Summer Academic Series: The Law & Grace Debate - Dr. Dale Coulter - 08/02/17


[Chip Bennett]: I want to welcome everybody, once again, to another Academic Series. As most of you all probably know, but if you’re a guest here, my name is Chip Bennett and I am the pastor here at Grace Community Church and the church that is hosting this event this evening. I’m also an adjunct professor at Southeastern University and an adjunct professor at Knox Theological Seminary. My areas of expertise are systematic theology, hermeneutics, homiletics and the classics of the Western literary canon. We’re going to be joined on stage, shortly here, by Dr. Dale Coulter.

Dale is an associate professor of historical theology as Regent University School of Divinity. He received his undergraduate degree at Lee College, which is now Lee University. My alma mater as well. We were both in college at the same time, and we knew each other. He did his master’s work at Reformed Theological Seminary, and his doctoral studies at the University of Oxford, where he focused on the Middle Ages and the 12th Century in particular. So, he is a patristics scholar and an Oxford graduate, so you can sort of tell the level of education that he’s had.

So, on behalf of both of us and Grace Community Church, we welcome everybody and we’d like to get started with a word of prayer. So, would you bow your heads with me and let’s start with prayer?

Dear Lord, I come to You this evening asking that You would bless our time together as we do our best to present Your people Your truth. I pray that You would be with all of us here this evening so that we can be intellectually challenged, spiritually engaged, but, most importantly, that we would leave here with a greater appreciation for You. Jesus, we love You. We lift You up. This is Your church, and we’re Your people. We’ve gathered not only to be taught from the Word of God, but to receive Your Word. I pray that You would especially be with Dr. Coulter, as he is Your chosen instrument this evening to help us understand a very tough issue in the church. Give him Your words and Your Spirit to help us navigate through some challenging waters.

Give us, Lord, ears to hear. Lord, let us lay down our agendas and our opinions, and let us bow and revere Your Word, which will ultimately lead us to our Lord and Savior, Jesus, and it’s in His name that we pray, and everybody said, “amen.”

As many of you all are aware here, the Academic Series has become hugely successful over the summers here at Grace. It’s sort of hard to not have great attendance and great evenings when you have people of the caliber of Dale. So, thanks everybody for being here and for supporting education in the local church. This is the third of our three evenings that we’re going to do this summer, and I think each one has been great and I think tonight will be great as well.

The original vision behind this Academic Series was to bring academic scholarship at the highest level to the local church, and we’ve been doing that and we continue to plan to do so. These are informative evenings, so they’re educational in nature. We want people of faith, people in the community, and even non-believers to be able to interact with the real academic issues and we hope that you will continue to support these evenings by your attendance.

So, with that in mind, let’s get to learning. The two things that we want to accomplish tonight is, one, we want to have a genuine academic learning experience in the local church. And, two, we want you to be able to wrestle with one of the perennial issues in the church, which is the law and grace debate.

The law and grace debate surfaced, for my personally, in the 1990’s. I was an associate pastor in Miramar, Florida working on a master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. They had an extension site at the Miami Christian College. One of my professors was Doug Moo. And he was working, while he was teaching me New Testament Theology and Criticism, on an essay that he had been asked to contribute to a forthcoming book on the place of the law in the Christian life. It was called “Five Views of the Law.”

As he talked about that in class, it led me to consider the law and its place in the life of the Christian in ways I had really never considered. I really only knew one usage of the law, and wasn’t aware of the historicity of the church in this particular issue. As I was working through these issues, I was confronted with works from James Dunn, Heike Reisnan, Frank Tillman and others. So, there was a whole new world that opened up for me as I studied this subject. It wasn’t as easy as I had previously believed.

Make a note somewhere in your notes tonight. Put it in your Bible. This is a truism I promise you you’ll want to take home with you. I promise you.

Theological issues that are easy haven’t been properly worked through. Write that down. I promise you. Take it home. At some point, you’ll go, “He’s right.”

So, as I started working through that and I was reading the books and doing the things that I was doing for the class, in the local church that I was pastoring in, a wave of Christians needing to keep the Old Testament law came into the church that I was at. So, I had sort of two things coinciding at ones, and it really made me reflect upon these two areas of law and grace. So, as I reflected upon that, I was trying to figure out how they work together, what they do or don’t work together at all. Eventually, that controversy died down and I moved on to other things theologically.

But, it wasn’t until the last few years that the struggle reared again. This time, it wasn’t keeping the Old Testament law that was in play, but it was a new movement. This movement seemed to be fed up with the legalism in the church and performance oriented religion, and it had basically cast off almost every restraint in the name of grace. Basically, to summarize it: Law is bad; grace is good. And that might be a tad of an oversimplification, but it does pretty well explain a lot of the positions of this new movement. Teachers such as Joseph Prince, Steve McVey, Andrew Farley, Paul Ellis and others have been somewhat successful at birthing a movement within the pews of many churches.

It comes under the names of “The Grace Movement,” “The Exchanged Life Teaching,” or, those who look at it more critically would call it “Hyper Grace.” So, some of the questions that we need to deal with tonight is does the Grace Movement, or the Hyper Grace Movement, stand up to any type of critical scholarship? Do they possibly focus on one area of the law to the detriment of the others? Maybe they’re not even aware that there are other elements of the law. Another question that needs to be addressed is what is expected of a Christian? Is there anything to sanctification at all? Has the historical church been wrong for 2,000 years about the disciplines of the faith?

Are you and I dead and only Christ lives in us? So, only when we’re moved on to do something do we do it? That would probably sound a little bit like a Christian Weekend at Bernie’s experience. So, what does it mean for Christ to be in us? What do the ethical admonitions of the Epistles mean? Do they have any meaning at all? Are we called to holiness? Is there any truth to the rejection of the legalism in performance-based Christianity that we see in these new movements? These, and others like that, are real questions, and they deserve real answers. So, hopefully, before you leave tonight, you’ll be given some answers to these types of questions.

On your seats, you have a 3x5 card, I hope, or you were given one on the way in. If you weren’t given one, let’s make sure you do get one. Did everybody get one on the way in? Good. On that 3x5 card, as the evening is going on, please feel free to write down any questions that you may have, and we’ll collect them a little later this evening. We’re going to do our best to get to every single one of them during our Q&A session. So, we want you to ask questions. Part of the reason we do this is not just to lecture, but to do Q&A.

So, with no further delay at all, I’m going to turn it over to Dr. Dale Coulter. Could you all give him a warm hand as he comes up this evening? It’s so great to have you, man.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: I appreciate it.

[Chip Bennett]: Teach us, man. Teach us.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: It’s great to be back in Florida. I grew up in Florida on the other side of the state; on the Space Coast, in Brevard Count in a little town called Palm Bay. I actually was just over there with my family on a vacation for about a week on that beach. So, it’s kind of the first time in my life that within a three-week period I was from the east coast to the west coast. I went from the brown beaches to the white sands over here. I went over to the beach today. I walked on the beach and thought, “I can’t go to Florida and not walk on the beach. It’s just what you do.

It’s great to be here with you. It’s great to be here with Pastor Chip and reconnect with him. He’s right. We both graduated from Lee University together in 1992, and really have gone our separate ways and only recently have reconnected. So, it’s just great to kind of get caught up with what God’s been doing in his life here at Grace Community and this church and hearing so many wonderful things about this church. It kind of makes me want to move. I always want to move back to Florida anyway. It kind of makes me want to move here and start attending the church.

So, I’m really excited to be here. I want to talk to you about law and grace and kind of move through this topic. Pastor Chip is right. It’s a perennial topic. It’s been around for a while. It goes all the way back to the reformation, in fact. They were debating this in the 1500’s, if you can believe it. And we continue to debate this and how we think about the relationship between the two and how we might understand them. So, what I want to do is sort of start off by looking at the challenge.

Let’s see if that gets that right. Keep clicking. Keep clicking. I’m going through Grace Community Church ads here. Just a few commercial advertisements before we begin. There we go. Now we’re on it. Okay.

Alright. So, let’s talk about some challenges real quick to kind of get things out on the table just so that we’re all on the same page. And then I’ll talk a little bit about the law and how we can understand it. Then I’ll talk about grace and how we understand that. And I’ll kind of bring it all to a conclusion. So, that’s kind of what we’re going to do. Challenge. Law. Grace. Wrapping it all up together. And then we’ll open it up for Q&A at the end. Simple enough.

So, too much law. One challenge. That’s one side of the equation. And you have to think about law and grace as two sides and there’s a pendulum. In history, the pendulum swings; sometimes to one side and sometimes to the other. It usually depends on the cultural issues and the cultural challenges of the day as to where the pendulum is swinging right now. Sometimes, it’s not just broadly like in the United States. Sometimes the pendulum is far to the grace side in one sector, like maybe in Florida. And sometimes it’s far to the law side in another sector, like maybe in Kansas or something like that. So, a lot of times it even depends on where you live as to where the pendulum is.

So, let’s just think about it. If the pendulum is swinging to the law – too much law – what does that look like? Well, the first thing is it’s combining a strict code of holy living or doctrinal conformity with an emphasis on divine judgment. It’s very important that you think about both of those together. Strict code. And it’s not just about holy living, how we should live, but also doctrinal conformity and what we should believe. A strict code on that. That’s usually reinforced by appeals to divine judgment. If you don’t do this, judgment will happen. Right? Judgment is just around the corner.

So, it’s a way of kind of keeping everybody in line. Of course, judgment reinforces some concerns and some anxieties. Sometimes that anxiety can spill over into fear. So, here’s what I mean when I say, “Strict code of holy living.” There’s this word that I want to introduce you to tonight. Some of you may have already heard of it. Some of you might not have. It’s called “adiaphora.” Has anyone heard of this term “adiaphora?” Some of you have. Most of you have not. Okay. It ultimately comes from Greek philosophy, and it just simply is referring to things of indifference. That’s what it means. Things of indifference. Matters of indifference.

New Testament scholars have suggested that when Paul is dealing with certain parts of the law, he’s talking about matters of indifference. For example, if you look in the book of Galatians in his letter, twice in that he says, “Circumcision and uncircumcision count for nothing,” and then at the end he wraps it up by punching it home, saying, “What counts is a new creation.”

He says the same thing in 1 Corinthians. That’s because the issue is circumcision in relationship to being part of the people of God. Did you need to be circumcised to be part of the people of God, especially since Christ has now come? And Paul’s answer to that is no way. But, what he does is he consigns circumcision to a matter of adiaphora. That is to say it’s something of indifference. What that means is it’s sort of morally neutral. It doesn’t really matter. You can do it. And he actually has his ministry companion, Timothy, this younger son in the faith, circumcised. Not because Paul thinks at that moment that Timothy has to be circumcised in order to come to Christ. He thinks, “Oh, it’s a culturally expedient thing to do. You’re going to minister to Jewish people and circumcision is very important? You ought to be circumcised. You don’t have to, but it’s a matter that you should engage in.”

So, matters of indifference are these things that are somewhat morally neutral, and they could be points of strong debate. Circumcision was a point of strong debate. But, for Paul, you could do it, you don’t have to. So, when I talk about a strict code of holy living or doctrinal conformity, here’s what I’m talking about: When you think about something that’s a matter of indifference, you’re talking about something that’s on the periphery of the faith. A doctrinal commitment that might be on the periphery, or a moral commitment that might be on the periphery.

Circumcision, for Paul, was on the periphery. But, the folks who showed up in the house churches in Galatia took it from the periphery and moved it to the center. So, when you talk about a strict holy code, you’re talking about someone who takes something that’s on the periphery and moves it to the center and says, “This is what it means to be a Christian. You’ve got to do this.”

I’ll give you some examples here. I grew up in a very strict holiness environment. In fact, Pastor Chip and I grew up in the same strict holiness environment. My mother, it was even stricter for her. Only dresses. When she went to PE, one of her challenges growing up was she was not allowed to wear pants as a woman. She could only wear long dresses, and she would tell me about her struggles as a teenager trying to do PE exercises in dresses. But, that’s what it meant to be holy. Right? She couldn’t even read comic strips.

To this day, she loves comics, but she has this tinge of a sort of guilt hovering in the background that maybe she’s doing something she shouldn’t be doing. It’s one of these guilty pleasures for her. You think, “Comic strips? Guilty pleasure? Wow.”

But, it’s because she was raised and these kind of entertainment issues were not on the periphery. They were in the center and they had to do with debates over what should Christians do about entertainment. Now, you can think about those debates as really relating to a matter of indifference. You can go or you can’t go. It’s up to you. It depends on your own conscience. But, for my mother, the way she was raised in holiness circles, man, these things were right at the center. So, for her, it was just if you did it, you were guilty, and that was reinforced by appeals to divine judgment. Right?

“Without holiness, no one will see God. If you’re not living holy – and we define holiness in very strict ways – then you’re not doing what God wants you to do.”

That’s an over-emphasis. What’s at the root of that is this confusion, I think, of social mores with biblical morals. A confusion of mores with morals. Here’s what I mean: My wife and I really like Downton Abbey. I don’t know if there are any Downton Abbey fans in here. It’s a PBS series. Okay. I’ve got some Downton Abbey fans. Great. We’re going back through the whole series this summer, because it’s free on Amazon. So, every night she comes in and we just pull up, have dinner and watch some Downton.

If you look at that series, one of the themes that’s traced through the whole series is this shift from the age of Queen Victoria and King Edward – the Edwardian age, which is 1900-1910 – to this new world that emerges after World War I going into World War II. This new world in which the British Aristocracy are just sort of fading away and the world that they came from, where you dressed a certain way for dinner and you dressed a certain way during the day and it was all about the way you dressed and dress codes were really critical – I mean, there were a lot of social mores about dress codes, and if you didn’t dress properly, you were told about it. Even those who were sort of common had to dress in particular ways. Right?

All of those dress codes, right, which now, today, those things are out the window. Especially in Florida. I mean, I don’t know if you, growing up in Florida. For me, going to church, hey, Florida is Florida. It’s a beach community. We just kind of hang out and dress casual and it’s what we do. I mean, that’s just the way it was for me on the other side of the state. I don’t know that if you grew up in Florida on this side of the state that that’s the way it was. But, we have come well beyond those. But, some Christian groups coming out of that period of time thought dress was connected to holiness. Modesty ought to be manifested in the kinds of clothes that you wear. So, you ought to dress in particular ways to reflect a holy God.

So, they were confusing social mores about how you dress with biblical morals, even though dressing is a matter of adiaphora. It’s a matter of indifference. So, in that respect, there’s too much law going on in the middle of all of that.

Now, let’s shift to the other side. Too much grace. This is if the pendulum swings back in the other direction. I would say combining an anemic view of holy living with an emphasis on diving acceptance. The opposite of judgment. Divine acceptance. God accepts you as you are. It doesn’t matter what you do. That sort of thing. And an anemic view of holy living, what I mean by that is it’s sort of similar. It’s allowing social mores to define and shape biblical morals, but in a slightly different way than in the former way. It’s where, for example, I’ll give you this example: I had a family friend who, one time, went to her mother and said she wanted to live with another guy.

She said, “Look, times are changing, mom. People aren’t doing what – your standards are not my standards. I’m growing up in a new era and we don’t have to do what you do anymore. That’s just the way it is, mom.”

The whole point that she was making are these social mores are just the way it is, and I read the Bible different because these social mores are now acceptable, this is acceptable behavior. I know it wasn’t in your day, but it is today. That’s the way it goes. So, there’s a sense in which there’s a swing to allow whatever the emerging set of social mores might be to define biblical values.

Now, when I say an anemic view of holy living with an emphasis on divine acceptance, here’s what I mean, and this sort of relates to a person that Pastor Chip mentioned a few moments ago. A guy named Joseph Prince, who’s written a number of books on this. I don’t know if you’ve read any of his books. He’s a pastor. He’s written a lot of books. If you read some of his books about law and grace, he has a pretty truncated view of the law. The law, for him, only has a negative function in the Christian life. What I mean by that is he says, “The purpose of the law is to convict us of sin. That’s it. That’s what its purpose is, to tell you that you’re a sinner.”

So, the law presents a standard before you that sort of is held up like a mirror to your soul. You look at the standard and, on the basis, you recognize that you don’t measure up to the standard, and the effect of that ought to be convicting you in some way. That’s all the law does. It’s purely negative. So, the law, in a sense, if you sort of tease out that view, is related to a list of do’s and don’ts. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.

If you take that kind of view and sort of thread it all out, you can see how that kind of way of thinking about the law sort of makes you think that the only purpose of the law is really to tell you how far short you’ve fallen. It’s to tell you what you’re not doing right. It’s to sort of bring judgment down upon you. It’s just a negative view. I think it’s out of sort of truncated views of the law like that that you get to positions in culture like, “I don’t want to be a Christian.”


“Because Christians don’t have any fun.”

“Why don’t they have any fun?”

“Because they don’t get to do anything, because there are all these rules and regulations that they have to follow. If I really want to do something – I want to have fun with life. The Christians are boring.”

That sort of thing. The idea behind it is that the law is just there to restrict my freedom. That’s the idea behind that sort of common criticism of Christianity. And there’s an assumption of what freedom actually is there. The assumption is freedom is maximizing my choices. The more choices I have, the more free I am. Whereas, the law simply minimizes. It’s telling me what I can’t do. Don’t do this, don’t do that. That sort of thing.

There’s a real issue here as to whether freedom really means maximizing our choices. That is to say, the more choices you have, the more free you actually are. If you’ve run a business – and I assume some of you have, and I know Pastor Chip has – you know that what you really are trying to do is to restrict the choices of your employees that are underneath you. You’re trying to regulate their freedom. What you mean by regulate is we live in light of these particular governing principles which govern our business. Within these principles, then, if you conform your activity to these principles, this is how this business is going to grow. We have certain goals. You need to conform what you do to goals, and that’s how you achieve them. If you are just doing whatever you want to do, we’re not going anywhere and we’re not achieving anything. We’re just all going a number of directions.

In other words, one of the goals I would say if you’re a boss is to restrict. But, you recognize that in regulating the freedom of the employee, you’re directing it. Toward what? Toward the good of the business. I do that all the time with my kids. Right? I regulate their freedom. My kids – I’ve said this to them so many times now that they can repeat it back to me.

“I know, dad. If I don’t discipline myself, you’re going to discipline me.”

You’re right. I tell them, “What’s it mean to be an adult? An adult is supposed to discipline himself or herself. An adult has to regulate his or her behavior. Right now, you’re a kid. I know that you really don’t regulate your behavior. So, I’ll regulate it for you if I have to. But, my hope is that one day you will self-regulate so that I don’t have to.”

In other words, regulated freedom is conforming our freedom to the truth. When we conform our freedom to the truth about who we are, the truth about the world that we’re living in, then we can achieve the goals that we want to achieve. Let me just give you something to think about. We say that God is the most free being in all of the universe. There’s no being like God. God is more free than anyone else. And yet, God, there are choices that are open to you that are actually not open to God.

God cannot, by definition, sin. It would be a contradiction in the very nature of God to sin. Yet, God is more free than you are. And you can. It’s a possibility that you have. And that doesn’t mean just one sinful action. Think about all the think about all the hosts of sinful actions that are out there. God cannot, by definition, do that, because it would contradict His very nature.

So, God’s freedom – we might say that God’s less free than we are if that were our definition of freedom, if freedom was just defined exclusively in terms of the maximization of choice. But, if we say that real freedom is regulate freedom, freedom in conformity to goodness, to what is genuinely good, freedom in conformity to what is genuinely true, now we can see that God is actually the most free, because there is never a time when God’s freedom is not acted in concert with goodness and truth. God always acts in concert with goodness. God always acts for His own good and for your good and my good. He does this by nature.

We are working toward a place where, one day, we will be like the saints in heaven. We say that we will be absolutely free. And, in that moment, we will not be capable of sinning. That tells us that freedom has to be different than the maximization of choices. I am most free when every choice I make maximizes my good. And I may only have a handful of choices, but if all of those choices lead to my flourishing as a human being and maximize who I am, then that is all I need. Right? That is all I need.

So, too much grace really has this anemic view of holy living where it sort of defines the law in a wholly negative way. And I’ve tried to sort of draw out from that, as you see, when you define the law in a wholly negative way, it’s a list of don’t do this and don’t do that, then you can get to this ultimate point that Christians don’t have any fun because it’s all about restricting your freedom. What I’ve tried to do is a little bit challenge that notion of restricting your freedom.

Actually, God doesn’t want to restrict your freedom. God wants you to use your freedom in a way that actually is for your good and for the good of others, not in ways that are self-destructive. God doesn’t want to keep you from using creation. He doesn’t want to keep you from enjoying life. He wants to keep you from using it in destructive ways; ways that destroy you and destroy those that are around you. That’s the whole premise behind the idea of enslaved to sin. We don’t use creation in the way God intended it. So, it becomes a destructive force in us and in others.

Alright? Drugs, which are a product of our environment by some sort of chemical analysis where we discover how to manipulate all of these natural goods, these plants and all of that, and bring them into a way that can cure the body? That’s a wonderful thing. Drugs used in the right way are used in a wonderful way. But, we can use that same aspect of creation in a self-destructive fashion, and it can become a self-destructive mechanism for us and for others. The problem is not in the drugs themselves. The problem is how we relate to them and how we use them and how we employ them. Right? That’s the issue that’s going on there.

Okay. So, we’ve got these two pendulums. Too much grace. There’s this divine acceptance of all kinds of behavior. Freedom means maximization of choice and all that sort of thing. Too much law. There’s this emphasis on judgment. I’m all the time feeling like either I’m holier than everybody else because I’m living a lifestyle that nobody else does – I’m dressing more conservatively than everybody else – or I’m living with this cycle of doubt and despair where I think I’ll never measure up enough. I can never quite get it right and I’m in a performance oriented form of Christianity where, if I’m not reading my Bible 30 minutes a day, if I’m not praying so much time every bit... you know, you can really define what it means to be a holy Christian in very specific ways. And, if you’re not careful, you can paint yourself into a corner and then you start feeling guilty about it.

In the same way that if you’ve ever gone on a diet – I have, many times. You can see that it doesn’t always work for me. And you start feeling guilty because you are not – you know, you start off gung-ho, restricting yourself. You think, “This is working.” Sometimes you want to go even further and restrict yourself, and then you start feeling guilty for the little nibbles and the little pleasures of ice cream and the little things that you start doing to sort of reward yourself. Before you know it, you’ve just kind of giving up the ghost.

I mean, if you’re in too much legalism sometimes, or too much law, you can get so frustrated that you just say, “I’m going to give it up. It’s not worth it.”

So, let’s talk about how to understand the law in relationship to grace. Go down this road a little bit. Let me talk about creation for just a few moments, and then I’m going to jump in and talk about the law as it unfolds. So, a couple of points about creation. One: The image of God points toward design and purpose. The whole idea behind the Bible saying that humans are created in the image is to say that humans are endowed with a God-given purpose. They both mirror or reflect who God is. That’s design. Who we are reflects who God is. And that design holds within it purpose. So, God has designed us as moral beings.

Therefore, morality is a reflection of who God is. There’s a kind of what you could call, for Catholics, natural law. C.S. Lewis in the Abolition of Man talks about natural law, if you’ve read that book. He calls it “the Tao.” All he’s doing is borrowing a Chinese term which means “the Way.” He means that if you look at various cultures, what you can discover is there are common sets of moral principles. Those common sets of moral principles, humans have discovered on their own. Why have they discovered them on their own? Because, God has designed humans to reflect Him. There’s a moral center to human existence. We can discover that moral center if we pay attention to who we are.

We can discover, for example, that knowledge is good to be pursued. We should pursue knowledge, learning and what we are doing right now as a good. Why? Because, you have something in you called curiosity. Now, we can debate all night – and I’m sure we would debate all night – about what kind of knowledge ought to be pursued. My son wants to be an engineer, but he doesn’t want to do math. And I tell him, “Son, you can’t get to the latter without the former.”

