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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to look at external evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time we finished examining evidence to corroborate the Genesis account of creation and you made the important point, Dr. Spencer, that the Bible is not the result of an evolutionary development of religion, starting with myths to explain nature and ending in a monotheistic religion.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And, in fact, people often go further than that picture with regard to Christianity in particular. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that the God of the New Testament is a kindler gentler version of the wrathful God of the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, I have heard that.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, their point is that the evolution of religion continued and God, as a result got nicer. But, this view is completely wrong for at least two major reasons. First, as you just reminded us, we saw last time that the Bible, and more particularly, the Old Testament is not the result of an evolutionary process that begin with primitive myths and moved on to the monotheism of the Bible. And, secondly, the God presented in the Bible is absolutely the same throughout; he did not change. So, this view that the God of the New Testament is a kinder, gentler more evolved version of the God of the Old Testament is nonsense if you actually read the Bible carefully.

We will see later in our series of podcasts that, in addition to speaking of God’s just wrath, the Old Testament is gracious from beginning to end. And, we will see, that in addition to speaking of God’s grace, the New Testament speaks of his just wrath continuously. So, such a view is simply not consistent with the facts.

Marc Roby: Very well. So, we have concluded our brief look at the Genesis account of creation, and we presented some extra-biblical evidence for the flood and the Table of Nations. Is it safe to assume that we are now going to move on to the next major section of Genesis?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are ready to move on. Remember that we are discussing the major divisions in Genesis as determined by the Hebrew phrase “These are the generations …”, which our listeners may remember was introduced last session and comes from the Old Testament Scholar E.J. Young’s book Thy Word is Truth.[1]

Our previous discussion actually covered several of the headings, although I didn’t say that at the time, so the next heading we come to now is in Genesis 11:27, where we read “This is the account of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot.”[2] Now I suspect most of our listeners recognize the names Abram and Lot, although some may wonder why it says Abram and not Abraham.

Marc Roby: Of course, the name Abraham is the name that God gave to Abram when he established the covenant of circumcision with him as we read in Genesis Chapter 17.

Dr. Spencer: Right. This is the place in the Bible where God first calls out a special group of people, who will later become the nation of Israel. The name Abram means exalted father and the name Abraham means father of a multitude, so the name change is a reminder of God’s promise to him, that his descendants will be like the stars in the night sky or the sand on the seashore (Gen 22:17).

Marc Roby: Alright. So, returning to the account of Terah that begins in Genesis 11:27, we have the biblical history of what are usually called the patriarchs, simply meaning the fathers of the faith. So, what external evidence do we have to corroborate this account?

Dr. Spencer: There is one possible extra-biblical reference to Abraham in the topographical list of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq I, which many believe refers to “The Enclosure of Abram”.[3] But, that is not agreed upon by all and we have no other direct evidence in the form of inscriptions or artifacts that can be clearly traced to individuals noted in the accounts of the Patriarchs, nor should we expect any from events so long ago.

Nevertheless, we have a great deal of important indirect evidence as we already briefly mentioned in Session 7. There we mentioned that the price of a slave listed in Genesis 37:28, for example, is consistent with the price known at that time from the code of Hammurabi. We also noted that in Genesis Chapters 21 and 26, we read about Abraham and his Son Isaac both making separate treaties with Abimelech, and the forms of these treaties agree with the form for early 2nd millennium B.C. treaties known from extra-biblical sources. This evidence may not sound astounding at first blush, but I encourage the interested listener to consult the excellent book I’ve mentioned before, by Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament.[4] We have several extrabiblical documents from that period and both the process of enactment and the form of these treaties is consistent with the extra-biblical examples, and they are not consistent with examples from other periods of history. I must also emphasize yet again that because archaeology is a relatively new science, and people in the ancient world did not have access to historical documents like we do now, this information simply would not have been available to someone trying to write this history significantly after Abraham’s time. So, there would not have been any way for a later writer to get such details right.

Marc Roby: It is amazing to see that we have so much information available now about human history from 4,000 years ago. What other evidence do you want to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Well, for one thing, the general social, geographic and political histories presented all fit the period and place too well to have been concocted by some later author. For example, the types of arranged marriage, the travel routes and times and so on all match.

One particularly interesting example mentioned by Kitchen has to do with the eastern alliance of Kings who attacked Sodom and Gomorrah and three other small kingdoms, defeated them, and carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his family. We read about this in Genesis 14. Kitchen points out that the names for the eastern Kings are all known names for the regions they ruled and also, very interestingly, this was the only period in history when an alliance of kings like this could have existed in that region. Not only that, but this is the only period in history in which peoples in that eastern region got involved with the politics of Mesopotamia. Kitchen concludes, “in terms of geopolitics, the eastern alliance in Gen. 14 must be interpreted seriously as an archaic memory preserved in the existing book of Genesis.”[5]

Marc Roby: Very interesting. While we are dealing with this account in Genesis 14, let me ask you a question. We are told, in verse 14 of that chapter, that Abraham pursued these eastern kings “as far as Dan”, which some people have pointed out is an anachronism since the name of the town was Laish at the time of Abraham, and wasn’t renamed Dan until the time of the Judges, hundreds of years later. Do you think that is a problem?

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. Clearly Abraham himself didn’t write anything with the name Dan, nor did Moses since the name was changed after his time. But a later copyist could easily, and reasonably, have changed the name to make it understandable to readers at a later date. We do the same sort of thing now. For example, if you were writing a story about the Apollo 1 fire on the launchpad, no one would accuse you of being anachronistic if you said that the launch pad was at Cape Canaveral, even though the Apollo 1 fire occurred during the ten-year period when Cape Canaveral was known as Cape Kennedy. Or, as another example, I’ve heard people refer to movies made by President Reagan, but he was most definitely not president when he made movies.

Marc Roby: I see your point, it does look like a non-issue.

Dr. Spencer: As are most of the so-called errors in the Bible. As just one more example to bring up here – since it also comes from the Book of Genesis, some people have also accused Genesis of being anachronistic because it refers to Philistines in Genesis 21 & 26, even though the name Philistines was not used until hundreds of years later. But, this is again the case of a later copyist changing the reference to fit then-current usage. I think Kitchen gives a great modern example here. He notes that “we would say ‘the Dutch founded New York’ although they did so as New Amsterdam, the present name replacing the former under their British successors.”[6] We may get into more of these supposed errors in the Bible in later podcasts.

Marc Roby: OK, that gives us something to look forward to. What else do we have in the way of evidence to corroborate the patriarchal times?

Dr. Spencer: Well, since you’ve mentioned this reference to Dan, or Laish, it might be good to point out that Laish was clearly a prominent town at the time of Abraham. The archaeological evidence from there is extensive and includes a well-preserved arched gate into the city that is sometimes called Abraham’s gate, although it may not be quite old enough to have been there at the time of Abraham.

Marc Roby: Very well, what else do you want to mention from this period?

Dr. Spencer: Well, returning to the social customs, it is interesting to note that the story of Abraham and his heirs fits into this historical period quite nicely, even though such social norms have changed through time. Before Abraham had any children, for example, we read in Genesis 15:2 that he complained to God, saying “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” In other words, he was intending to adopt this member of his household and make him his heir, which was a common practice in that time and place.

Then, further, when Sarah remained childless, she gave her maidservant Hagar to Abraham in order to produce an heir. This practice was also common at the time. Finally, when Sarah herself had Isaac thirteen years later, the Code of Hammurabi did not give her the right to send Hagar and her child away,[7] which explains, in part, Abraham’s reluctance to do so. He only did so when God told him it would be alright and he would make Ishmael into a nation as well (Gen 21:12-13).

Marc Roby: I’m amazed that we can say so much, even in terms of indirect evidence, for the life of someone who lived roughly 4,000 years ago.

Dr. Spencer: I share your amazement. And, we have to remember that most, if not all, of this information was not available to somone who live anywhere from a few hundred years after Abraham all the way up to about 150 or 200 years ago.

Marc Roby: That is astounding, and certainly puts the lie to the idea that the biblical accounts were created much later. How about Abraham’s descendants, do we have any more evidence for Isaac and his sons, Esau and Jacob?

Dr. Spencer: We already mentioned in Session 7 that the price paid for Joseph, when his brothers sold him into slavery in Genesis 37, is accurate for that time. In addition, we have more evidence of the same sort that we’ve gone over for Abraham in the sense that the travels, marriages, names of towns and people and so on are all historically accurate as far as we know.

Marc Roby: Alright, what about the use of camels? I’ve heard some claim that the use of camels, as described in the patriarchal narratives, is anachronistic. How do you respond to that?

Dr. Spencer: I’ve heard the same thing, but I would respond that they are simply in error. First of all, the biblical accounts of the patriarchs mention camels, but not as a common means of travel. Second, we do have evidence that camels were in use at this time. Kitchen lists a number of pieces of evidence.[8] For example, some bones from excavations for that time, a figurine of a kneeling camel from that time period, a cylinder seal from this time period with a picture of deities on a camel, mentions of camels in a Sumerian lexical work of the period, a figure of a kneeling camel loaded with jars and so on. His conclusion is worth quoting. He wrote that “the examples just given should suffice to indicate the true situation: the camel was for long a marginal beast in most of the historic ancient Near East (including Egypt), but it was not wholly unknown or anachronistic before or during 2000-1100. And there the matter should, on the tangible evidence, rest.”

Marc Roby: Do you have anything that you want to add about this period?

Dr. Spencer: We could say more, but I think we’ve said enough. The point is clear that even though we do not have a great deal of direct evidence for the Genesis history, we do have some direct evidence and a great deal of indirect evidence.

I find the indirect evidence conclusive that the Genesis account had to have been written at the time of the events. It is inconceivable that anyone writing at a much later time could have gotten all these details right. So, at a bare minimum, what we have, as I claimed back in Session 7, is significant evidence that the Bible itself is the best archaeological treasure we have. We can learn a great deal about the people of the ancient Near East. But, far more importantly, we see that it is a reliable document and should be listened to when it tells us about the God who created the heavens and the earth and before whom we will all, one day, have to give an account. The silly notions about the Bible being the end of some evolution process of human-contrived religion is simply nonsense that should not be accepted by anybody.

Marc Roby: I think that wraps up our time for today.

 

[1] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957, reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 121

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, see pg 313

[4] Ibid, pp 323-324

[5] Ibid, pg. 321

[6] Ibid, pg. 340

[7] The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1976, Vol. 1, pg. 24

[8] Op. cit., pp 338-339

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to look at external evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time we discussed a few different views of the creation days in Genesis 1.

Dr. Spencer: before we move on to the next topic, I would like to ask a couple of final questions having to do with the Bible’s account of creation: first, what do you think of the view commonly called theistic evolution?

Dr. Spencer: Well, to be completely honest, I don’t think much of it. First, as I understand it, it assumes evolution to be basically true and simply says that God guided it in some way, or that he created the natural world in such a way that natural processes had the power necessary to produce life. But, I don’t think it is at all possible that natural processes can explain the origin of life, as we discussed at some length in Session 1. Living beings are simply not produced from non-living chemicals without the introduction of a vast amount of information, which requires intelligence. I also don’t think the evidence is there to support evolution as a plausible explanation for the diversity of life, although, as I said in Session 1, I do think that biological organisms are able to adapt, which is often called micro evolution.

Marc Roby: But you do believe that God used natural processes, starting with the Big Bang, to produce our sun and our planet, so why couldn’t natural processes also have produced living creatures?

Dr. Spencer: For two reasons. First, because, as I just said and argued at length in Session 1, life is different! It is not just quantitatively more complex than inanimate objects, even objects as complex as entire solar systems. No, it is qualitatively different, in other words, there is a radical, fundamental difference between nonliving and living things. Life is not simply the result of having the necessary chemicals around and then allowing the physical laws of the universe to operate on those materials for some length of time.

You will notice in Genesis 1 that most of the history of the universe, at least if the Big Bang theory is at all correct, is covered in the first verse; “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”[1]Then the account tells us, in verse 2, that “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” I think John Lennox, in his book Seven Days that Divide the World, was right when he wrote about this verse that, “reference to the Spirit of God hovering near earth could be understood as a dramatic indication that God’s special action is now going to begin. The aeons of waiting are over. The Creator is about to shape his world, to create life and fill the earth with it in preparation for God’s crowning final act, the making of man and woman in his image.”[2]

Marc Roby: I will certainly grant that there is a significant difference between the inanimate creation and life. But, you said you had two reasons why the creation of life is so different, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second reason has to do not just with life in general, but specifically with man. Theistic evolution has at least one very serious theological problem when it comes to man. The Bible is clear that Adam and Eve were special creations of God, they were not the result of a long process of evolution. It isn’t acceptable, theologically, to say that at some point God gave a spirit to some hominid that had evolved from lower animals. Such a view would require that the creation account for Eve would have to be taken as pure fiction, but the apostle Paul, for example, does not treat it as fiction in his argument in 1 Timothy 2:13. I think John Lennox does a good job of discussing theistic evolution in an appendix to the book I mentioned a moment ago.

Marc Roby: Alright, I have one more question before we leave the creation narratives of Genesis. What about the different order of presentation for the creation events in Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis? Some people claim that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 present, essentially, two different and incompatible accounts. What do you say to them?

