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The Reliability of Scripture

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
August 13, 2022 12:01 am

The Reliability of Scripture

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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August 13, 2022 12:01 am

In the 20th century, Sir William Ramsay set out to disprove the historical reliability of the gospel of Luke. He later concluded that the beloved physician is the most verifiable historian in all antiquity. Today, R.C. Sproul considers the trustworthiness of Scripture.

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Have you ever known a Christian who had a difficult time believing that all of the Bible is true? There are Christians like this all over the place who because of questions that have been raised about the integrity of Scripture, find themselves living in a kind of tension between trusting Scripture to a degree that it teaches us about the things of God and about Christ, and yet at the same time embracing a skeptical view of that Scripture.

So how do we get around that problem? More and more people are embracing that view. They have a hard time believing the miraculous events they read in Scripture, or they struggle to accept its historical reliability.

Today on Renewing Your Mind, we continue Dr. R.C. Sproul's series on apologetics, and he'll help us understand why we can trust the Bible. Back in the early 1970s, before the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy was formed that culminated in their Chicago summit meeting and statement defending the authority of Scripture, Ligonier Ministries held a special conference on the trustworthiness and authority of the Scriptures back in Pennsylvania. And in that seminar, theologians and biblical scholars from around the world were assembled to address the question of the Bible's claim to being a matter of divine authority. And without any collusion, what came across in that particular seminar was that every single scholar grounded his confidence in the authority of Scripture on the authority of Christ, which was an interesting approach to the question because it left everyone open immediately to the same charge that we've looked at of those who defend the Bible as self-authenticating. And the question was this, isn't it circular to say we believe in the authority of the Bible because Jesus taught that the Bible was the Word of God when the only way we know that Jesus taught that the Bible was the Word of God was because it's found in the Bible? And that certainly on the surface looks like another exercise in circular reasoning.

What I'm going to endeavor to do today is to show that in fact there is a linear argument involved in that that moves progressively through various stages and that in fact the argument is not under close analysis a circular argument. Also let me illustrate in simple terms how the question of Christ's authority and the authority of the Bible are related. Several years ago I was speaking in Philadelphia on the authority of Scripture, and at the end of the service where I'd given this message, it was a conference actually, I came down from the pulpit and coming down the aisle to my great surprise was one of my college roommates that I hadn't seen in at least 20 years, probably longer than that. And it was really a wonderful opportunity to become reacquainted. We went out to dinner immediately after the service, and this fellow and I during our college days as roommates met together every night for a half an hour of Bible study followed by a half an hour of prayer. And my recollection of him was how deeply he loved the Scriptures and so on. And as we sat down at dinner he said, you know, before we go any further, he says, I've got to let you know, R.C., that I don't believe what I used to believe when I was in college about the Bible. After college I went to this seminary, which was a liberal seminary and so on, he says, I was overwhelmed with negative criticism so that I no longer believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

That was very sad for me to hear. And I said, well, what do you still believe from what you believed back when we were together in college? And he smiled and he said, I still believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord.

And I said, well, I'm delighted to hear that, but I have a question for you. And he said, what? I said, how does Jesus exercise His Lordship over you? And he said, what do you mean? I said, well, the Lord is somebody who is empowered and authorized to impose obligation, to issue commands to His subjects.

How do you hear the command of God over your life, if not through the Scripture? And he said to me, through the church. And I said, which church?

And he named the denomination. And I said, well, in that denomination, is it the local church or is it the General Assembly of that church? He said, General Assembly. I said, which General Assembly?

Last year's General Assembly that voted this way on a particular issue or this year's General Assembly that reversed it? Which one of those was the mind of Christ? And he said, well, I guess I have a little problem there. I said, I guess you do.

I said, you have both of your legs planted in midair. You want to maintain your conviction of Christ as Savior and Lord, and yet you don't trust the primary source of information of His identity, of His person and work. You have a problem there. And he felt the weight of the problem, but he was by no means alone. There are Christians like this all over the place who, because of questions that have been raised about the integrity of Scripture, find themselves living in a kind of tension between trusting Scripture to a degree that it teaches us about the things of God and about Christ, and yet at the same time embracing a skeptical view of that Scripture.

So how do we get around that problem? Well, again, going back to the seminar that we had in Pennsylvania, the basic way in which we proceeded, and I believe is the way to proceed, seriatim, in constructing an argument for the defense of Scripture is to begin with the first premise that the Bible is a basically trustworthy historical document. Basically trustworthy historical document. That premise is not that the Bible is inspired, it's not that the Bible is infallible, it's not that the Bible is inerrant, only that it is basically trustworthy as it is sitting alongside of a host of other historical documents.