He’s curious about engineering. His curiosity is piqued about that. But, not math. Right? So, we can debate the kinds of knowledge and point the fact that God has built it into the fabric of human nature that we are curious animals, and learning is generated from that. So, you know you don’t need a Bible to tell you that knowledge is good to be pursued. You don’t even need a Bible to tell you that you shouldn’t murder someone else. You know, you have an instinct, a fight or flight instinct, to preserve your own existence. I put you in a room, I threaten your life, and that will manifest itself automatically. It will come from who you are as a human being. That ought to tell you that life is a good to be pursued. You will instinctively preserve your own existence.

Every day you live out of that, because you take care to eat, you take care to clothe yourself, you make sure that you have a place to sleep at night and you do all those sorts of things to take care of who you are. You look on other human beings who don’t engage in those activities as either something is wrong with them or there are sets of circumstances that are preventing them from taking care of themselves, and you sometimes try to help them. Why? Because, you’re living out of your own instinct to preserve your life, and you’re just applying it some more. That’s conscience. That’s the natural law.

So, there’s a law of God, Paul says in Romans, written on the heart. It says, “The Gentiles who do not have Torah [the law] do by nature what the law requires, for they have a law written on their heart.”

What is he talking about? The natural law. The law written on your heart. The law that comes from your own desires to preserve your life, curiosity, and those sorts of things. The image of God, then, points toward design and purpose. It tells you what’s good. It gives you a moral center, in a sense. So, there’s a moral law within that reflects God’s design for the universe.

Now, let’s go forward for just a second. However, while there is a moral law within, there’s sin. Let’s think about that for just a few minutes here. I want to talk about sin in two ways. The first way is sin is a transgression of the law of God. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. Or forgive us our “debts.” It depends on how you want to translate that passage.

Paul will differentiate between sin and trespasses, or transgressions. He will talk about those differences. When we think of trespasses or transgressions, we’re thinking about sinful actions or sinful intentions. Think about it this way: Temptation really is when you are attracted to something. Something that if you were to engage in, a form of behavior that if you were engaged in would be a contradiction to God’s law. Right? You want to kill somebody. Maybe you want to kill somebody because you’re driving down the road and that person cut you off. Right? And road rage, suddenly, from out of nowhere. An impulse called anger emerges in your being and begins to take over, and suddenly thoughts begin to emerge in your mind of what you will do to this person should you track him or her down who has dared to cut you off.

I’ve been there. Now, the question becomes, what do you do with this? Right? At that point, it’s an emotion connected to a series of thoughts. That brings you into the possibility of making a decision. Do you consent to this? Some people do. And what do they do? They step on the gas.

“I’m going after this person.”

Right? Road rage incident. If you consent, go over, take that person, harm that person or, God forbid, take that person’s life, yeah, you’ve sinned. You’ve contradicted the law of God. But, you don’t have to consent. Now, the point for me is sin, as a transgression, comes in the moment of consent. Temptation is not sin. Temptation is when the experience comes upon you, of attraction, to do a set of possibilities. The question is what will you do when the set of possibilities emerge? If you consent to that – and you don’t even have to commit the action to consent, right? Think about what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.

“To the one who lusts in his own mind after another woman, he has committed adultery in his heart whether he does the deed or not.”

In other words, if you are attracted, you consent to the attraction, you play the image in your mind, you work it out, you live in the fantasy in your mind – if you’re consenting to that over and over, at that point you have entered into a mental adultery; an adulterous affair whether you go through the action or not. That’s what Jesus is trying to say. But, the key is consent. It’s always consent. We’re attracted to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. It doesn’t mean it’s sin to do that. Right? Sin is always in consent.

So, that’s the first thing. Second: Sin is a condition that enslaves. That’s the trickier thing. Right? When scripture says, in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” it means that we’re all born in some condition. We can call it a disease if we want to. Now, how does the Bible describe this disease, as it were? I say it’s a disease because it’s not natural to us. It may be common, but it’s not natural. When I say it’s common, I mean everybody in the human race has this disease. But, it’s not natural. We shouldn’t have it. It’s not the way things ought to be. Right?

And, I don’t know if you can read all these, but if you look at some of these Scriptures I’ve given you, I want to point out something: What’s common to all of them is the language of desire or passion. Right? So, Romans 6:12: “Do not let sin reign that you should obey it in its desires.”

Sometimes it gets translated “lusts.” But, all “lust” means in that context is not sexual lust, but a strong desire for. Right? Well, in the flesh, the sinful passions were at work, Paul says in Romans 7. Or, in Ephesians 2:3, “We all once lived in the lusts of the flesh.”

“Each one is tempted when drawn away by his own desires,” James says in James 1:14. Or, in 1 John, “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”

When you look at the way Scripture describes sin as a condition, it’s always centered on desire and emotion. Sin is the desiring disease. It’s a problem of our desires not being properly ordered. Our desires are directing us in the wrong ways and connecting us.

How can you be enslaved to an Audi? After all, it’s an inanimate object. It doesn’t really beacon your name, does it? Or does it? Some people say, “That car’s calling my name.”

How can a car call your name when it can’t speak? Because, you have a desire for the car. Right? The problem is not the car. Drive an Audi if you want. I don’t care. The problem is not the car. The problem is your relationship to the car. So, the car can actually enslave you because of your desire. If you think the car adds value to your life, if you think the car makes you somebody, if you think the car makes you the kind of person that you want to really be, a person of stature, honor, influence and those sorts of things – if that car, should it be taken away from you, makes you something less than what you are, at that point that car has become an enslaving mechanism for you. It has nothing to do with the car. It has to do with your relationship. You’ve overvalued it.

But, remember: You don’t value anything you don’t desire. Value is connected to desire. You value something the more you desire it. Sin is when our desires are messed up and we don’t have our values right. That’s why Scripture says, “Love God first. Number one value. Love your neighbor. That would include yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. So, you have to include yourself in your neighbor. And then love creation.”

That’s the order. There’s a hierarchy there. There’s an importance there. If you will order your life that way, if you will arrange your desires – love for God first, love for neighbor second, love for creation third – then you can do everything you want with creation, because you’re loving it in the right way. It ceases to be an enslaving mechanism. But, the problem of sin as a disease is that that hierarchy is all messed up. We will love our self over God. When we love our self over God, that’s selfishness. That’s how it manifests. It’s a desire for myself over or against God.

We can love a part of creation and privilege that part of creation over God. We can love this drink, this food, this whatever. This house, this car. You name it. Remember: Scripture doesn’t say money is the root of all evil. It says the love of money is the root of all evil. It’s all about the relationship we have to money; not money. The problem is not money. The problem is the way you relate to money. You can have all the money in the world if you are rightly related to it. That’s one of the reasons why Scripture admonishes us to give away things. Because, when you give away money, it’s a direct assault on your desire for money. I don’t need it. I’m giving it. I’m giving it. I don’t need it. I’m saying, “You are my source, God. You are my source. So, I’m going to give this. You are my source. I don’t want to become enslaved to this, so I’m giving this away because I don’t want it to dominate my life.”

So, there’s a sense in which God has to do two things. He has to deal with sin in both of these ways, okay? Both the transgressions – but the transgressions are a manifestation of a deeper condition, and that deeper condition is that our desires and emotions are messed up.

Now, let’s, in light of that, talk about the law, and then we’re going to go to grace. So, I’ve said the Old Testament law in threes. I’m going to talk about two threes. Two three-fold ways of talking about the law. First is three dimensions. When we think about the law in the Old Testament, we can divide it up into three areas that it covers. Three areas. Ceremonial, feasts and festivals, practices like circumcision. All of those things that govern Jewish existence. Yom Kippur. Feast of Tabernacles. You name it.

We could talk about civil. There are criminal laws that govern the life of the nation of Israel. You stone a person if they’re caught in this particular kind of sin. That’s a civil law. It’s a crime against the state, and the state exacts punishment and the punishment is the death penalty. You’ll read some laws in Leviticus and others that are like that. Sabbatical years. Every seven years, you give back certain things. That’s a law that governs the life of the nation. So, it’s a civil law that they ought to have cities of refugee. Because, what happens if you accidentally kill somebody and then their family wants to take revenge on you? You run to the city of refuge in the nation of Israel. That’s a civil law that sort of governs their existence.

Then there’s the moral law. The moral law would be laws like the Ten Commandments, which would be the center of the moral law. You think about the way the Ten Commandments are structured. They are structured along two lines. The first four tell you how to love God. You know, the two greatest commandments, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. So, the first four tell you how to love God. They give you specific ways of loving God.

“You shall have no other God’s before me. Don’t make any idols. Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vein. Remember the sabbath and keep it holy. If you really love me, respect my name. If you really love me, put me first. If you really love me, don’t value something to the point that it takes my place. If you really love me, set a day aside to honor me.”

That’s the specific way about how you think about loving God. The last six are love for neighbor. Start off with honor your father and your mother, do not steal, do not bear false witness against your neighbor, do not commit adultery and those sorts of things. Do not covet.

All of those are ways in which you treat your neighbor. You want to know how you treat your neighbor? Respect their property. Don’t steal it. Alright? Don’t covet it either. Respect your parents. Those sorts of things. Respect the truth. Don’t bear false witness. Respect the truth with respect to your neighbor. Don’t do those sorts of things.

So, the law, the moral law, is about that. It’s separate. So, when we think about the law, we have to think about these three dimensions. Because, when we talk about Christ coming to fulfill the law, we ask, “What does He fulfill? What still remains? What do we not have to worry about and what do we still have to worry about?”

Now, let’s talk about three uses in relationship to that. This comes from the reformation. Three ways in which the Old Testament law is used. Martin Luther talked about the first two. His colleague, Philip Melanchthon, talked about the third. There’s the theological use, which is what Joseph Prince loves. The whole purpose of the law is to convict us of sin, Luther says. And he gets that from Paul, where Paul says, “I would not know what wrong was if it weren’t for the law. The law is holy and right, but it tells me what’s wrong.”

The second thing is very closely related. There’s the civil use. The law helps us to understand how we should live in society. So, the law can become a basis for the laws that we make in the land, like the laws of Congress. They can be grounded, and there are people in this country that want to. I mean, the most famous one is the Alabama judge, right, who got the Ten Commandments up there. He wants to say that the moral law of God is a basis for all the laws that govern our land. So, there’s this civil use.

Then there’s the moral use, and this is the real debate here. Does the law still instruct us in how we should live? Is there still a moral center that we ought to pay attention to? And in that way, it’s positive. These two are really negative. The law just convicts us. And, this one, the law holds back sin. It keeps society from becoming as bad as it could. Right? So, these two are negative. This is the positive, and there are Protestants who come along and say, “Yeah. The law is absolutely necessary to govern our lives if we understand it correctly.”

So, what does Jesus come to do? He comes to fulfill the law. But, what does He fulfill? Paul says, “We don’t have circumcision.”

Well, we know that circumcision now is not about the moral law. It’s about ceremonial law. We don’t have that. We don’t have sabbaths or new moon festivals or those sorts of things. In other words, we don’t have to engage in any Jewish festivals, Paul says in the book of Colossians. So, that part of the law no longer applies. It’s clear that Christ fulfills all the ceremonial requirements. We’re not sacrificing bulls, goats and lambs or anything like that. We’re not engaged in grain offerings. We’re not doing anything like that. Why? Because, Jesus has fulfilled those sorts of things. But, the question remains about the moral law.

To understand that, we’ll go to our last section here. Grace. I’ve got to wrap up pretty quickly, I know. I’m running close.

So, let’s talk about grace for a few moments. Let me give you a broad definition of grace. It just means gift. Simple. Straightforward. Behind the gift is the favor of God, who gives freely. It does not require you to do anything, because a gift is something that is given without expectation if it’s a genuine gift. If there’s strings attached, it’s really not a gift. Right? A gift, if it’s genuinely a gift, is given without strings attached. So, grace is gift. It always points to gifts.

At the center of this is the triune God. God gives the gift of God. God the Father gives the gift of His Son, who becomes flesh. He dwells among us, lives, dies and is resurrected for our sins. And God the Father gives the gift of God the Spirit, who is the love of God, according to Paul in Romans 5, poured out into our hearts, who gives us power and strength. So, God gives God. Behind all of the gifts of God are the Son and the Spirit.

I like this metaphor. It’s from a theologian in the 2nd Century whose name is Irenaeus of Lyon. Irenaeus says this, and he gets this, I think, from Paul in Ephesians where Paul says, “We are God’s workmanship.”

That idea of workmanship is a potter who’s shaping. We are the ones who are formed by the hands of the potter. Of course, that’s ultimately from Jeremiah, where God says, in Jeremiah, “I am the potter and you are the clay.”

So, what forms us? Irenaeus says, “The Word or the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of the Father by which the Father reaches out into the world and begins to shape us. He conforms us to His Son in the power of the Spirit.”

And so, He begins to mold us. And, in doing so, He restores the image of God within us. He restores order to the disordered desires and emotions that are within us. Now, let’s talk about how that works. So, two ways, then, to understand the gift. If we think about the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father, there two ways of understanding this gift.

Through the Son, we can think about grace as mercy and acceptance. Have you heard this before? I heard this when I was in seminary. Grace means, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” That’s the acronym, right? God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. The idea behind that is that grace is really mercy. All the transgressions that we have committed, all the sins and sinful actions, God forgives for the sake of Christ. We are accepted because of Christ. Christ stands before God and we are clothed or wrapped in the righteousness of Christ. And, therefore, we are adopted into the family of God, declared to be sons and daughters of God, given a new inheritance, given a new name. I’m adopted. I don’t even know where my birth parents are because I just never have bothered. Although, the older I get the more I think I need to bother. Because, you know, health issues are tied to biology. Anyway, that’s another matter. You don’t have to worry about it.

When I was adopted, I was given a name. I was given an inheritance that I did not earn. I was brought into a family and raised. That’s what God does in Christ. He brings us into a family and gives us a name. A new name. That’s why we can use language of family for one another. That’s where the term “godparents” come from. Right? In the Middle Ages, godparents were parents in God. They were not blood relatives. They’re fellow Christians. So, what’s the relationship? It has nothing to do with biology. It has everything to do with Christ. These people can be parents in God. Because, though Christ, we are members of the same family.

So, from the Middle Ages, the whole purpose of a godparent is to help raise the child. That’s the reason behind it. Now, we might still have godparents. You might still have godparents for your children or you might have godparents for yourself. The godparents may not function that way, but that’s the intention behind it with that language. It’s to give rise to that we are part of the family and we are brought in. So, there’s mercy and acceptance.

Another way of describing this would be to say this: There is no place so deep that He’s not deeper. There is no sinful action that will take you so far away that God will not find you. Why? Because, His mercy is always there. And this mercy and acceptance is grounded in God’s covenant faithfulness. One of the most vivid images of this is when God tells the prophet Hosea, “Go out and marry a harlot. No matter how many times she messes up and goes back into it, you keep going after her. Why? Because, I am the husband of Israel. No matter how far Israel goes, I will pursue her always because of my covenant faithfulness. I’ll keep my covenant even when she doesn’t keep her covenant.”

That idea is manifested in the Son. Christ says, “I will go to the cross. I’ll keep my covenant with creation.”

At this point, it’s not just covenant with Israel. It’s God’s covenant with creation.

“I’m not going to let you go down. I will keep it.”

So, the Son keeps it. Therefore, we receive mercy and acceptance on that basis. So, if you think about grace in that way, that’s where all the language comes about “I’m accepted.”

I’m always accepted in Christ. Christ always stands in my place. Alongside of that, though, there’s another way of thinking about grace. Grace not simply is favor, unmerited favor, acceptance, mercy, but presence and power. So, alongside this notion of grace as favor and acceptance, Paul says the Spirit has been poured out into our hearts. So, at the beginning of Romans, he says, “The Gospel is the power of God at work.”

Grace is the power. Grace is not just God’s acceptance of you for the sake of Christ. Grace is God’s presence in you through the Holy Spirit. Grace is both. Because, God’s not just bringing you into His family. God wants to change you and heal you and elevate you.

And that’s the next thing I want us to see here. Three ways in which grade works in our lives. Grace cleanses us. So, whenever you commit a sinful action or a transgression, there’s guilt. But, through Christ, forgiveness is always extended and the guilt can be removed. The problem, however – the underlying problem – remains. Remember this: You can kneel down, say a prayer and say, “God, forgive me of my sins,” and at that moment, Christ will forgive you. The Father will forgive you for the sake of Christ.

What remains? The underlying issue. What’s the underlying issue? Whatever disordered desire gave rise to the sinful action to begin with. Right? I’ll give you an example: A friend of mine was very promiscuous through high school, but got radically saved at the end. At 18. God called him. He went to school and wanted to go into the ministry. He started to like this girl, but he said, “I couldn’t really see myself with her.”


“Because, I had trained my mind to think about women solely in terms of their physical appearance.”

Now, how did he train his mind to think about women that way? Because, all of the promiscuity that he had gone through in high school was still with him. How? It was with him in the form of mental habits and ways of thinking about women, ways of just thinking of them totally in terms of their physical appearance. So, there was a point at which there was the woman that he really liked and he said, “Well, I can’t really like you because you’re not physically the way I imagine my wife should be.”

He ended up marrying that woman. The only way he could marry her, though, was to deal with the underlying issues: The habits of mind and the desires underlying those, and the character that those habits and desires had created through years of promiscuity in high school. Had God forgiven him of the guilt? Sure. What was left? Habits that he still had to deal with. What was left? Disordered desires. Ways of thinking about women that objectified them. Those sorts of things.

So, while on the one hand, justification says, “I forgive you. I extend the righteousness of Christ to you,” on that basis, heaven is yours. On the other hand, sanctification says, “But, I want to do so much more than that. Salvation is not fire insurance. This is not just about getting into heaven. Salvation is ultimately about making you into the kind of person that you really want to be and that I want you to be. Salvation is about healing you of the disordered desires that are within you. Salvation is about helping you to flourish as a human being. Salvation is about helping you come into healthy relationships. Salvation is about making you whole once again, and I can only do that if I deal with these underlying issues.”

“What are they?”

“All the disordered desires. I have to cut off the slavery to whatever part of creation you’re enslaved to.”

A lust for power. A lust for fame. You can think of all kinds of ways in which desire manifests itself. We see it all the time, right? The way in which we are shaped by images that are around us. To be certain kinds of people because marketers want you to buy their products by convincing you that you need to be the kind of person that they are presenting you to be. Right? And your desires, then, get shaped in that way.

So, grace is not just simply favor to cleanse of guilt, it’s power to heal. And lastly, it elevates us. It gives us a life that we would never have. For me, salvation could never be anything other than grace, because, no matter how hard I work, I cannot give myself immortality and I cannot make myself incorruptible. So, Paul says, in the resurrection, “Christ is the first fruits of what’s going to happen to the rest of us.”

And what’s going to happen to the rest of us? This mortality will put on immortality. This corruptibility will put on incorruptibility. Now, that tells you something about salvation. That tells you that salvation cannot be simply fire insurance. That tells you that the tree of life in the garden, which appears again at the end of Revelation, is really part of the plan of God. God wants to give you everlasting life. And that’s not just duration of time. That is a particular kind of existence. An existence where you are free from corruption. Corruption of the body so that you no longer age, and corruption of the soul so that you no longer perform destructive acts. You no longer get mad. You no longer have to stare in the mirror and wonder, “Who was that person who just did that action? I don’t even recognize myself.”

You know, when you come down from whatever it is you were doing? You know? You screen your brains out? I’ve been there. And then you realize, “What am I doing? I’ve got to get control of myself again. Anger has taken over and I’ve said some things that I need to apologize for.”

So, glorification is the elevation. Salvation is this whole package. So, let’s bring it together and wrap it up and then take some questions. How does grace work? Through the Son. God accepts us. We receive the perfect obedience of Christ and forgiveness. Now, what does that do for us? That gives you a sure foundation. The whole point of justification is to remind you that every day you have a secure foundation upon which to stand.

Growing up on the Space Coast, I watched I don’t know how many rockets blast off from Kennedy Space Center. I was in high school when the challenger blew up. I saw it in the air. We were all outside and we saw it. It was unbelievable. A rocket has to have a sure foundation. It’s got to have a launching pad. If it’s going to make it where it needs to go, that launching pad has to be sure. What’s your launching pad? It’s the Son. It’s His work on the cross. You come back to that time and time again, no matter how many times you mess up. When you do that, that gives you the security you need to pursue the difficult parts.

What are the difficult parts? Cultivating the character of Christ. So, here’s where we bring it together. The moral law can tell you what to do or what not to do. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. What Paul thinks you need is the character of Christ, and when the character of Christ is in you, you will do, by nature, what the law requires because you will have the character. When you do by nature what the law requires, you don’t even need the law at that point. Why? Because, you’ve internalized it.

That’s what Jesus’ teaching is all about. If you look at the Beatitudes, those are all about states of mind. Blessed are the meek. He’s not giving you a list of regulations. He’s giving you a mental state or an attitude. Develop and cultivate meekness. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Cultivate humility in your life. And He’s attaching the language of blessedness to it because He’s trying to say, “If you want to flourish as a human being, this is what you will cultivate in your life.”

And you can cultivate this through the power and presence of the Spirit, “Because I have put my Spirit in you.”

So, you know what? Even if you’re studying your Bible 10 minutes, 5 minutes or whatever, you know that the whole purpose of it is to cultivate Christ in you. When you guys go out and do on Main Street what Pastor Chip was telling me you do every year, you’re not just doing that for everybody else. You’re doing that for you. Why? Because, you need to cultivate the character of Christ. I know when I go serve the poor, I’m not just doing it to help the poor person. I can’t become Christ without doing that. All of these characteristics are developed in community. You can’t become humble without engaging in acts of humility, and that requires another human being.

I thought I had patience, and then I had kids and I recognized that there’s a whole new depth to patience that I had yet to fully cultivate in my life. So, there I am. I want to be Christ in the face of this kid who just will not stop asking me the same question for the last 24 hours.

“Dad, when am I going to watch this movie?”

“You know what? Just shut up. Okay. I shouldn’t have said shut up. Be quiet. Okay? Just be quiet for a while.”

You need other people to cultivate these characteristics. The Spirit helps you to cultivate them. When you do, you’ve internalized the moral law. Until you do, the moral law can guide you. Think about it this way: Those last six commands of the Ten Commandments – honor your father and your mother and that sort of thing – tell you how to love your neighbor. And then Jesus’ own teachings tell you how to love your neighbor. Want to know how to love your neighbor? Your neighbor is that Samaritan. That’s who your neighbor is.

So, between the two, you’ve got what your neighbor is. Now, you work in the Spirit to internalize that love so that you come to naturally begin to do things for your neighbor because you have cultivated habits. Remember this: Desires, when turned into choices that you consent to, cultivate habits. And habits create a character, and the character shapes a destiny.

C.S. Lewis says this: “We are right now becoming either the most beautiful beings that if we were to see the saints in heaven who have already become what we’re on the journey to become right now, they would look like angels and we would be strongly tempted to worship them, or we’re becoming so deformed in our characters that we’re becoming like this hideous, ugly demon that we wouldn’t even want to see in our nightmare.”

His point is that none of us are ordinary. God has destined us. We’re on a trajectory. If you cooperate with the Holy Spirit and you cultivate holy habits, God is actually making you a beautiful soul, where your own life reflects the internal harmony of His life. Your desires are no longer competing with one another. They’re now working together.

So, grace means that God always acts first by bestowing His gifts upon us. Even faith is a gift. Faith is a gift the Spirit brings, and faith, itself, units us to Christ through our trust. Grace means that we’re grounded in God’s acceptance for the sake of Christ. So, we have confidence about who we are. We’re members of the family, and that’s secure. And grace means that we are grounded in God’s power and presence. So, we can struggle to internalize the moral law. The whole point of the moral law is to give you guidance to follow the Spirit in cultivating holy habits. The more you become like Christ, the more you are united to Him and the more you fulfill the destiny that God has for you.

I’ll stop. 8:11. I’ve gone long. Sorry, Chip.