Dr. Spencer: My answer to that is taken directly from the very fine Hebrew scholar E. J. Young and his book Thy Word is Truth.[3] He points out that the phrase in Genesis 2:4, which in the ESV begins “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth”, is a critical phrase. It occurs eleven times in the book of Genesis and always as a heading. Young proposes that it could be translated “These are the things generated …” and he says that “in these words, there is a clue to the fact that Genesis 2, instead of being a second account of creation, deals rather with the creation of man.” If you read that chapter with this thought in mind, it makes perfectly good sense.

Marc Roby: Can you flesh that thought out a bit for us?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. Genesis 2 is not giving a chronological listing of events, it is focused entirely on man as the creature God made to tend the garden, and it presents us with a picture of a benevolent God who gave man everything he could want or need. We are told in verse 9 that there were “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food”, so man’s physical needs and aesthetic desires were satisfied. We are also told there was the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, there was gold, there were precious stones, and there were rivers, man was giving everything he needed or could possibly want. Then, of course, we also read that man was given the job of naming the animals and, in the process, discovered that there was no suitable helper for him, so God created Eve. Now, when you look at the account this way, you see clearly that there is no conflict at all with the first chapter, there is a very different focus and purpose.

Marc Roby: Alright. You have provided very reasonable arguments regarding the Genesis account of creation. What about the rest of Genesis? Do we have external evidence to corroborate what the Bible tells us about the early history of man?

Dr. Spencer: There is a tremendous amount of evidence, but certainly not all of it is archaeological evidence. For one thing, the biblical account of the fall of Adam and Eve, as I mentioned in Session 8, must be considered factual by a true Christian. It is treated as factual in the Bible itself and is a very important part of Paul’s arguments in the book of Romans. And I think we can clearly see evidence of the fall in the present-day world and in world history. All are sinners. And I don’t mean to be at all trite in saying that, I mean it as a profound and depressing truth. And the history of the world, or the daily newspaper, give us ample evidence for the fact, as do our own hearts if we are at all honest. But, we must be careful to define sin biblically, as the answer to Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Sin is not the same thing as crime. Societies define what actions are crimes, but God is the only one with authority to define sin.

If the evolutionary view of man were true, we would be seen to be getting better all the time, but world history simply does not show that to be the case.

Marc Roby: I can completely agree with that assessment. Is there any other external corroboration for the biblical narrative between the time of creation and Abraham?

Dr. Spencer: I think so. Let me go back to the headings that E.J. Young notes, which begin with “These are the generations …” as we saw in Chapter 2 verse 4.

After discussing the creation of Adam and Eve and the fall, the Bible goes on to tell about Cain slaying his brother Abel, which is the first example of the terrible consequences of the fall. Then, in Genesis 5:1 we see the next of these headings, which in the 1984 NIV Bible we are using begins “This is the written account of Adam’s line”. That is followed by a listing of some of Adam’s descendants and a description of the increase in human sin, which culminated in the famous declaration in Genesis 6:5, that “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” This led to God’s deciding to wipe out almost all of mankind with a flood. And that account begins in Genesis 6:9 with the third of our headings, “This is the account of Noah”.

Marc Roby: And is there external evidence to support the flood narrative?

Dr. Spencer: There absolutely is. There was clearly a massive flood in the ancient world that we call the Near East. I’m not going to get into a discussion of whether that flood was truly global or local, I don’t consider that to be an extremely important point; it is much like the age of the earth, it can be a severe distraction and divide Christians unnecessarily. But, it is relatively clear that there was such a flood if for no other reason than it is a common theme in several ancient accounts, not just the Bible.

For example, in Kenneth Kitchen’s excellent book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament,[4] he cites three Mesopotamian “Primeval Protohistories”, as he calls them, from the early 2nd millennium before Christ; the Sumerian King List, the Atrahasis Epic, and the Eridu Genesis. Now I know a lot of people are familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh, so before we go on I’ll point out that it is not included in that list because it appears to have taken its flood account directly from the Atrahasis Epic.

Marc Roby: I assume that all three of these extra-biblical sources have a story of a massive flood?

Dr. Spencer: Yes they do. And all three accounts share certain key features with the biblical account. In all three accounts the flood is sent as divine punishment, one man is told to build an ark and then he and some group of people, in the biblical accounts his family, and a number of animals survive. But, the differences in these accounts are, as Kitchens explains, “so numerous as to preclude either the Mesopotamian or Genesis accounts having been copied directly from the other.”

I’ll let our listeners consult his book for details, but I think there are three points of particular interest to take note of: First, that the Sumerians and Babylonians treated their accounts as historical; for example, they had historical lists of kings before and after the flood.  Second, floods in that part of the world were quite common, so this was obviously not just another flood, it was something quite extraordinary, one could say of biblical proportions I guess. And, third, even though these other accounts include their gods and other mythological features, that does not in any way mean that they aren’t based on a true historical event, nor does it imply that the Bible’s supernatural explanations for the event are wrong.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else of importance that we should know about the Mesopotamian  flood accounts?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. I think they are illustrative of the fact that the Bible is clearly distinct from all types of mythology. In the Mesopotamian versions the gods are angry with man for being too noisy, which is rather silly. Whereas, in the Bible, God’s anger is because of the wickedness of man.

Secondly, in the Mesopotamian versions most of the gods hide what they are going to do from man, but one man was secretly told by a friendly god, about what was happening. And the other gods were then angry that some people survived the flood as a result of this warning. This is the kind of petty fighting between gods that is common in mythology; the intent of all but one of them was, evidently, to wipe mankind out, but they didn’t succeed.

Whereas, the true and living God who has revealed himself in the Bible had a clear purpose in bringing the flood. He then communicated clearly to Noah what that purpose was and what Noah was to do. And no one can thwart God’s plans; he accomplishes what he desires.

Thirdly, the Mesopotamian versions describe a ship that is completely unrealistic and unseaworthy; it is shaped like a giant cube! Hardly a believable account. Whereas, in the biblical account, the ship has perfectly believable and functional proportions.

Marc Roby: Those are pretty significant differences. Of course, you and I both grew up being taught that religion started out as primitive man coming up with explanations for the lightning and thunder and so on – things that scared him, and then – or so that story goes – religion evolved with man and became more and more sophisticated. Eventually culminating in the development of monotheism.

Dr. Spencer: That is the picture we were given, and not just us. I think that is still the picture many people have in their heads. There may be some truth to the fact that myths were made up by men to deal with things that scared them, and I’ve always personally thought that the Greek and Nordic mythologies, along with Native American mythologies and so on must have developed as a combination of these kinds of explanations and just plain old-fashioned story telling. But, Christianity is in no way the end result of some kind of evolutionary development of religion beginning with myths.

First of all, the Bible and mythology stand side-by-side historically. Greek mythology is thought to have developed from stories beginning sometime around 2000 BC, which is right about the time of Abraham and probably well before the time of development of Nordic or Native American myths. Secondly, God is never presented in the Bible as merely an explanation for natural phenomena like lightning. Rather, he is presented as the Sovereign Creator of everything and the Genesis account is, in many ways, a polemic against the mythologies that were around at that time.

I think that the theologian and mathematician Vern Poythress put it well in his book Redeeming Science.[5] He discusses some of the ancient Near Eastern creation stories and compares them with Genesis and writes that “In contrast to the crass, immoral, quarreling gods of polytheism stands the majestic, ordered, unopposed work of the one true God. Instead of creating man to serve the needs of complaining gods, God creates man out of his sheer bounty, blessing him and caring for him. Disorder and suffering come from the human fall and apostasy, not from the disorder of gods in conflict.”

Marc Roby: That does summarize the difference quite well. But, returning to extra-biblical evidence to corroborate the early chapters of Genesis, what else do we have?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the next one of our major headings occurs in Genesis 10:1, right after the account of the flood. It reads, “This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons”. This section of Scripture is sometimes called the Table of Nations.

Marc Roby: Do we have external evidence for these descendants?

Dr. Spencer: We do have external evidence that the names are legitimate names from that period and location, which in itself is very strong evidence that the document was written at that time. As we’ve noted before, someone writing a few hundred, or more than a thousand years later, as the biblical minimalists would claim, would simply not have been able to get these names right. I’ll let the interested listeners look in Kitchen’s book for the details.[6]

Marc Roby: This is all fascinating evidence for something so ancient. I look forward to getting into more of it next time, but we are out of time for today.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science, Zondervan, 2011, pg. 172

[3] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957, reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 121

[4] K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, see Chapter 9

[5] Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, Crossway Books, 2006, pg 72

[6] Kitchen op. cit. pp 430-438

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to look at external evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time, Dr. Spencer, you argued that the Genesis account of creation is not intended to be a scientific description of how the universe was created and also that it was not intended to tell us when the universe was created. You then briefly outlined what is important for a Christian to believe about the Genesis account of creation. So, I think we are now ready to discuss how the Genesis account of creation can possibly be consistent with our modern scientific understanding. How would you like to proceed?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to proceed by giving a sampling of different ideas that have been proposed for how to reconcile the apparent differences between what we know from Genesis and our current scientific understanding. It would take far too long to go into any of the proposals in great detail, and I don’t think it would be profitable for most of our listeners, but I will give some references for those who want to look into this topic in more detail.

What I hope to accomplish is simply to demonstrate that there are a number of possible ways in which our modern scientific understanding might be in complete harmony with the truth presented in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. So, if you are a believer, you should not in any way fear science, nor should you think that science is entirely wrong. And if you are an unbeliever, I hope to make you realize that you don’t have to abandon science or reason to believe the Bible, nor do you have to believe that Genesis is just a myth. The rest of the Bible treats Genesis as factual, and so should we.

Marc Roby: Fair enough. The controversy really centers on how we interpret the six days of creation; so, what about the days in Genesis 1? What do you think about them?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of different views about those days and I’m not certain which one is correct. I do, however, favor the idea that they are normal days, not long epochs or mere literary devices, but, I must emphasize that I would not be dogmatic on that point.

Also, even if they are indeed real days, that still does not by any means settle the question about how long the process of creation described in Genesis 1 took. I would like to briefly examine three possible ways to understand these days.

First, it has been suggested that these days could be normal 24-hour days that are markers at the end of long periods of time, so they are six normal days, but they are not consecutive. This suggestion can be found, for example, in the book Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth, by Robert Newman and Herman Eckelmann, Jr.[1], although there are others who hold the same view. The book is a bit old, but it still provides a reasonable summary of the scientific evidence pointing to the age of the Earth and then also a reasonable possible exegesis of Genesis 1.

If you read the Genesis account carefully, even in the English, you will note that it does not say that all of the creative activity took place on the day mentioned; rather, it lists the activities for a given period of time and then concludes by saying, “and there was evening, and there was morning, the first [2nd, or whatever] day”. [2] So, it is certainly possible that there were extended periods of creative activity separated by special days called out by God as markers.

Marc Roby: OK, you mentioned three views that you wanted to examine; what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second view I want to mention has to do with the point of view of the one writing the Genesis account. If you are going to try and read Genesis 1 in what I would describe as a woodenly literal way, then you have a problem to deal with. The sun and moon are not mentioned until the fourth day, and many take this to mean that that is when they were created. But, of course, we define a day by the rotation of the earth and the concomitant appearance of the sunrise and sunset, so how do you know the length of the so-called days that occurred prior to the fourth day?

Newman, and others, have proposed that the description of creation in Genesis 1 is from the perspective of an observer on the surface of earth, and have pointed out that the sun and moon would not have been visible to this observer at first because the atmosphere was originally opaque. The appearance of plants on earth however, which consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, helped to change the earth’s atmosphere so that it was no longer opaque. Therefore, after plants had been around a while, the sun, moon and stars would become visible to this earth-bound observer. And remember that plants are created on the third day, so the sequence is correct in saying that the sun, moon and stars would then become visible on the fourth day. If you don’t adopt something like Newman’s view, you have a problem determining the length of the first three days.

Marc Roby: Alright, what is the third view you want to mention?

Dr. Spencer: The third view I want to mention again has to do with the location of the observer through whose eyes, if you will, the creation account is described, and I must warn you and our listeners that this view is a bit difficult, but I will keep the description as brief as I can and then will also summarize the main point at the end to try and make it clear.

Marc Roby: Thanks for the warning – we all know to listen a bit more carefully for a while. So, what is this difficult view?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we tend to think of time as immutable, but this is not at all the case. One of the most shocking developments of 20th-century science was Einstein’s theory of relativity, which clearly shows that under some conditions the passage of time is different for different observers. And I don’t mean that their subjective experience of time is different, their perception of time is actually the same. I literally mean that time is different for different observers under some conditions. This sounds very much like science fiction to most people, but it absolutely is not fiction. The theory of relativity has been experimentally verified time and time again and has been proven to be correct.

Now, there are really two theories of relativity, one dealing with observers moving at a constant velocity relative to each other, this is the special theory of relativity, and the other dealing with observers who are accelerating, or, equivalently, are in a gravitational field, this is called the general theory of relativity. In any event, the special theory shows us that if you are sitting stationary on the earth and I am moving past you at some constant velocity, you will observe my clock to be running slow compared to your clock. And this has been confirmed experimentally many times. The difference is extremely small at normal speeds, but at speeds approaching the speed of light, the difference can become quite large. The general theory of relativity says that clocks also run slower when they are accelerating, or equivalently, when they are in a gravitational field.