The works of Herodotus, the works of Josephus, Suetonius, and Pliny, and others who are engaged in ancient history. Now let me just pause for a moment and say, if I am trying to defend the authority of Scripture to a non-Christian, then I'm going to have to spend a lot of time dealing with this issue right here. Because this is the first thing, because obviously if the Scriptures are not basically reliable as historical documents, there's no reason to attach any particular significance to Jesus of Nazareth.

If you're dealing with a historical text that is basically unreliable. So, again, the burden initially is not to prove infallibility, inspiration, inerrancy, or any of the things that the Bible may claim for itself, but simply this much. On the other hand, if we're defending the authority of Scripture within the church, then it's a far different matter of importance here. For example, shortly after this seminar took place, I was invited to address the faculty of a theological seminary, which was openly hostile to the authority of the Bible. And yet, every single one of the members of the faculty professed to be a Christian. And so when I came before the faculty and spoke to them, I started with this point. And I said, of course, I'm assuming that you men as faculty members would affirm this premise, otherwise you would acknowledge that you have no rational foundation for your Christian profession at all.

And I asked any questions. I challenged them to relate, not a peep out of them. Because I knew very well they didn't believe that it was basically trustworthy, but they didn't want to stand up and say, I profess Christ for no good reason, but just through an irrational leap of faith.

So they felt the conviction of what this was about. And this, of course, is what's going on today with the Jesus Seminar and other skeptical theories that are trying to show that the Bible is not even basically trustworthy. In fact, there's very little that is trustworthy in the Scriptures. Now, when you deal with the question of a historical document and its trustworthiness, there are certain rules of historiography by which historians as scholars measure and evaluate historical sources for their credibility. There are standards that are applied to Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus, Herodotus, and so on.

And those standards employ a certain level of empirical investigation. Obviously, a historian cannot subject New Testament statements about the appearance of angels to the normal canons of historical verification or falsification. The only way empirically from the 20th century viewpoint you could establish whether the historical testimony to angels such as Gabriel visiting Mary or Zacharias would be to find a set of petrified angel wings someplace maybe. But nevertheless, there is a host of material within the body of the literature of the Bible that is open to historical verification or falsification. For example, early in the 20th century, an English scholar who was skeptical about the veracity of the New Testament accounts went on a special voyage and retraced the footsteps of the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys.

Much like Darwin in the Beagle went out and did his scientific inquiry. And this particular scholar, by pursuing the book of Acts and its account, examined from an archaeological viewpoint things that can be verified or falsified. You know, when Luke says that when Paul visited such and such a city, the local magistrate was called this kind of a constabulary title, and people say, well, we have no evidence whatsoever that people in those days in those towns were called by these titles. This archaeologist goes and uncovers evidence whereby the local magistrate is called by exactly the title that Luke assigns to him in the book of Acts. Well, to make a long story short, after Sir Ramsey finished this scientific expedition, beginning as a skeptic, setting out to disprove the historical reliability of Luke as a historian, came to the conclusion at the end of his journey that Luke has the best credentials of historical verification of any historian in antiquity. I remember shortly before the death of William Foxwell Albright, who I've mentioned before in here, who was the dean of Old Testament archaeology, who indeed was to archaeology what Einstein was to physics in the 20th century, in the preface to his commentary to Matthew in the Anchor Bible series, lamented the illegitimate influence of 19th-century Hegelian philosophy dominating New Testament research and irresponsible existential approaches to the Bible, saying in his concern that scholars had moved away from archaeology and empirical investigation as the single most important tool to research historical documents' reliability and said that the people are responding to the Bible on the basis of preconceived, hostile philosophies that are not verified with the shovel and with the spade. I mean, the greatest advance to recovering the authenticity of the biblical record in the 20th century has come through the science of archaeology. And it's almost as if every time an archaeologist turns a spade of dirt over in Palestine, a new detail of history is verified by that research.

In fact, I'll go on and say this. At no time in church history has the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, or the Old Testament documents for that matter, have they ever been as well established and verified as there are today. And I join Dr. Albright with his conviction that there simply is no excuse for the unbridled, fanciful theories of the people like the Jesus Seminar, who I call the lunatic fringe of the scholarly community, about this statement. Even Jewish theologians have granted that Luke is the best-attested historian of history.

So, taking historical canons of evaluation, you look at F.F. Bruce's little booklet, the New Testament documents, are they reliable? We have established through the best studies of scholarship available the basic historical trustworthiness of the Scripture. Now, I'm just giving you an overview.

I'm just declaring it. I can't go through all the details of showing you how it's done, other than to show you the approach that is made, but that there is a mountain of evidence to defend the historical reliability of sacred Scripture. Now, again, you cannot, on the basis of that historical type of research, jump from historical reliability to infallibility or inspiration.