[Chip Bennett]: I want to make sure that we have proper time for Q&A. So, the ushers are going to come really quick. It is an expense to bring all these people down and do the things that we do. So, I am going to ask, really quickly, for the ushers to pass the offering bucket. But, if you have questions, please make sure that you hold those 3x5 cards up. There will be people coming to get them as well, and we’ll do a Q&A very quickly. Let’s just ask the Lord to bless the offering.

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You so much for the opportunity to be able to give. Lord, I pray that You’d bless this offering for Dale, his wife, Esther, and their family. Lord, I pray that You would help us, Lord, to send them on their way, Lord, in a positive way. And help us to raise, Lord, some funds to pay for bringing Dale down.

Lord, we just thank You for tonight. I pray, Lord, that the Q&A session would be fantastic. Lord, we look forward to answering those questions. We love You. In Christ’s name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”

We’re going to take up an offering. We’ll get some chairs up here. If you have questions, go ahead and put your hand up and we’ll go ahead and start picking them up as well. Just put your hand up with a card if you’ve got questions.

If you do have questions, hold the questions up real high. Down here in the front. Here’s some too. Here you go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Anybody else? Anybody else?

Alright. Let’s do this here.

“You say to your children, ‘Discipline yourself or I will discipline you.’ Do you think God disciplines us when we do not discipline ourselves? If so, how?”

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: That’s a great question. I mean, Hebrews says quiet clearly that God disciplines us and that it’s a manifestation of His love for us. Here’s the way I think judgment works. I go with my interpretation of what Paul says in Romans 1 where Paul says that God has turned them over to themselves. So, I think that sometimes God’s discipline just allows us to live with what we have created.

So, here’s what I mean by that. I mean God will forgive you of your sins if you’ve committed adultery, for example. But, that doesn’t mean that the lives that you have destroyed in that act are somehow not destroyed by that action. Right? The mess still has to be cleaned up. You still have to ask for forgiveness. You still have to extend forgiveness. You still have children that could be. There are all those sorts of issues, right? So, does God clean all of that up? No. We have to cooperate with God to sort of work through that.

So, I think the way I see judgment manifesting itself in our lives is God turning us over sometimes to our own devices. It’s the parent saying to the child, “You want this so bad? You’re not going to listen to me? Okay. I don’t want it for you. I wouldn’t make this choice. But, I’m going to let you have it. I know what it’s going to do to you. But, if you want to live with it, I’m going to let you live with it.”

I think that’s the way in which judgment manifests itself. And then, of course, that doesn’t mean that God leave us. It doesn’t mean that God isn’t there to help us pick up the pieces. But, there are times where God lets us live with the consequences of our actions. That’s the manifestation, in my mind, of divine judgment in our lives. So, it’s not God taking a whip and just beating the mess out of anybody.

[Chip Bennett]: I think I would also say that judgment, in the biblical, usually has a remedial nature to it. God doesn’t judge just to judge. He judges in hopes that we will understand and change. So, when you see judgment in Scripture, you’ll see it a lot with the prophets where they’ll say, “God’s going to come in and clean house and do all that stuff, but He’s going to do it with an aim towards you all coming back to Him in repentance.”

So, judgment usually has some sort of remedial hope or some sort of repentant hope. It’s not just God getting you to get you. It’s that when judgment happens, there is a hope that there will be a turning of the ways with that. Just like, you know, if you were to get on your children. Does anybody ever get on their children and just go, “You know what I want to do? I just want to just give my kid a hard time tonight for no reason?”

Nobody does that, right? If we discipline or we send them to their room or we do whatever that we do – somebody was talking about a magic spoon recently. Anybody ever heard about the magic spoon? I guess that’s what they got whacked with or whatever. Magic spoon. I don’t know. Somebody was talking about it. But, the point is that even the magic spoon would, hopefully, lead towards a change in behavior. You know? Sometimes the quickest way to a child’s head is through the seat of understanding.

But, I think that when we look at discipline, God’s discipline in our lives is always to move us toward the image of His Son, and it’s always with a hope of getting us to where we need to be. It’s never God just getting you to get you. You know?

“If people have been Christians for decades, yet they still habitually lie or act selfishly, what’s the breakdown? Did they really get saved? Did they miss the Holy Spirit?”

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Oh, gee.

[Chip Bennett]: That’s for you, man. It says, “Would Dale please answer that?”

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Right. So, maybe I should start by defining some parameters here.

[Chip Bennett]: Please do.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: You’re the pastor, so I can walk away from this after I say my thing. You’ve got to pick up the pieces.

[Chip Bennett]: If you don’t discipline yourself, I will. I’m just kidding.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: I would say, certainly, we can all struggle and we all do struggle. We could struggle with habits that sometimes last a while. I don’t understand the mystery of sinfulness sometimes. I don’t understand why some people can come down to an alter or can pray a prayer and God can heal them of an addiction and they can get up and walk away from it. I’ve seen it happen. I don’t doubt that it can happen. Because, in the same way that I know that science can construct a pill to help us get off nicotine – if science can do that, why can’t God remove that chemical addiction? Of course. That seems to me that God can do that.

Sometimes God chooses to allow people to struggle for a while, I think, like Pastor Chip said, with the end of character formation within you. So, if that’s a framework and I’m coming at this person who’s been struggling for a long time, I want to know, “Are you in it?”

That’s my first question. Are you in this? Are you in the struggle? Where are you? Have you given up? If you’ve given up, why have you given up? I want to talk to that person and see where he or she is coming from and what’s going on. And then, this is the whole reason why we have a family. I want that person to come into the family. So, if the person is willing, I want to bring that person into an accountability structure. Not because I want to discipline the person in some negative way, but because I want to help the person. Accountability, sometimes, is just me helping you fulfill what you want to do and helping you keep your promises. That’s what accountability can be. If you say, “I want to be a better person,” to me, and I say, “Okay, how are we going to do this,” and we set forth a plan and we both agree to the plan, then my job is to keep you accountable to what you agreed to and to help you get there.

So, I guess that would be the framework out of which I would address that person. If the person is just playing the game, okay? If I’ve counseled and I think that the person is just playing the game, then I’m going to tell the person, “You’re just playing this game and you’d better be careful. Because, God may give you what you want at the end of the day. If you really don’t want God and you want something else, God may turn you over to that. You really don’t want that. Now, God’s not going to leave you, but it means that your life may get into a whole lot of mess that you got yourself into and God just decided He’s going to let you get into that mess. You don’t want that. Come on.”

So, I would question and try to figure out where that person is. To me, if your heads in the game, if you’re in the struggle and the intention is there, that’s what I’m looking for more so than what state or where are you on this journey. Some people are farther along. They’ve developed more of the character of Christ. Some people are back here. Some people were here and then life threw a thunderbolt at them and some tragedy hit them, they lost a loved one or something else and they have gone into the tank, man. Where are you? I know. I had a brother who committed suicide. I understand what that’s like, man. When life throws something at you that you have not planned and you didn’t know what happened, you go into the tank. I understand that.

If that’s it, let’s help and let’s wrestle through that. But, in the midst of that, I want to know are you in the game? So, that would be the way in which I would approach that kind of issue, with a pastoral sensitivity, without coming at them and just sort of assuming things about them.

[Chip Bennett]: I would concur. I would also add a little bit. I think one of the things that we don’t do very well, as Christians, is we don’t give people space. You know? What I mean by that is if somebody comes in here – and we’ll use this thing here – and they’re a habitual liar, but they also have a broken relationship with their dad, they also have a drug addiction, and they also have a pornography addiction, I can’t play Holy Spirit as the pastor of this church and try to figure out which thing they need to be dealing with, because one of those things might be the most important link in all of the habitual problems that they have, and God’s got to deal with a certain aspect of their life before some of those other things can get right.

What we tend to do is we tend to have the sins that we all like the most. You know? The ones that we go, “That’s the sin.” And we want to deal with that one, not realizing that, man, there’s a lot of broken issues in all of us to some degree. So, I think that, for me as a pastor, I want to create a community here where, yeah, if this person’s just habitually lying and doing the selfish thing and acting like they’re a Christian or whatever, that’s a whole other issue. But, for someone who’s struggling and trying to be the things that God wants them to be, and yet there’s broken areas in their lives, I think that we need to love them, give them accountability and we need to walk with them. But, what we don’t need to do is do what I consider the Christian thing.

Somebody comes down and says, “I’m a Christian.” If they don’t clean up in a week or two or maybe a month, then we’re going, “They’re not really a Christian.”

That’s ridiculous, because none of us have cleaned up perfectly in our lives in this world. So, I would say we need to become a little bit more gracious in allowing space in people’s lives, loving them, praying for them, accepting them, and not being a church that’s looking to manage sin.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Let me add something.

[Chip Bennett]: I don’t want to manage your sin. I can’t even manage mine.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: I’m with you on that. I don’t like the phrase “total depravity.” I mean, not that I’m against the idea that’s behind the phrase, but I don’t like how the phrase has come to be used. It has taken on this whole life of its own to say that the whole intention is to say that sin infects every part of who we are. That’s fine. I’m with you. But, it has come to be employed as a way of saying that you’re a heinous, no-good, nothing. It’s reinforced by worm theology. A worm. God’s going to step on you. All of that sort of thing.

So, I don’t like the phrase. I tend not to use it for that reason, because I think that sin, if we think about it as a disease, manifests itself in our lives differently in accordance with our unique personality and our own psychological dispositions and all of those sorts of things. So, while we’re all infected, the way it manifests is different in each one of us. And I think, as a pastor, I’d want to give space, I’d want to recognize that. What you struggle with, I don’t struggle, but somebody else struggles with. Different struggles. Recognize those different struggles and then let’s all kind of come together and help each other get through them. Alright. I’ll stop.

[Chip Barnett]: I just think that a church that can help all of us together work through our brokenness is also a church that people who are out there in world are going to want to become a part of. Does that make sense? You know? Because, we’re broken too. The difference is that we’ve been saved, and the righteousness of God has been given to you and me. That doesn’t mean we always look like it, right? So, I think that all of these things, the struggle here really goes down to the idea of law and grace. It goes down to, “Does God just love me no matter what I do or does God have some expectations in the way that I live?”

The problem is that we never can go, “Okay, well how can I hold both of those in some sort of level where they work?”

We tend to go to only one or the other. We go, “We’re going to manage everybody’s sin, because everybody’s got to be holy and everybody’s got to do this. Here’s the checklist thing.”

Anybody who’s ever tried to live the checklist thing realizes that it’s really difficult to live the checklist thing. Have you ever noticed that? If you decide, “These are the nine things that I need to do,” all nine of them you usually break by nine o’clock in the morning. Anybody ever figure that one out? Okay? Well, then the other side is you go, “Okay, well then God just loves me. God loves me.”

Whatever. I think that what you’ve seen tonight with what Dale has presented is what I realized. I had grown up in a church where the only thing I ever heard was the theological use of the law. “Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Law, law, law. Bad, bad, bad.”

But, there’s a lot of different usages of the law in the Old Testament, and I think that the moral fabric of the law is what God does want for you and me. He wants you and me to live lives that are changed, that have ethics to them and morals to them. Otherwise, why would Jesus say, in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine.”

Why? Not so God can see it, but so that others can see what God has done in you and that they would then glorify your Father, which is in heaven. A changed life is what most of the New Testament is talking about. Paul goes, “They saw that you turned from idols to serve the living God. They saw a change in you and they said, ‘What is that?’”

Okay. When we take away the change in Christianity, we’ve lost one side of grace. When we make the change the only thing that matters, then we’ve lost the other side of grace that says, “God loves you and me and salvation has appeared to all men.”

That’s the one side of grace. The other side is teaching us to renounce ungodliness and to live holy and righteous lives in this present world. There’s those two sides. And I think that a healthy understanding of law and grace will keep you from running to one side or the other. You can’t work your way into heaven. Nobody’s saying that. You’re not saying that.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Not at all.

[Chip Bennett]: I mean, you can’t do that. It’s a gift. You can’t then work your way into God’s more favor now that you are a Christian. But, to act like grace doesn’t have the power and the transformational aspect in our lives to continue to move us towards Christ I think is a disingenuous move historically in the church. And I think one of the things that we don’t do very well – my thought, and you would know more about the patristic side of this. I think one of the things we’ve lacked, especially in the American church today, is disciplines. We don’t believe that spending time in prayer really matters. We don’t believe that spending time in the Word of God really matters.

Because, if God just loves me an accepts me, then why would I have to do that? Isn’t that a work? Isn’t that fulfilling the law by me having to do the things? I think that those disciplines do help us live a holy life.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Yeah. I mean, there’s an ancient term called “asceticism.” It comes from a Greek term, “askesis,” which really comes from an athletic context. It refers to exercises. So, the monks developed these spiritual exercises. That’s what translates into the spiritual disciplines. But, the whole idea behind it, the analogy, is you’ve got to work out. If you want to be healthy spiritually, you’ve got to be like the person that goes into the gym. You’ve got to spend your time in the gym. What’s the gym? God’s Word. Prayer. You’ve got to get into the gym and do it.

Now, of course, there are some people who live in the gym for five or six hours a day. They’re the people that are the holier people. You know? They’re on you. They’re the workout partners who are like, “Why aren’t you sweating enough for Jesus? Why aren’t you doing it? Come on, man! You’ve got to pump more. Get down there. You’re not buff enough!”

You know? Okay. They’re a little legalistic on all of that. But, the point behind the whole thing is if you want to get healthy spiritually, just like if you want to get healthy physically, you do the exercises. The exercises are reading your Bible, praying, fasting in some way. The whole point of fasting is to counter gluttony. It’s one of the spiritual exercises. It’s to help you realize that you don’t need certain kinds of food to survive. It’s to help you overcome the way food can become a weapon. Right?

Sometimes we eat ice cream because we just are depressed and we need a little emotional kick. So, we need that ice cream in front of that movie so we can kind of veg out a little bit, because it’s been a rough day. Fasting helps us to overcome those sorts of things. Right? So, the whole point is exercises. That’s the analogy. That’s what you’re doing. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t go into the gym every day. But, if you never go, you know there’s an issue. Right? That’s the other side of that.

[Chip Bennett]: Yeah. You can make these things a work, and we would shun that. We’re not trying to get you to pray or read your Scripture so that you can work your way so that God will love you more. What we’re saying is that Jesus Himself took time away to pray. Jesus Himself knew Scripture. He read it. Okay? He didn’t do that so God could love Him more. He was God. Okay? But, He’s modeling for you and me. He’s showing you and me the way to live.

I don’t read my Scripture – and I have before. I’ve read my Scripture because I felt like it was a duty that I had to do. You don’t have to do it as a duty. But, as a discipline it’s different. Because, now what I’m doing is I’m saying, “I’m reading this because I want to interact and know my Lord better. I want Him to live more in me. I want to hide His Word in my heart so that I will remember those things that I’m supposed to remember when the enemy comes calling and all of those things. That’s a discipline. That’s not a duty, and there’s a difference.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: And it’s making you like Christ, at the end of the day. I mean, okay. This will date me. But, Michael Jordan, when he got out on the court, the fruit of all of that work paid off. He entered into a kind of performance where it was almost like he was at rest in the middle of working. He found his place of peace at the peak of performance. Like a hummingbird, stillness and motion at the same time. Right? It’s like a great dancer. It’s like a great musician if you’ve ever watched someone. All of that work brings and creates a character. When you see that character in action, you marvel at it. God wants you to become that character where the righteousness is flowing through you through the habits that you have constructed, and you are functioning at peak performance. And you do, by nature, the things that are required for you.

Just like the pianist does by nature what is required of her. Her hands move around the keys. She doesn’t need anyone to tell her anymore what the right motions are. She’s trained herself, and she has entered into a state of excellence. The term “virtue” in its ancient sense just simply means excellence. It’s bringing your life into a condition of excellence. That’s what God wants for you. That’s the whole point behind it. It has nothing to do with performing in a way to make yourself acceptable to God. You’ve already been made that in Christ. It has to do with healing you, bringing you into a place of excellence, making you into the kind of person that, at the end of the day, we really all want to be anyway. We all want to be that healthy person, you know? We don’t always want to work for it, but we at least want to be it. That’s the idea behind this.

[Chip Bennett]: “Is baptism a ceremonial law or is it a requirement for salvation.”

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Gosh. Right. Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It depends on who you’re talking to, really, I would say. Is it a requirement for salvation? No, I would say. I’ll just be straight up and tell you what I think. Now, of course, a Catholic is going to disagree with me. A Lutheran is going to disagree with me. An Anglican is going to disagree with me. There are other’s that are going to disagree with me. Okay? And you need to know, I’ll just throw it out there, I don’t hold to infant baptism.

So, part of it is where you stand on infant baptism vis–a-vis this whole thing. I’m a “believer’s baptism” kind of guy. I’ll just throw that out there for you. So, what does that mean? Does that mean, then, that baptism is a requirement for entrance into heaven? No. I don’t think so. Acceptance of Christ by faith. Faith alone. That’s a reformation idea. Does that mean you shouldn’t get baptized? No way. You should. Why? Because, baptism is the public testimony of the inward work of the Holy Spirit in your life, and it is the way you come into the community of faith. It’s the way you say, “I’m on the team. I’m a member of the team.”

And it’s an expression of God’s covenant commitment to you and your covenant commitment to God. So, in the same way that in the book of Revelation, the devil has his mark, 666, the mark of the beast or whatever, God has His mark. That’s baptism.

I tell my kids all the time, they’ve all been baptized, “You have been marked with Christ. The seal of Him is upon your life. You can leave Him, but the seal will never leave you.”

That is baptism. So, is it important? You bet. Is it absolutely necessary in terms of salvation? I don’t think so.

[Chip Bennett]: Good. Alright. You went long, so it’s killing my Q&A time. Let’s see here.

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: I know it. Mea culpa.

[Chip Bennett]: Let’s see here.

“What if I feel I cleanse my sin and then recommit the sin after? Do I really have grace in my heart?”

See, this just goes back to the struggle of understanding something. Grace in your heart is not earned. You don’t just have to keep repenting to get God. God loves you. He’s given you the unmerited favor. But, what you’re struggling with is not grace. You’re struggling with personal sanctification. You’re struggling with, “How do I live this thing out, because I’m trying to live right and I’m asking God to forgive me. But then, I’m not doing anything.”

The question comes down to – and nobody wants to hear this, because everybody wants to hear the easy way. Okay? Are you involved in a community? Are you involved with people in your life that keep you accountable? Are you spending some time in the Word daily? Are you praying? I guarantee you someone who spends time in the Word daily, someone who spends some time in prayer, someone who puts themselves in an accountability group who has really got a heart that’s Godward is going to find themselves walking things out better than the person who just, every once in a while, when they decide to do something wrong, says, “God, forgive me.”

[Dr. Dale Coulter]: Yeah. I would agree with that. I mean, again, it goes back to what I said earlier. If you are struggling against this – to stick with the disease analogy, there are some cancers that are more aggressive than others. Right? And if this is an aggressive form in your life and this has really taken control of you, but you are struggling against it, then that, to me, is what I want to see.

Of course, the forgiveness of Christ is always there. It is there to remind you that you are in the struggle. It is there to remind you that this is not going to define you. It is there to remind you that you are a child of the King, and that whatever this is that has you, it will not determine your destiny. So, you can fight it, you can get beyond it, you can work against it, because it is not you at the end of the day. And that’s what you have to get beyond first. You have to stop thinking of yourself in terms of the habit.

This is not you. Right?

[Chip Bennett]: Yeah. And the reality is simply this: The fact that you’re struggling means that you’re in. You weren’t struggling before you were in. It wasn’t even a thought. It’s like, “I’ll go do whatever I want to do. I don’t care.”

I mean, a struggling Christian – although that’s not where we want to get you as the apex of your life – shows God is active in your life and grace is active in your life. And that’s okay. So, we’re going to wrap up. It’s 8:37. I don’t want to hold you all too much later. We will stay after. Any questions you have, we’re going to stay after and we’ll talk. We’ll do all the things that you would like. We’re going to be here.

Dale, thanks man. Did y’all enjoy Dale? Right? Good guy. Dale is still a Church of God ordained pastor. You know, we’ve both had good reformed roots, but I think I’ve done a little bit more on the reformed side. But, he’s Wesleyan a lot. It’s great. I think one of the things you’re seeing here is that we have a lot of diversity that I try to bring in with professors, because I want you all to see that there can be things we disagree on, but it’s okay.

Like, I’m sure Dale – I mean, Dale and I were talking about the dating of the Gospels right before we came out here. Just because I’m right and he’s wrong didn’t change anything about the way... no. I’m just joking. I was probably wrong and he’s right. But, the point is that I really want this church to see that we can have some healthy, Christian discussion about things and we don’t have to get all bent out of shape, because it’s about Jesus and it’s not about the boxes. Right? Amen?

Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, I just thank You for the opportunity to be able to do these evenings. They’re fantastic. Lord, I pray that even though we probably didn’t answer every single question and we didn’t answer every little thing that everybody would have, Lord, I pray that at least some food for thought was given tonight and maybe some different categories were offered up to think through.

Lord, I pray that You would be with every single person as they leave. Get them home safely. Lord, I pray that You would kindly remind them, without any guilt, that just because they’ve got their church on on Wednesday night doesn’t mean they can’t get their church on also on Saturday or Sunday this weekend.

So, we love You and thank You and praise You for everything that You’re doing. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

We’re going to stay after if you’d like to talk. So, God bless everybody. Have a great night.

Summer Academic Series: Defending the Accuracy of the Gospels - Dr. Michael Licona 07/12/17

Sermon Transcript

[Chip Bennett]: Good evening to everybody. How are you? Are you excited to be here? So am I. Well, I want to welcome everybody to another academic series. My name is Dr. Chip Bennett and I am the pastor of Grace Community Church, the church that is hosting this event. I’m also a professor at Southeastern University and I also teach for Knox Theological Seminary. I am joined tonight by Dr. Michael Licona. If we could give him a big hand.

Mike is one of the foremost scholars on apologetics, specifically in regards to the resurrection and the accuracy of the Gospels. He’s a frequent speaker at multiple events and conferences and he’s a noted debater on all things apologetics. And he’s a professor at Houston Baptist University. So, on behalf of both of us and Grace Community Church, we welcome everybody and we’re glad that you have joined us. So, if we could, why don’t we start with a word of prayer. If you would, would you bow with me and we’ll start with a word of prayer?

Dear Lord, I come to You this evening asking that You would bless our time together. I’m sure that tonight, Lord, we have a huge cross section of people in attendance. Some are here to simply learn. Some are here probably hoping that questions might be answered to help their struggling faith. Some may be here with no faith at all and are searching. Some may be here just wanting to quickly get to the Q&A so that they can ask questions that maybe they feel there are no answers to at all.

And Lord, whatever reason that we’ve come here tonight, whatever brings us here this evening, I pray that You would come and be a part of this evening with us. Help us, Lord, to see and experience You this evening in a real and tangible way. With all of this in mind, my prayer is that tonight would be fun, that all here would realize that there really is no other agenda than trying to show that our faith is a reasonable faith. I ultimately pray that everyone here would feel and experience Your love. We give this evening to You for Your glory. In Christ’s name we pray, and everyone said, “amen.”

The Academic Series here at Grace has been successful over the last few summers. It’s hard to fail when you get guys to come and speak with the talent and expertise of Michael Licona. Right? But, thank you for being here and supporting education in the local church. This is the second of three evenings that we will be doing this summer, and I promise you that the next one will be worth coming out for as well.

The original vision behind the Academic Series was to bring academic scholarship at the highest level to the local church. And we’re doing this and we plan to continue to do this. These are informative evenings and, therefore, educational in nature. We want people of faith, we want people in the community and even non-believers to be able to interact with real academic issues and we hope that you will continue to come and support these evenings by your attendance.

So, with that in mind, let’s get to learning. At the outset, the goal of this evening is two-fold. One, we want to make sure that you have a genuine learning experience. Secondly, we want everybody to be able to wrestle with one of the perennial issues in scholarship, which is: What do we do with the Gospels? Why do they seem to contradict at places? What type of literature are they? Do they really record any actual history? Aren’t they just really an embellishment of a much later Jesus that the Church created?