Marc Roby: Alright, that is very troubling. Does this mean that the movie Back to the Future might describe something that is actually possible?

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. Time travel, in the sense that science fiction presents it, is not possible. What is possible, is for two different people to age at different rates.

Marc Roby: I’m glad I don’t need to worry about anyone going back and changing the past. But, can you give us any common examples where these theories make a difference?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, let me give you one concrete example with which everyone is familiar and where relativity matters a great deal. That example is the GPS system most of use for navigation. The operation of that system depends critically on being able to accurately measure time. But, the GPS satellites are in orbit around the earth and so are moving very rapidly relative to us on the ground, which causes their clocks to run slower than ours in accordance with special relativity. In addition, the satellites are in a smaller gravitational field than we are here on the surface of the earth, which means that we observe their clocks running faster than ours in accordance with general relativity. It turns out that the gravitational effect is the larger of the two, so overall, we observe the clocks in the satellites running faster than ours do, but both effects must be taken into account, or the GPS system will not work properly. And the error that would occur if we didn’t take these effects into account is not small, one estimate I found[3] said that the errors would accumulate at the rate of 10 km per day if relativity were ignored!

Marc Roby: Wow, that is a huge error. But, I think it’s time to slow down a bit now because a lot of people might be confused at this point. How is this relevant to our understanding of Genesis 1?

Dr. Spencer: Alright, this is the most important point certainly. It’s relevant because of the fact that time progresses at different rates for different observers. And, when you are talking about extremely large gravitational fields and high velocities, as would have been present everywhere in the early universe, the difference can be massive. So, where you place the observer in Genesis One can make a huge difference in the length of what is called a day. My basic point here is simply that time is not the absolute, immutable thing we think it is. So, when it comes to saying how long it took to create the universe, you have to know where the observer is. This particular view is explored in an interesting book by Gerald Schroeder called Genesis and the Big Bang Theory.[4]

Marc Roby: That reminds me of what you said last time about God not experiencing time the same way we do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although there are actually two different points, both of which may come into play. One is that God is a completely different kind of being than we are; as we noted last time he experiences all moments in time – what we call the past, present and future – with equal immediacy. The second point, is that even creatures like us will have time pass at different rates if they in different gravitational fields or moving very rapidly relative to each other. And, while I think this view is extremely speculative, it does give us an example of how we need to be humble. A hundred and twenty years ago, no one on earth would have had any basis for proposing such an idea, but now this idea has a solid scientific basis.

Marc Roby: Well, that view certainly stretches the mind a bit. Do you want to say anything at all about other possibilities?

Dr. Spencer: I do want to mention one more, but first, I would like to summarize the main point I’m trying to make with the examples I’ve just given; namely, I think it is safe to say that there are multiple ways in which the modern scientific view that the universe began around 14 billion years ago can be true, and yet be completely consistent with the Genesis account of creation, which I am absolutely convinced is true, even though I’m not completely certain about how best to interpret it.

I do want to remind everyone of what we said last time though, and that is that how we, as Christians, interpret the Genesis account of creation is extremely important theologically. But, exactly how long it took God to create the universe, and when, exactly, he began that creation, have no theological importance whatsoever.

Marc Roby: OK. Now, what is the last view that you want to mention?

Dr. Spencer: I want to mention that it is possible, although I personally find it unlikely, that the universe is actually relatively young and God simply created it with the appearance of age.

Marc Roby: But, wouldn’t that be a deceptive thing for God to do?

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly the main objection that’s usually raised against this view. Why, for example, would God create light on its way to earth, apparently showing us things that never really happened? We see many super novae for example, each one of which appears to be the death of a star that occurred billions of years ago, but if the universe is truly only thousands of years old, then these events never actually happened.

But, I think it is worth mentioning a response to that objection given by Vern Poythress in his book Redeeming Science.[5] In that book he discusses what he calls a coherent mature creation, and by that he means that God created a universe in which things that were directly created by God are coherent with things that then later arise through natural processes. For example, the ground in the Garden of Eden probably had nutrients in the soil that we would conclude came from decaying plant material even though no plants had existed before.

The point is that God could have created a world in which it was possible for man to learn about the physical laws God put in place by examining that world, and, therefore, the things that God created directly had to look as if they came about by those natural processes; there would then be continuity between the present and what Poythress calls “ideal time”, which is the time before creation, which never really existed, but is coherent with real time. I’ve summarized his argument very briefly, but I hope not unfairly, so if anyone is interested, I recommend that they read his book. The references for all of the books I’ve mentioned today are given in the transcript of this session, which you can find online at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Marc Roby: I must say that’s an interesting view. There are, of course, other views you have not mentioned, aren’t there?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of other views. For a discussion of some of them I would recommend the book Seven Days that Divide the World, by John Lennox.[6] I think this it’s a marvelous book, and it is quite short and easy to read.

And, I really want to say that if some of our listeners are Christians who believe in a young-earth and are bristling about some of what I’ve said, I would encourage them to read James Boice’s commentary on Genesis,[7] particularly Volume 1, or, if they want something much shorter, Wayne Grudem does an excellent job in Chapter 15 of his Systematic Theology text.[8]

I would also point out to them that it simply is not true that people only disagree about how to interpret the days because they are capitulating to modern science. For example, in his essay The Literal Meaning of Genesis, St. Augustine – who lived well before modern science existed – proposed that the universe was created in an instant!

Marc Roby: Very well. I think that wraps up our time for today, I look forward to continuing our discussion of the evidence corroborating the veracity of the Bible next time.

[1] Robert C. Newman and Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr., Gensesis One and the Origin of the Earth, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1977

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] See http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast162/Unit5/gps.html

[4] Gerald L. Schroeder, Genesis and the Big Bang Theory: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible, Bantom, 1990

[5] Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, Crossway Books, 2006

[6] John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science, Zondervan, 2011

[7] James Montgomery Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1982

[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing our survey of extra-biblical evidence, all of which, when properly understood, corroborates the Bible.

Dr. Spencer, last time you claimed that the Bible itself is our best source of information for the times and places about which it speaks; in fact you called it our “greatest archeological document by far.” You then argued against the popular minimalist view that claims that the Old Testament was written just a few hundred years before Christ, rather than at the time it claims to have been written.  You showed how this view is false by giving us some examples of details that someone writing at that late date would not have been able to get right. How would you like to begin today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to begin by making a very important point. People may take exception to individual pieces of evidence that are presented to corroborate the Bible’s presentation of ancient history, but, most often, they argue from silence, saying that one event or another must not be true because we have no extra-biblical evidence for it. So, I want to emphasize and expand a bit on the point I made at the beginning of Session 7; the Bible itself is the most reliable archaeological document we have. It is completely accurate about all sorts of details that cannot be explained away. And wherever we have clear extra-biblical evidence, it corroborates the biblical narrative. We have absolutely no evidence at all that the Bible is wrong in anything it asserts. And that is particularly amazing when you consider that many people have tried, for many years, to prove the Bible wrong.

Therefore, we should have great confidence that it is also correct when it tells us things for which we have no other evidence. If the Bible did not speak about God, I have no doubt that it would be the most revered archeological document in the world. But, because it does tell us about God, people who do not want to deal with the reality of God are compelled to try and discredit his Word.

Marc Roby: In other words, their atheistic presupposition—that is, their ultimate heart commitment to the notion that there is no God, gets in the way of their properly evaluating the evidence!

Dr. Spencer: Quite right.

Marc Roby: Last time you mentioned the Old Testament prophecies about Christ as evidence to corroborate the biblical narrative. What other evidence would you like to present?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I’d like to give a very brief and selective summary of evidence for the Old Testament as a whole, and I’d like to do it in the order the information is presented in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: Alright, I presume that means that we’ll start with Genesis.

Dr. Spencer: Correct.

Marc Roby: And, of course, most modern people believe that the Genesis account of creation is completely at odds with what we know from modern science. So, how would you respond to such people?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond by first saying that we need to think a bit about why the Bible says anything at all about the creation of the universe, and then also think a bit about the audience for whom the Genesis account was written. If we think about these questions, we won’t come to the account with an unreasonable expectation about what to find.

Marc Roby: OK, so why does the Bible include a creation account?

Dr. Spencer: There are multiple reasons, and we won’t touch on many of them I’m sure. But what is most important is that these reasons do not include two things modern man seems to be particularly interested in. The first of these is that I think it safe to say that when the universe was created is of no importance at all theologically, and therefore, is never an issue discussed in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Now that is a controversial statement that we need to come back to, but first go ahead and tell us the second thing that modern man is interested in, but which is not one of the reasons for the writing of Genesis.

Dr. Spencer: Alright, the second thing is that at least some modern people are very interested in is a scientific description of how the universe was created. But, that is absolutely not one of the purposes of the Genesis account, nor could it be. So, we must get rid of that notion right up front. Nevertheless, the account given is completely accurate as far as it goes. We just have to be careful to be sure we are interpreting it correctly and we have to approach the subject with a great deal of humility because both the Bible and the science can be difficult to interpret.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that providing a scientific description of how the universe was created couldn’t possibly be one of the purposes of the Genesis account?

Dr. Spencer: For a reason that becomes obvious the instant you answer the second question I originally said we need to consider; namely, “For whom was the Genesis account written?” The answer is that it was written so that the people at the time of Moses could understand it, and also so that it would be useful to all people at all times. Therefore, the modern vocabulary and scientific understanding necessary for a detailed scientific description simply did not exist. And, you have to think about it, if it had been written to be intelligible to people at the present time, not only would it have been useless to those who have gone before us, but it would most likely still be incomplete or wrong because there are things that we don’t know yet.

Marc Roby: OK, you make a compelling case for why the book of Genesis could not have been intended to be a scientific description of how the universe was created. So, now let’s return to the statement you made, that it is not at all theologically important when the universe was created. Given the occasionally very rancorous debate even among Christians concerning how old the earth is, I think that is a statement that will surprise many. How can you defend it?

Dr. Spencer: I can defend it very simply. First, you never once see any mention in the entire Bible about the time of creation. The Genesis account is referred to many times, but the time of creation is never mentioned once, not explicitly or even implicitly. Second, exactly when the universe was created has absolutely no theological importance whatsoever.

It does not have any effect on the doctrine of creation for example; which in its most basic form simply says that God created the visible universe out of nothing. It also has no bearing on the doctrine of man; which could perhaps be best summarized succinctly by quoting the answer to the 10th question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that “God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.” The time of creation also has no bearing on the doctrine of God himself, which I will again summarize by quoting from the Shorter Catechism, this time the answer to Question 4, which says that “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” So, we see that when he created the universe is completely irrelevant to his being and his works.

It also has no bearing on the doctrine of redemption, which could be briefly summarized by quoting the answer to Question 20 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.”

We know from the Bible that God the Father planned this redemption, the Son, Jesus Christ, accomplished it, and the Holy Spirit applies it to individuals. The whole purpose of creation and history is the establishing of God’s church, his people, to spend eternity with him in a new heaven and a new earth. I could go on, and on, but I think you get the message, exactly when God began this creative work is irrelevant theologically. The question is also incoherent from God’s perspective, because he does not experience time like we do.

Marc Roby: Hold on a minute there – what do you mean by that last little comment, that God does not experience time like we do?

Dr. Spencer: That is a difficult point for us to grasp because we have a very hard time conceiving of any being that does not experience time like we do, as a continual progression of events, one after the other. We only know fully how we feel, or what we think, right at a given moment in time. If I want to know how I felt or what I was thinking even a few minutes ago, I have to conjure it up from my memory, and my memory will never be perfect. And, of course, the further back I go in time, the worse my memory gets. I also don’t know the future at all.

God, however, is completely different. He is not limited to living in the present, remembering the past and wondering and hoping about the future as we are. The Bible hints at this in a number of places. For example, the psalmist declares to God, in Psalm 90, verse 4, that “a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” [1] And this verse is loosely quoted by Peter in 2 Peter 3:8 also.

Also, in Psalm 139, verse 4, we read that “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.” And in verse 16 of that psalm we read that “All the days ordained for me were written in [God’s] book before one of them came to be.” We are also told many times in Scripture that God has seen what we have done, that he knows our thoughts, and our motives, that he has heard our silent prayers and so on. So, it is absolutely clear that God has an immediate experience of everything that what we, from our perspective, consider to be the past, present and future. He knows everything about everyone and about every moment of time. And, he knows it immediately; he does not need to scratch his head and try and remember.

Marc Roby: Now that is something to ponder. But, getting back to our topic at hand, and assuming that you are right in saying that the time of creation is of no real importance, why do you think it remains such a major issue in many people’s views?

Dr. Spencer: I think that most people who hold to a young-earth view, whether they hold to Bishop Usher’s mark of the universe being created in October of 4004 BC, or some other date, do so because they believe that is what is taught in Genesis itself and that to hold any other view is to surrender the inerrancy of the Bible. They often have a second reason too, even if they don’t state it, and that is that they think agreeing that the earth is billions of years old somehow lends credence to the theory of evolution as the explanation for life; but, as I pointed out in Session 1, you can have a trillion years and a trillion earths and it doesn’t help the argument for evolution one whit.

