Recently I came across a book entitled, Is the Bible Reliable? and immediately asked myself, “Why does it matter to anyone if it is or isn’t?”
Then I reconsidered and recollected that there are some church people who care greatly about the Bible’s “reliability”. This is the group of people who have been persuaded that their immortal lives depend on whether or not they understand the Bible and respond properly to its teachings.
For example: In Romans 10 there’s a verse that reads like this:
“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
The thinking goes like this: The Bible says that a person will be “saved” [eventually made immortal] IF that person “confesses with his/her mouth the Lord Jesus” and “believes in his/her heart that God has raised [Jesus] from the dead.”
Continuing this train of thought, if the Bible IS “reliable” then all a person has to do to be “saved” is to follow the formula given in the above verse. If the Bible is not “reliable”, following the above formula may not necessarily result in one’s “salvation”. Thus, a person’s “salvation” would certainly hang on whether or not the Bible was “reliable”. [This kind of thinking is wrong, though…]
There’s a completely different (and “biblical”) way to respond to the question about the Bible’s “reliability”. And that is — “Who cares?”
If a person does not believe that his or her immortality depends on the “reliability” of the Bible, then the question becomes merely academic — something for professional theologians to argue about.
But, if not “the Bible”, on what does a person’s “immortality” actually depend?
A person’s immortality (or “salvation”) depends on God — not on a book called the “Bible”. A person’s immortality arises from a particular Relationship between that person and God — not from a person’s knowledge of the Bible or agreement with some church teaching, acceptance of dogma, or participation in rituals.
A huge misunderstanding has plagued church goers for centuries: church leaders have consistently taught that salvation comes from one’s belief in correct doctrine or teachings. For example: Such people might say that “you are a Christian” if you believe in Jesus’ being born of a virgin, that the Bible (Old & New Testaments) is God’s complete and perfect Revelation to humanity, Jesus’ death on the Cross cancelled out the “debt” of sins we “owe” to God, etc.
Typically, thinking goes that if these (or similar) teachings are not “accepted” or “believed” by a person, that person cannot “go to Heaven”. [BTW: “going to Heaven” is a very shaky teaching anyway — one not well supported by the Bible. Immortality, now that’s a different matter — one totally supported by biblical teaching and the witness of the Holy Spirit!]
The Bible itself — when read and interpreted accurately — never focuses people’s attention on itself; the Bible (like the Holy Spirit) turns people’s attention away from itself and toward the manifestation of God in human life.
In other words: What brings a person into immortality is not what they believe but Who they know!
The disciple John (the Beloved) wrote about this in his gospel, chapter 17:
“This is everlasting life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”
The word used originally (when John wrote it in Greek) was ginosko which literally translates into English as “knowing something by direct experience”. It does not mean to “know something” because you’ve been taught it or that you know it academically or logically or by rational thought. The word, ginosko, means knowing something by direct contact, direct observation, and direct experience. In other words: ginosko is a knowledge grounded on one’s personal experience of God and His Son, Jesus.
To a few people, this may sound flakey, but this kind of “saving faith” actually rests on only two “pillars” of thought: (1) God exists; and (2) He’s good and He’ll reward anyone with everlasting life who hungers and craves after Him. [Heb 11.5f]
This does away with the idea that “saving faith” comes from intellectually knowing the Bible because the “Bible” is not God the Father or God the Son. “Knowing experientially the Bible” will not lead a person into immortality. “Knowing experientially” God the Father and God the Son (Who are persons whom one can know personally — ginosko) leads any person into “everlasting life”.
Some church goers insist, though, “But no one can personally know God and Jesus Christ Whom the Father sent, without the Bible!”
But consider this: When Paul the apostle wrote, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved,” in his letter to the Roman Believers, the Bible (as we know it) did not exist. Sure, what we call the “Old Testament” existed, and the early followers of Jesus Christ had great confidence in the Hebrew Scripture’s effectiveness in helping bring Believers into greater levels of spiritual maturity. [For example: 2Timothy 3.16f], but “everlasting life” could not have come through the “Bible” when it didn’t even exist! It came (as it has always come, through one’s knowing God and having confidence in Him.
Still, even without the “Bible”, people by the thousands in that first century came to know God the Father and Jesus His Son (Whom He had sent) and entered into “everlasting life” — this “salvation” wasn’t based on the “Bible” but on the Relationship of knowing God personally (ginosko).
Now, back to our original question (in the title): “Is the Bible Reliable — Or Do We Care?”
Frankly, I could care less. My trust in God is not based on my having studied the Bible (which obviously I have) nor is it based on holding to someone’s idea of “correct doctrine” (which I probably don’t); my trust in God is based simply on my having met Him in my spirit and my having gotten to know Him in my daily life.
If Relationship is the “means” by which people become immortal (in Christ), then what is the purpose of the Bible? Should we disregard it or even discard it — especially after coming to know God personally and experientially?
Some people do, but it’s not wise. The value of the Bible is that in it is contained many stories and examples of how God has dealt with human beings in the past few thousand years. Any time a person (who knows God) opens up the Bible, it becomes essentially a “focus point” for a dialog with the Living Word (Jesus). I like to say that the written Word (Greek, logos) functions like a “window” through which a person and the Author of the Book can hold a conversation about spiritual things.
“Let’s see — it says here that Jesus told the Pharisees that you don’t cut a piece out of a brand new robe (its cloth unshrunk by washing) in order to patch an old, ripped robe because (after it gets washed) the new cloth patch will shrink and rip a new hole, leaving both the old and the new robe ruined. And then He says that when making up a batch of new wine, the winemaker doesn’t use last year’s wineskins (which are already stretched out to the max by the gassy process of fermentation), but puts new wine into new wineskins so that the fermentation won’t explode the old wineskins and ruin them as well as spilling the newly fermenting wine.
“Hmmmm… I don’t get it. Jesus?” [pauses inwardly] “What did You mean by this? I can’t figure it out…” [And suddenly, into his head pops the unexpected phrase, “I AM the New Wine…”] and then he says, “Ohhhh! You mean that You can’t be forced into old forms…!
“Old forms? Hmmmm… ‘Old forms’… Yeah! The ‘old robe’ and the ‘old wineskin’ are the old religions! Old, religious Judaism! And Jesus is saying that the Pharisees can’t somehow just take ‘Jesus’ and make Him ‘fit’ into their religion!!! I get it!!! I get it!!!”
That example? It really happened. My dad was studying the parable of the wineskins; he didn’t understand what the point was, thought about it for a week (until the next week’s Sunday School he was visiting), and before others came into the classroom, finally asked Jesus directly what He meant by this confusing parable.
And Jesus said, “I’m the New Wine,” and that’s all it took for meaning and significance to explode into full color in Dad’s mind. The Bible is not “Truth”; JESUS is Truth, and the Bible is one means of leading people to dialog with God and discuss what was written by “prophets of old, who wrote as they were moved by the Spirit.” [2Peter 1.20f]
Communion with God; conversation and dialog — these are all fruit of a person knowing God and His Son, Jesus Christ… experientially; personally.
Since we can all “know” the Living Word of God — Who is a Person named “Jesus” — that’s why I’m not the least concerned about whether the Bible is “reliable” or not.
Simply put: Why worry if the written word is “reliable” when I know for certain that the Living Word [Christ] is totally and perfectly reliable?