Questions like these are good questions and I hope that these types of questions and more will somewhat be confronted tonight and given real answers. We’ve entitled tonight’s lecture “The Accuracy of the Gospels,” and that’s what we want to discuss. I think tonight we’re going to learn a lot about the Gospels themselves. We may find that rather than being some strange genre, some amalgamation between fiction and faith, that they really do have a lot of truth to tell.

It’s easier to see this when some other literary parallels and antiquities are looked at in comparison with the Gospels. Sometimes having a different set of lenses or a different set of glasses helps us to read a little bit more clearly. It’s in finding that lens, so to speak, that we start to clearly see what we’re reading. And doing that may answer some of the questions that we ask. We may find that some of the questions that we bring a priori to the text before we even read it might not even be the questions anyone was asking in antiquity at all, nor did it even matter to them.

So, there may be a good way this evening – hopefully we can go back and get some first century lenses and reclaim some of the contemporaneous literature that gives us a new lens to answer some old questions. In fact, I think tonight we’ll realize that there is some literature that we can read that will shine some light upon this subject. And to educate us on this, I brought in someone far more competent than myself to instruct us. Dr. Michael Licona, as I mentioned before, is a renowned scholar on all of these issues. He has written voluminous literature on this subject and led the academic world in discussing these issues. He is funny, he’s witty and he knows karate. So, watch out.

What I’m really saying is this: He’s not only educated, but he’s competent to discuss the accuracy of the Gospels with us. On your seat, on the way in, or you can get one if you don’t have on, you have a 3x5 card. On that 3x5 card, you can write down questions that you may have during the evening. We will collect them a little later and we will do a Q&A at the end of this session. So, with no further delay, I want to turn everything over to Dr. Mike Licona. Mike, thank you for being here and we’re looking forward to hearing from you.

[Michael Licona]: Thanks, brother. Well, thanks. Thanks. I appreciate. Thanks. I appreciate that. It’s wonderful to be here in Sarasota. This is my first time and this is just an absolutely – as you know, and nobody needs to tell you – beautiful city. This is just great. I’m in Atlanta and it’s a fun place to live. It’s a good place to live. But, we don’t have anything like you guys do here with the beach. It’s just wonderful.

Anyways, let’s just jump in. Let’s see, the pastor introduced me. So, what got me interested in this topic is I had spent years investigating the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. I’d been a Christian since age 10, but, by my nature, I’m just a second guesser. I second guess everything. Listen, my wife and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this year. I have to admit – I mean, I married a great, great woman. But, for decades I doubted whether I married the right woman. And it wasn’t anything – she knows this. You know? It wasn’t anything about her. You know? It’s not you; it’s me. It was just that I just second guess everything. I mean, I could buy a watch and it’s like, “I should’ve gotten the other one.”

You know? How many of you are that way? So, anyway, if I’m going to question those kinds of things, then of course when it comes to something like my worldview that can involve eternity, I’m going to second guess. The way for me is kind of like this: If someone put a six-foot plank on the stage and said, “Walk across this, but don’t walk outside of that plank,” I mean, I could do it easily. I could probably do it with my eyes closed. I could do it backward. I could run backward. No problem. But, take that six-foot plank and stretch it across two skyscrapers and say, “Walk across it,” and now I’m going to be worried. It’s going to worry me. Right?

You say, “Well, but you know you can do it.”

Yeah. But, what if? It’s like, alright, I look at all the evidence for Christianity and I think there’s some really good evidence for God’s existence and for the resurrection of Jesus, but what haunts me sometimes is what if I’m wrong? I’ve looked at evidence for Islam. I’ve looked at it for these other religions; for atheism. I’m convinced that Christianity is true based on the evidence. But, what if? That’s an emotional kind of doubt. It’s not based on any lack of evidence. But, that’s just a personality thing.

So, anyway, that led me into apologetics, because I wanted to know if Christianity was true. And then, even after being in apologetics for a while, it’s like I would just study this to confirm what I already believed. Well, no wonder I believed it. That’s what I wanted to believe. But, if this is really eternity, then I really need to give this a serious look. So, I did something I never thought I would do. I got involved in a PhD program. You have to understand – you know, when I was a student, I was a gifted student. When they gave me a C, it was a gift. My dad told me I have an average IQ. I’d share the number with you, but I forgot it. Later on, I learned I have a learning disability, ADD, which means Attention Deficit Squirrel!

And I really do. All of that stuff’s true. So, it was really hard for me to concentrate. And then, in my 40’s, I realized there’s medication for this stuff. You know? And it’s like, cool.

Anyway, I ended up not only doing doctoral research on the resurrection, but in grad school doing a 20-page, double-spaced paper with a few footnotes was a nightmare for me. My doctoral dissertation ended up being over 500 pages single-spaced with more than 2,000 footnotes. And then my supervisor had to say, “Mike, it’s time to start wrapping this up,” because it was already over 3 times the size of an average dissertation.

During that time, I was engaged in debates with some of the leading non-believers in the world. You know? I couldn’t even spell MIT when I got accepted into college. And here I was. I was debating people who were teaching at Ivy League schools – and winning. And it wasn’t because I’m brilliant. It’s because the evidence for the resurrection is that good. And if you don’t believe me, you can go on, type in my name, “Mike Licona,” in the search engine or go to YouTube and type in my name and “debates” and you can watch most of my debates and you can decide for yourself who you thought won. Okay? But, I think the evidence, the more I’ve defeated on the resurrection of Jesus, the more convinced I become of it because they don’t have anything in terms of arguments against it.

Well, at one of those debates against Bart Ehrman, he came against the Gospels. That led me into, “Look, if the resurrection is true, if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true. Period.”

So, when you bring up these things, “Well, how do we know who wrote the Gospels? The Gospels have all these contradictions in them.”

Look: If the resurrection occurred, Christianity is true even if it were to be the case that some things in the Bible aren’t. Let me repeat that, because I think it’s really important. I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and the authority and the divine inspiration of the Bible. However, if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true if the Bible is not inerrant. And that’s something we need to remember and not get off on these rabbit trails and our faith get shaken for every alleged contradiction or error in the Bible. If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true. Period.

But, nevertheless, I still wanted to study the stuff on the Gospels. So, I got into an eight-year study I did on why there are differences in the Gospels and just came out with a book in December on it. I think I’ve got 17 copies. So, there’s not enough for all of you. It’ll be on sale. And you the knowledge and I need the money. Okay? So, 17 of you need to buy it.

So, I’m on this thing and I ended up debating Bart Ehrman in a written debate last year on the historical reliability of the Gospels. And I thought it just went really well. That’s coming out in a book later this year. But, then I started really putting some things together. My next full-length book is going to be on this topic. So, I have this lecture I’ve started to do – and you’re getting an abbreviated version of it tonight – on “Are the Gospels Historically Reliable?”

So, here we go. And there is no sound. There you go.

Are the Gospels historically reliable? Let’s talk about this. Now, as we get into this, the first order of business is we have to define what is it exactly we mean by the term “historically reliable?”

Does it mean inspired? Infallible? Inerrant? Authoritative? Nope. It doesn’t mean that. Take the Psalms for example. Let me ask you a question: How many of you think the Psalms are historically reliable? It’s not a trick question. Some of you are kind of like this, right? How can the Psalms be historically reliable? They’re not historical documents. Are the parables of Jesus historically reliable? No. They’re not meant to record history. They’re parables. Right?

Proverbs. Are they historically reliable? No. It’s not historical literature. It’s not an appropriate question to ask are the Proverbs or are the Psalms historically reliable. Divinely inspired? Yes. Authoritative? Yes. Historically reliable? N/A. It’s not applicable. It’s like asking “what’s the square root of chicken?” You can’t answer “are the Psalms historically reliable.” It doesn’t make sense.

Now, what about when we come to Tacitus’ Annals of Rome? Tacitus is regarded as one of the finest Roman historians. One of the most accurate and finest Roman historians. His Annals of Rome. Are they historically reliable? Yes. Are they inerrant? No. Are they divinely inspired? No. So, you can have something that is historically reliable, but not inspired. You can have something like the Psalms that are inspired, but not historically reliable. And then you can have something which, at least in principle, like the Gospels, can be both divinely inspired and historically reliable.

But, what I want to say to you tonight is we’re not asking “are the Gospels divinely inspired.” We’re not asking if they’re inerrant. We’re not asking if they’re authoritative. We’re asking, “Are they historically reliable?”

Are you with me? Okay. So, let’s define what we mean by “historically reliable.” In order to get at that definition, however we define “historically reliable,” it has to apply to all ancient literature that’s written of a historical genre. Okay? In other words, we can’t just say, “Let’s look at the Gospels and see what they are and let’s just say they’re historically reliable and make up a definition that will at least fit the Gospels and then we’ll apply it to all other ancient literature.”

That wouldn’t be fair. Right? We’ve got to look and say, “Alright. Well, let’s see why you would regard Tacitus’ Annals of Rome to be historically reliable, or Sallust’s War with Catiline. Some of these others, Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars, and let’s see why would we regard these as historically reliable and apply this to the Gospels and ask the question, “Do they meet this criteria?”

Then we have to take into consideration the matter of genre or literary type. Okay? Now, ancient history writing differed, somewhat, from its modern counterpoint. We have different rules and literary conventions for writing history and biography today than they had in antiquity, and we want to make sure we’re judging them according to their rules and not ours. Because, otherwise, you could have maybe the practice of history 1,000 years from now and historians will have different rules than we have today and they’ll say that we’re not writing in a historically reliable manner. And that wouldn’t be fair. You’ve got to judge us according to the literary conventions of our day, right?

So, we have to find out what those conventions are. And when they did the ancient history writing, there was a little more elasticity or flexibility in the way you could report things. The way I like to talk about it is there’s the guy version of a story and there’s the girl version of the story. How many of you are married and you know what I’m talking about? You know, girls – now, of course I’m generalizing. But, the girl version of the story, they like details. Lots of details. They want to know what happened, when it happened, why it happened, how it happened, who was there, what they were wearing, what they were thinking, how they were feeling. And then they want to know how you feel about it now that you know the story. Right?

One time, my son Zach come home and he talked about something that happened at work. I mean, he just had a really bad day. And my wife said to him, “Well, how does that make you feel?”

And he just looked at her like she was an alien.

“Feel? Feel? Men don’t feel. We don’t care about feelings.”

Now, guys? We don’t care about all of these details. We want bullet points. Just get to the bottom line. The game’s coming on in five minutes. Right? We don’t care about all of these details. So, there’s the guy version of the story. It’s not bad. It’s just a different way of telling the story. Generally speaking, when we read the Gospels, Mark gives us a girl version of the story. He gives us lots of details. Matthew, he cuts to the chase, he abbreviates things, and I can see Mark saying to him, “Now, Matty. You know it didn’t happen that way.”

And Matthew says, “Back off, Mark. You remind me of my wife.”

You know? So, I mean, it’s just a different way of telling the story. And because Matthew abbreviates things and gives us the guy version, he’s able to tell more stories. Because Mark got bogged down on all these girly details, he could tell a limited number of stories and Matthew tells more stories because he’s just getting in.

Anyway, both are valid ways of telling history. I’m glad Matthew told us the guy story. Because, if he didn’t, then there’d be some stories about Jesus we didn’t know or we’d never heard about.

Alright. So, we have to look at genre. Now, how does this change things when we look at history? How many of you saw the move “Apollo 13?” I’m going to be 56 next week and I remember when it really happened. It was April of 1970 I believe it was. I was really into NASA and going to the Moon and all of this. I remember my mom saying, “Mike, we’ve got to pray for those astronauts. They’re in trouble.”

Most people didn’t know. I mean, they only were given a 10% chance of returning. They weren’t telling the public that, but a 10% chance they thought they’d get them back. Well, they made the movie out of it. Ron Howard was praised for the accuracy of the movie. If you remember, Ed Harris played the flight director and he had that famous line in the move: “Failure is not an option.”

Do you remember that? Well, what most people don’t know is that Gene Kranz never uttered that statement. Now, don’t let that ruin the movie for you, because here’s what happened: Remember, they’re taking a story that happened over a nine-month period and they’re condensing it down to about two hours. So, sometimes you take an artistic license not to change the truth, but you may play with the details a little bit in order to express the truth or get the point across clearly. It’s true, but not necessarily in a precise sense.

So, what they did was they interviewed Kranz, they interviewed the flight control team who worked on solving the problem, and in order to express or epitomize the attitude and approach that they had, they came up with that statement and they put it on Gene Kranz’s lips. Failure is not an option. In order to show the kind of attitude that they had because they only had a limited amount of time they could do it.

So, is it true? Yes. But, not in a precise sense. It is true enough. And that’s the kind of stuff ancient historians and biographers would do. So, it’s like don’t get hung up on all these details. They’re trying to express truth, but not necessarily in a precise sense. In some ways, you could say they’re telling the guy version of the story. They’re willing to play with the details a little.

Alright. So, we’re going to define “historically reliable” in this way: Something is historically reliable when, at minimum, it communicates an accurate gist of what occurred. It gives us a true representation of what occurred even if not in every detail. It is essentially true. It is true enough.

And I like the true enough term. That comes from Christopher Pelling. He retired from Oxford two years ago. The leading Plutarch scholar in the world. He says, “Plutarch is true enough.”

That’s at minimum. That’s not saying the Gospels are at that minimum if we decide they’re historically reliable. That’s the minimum we’re talking. Okay? Now, let’s move on from there.

What we’re going to do – well, I have this lengthy lecture called “The Three C’s of the Historical Reliability of the Gospels,” and we’re only going to be able to look at one part of one of those C’s tonight. So, we’re looking at five criteria. The second C is criteria. Let’s look at the five. I’m going to name the five criteria.

First: Are there good reasons to believe that the author intended to write accurate history? Are there good reasons to believe the author intended to write accurate history? Second: Are there good reasons to think he author used good judgment in their choice and use of sources? Are there good reasons to think that the author used good judgment in their choice and use of sources? Third: Do we have reasons to believe that the author was capable of reporting accurate history? Do we have reasons to believe that the author was capable of reporting accurate history? Fourth: Can we verify numerous reports in this literature written as being true? Fifth: We want it so that no more than just a very small percentage of what’s being reported is false.

You’re bound to find some errors in Tacitus’ Annals of Rome or Josephus’ Jewish War. Okay? You’re going to find some errors here and there. But, we want to make sure that the errors are in the peripheral – the small, minor details – and there’s not many errors like that in order to say something is historically reliable.

Alright. Now, I don’t have time to go through all five of those, so we’re going to just focus on the third one. Was the author or their sources capable of recalling the stories accurately. Now, in looking at this I want to talk about conjecturing. Now, Plutarch – I’m not talking about the guy in Hunger Games. There was a guy named Plutarch who was born around the year 40 and he died just after the year 120. And a lot of what we know about the ancient world comes from Plutarch. He was a great writer, too. When he’s writing about people, the biographies of Julius Caesar, Cicero, Brutus, Antony, Crassus, Sertorius, Lucullus, Cato the Younger and people like that. He’s writing about 140 years or more after these people lived.

So, he’s got documents written by eye witnesses. We’re only a few generations removed from these events, so there’s oral tradition that has come down. People know the stories. Just like we know the stories today of the Civil War, right? The American Civil War. These things have been passed down. So, it was within a relatively brief period of time. There’s still a lot of documents and reports around. So, Plutarch has really good sources at his hands. But, when he goes on to write about the Theseus, the legendary founder of Athens, and Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, he’s writing about 800-1000 years after these people allegedly existed.

So, Plutarch says, “There’s large scale conjecture here.”

Let me give you his own words:

“Now that I’ve traversed those periods of time...” – he’s talking about Caesar and Cicero; written within 140 years – “...which are accessible to probable reasoning and which afford basis for a history dealing with facts, I might well say, of the earlier periods of which I’m about to write, what lies beyond is full of marvels and unreality; a land of poets and fabulists, of doubt and obscurity. May I, therefore, succeed in purifying fable, making her submit to reason and take on the semblance of history?”

What Plutarch is saying is, “Look, I’m dealing with people and events who lived relatively recently. We’ve got plenty of great sources and information at our fingertips that we can use. But, now that I’m going to go back to Romulus and Theseus, 800-100 years ago, I don’t have much. History wasn’t written back then in a good way. All I have are what was written about them by poets and what’s in legend and myths. So, what I’m going to do is I’m going to take these and I’m going to craft them in such a way where it’s going to read like history. It’s going to read like things really happened. But, don’t be under any delusion that this is historically reliable.”

Are you following me? So, he had to be involved in large scale conjecture when it went back that far. The Gospel authors didn’t have to go back that far. They’re writing within 35-65 years of the events of Jesus. Large scale conjecturing was not necessary. So, when we ask, “Were they capable of reporting accurate history?”

That would be one thing to say yes. But, we can go further than that. Memory. Now, there have been studies recently that have called the accuracy of memory into question. One thing they bring up about the Challenger disaster. Remember when that happened back in, what was it, 1986 I think it was? I remember when that happened because I was still interested in space. I remember where I was at when they were playing replays of it and I learned that happened.

Well, they asked a bunch of students right after it happened to recall where they were and what they saw and they wrote this down. Then, six months later they came back to the same people and they said, “What do you remember about the Challenger disaster?”

“Oh, well this happened. Blah, blah, blah.”

They said, “Do you know that you contradicted what you said here?”

“Oh, well I must’ve been wrong then. I’m right now.”

So, they’d say memory gets corrupted. So, they said, “Look: Even eyewitness testimony, we can’t trust it because we can’t remember things.”

Now, I agree that sometimes our memories, they’re not perfect for sure. But, I really think that’s a lousy way of showing that memory is not trustworthy. Maybe those students don’t remember where they were at because, I mean, come on. The space shuttle back then, unless you were into that stuff, it wasn’t of much interest. We weren’t going to the Moon. They were having these space shuttles going up all the time. It’s like, “Well, what are they doing? Who cares. A few space walks.”

Nobody was really interested in it. But, I can guarantee you that the spouses of those seven astronauts who died remember exactly where they were. Alright? Take for example – my wife and I, we love everything World War II. And I remember being in a doctor’s office a few years ago and I saw the doctor and I came out and I’m walking through the waiting room and there are all these patients. And there was this one guy, old guy. Probably in his late 80’s. He was wearing a blue baseball cap with a B29 Super Fortress embroidered on it. And I thought, “Man, he must’ve flown one of those.”

And I smiled when I walked out of the office. And then my curiosity got to me and I had to go back in. I walked up and I said, “Sir, did you, by any chance, fly on a B29 in World War II?”

He said, “I sure did, son.”

I said, “Man, you must have some fascinating stories.”

He said, “Yeah. I was in the Pacific Theater.”

I mean, they were men back then. You know?

“I was in the Pacific Theater and I’ll never forget. We were on this island and the native women had a horrible odor to them.”

And here he was remembering this like 65-70 years later, what these women on the island smelled like. You know? It was amazing. How many of you were old enough to remember 9/11? A lot of you wouldn’t be now, you know? How many of you remember where you were and what you were doing exactly? Of course. How many of you remember what the weather was like?

What was it? Sunny. Yep. That was almost 16 years ago, right? And you remember what the weather was like. You remember what you were doing in the morning right before noon on that day. Let me ask you a question: What was the weather like on September 11th last year? You don’t remember it. Isn’t that interesting? You remember the weather almost 16 years ago, but not less than a year ago. It’s because something big happened that day and it burned it into your memory. Right? Because, this was personal. This was something that had an impact on you. And those things tend to leave those kind of memories.

Like I remember my first kiss. It was awesome. It was awesome. I was in 10th grade. I remember where I was, who it was. I remember that kiss. Just the other day, Sunday, was July 9th. And I remember 46 years ago, July 9th, 1971, I attended my first Major League Baseball game. My grandfather took me. I lived in Baltimore. It was the Orioles against the Cleveland Indians. We won 4-1. Jim Palmer was pitching for us. Mark Belanger, our short stop, caught the last pop fly to win the game. There’s was one home run hit by the Indians. That’s the only score. My grandfather and I sat up in the mezzanine on the first base side and I remember saying to him, “Pop pop? See that guy in the French blue shirt over there sitting right next to the Orioles dugout on the third base side?”


“Can we sit there next time?”

It was great. Why do I remember that? Because, it was really meaningful to me. You know? We can remember those kinds of things. Now, how many of you remember the movie “We Were Soldiers” with Mel Gibson and Sam Elliot? A true story about Lt. General Hal Moore who just died a few months ago. This was about four days in the Drang River Valley in Vietnam. It was the very first major engagement of American forces with the North Vietnamese Army. Four days of harrowing stuff that was going. We were greatly outnumbered.

We ended up winning that battle and we lost, I think, 251 American soldiers and then another 245, I believe it was, were injured. I mean, it was just – if you saw the movie “We Were Soldiers,” it was really amazing. A lot of stuff happened. Well, in that movie there was a guy named Joe Galloway. Well, that was the real guy. I forgot who played his part. But, he was the combat reporter. It was he and Hal Moore, the Lt. General, who actually got together and they wrote the book. I think it was called “Once We Were Soldiers” or something like that. That was before the movie and the background for the movie.

Well, about two years ago, my wife and I saw Vietnam in HD. In the very first episode, they interviewed Joe Galloway – the real one – and there were times where he just got emotional remembering decades before. Well, there is one part. It was a one-minute segment I want you to see, because it’s pretty neat where he’s talking about the war. Here it is.


I left that [garbled] battlefield knowing that young Americans had laid down their lives so that I might live. They had sacrificed themselves for me and their buddies. What I was learning was that there’s some events that are so overwhelming that you can’t simply be a witness. You can’t be above it. You can’t be neutral. You can’t be untouched by it. It’s as simple as that. You see it, you live it, you experience it and it will be with you all of your days.

[End Video]

Let me ask you. Let’s just say that you had traveled with Jesus and you were one of His disciples and you saw Him give sight to the blind, you saw Him heal the lame, the deaf, you saw Him walk on water, you saw Him raise the dead, you saw Him confront the Jewish leaders and be involved in these amazing dialogues, you saw Him brutally scourged and crucified before your eyes. And then, three days later, the very worst thing turns into the best thing. You see Jesus. He’s alive and He shows Himself to you in perfect health; risen from the dead.

Now, if you had actually seen those things – let’s say those things had actually happened and you actually saw that – do you think that they would leave an impression on you as deep and lasting as those four days of battle left on Joe Galloway? You bet. And you know what? It’s not only the deeds of Jesus that would have been memorable, but also His teachings. I don’t suspect that Jesus had a new sermon for every town and village He entered. I’ll bet you He had somewhere between 12-20 lectures as an itinerant speaker. He could preach the same thing from one town to the next, right?

So, the disciples going around with Him and traveling from one and a half to three years. They would have heard Him teach the same messages over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over – and over and over and over and over – and over and over and over. And then, you’ve heard it, if you want to learn something and master it, you’ve got to teach it. So, they’ve heard Jesus and they’ve probably taken some notes. They go out by twos so they can correct each other. And they teach the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

And then they come back and they debrief and Jesus says, “Hey, great job,” and they ask Him some questions and He clarifies some things.

Like, “Hey, Jesus. We went in this one town. Can we adapt this parable that you taught in a little bit of a way to make it more appropriate?”

“Yeah. Yeah. You can do that. Good thinking about that.”

And they’d discuss it. And then they hear Jesus and they watch Him teaching the same things again over and over and over and over and over. And then He’s dead and then He rises from the dead. He commissions them to go preach the Gospel and to make disciples of all people. And now, for the next three decades and longer, thousands of times they preach those same things over and over – and you get the idea, right?

And, on top of that, Jesus taught in such a way where you have these literary devices to help you remember. We were talking about chiasms. So, Chip can tell you a lot about those. And then there are kreya, these pithy sayings. Jesus has some of those things.

“Let he that is without sin cast the first stone.”

Things like that.

Or, “If your eye makes you sin, rip it out and throw it from you.”

You know?

 “Unless you hate your father and mother, you can’t be my disciple.”