So, returning to the first point, we must say up front that we agree whole heartedly with these people that the Bible is the completely inerrant Word of God. We also believe that Genesis is a historical account and not just some kind of creation myth. Where we disagree is in their insistence that there is no other possible way to interpret the Genesis account than the view they hold, which usually includes saying that the six days of creation are literal 24-hour days and that they are consecutive.

Marc Roby: Well, how do you think the creation days should be interpreted?

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that I’m going to disappoint you and our listeners with my answer, but the only honest answer I can give is that I don’t know. But, before people start turning us off or jumping all over me for being non-committal, let me explain myself a bit and then also make my position as clear as I can – although there won’t be time enough to do that today.

I have read many different views on how to reconcile the Genesis creation account with modern science and none of them are fully satisfying to me, which is why I say that I don’t know the answer. But, I do firmly believe that the biblical account is accurate and that it can be reconciled with modern science, at least to the extent that modern science is correct. We must however, be humble enough to say that modern science could be wrong about many things.

We also need to be humble enough as Christians to say that the Genesis account is not quite as obvious as we may at first blush think, and so we should avoid being dogmatic in our interpretation when that is not necessary. We don’t want to say that the Scripture says something it does not say, which is a trap that Christians have fallen into before.

Marc Roby: What then do you think is essential for a Christian to believe about the Genesis account?

Dr. Spencer: Well, at an absolute minimum, a true Christian must believe that it is a historical account and that God truly created the universe. We pointed out in Session 2 that this is one of the most important things we must understand; we are just creatures and we must never lose sight of the creator/creature distinction. But, beyond that, a Christian must also believe that Adam and Eve were real people, created directly by God, as opposed to being the result of some evolutionary process, that they were made sinless, but with the capacity to sin, and that they did, in fact, sin against God. We must also believe that they sinned after Eve was tempted by Satan, who appeared to her in the form of a serpent. And all of their natural children, which includes everyone except for Jesus Christ, are born sinners as a result of that fall.

There are also other things we learn from the Genesis account of creation. For example, there was an order and a plan to creation as there is to all of God’s activities. He didn’t just create energy and the laws of physics and then step back to see what happens, as a deist might say, rather, he imposed his will upon his creation to bring about order and to produce a particular result.

The final thing I will point out today is that man is the focus of creation. This is the point that unbelievers often find the most offensive. They think it is unbelievably arrogant of man to assume a starring role, and so they dismiss the Genesis account of creation as simply man writing a story in which he is the star.

The interesting thing, is that I agree completely that man would write a story in which he has the starring role. But, I would contend that Genesis is not at all the story man would come up with. Man would, of course, have to recognize that he wasn’t there from the beginning, so he couldn’t make himself the creator. But, the story man would come up with is very different than Genesis. He would come up with a story in which human beings, once they did appear, as a marvelous “accidental collocations of atoms”  [2], to borrow a phrase from Bertrand Russell, are able to examine the world around us and understand this whole process. And, of course, we then feign humility by declaring ourselves to be no better or more worthy than any of the other lesser animals, which is patently absurd given the simple fact that none of these other animals are able to understand the science or make such lofty moral pronouncements.

Marc Roby: Alright, I agree that the Genesis account puts man at the center, but in a subservient role that he would not likely chose for himself. And I look forward to hearing more about how the Genesis account of creation can be reconciled with modern science next time. But, it looks like we are out of time for today.

Outake: (need something of similar length, but appropriate for the next session)

In our next session Dr. Spencer will continue to examine the Genesis account of creation, we hope you’ll join us.

 

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, Ed. By R.E. Egner & L.E. Denonn, Simon and Schuster, 1961, page 67

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by looking at external evidence that corroborates the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God. So, Dr. Spencer, where do you want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Before we take a look at any of the specific evidence, I want to emphasize that the fundamental reason we believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God is that it tells that it is. As we spoke about in Session 4, everyone has some ultimate standard, by which they evaluate everything else, and as Christians our standard must be the Word of God. We must not shy away from the fact that circular reasoning is inescapable in justifying your ultimate standard.

With that said, however, since the Bible is in fact true, the evidence we find in our world having to do with science, history, and ourselves, must corroborate what the Bible teaches. In other words, all of the data we encounter, all of the facts we discover—when properly understood and interpreted—cannot contradict the Bible, for God is the author of both. If we think that a given scientific or historical “fact” falsifies the Bible, then we must conclude that either our science is wrong and/or our interpretation of the Bible is wrong. But, if someone tells you that science or history have proven the Bible wrong, challenge them. Don’t be intimidated, because they are wrong. Christians should never shy away from pursuing science and history, they cannot prove that the Word of God is false.

In addition, since God is the author of both creation and the Bible—and since the Bible is vital to man’s salvation—we would expect God to have placed a good deal of obvious evidence in creation that backs up the Bible’s propositional statements, and that is exactly what we find.

We can only touch on some of the evidence here, but there are other good sources to look at. For example, Dr. Stephen Meyer has put together a good series of lectures on evidence for the Bible called Is the Bible Reliable? That series is available from Focus on the Family.[1] There are also a number of good books and websites that contain information about biblical archaeology, which has produced a massive amount of evidence in the past couple of centuries.

Marc Roby: OK, so what do you consider to be some of the best evidence?

Dr. Spencer: The first, and most important, piece of evidence I would cite is the Bible itself. The Bible itself is, without any doubt, the greatest archaeological document we have in our possession by far. And it is its own best evidence.

Marc Roby: Let me stop you there for a moment. What do you mean by saying the Bible is an archaeological document?

Dr. Spencer: I mean that it is itself an archaeological artifact. It was written at the same time as many of the different artifacts that have been dug up and recovered in the near east during the past 150 to 200 years of archaeological discovery. But it has been miraculously preserved through time, so that what we have in our hands today, in our own language, is a faithful replica of those ancient documents. We should treasure the Word of God first, of course, because it is the very Word of God. But, we should also treasure it as the most extensive and accurate record we have of at least a portion of ancient human history.

The Bible is unique. It comprises 66 books, written by at least 40 authors from vastly different backgrounds and all walks of life, over roughly 1,500 years, covering a myriad of topics, and yet it is perfectly consistent in all that it teaches. Of all the books we have from antiquity, the Bible also stands alone in our ability to say that we know, with a very high degree of certainty, what the original manuscripts said. We do not, of course, have any of the original manuscripts anymore, but we know what they said, which cannot be said with anywhere near the same confidence for any other book from antiquity.

Marc Roby: How can we know for sure what the original manuscripts said?

Dr. Spencer: We can know with great confidence for at least three reasons. First, speaking about the New Testament, we have vastly more extant copies and portions of copies than we have for any other book from antiquity, and the earliest extent copies are much earlier, this is sometimes called the bibliographical test. [2] For example, if you look at Homer’s Illiad, which is the best attested non-biblical book from antiquity by far, we currently have about 1,800 extant manuscripts, which means copies, or partial copies, made by hand before the printing press. The earliest of these copies is from 400 BC, which is 400 years after Homer composed the poem.

With the New Testament, there are more than ten times that number of manuscripts. Now, admittedly, most of those are not in the original Greek, but about 5,800 of them are. Many of these early manuscripts are also small portions of material, rather than full books. But, the bottom line is that even non-Christian scholars will admit that the New Testament is the best attested book from antiquity by far. But, the bibliographical test is just one small piece of evidence, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much.

Marc Roby: What about the Old Testament?

Dr. Spencer: That is my second point, and it is quite dramatic. We don’t have nearly as many extant manuscript fragments for the Old Testament, although we still have quite a few, but in one major way we have something much better; we have compelling proof that Jewish scribes preserved the integrity of the text to an almost unimaginable degree. Prior to 1947, the oldest complete Old Testament manuscript was from about 1000 AD. And, it was a common argument prior to that time, that if we were to find a manuscript that was much older it would be significantly different. That claim was made because that is what is seen with other ancient documents; errors get made every time a document is copied and after centuries those errors accumulate and become quite significant. But, in 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and they changed everything.

The Dead Sea Scrolls came from a Jewish sect that lived on the western shore of the Dead Sea around the time of Christ. The scrolls that have been found contain at least portions of every book of the Old Testament except for the book of Esther, and most notably, they contain a complete copy of the book of Isaiah. The amazing thing about them however, is that when they are compared with the Hebrew Old Testament from about 1000 AD, there are no significant differences! This is truly astounding and is, I think, great evidence that God has seen to it that his Word has been preserved for his people.

Marc Roby: And this is what we would expect isn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, absolutely. Since the word of God is essential for salvation, it stands to reason that God would preserve his Word for his people. And the simple fact is that there is abundant evidence that the Bible has been preserved in a way that is simply unmatched by any other ancient document.

Marc Roby: The Dead Sea Scrolls are amazing confirmation for the Old Testament, but what about the New Testament?

Dr. Spencer: A similar statement is true about the Greek New Testament; although there are differences in the many extant manuscripts, the differences are almost always extremely minor, and the few substantive differences that exist do not in any way effect any doctrine of Christianity.

Marc Roby: Very well. You mentioned a third reason for our confidence that we know what the original text said, what is that?

The third reason is the science of textual criticism. This science is used on other ancient documents as well, so it is not unique to the Bible. But it is a set of methodologies that allow people to reconstruct from a number different fragments, which have slight variations in them, what the original document must have said. I’m certainly no expert on this topic, and it wouldn’t be something to go into great detail about here anyway, but E.J. Young provides a marvelous example of how this can work in his book Thy Word is Truth.[3] He says to consider a schoolteacher who writes a letter to the President of the United States. To her great joy, she receives a personal reply. It is a treasure which she must share with her pupils and so she dictates the letter to them and collects these assignments, which gives her 30 imperfect copies of the letter. Then, she loses the original letter. The question is, can she reconstruct it from the 30 imperfect copies? And the answer, of course, is yes. With a very high degree of certainty she can reconstruct the original letter. The different copies will contain spelling errors, missing or added words and so on, but these errors will be different in the different copies, so by comparing the 30 copies she can surely correct these errors and arrive at a very good copy of the original.

When this technique is applied to the Bible, we are able to reconstruct with very high confidence what the original documents, which are called the autographs, said. And, unlike most ancient documents, we don’t have to fill in holes where there is material missing. When you combine our many different manuscripts, we have complete copies of the entire Old and New Testaments.

Marc Roby: OK, I think that is pretty convincing evidence that we know what the autographs said. What external evidence do we have to corroborate that what these autographs say is true?

Dr. Spencer: There are many pieces of evidence. The Bible tells us a great deal about ancient cultures, and whenever any of the details are found in other sources, we find that the Bible is correct. For example, place names, the common names of people, the political conditions and so on are all accurate. This may not sound amazing unless you stop and think about it for a moment.

So, picture yourself, for example, wanting to write a novel set in 14th century France. You would have to do a lot of research to know what names were common, how much things cost, what towns were there, what they were called and so on. All of these details matter. But, now imagine someone trying to write the Old Testament a few hundred years before the time of Christ – and I pick that time because some scholars, called minimalists, have argued that is what happened. A person writing at that time would not have any access to the kind of documentary and archaeological information we have now, so they would have no way of getting these details right. You have to remember that prior to the printing press, which was invented in 1440, the only way to get a copy of a book was to copy it by hand. So, people didn’t have anything even remotely like the kind of access to documents from the past and from all over the world that we have now. Also, archaeology was unknown at that time. So, the somewhat counter-intuitive truth is that we have vastly more information available about these ancient cultures today, than would have been available to someone a few hundred years before Christ. It is simply irrational to believe that someone writing at that time could have produced a book with the scope of treatment and accuracy in details that the Bible has. The only reasonable explanation is that the books that make up the Bible come from the times and places they claim to come from, and that God inspired the writers so that what they wrote is infallible.

Marc Roby: Can you give us some specific examples of these details?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. When Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave, we read in Genesis 37:28 that the price was 20 shekels of silver. This would have been the early part of the 19th century B.C. The code of Hammurabi, which dates from the middle of the 19th century B.C., was discovered on a 7½ foot tall stone in 1901. Parts of it have also been found on clay tablets, and it says that if a man kills another man’s slave he must pay one-third of mina.[4] A mina was worth 50 shekels, so one-third of mina is 16⅔ shekels, very close to the price listed in Genesis. It is interesting to note that the prices given at other points in the Old Testament also agree with the prices we know from extra-biblical sources. For example, in Exodus 21:32, we read that if a bull gores someone’s male or female slave, the bull’s owner must pay 30 shekels of silver in restitution, which agrees with the price known from extra-biblical sources during the time of Moses.[5] It is impossible for me to imagine that someone writing these documents a few hundred years before the time of Christ could possibly have gotten such details right.

Marc Roby: that does seem pretty unlikely. What other evidence do we have?

Dr. Spencer: The form of treaties and covenants is another powerful piece of evidence. This is a complicated subject and we certainly can’t go into a lot of details here, but the forms of treaties and covenants changed radically from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the 2nd millennium B.C., and again from there to the 1st millennium B.C. We know about these treaties and covenants from a number of extra-biblical sources. So, we can compare these treaty and covenant forms with the ones we find in the Bible.

For instance, the Bible gives examples from the time of the patriarchs, which is early 2nd millennium B.C., which are completely consistent with the forms in use at that time. In Genesis Chapters 21 and 26, for example, Abraham and his Son Isaac both make separate treaties with Abimelech and the form of these treaties agrees with the form for early 2nd millennium B.C. treaties known from extra-biblical sources.

Also, the covenant God makes with his people through Moses at Mount Sinai, which we read about in Exodus Chapters 20–31, and 34–35, agrees perfectly with the seven-fold structure of Hittite imperial treaties from the 14th and 13th centuries B.C.[6] This information would not have been available to someone trying to write such an account a few hundred years before Christ, so it is again impossible for me to imagine how such a writer could have gotten it right.

Marc Roby: That is, again, pretty compelling evidence. And I’m looking forward to hearing more evidence next time, but it looks like we are out of time for today.

[1] Is the Bible Reliable? Building the historical case, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family

[2] See J. McDowell & C. Jones, The Bibliographical Test, updated 8/13/14, available from
https://www.josh.org/wp-content/uploads/Bibliographical-Test-Update-08.13.14.pdf

[3] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, the Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 57

[4] See law number 252; http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/Assyria/Hammurabi.html#Hammurabi.Law.252

[5] Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Patriarchal Age: Myth or History?, Biblical Archeological Review, March/April, 1995

[6] Ibid

 

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Marc Roby: We resume our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine why we should believe that the Bible is the Word of God and should therefore submit to its authority.

Dr. Spencer, we have been addressing the Bible’s testimony about itself, and last time we discussed the fact that a central issue in this regard is authority. God has ultimate authority and, therefore, his Word has ultimate authority. We ended by noting that Jesus himself spoke with authority and not only affirmed the Ten Commandments, but gave us a deeper understanding of them. What else do we need to say about this topic?

Dr. Spencer: I think the main point is that the Bible speaks with authority and we need to take its claim seriously; it is God speaking. Jesus Christ himself spoke clearly about the authority of the Old Testament as we discussed in Session 4. We noted then, for example, that in John 10:35 Jesus said that, “the Scripture cannot be broken”. [1] But, there are many other verses we could cite. For example, in Luke 22:37 Jesus said that “what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

His point was that the Old Testament was a completely reliable witness to future events, and more specifically, that it had in many places and in many details prophesied his coming and what would happen to him in some detail. When Jesus spoke with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, we are told, in Luke 24:27, that, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” The main topic of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ. The Old Testament tell us about sin, and about God’s plan to deal with sin. There is a progressive revelation of God’s eternal plan of salvation in the Bible.

Marc Roby: And that revelation begins in Genesis 3, right after the fall, doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In Genesis 3:15 we have what it is sometimes called the protoevangelium, meaning the first or original version of the gospel message. Most people have heard the story, but before I tell it I want to emphasize that this story is factual, not mythological.

After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God. But, when God called to them and they confessed their sin, he then pronounced the curse that would fall on them and their posterity as a result of their sin. That curse was death, both spiritual death and physical death here, and eternal hell hereafter. Adam and Eve immediately lost communion with God, which is the result of spiritual death, and they immediately started to age and move inexorably toward their physical death as well. And, finally, and worst of all, they, and all their natural descendants became subject to eternal punishment in hell.

But, God also pronounced a curse on Satan, who had appeared as a serpent. And, that curse included the gospel, which means, “Good news.” In verse 15 God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” This statement that the offspring of Eve would crush Satan’s head is a reference to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which he would defeat Satan totally by freeing his people from their bondage to sin and Satan. So, when God pronounced his curse on man, he gave them the gospel of salvation at the same time. There was hope.

Marc Roby: And, as you said, there is a progressive revelation throughout the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: There most definitely is. This isn’t the time to go into it in detail because we want to stay focused on what the Bible claims about itself, but I think this deserves mention now, and it provides an important piece of evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible’s claims. What needs to be mentioned at this point is that this progressive revelation throughout the Old Testament includes dozens of detailed prophecies about the Messiah, or Savior.

Messiah is a Hebrew word, which means anointed one. And, while a person can be anointed for various different offices, such as a priest or a king, the Old Testament also speaks of the Messiah, who is God’s anointed savior of the world. For example, we read about him in Psalm 2, where we read, in verses 1 and 2, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.” The “Anointed One” in this verse is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Perhaps it would be good for some of our listeners to explain who “the LORD” is in that verse. I think most have heard Jesus called “the Lord Jesus Christ”, so there may be some who are confused when we hear the LORD being spoken of one person and “his Anointed One” being spoken of another person.

Dr. Spencer: The word LORD in this passage, which is in all capital letters in our English Bibles, is the Hebrew tetragrammaton, which simple means four letters. Biblical Hebrew writing did not use vowels, so we aren’t sure how to pronounce the word, but it is usually rendered as either Jehovah, or Yahweh. In any event, it is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. It comes from the Hebrew verb “to be”, and so we can translate it, if spoken by God, as “I Am”, or if spoken about him, as “He is”. In either case, the point is clear. God is the only one who can say “I am” in an absolute sense. He is eternal and unconditional. We, on the other hand, like all creatures, have not existed eternally, nor do we exist independently. We will cover the nature of God in later sessions, but the Bible reveals to us that God is triune; meaning that he exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp, but it is absolutely not a contradiction, and it is a clear teaching of Scripture as we will see later on.

Marc Roby: Alright, so you were speaking about the Messiah, or God’s Anointed One, who is referred to in Psalm 2.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And my point was simply that the Greek word for anointed is Χριστός (Xristos), which is transliterated into English as Christ. So, when we speak of Jesus Christ, we are speaking about Jesus, the Anointed One, or, in other words, the Messiah. All of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the son born to a young virgin named Mary, who was engaged to be married to the carpenter Joseph. And the Old Testament revelation includes more than just a lot of details about his birth, life, death and resurrection, it also includes a tremendous amount of information about the justice of God and how the death of Jesus can serve as an atonement to pay for the sins of his people. This is, again, not the time for us to get into that in detail, but I want to clearly make the point that the Old and the New Testaments are part of one revelation. They are not two separate revelations. It is all the revelation of God, telling us who we are, where we came from, what our problem is, and how God has solved that problem.

And, in speaking about the detailed prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, I’ve always thought that they are truly amazing evidence for the fact that the Bible is God’s divinely inspired Word. How else could you explain the detailed fulfillment of these prophecies about Christ? Only God can accurately tell us about the future. And we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that these prophecies were truly written long before the time of Christ. No reasonable argument can be made, as it used to be, that someone cooked the books to make it look that way.

Marc Roby: Certainly, predicting the future requires authority!

Dr. Spencer: Yes. And thank you for bringing us back to our topic of authority. Only God has the power and authority to bring about what he intends, and so only God has the ability to accurately tell us about the future.

Marc Roby: I notice that you didn’t say God can accurately predict the future!

Dr. Spencer: You’re quite right, and that was – as you surmised, deliberate. To predict the future would imply that God can look ahead and see what will happen, which is certainly true. But the Bible goes much further and tells us that God has ordained what will happen. But we’ll leave that for a future session and get back to this issue of authority.

We have been making the case that the Bible claims authority, and have extended that case to show that Jesus himself claimed authority. In fact, one of the most wonderful examples of this is the story of Jesus healing a paralytic. The story is told to us Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5. There is a paralytic who has four wonderful friends. These friends have heard about Jesus and have seen him perform miracles, so they want their friend to be healed. They carry him to the village of Capernaum, at the north end of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus is teaching and healing. But, there is such a crowd gathered that they can’t get near Jesus. So, they go up onto the roof of the house Jesus is in and they make a hole in the roof and lower their friend on his mat so that he is in front of Jesus. Just imagine how everyone’s attention would be riveted on this man! This was certainly a pretty bold maneuver. And what did Jesus say to the man? We are told, in Luke 5:20 that Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Marc Roby: I’m going to hazard a guess that this was not the response he and his friends were looking for!

Dr. Spencer: I think your guess is a good one. Jesus often surprised people, but always with a purpose. And we quickly find out what the purpose was in this case; it was to reveal his authority, that he is God. We read in the very next verse that, “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” And, of course, that was precisely the point. Then, in verses 22-25 we read, “Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…’ He said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.”

Marc Roby: I would say that Jesus made his point pretty clearly.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree with you. Jesus is God. He knew what they were thinking and, far more importantly, he has authority to forgive sins. So, the Bible has authority because it is the Word of God, and Jesus has authority because he himself is God. And Jesus gave authority to his apostles to preach the gospel and to rule the church.

Marc Roby: OK, now you’re treading on thin ice with many modern Christians again. They don’t like the idea of the church having any real authority. What would you say to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would turn to the Word of God, as always. After Jesus’ resurrection he gave his disciples what is called the Great Commission. We read in Matthew 28:18-20, that “Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” And he goes on to say “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’”

Notice that Jesus didn’t make suggestions, he commanded. And the church is to teach people to obey these commands. And the church is clearly given authority by God to do so. For example, we are given a command in Hebrews 13:7, which says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” This clearly establishes that this section in Hebrews 13 is speaking about leaders in the church. Then, in verse 17 we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” We are to obey our church leaders and submit to their authority. But, notice that they are men who must give an account. And it is God to whom they will have to give an account. So, they should lead for the benefit of those who are under them. And that is why the writer says it would “of no advantage” to us if we don’t obey.

Marc Roby: And, of course, it isn’t just church authority that we should obey. In Romans 13:1-2 Paul wrote that, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Dr. Spencer: And we need to remember that he wrote this while living under the very wicked rule of the Roman Empire! As that passage notes, there is “no authority except that which God has established.” God has given us clear lines of authority. A husband has authority over his wife, a father and mother have authority over their children. Church leaders have authority over the members of their church. And civil leaders have authority over their citizens.

Marc Roby: Since this idea of authority is so alien to our society, I think it would be good to remind everyone of one thing you said earlier; biblical authority should always be exercised for the benefit of those who are under you.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Our culture has a problem with authority, but authority is necessary, and it is good if it isn’t abused. Someone has to have the final say. Think about a company for example. If you get all the managers together to make some decision and they cannot come to a consensus, someone has to have the authority to make the final decision. And, if the company is operating properly, the others will all get behind that decision and do everything they can to make it work.

I think we are near the end of our time, so I’d like to read a passage from the book I mentioned last time, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The book is called Authority, and on page 60 he has a wonderful summary about the progressive revelation we have discussed in the Old Testament, and the gifting given to the apostles and others for writing the New Testament. He says,

“Here is God’s revelation of Himself, given in parts and portions in the Old Testament with an increasing clarity and with a culminating finality, coming eventually ‘in the fulness of the times’ to the perfect, absolute, final revelation in God the Son. He in turn enlightens and reveals His will and teaching to these apostles, endows them with a unique authority, fills them with the needed ability and power, and gives them the teaching that is essential to the well-being of the Church and God’s people. We can build only upon this one, unique authority.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful summary to end our discussion of the Bible’s teaching about itself.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

 

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Marc Roby: We resume our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine why we should believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Dr. Spencer, last time you made the argument that the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God and, since the Bible is our ultimate standard, we must accept what it says. It seems that the real issue here is one of authority, wouldn’t you agree?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Authority clearly is the key issue. And authority is a bad word in modern society.

Marc Roby: It certainly is. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker you occasionally see that says “question authority”.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, I’ve seen that bumper sticker. I also remember a cartoon I saw once though. It showed a guy who had obviously just died and was in line waiting to see St. Peter at the gate of heaven. He had on a T-shirt that said “question authority” and the person in front of him in line looked at his shirt and said something like “bummer of a shirt to have on today.”

Marc Roby: That would be an unfortunate choice of clothing. And God is the ultimate authority imaginable.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We should never approach him without fear and trepidation.

Marc Roby: In fact, Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the Bible repeats that idea in a number of places. I think the key notion here is one of humility. As we discussed in Session 2, one of the most important things we need to grasp is the creator/creature distinction. God is the creator, we are just creatures. We are, to be sure, marvelous creatures. When you look at what a world-class scientist, or musician, or artist, or athlete can do it is truly amazing. But, rather than idolize the person to whom such gifts have been given, we should stand in awe of the one who gave him such amazing gifts.

Marc Roby: But, sadly, man most wants to exalt himself and refuses, in his natural state, to willingly submit to the authority of God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has a wonderful short book on Authority[1] and I am going to draw from it in what we discuss today. He makes the point that much of what is wrong with the modern church is its lack of authority. He suggests, I think quite rightly, that one of the things that attracts some people to the Roman Catholic church, and to various cults as well, is that they speak and act as if they had authority.

It is somewhat paradoxical, but in spite of our natural aversion to being under authority, most people actually desire authority; at least in the sense that they desire an authoritative statement about the purpose of life and how they are to live it. We tend to not like uncertainty, but to have certainty requires authority.

