the law with the mindset of the old covenant between God and Israel, a veil covers our hearts (v. 18).

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).

The part of the Bible that contains all these rules and regulations still instructs us. But it is no longer binding on us because Jesus Christ fulfilled it.

While Christians are not bound to follow the ceremonial laws and regulations of the old covenant with Israel, they are obligated to live by the great moral principles it contains. The Old Testament law was itself based on unwritten moral principles that God had revealed to the human race throughout the ages (Romans 2:14-15). The works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul (Galatians 5:13-26) illustrate the impossibility of living a Spirit-filled life while violating the moral principles contained in the law given at Sinai. Rather than being governed by a law whose letter brought rebellion, awareness of sin, and death, those in Christ are governed by the living Spirit of God who instructs them in how to live in freedom and gratitude.

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