All of these kinds of things. Pithy sayings that people remember. They’re meant to have shock value. They’re meant to encapsulate certain things in these pithy sayings. And then you’ve got parallelism and you’ve got parables. All of these things are very easy for memorization, because it was pretty much an illiterate culture. So, they had to come up with these kind of devices that would make it easy to remember.

So, a lot of teachings of Jesus are like this. They’re designed in such a way to help you facilitate in remembering these. So, the thing I’m pointing out here is all these things that we’re talking about all facilitate, of course. The authors of the Gospels were in a fantastic situation where they could have accurate recall of the things that Jesus had said and did.

So, pretty profound stuff. Our five criteria. Let me wrap this thing up now. We could go on for a long time. Our five criteria: Do we have reasons to believe that the authors intended to write good, accurate history? Do we have reasons to believe they used good judgment in their use and choice of sources? Were they capable of reporting accurate history? Yes. Does that mean they reported accurate history? No. It does not mean that they did. There are other things that we can look at for that. But, we can certainly see that they were capable of reporting accurate history. They were in a position and everything would’ve worked their way. If these things actually happened and Jesus actually taught these things, they were certainly capable of reporting accurate history.

Fourth. We haven’t discussed this. But, we can verify numerous reports in the Gospels as being true. Finally, no more than a very small percentage of things are suspect of being false. And there is a handful of things in the Gospels that scholars cite to say, “Well, maybe these things are false. Maybe these are errors.”

They can’t prove that they’re errors. Some of the things we can’t prove that they’re not errors. Okay? So, there are a handful of candidates that are possible errors. Like, I’ll just give you one. In Mark 2, Jesus is talking about when Abiathar was the high priest David and his men went in and ate bread from the tabernacle, which is not usually lawful to eat.

Well, if you go to the Old Testament, it wasn’t Abiathar, it was Ahimelech. So, is that a mistake that Mark made? Is it a mistake Jesus made? Is this a possible mistake? It’s a possible mistake. Can it be explained? Some people try to explain it. It’s possible. That’s all we can say.

Another one is in Luke’s Gospel, and it talks about when Jesus was born there was a census. Caesar Augustus had a census taken throughout the land when Quirinius was the governor of Syria or the proconsul of Syria. Scholars say, “Well, that could be an error.”

It doesn’t mean that it is, but there’s a handful of things like that. They’re very, very minor. I asked a few scholars. I said, “Tell me. What do you think, in all of your readings, what do you think are possible errors in the Gospels?”

Again, there’s only like half of a dozen of these things. And they’re all minor, just like that. Wait, we’re talking about four full biographies of Jesus and that’s all you can come up with? Small, minor things like that that are possibly errors? Even if we grant that they were all errors, the Gospels still could be historically reliable. That doesn’t discredit it. We can easily find that many things in Tacitus and Suetonius and the rest of them. So, I mean, that’s no big deal – for historical reliability, that is. And that’s what we’re asking here. Are the Gospels historically reliable?

So, those are the five things.

Just to finish up here. So, if you want more information that’s my website. You can go there. You can watch a number of the debates in which I’ve been engaged. We have a number of lectures that I’ve done that you can view there. Let’s see. Lectures, debates, some articles and things like that. So, you can get more information at our website. I’m also on Facebook and I’m on Twitter. I have two Facebook pages, okay? I don’t know why I did that. This thing. But, it’s Michael.R.Licona. I’ve got two Facebook pages. One’s a personal and the other is public figure.

Look, I only accept people for the personal one that I know. Okay? And I don’t know you guys. So, go to my public figure page and like it and you can follow me. Okay? If I don’t know you, I don’t accept your friend request on Facebook. But, if you go to the public figure page, almost everything I put on the personal one I put on the public figure. And I put stuff on the public figure that I don’t put on the personal. The kind of stuff that you guys want, you’ll want to go to the public figure page. Alright?

Alright. Well, that’s what I have and I would love to entertain your questions and have a discussion period. This will be fun.

[Chip Bennett]: Very good. Well I hope your appetites got whetted a little bit here. When we talk about something being historically reliable, I think you’ve got a pretty good idea of what that means in the literary world and the world of literature. When you take those basic structures and you look at them compared to the Gospels, there’s no reason to believe that the Gospels aren’t historically reliable. I also want to make sure – and I remember doing this at Easter. One of the things I think it’s important for all of us to remember – and I think Mike did a great job of reminding us of that – is Christianity didn’t happen because, like most figures, when they die, the people get together and they go, “Hey, let’s put together some stuff to remember these people.”

That’s just sort of what they do. Well, when Jesus died, everything died with Him. All of their hopes were in Him being the one that would restore the Kingdom of Israel. They had a messianic understanding of Jesus and that He was going to overthrow Rome and do all of these great things. When He died, they didn’t get together and go, “Let’s relive the dream.”

They went and hid because they thought that they were going to die having been followers of Jesus. The only reason the Gospels even exist to begin with is because something happened so dramatic to these people that they wanted to figure out how to write about it. They would’ve never thought to relive the dream when Jesus died, because it wouldn’t have been something worth reliving. They would’ve started looking for someone else. So, when we talk about the Gospels and we interact with them, I think it’s important for us to understand that when we bring these categories to them, oftentimes the categories that we bring are sort of artificial. Because, really, everything – no pun intended – rises and falls on the resurrection. Everything. Everything we believe is that if Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, then it’s game over, period, end of story. Jesus is who He was.

So, when we go to the Gospels and skeptics or other people will go, “Hey, there’s a contradiction. Were there angels or men or whatever else?”

The reality is I think we have to start asking the question “are we bringing some ideas to these texts that nobody in the ancient world would’ve brought to these texts?” Are we being unrealistic? Because, if I were to ask you all to recount tonight and we took each of you to a room, the stories that you tell might not sound anything like the story that’s going on in another room. And would that make that inaccurate?

So, think about that when we’re talking about these things. I hope that you’ll get some questions together. We really want to engage those things. So, if you have some questions, some concerns or whatever, please start writing those down, because that’s important. But, can we give Dr. Licona a big hand for what he’s done?

And we’re not done. We’re not done for the evening. We also have Dr. Braxton Hunter with us. He’s another great apologist and we’re going to bring him up here on stage in just a minute. We’re going to move the tables out and we’re going to do a great Q&A. But, before that what I’d like to do is ask the ushers to come. I’d like to take up an offering for Mike and his ministry. Give liberally, especially if you’re a believer. Mike really makes a difference in the Christian community and the world for what he does. And we need 17 people to give far more than 35 dollars for books on the way out as well.

But, that being said, as the ushers come they’re just going to collect an offering. Go ahead and pass it and do that. Then, if you would, if you have some questions, this would be a good time. Go ahead, ushers. You can start passing everything. Good.

If you would, if you’ve got some questions that you’ve written out, just put your hands in the air and some of the guys will come by and pick them up and we’ll get them up here. And then if I could get a few guys to get us a few chairs and my chair, that would be awesome. We’ll get to doing a Q&A here right away. Sound fair? Good.

Alright. Here we go. Here’s a question:

“How do you respond to the one who asks about the historical reliability of the longer ending of Mark 9-20 and what do you do with the historical reliability of John 7:53-8:11.”

[Michael Licona]: That’s a good question. Gotcha. Let’s do Mark first. If you look in your Bibles, Mark 16, after verse 8 where Jesus is risen and the women go to the tomb and see an angel and he says, “He’s not here. He’s risen, as He said. Now, go. Tell the disciples and Peter that He’s gone ahead of them into Galilee. They are to go there and they will see Him just as He said.” And there he’s referring back to Mark 14:28 where Jesus says it.

It says, “The women fled and, out of fear and trembling, said nothing to no one.”

Now, that’s how Mark 16:8 ends. And then in your New Testament you’ll see there are brackets around Mark 16:9-20 and a little footnote that says “these verses are not found in our best and oldest manuscripts.” And that’s the one where it talks about picking up snakes and drinking poison. You know, pastors in the hills of West Virginia, they go by those verses.

[Chip Bennett]: Thanks for not using Kentucky.

[Michael Licona]: But, most scholars look at that – almost all scholars look at that and say, “That’s not part of the originals. It doesn’t really fit. There’s a different kind of vocabulary and grammatical structure that is used throughout those verses. It ends up repeating certain things.”

So, the majority of scholars – the overwhelming majority of scholars; 99% – would say that those verses were not part of the original Mark. So, where does that leave us? Why does it stop there that Jesus has been raised from the dead, the women run and say nothing to no one and it ends there? Well, there are a couple of options. Either, number one, our original ending has been lost – it was there, but it’s been lost – or Mark did not intend to end it there, but he got sick or he died and he was unable to complete the Gospel. So, in other words, verse 8 would not have been the intended ending. It was either lost or Mark was unable to complete it.

The other option is Mark did intend to complete it there. But, why would he complete it where they’re running away and saying nothing to no one? It’s like, well, how do we know about it if they said nothing to no one? Right? How do we know about it and why would they do that? Why would you end it like that? That’s really weird? And there’s a number of – this is one of those things that, you know, where you have three scholars in the room you have five opinions. There’s no agreement. Nobody agrees on why it would’ve ended. Some say, “Well, it’s in vogue now to say that Mark was constructed as an oral performance. And, in that case, the one who would be given the performance would memorize the Gospel of Mark and then would put his or her ending there about their encounter with the risen Jesus.”

That’s a possibility. Another thing you could point out is that in Mark 1:44, Jesus heals, I think it was, a leper. And He says, “Go back and show yourself. Say nothing to no one and show to the priests what the Lord has done for you.”

So, what did it mean? Why go and say nothing to no one? What it really meant – same grammatical structure there – is like, “Don’t stop along the way and talk to anyone. Go directly.”

So, that’s probably what it means. Not that you don’t tell anyone. Anyway, there’s a number of different reasons that scholars give. I tend to think that either the ending was lost or Mark was unable to complete it. But, anyway, I would say that it ends at verse 8 and that verses 9-20 are spurious. They weren’t in the originals.

In terms of John 7:53-8:11, most scholars today think that that was not part of the original. But, a lot of them do think that it’s an authentic story of Jesus. You remember at the end of the Gospel of John it says, “Many other things Jesus said and did that aren’t reported here.”

It could be – look, I’ll tell you one thing I’m open to is there was a second addition to the Gospel of John. It could easily happen. You know? He could’ve given out the Gospel of John and, all of a sudden, “You know what? There’s this story and I’d like to include it in there,” and it got included later on at a later time.”

Or maybe one of John’s disciples later on put it in there. He knew it was an authentic story that had been communicated, but he put it in there. He said, “Well, wait. How does that work in with divine inspiration if we don’t know who the author is?”

Well, you know about a third of the Psalms we don’t know who the author is? What about in the Pentateuch when it talks about Moses’ death and he was buried? Well, who wrote the Pentateuch? They say Moses did, right? The first five books of the Bible. Well, how could Moses be writing about his death and burial? We don’t know who the author was, but that doesn’t mean divine inspiration. Who wrote the book of Hebrews? Well, origin said only God knows who wrote the book of Hebrews. You know? In the early third century they said that. So, we don’t need to necessarily know who the author was for these things.

But, anyway, these are tough passages. I have a friend who did his doctoral dissertation on that text in John. He wanted to prove that it was authentic and he ended up saying, “I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.”

So, those are tough ones. There are not too many of those in the Gospels.

[Chip Bennett]:  You know, I think – have you got something you want to say?

[Braxton Hunter]: Yeah. I was just going to say I can’t add anything to what Dr. Licona just said except to say that when I first became aware of these kind of things, it’s shocking at first, I think, to a lot of Christians who’ve grown up in church and have such a high view of Scripture. And we ought to have a high view of Scripture. It’s kind of a knee jerk reaction when we hear things like that and we learn about passages that conservative evangelical scholars would say what Mike has just said. But, here’s the thing about it: When we talk to skeptics – and there may be some skeptics here tonight. For me, I think one of the great things that we use apologetics for is to express the faith in a way that it answers and helps to people get over those intellectual roadblocks so that they can come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What people like Dr. Licona are doing – and other scholars who help us understand these things – is to gently help us to become aware of things that, yeah, they may cause a little bit of a knee jerk reaction, but your skeptical friend, coworker or loved one may well be aware that a lot of conservative scholars are willing to grant this. And they may have educated themselves on these things. So, I think it’s good for church folks to be aware. And this is why I think it’s so great that Dr. Bennett would put something like this on. We need to be okay understanding this and hearing these things and being ready to respond when skeptics bring these up.

You know? We can say, “Well, yeah. That’s something that scholars are aware of and we have scholarly notations in most of our Bibles for these things.”

So, I think it’s helpful in terms of our evangelism because, honestly, that and building up the faith of those who are already saved and struggle with second guessing, like Mike had talked about, on occasion, that’s where the heart issues come in that I think sometimes things might seem cold, clinical and academic to us, but these things have real world applications for our evangelism and for reaching people with the message of the Gospel.

[Chip Bennett]: I’d like to interject something here from just a pastoral perspective. One of the things that we do in the church – and I think this is a great moment for all of us here to understand this – is your Christianity does not rise and fall on how you view the Scripture. It rises and falls on whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. And this is a big, big, big issue. Because, we put more faith in the book sometimes than the one that the book talks about. And this is so huge for us to get as Christians, especially here at Grace. Because, you know how I am as a pastor. I mean, I absolutely, 100% believe that the Scripture is God-breathed. That’s what Paul says to Timothy. He uses a compound word; “theopneustos.”

I believe that with all of my heart. But, don’t confuse that with what makes you a Christian. The early Christians, for hundreds of years, would’ve never even in a million years argued about the categories we argue about. There was no such thing as John Calvin when Peter was talking on Acts 2. Jacobus Arminius didn’t exist. Nobody argued about that. You know? They didn’t have these categories of, “Well, was John 7:53-8:11 around?” because they didn’t have John.

So, what made them a Christian? What made them have an experience in their life? Was it because they read a book and they argued about the book and they fought for the book? No. What made them a Christian was they believed that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, and they put their faith in that. So, don’t let when somebody comes along and goes, “Well, John 7:53-8:11,” I personally am more inclined to – these guys would probably tell you that it’s not. I’m more inclined to think that it might actually be part of John, because I do a lot of Chiastic work and I think it needs to be there and I’m hoping, one day, that the scholars find the ancient Gospel of John and it’s in there and everybody goes, “Oops.”

But, that being said, that doesn’t make me right and them wrong or them right and me wrong. It doesn’t mean any of that. It just means that we’re trying to give you the honest answers because, as Christians, we don’t have anything to fear. If the truth is the truth, we don’t have anything to fear at all. So, don’t fear these problem texts like Acts 8:37 or 1 John 5:7. Does it say there’s three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? That’s not found in some of the manuscripts. Don’t get bogged down on that.

The reality is Jesus tells us in John 5 what it’s all about. He says, “You guys are searching the Scriptures, for you think that in them you have life.”

There’s so many Christians that believe their life is found in the book. Jesus says, “The book testifies about me, but you won’t come to me to have life.”

Life is found in Jesus. And when we get that right, some of the other things fall away. Right?

[Michael Licona]: Let me throw one other thing in here, too. For several centuries, the Christians debated over which books and letters to include in the New Testament, right?

[Chip Bennett]: That’s exactly right. Absolutely. Yep.

[Michael Licona]: So, isn’t it cool that we can’t even talk about this and say, “Hey, we can debate over whether these texts belonged in the original,” and it’s like, “Alright, well we’re open to that.”

“Alright. Let’s include the Gospel of John. Let’s not include the Gospel of Peter.”

So, today we can say, “Hey, let’s include the Gospel of Mark. But, you know what? It’s probably true that Mark 16:9-20 weren’t in the original,” and we keep that in mind. It’s like, “Hey, I’m fine with that.”

Let’s be honest about it. Let’s debate. We don’t lose anything. I mean, we’ve got the resurrection narratives in the other three Gospels and we’ve got Paul before any of the Gospels were written who talks about the resurrection. You know, the woman caught in adultery, even if that were not authentic, you still have Jesus forgiving sinners. The thief on the cross. So, we don’t lose anything with these if they were not authentic.

[Chip Bennett]: That’s right. I agree. Next question is, “Why does it go from no facial hair to a little bit and then to a lot?”

No, I’m just kidding. It doesn’t say that. Nobody asked that. I’m just kidding. It’s just a joke. Calm down.

[Braxton Hunter]: I guess that one was for me.

[Chip Bennett]: No, no. I do want to say that some of you all have written in tongues, and I don’t have the gift to read it.

“Would you please briefly discuss...” – this is all you here, man – “Dr. Ehrman’s contention that the Gospels contain thousands of contradictions and discrepancies based on textual evidence?”

[Michael Licona]: Oh. So, well, that’s talking about variances in the manuscripts. And we do. There’s probably half of a million differences in the manuscripts. But, Dan Wallace, who is an expert on this, talks about are they viable differences and are they meaningful differences. So, viable would mean you look and you say, “Alright. We’ve got so many manuscripts. We’ve got an embarrassing richness of manuscripts.”

I mean, I’m studying stuff right now. When you take all the Ancient Latin literature, like Cicero’s Letters and Tacitus’ Annals of Rome and all these things, and you put them together, you’ve got right at about 1,700 manuscripts, total, for all of them. Whereas these guys are writing in first century BC– first century and second century. Those 1,700 manuscript are generally from the ninth through the sixteenth centuries.

With the New Testament, we have 5,843 Greek manuscripts, not including all the other ancient translations of it, not including the early church fathers who quote them on over a million occasions. Forget all that stuff and we still have 5,843. And we have somewhere between 9-15 of them that are dated within 150 years of the autographs. Within the first 1,000 years, we’ve got about 600 manuscripts. I mean, it’s just unbelievable what we have compared to this other stuff.

But, with all of these manuscripts comes variants. So, a lot of those are down to paraphrasing – the early church fathers paraphrasing or a slip of memory. Things like that. Sometimes the scribes made really egregious errors, ridiculous errors. Sometimes they would try to correct another’s grammar or maybe they thought Mark was wrong in his grammar and they had a copy of it so they tried to correct it or smooth it out and things like this. Sometimes they make spelling mistakes. In Ancient Greek, there were no spaces between words. There were no punctuation marks. It was just all run-on. I don’t know how they read that way.

But, you could see how that could be misinterpreted. Or maybe they just spelt something different or maybe someone was reading it and it’s like – I remember when I first came down to Georgia, I was talking to a secretary where I worked and she said “own,” but it was “on.” On.

I said, “Well, how do you say “o-w-n?”


You know? So, you probably had some things like this in Ancient Greek. I mean, there were diphthongs like an “ei” and an “ai.” They were pronounced the same way. So, you could have all kinds of mistakes like this.

Anyway, viable would mean the manuscript evidence, the pedigree of those manuscripts is very good. And then meaningful means does it change the meaning of it. So, for example, 1 John 1:4.

“We are writing these things in order that our joy may be full.”

In other manuscripts which are equally as good, it says, “I’m writing these things so that your joy may be full.” 

Well, which one is it? There’s only one different in the Greek letter. Well, the pedigree of the manuscripts, we don’t really know which one was the original. Our or your? So, it is a viable difference and it’s meaningful because it changes the meaning, although it doesn’t change any doctrine. I mean, it doesn’t change anything, really, in terms of practical application. But, it does change the meaning.

So, when we’re talking about something like, there’s no Gospel essential that’s compromised at all. Ehrman himself acknowledges that. No major doctrine compromised by a variation.

Anyway, Dan Wallace, one of the leading textual critics in the world, says when you’re looking at things that are viable and meaningful, not just a word order or spelling, but viable and meaningful, only one tenth of one percent of all the differences are viable and meaningful, and none of them change any essential doctrine of the Christian faith. So, no big deal.

[Chip Bennett]: Everybody knows Howard Stern. I mean, he’s like a shock jock. You know? So, when you say there’s all these variables, it sounds great when you’re on a college campus and people aren’t aware of what’s going on. But, when you have the knowledge of what’s going on – I mean, probably a good half of those deals is because Greek is a morphological language. It’s not linear like English where you go “the ball hit the boy.”

You can move all kinds of things around in Greek and it’s the same thing. And a lot of those variants are just moving things around. And he’s not going to just come out and tell you. When he says, “Hey, there’s all these errors,” he’s not going to also go, “Oh, but about half of them though are just this.”

He’s not there to do that. He’s there to create the shock. What it does is when you’re uninformed, the shock is big to Christians. You don’t need to be shocked. There’s nothing to be shocked about.

Let’s continue on here. Let’s see here.

[Michael Licona]: And Ehrman himself – Again I want to say that Ehrman himself acknowledges. I mean, he talks about all of these things about copies of copies. And if he really believes that, he’s got to throw out all of ancient literature, because he even acknowledges the New Testament is the best attested literature in antiquity in terms of the manuscript evidence. He even says in his books that scholars today are convinced that we have, essentially, what the authors wrote, although possibly not 100%. That’s what he says. That’s almost a direct quote.

So, he says these other things because it sells.

[Chip Bennett]: And if you’re watching, Bart, we love you.

[Michael Licona]: We do. I love you, man!

[Chip Bennett]: Yeah. That’s right. My suspicious is Bart had something happen in his life that really hurt him with his relationship with God. Oftentimes we get sort of frustrated. Didn’t he go through a divorce or something? There was something. He was a conservative evangelical. I’ve done that. I got mad at God and quit for a while. I know none of you all have ever done that, because you all are saints. But, as a pastor, I just share the way it is. I’ve had plenty of those doubts with God.

What happens is when you do that you start going down some dark roads. You even start, after your 30th anniversary, wondering if it’s the right woman. You know? Things like that.

[Braxton Hunter]: Hey, can I say something about this? I know you want to stay on a time crunch here. But, Mike, you know his story better than me. So, correct me – really, correct me if I say anything that’s not right here. But, this kind of ties in really well with what we’re discussing, because my understanding is that originally what had happened with Bart Ehrman is that he found what he thought was a contradiction in Scripture, right? And for him, that led to a house of cards falling down. So, he doubted all of Christianity because he found what he thought to be a contradiction in Scripture. Is that right?

[Michael Licona]: That began that question.

[Braxton Hunter]: Yeah. That began a chain reaction and all of that. But, you know, I affirm inerrancy. For sure, I affirm inerrancy. I mean, really, I’m a loud mouth, leather lung, red-faced Southern preacher. So, I affirm inerrancy and I love to get up and preach hard. “Thus saith the Lord” and all of that. But, here’s the thing: When you go about it that way, when you have that view that if one thing in the Bible were to be contradictory – and I don’t believe there are any contradictions in the Bible. But, if you have that view and then you find what appears to be that way, and that is closer to the center of, let’s say, your web of beliefs than the resurrection, then when it goes, the resurrection goes and perhaps a lot of other things go.

I think he’s agnostic, maybe. Maybe God goes. But, if on the other hand you say, “Well, no. I affirm inerrancy and I don’t think there are any contradictions in Scripture, but that is further out, so to speak, in my web of beliefs than my belief in God and the resurrection of Jesus and a lot of other things that are taught by Jesus,” well then, if you ever were to think you found a contradiction in Scripture, the whole thing wouldn’t come crumbling down and you would have more time, maybe, to confidently study this out. I’m sure Bart Ehrman did study this. I’m confident. I know he did. But, you would be able to search those things out with confidence.

And I hear preachers say this a lot. They’ll say things like, “If one thing in the Bible is false, then all of it’s false,” or, “If one thing in the Bible is not true, then none of it’s true.”

Well, that doesn’t even follow logically, does it? If you found out that one thing in the Bible was not true, it would not mean that everything else in the Bible is false. That just doesn’t work logically. So, while we affirm inerrancy, we need to make sure that we understand, as your pastor said so eloquently just a while ago, that the resurrection is the centerpiece, historically, of the Christian faith. Now, thank God I think there’s good reasons to believe that He gave us the Word of God as inerrant. But, I just think it’s important to keep these things all in mind, not only because, like I said before, our skeptical friends are going to challenge us with this, but also because I think that what I know of Bart Ehrman’s testimony testifies to this fact.