Marc Roby: Of course, many people today would deny that objective truth even exists, but without objective truth, you can’t have certainty.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Although, such people often contradict themselves because they are quite certain of the absolute objective truth of the statement that absolute objective truth doesn’t exist. In any event, Lloyd-Jones makes the point that people throughout history have been trying to find ultimate truth through their own efforts.

Marc Roby: But, of course, they have miserably failed.

Dr. Spencer: Yes they have. And the Bible deals with this issue in the Book of Ecclesiastes. This is one of the most quoted and misrepresented books in the Bible because it deals with an honest attempt by the writer to figure out the meaning of life. He is called “The Teacher” in the book, and many think that it was Solomon who wrote it. But, independent of who wrote the book, it was someone who had achieved great success, fortune, power and fame in this world, and yet found it all unfulfilling without God.

Marc Roby: I can relate to that feeling; there are many things in life that you look forward to and, then, when you achieve them, you find that they aren’t nearly as wonderful as you thought they would be.

Dr. Spencer: I can second that comment. And the Teacher in Ecclesiastes states it very clearly at the start of the book. In Ecclesiastes 1:2 he says, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” [2] That word “meaningless” can also be translated, as it in the King James Version, as vanity. It can also be translated as breath, as it is, for example, in Psalm 39, verse 5, where we read “Each man’s life is but a breath.” So, the idea is clear. The Teacher is saying that life is like a breath, here one moment, gone the next. It is of no real consequence or significance. And then he goes on to explain why he says this. Beginning in verse 3 he writes, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.” And he goes on in this vein for some time.

Marc Roby: Not exactly an uplifting passage, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it’s not uplifting at all. And it isn’t meant to be. It is, however, an accurate picture of the way things are if we imagine a world where there is no God. The Teacher goes on in the book to consider the meaning of gaining wisdom, or riches, or of indulging in every pleasure imaginable, and he concludes that none of it has any real deep, lasting significance. A phrase that is repeated nine times in the book sums it up well, he says it is all “a chasing after the wind”.

Marc Roby: Now that is a great image. You can chase the wind all day long and you’ll never catch it.

Dr. Spencer: True. It’s a fabulous image to have in mind. But, it also conveys a serious message. Life without God is meaningless. If the materialistic worldview were correct, and I argued in Session 1 that it is not, then we would be left with despair and depression. In fact, there is a great quote from Bertrand Russell, the great English philosopher and mathematician of the early 20th century. In his essay “A Free Man’s Worship”, he wrote about a materialistic view of life with unusual and insightful candor. Let me quote a few snippets to put in context the quote I really want to get to. He wrote, “That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving”[3], in other words, we are result of blind evolution. And he went on to say that “no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; [] all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system”, and then he concluded this passage with the quote I want to examine. He wrote, “Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Marc Roby: Wow. I hope you don’t mind if I stay out of that building, it doesn’t sound safe to me.

Dr. Spencer: You don’t have to worry Marc. That building is only entered by those who deny the existence of God. But, as I said, he wrote with uncommon candor and insight. His statement lines up quite nicely with statements by the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. If you try to find meaning and purpose in life without God, you end up frustrated and in despair.

Now, we must admit of course that the mere fact that life without God is meaningless does not in any way prove that God exists. There are many today who would say, in essence, that we just need to suck it up and deal with the unpleasant realities that when we die we’re gone and that life has no intrinsic value or purpose. But, as I argued in Session 1, an atheistic worldview is, I think, intellectually untenable in light of all that we now know about the world we live in. And, further, as the Bible itself tells us, everyone knows that God exists, although many will deny that they know it. So, rather than building on the “firm foundation of unyielding despair” as Russell counsels, I prefer to build on the firm foundation of God’s Word – which is why, by the way, the theme music for this series is the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The first line reads, “How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

Marc Roby: That is a great hymn. And Russell is a great example of what Paul tells us in Romans 1 – that men suppress the truth; and it seems that some, like Russell, are much better at suppressing it than others. But, how does this all relate back to the topic of authority?

Dr. Spencer: I think it relates very directly. You see, the issue is that man wants certainty, and he wants to believe in a benevolent and almighty protector and a wonderful life after this one and so on, but he does not want anyone telling him what to do, and he certainly does not want to be judged. So, he suppresses the truth he knows – that God exists – and searches for some kind of certainty apart from God, which drives him to Russell’s “firm foundation of unyielding despair”. I don’t know a great deal about Russell’s life, but I do know that he was divorced three times and married four times, so I’m going to hazard a guess that he wasn’t too thrilled about God’s view of marriage, to point out just one example of why people don’t like authority.

Marc Roby: I’m reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s response to his vision of God on the throne, he cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips”.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse. I also think of the apostle Peter. Remember the story in Luke, Chapter Five, where Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing, and then Christ told him to lower his nets and all of a sudden he had such a huge catch that the nets began to break and the boat began to sink? He had some glimpse of who Jesus really is and his response was to say, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

That is the response of any reasonable person when he contemplates coming before a just, holy and omnipotent God. God knows everything I have ever done, said, thought or felt. And he will bring all of it to his perfect bar of justice. That is terrifying. It should be terrifying, because we are sinners who deserve God’s wrath.

Marc Roby: And God is the one with authority, and power, to judge our sin. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes came to the right conclusion in the end, we read in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Dr. Spencer: That is clearly the right conclusion. So, authority is, as you said at the beginning, the issue of central importance. It is also why we are spending time in these podcasts to establish the authority of the Bible as the Word of God and why we are interested in then exploring what God commands us to believe and do in that Word. It is only in his Word that we find out that we can escape this terrifying judgement by placing our trust in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to note that God does not request, or suggest that we do, or don’t do, certain things; he commands.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important distinction. And to command requires authority. As I said early on, in his book on authority Lloyd-Jones points out that a major problem with the modern church is a lack of authority. And I think that, in large part, that lack of authority stems from a lack of faith in the Word of God, which is also one of the points Lloyd-Jones makes.

But, if we believe in the authority and infallibility of the Bible, and I do, then when we speak about what the Word says, we are speaking with authority. The modern church should not approach preaching as though we are just offering people one idea out of many, which they are free to examine and decide, with human reason as the ultimate authority, whether it’s right or not. We must preach the truth with conviction and clarity, and with authority. If God opens a person’s eyes to the truth, then they will respond. If he doesn’t, then they will not respond.

But, when we preach the Word of God we must speak with authority. The Bible tells us who God is, what he loves and what he hates, and it is filled with commands for his creatures to obey.

Marc Roby: And Jesus sets the example for us, doesn’t he? He spoke with absolute authority when he was here on earth.

Dr. Spencer: He certainly did. One of my absolute favorite passages of Scripture is in Luke 8, where we read about Jesus and his disciples heading out to sail across the Sea of Galilee. On the way, Jesus fell asleep, which is clear sign that he was fully human. But then, we are told that a squall came up, the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. So, we read in verses 24-25, “The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’”

I love that passage because, in addition to showing that Jesus was fully human, it also clearly shows his divinity. You notice that he didn’t pray for God to quiet the storm, he simply rebuked the wind and the waves himself. Only God can do that! And so, it shows how Jesus spoke with authority, even authority over the inanimate creation.

Marc Roby: I’m also reminded of the end of the Sermon on the Mount, where we read in Matthew 7:28-29 that, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Dr. Spencer: And there are many other places too. In the Sermon on the Mount you just mentioned, Jesus gave authoritative interpretations of the Ten Commandments to show the people they were wrong in their understanding. For example, in Matthew 5:27-28, we read that he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We see a number of places where Jesus says similar things, “you have heard”, followed by “but I tell you”. He is claiming the authority of God himself. He is making his own words and interpretations equal to the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: When I read passages like the one you just quoted, I’m always surprised to hear people who call themselves Christians and think that Christ did away with the Old Testament law.

Dr. Spencer: So am I. It is relatively easy to not commit the physical act of adultery, but to avoid even a lustful look? That is much, much harder I’m afraid.

Marc Roby: I agree. And yet, the Bible presents us with a holy God who commands us to live holy lives as well.

We are out of time for today, and we’ve taken a bit of a detour to discuss this issue of authority, but I think it is an important topic. I look forward to continuing our discussion next time.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, Ed. By R.E. Egner & L.E. Denonn, Simon and Schuster, 1961

 

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by examining why we should believe that the Bible is, in fact, the very Word of God.

Dr. Spencer, in Session 1 you argued that being an atheist is intellectually untenable and everyone should be concerned to know what the Bible says because it claims to be the Word of God. I’d like to spend some time today examining that claim. How can we know that the Bible is the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: We can know because the Bible claims to be just that, the Word of God.

Marc Roby: But isn’t that circular reasoning? You’re saying, in essence, that because the Bible is the Word of God, you believe it when it says it is the Word of God. Most people think circular reasoning is invalid. How would you respond to that charge?

Dr. Spencer: Let me defer answering that question for a moment. We need to establish an important principle first. Namely, that all human beings, whether we are aware of it or not, have some ultimate standard for determining what we believe to be true. Of course, we all have many different ways of determining if a particular statement is true.

For example, if you ask me whether or not some mathematical formula is correct, there are techniques I have learned that I would apply to determine whether or not I think the formula is right. And, if you ask me whether some theological statement is true or not, I would use different criteria to evaluate it.

But, independent of the many different ways we have for determining the truth or falsehood of a particular statement, we all have some ultimate standard to which all other standards or methods are subservient. And the really surprising thing is that when you sit down and consider the possibilities carefully, there are really only two possible ultimate standards; human reason, or divine revelation.

Marc Roby: Now when you say human reason, do you mean that each of us sets ourselves up as the ultimate standard?

Dr. Spencer: Not necessarily. When I say human reason, there are different possibilities. It may be that you have a particular person that you hold in such high regard that he or she is your ultimate standard, at least in a particular area. More commonly, it is human reason in the abstract that we hold as the ultimate standard. What I mean by that is that although we realize that any individual person is fallible and might be wrong, we may have faith that the collective wisdom of mankind can determine what is true, at least in the end. But, of course, it is hard to find a meaningful question for which all of humanity will agree on the answer. So, if human reason is your ultimate standard, you either have to go with certain individuals, or a majority opinion, or you must trust your own ability to decide which answer is right, those are your three choices.

Marc Roby: Sounds like the famous Greek saying, “Man is the measure of all things!”

Dr. Spencer: I think that expresses it fairly accurately. The other possible ultimate standard though is divine revelation. And if God, who is the infinite, eternal, unchangeable and perfect creator, chooses to reveal to us what he determines we need to know, then clearly that revelation should be our ultimate standard for truth.

Marc Roby: But, don’t we still have to use our reason to determine that we believe something to be divine revelation and to understand that revelation?

Dr. Spencer: Of course we do. We can’t escape the use of our reason, nor should we try to do so. God gave us our minds for a purpose and we must use them. The Bible is full of admonitions to use our minds. Perhaps the most famous is in Chapter 1 of the book of Isaiah, in verse 18 God tells his people, “Come now, let us reason together, … Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” [1] So, we must use our reason. In fact, we should apply our reason most carefully to the Word of God since it is the most important thing we can possibly think about.

But, our reason should not be our ultimate standard. Martin Luther made a distinction between the magisterial and ministerial uses of human reason.[2] The magisterial use of reason is to have it serve as the magistrate, or judge, presiding over God’s Word. In other words, it is to set up human reason as the ultimate standard. And that we should never do. Who are we to stand in judgement over the Word of God? The ministerial use of reason, on the other hand, is as a servant of God’s Word. The word minister comes from the Latin word for servant. So, the ministerial use of reason refers to our using our reason to understand and apply the Word of God properly.

But, there is a problem here, and the problem has to do with sin. Sin affects every aspect of our being, including our thinking. In our natural state, we are in rebellion against God and, because of that rebellion, we do not think correctly. Our fundamental problem is a moral problem, but it affects every aspect of our being. So, God must draw us to himself and change our hearts or we will not accept the truth presented to us in the Word of God.

Marc Roby: And that change happens when we are born again.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. There is a radical change that takes place, which changes our mind, our will and our affections. We are no longer in rebellion against God and we accept his Word as our ultimate standard for truth. Theologians talk about the internal witness of the Holy Spirit as being the greatest evidence we have. God opens our eyes so that when we read the Bible we see that it is true. It is true about things that we can verify in other ways, and it is also true in things that we can’t possibly verify. When I read in the Bible, for example, that there is no one who does not sin, I know that the statement is true. I don’t need to be able to examine the life of every human being who has ever lived or ever will live to be able to confirm the statement. I know it is true because God, who knows all things, has told me it is true.

Marc Roby: But, of course, it also is seen to be true in our own experience. I’ve certainly never met anyone who was perfect.

Dr. Spencer: Nor have I. So, we see that our own experience – when it is correctly understood – corroborates the truthfulness of what the Bible tells us, but the Bible is the ultimate standard, not my reason or my experience.