That you don't determine by archaeology. But let's go to the next premise. I'm saying that if you can establish and grant that the Bible and the documents of Scripture are generally reliable or basically reliable, then you have a historical source upon which you can make a reasonable judgment about the person of Jesus, of Nazareth. And it's interesting to me that even people of other religions who do not embrace the New Testament claims to the deity of Christ and so on will acknowledge in their own views that Jesus was certainly at least a prophet.

And if Jesus was a prophet, which you can establish on the basis of these documents, then you have to ask the question, was He a false prophet or a true prophet? Because as a prophet, Jesus prophesied concerning Himself. And the prophecies that He gave regarding Himself were simply that He was more than a prophet. But let's just only take it so far that He's a prophet. And if He's a true prophet, then He truly and accurately speaks for God.

And as a true prophet, and I'm simplifying this, He takes us to the next step. His prophetic teaching about the Bible is that according to Jesus, the Bible is more than generally reliable. That this prophet Jesus, as part of His prophetic instruction and teaching, was that the Bible is the veritable Word of God that cannot be broken.

And not only did He teach verbal inspiration, but He taught jot and tittle inspiration, saying not a period or comma will pass away until every single word is fulfilled. So, in a nutshell, what you have here is you start with basic reliability, move to some solid information about Jesus, then make the inquiry, what was Jesus' view of the Scripture? Now, if you have come to faith in Christ as more than a prophet, and you're convinced that He's the Son of God and that He is your Lord, as my friend who still believed that, my ex-college roommate, then you ask yourself, what is the Lord of the churches' authoritative teaching about the nature of Scripture? And so, Christians who are convinced that Christ, the historical Jesus, was indeed the incarnate Son of God, and that He was truth incarnate, that He taught that the Bible was the veritable Word of God.

Then the question is, do we submit to the authority of Christ at that point? Now, what you have in 20th century biblical scholarship is an astonishing tension. You have all kinds of scholars out there who profess their confidence in Christ not only as a prophet, but as the veritable Son of God, who acknowledge plainly that if we know anything about the historical Jesus, we know that He accepted and taught the prevailing Jewish view of the Scriptures, namely that they were the Word of God. But these scholars, though they acknowledge that Jesus taught that the Bible was inspired of God, that it is infallible, and so on, that Jesus was wrong. But not only do they teach that He was wrong, but they teach that it's perfectly okay that He was wrong because we could not reasonably expect that Jesus touching His human nature could possibly have known that Moses didn't write the first five books of the Old Testament, which He said that Moses did write, or that He could not be held accountable for assuming a view of Scripture that was prevalent in His day because touching His human nature, He was not omniscient.

And so, from a theological perspective, it's argued by such scholars as Carl Barth, Paul Althaus, Emil Bruner, Joachim Ermias, C. H. Dodd, just to mention a few, that they all agree that Jesus in fact taught that the Bible is the Word of God, but they also all agree that Jesus, whom they embrace as the Lord of glory, was wrong in His teaching of the nature of Scripture. And so, that's the tension that critics within the church are dealing with. But again, the justification for this is based upon their understanding of the nature of Christ. So, in the final analysis, the argument for the authority of Scripture within the church is reduced to a Christological argument. And I want to take a whole period of our study to examine that issue as it manifests itself with respect to this question of biblical authority. And we look forward to hearing that message next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind. You know, these outright attacks against the truth and authority of the Bible should be a wake-up call for us as Christians to be prepared to give a clear defense of the truth.

That's why Dr. R.C. Sproul taught his overview of classical apologetics. In 30 lessons, he covers the history of philosophy and the basic rules of logic. We will send you this 11-DVD set when you give a donation of any amount to Ligetor Ministries.

You can call us to make your request at 800-435-4343, or you can find us online at By the way, the title of the series is Defending Your Faith, an overview of classical apologetics. I should also mention that this is the special edition of this series.

It includes a bonus disc that provides you with access to the study guide, plus all of the MP3 audio files. So again, request Defending Your Faith when you contact us today with your donation of any amount. Our online address again is, and our phone number, 800-435-4343.

We do not view Ligonier as a museum ministry. R.C. pointed us to a vision of growing service to the church around the world. Our goal here is to develop the world's largest library of biblically faithful discipleship resources. Over the next three years, we're seeking to distribute this trusted teaching in the world's top 20 languages in an effective and sustainable way. So we are grateful for your generous donations today.

Well, as we make claims about the truth and inspiration of Scripture, it's important to know what Jesus had to say about it. And that's what Dr. Sproul will cover next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-12 11:14:46 / 2023-03-12 11:22:36 / 8

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