[Chip Bennett]: I guess this is what I would say: As Christians, let’s make sure that we do a better job of framing the question. Is this an interpretive issue? Is this a hermeneutical issue? Like, do you read Genesis 1 as a 24-hour, 7-day period or do you read it that it might be a little poetic or whatever? Those are hermeneutical issues. Those are not “Scripture isn’t the Bible” issues at all. They’re not even close to that. But, that’s what happens.

We do the, “Do you take the Bible literally?” What that really means is “do you read it the way I do?” That’s what we’re really asking. You know? And if you don’t believe the Bible’s got a literal 24-hour, 7-days, then everything else falls. There’s people that write books that say that. That’s ridiculous. That’s crazy talk. Let’s make sure that we don’t miss frame the issue. There are interpretive differences in the way we read Scripture, and scholars will interpret different passages differently. That is not an inerrancy issue. That is an interpretive issue.

And we hold onto those things because, man, it’s like white-knuckle. We want to believe. The question is did He get up from the grave? If He did, that means this world’s not all that there is. That means that He rose from the grave, which means sins can be forgiven. That’s the issue that we need to go die on a hill for, not for whether or not John 7:53-8:11 is in Scripture or if in Genesis 6 the Sons of God are the righteous line of Seth or if they’re some angels or whatever else. We need to stop all that crazy stuff and arguing about that and get down to the essential thing that Jesus Christ came and rose from the dead and He can change your life.

Instead of trying to make everybody believe in the Scripture, you know?

Alright. I’m going to answer this one for you, because I think this is sort of loaded. Well, I do. It’s an unfair thing. I’m going to go out – I don’t usually put my foot down on something, but I am going to put my foot down on something. A Christian person attacked Mike on some things and just couldn’t be more wrong and it’s aggravating to have to field these questions. I don’t think this question here is necessarily loaded, but it does come with some baggage, unfortunately.

The story of the graves opening after the crucifixion. The prophet’s walking around the city. Is that a small or large historical issue? Mike took a little bit of flack because he interpreted it differently than someone else and then someone said, “You don’t believe the Bible.”

The reality is I don’t think that there’s any historical issue with that particular thing. I think it’s just the way we read it in what we see. Do you have anything you want to add to that?

[Michael Licona]: Yeah. So, briefly, you have Matthew, Mark and Luke reporting a number of phenomena that happened at Jesus’ death. The temple veil splitting and that there was darkness that occurred. But, Matthew adds that there was an earthquake, the rocks split, the tombs were opened, many of the dead saints were raised and, after Jesus’ resurrection, they came out and walked into the holy city and were seen by many.

So, when I was doing my doctoral research, there were some skeptics who were saying, “This is the clearest example of myth making in the New Testament. It’s just myth. Therefore, Jesus’ resurrection is just more of the same.”

Well, I’d been reading through the Greco-Roman literature and the Jewish literature and I started to notice some things. There seemed to be some linguistic idioms. Kind of like we might say today, “9/11 involved earthshaking events.”

Well, a thousand years from now, what if a historian said, “Wow. They said 9/11 had some earthshaking events. Let’s check their seismic graphs here to see if there were any major earthquakes that were going around the world. No? Well, I guess 9/11 never happened.”

You know? It’s like, “No, no, no. That’s a linguistic idiom or a figure of speech that they were using. So, I started to see some things like when great kings died or when Julius Caesar was assassinated, there were things like eclipses of the Sun, comets, pale phantoms were seen walking around at sunset. That’s kind of interesting, huh? Streams stopped flowing. Black intestines were seen outside of animals. The temple doors – no, that’s another one. Just before the temple was destroyed, Josephus says that fighting was seen in the heavens, just like they said when Caesar died. Fighting was seen in the heavens. The doors for the temple in Jerusalem, which took more than 20 men to open, opened by themselves. A cow gave birth to a lamb. All kinds of things like that.

When Caesar went into Egypt, Cassius Dio reports that voices were heard and ghosts were seen, that a woman, whose head was filled with snakes, went around the city and terrified people. An eclipse of the Sun. There was a comet. The doors to the temple of Jupiter, which took many men to open, opened by themselves. Do you start to see some things here? Some common things? And you say, “Wow. Maybe they’re talking in phenomenological language like we would say 9/11 was an earthshaking event.”

And they’re saying this because, wow, you’re talking about not the death of Julius Caesar, but you’re talking about the death of the Son of God. So, they have this phenomenological language that’s going on here. If that is what’s happening here, then it would be false to say this is myth making. You’re missing the linguistic idioms here. So, that’s what I propose I thought was probably happening. We see Peter doing it on the Pentecost when he says, “Hey, you think we’re drunk with new wine? No way. This is too early in the morning.”

He actually says this. Like, “Hey, wait. Three o’clock and happy hour is coming. Check us out then. But, no. He says, “It’s too early in the morning.”

What you’re seeing is the fulfillment of what Joel the Prophet said, that young men will have visions, old men will have dreams. You go back to Joel 2 and it says, “Young men will have visions. Old men will have dreams. The Sun will go dark. The stars will fall in the sky. The moon will turn into blood. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Well, then he finishes his sermon and says, “Call on the name of the Lord and be saved.”

So, Peter thinks that Joel 2 has been fulfilled in their presence, yet the Sun didn’t go dark, the moon didn’t turn to blood. You know what I’m saying here? And then I looked in the ancient literature and I found there are places where we can confirm that in the Ancient Greco-Roman literature and Jewish literature where it mentions a comet, we can confirm that the comet was actually there. Hale-Bopp Comet. Haley’s Comet. Something like that. Or it’s multiply attested in the Chinese literature, which they would’ve had no contact with the Romans or the Greeks.

NASA has a website where you can go and enter a year and click on a geographic region and it will tell you if there was an eclipse of the Sun visible within the region that year. And there are some cases where we can confirm that there was a comet visible, but there was no visible eclipse of the Sun, which means that they could commingle historical details like that and they’d add some for dramatic impact. So, you wonder, “Is this what Matthew was doing?”

So, some were saying, “You’re denying inerrancy! You’re denying the Bible! You’re saying it’s wrong!”

No. I’m saying that it could be that your interpretation is wrong.

Summer Academic Series - The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts

Sermon Transcript

[Chip Bennett]: Well, good evening everybody. How are you? Good to see everybody. I want to welcome everyone this evening to another one of our academic series'. My name is Chip Bennett and I am the pastor of Grace Community Church; the church that is hosting this event. I'm also a professor at Southeastern University, an adjunct professor for Knox Theological Seminary, and I'm joined on stage tonight by Dr. Sam Lamerson, the president of Knox Theological Seminary, a New Testament scholar, a Greek scholar, he just came back from Athens where he worked with original New Testament manuscripts himself, he's a successful author and a respect professor. So, could we give him a big hand?

Now, on behalf of both of us and Grace Community Church, to those who watch via online and the internet, we are so glad that you all came out to join us tonight and I think we should start with a word of prayer. So, would you bow with me and let's pray?
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You so much for the opportunity tonight to look at a very real issue; an issue that is becoming more and more prominent and pervasive in the world today, and it's whether or not we can really trust the manuscript tradition that our Scriptures that we read are based on. Lord, I pray tonight that You would help illuminate all of our ears and hearts. I pray, Lord, that You'd bless this evening. Lord, I pray that You would be with Dr. Lamerson as he shares a lot of his wisdom and insight to us. And I pray, Lord, that You would really just lead, guide and direct this evening tonight as we try to wed the academy with the local church for Your glory. Thank You for everything in advance. In Christ's name, and everybody said, "amen."
The academic series here at Grace has become a hugely successful deal that we've done over the summers here for many of you all that are a part of Grace. And I just want to thank every one of you all for being here supporting education in the local church. This is the first of three evenings that we're going to do this summer, and I promise you that each one of these will be worth coming out for. The original vision behind the academic series was to bring academic scholarship of the highest level to the local church. So, we're doing that and we plan to continue to do this.
So, these evenings are informative and they're educational in nature. We want people of faith and we also want people in the community to be able to interact with real academic issues, and we do hope that you will all continue to support these evenings by your attendance. So, with that in mind, let's get to learning.
At the outset, the goal of tonight is sort of twofold if I break it down to two things. One: I want everybody to be able to have a great, genuine learning experience. At the same time, I want us to be able to wrestle with one of the perennial issues in scholarships, and that is can we trust the Bible? Can we trust Scripture?
The Bible, as you may or may not know, is translated largely from Hebrew and Greek texts in the Old Testament and Greek text in the New Testament. The text that Scriptures are translated from are called manuscripts. The Greek text that we use for the New Testament number about 5,800. The manuscripts vary in their material. Some are small fragments and others contain large portions of the entire New Testament. So, the question that gets asked in the academic world is this: Weren't there all kinds of errors over the years as these manuscripts were copied? Since the Bible translations we have are based on manuscripts that were copied over hundreds and hundreds of years, aren't there a lot of errors in that tradition?
That's a good question. It's one that we hope to answer this evening. That's why we've entitled tonight "The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts." Most people who consider Christianity at some point have to wrestle with this question. What do we do with the Bible? Many have concluded that it's a book, like another other book, written by people. Therefore, it's just full of errors, cultural and religious ideas from a day gone by, and a book just like any other book that you might find on a shelf.
Some conclude that it was an amalgamation of selected pieces of manuscripts by political leaders to try and control the masses. Some conclude that it has great teachings, but it's by no means inspired. Some conclude that the Church and its powerful elite chose certain books over others to include in the Bible. So, there's books out there that should be in the Bible that are not in the Bible.
So, those who question the manuscript tradition usually are trying to point out at some level that our Bible is not a reliable witness. In other words, what you have and what I have is not a completely accurate manuscript. There are errors in it. They would say that there's too many manuscripts that were copied at many times and many places that compromised the authenticity of what we have now. And by that, what they mean to say is that the Scriptures that we have are sort of a ragtag gathering of translated manuscripts that have so many errors that no real thinking person would accept them as near accurate.
So, the question: In over 2,000 years, has the New Testament manuscript tradition been compromised? Does what we have in our Bibles accurately convey what Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, Corinth or Rome? What about what Luke wrote in his Gospel? Is it accurate? Does it convey what really happened? What about Matthew? What about Mark? Does the New Testament manuscript evidence lead itself to rationally concluding that the Bible is chock-full of errors, especially in the transmission over the years, or does it not? Or is it possible to truly have a rational belief that what we have is a tremendously well-preserved manuscript tradition and what we read in our Scriptures are, in fact, very reliable?
Although this may not be at the forefront of your Christian experience in life, this is a real issue in the academic world. And it's starting to bleed into the forefront of Christianity. It's becoming a big deal. The view that we have no reason to believe we have a well-preserved manuscript tradition is well-written about at this point. The books are legion. But, it has reached almost to the popular level these days to a guy named Bart Ehrman. Bart is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a very popular voice against traditional Christianity. In fact, he used to be an evangelical Christian and he no longer is.
These are just a few quotes from Bart Ehrman regarding this particular issue. This is what he says:
"We simply create a little fiction in our minds that we're reading the actual words of Mark, Paul, 1 Peter, and then we just get on with the business of interpretation."
"Our first reasonably complete copies of the New Testament do not appear until two or three centuries after the books were first put in circulation."
That's two or three hundred years of scribes copying and re copying and making mistakes and multiplying mistakes, changing the text in ways big and small before we have these complete copies that now we translate Scriptures from. Is this correct? I think tonight that what we're going to find out is that the New Testament manuscript tradition is incredibly robust. The earliest manuscripts we have compared with the later ones shows a stability in the tradition and that we have every reason to believe that what we have as the manuscript basis for our Bible today is reliable.
To educate us on this, I have brought in someone far more competent than myself to instruct us. Dr. Sam Lamerson, as I mentioned before, is a New Testament scholar, a Greek scholar, and he just came back from Athens working with original manuscripts himself. In fact, that was just in the last week or so that he got back. He's not only educated, but he's competent to discuss this with us. I knew of Sam before I ever met him because he has a very popular book that you may be familiar with if you've ever studied New Testament Greek. It's called "English Grammar to Ace New Testament Greek." This book is very popular at the collegiate and seminary levels and it's a really well done book to help us understand Greek.
After meeting Sam and getting to know his level of scholarship and how adept he is at the New Testament, I felt it would be good for us to listen to what he has to say about the reliability of the New Testament manuscript tradition. So, I'm going to turn it over to Sam and he's going to give us a presentation and I would just ask everybody to lend your ears and get ready to learn. I can promise you this will be at least college level and you will walk out of here with a great amount of information. So, Sam, we're just so happy to have you here. We're turning it over to you and we just can't wait to learn.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Thanks so much. Thank you. I speak a fair amount and at a variety of places, and never have I been treated better than by Chip and the church. I thank you so much for the wonderful way that you have treated my wife and I.
[Chip Bennett]: Thirty-fifth wedding anniversary for Cindy and Sam. How about that, huh?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: She mainly deserves the applause. I can tell you that. One other thing that I can mention to you is that we have, in the hub, a list where you can put your name, mail and email address if you want to know about Knox Seminary. If you don't want to come to Knox Seminary, that's okay. You might want to know what's going on. One of the things that we do every couple of months is have something called "Lunch and Learn."
At the next Lunch and Learn, I'll be speaking about the Bible and the paranormal. What does the Bible say about ghosts and alien abductions? So, if you want to know about that -- who doesn't? -- just sign up and I'll make sure that you get an MP3 of that. So, I'd love to have you drive over there, but it's a long way just to find out about aliens.
[Chip Bennett]: You might get abducted along the way.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Yeah. That's right. And we don't want that to happen. So, I'll be glad to send that out to you and be glad to let you know about what's going on at Knox. It's just a wonderful privilege for me to be here and to speak to you. You might find that I get really excited about ancient manuscripts, so just buckle your seatbelt because this is really incredible. Ancient manuscripts. What could be more exciting than that?
You might not realize it, but the books that we have and the way that we look at books didn't always exist. I mean, somebody had to think of a way to put a book together because, before there were books, there scrolls. And if you wanted to find a place in the scroll, you had to unroll the scroll and roll it up. And finally, one day, someone – whoever it was, we don’t know – thought, “How about if we sew all the pages together on one side and then you can look through it more easily?”
That was called the codex. Somebody said, “That’s a great idea,” and it was as gigantic a change as the internet is for us. It made a huge change, because now you could look for particular passages in a book and it wasn’t rolling and unrolling a scroll. You could carry around all the four gospels with you and it wasn’t that big of a deal. So, shortly after the New Testament was all written – probably in about 100-125 – the codex became very, very popular and sort of began to take over the world. So, what I want us to do tonight is to answer a very simple question, and that is: Is what we have now in the New Testament what they wrote then in the New Testament? 
I’m not going to go into the details of whether or not it’s true. Dr. Mike Licona – a great scholar – will do that the next time. But today, I want us to walk out of here knowing for sure that the evidence is overwhelming that what we have now is what was written by Matthew, Mark or Luke. So, as we look through this, I want to give a special thanks to this organization: CSNTM. If you’d like to see actual pictures of New Testament manuscripts, you can go to this organization – CSNTM – and you can look at thousands of pictures.
CSNTM’s desire is to take as many pictures of New Testament manuscripts in high-definition as possible. Because, we realized that these manuscripts won’t last forever. Muslims want to destroy them. Fire destroys them bugs destroy them. Radical Muslims, I should say, want to destroy them. So, as a result, taking high-definition photographs and having those photographs in a variety of places is just not good.
[Chip Bennett]: Check. One. Two. I won’t accost you anymore with your mic pack.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Check. Check. Okay. Yeah. I’m a professional.
[Chip Bennett]: Don’t try this at home.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: So, today, we’re going to think about does the fact that we have a New Testament today that’s translated from Koine Greek, which is a different Greek than the Greek that they speak in Greece today. It was the common Greek of the New Testament. What we want to think is is the translation that we have really the same one?
CSNTM is headed up by a good, dear friend of mine, Dan Wallace. He’s a wonderful guy. I would encourage you to check out Not now, but at some point. If you have trouble remembering it, just remember this: C-S. You can think about C.S. Lewis. And N-T-M you can think about Auntie M from The Wizard of Oz and you’ve got it. So, CSNTM. If at any point somebody asks you, “Where can I find Greek manuscripts on the web?” you’ve got that.
So, let’s look at a couple of things here. First, this is from The Da Vinci Code:
“The Bible has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.”
This is made up out of whole cloth. It is absolutely just not true. Now, I know that Dan Brown is a novelist, but many people take these kinds of things and they think, “Well, that must be true. It’s written down, after all. If it wasn’t true, he probably wouldn’t have taken the time to write it down.”
But, it’s not true and it’s the sort of thing that really, really bothers Christianity. There are others. Atheists are joining the chorus. Here’s from a book called “Jesus lied:”
“We do not have any of the original manuscripts of the Bible. The originals are lost. Of course they are. We don’t know when and we don’t know by whom. What we have are copies of copies. In some instances, these copies we have are the 20th generation copies.”
And you see, it’s a false argument. Simply because we don’t have the exact manuscript that was written by the Apostle Paul doesn’t mean that we don’t have what he actually wrote.
Next: “Some Muslims are joining this chorus. The Orthodox Church, being the sect which eventually established supremacy over all the others, stood in fervent opposition to various ideas...” – also known as heresies – “...which were in circulation. These included Adoptionism, Docetism, God and Separatism.”
All of these kinds of things that did indeed exist and the Church stood against. But, the stood against it because the New Testament stood against it.
“In each case, this sect, the one that would rise to become the Orthodox Church, deliberately corrupted the Scriptures.”
Now, that’s significant. What he’s saying is that the scribes deliberately corrupted the Scriptures. And that, my brothers and sisters, is simply not true. They didn’t do that. Bart Ehrman – you’ve heard of Bart Ehrman. Dr. Chip has just mentioned Bart Ehrman misquoting Jesus. This is an amazing book. The reason that it’s an amazing book is it’s a book about textual criticism that was on the New York Time’s Best Seller’s list. Amazing. Who would’ve thought a book about textual criticism would be on the New York Time’s Best Seller’s list? And it stayed there for quite a while.
This is what Ehrman says. Now, just so you can get a sense of who Ehrman is, Ehrman graduated from Moody Bible Institute. He graduated from Wheaton and studied textual criticism under sort of the dean of evangelical textual critics, and then sort of gave his Christianity all up. And this is what he says:
“Not only do we not have the originals, but we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have the copies of the copies of the originals or the copies of the copies of the copies of the originals.”
As if to say that simply because we don’t have the original copies that we simply can’t trust. So, the simplest argument that’s being put forth here is that the New Testament has been corrupted. And that’s the question. Has the New Testament text been corrupted?
Now, I want to tell you there have been changes – inadvertent changes. But, the real question that we want to ask is how badly have these changes effected the text and has it really, really been corrupted or are these changes such that we can get back to the original text. Now, there are two things that you want to avoid here. One is the radical skepticism of Bart Ehrman. Bart Ehrman says, “Well, there have been changes and therefore we can’t trust anything. Let’s throw the New Testament out.”
Ehrman used to call himself a happy agnostic. He’s now moved to an atheist. He doesn’t put happy in front of it, so I don’t know if he’s sad. But, he’s an atheist now. And I pray for Dr. Ehrman. He’s a good, friendly guy. But, he’s just, for whatever reason, something in the church has hurt him and it manifested itself in this way. So, you don’t want to be a radical skeptic. But, on the other hand, you don’t want to have absolute certainty. You cannot say that we know every single letter that exists in the Greek New Testament. That’s the kind of argument that is made by people who are, for example, King James only advocates. They will say that the only thing you can trust is the King James Bible and if the Greek differs from the King James, then you need to change the Greek.
That’s the kind of argument that you get. And you laugh, but I’m not really kidding about that. So, we want to avoid both of those ends of the spectrum because we want to deal fairly with evidence. One of the things that I always tell my students is that Christianity should never, ever, ever be afraid of the truth. We are a historically based religion. We are a historically based group of people. If God is the God of truth, then we – all of us, every single one of us – needs to realize that we should not ever fear the truth. And that’s critically important.
So, there are four questions that we want to answer. These are the four questions that I hope to answer in the next few minutes together.
First: How many textual variants are there? Second: What kind of textual variations are there? Thirdly: What theological beliefs depend upon textual suspect passages. Lastly: Is what we have now what they wrote then?
That’s the critical question that we’re trying to get at. Can we really trust that the English translation that we have is translated from a Greek text that is really what they said? So, preliminarily, let’s just grant the fact that we don’t have the original New Testament. Nobody today has the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Nobody today has the original Gospel of Matthew. Nobody has that. Probably it’s a good thing because it would be venerated.
I was at a monastery – The Monastery of the Great Cave – about a week and a half ago. What happens is you go to the monastery, you put some coins in and you light a candle. Then you look at the icons. Then you sit down for a while – 45 minutes or so – and then they bring you out a treat. Part of it was liquor of some sort. I didn’t really care for that. It was like these cookies that were pre-World War I or something. Then you eat that stuff and you sit there for a while. Then they say, “What manuscript do you want to see?”

Then you tell them and they finally bring it out. It’s all part of sort of letting the monastery get to know you and get to know that you’re going to treat the manuscripts well. So, this monk brings out some manuscripts for us. He sits the manuscripts down on the table so that we can look at them. Then he reaches into the pocket of his robe and takes out a fidget spinner, amazingly enough. It was like a culture clash. A monk at a monastery that’s been continuously inhabited for the last 1,500 years, but he has a fidget spinner. But, the point that I wanted to tell you is that they brought out this one manuscript which hasn’t been catalogued. So, it’s sort of a new discovery. It was torn off – I’ll show you a picture of it later on in the slideshow.
The corners were torn off of it. He said, “Yeah. The legend is that this manuscript was actually written by Luke.”
Well, it was written in the 10th century, so highly unlikely that it was written by Luke. But, the people believed that, so they would tear off corners to sort of get a blessing for themselves in the Orthodox Church. They’re highly into that. So, the truth of the matter is it wasn’t written by Luke. We don’t have any of the manuscripts that were written by Luke, Mark or Matthew. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t get back to the original. That’s what’s significant.
So, first of all, let’s think quickly about the number of variants that exist. This is what we mean – and let me preface this by making sure that you’re with me. Think about the fact that before the printing press, if you wanted a book, you had to pay a person to hand copy it for you. There weren’t any Barnes and Nobles. You went to a guy who was a scribe and you paid him a certain amount of money and he would then make the surface to write on. Usually it was like parchment. Parchment is made out of animal skins and they scrape the skin very, very thin and then they cut it into the right place and they write it with handmade ink.
So, it was a laborious process. So to get, for example, a copy of the Gospel of Matthew would take a long time. A professional scribe wrote very, very carefully. I’ll show you one in a few minutes that’s written and you’ll get a sense of what’s going on. As a result of the fact that these things were being hand-copied by scribes, unfortunately errors creep in. So, here’s a textual variant. Any place among the manuscripts in which there’s a variation in wording, including word order, omission or addition of words, or even spelling differences. Those are textual variants. That’s what we mean when we talk about textual variants.
So, there’s no doubt that in the over 5,800 – climbing in on 5,900 – handwritten Greek manuscripts that we have today, there are variations between them because of the fact that they’re handwritten. If I were to write something on a piece of paper and then pass it to someone and have them copy it and they passed it to someone and then had another person copy it, you can imagine there would be some errors that would creep in. And if I impressed on you how significant and important it was, there would be fewer errors because you would take your time. And if I got professional copiers to do it, there would be even fewer errors. But, nonetheless, errors would creep in.
So, let me show you an example. In the Greek New Testament, there are about 140,000 words. And I don’t mean to come off like I’m some kind of great Greek scholar here. I’m really not. I’m just redneck, born in South Florida, still shopping at Wal-Mart. So, you know, I feel like I’ve come up a little because my family shopped at K-Mart. So now, you know, I’m up to Wal-Mart. I’m not Target, you know? I’m not old money. I’m still there.
But, there are really about 138,000 words and so we say 140,000. The variants you see are far more than the words of the New Testament. So that if all you saw was this graph, you would think to yourself, “Well, there’s many more variants than there are words. As a result of that, I don’t know if I can trust anything. This is the place where most of the skeptics stop. And now it’s updated. There are more than 400,000 variants. But, this is the place where they stop. So, this is the place where Bart Ehrman would say to us, “Look. You’ve got 140,000 words in the New Testament. You’ve got 450,000 variants. You tell me. Do the math.”
The problem is that they take us here and they drop us off without explaining exactly what those variants are. So, there are some important things that we have to sort of deal with in terms of those variants and in terms of whether or not they really make any difference; in terms of whether they are really a significant part of the New Testament or not. So, what we’ll do is understand that the reason that we have a lot of variants is because we have a lot of manuscripts. If there weren’t a lot of manuscripts, then there wouldn’t be a lot of variants. If all we had were seven manuscripts of the New Testament, there would be many, many fewer variants. But, we would have a much less secure text.
If you’re familiar with Islam, you will know that they don’t have textual variants – they say. And the reason is that if you copy the Quran incorrectly, you get killed. So, they destroy the Quran if there’s any change whatsoever. So, they don’t have this long history of textual variants like that. I won’t go into it, but there are a lot of issues that come along with it. So, it’s important for us to think about the fact that we have more variants in the New Testament than we do for any other ancient book. And the reason for that is that we have more copies of the New Testament than we do for any other ancient book.
So, this is what Richard Bentley said in 1733, long before the thousands of manuscripts that we have now were discovered. He said, “If there had been but one manuscript of the Greek New Testament at the restoration of learning about two centuries ago, then we would’ve had no variations at all and with the text being in better condition than now that we have 30,000.”
Of course, this was back in the 1700s. He said, “It’s good, therefore, to have more anchors than one and another manuscript to join the first would give more authority as well as more security.”
So, there are people who spend their lives looking at Ancient Greek manuscripts, carefully comparing them and deciding what the variants are and whether or not they really make any difference. Because, essentially what we have, really, is an embarrassment of riches. We have Greek manuscripts. 5,824. It’s more up to like 5,863 or around there at this point. We have Latin manuscripts. Over 10,000. When we say “manuscripts,” we mean handwritten. We have other ancient versions like Coptic and Bohairic. 5,000 to 10,000. We have quotations from the New Testament by church fathers. Over 1,000,000. We also have lectionaries. Lectionary, of course, was a book of Bible readings for each day of the week. So, the text in the New Testament was taken out and placed into it.
One day you would read from this text, the next day you would read from another text. All of those are very, very significant and very important. And what I want to do to sort of help you and put your mind at ease is to compare the New Testament to other Ancient Greek works. The average Classical Greek writer has less than 20 copies of his work still in existence. So, think about that. We have nearly 6,000 and we have the average Classical Greek work at about 20 copies. So, if we stack them up, they’re about that high. And that’s about how high the New Testament would be.
Well, it’d be a little higher than that. It’d be a little higher than that, maybe. A little, tiny bit higher than that. And you can see from that that there’s so many other New Testament copies than there are virtually any other book. The Greco-Roman authors, whom we all trust and whom we believe we have what they actually wrote – Pliny the Elder, we don’t have anything from the time he wrote until 700 years later. That’s the nearest we get to what he wrote. Plutarch: We have 800 years. Josephus: We have 800 years.
So, think about the fact that if you’re going to say that you can’t trust the New Testament because we don’t have the exact copy that was written, you become, then, almost a historical agnostic. You can’t trust any historical document, because the New Testament is by far the largest, without question. There are more copies of the New Testament and there are earlier copies of the New Testament then there are in virtually any other – not virtually, but any other document in the world.

So, we come to realize that all of those people who want to quote from Plato but say that we can’t trust the New Testament, it’s a case of special pleading. Because, even though we have some copies of Plato, we don’t have them anywhere near as close as we have them to the New Testament. And we don’t have anywhere near as many as we do in the New Testament. And you can see here that we have Herodotus is 1,500 years. And yet, if you went to a class in Greek history, Herodotus would be a textbook that you would absolutely need to read. And your professor would say to you, “This is critical and we have to understand what Herodotus has to say.”
Well, if you can trust Herodotus 1,500 years later, then certainly you ought to be able to trust the New Testament 50 years or 100 years later. That’s what’s critically important. Now, for a while there was this argument put forward by a scholar named Bower. Bower argued that the Gospel of John couldn’t have been written before 200 A.D. His argument was that clearly the Gospel of John lies about having known Jesus. It was written about 200 A.D. if not later. And, as a result of that, we can’t really trust it.
This is the older piece of manuscript that we have of the New Testament. It dates to 150 A.D. if not earlier and it’s a part of the Gospel of John. So, all of a sudden, all that work that bower did arguing that John was from 200 A.D. or later is put to rest by a credit card sized piece of papyri. Now, I’ll tell you quickly. Papyri are the earliest manuscripts, but they also don’t last as long. The parchment that I told you about is made out of animal skins. So, when you hold that, you can turn the pages and there’s no sense of tearing a page or anything like that. One of the pages was torn in one of the manuscripts I saw a couple weeks ago. And of course they didn’t have scotch tape, so they had this really thin thread that they sewed the tear in the manuscript back together. And that held it for a long time because this is, essentially, a very thin piece of letter.
Papyri, on the other hand, is made out of a papyrus plant and it’s sort of smashed down all the water out of it and it can be written on. One side is written on more easily than the other. But, because of the fact that it’s sort of like paper, it doesn’t last as long. So, when we find a piece of papyrus manuscript, it’s really, really significant and incredibly important. And that’s one of the earliest ones. That’s from about 150, if not earlier. There’s another piece of papyri. This is P52 from the John Ryland’s Library, as if you care. And then there’s another one called P46 that is the earliest manuscript that we have of the Apostle Paul, and it’s from about 200 A.D.
So, you realize that while we have 1,500 years between Herodotus and the earliest copy, we have maybe 100 years. For John, maybe even 60 years between the time it is written and the time that we have a piece of that manuscript. So, it’s very significantly important and it’s very important that we realize that these manuscripts exist. You can go and see them. You can go and see this John Ryland’s papyri. You can go and see the Sinaiticus, which is the whole New Testament put together at the museum in London. If you were ever in London and you say to them, “I want to see the Sinaiticus,” which came from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai, you will find it in the room with another really important artifact. It’s The Beatles’ White Album. Both of those are in the same room. Because, you know, you kind of need security for both of them.
But, that just gives you an example. When people say, “Well, listen. The earliest piece of manuscript that we have from the New Testament is thousands of years later,” that’s just not true. They just don’t know what they’re talking about. An ounce of evidence is worth a pound of prevention. Looking carefully at these manuscripts and the realization that we do have these manuscripts and that we can compare the later manuscripts to the earlier manuscripts is critically, critically important.
One of the questions that’s often asked is, “Has the Bible been translated and retranslated so many times that we don’t know what it originally said?”
If you have Atheistic friends, someone has probably said that to you. Here’s the truth: The King James Version is translated in 1611, not too long after the printing press was invented. I gave a talk a few weeks ago about the reformation and how there were two critical things that helped the reformation. One of them was the printing press and the other was the Black Plague. I brought my plague doctor doll and showed it to them all.
In 1611, the King James Version is printed on the printing press. They had, at that time, Erasmus, who was in charge of putting the manuscripts together and putting the Greek New Testament together. They had about seven manuscripts. He just didn’t have that many manuscripts. He had maybe seven. Maybe eight. And they were all ninth century or later. They were not real early. Today – and this is in 2013, so the numbers have changed slightly. But, today, we have 5,800+ manuscripts and the earliest manuscripts that we have go back to the second century. So, you see that’s what’s happening is as time goes on, we’re getting closer and closer and closer to the original text. We’re getting closer and closer to knowing for certain exactly what was being said there.
So, what I want to do very quickly, because I don’t want to bore you any more than I already am, is I want us to think about what the significant questions are. So, within 125 years of the completion of the New Testament, over 43% of all verses are found in the papyri. That’s incredibly significant that we have nearly half of the New Testament already in our possession within 125 years of its writing. That is just incredibly, incredibly significant for us to think about. Within 125 years of the completion of almost all classical manuscripts or literature, 0% of the document is found in any manuscripts.
So, what that gets us to is the fact that we all – if you’re not going to trust the New Testament, then to be consistent you should give up every other ancient document that you trust. You can’t trust Plato. You can’t trust Aristotle. You can’t trust Herodotus. You can’t trust any of that because of that fact that if you’re going to be consistent, the New Testament is far, far, far more complete and early than any of those manuscripts.
Here’s the Greek New Testament through about 900. I meant to change that. I picked this up and it should say “A.D.” I don’t like “C.E.” “C.E.” is sort of a scholar’s way of saying, “I don’t want to mention Jesus so I’ll just put C.E.”
But, they still date history from His life, so I don’t know that it matters. But, here’s the number of manuscripts. You can see that as time goes on the manuscripts get bigger and bigger and bigger. We get more and more and more numbers of manuscripts. The realization is that today we have an embarrassment of riches in terms of the manuscripts. Now, getting to the variants, I think that we ought to ask the question, “What kind of variants are there?”
It’s important to realize that even though we have those, remember I showed you the number of words and the number of variants and it looked like there were a lot of variants? 95-98% make virtually no difference at all. For example, there are differences in spelling. You remember in Mark when the demons get cast out, the demonic man comes from “Gaderene,” right? If you look at that in the Greek New Testament with a critical apparatus, you will find about nine different ways of spelling “Gaderene.” Those are nine different variants, and yet they don’t make a nickel’s worth of difference. It’s just the fact that they didn’t have a dictionary or a map to look that up on. So, they spelled it as best as they could.
There are differences in spelling and there are also differences in the use of the article. So, Greek is different in a variety of ways than English. Obviously. It’s a different language. And one of the things that they use – we have that saying in English, right? “It’s Greek to me.”
In Athens, I said, “Have you heard that saying, ‘It’s Greek to me?’” And they said, “No. We say, ‘It’s Chinese to me.’”
So, we all have, I guess, our own languages that are difficult. But, Greek uses the article often in front of names. So, you will see sometimes Mary and sometimes it will say “the Mary.” Or “Jesus” and sometimes it’ll say “the Jesus.” Obviously that does not make any difference at all in terms of the translation. It’s just that we don’t use that kind of article in front of a name, right? Maybe “the john,” but other than that we don’t say those kind of things.
So, we come to realize that the vast, vast majority of these manuscripts just really don’t make any difference at all. The smallest group of variants are meaningful and viable. And what I mean is this: A variation must be both. There are lots of variations that are not meaningful. That is, it’s clear that the scribe was at the end of the day and he just wasn’t careful in copying things. So, he writes something crazy down. So, that variant wouldn’t be meaningful. And a variant must be viable. That is that it occurs in a variety of manuscripts so that we can see that in the church tradition, this variant had some kind of support. It’s very, very rare. Less than 1% of all the variants fit into this group.
And I’ll give you a couple of examples of how this works. So, here are four kinds of variants. There are variants that are viable. That is, they show up in a variety of manuscripts, but they’re not meaningful. So, it just doesn’t make any difference. There are variants that are meaningful, but they’re not viable. That is, they do change the meaning of the text, but we have no reason to believe because there’s no manuscript evidence that that was really the reading. Then we have manuscripts that are neither meaningful or viable. These are manuscript errors that just seem to show up out of nowhere for one scribe who seemed to be having a bad day at the time. But, down here, meaningful and viable. Those are the most critical kinds of errors and those are the ones that we want to think about. Those are the ones that make a real difference.
So, let’s look at a couple of them. I’m going to just run through these really quickly so that you can see what I’m doing here. But, Greek is a highly inflected language. I tell my students that Yoda speaks English as if English is Greek. That is to Yoda, the word order means nothing. He just says, “Good are you today, yes? Okay.”
And it takes you a minute to try to figure it out. However, in a highly inflected language like Greek, the word order doesn’t make any difference? So, here are some examples of a potential variant of how many ways you can say “John loves Mary” in Greek.
There’s seven. There’s seven more. These are all “John loves Mary.” Here’s seven more “John loves Mary.” Here’s seven more “John loves Mary.”
All these are different and all of these are ways to say the exact same thing, that John loves Mary. And the truth of the matter is that there’s really no difference in the way that you would translate them, but they’re just different ways of saying the same thing. So, they would all be considered variants, but – and then here’s conjunctions that are often not translated. Men or day. There’s just all different ways that we can say “John loves Mary.” We would translate it in English “John loves Mary,” but they would all be counted as a variant. That shows you that many of these variants just really don’t make a nickel’s worth of difference. They just don’t matter whatsoever. They’re just different ways of saying the exact same thing.
So, when someone tells you, “Look at all the different variants that exist in the New Testament,” you can say, “Yeah. Of course there are variants that exist in the New Testament, but the vast, vast, vast majority of them make no difference whatsoever in terms of the translation.”
We’re still going on with John loves Mary. And, finally, I just get tired of it. But, there are other ways that you could say, “John loves Mary.” It seems like that can’t be possible, but it’s because Greek is such a highly inflected language that you can say these things in so many different ways and not have a nickel’s worth of difference between them. So, the word order in Greek doesn’t mean nearly what it does in English. And the particles explode the numbers of the way you can say “John loves Mary” to over 500 different ways.
500 different ways to say “John loves Mary,” and yet there’s not any difference in them whatsoever. Bart Ehrman says this: “We could go on nearly forever talking about specific places in which the text of the New Testament came to be changed, either accidentally or intentionally. The examples are not just in the hundreds, but in the thousands.”
Well, sure they are. But, they just don’t make any difference. The vast majority of them don’t make any difference whatsoever. And Ehrman knows this. If we can say “John loves Mary” over 1,000 times in Greek without substantially changing the meaning, then the number of textual variants of the New Testament is meaningless. What really counts, the real question that we want to get to here, is the nature of those variants. That is, do the variants really make a big difference? And here are some examples. Here are some examples of some real variants. But still, they make no difference in the meaning.
Here’s one: Mark 9:29. What you’ll see in the brackets are the variants.
“This kind of demon...” – because the demon is mentioned earlier on in the text – “...cannot be cast out except by prayer and fasting.”
You lose nothing by allowing the demon to either be there or not be there, because the demon has already been mentioned. And you lose very little by “cast out except by prayer and fasting.” Those are, by far, the kind of transcriptional difficulties that we’re dealing with.
Here’s another one. Revelation 13:18: “Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it’s the number of a man, and his number is 666.”
But, some manuscripts say his number is “616.” Oh my goodness. Seven tons of Christian literature up in flames over a textual variant. Little did they know that 666 was down the street from the beast and it was actually 616. But, you see, the truth of the matter is that these, they really just don’t make any real difference. The question that we want to ask is what theological beliefs depend upon suspect passages. That is, if we took away all the textual variants in all the passages that are suspect, what would happen? What theological differences would change?
And I’m going to give you now a list of all the theology that would change if we took out every suspect passage. And then I’ll give it to you a second time. And that’s it. Nothing. Absolutely nothing is going to change. An ounce of evidence is worth a pound of prevention. It’s just not going to change. So, the smallest group of variants that are meaningful and viable simply don’t change any theological variant.
One of the interesting things – and you can see here – is this, viable and meaningful. This little, tiny red dot there. Those are the variants that both change meaning and have a chance of being correct. None of them – absolutely none of them – make any change in the doctrines of Christianity. This is from Dan Brown:
“‘My dear,’ Teabing declared, ‘until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet; a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless.’”
When he says “until that moment in history,” what he’s talking about is essentially saying that the deity of Christ was invented by Constantine. And that until Constantine, nobody considers Jesus deity. What we find, however, and this is from P66. I mentioned this to you earlier, as I’m sure you remember. P66, interestingly what you’ll find is that this is a piece of parchment and there aren’t space between words. They did that to save paper because paper cost a lot of money. So, they would not put spaces between the words and you have to figure out where the spaces go. And there are very few places where that makes a little bit of difference. But, not many. 
But, what we have here – and you can see it – is the Euaggelion Cata-Ionian. This is the Gospel of John. What the Gospel of John says was “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
175 A.D. Long before Constantine had even thought of. It puts the lie to those kind of things that people invent trying to deny that the New Testament actually tells us that Jesus is God. Is what we have now what they wrote then? Sure. We may have some small variations where we don’t know exactly what was written. But, in all the essentials of Christian doctrine, absolutely. The New Testament that we have today is exactly what was written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or any others of them. It’s important for us to be able to say that and to be able to say, “Look. You can go onto the internet and you can look at these Greek manuscripts yourself. They’re not hidden away somewhere. You can look at them. You can go and you can learn to read the Greek text and translate it yourself. This is not some secret that’s gone away.”
Anyone can test this for themselves. No essential doctrine of the Christian faith is jeopardized by any Bible variant. None. So, it’s important for all of us to come to realize that this idea that we have about the New Testament being sort of changed along the way is just not true.
I just wanted to show you. This is a document of the New Testament. You can see here these are the writings. A very beautiful script. Up until the tenth century, the words would hang from the line; one of the ways to tell the date. At the tenth century, they begin to sit on the line. So, you can tell them there. There are some spaces here, so it makes it a little easier. Sometimes you will find notes in the side by the scribe. It’s a beautiful piece of manuscript. And this scribe did that so that he and others could have a copy of the Word of God. This is the cover of the book that the monks had made to make sure that it was protected. They care about the Word of God. These scribes cared about the Word of God. They wanted people to be able to have the Word of God. That’s the reason that they did this kind of thing.
Here’s another manuscript. This is the one where the corners had been torn off, you can see there, by those who thought that it was actually written by Luke. But, again, you can see the text there and you can see how clearly it’s written. You can see, also, some corrections that have been made. Sometimes scribes would come along and make corrections for them.
I want to make now, to end, an unnatural segue. A polar bear attacks a man in Canada and bystanders do nothing, and the media did not even report this event. That seems shocking to us – until you see the polar bear. You see, the polar bear is Bart Ehrman. He’s saying to us, “It’s not true. It’s not true. You can’t trust it. You can’t trust it. You can’t trust it.”
He doesn’t know what he’s saying. The truth of the matter is that you can trust it. The truth of the matter is that the New Testament is God’s Word from the time that it was written until today, and every one of us who sits here can be absolutely certain in our faith that we are trusting the truth of God’s Word.
Here’s a poem – and I know it’s cliché to end with a poem, but it’s a marvelous poem. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.
“Last eve I passed before a blacksmith’s door and heard the anvil ring the vesper chime; When looking in, I saw upon the floor, old hammers worn with beating years of time.
“‘How many anvils have you had,’ said I, ‘To wear and batter all these hammers so?’
“‘Just one,’ said he; then with a twinkling eye, ‘The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.’
“And so, I thought, the anvil of God’s Word, for ages, skeptic blows have beat upon; Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard, the anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.”
For the last 2,000 years, people have beat upon the New Testament, saying, “It’s not true. You can’t trust it. It’s not true. You can’t trust it.”
And yet, just like that little, tiny polar bear, God’s people, God’s Church and God’s Word moves on. And you all can go out of here and say, “I know that I can trust the New Testament, not because I have to depend upon an expect, but because I can go and look at pictures of those manuscripts myself.”
And that is an amazing thing. Again, thanks to CSNTM. You can go there. You can look at their manuscripts. If you would like to know more about them, please get on their mailing list. They’re a great, great organization and I think you will be greatly blessed by them. Dan Wallace is a wonderful man who’s handled more New Testament Greek manuscripts than any other person alive and who will say to you the same thing that I’m saying to you tonight, and that is that you can trust your New Testament.
With that, I’m going to thank you for listening to me and I hope that it has been some value to you.
[Chip Bennett]: I wrote down here, when Sam was talking – I wanted to make sure that I boiled it down – when you learn about New Testament manuscripts, you need a World War I cookie, some liquor and a fidget spinner. And, beware of polar bears. So, there you go.
No, I’m jokingly completely. What a great – I think that you’ve received some incredible information tonight. And I guess, you know, with what Dr. Lamerson was saying to you and what I would say to you as the pastor here at the church, the amount of variants that are in what we call our “critical apparatus,” although there are many of them, I think you’re seeing that you can spin that information differently depending upon what your bias is when you’re looking at that. I think that’s huge. You know? We always joke about, you know, you can make stats say anything depending upon what you want them to say.
So, I think that you’ve seen here that belief in the New Testament and the reliability of the manuscript tradition is incredibly reliable and incredibly solid. I want to end this part of the evening with a quote from Craig Evans. A good scholar. A great, New Testament guy. And he’s a scholar in the manuscript tradition as well. This is his quote:
“The Bible manuscripts are early, they are numerous, and they’re not available just in Greek (the original language), but in several languages. The manuscripts are accurate. They reflect the work of competent scribes who collected and compared. When we look at these manuscripts and compare them to other, non-Christian manuscripts and traditions – well, maybe I should say there is no comparison. Of 20,000 lines of the Greek New Testament, according to Professor Bruce Metzger, a long time respected textual critic at Princeton Theological Seminary, of the 20,000 lines that make of the Greek New Testament, only 40 lines are in doubt. And not one of those lines contains anything that relates to important New Testament or Christian teaching. The New Testament is well-preserved; the text is stable. The text of the New Testament reflects the original text and, therefore, when we read it and study it, we should have great confidence. This is, indeed, what Jesus originally taught and what His disciples originally wrote.”
And I think you can leave here confident in that. You may, over the years, because this is becoming a real issue – not just in the academic world because it’s been there for years. But, it’s becoming a popular issue because you’re starting to see things like The Da Vinci Code. But, especially with Bart Ehrman and stuff that he’s writing, it’s starting to get into the popular level where people are starting to question things. I want you to know that we’re not up here trying to hoodwink anybody or trying to distort anything. The truth is the truth. There’s just not any reason to doubt the reliability of the New Testament documents, and I hope that you can leave here with that understanding. So, if you get attacked by somebody or someone says something of that nature, you won’t feel like somehow you’ve missed out or you weren’t informed.
That being said, is Jennifer still here? Or Tom or Dan? We didn’t put 3x5 cards out on the chairs, did we? Okay. Do we have 3x5 cards? Okay. If we could pass them out as quickly as possible, what I want to do is if you have any questions – you know what, it’ll take to long to get all those. We’ll just fire it up. If you have questions concerning the New Testament manuscripts – I mean, obviously, if you want to talk about something else, that’s really not what we’re talking about tonight. And I understand sometimes people have questions.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Ask Chip later. If you have any other questions, ask Chip later.
[Chip Bennett]: Yeah. That’s right. Except for UFOs and abduction.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: I’ve got that covered.
[Chip Bennett]: But, if you have New Testament reliability issues or manuscript issues, we would like for you to be able to ask those questions. And, if you would, I think we’re going to get a microphone here. John, do we have one that we can use? Okay. Here’s one that can be used. Here’s one. Dan, can I give you this here? If you have a question, Dan, Barry, Tom or somebody will come and give you a microphone. Please don’t ask the question until you have the microphone so that everybody can hear the question.
Do you have any questions at all? Yes. Over here. We record these and it’s unfair for those that are listening to not be able to hear the question.
[Question]: I was hoping you could explain what a “highly inflective language” is.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: A highly inflected language – essentially, in English, our language is not highly inflected. That is, the subject comes before the verb and the direct object comes after. So, if we say, “John hit the ball,” we know that John is the subject and he hit the ball. If we say, “The ball hit John,” we know that the ball is the subject and it hit John.
In Greek, we can tell what’s the subject and what’s the direct object and all other things in the sentence by the spelling. The subject is spelled a little differently than the word would be if it were a direct object. As a result of that, word order doesn’t make nearly as much difference. You can always tell what the subject is just by the ending on the word rather than by its place in the sentence. So, that’s why you find Yoda speaking as if word order doesn’t matter. So, he’s speaking a non-inflected language as if it’s highly inflected. So, I hope that helps.
[Chip Bennett]: Well, word order, in Greek, is not as important as it is in English. We read a linear thing in English and we read it this way. In Greek, things can be placed in different parts of the sentence. It’s a morphological language. The function is not linear. It’s depending upon the words themselves to tell you what the object and subject are and things of that nature. So, when we you saw those ways John can love Mary, it’s because the words can be moved around and transposed where, in English, it’s just very linear. Does that make sense? I hope so.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Thanks. Yes, sir?
[Question]: I’d like to know who made the determination of what manuscripts to leave out of the New Testament and what to include in the New Testament?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Yeah. When you say manuscripts, you mean, I think, what books to keep in the New Testament and what books to leave out. Yeah. It’s a question of canonicity, which is different from textual criticism. But, quickly, the truth of the matter is the Church made the decision. No one person made the decision. No council made the decision. The churches accepted some manuscripts, some books, as being from God and the churches didn’t accept some others. So, there are, for example, books that we know were written at least fairly closely to the time of the New Testament, like the Didache. The Didache is “the Teaching.” It was written around the same time. It has a lot of really good things to say. But, the Church never accepted it as the New Testament. So, to think that someone got together and said, “We like these books and, therefore, we’re going to keep them in the New Testament. We don’t like these books.”
That’s not what happened. It was God’s people who came together. And one of the things that I think is a very strong thing to realize is that churches all over the world accept the same 66 books. All over the world. Now, some churches might add some. But, all over the world, whether you’re Greek, Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, whatever, they all believe that these 66 books are God’s Word. And there is very little that you could say that about the Church all over the world. But, that’s one thing and I think it points to the fact that God superintended the collecting of His material and His work.
[Chip Bennett]: I’d like to submit, too, because this will help you out a little bit. The vast majority of the books that are not included in the New Testament that we have extant, if you read them, you can pretty much go, “That just doesn’t sound right.”
I mean, some of them are just crazy. So, you know, a good portion of them you read and you go, “That’s ridiculous.”
The early Church had what we call a criteria for canonicity. It had to be written by an apostle or someone that was close to an apostle. It also had to have an effect on the body. In other words, in the sense that the Church did go, “These are the books that we’re including,” if those books were already informing the Church in a spiritual way, in a way that everybody was sort of reacting to these Scriptures, that they’re just different. So, you know, there was a church part to that. But, I think it’s important to realize that when people come along and say there’s all these books that are not included in the Bible, if you could go read some of the Gnostic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas and things like that, you would realize that, man, these are crazy stuff. It doesn’t really fit what you would see as the Scriptures.
So, I think that helps too. It wasn’t just thrown together.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Just as an example, the last verse of the Gospel of Thomas says, “All the women who go to heaven will become men.”
So, I’m not all that into that. So, you know, there’s a gospel called the “Gospel of Peter.” In it, there’s this big, giant cross and the cross has a mouth and it speaks to people. They’re just not even on the same level with the New Testament documents.
[Chip Bennett]: And you see that like in the Old Testament where we have what’s called the “Pseudepigrapha” or the “false writings.” When you read some of them, they sort of, at times, read something like the Old Testament, but then they get whacky and you’ve got to move to Colorado and smoke something out there to understand them. You know?
Yes? Down here, Dan.
[Question]: So, if I’m understanding this correctly, the 40 variances that the professor found out of the 20,000 didn’t really effect the New Testament, I think, from what I understand. What exactly were those 40 variances?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: In the New Testament, there are two basic kinds of New Testament. There’s the United Bible Society that has a New Testament with a textual apparatus at the bottom, and there’s the Nestle Aland that has a textual apparatus at the bottom. In the United Bible Society, there are about 1,500 variants. Most of the variants will have something to do – like, for example, there’s a place in Romans where the question has to do with whether the verb is indicative or subjunctive, and they sound almost the same. So, the text would say either “we have this” or “let us have this.”
So, those are the kind of variants that you will see. Without going into the two most famous variants, which I’m afraid might take us way off. The two most famous variants, I’m sure you all know them. So, I won’t. You can, if you want.
[Chip Bennett]: John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20. Those are ones that are bracketed in your text and those are ones that people question. That would be off the subject for tonight. The main thing is that the variants that we have would be like if you saw “hat” in English or you saw “hit” in English. Those would be significant. Okay? But, if it was “she” or “he” and they forgot the “s,” those would be significant. What we’re saying is that the significant amount of variants that we have are very, very few. They don’t really change anything at all that we would understand with out Christianity. And the very few lines that do don’t really do that much question at all because there’s other substantial texts that address it.
The point being that when they say there’s 400,000 variants, when you don’t understand what a variant is, that seems like there is a huge issue with our Scripture. When you understand that with variants there could be 500 different ways to say “John loves Mary,” that would be a variant because it would be changing the way the text reads. But, it doesn’t change the meaning of the text. So, that’s the important thing to get out of here. Next?
[Question]: Hi. Let’s say, for example, I’m not going to go learn Greek and look at these manuscripts. So, I’m going to give you a chance to pretty much offend everybody here by asking, in today’s current translation in Bible reading – everybody has probably one of their favorites – which do you think really best translates from those manuscripts into what would be today’s way of reading the Bible?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: I think you ought to learn Greek. You know, that’s because I teach Greek and we kind of need people. But, people ask me that and it’s like, if I were to read English for my own devotion, I really like the NET Bible, which you can get for free off the net, which is why it’s called the NET Bible. But, I wouldn’t read that out loud because it’s sort of a clunky translation. And the New American Standard can, at times, be a little bit clunky to read out loud.
So, again, it just depends. There’s no one translation that gets everything right. I tell my students that all translation is treason. That is, it’s impossible to translate something without subtly changing. That’s just the way it is. That’s why all of you should learn Greek. Every one of you. No. I certainly don’t want you to go out of here thinking that I’ve got to learn Greek and if I don’t...
No. There are many good English translations today. You know, one of the things that may help you is to go to the beginning of the Bible and read the translator’s preface in which they lay out what their presuppositions are about what kinds of presuppositions they had when they were translating. That will be helpful to you. I like the NET Bible to study from. Other than that, some of you may have heard of Dr. D. James Kennedy. I was in his church for years and worked for him. He always preached from the King James. The problem is – King James is a fine translation, but if you’re 20 years old trying to read the King James, it’s placing an unnecessary blockade in front of somebody trying to read the Scripture. And, in that case, I think reading the NIV or any of those. Today’s English Version can be a good one.
[Chip Bennett]: This is the way I try to explain it: There’s literal, literal, literal translations that try to get – in other words, if there’s four Greek words, they try to get four English words even though that can be a little tough. Then there’s more of what we call a “dynamic equivalence” where it tries to make it seem like you’re understanding it today. And then there’s what we would consider to be paraphrases and things of that nature.
In Spanish, when you say “como se llama,” literally, if you translate that, it’s “what do you call yourself.” Okay. Would you want to read a Bible that says, “What do you call yourself?” Because, you might go, “Okay, that would be more like the NASB, because the NASB tries to do some of those things.”
If you say, “Well, no. I would like to hear, “What is your name?” Because, that makes sense to me. It doesn’t change – “what do you call yourself” or “what is your name” – the meaning. It’s just how you read it. Or, you might read The Message and it’d be like, “What’s your name, homie?”
You know? So, you’ve got those different types of things. But, they’re all saying very similar things. And I think some translations, Sam and I might have a more particular bent towards just for maybe translation reasons or maybe for just looking at Greek words or whatever or maybe disagreeing with the way somebody translated a word or whatever. But, I don’t think that you can go wrong with any of the English translations that are out there. They’re not terrible. All of them are pretty good. Find one that you can read and understand and I would always say to have another translation that you read sometimes along with it. And I think you’ll probably get the majority of things.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Yeah. Unless you want to read the New World Translation, which is Jehovah’s Witness. I wouldn’t recommend that. But, you know. They all are very, very valuable. We have an embarrassment of translations in the United States.
[Question]: Yeah. It seems, in the circles that I’ve run in – dealing with translation and things like this. But, going back to criticisms, it seems that there is more criticism towards, say, manuscripts dealing with New Testament Greek rather than Hebrew manuscripts. Can you speak to that and why that might be?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Well, we have many more manuscripts. So, for example, up until the discovery of the Qumran materials, which is the Dead Sea Scrolls, we did not have a pre-B.C. copy of Isaiah. So, because we have far fewer manuscripts in the Hebrew Bible, there are far fewer textual variants. But, I mean there are textual variants. But, part of the reason that the New Testament comes under such attack is because it’s the story of Christ and His resurrection. And the evil one wants to make sure that people don’t believe in that. So, I think there’s a spiritual reason as well.
[Chip Bennett]: It’s awesome, though, when they found the Isaiah scroll in Qumran, the fact that there were just no differences, really, between it and the ones that were later. It was a real hit to the people who are into textually criticizing things. It was like, “Wow. Here’s one that’s ancient and it’s reading the same way as the ones that we’ve got.”
Which, again, shows the stability of the text. We see that in the New Testament though.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: It’s significant that you realize – sometimes you’ll hear critics criticize the scribes, but these were guys who spent their lives copying the Scripture so that we could have it. They have these things called colophons there at the end of the text. They write something down. One of them said, “I have heard something about a desk and I hope some day to get one.”
So, this guy copied all the four Gospels on his lap while he was writing that down. Another famous one that occurs in a lot of Greek manuscripts says, in English, something like, “When this hand lies moldering in the grave, this Word will still go on with all of its power.”
They realize that they were doing God’s work. It’s important that we thank them for that. They did a lot of really important things.
[Question]: Where in Athens did you go to study these and are these Catholic monks, Tibetan monks?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: No, they would be Greek Orthodox. But, in Athens, I didn’t go to the monasteries. In Athens, I went to parliament. Then there’s a town called Kalavryta. Kalavryta is a small town in which, during World War II, the Nazis gathered up all the men over 12 years old and said to them, “We want to take you out to this hill. Nothing will happen. Don’t worry.”
They took them all out to the hill and they shot them all. So, it’s a town that is fraught with that kind of history. But, also, right around Kalavryta, there were three different monasteries that we were able to visit.
[Chip Bennett]: We have time for one more question. Anybody else got one? No? Nobody? Go ahead, Chris.
[Question]: So, I know that these really don’t effect the Gospel, but I know there’s some passages and in Scripture it tells us that in earlier manuscripts, they weren’t found, I think. If I’m not mistaken, a woman caught in adultery is one, maybe at the end of Mark 16:9-20. And I know that, yeah, the woman caught in adultery is the typical passage used in teaching about forgiveness. How should we approach stuff like that and what would be your take on it?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: The woman taken in adultery is my favorite passage that’s not in the Bible. The reason I think that it’s important that we understand that is that when your children or grandchildren go off to school, some professor’s going to stand up and say, “Did you know that the woman taken in adultery is not even really in the Gospel of John?”
We don’t want to shock them. We want them to be able to say, “Yeah, I knew that. So what? That doesn’t mean anything.”
The evidence is pretty much overwhelming that that was not in the original Gospel of John. I do think that its a real, historical incident about Jesus. I just don’t think that it’s a part of the Gospel of John. I know that people love that story and it troubles them when we say it’s not in the Gospel of John. And I’m sorry. You’ll have to talk to John about that. But, we have an obligation to deal in truth. And the truth is that almost certainly that passage is not there. But, it doesn’t change our doctrine of forgiveness at all. There are plenty of other places were Jesus forgives people for sins that they’ve committed, and that’s the wonderful news of the Gospel.
[Chip Bennett]: My suggestion, from a pastoral side, would be this: Whereas we may be able, from a textual tradition, to say that John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20 may not be found in the earliest manuscripts, the fact, though, that they have been included in church history for the many, many, many years that they have, a lot of people have preached off of those passages and people have been ministered to off of those passages. So, whereas we might be able to say that John didn’t include that particular passage, the fact that it is in Scripture and in our Bibles in the way that it’s been sort of handed down, I do think that there’s something about the tradition that we see in the church. I wouldn’t be going and basing doctrinal issues off of Mark 16:9-20.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: You don’t snake handle, I guess? Snake handling is what I liken the Mark 16 passage. That’s what I want to do.
[Chip Bennett]: Alright. Well, I hope everybody has enjoyed this evening. We are going to, at this time – and I hope that all of you all will think about doing this. We are going to take up an offering. What I’m going to do with the offering is I’m going to take the entire offering and we’re going to give it, as a church, to Knox Theological Seminary as a gift to them. So, if you believe in higher education – I mean, I have a doctorate from Knox. You all have met Warren, Jim Belcher’s been here in our church. Jim used to teach at Knox. Sam’s now here. Sam’s the President of Knox. He’s also a professor there. It’s a great institution and I want to bless them as a church.
So, we’re going to take up an offering. I’d like to say a prayer. We’ll take up the offering and then everybody is free to go. Let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You so much for tonight. Thank You for the opportunity to do what we do and to have a church that not only preaches and teaches from the Word of God, but also is able to do these academic type of evenings that I believe are informative and educational for everyone. Lord, my prayer is that as Sam goes on his way, that You would bless his coming and going as the president of Knox, Lord, as he’s training young men and women to go into the world and preach the Gospel and to do it effectively with the skills and the education that they need to persuasively show Jesus in all of Scripture.
Lord, I pray for Knox, that You would bless that school, that You would continue to increase enrollment, that You would bring even more people there so that more people could be trained to go out and do the right things. Lord, and I just pray, God, that You would bless this offering for Your glory. I pray that You would multiply it and increase it so that Knox can continue to do what they do, which is to train people with the Gospel to go into the world and make a difference. In Christ’s name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Hermeneutics - Do We Read The Bible Wrong?