Marc Roby: And that brings us right back to my original question. We’ve taken a slight detour to discuss ultimate standards, but let me ask again, “Why should we believe the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God?” If you answer that you believe it because the Bible is your standard and it claims to be the Word of God, you are using circular reasoning. And we don’t want to engage in that kind of circular reasoning, do we?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the truth is that we can’t avoid circular reasoning when it comes to justifying our ultimate standard. If I claim that human reason is the appropriate ultimate standard, how can I justify that position? I must use human reason to justify that choice. So, the reasoning is always going to be circular when we justify our ultimate standard precisely because we must use our ultimate standard to justify our ultimate standard.

Marc Roby: Can that ultimate standard be tested or verified to be true?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it absolutely can be tested. I believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God because of the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, but that faith is buttressed to a huge degree by external evidence. I want to be clear that I am absolutely not saying that we must subject the Bible to external proofs in order to trust it as our standard. I am simply saying that it would be irrational to put your trust in a standard that was obviously wrong. But that is certainly not the case with the Bible. In fact, quite to the contrary, there is a massive amount of evidence to corroborate the truthfulness of the Bible, and we will get to some of that evidence in upcoming sessions.

But for now, I want to consider what the Bible itself says. If it is our ultimate standard, then it must be the ultimate source for all of our doctrines, including our doctrine about the Bible itself.

Marc Roby: And the Bible quite emphatically does assert that it alone is God’s word.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. The Bible claims from beginning to end, both implicitly and explicitly, to be the very Word of God. For example, the Old Testament uses the phrases “God said”, “The Lord says”, and similar statements over 3,800 times according to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones[3], and these expressions are clearly an explicit claim to being, at least in part, the Word of God.

In addition, there are implicit claims. For example, in Genesis 1 we are told things about creation that no mere man could know unless God revealed them to him. Similarly, in Job 1 and Zechariah 3, to name just two places, we are told about events in heaven that no man on earth could possibly know about unless God revealed them to him.

Also, it is clear that Jesus Christ and the writers of the New Testament considered the Old Testament to be the infallible Word of God. For example, in John 10 we read about an exchange between Jesus and some Jews who gathered to hear him speak. In that exchange, Jesus said that he was one with the Father, and, as a result of that statement, the Jews wanted to stone him for blasphemy. He then quoted from a psalm and, in the midst of the quote, made an interesting statement. He said, “and the Scripture cannot be broken”. The point he was making was that the Scripture, even the psalms, which are certainly not historical narrative, are infallible. In other words, he was saying that the Bible, in its entirety, is infallible. Not one word of it can fail to be true. So, when it speaks of future events, we can be certain that they will come to pass.

Marc Roby: I also think of Christ’s responses when Satan came to test him.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly one of the best examples. Jesus said “it is written” over and over and the clear implication of that statement was that since it had been written in the Scriptures, it was absolutely true and binding on all beings. Then again in Mark 14:49, when he was speaking to those who came to arrest him, Jesus said that “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” We can also look at Matthew 26:56 where Jesus said that what had been happening had “all taken place [so] that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” And the gospel accounts are filled with examples, like Matthew 2, verses 15, 17 & 23, and many other places, where we are told that what happened with Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: And, of course, we have the most classic statement of all in 2 Timothy 3:16, where the apostle Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that verse is probably the first you think of. And, of course, Paul was speaking about the Old Testament there, since the New Testament had not yet been written. And the Greek word used there is θεόπνευστος (theo-pneustos), which is well translated by the NIV as “God-breathed”. The Scriptures were breathed out by God himself, no less than if he were speaking directly to us.

Marc Roby: And we also read in many places that the Holy Spirit is directly speaking in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. For example, in Acts 4:25, after Peter and John had been released from jail, they joined with the other disciples in prayer, and in that prayer they said to God, “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?’” Which is a clear statement that the Holy Spirit was the author of what was written by King David in Psalm 2. In fact, in 2 Peter 1:21 we are told that “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So, although we don’t know precisely how the writers were “carried along”, it is clear that the Holy Spirit was somehow guiding the process and ensuring the infallibility of the result. The Holy Spirit is, ultimately, the author of the Bible.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we have adduced a number of Scriptures to show that the Bible claims the Old Testament to be the very Word of God, but, what about the New Testament?

Dr. Spencer: We can also firmly establish that the New Testament is the Word of God. First, notice that, in John 14:25-26, Jesus told his disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” And, in John 16:13 he said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” So, we see that Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them.

Marc Roby: So, we again see that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And the apostle Paul addressed this issue in 1 Corinthians Chapter Two. He tells his readers that he is speaking about the secret wisdom of God, and in verse 10 he says that “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” Then, in verse 13 he says, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”

Marc Roby: And we also know that the Spirit is also necessary for someone to be able to understand the Bible correctly.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In the very next verse, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul wrote that, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: And the only people who have the Holy Spirit are those in whom God has done a radical inward work, what the Bible calls being born again. And in light of that fact, everyone should cry out to God with the plea of the tax collector in Luke 18, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Dr. Spencer: So true.

Marc Roby: What other evidence do we have that the New Testament claims to be the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would also look at 1 Thessalonians 2:13, where Paul, Silas and Timothy wrote, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” So, we see that the words these apostles spoke to the church, which certainly includes the letters we have, were the Word of God.

Also, a very important verse is 2 Peter 3:16, wherein the apostle Peter wrote specifically about the letters of the apostle Paul and said, “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” So, Peter clearly considered Paul’s letters to be Scripture.

Marc Roby: Alright. Let me ask you about a verse that is sometimes used to argue that Paul did not consider himself to be writing words that carry the same authority as God’s own words. In 1 Corinthians 7:10 he prefaces some remarks about marriage by saying, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord) …”, and then, in verse 12 he prefaces some other remarks by saying, “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord) …”. How would you explain these remarks?

Dr. Spencer: I actually think these are excellent evidence that Paul’s writings are the inspired Word of God! If you look at the passage you will notice that in both sets of comments he uses imperatives, the word “must” appears several times. There is no difference in tone nor is any indication given that there is a difference in the authority of the two passages. All that the apostle is doing is noting in passing that the first comments dealt with an issue about which Jesus Christ himself had spoken while he was here on earth, while in the second instance Paul was dealing with a situation that Jesus had not explicitly addressed himself. Nevertheless, Paul spoke with equal authority both times. And, if you look at Chapter 14 of this first letter to the Corinthians, in verse 37 Paul wrote, “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.” Which is a pretty explicit claim to authority.

Marc Roby: Well, we are out of time for today, but I look forward to continuing this discussion next time.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Noted in W.L. Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Crossway Books, 1984, pg. 36

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, pg. 50

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by continuing with our summary of the Bible’s teaching.

In our last session, Dr. Spencer, you gave a very short outline of what the Bible teaches by quoting the answer to Question #3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

So, have we covered the Bible’s teaching about what man is to believe concerning God?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. The Catechism includes the gospel itself under the broad topic of what we are to believe concerning God. In other words, it includes all that we discussed last time, including the fact that man is sinful and can’t save himself, and that God has a plan to redeem some of his fallen creatures to spend eternity in his glorious presence. And that plan involved God sending his eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, to become incarnate as Jesus Christ, to live a perfect sinless life and then offer himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all those who will put their trust in him.

That plan then becomes effectual in our individual lives when we surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and trust in his saving work on the cross to redeem us from our sin. And it continues throughout life as God works with us to transform us to be more and more like Jesus.

Marc Roby: So, when the Catechism talks about what man is to believe concerning God, it is not referring to mere knowledge about God, it is talking about saving faith; which includes repentance and a personal commitment to Christ.

Dr. Spencer:  Right. In fact, if we don’t repent and believe in Jesus Christ, we are disobeying God’s commands and further demonstrating our sinful rebellion. In Chapter 17 of the book of Acts, in verse 30, we read that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.”[1] And, in 1 John 3:23 we read that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ”. And so, part of our duty as God’s creatures is to repent of our sins and believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, which means to abandon all trust in ourselves and to trust in Christ alone.

Marc Roby: Alright, that seems like a great segue to the second half of the Catechism’s answer, which says that the Bible teaches us what duty God requires of man, and you’re saying that part of that duty is to believe in Jesus Christ. What else are we duty-bound to do?

Dr. Spencer: When I quoted 1 John 3:23 a moment ago, I only gave you the first half of the verse, so let me give all of it now. It says that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” This idea that we are to love one another is the biblical summary of God’s commandments as they relate to our relations with one another. Jesus himself, when asked what the greatest commandment in the law is replied, in Matthew 22:37-40, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Marc Roby: Let me stop you for a moment. It is interesting that 1 John 3:23, in giving us God’s commands for us, didn’t say anything about loving God.

Dr. Spencer: The idea of loving God is implicit in that verse since, as John labors to point out in the letter, and says explicitly in 1 John 5:3, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” Therefore, if we obey his command to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, we are demonstrating our love for God.

Marc Roby: Now that raises an issue that is very controversial in the modern church; this whole idea of obedience. As protestants, we believe that we are saved by grace alone, right?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

Marc Roby: OK. But given that truth, many modern Christians say that obedience, while it may be nice, is not in any way necessary for a Christian. How would you respond to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond by first quoting a few representative Scriptures. In John 14:15 Jesus said that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” And in John 14:23 Jesus said that “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching”. Then, in the very next verse Christ states the case negatively by saying “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” In Luke 11:28 we read that Jesus said “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Also, in Romans 1:5 the apostle Paul wrote, “Through him [meaning Jesus Christ] and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”

Marc Roby: I think it is safe to say that most modern Christians do not think of obedience and faith as being intimately linked.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that. In fact, I’ve been told that the minute you say a true Christian must be obedient, or even that there must be a visible change in the person’s life, you are abandoning the Reformation principle of salvation by faith alone. But Romans 1:5, and many other Scriptures we can look at, make it abundantly clear that this is not the case. The reformers did not believe that you can be saved by a faith that is devoid of good works. The standard line about that is that we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.

Marc Roby: 2 Corinthians 5:17 comes to my mind, which says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is one of the best verses. In fact, as you know, our senior pastor, Pastor Mathew, has pointed out that if you look at Ephesians 2:2 in the original Greek it speaks about those who have not been born again and it calls them sons of disobedience, while in 1 Peter 1:14, in talking about those who have been born again, it calls them children of obedience. So, when someone has been saved, they are transformed from being disobedient children to being obedient children. It is a manifestation of the fundamental change that has taken place.

If we are new creations, that must be evident. Ephesians 2:8-10 also come to mind. Verses 8 and 9 are very well known, they state that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And, when you stop there, the verses are consistent with the prevailing view that works are unnecessary. But, if you go on and read verse 10, it says “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Now, if God has prepared good works for us to do, and we have been created in Christ Jesus to do them, it seems abundantly clear that doing these works is expected of us, and that is what the whole of the New Testament teaches.

Marc Roby: But, we must guard against the idea that our works are in any way meritorious.

Dr. Spencer: True. That is the distinction that we must uphold. The basis for our salvation is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. And we become partakers of that righteousness by faith alone. But, the proof that we are truly saved, which means that we have been born again and are new creations in Christ Jesus, is that we do the good works that God has prepared for us to do. Our works are absolutely necessary to demonstrate that we have been born again. So, without works, we have no reasonable basis for making the claim to having been born again. But, our works are in no way at all meritorious.

Marc Roby: I think it would be good at this point to make completely clear exactly why our works can never be meritorious.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that’s a good idea. Our works can never be meritorious because, as I said in an earlier session, they are all tainted by sin and not perfect, and therefore, in-and-of themselves merit condemnation, not commendation. But, nevertheless, when someone has been born again and with a sincere heart desire to please God does what he requires in his Word, God graciously accepts that imperfect work.

Marc Roby: Much like a parent accepts a child’s attempt to do something that pleases them.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We are pleased when our young children learn to make their own bed, or clean their own room. We may still point out where their efforts were not up to standard, so that they can improve, but we are pleased with the effort. I think one of the best illustrations I’ve heard of this idea is the following: When a five-year old child draws a picture for us we may put it on the door of the fridge. And why do we do that? Is it because our five-year-old has produced a piece of art that has intrinsic merit as art? That certainly isn’t the case with any five-year-old I’ve ever come across. No, the reason we display it on the fridge is that it was an honest, but obviously imperfect, attempt by our child to draw something pleasing to us.

Marc Roby: We don’t want to run too far with the idea that flawed good works are acceptable to God though, do we?

Dr. Spencer: Well, of course not. If we do not make an honest attempt to give our best effort to God, then we should not think it will be accepted. Going back to our previous example, if a child is angry about something and grabs a crayon and scribbles something on the paper and tries to tell us it is a picture, we are not pleased. And we wouldn’t be pleased if a normal 15-year-old produced a drawing that looked like it was done by a 5-year-old either. We need to grow during our Christian life and our obedience should improve as we do so. And that growth should be evident to others.

Marc Roby: But, it matters where we start from doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Oh, absolutely it matters where we start. If someone who has been a profligate drunk and thief becomes a Christian, we expect radical change, but we don’t necessarily expect that person to be as outwardly conformed to God’s standard as someone who was a hard-working, honest and basically decent person before coming to faith. The standard for all of us is the same; we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, which is perfection. But, although no one achieves that goal in this life, we do start from different places and the rate of progress is not the same for everyone, nor is it completely consistent for anyone.

