ƒ Christianity for Thinking People: April 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Bible is Reliable

We continue our study of Biblical authenticity and reliability, addressing
external validity -- the resurrection as the basis of faith -- and
internal validity -- the New Testament's reliance on the Old Testament.

Both are important and interesting studies.

Here's something to think about. Do the references by Jesus, Paul, etc. to the OT indicate reliance and authenticity? Or, were they just referring to something that their hearers could relate to, much as we might refer to the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy or Narnia Tales to illustrate a concept?

Note that there are quotations in the New Testament from the heathen poets, such as Aratus in Acts 17:28, Menander in I Corinthians 15:33, and Epimenides in Titus 1:12. Also, there are eleven margin references in the original King James Bible to Apocryphal books.

So, as we read through NT references to the OT, lets consider whether they are intended to establish and strengthen our reliance on the scriptures, or whether they are nothing more than, say, Paul's reference to the poet Menander.
© Alister L Hunt PhD

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bible Prophecy Fulfilled

I watched an interesting film as a teenager. A judge empanels an independent jury and then a lawyer presents a 'case' for Jesus being the Messiah. The jury returns a verdict of 'Messiah' on the basis of incontrovertible evidence.

Powerful stuff - prophetic fulfillment - that strengthened my faith.

It wasn't until recently that I read the messianic prophecies in context and found that they weren't quite as forensic as I had thought as a teenager.

For example,

* Matt 2:15 reference to Hosea 11:1 (Messiah called out of Egypt)
Hosea was actually talking about God's deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, and deliverance from idol worship, etc., not the Messiah.

* Matt 2:18 reference to Jeremiah 31:15 (Herod kills the babies)
Jeremiah was talking about Rachel weeping for her children, who are then brought back from captivity by God, not the Messiah.

* Matt 2:23 reference to ..., well, that's the problem. Its a reference to nothing identifiable in the 66 books of scripture.

These three examples from one New Testament chapter make it look like my 'case' is unravelling! What do the rest of the New Testament references back to Messianic prophecies look like in context? If you were a member of the jury, what would your verdict be?

I don't raise this issue to shake your faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Rather, I want us to have a look at each of these OT / NT linkages in full context BEFORE we engage in trying to prove to someone that Jesus is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.

When I was a teenager I was happy to rush through a prepared Bible study guide, ticking off each apparent NT fulfillment of OT prophecy. But I would hope that the rigor of my Biblical analysis and understanding would have progressed in the last 30 years. All of us are analytical thinkers in our respective fields, and we owe it to ourselves to bring at least that same level of rigorous thinking to our Bible study, particularly study that purports to be forensic.

Take the time to prayerfully read the Messianic prophecies that may lead to another Emmaus Road experience with Christ.
© Alister L Hunt PhD

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Final Word

Some years ago I was selling Christian books door-to-door and happened to call on the local Anglican clergywoman. She dressed me down emphatically for selling expensive books to parents who, according to her social analysis, could barely afford to feed their children. Being the impertinent youngster that I was, I responded by quoting Matthew 4 to her -- scripture from this week's study.

Visualize it: young Alister standing on the vicarage doorstep, quoting "It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." She was quite unimpressed, and said "That's the problem with you fundamentalists; always quoting scripture." Well, she was only 21% right, as last week's entry attests.

Jesus was, of course, quoting from Deuteronomy, where God fed the Israelites with manna from heaven. It's fascinating to go back and read Deuteronomy and realize that we typically use this scripture out of context. God is reminding his people of his care and leading over the last 40 years and then says:
'I gave you manna so that you would know that you are sustained not by your own efforts, but by my word. I covenanted with you, and I will not forget my word.'

What word? Well, we have to go back 40 years to the Exodus, with the Egyptians hot on their trail. The prophetic word from God through Moses was
'Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. ... The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.' (Ex 14:13,14).

Manna follows in the next chapter.

Two thousand years later, Jesus was not so much making a statement about scriptural authority as he was declaring His reliance on His Father, even in circumstances of extreme hunger far beyond anything the Israelites experienced in their 40-year wilderness safari.

This week's study is a case for the 'authority' of scripture, with Jesus' reliance on scripture as Exhibit A. The 'authority' of scripture has always been of more interest to the supposed custodians of God's word than it has been to God's people. If the Bible is the 'final authority', then clergy entrusted with expositing and ruling on scripture also have 'final authority'. Fortunately, most of us meet within a community of faith that rejects such views. But Jesus had to deal with that view head on. In the Sermon on the Mount, he repeatedly rebuts Biblical interpretation that is inconsistent with His character with "You have heard it said, ... but I say ..." (Matt 5). Nothing is 'final' while God continues to more fully reveal His character to us.

Read the Bible passages for yourself and prayerfully consider what they say about scriptural authority.

BTW, the 'further study' reading, pp. 15-23 Selected Messages, Book I, is excellent.  I have included an excerpt below (which I find personally challenging).
"But the oracles of God have been so manifestly neglected that there are but few in our world, even of those who profess to explain it to others, who have the divine knowledge of the scriptures. There are learned men who have a college education, but these shepherds do not feed the flock of God. They do not consider that the excellencies of the Scriptures will be continually unfolding their hidden treasures as precious jewels are discovered by digging for them."

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Voice From Heaven

I just completed an interesting online questionnaire. It is meant to categorize a person's Christian beliefs on the basis of their responses to a series of questions. It then quantifies and graphs various dimensions of your Christian belief. I'm not sure how scientific it is, but it is quite a bit of fun to compare assessments with others.

Have a go at it, and consider sharing your assessment with others who have done it.

I am categorized as an Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. Apparently that means that I share John Wesley's belief that the doctrine of predestination is blasphemous, representing "God as worse than the devil". I am also apparently not a Roman Catholic and score poorly in the 'Liberal' and 'Fundamentalist' categories. It also says that I believe that I am saved by God's grace, even though I am "totally depraved". How did it know that!? : )

So, what has a non-scientific questionnaire got to do with this study? As we begin this study of the Bible's role in our lives, it is interesting to consider (and perhaps quantify) how we view the Bible as a revelation from God. I am apparently 21% fundamentalist. I'm surprised it isn't 0% fundamentalist, since I don't accept the idea of word-by-word inspiration of the Bible. I recognize the human dimension of inspiration inherent in the statement that
"Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2 Peter 1:21.

Spend some time considering where you sit on the fundamentalist spectrum. It will be interesting to compare our views of the Bible at the end of this quarter and consider how they might have changed as we study and share together.

"What is the Bible, and how does it come to be?" The clearest, rational and most Biblical answer to that question that I am aware of is in the Introduction section to a book called Great Controversy that many of us are familiar with. I'd suggest reading that brief section as quite a good start to this study, if not for the quarter. You can find it at the following address: