The Bible: Ridiculous or Believable?

2 Peter 1:21

21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Dear Friends in Christ,

While I was working on this sermon I discovered something that I didn’t know before and I suspect that most of you didn’t know either.  I was doing a little research on what are commonly called the 7 wonders of the world, and as I did so, I learned that there are actually a number of 7 wonders of the world.  For example, there were the original ones that included the pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and something called the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, built around 351 B.C.  But then I also learned that there were the 7 wonders of the Middle Ages, which included the Coliseum at Rome, the Great Wall of China, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Ruins of Stonehenge, to name a few.  There are also the 7 wonders of the new world.  These include Niagara Falls, Yellowstone National Park, and the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  Somewhat similar to those are the 7 natural wonders of the world which consist of the Grand Canyon, Mt. Everest, Meteor Crater, and the Great Barrier Reef, among others.  And then finally there are the 7 wonders of the modern world which include such marvels of architecture as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, and the Empire State Building.

Well, currently we are taking a look at what I am calling the 7 wonders of the Word.  This study is designed to bolster our confidence in Scripture and to help us see and understand why we can believe the Bible, why we can accept it as absolute truth.  In my last sermon 2 weeks ago we looked at the 1st 2 of these wonders, namely, the resurrection of Christ and the endorsement of Christ.  Put simply, we stated that if the tomb of Christ is empty, then the Scriptures are not.  And if the risen, living, and all-knowing Son of God endorsed the Bible and believed it, as we learned in that sermon he most certainly did, then surely we can do the same.

Today we want to continue our study by beginning with the 3rd wonder of the Word, which I will call the vision of Scripture.  What would you think if we came across a book written in 1900 that forecast in amazing detail the tragic events that took place in our country on Sept. 11, 2001, mentioning by name the World Trade Center, even though it had not yet been built; the Pentagon; the flight numbers of the airplanes that crashed; and the number of people who would be on board those planes?  And what would you think if that book also contained prophecies about other events that would transpire during the ensuing century, including 2 world wars, something called Watergate, man walking on the moon, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the impeachment of a president named Clinton, and the birth of a beautiful blond-headed baby boy in St. Charles, MO in 1955 who would one day be the pastor of a Lutheran church in Salem, IL?

Would we not be astounded at someone’s capacity and ability to predict such things?  Or suppose those predictions were made much earlier than 100 years ago.  What if they were done 700 or a thousand years ago?  And suppose that the number of fulfilled prophecies was much higher than the 5 or 6 I’ve just mentioned.  What if that number was 2000 or more?  Would we not simply stand in awe not just of the book, but especially of the one who authored it?

Well, such things can be said about the Bible.  Now we don’t have time this morning to delve into the more than 2000 prophecies that the Bible contains, but I do want to deal with some very specific ones.  Did you know that in the Old Testament there are more than 330 prophecies foretelling all kinds of things about the life and ministry, the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus?  29 of those were fulfilled in one day – the day of his crucifixion.  And please understand, these are not merely vague generalities about Jesus’ life, but very specific and detailed in nature.

For example, the fact that he would come from the line of David, that he would be born in Bethlehem, that he would be known as Immanuel which means “God with us,” that he would be betrayed by one of his closest companions for 30 pieces of silver, that he would be forsaken by his disciples, that he would be silent before his accusers, that his hands and feet would be pierced, and he would be buried in a rich man’s grave.  On and on these prophecies go, foretelling in graphic and incredible detail the events of Christ’s life, and especially his Passion.

Now what do you think the odds are of something like that happening, of all these predictions being fulfilled in the life of one person?  Well, that was exactly the question raised and tackled by author Peter Stoner in his book, Science Speaks.  He applied the science of probability to prophecy, and he began researching what the odds would be not of 330+ prophecies being fulfilled in one man, but to get it down to a more manageable number he chose the number 8.  And you know what he came up with?  1 in 10 to the 17th power.  That’s the number 1 followed by 17 zeroes.

Now I don’t know about you, my friends, but I find that to be mind-bogglingly impressive, as did one of my favorite Christian authors whose name is Lee Strobel.  At one time in his life, however, he was not a Christian. He was an award-winning legal affairs journalist for the Chicago Tribune who was also an avowed atheist and who set out to write a book that would disprove the Bible.  His research led him to the book by Peter Stoner that I referred to a few moments ago.  And this is what Lee Strobel eventually concluded.  He writes:

   To try to comprehend the enormous number (1 times 10 to the 17th power which, remember, is the odds for 8 prophecies being fulfilled in one man), I imagined the entire world covered with white tiles that were 1½ inches square on every bit of dry land on the planet with just the bottom of one tile painted red.  Then I pictured a person being allowed to wander for a lifetime around all 7 continents.  He would be permitted to bend down only one time and pick up one single piece of tile.  What are the odds that it would be the one tile whose reverse side was painted red?  The odds would be the same as just 8 of the Old Testament prophecies coming true in any one person throughout history.

Lee Strobel was even more stunned at Peter Stoner’s calculation of 48 prophecies being fulfilled.  He said it would be like finding a single pre-determined atom among all the atoms in a trillion, trillion, trillion, billion universes the size of our universe.  Can you understand then why the Apostle Peter wrote what he did in our text for today:  “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Apparently Lee Strobel understood that.  Apparently he could see the hand of God so clearly in the writing of Scripture, especially the prophecies, that he gave up trying to disprove the Bible and is now one of the most ardent and passionate defenders of the Bible in our country today.

So the 3rd wonder of the Word is the incredible vision or prophecy of Scripture.  If you’re a skeptic of the Bible, you’ve got to answer that because that is something that is not found in any other book ever written, including any other “holy books” of other world religions.

Well, let’s move on to the 4th wonder of the Word and that is the endurance of the Bible.  Some say the Bible is like the wall that a Scottish farmer built around his property.  This wall was 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide.  When he was asked why he built the wall wider than higher, he said he did it so that if someone knocked it over, it would stand taller than it did before.

Well, that’s what has happened with the Bible.  It seems that every time the Bible gets pushed over by its opponents, it stands taller as a result.  I think, for example, of one staunch opponent of Scripture whose name was Diocletian.  He was the emperor of Rome.  He tried to topple the Bible in 303 A.D.  He ordered the confiscation and burning of all Bibles in the Roman Empire.  But 10 years after that declaration, Diocletian was dead and another emperor by the name of Constantine was on the throne and he proclaimed Christianity to be the official religion of the empire.

Or how about in the Middle Ages when a queen by the name of Bloody Mary ordered that anyone possessing a Bible be burned at the stake?”  Five years after her proclamation, she was dead and Queen Elizabeth I took over her throne and ordered that no less than 130 editions of the Bible be published, which was a significant number and a costly undertaking for that time.

Listen, my friends.  History is replete with examples of those who sought to topple the Scriptures, only to have the Scriptures stand taller than ever before.  Listen to this quote from Bernard Ramm, a renowned Bible scholar.  He says:  “A thousand times over the death knell of the Bible has been sounded; the funeral procession formed; the inscription cut on the tombstone; and the committal read.  But somehow the corpse never stays put.”  I suppose that really shouldn’t surprise us because wasn’t that the promise the Holy Spirit gave us through Peter in his 1st epistle when he said that the Word of the Lord stands forever?

All of which takes us to the 5th wonder of the Word, which is the accuracy of the Bible.  And we’re going to look at this from 2 different angles.  First, its textual accuracy and then its historical accuracy.

The fact that there are no surviving original manuscripts of any of the books of the Bible has led many skeptics to doubt the Bible.  They say that since all we have are copies of the originals, how can we know for certain that those copies contain what the original authors actually wrote?   The answer can be found in the extraordinary number of copies we have dating back very close to the originals.  5654 copies of the Greek New Testament alone are currently in existence.  And the reason this is so important is because this mountain of textual evidence has allowed Bible scholars over the years to check and re-check and cross-check biblical references, especially where any discrepancies occur, so that we can have as accurate and reliable a Bible as possible.

If you were to compare the abundance of New Testament manuscripts with the scarcity of other classic works from the same era, you would quickly discover that there is no comparison.  For example, we have 10 existing copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars; 7 copies of Plato’s Tetrology; 643 copies of Homer’s Iliad; but over 5600 copies of the Greek New Testament.

Benjamin Warfield was a professor at Princeton University in the early part of the 20thcentury. He held 4 doctorate degrees and towered over just about anybody in this area of study.  In his book, A Textual Criticism of the New Testament, he says:  “If we compare the present state of the New Testament with any other ancient writings, we must declare it to be marvelously correct.  The New Testament is unrivaled among ancient writings in the purity of its text as actually transmitted and kept in use.”  When it comes to its textual accuracy, the Bible has been subjected to every test imaginable and has passed those tests with flying colors.  And I cannot emphasize enough how important that is, my friends, especially in relation to our eternal salvation.  For if the Bible is accurate, then that means it is accurate in its assessment of us when it declares us to be sinful human beings who are completely incapable of saving ourselves.  But it is also accurate in its description of God who loved us so much in spite of our sins that he sent his Son Jesus Christ into our world to be our Savior and the Savior of all who would put their faith and trust in him.

Well, our time is up for today so next week when we get together we’ll continue our look at the accuracy of Scripture by examining its historical accuracy and then we’ll finish up with the remaining 2 wonders of the Word, thus solidifying more than ever our belief and conviction that the Bible is absolutely credible, absolutely reliable, and absolutely trustworthy and true.