Marc Roby: Very well, we’ve established that works are important as proof of our salvation, so now let’s return to the answer in the WSC about what duty God requires of man. What exactly is that duty?

Dr. Spencer: Let me begin by quoting from the WSC again. The answer to question 39 states that “The duty which God requires of man, is obedience to his revealed will.”

Marc Roby: Even though we just discussed the necessity of good works for a Christian, I am still compelled to point out that the answer uses two words that modern people – even many who call themselves Christians – really don’t like; duty and obedience.

Dr. Spencer: Unfortunately, you’re right. But when we go back and consider who God is; namely, the eternal, self-existent creator of all things, and when we consider who we are; namely, sinful, rebellious creatures utterly dependent on him for everything, it is perfectly reasonable to speak of our duty and our obedience.

Marc Roby: Which brings us back to our need to have a proper understanding of who God is and who we are.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And we are back to the conversation we had in our last session about what we can learn from Genesis 1:1. This fundamental distinction between the creator and the creature is so important. If we have that right, then the words duty and obedience make perfectly good sense.

Marc Roby: Right. So, our duty is obedience to the revealed will of God. Which begs the question, what is God’s revealed will?

Dr. Spencer: The answer that the Catechism gives is that God’s revealed will is his moral law, and it then goes on to say that the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.

Marc Roby: Well, we again have a problem with many modern professing Christians, don’t we? I mean, the Ten Commandments are part of the Old Testament and we are told in Romans 10:4 that “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” So, many modern professing Christians would say that the Old Testament Law no longer applies.

Dr. Spencer: I know many would say that, but they are wrong and they don’t get that idea from the Bible itself. When Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that Christ is the end of the law, he did not mean that the law was being done away with. Rather, he meant that Christ was, as Pastor Mathew put it in his book on Romans, the goal of the law[2]. He was the one that the law pointed to. He alone kept it perfectly so that he could give his perfect righteousness to those who trust in him for their salvation.

Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this verse, wrote that “The design of the law was to lead people to Christ. The moral law was but for the searching of the wound, the ceremonial law for the shadowing forth of the remedy; but Christ is the end of both.”[3] The moral law of God shows us our sin and our need for a redeemer because we are incapable of keeping it ourselves. So, Christ kept it on behalf of all who will trust in him. In fact, in Matthew 5:17, Christ himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Marc Roby: In other words, as you said earlier, the basis for our salvation is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. When we see our sin and need, and we renounce all trust in ourselves and place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are united to him by faith. Our sins are put in his account and his righteousness is put in our account.

Marc Roby: What is often called the double transaction, or double imputation.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And 2 Corinthians 5:21 teaches it clearly, that verse says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: That is an amazing idea, that we become the righteousness of God. But we are nearly out of time for today, so I think it would be good if you could summarize the main points we’ve covered about the duty God requires of us.

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. First, it is absolutely clear from the Bible that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone as the reformation declared. It is the righteousness of Christ that saves us, not our own. But, here is where modern Christianity has gotten very far off the mark. It is equally clear from the Bible that we are not saved by a faith that is devoid of good works. Such a faith is, at best, mental assent. It is the faith of demons James tells us in James 2, and it will not save anyone. If we have been born again, then we are new creations in Christ Jesus and we will live differently. So, our good works are necessary proof of our salvation. Paul said, in Acts 26:20, that he “preached that [people] should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”

Marc Roby: We will certainly return to these topics in more detail later, but I think that concludes our brief summary of the Bible’s teaching. I think I’ll close by quoting again the answer to Question three of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states it very well, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, pp 125-131 (available on our Website: https://graceandglory.pub/)

[3] Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, Vol. 6, pg. 354

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our study of theology today by considering the basic message of the Bible.

Dr. Spencer, in our last session, you presented some arguments for why you think it is important for everyone to understand what the Bible teaches. How would you summarize the Bible’s message in a sentence or two?

Dr. Spencer: The best short summary I know of is the answer to Question 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

But, of course, the Bible is not just a series of doctrinal statements and bare commands. It is also a historical document that teaches us about how God has interacted with his creation from the very beginning and it is in the course of giving us this history, which includes all sorts of fascinating true characters and stories and poetry and so on, that the Bible teaches us what we are to believe and what duty God requires of us.

Marc Roby: Let’s start with what we are to believe. Can you summarize that?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The Bible begins, in the first verse of Genesis Chapter 1, by saying “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”[1] That is perhaps the most important thing we need to know and the statement teaches us a lot. First of all, it teaches us that everything we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and so on, every inanimate object and every living thing, was created by God. We are just creatures, absolutely dependent on our creator for our existence.

Marc Roby: That certainly humbles man, doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. This creator/creature distinction is central to the message of the Bible and we must understand it to be able to please God. In Isaiah Chapter 42, verse 8, God tells us through the prophet, “I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” And we are also told in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In other words, we must grasp this creator/creature distinction.

The first line of the first chapter of the first book of John Calvin’s famous work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion,[2] reads, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

Marc Roby: And, I might add, that the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. But, what else does the first verse teach us?

Dr. Spencer: The first three words, “In the beginning”, teach us two things; first, that all of creation had a beginning – before God’s creative work, the universe simply did not exist. And, secondly, God himself did not have a beginning, he is eternal.

Marc Roby: Let me stop you there for just a moment because you will hear people ask, who created God? I tend to think this is a nonsensical question, but what do you say?

Dr. Spencer: I would say, first of all, that there must be something, or someone, that is eternal. As we noted in our first session, if there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, nothing would exist now, because nothing comes out of nothing. But our universe does not appear in any way, shape or form to be eternal. It had a beginning. It does not at all follow logically however, that God must have had a beginning. In fact, as I said, something, or someone, must be eternal. In other words, to say that we are created by an eternal God does answer the question of where we came from, because the only question that needs answering is how our universe came into existence. The universe clearly had a beginning and, if natural laws are allowed to run their course uninterrupted, will have an end, so it needs to be explained. But, on the other hand, the question, “where did God come from”, or perhaps, “who created God”, is, as you noted, a meaningless question because God is the only eternal reality that exists.

Marc Roby: Exactly. What else can we learn from Genesis?

Dr. Spencer: For one thing, we learn that God exists in more than one person.

Marc Roby: And, of course, that term “person” is problematic, isn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that word is often a problem for people. When we think of a person, we think of a distinct human being, who has his own mind and will and who is not in any organic sense part of, or synonymous with, any other human being. But God, we learn through the teaching of the entire Bible, exists eternally in three persons; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And these three persons are not three separate gods, they are three persons that comprise one God. The word ‘person’ is, as you point out, often a stumbling block here.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly seen that to be the case. So, how do you deal with this perceived problem?

Dr. Spencer: I think it is critical to make the point that God is unique and we can’t expect any term that we borrow from other relationships to fit him perfectly. The important thing is that there is no contradiction in this doctrine. We are not, for example, saying that God is, at the same time and in exactly the same sense of the term, three persons and one person. We are, rather, saying that he is one God, who has eternally existed in three co-equal persons. We can’t really grasp this, but it is not a contradiction.

There is perfect love and fellowship within the godhead and that is why, when God made man in his own image, he made us in such a way that we need fellowship. We are all made, first and foremost, for fellowship with God himself, and secondly, for fellowship with each other.

Marc Roby: And, in terms of this fellowship, the relationship between a husband and a wife – which is under severe attack in our culture – is very special.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. In fact, God himself said that it is not good for man to be alone, and so he created us male and female. Men and women are obviously different, not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually as well. We are complements – spelled with an ‘e’ – to each other. Together, a husband and wife, along with their children, are the closest we can come to understanding and reflecting the unity of the three persons in the godhead. We are all of equal value, neither men nor women are inherently superior to the other, but there are functional distinctions, just like there are within the godhead itself.

Marc Roby: So, we have established that the Bible teaches us that God is eternal, that he exists in three persons, and that he created all things. What else does it teach us?

Dr. Spencer: It also teaches us why God created. We may not be given an answer that is as full-orbed as we might like, but we are clearly told what we need to know, which is that God created all things for his own glory. For example, one of the best-known verses to express this idea is 1 Corinthians 10:31 where we read, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” But there are many other verses we could cite as well. For example, in the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, God is comforting his people and tells them that he will gather them from the four corners of the earth and in verse 7 God says that he will gather, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Finally, in Philippians 2, after describing the amazing humility of Christ in dying for our sins, Paul tells us, in verses 9-11, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

And it isn’t just living beings that exist for God’s glory, the 19th Psalm famously opens with the line, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Over and over in the Bible we are told that God will not give his glory to another.

Marc Roby: That’s a huge disappointment to most people!

Dr. Spencer: Yes, if we’re honest, we all have a tendency to think that the world revolves around us. But the reality is that we are finite, dependent, weak, sinful creatures who haven’t been around all that long and exist only because of God’s mercy.

Marc Roby: And yet, sad-to-say, most of what passes for religion today revolves around how to make our life better. In other words, it is anthropocentric; man-centered.

Dr. Spencer: You’ve hit the nail on the head. But the Bible is very different, it is theocentric, or God-centered, from beginning to end.

Marc Roby: I’m sure you’ve come across people who think it is somehow unseemly for God’s purpose in creating to be his own glory, how would you answer them?

Dr. Spencer: I think there are two things we need to understand about the fact that God created all things for his own glory. The first, is that creation does not in any way add to God’s glory. He doesn’t need us, or anything else in creation. He has had perfect fellowship within the godhead for all eternity and man has not been around very long, so the idea that he somehow needed us for fellowship or needed our worship is simply nonsensical.

The second thing we need to understand is that there is no better purpose for creation. If you think about God for even a moment, that he is the only eternal, infinite, independent, necessarily existent, absolutely holy, just, loving, merciful, and perfect being in existence, what purpose for creation could possibly be better than to make his own glory manifest? It will be to our eternal joy to be in his presence and to learn and experience more and more of him. So, so far from being unseemly, this is the best possible purpose for creation.

Marc Roby: And, of course, we are also told that God himself takes pleasure in his creation; for example, we read in Psalm 147 verse 11 that “the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I like that verse. It is sometimes a bit surprising when you look at how badly sin has messed up this world, but God definitely derives pleasure from his creation, and I think that is why we also enjoy creating. We are made in God’s image, so we enjoy creating, whether it is painting, or writing, or making music, or whatever.

Marc Roby: That always amazes me to think that we have been created in God’s own image. What else does the Bible tell us about ourselves?

Dr. Spencer: The Bible teaches us that man was made perfect by God, but that he had the ability to disobey if he chose to. And, as we know, Adam did disobey God. I think this is the greatest mystery of all; it is called the mystery of iniquity. Why on earth would Adam and Eve, or Satan before them, disobey and rebel against God? They enjoyed perfect fellowship with him and lacked nothing, and yet Satan wanted to be God and fell from his exalted position, and then he led Adam and Eve into sin as well by tempting them with the prospect of being gods. And so, they sinned against God, which is called the fall. The result was exactly what God told them it would be; they immediately died spiritually – meaning that they lost fellowship with God – and they started to die physically – and eventually did die of course – and all of their posterity, with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, inherited their sinful nature; in other words, we are fallen.

Marc Roby: And it is pretty easy to see the results in the morning newspaper, isn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. You don’t have to look too far. The reason we have keys to our houses and our cars, and passwords to our bank accounts and other things, the reason we have wars, prisons, death, sickness, all of it is caused by sin. The Bible teaches us that man is fallen and is at enmity with God and will be justly punished in hell unless something is done to redeem us. But, because we are sinful creatures, we cannot redeem ourselves.

Nothing I do is ever perfect. Even if I do something that is, in and of itself, a good thing, my motives and execution will not be perfect. So, there is absolutely nothing I can ever do to pay for my own sins. Everything I do is worthy of condemnation, not commendation. So, the idea that God will weigh my good and bad deeds on a balance at the end of my life and see whether or not the good outweighs the bad is based on a completely unbiblical understanding of the nature of man. I have no good deeds in the absolute sense, nor does anyone else.

Marc Roby: Isn’t it wonderful that God’s plan doesn’t end there?

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely is wonderful beyond measure. We must praise God that there is more to the story. God chose to redeem a people for himself. Therefore, he sent his perfect Son, the second person of the holy Trinity, to become incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, to live a perfect, sinless life, and then to offer himself on the cross as a sacrifice of atonement to pay for the sins of every person who will completely surrender all faith in himself and place his trust in Jesus Christ alone. That is the gospel.

Marc Roby: And the word gospel, of course, means ‘good news’… which it most definitely is. We’re just about out of time for today, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. I’ve obviously just given a bare-bones partial outline of what the Bible teaches, but I think it is important to point out that there is much more there and it includes a great deal of very practical information about how to live in a way that pleases God, which is also the best way to have a life filled with joy.

Marc Roby: What the apostle Peter called joy inexpressible and full of glory.

Dr. Spencer: Amen.

Marc Roby: That ends our time for today. Let me summarize what we have covered so far; we have seen that the Bible teaches us that God is eternal, that he exists in three persons, that he created all things, that he created for his own glory, that man fell by sinning against God, and that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem sinful men through faith in him.

Dr. Spencer: I think that sums it up.

Marc Roby: Great, I look forward to seeing you next time.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

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