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22. The truth of the Bible

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God's word written down and published.

I believe that whatever the Bible asserts to be true is true. Sometimes things are figuratively or poetically true, rather than literally true. For example Psalm 91:4 says of God: “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” The usual meaning of ‘God having feathers’ is not meant. God does not have ‘a flat, light, waterproof outer layer of plumage’ like the delicate and colourful feathers of the birds we see around us! God is Spirit (see chapter 7). The writer of this Psalm is simply using birds’ feathers as a picture of the protection God gives to His people.Just like a bird is kept cool, dry and able to fly by its amazingly and deliberately designed feathers, so God can always be trusted to look after us in our circumstances. The Psalmist is using picture language to describe a truth. So, I do not believe everything in the Bible is one hundred per cent literally true. But I do believe that the Bible never teaches anything that is not a true fact. The Bible does not lie, it always tells the truth. As in everyday English language, there is approximation in the Bible. If you were to knock at my gate I may call out to you, ‘Wait a minute please, I’m talking on the phone’. I do not mean that in exactly sixty seconds I will open the gate! You will have to wait, and the ‘minute’ is a fairly good guess at how long. It is true that I will come in a short time, rather than in a long time. Similarly, when Jesus fed a large crowd with specifically five loaves of bread and two fish, it was ‘about five thousand men, besides women and children’ who enjoyed their lunch (Matthew 14:13-21). I speak the truth when I announce that I am going to preach on ‘the feeding of the five thousand’. The number is understood to be approximate.

The Bible quotes freely, and not exactly, from itself. Old Testament verses are quoted in the New Testament, not word for word exactly the same, but still conveying the same meaning and still being true to the original context. (In the NIV, for example, see Exodus 20:13 /Deuteronomy 5:17 and Matthew5:21, which have one difference between them; or see Psalm 16:8-11and Acts 2:25-28, which have four differences). You may be waiting at your church for the visiting preacher to arrive. You have personally arranged for him to come. As time passes people ask you where he is. You reply to them: “I don’t know where he is. He said he would come”. You have told your people the truth, although you did not use the visiting preacher’s actual words to you, which were: “I will see you at Fittihab church to preach this Sunday at 5pm”. The truth is passed on, but in different words.

The Bible is God speaking in a way He does not do anywhere else. God speaks words that express His will and encourage His will to be done. It is the accurate and complete word of God. The person with the Spirit of God living in their hearts and lives will understand these ‘spiritual truths’ (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). No other words have the same authority. Jesus Christ accepted the eternal truth and value of the Scriptures (Matthew 5:18; John 5:39,40; John 17:7 and 18). He frequently quoted from the Old Testament and never once questioned its authority (Matthew 4:4,7,10; Matthew 12:40,41; Matthew 13:14,15). Someone has discovered that Jesus quoted from 22 out of 39 Old Testament books. In Matthew there are 19 Old Testament quotations, in Mark 15, in Luke 25, in John 11, in Hebrews 85 (quotations and allusions), and in Revelation 245! Jesus accepted the Old Testament as a body of objective truth and so did His early followers. He applied it to life as it was being lived when and wherever he was. Christian disciples today are followers of Jesus Christ, so our attitude towards the Bible should be the same as His. He knew it in His mind and heart. He placed His life’s situations alongsideScripture and decided what should be done by letting God’s Word be the guide. He was committed to the total trustworthiness of Scripture.

The debate about ‘inerrancy and the Bible’ in America, (or ‘infallibility and the Bible ’in England), has caused much thinking. In my English dictionary, inerrancy is defined as a less common word for infallibility! They are interchangeable terms. Because the Bible is God’s word, it must be totally true, as God Himself is true (see chapter 20). If the Bible only contains the word of God, and is not itself completely the word of God, then someone will have to decide which parts of it are the word of God and which parts are not. That person is almost sitting in judgement on God Himself. We are not police detectives investigating the word of God. We are disciples proving the word of God to be true in our daily lives. I am willing to trust God and to believe that the entire Bible is God’s word and it is therefore free of imperfections or mistakes (Psalm12:6; Proverbs 30:5; 2 Timothy 3:16). We do not have any of the original Bible manuscripts for which inerrancy is claimed. There were thousands of copies made over the centuries, some of whole sections, others just small parts.To have so many copies must mean there were originals to begin with. In the making of these copies, we know that some unimportant errors may have crept into the texts. People do make mistakes. But the essential message of the original Bible is still clear. God can be trusted to have given us the truth in words He wants us to have.

Thinking it through. (a). ‘Every word in the Bible is literally true’. Is this statement true or false? Explain your answer.

(b). List five or more things that Jesus did with the Old Testament.

(c). “Truth is truth. It means what it says”. Think of some things that you say, or others say to you, that make you want to challenge this statement. (For example: ‘I died from embarrassment’).


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