It’s always wise to start a Bible study by asking the person where they are at, what is motivating them, what they want to learn, what their spiritual background is, etc. Before we started part 1 of this Bible study, this friend said, “I’m pretty sure I would fall in love with Jesus if I read through the gospels, but I want to make sure that I’m not just falling in love with a character, the way one starts to love Harry Potter.” I was thrilled to have found someone else so concerned about the truth of the gospels! So instead of proceeding with the “Kingdom of God” theme, I decided that Week 2 should cover the evidence for the authenticity of the Scripture. I think this Bible study is probably one of the best ways to explain why we can trust the scriptures, because it doesn’t depend on the authority of scripture to prove scripture. (i.e. it’s not just a bald appeal to 1 Tim 3:16) It simply asks us to look at whether the authors seem trustworthy. For this study, I wrote down questions to ask before looking at the texts. They worked extraordinarily well, as the answers I got were the ones that I expected and dovetailed perfectly with the purpose of the scriptures I selected. I consistently remarked that none of these verses definitely prove that the Bible is telling the truth, but they are markers of authenticity.
Should we approach the Bible as innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent? Should we demand that their truth be proven or should we accept them to be true until it can be proven otherwise?
What do the authors of the gospels claim to be presenting? [After all, one would rarely say that a criminal is innocent if he has pleaded guilty.]
The authors of the gospels claim to be eyewitnesses or to be writing the reports of eyewitnesses.
- Luke 1:1-4
- John 21:24-25
- Acts 1:1-5
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
- 2 Peter 1:16-20
If you are starting a religion, how do you want to portray your leaders?
[For example, the Peter figure in Islam is Abu Bakr, who is one of the first to declare that Mohammed is a prophet of god. “Abu Bakr is the bravest of men,” “for the likes of Abu Bakr, there are no scales,” “if the iman (faith) of the entire humanity was placed on one end of the scale and just the iman of Abu Bakr on the other, the iman of Abu Bakr would weigh more heavily than the entirety of humanity,” “the most lofty of them in ability and highest in honor was Abu Bakr… the sun neither rose nor set above anyone else – after the Prophets beter than Abu Bakr.”]
Church leaders in Christianity are consistently portrayed in a negative light.
- Matthew 16:17-20 (Peter is deemed “the rock” of the church)
- Matthew 16:21-23 (Peter is told, “Get behind me, Satan”)
- Matthew 26:30-35 (Peter is told he will deny Jesus three times.)
- Matthew 26:36-56 (The disciples can’t stay awake, Peter lobs off the ear of a servant and Jesus heals it, demonstrating Peter’s foolishness, Peter flees with the disciples)
- Matthew 26:69-75 (Peter denies Jesus three times)
If you are having a big debate after the death of your leader, what’s the easiest way to resolve the dispute? [To put the answer in the mouth of your leader!]
Jesus is silent on the biggest church debate over circumcision.
- Acts 15:1-21
If you want to make up a religion, what would you want to gain from it? [Fame? Fortune? Women? Power? For example, Brigham Young, the leader of Mormonism after the death of founder Joseph Smith was elected president of a large group of “Latter-Day Saints,” lead 70,000 people, became governor of Utah for a time, was polygamous and could choose any wives for himself that he wanted, died with $102,000 in property and $1,000,000 in land – which was an incredible amount of wealth at the time.]
Jesus’ disciples have nothing to gain by lying.
- Luke 9:23-24 (They are told they’ll have to take up their cross.)
- Acts 9:23-25 (Paul’s life is threatened)
- Acts 14:19-20 (Paul is stoned)
- Acts 16:16-24 (Paul frees a slave girl from a demon and is imprisoned)
- Acts 27:41-44 (Paul is shipwrecked)
- Acts 28:16, 30-31 (Paul freely goes to Rome where he is put under house arrest)
- Most of the disciples die martyr’s deaths, and Paul works as a tentmaker to avoid taking money from the churches to support himself.
All of this goes to show that the disciples are reliable authors, with little incentive to lie and a clear intent to tell the truth. They claim to be eyewitnesses, reporting the facts. And if their tales are authentic and true, well, we have to seriously contend with the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus Chris for our own lives.