Sermon Transcript

Dr. Chip Bennett:

         Before we get started, why don’t we have a word of prayer, and then we’ll get started. 

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You so much for the opportunity to be able to gather here as Your people, to study Your Word, to learn more about You and to hopefully grow in our relationship with You. Lord, as I always pray, especially when we’re looking at academic type of situations, I pray that this would not be just some intellectual exercise, but that this would also be an exercise where we learn to grow in our relationship with You, and learn to appreciate our relationship more with You. 

So Lord, I pray tonight, that as we try to look at reading the Bible, Lord, that’s a daunting task in an hour and fifteen or so minutes. But Lord, I pray that You would lead guide and direct both Warren and I to say the things that are encouraging to Your people. And I pray, God, that everybody would leave here with at least something they can take with them in their reading and study of the Bible itself. So Lord, we give you tonight. We ask, Lord, ultimately that you would be our teacher, and we thank You for it in Jesus’ name. And everybody said, Amen. 

Well, good evening to everyone. You’ve come to the first of three academic series’ that we’re going to hold here at Grace Community Church. And these academic series’ that we’re going to do, we’re going to talk about hermeneutics tonight, and we’re going to talk about philosophy next month. And the following month we’re going to talk about apologetics. The aim of these academic series’ here is to inform you. It is not to indoctrinate you. These are educational in nature. They’re not polemical. They’re not intended to create any type of discord, but we’re doing this to create discussion. 

Each lecture, and there will be three different ones that join me for these three different series, are my friends. And some of them are really close friends, like Dr. Gage. We do have areas of disagreement, you know, amongst us. But what unites us is the common concern for the subject matter that we’re doing and to educate the church. I personally myself both teach systematic theology and hermeneutics. And I never ever as a teacher try to teach my students in a way to believe the way I believe, or to read the bible the way I read. I want them to be educated well enough so that they can work out their own theology, and their own relationship with God well. 

My name is Chip Bennett and I am the pastor of Grace Community Church. I am a professor at Knox Theological Seminary, and I’m also a professor at Southeastern University. And I’m joined tonight by a close personal friend, and a distinguished man himself, Dr. Warren Gage. Warren has a Theological Masters in Hebrew. He is a Hebrew scholar. He has a Juris Doctorate from South Methodist University. So, he is a lawyer. And he also has a PhD in Philosophy and Literature from the University of Dallas. And he’s also your humble servant. 

Between the both of us, there’s quite a bit of education scholarship in real world practicality. And while we don’t agree on every theological point, and quite honestly I wouldn’t want any of my friends to agree with me on everything, Warren and I are incredibly close friends. Warren was actually my doctoral advisor for my Doctorate of Ministry. But, we agree massively that there is a better way to read the Bible. 

Now, I’m keenly aware that when I make a statement like that that there is a strong possibility to be misunderstood. Am I somehow implying that we’re right, and everyone else is wrong. Am I saying that we’ve cornered the lot on biblical interpretation. Am I saying something that I just now revealed some inner pride and arrogance. I think those would fair questions to ask if you were thinking them. So, I want to do my best to answer them. 

Neither Warren or myself are under some delusion that we are some sort of bastions of God’s truth. Neither Warren or I will speak tonight from a prideful or arrogant stance. We truly believe there are great Godly men and women that see things differently than us, and we respect that. What we want to do tonight is offer you a particular vantage point on reading your Bible, and we feel it should garner at least some serious consideration from you. And if you don’t agree when you leave that’s fine with us. The spirit nature of Grace Community Church is that we lift up Jesus. We don’t lift up doctrine, but these academic forums by nature are not here for indoctrinations. They’re really intended to bring academic research to the local church so that we can be thoughtful and we can be people who think through the issues. 

So, all of that being said, let me get down to some fundamentals of what we’re going to do tonight, and what our agenda is. And the reason I say that is because unfortunately whether you’re aware of this or not, and many of you will be aware of this, the Bible is a very polarized book in today’s society. There are those that hunker down and would consider themselves to be very, by nature, literalist who hold to interpretations that Warren and I both would say might do some damage to some of the biblical texts themselves. Because it’s obvious that not everything in the Bible is taken literally. When David says about God that He covers him with His wings, obviously all of us know that God is not a cosmic chicken. I think all of us know that. 

On the flip side is that there are critics who tear the Bible apart. They will do anything they can to get away from what they consider to be this literal camp that they feel has so many issues that plague is. Sad to say, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of wiggle room between the two camps. 

So, you find yourself either hunkered down and defending things, or you find yourself in a group of people that are sort of tearing things apart through textual criticism and things of that nature. 

So, how do we read the Bible then? What do we do in today’s world? Do we hide at every attempt at scholarship to show inconsistencies within the text, do we give heed to the critics and just let them tear away, or is there maybe a better approach? Is there something, maybe, that we’re missing? 

The reality is this: The vast majority of people, vast majority of you, are probably not going to go to college or get a seminary degree in any type of biblical studies. Most people are not going to study original languages. And most people are not going to spend hundreds, or even thousands of dollars buying the latest commentaries. 

So, what can we do as people who teach, professors, what can we do to help you? The real question is this: What can we do in an hour and a half that will help you read and study the Bible better, because that’s tough. I think all of us would say and agree, there’s no way in the world that in an hour, hour and fifteen minutes, hour and a half, that we can cover everything that you need to give you the tools that you need for your hermeneutical tool box. And when I use the term hermeneutics or hermeneutical, it's simply the study of biblical interpretation. 

So, let me lay out a couple of things that we intend to do this evening, and we’re only going to try to do two major things. There’s a temptation to want to do a bunch of stuff when you have a class like this, but we really want to give you something that you can walk out of here and read your Bible better. And I think you came here tonight because you want to read your Bible better. We want to give you those tools. 

So, there’s a couple of positive commitments. If you’re a note taker or you like to write things down, these would be things you might want to write down, because these are our positive commitments that we’re going to try to explain this evening. 

The first one is this: we feel that there is a divine thread that is revealed in certain themes throughout Scripture that bespeak of more than human authorship. We believe that the Bible, as the Apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, is theopneustos. That’s a compound word in the Greek: God-breathed. We believe that there is truly a divine thread in the Bible, and if we could find that thread and those themes as we read through the Bible we might be able to connect certain things. We believe that that is there in the Bible. We plan on discussing some of those things with you tonight. 

Secondly, we believe that there is a tremendous need when we are reading the bible for what we would call genre calibration. Now, whereas when you’re reading the Bible and in the particular books you may be looking at how they unfold in a literary way, or in the type of literature that you’re reading, we think that there is an overarching genre of Scripture. That when you’re reading Scripture there is an overarching theme, and overarching genre that goes throughout the entire book. So, let me try to unpack a little bit of these commitments. 

The first one’s really big to Warren and I both. We believe that the Bible is not just a book, or a group of books. There’s a strong tendency in the professional world of scholarship today to tear the Bible apart. To reduce each book to a standalone effort by a human author. There are many books right now that you can go by and get and read and many of you may have looked at them that subtly create doubt in Christians about the veracity of Scripture. 

Many of you may have read some of those books. You might be here tonight because you question some things about Scripture. And I believe that in questioning everything about Scripture, I wonder if the questions we’re asking are even questions that apply to the Bible in the first place. And although I would readily concede as a scholarship that some of these books do raise legitimate issues and point out some needed material that needs to be responded to, they offer at times some cogent points. They’re just, in my opinion, approaching things wrong. The Bible is not a Frankenstein. The empirical rationalism of the day has made us approach the Bible in ways that it was never intended to be approached. 

We’ve taken scientific inquiry and we’ve placed it above Scriptural authority. Reason has pushed aside revelation. The need to defend against the culture of the day has not led the church to a renaissance of the primacy of Scripture, but we’ve tended to want to pull Scripture down to our level. The mind of man may desperately want to understand control, but God cannot be tamed by us mere mortals. 

So, I would like to submit to you that if we do not have revelation from God in the Scriptures, if they’re just 66 human books, if they’re just well written stories or admonitions to local churches, then the church really has no claim to authority and everything that we preach is ultimately in vein. 

So, whereas I don’t put my head in the sand and sort of hide from some of the stiff opposition that’s there, to some of the things and, you know, the sufficiency of Scripture, and the God-breathed nature of Scripture, I don’t believe that I have to take the position of trying to rationalize and reason my way to making Scripture fit my world, or fit the culture that we live in. 

So, rather than dissecting the whole, maybe there really is divine authorship to this book. The Bible says that about itself. Historical Christianity has testified to that. And I would ask you, what if there were threads, what if there were themes that ran throughout the entire 66 books of the Bible? What if over 1,500 years, over 40-some odd different writers that lived in different places and times, somehow tracked on some of the same threads and themes? 

I think that speaks, we think that speaks, of a greater voice. And so, what we would like to do here first is try to discuss some of these themes that you will find as you read through your Bible that will help you understand what you’re reading as you go through. And for that, I’m going to turn it over to Doctor Gage to let him teach us a little bit here about some of the threads and themes that are found in Scripture. Warren take it away. 

Dr. Warren Gage: 

         Well thank you, Chip, and let me say it’s wonderful to be back with you and see the amazing growth. The way the sanctuary is being pushed back to accommodate new guests, and the way it’s all been designed and reworked. It’s just wonderful. And I realized, I listen to all the sermons here so I feel a part of this community, and I realize the growth is not just physical. It’s spiritual, too. 

One of the things I take delight in with regard to your pastor, when I think of Chip I’m reminded of what Paul encourages Timothy in one of the epistles. He tells Timothy make sure that your progress is known to all, that everyone can see that you’re making progress. I take that to be both spiritual and personal. And, Chip, I think that’s evident. I think your people see you growing in grace. We are to grow. We’re in a community of faith. We grow in our love and understanding of the Lord and of His Word. Because I don’t make it here every Sunday, because I come every month, or several months, I can see, I can quantify that growth. And it’s a marvel and a wonderful thing to see. So, I hope you’re encouraged with that good word. 

And I love your commitment to Scripture, too. And what Chip is saying, basically, if I could summarize it, is nobody sat down and wrote the Bible like Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Nobody sat down and composed the Bible. Even the most liberal of critics would have to acknowledge that it was written over many centuries by different authors. And the fact that it comes together as one work, and can be actually interpreted as though there was one organizing mind with themes that run right from beginning to end, as we’ll talk about with symbols, there is a consistency to it that would never happen in the natural world. 

If we took over a same number of centuries, for example, if we took medical works from Galen in the second and third century up to the present day, look at how medicine has developed. You couldn’t put a library or books together like the Bible and make any sense out of it. It’s just, that would be impossible. I think we’d all understand that. 

If we went to the library and pulled down 66 books just randomly off the shelf, there wouldn’t be any coherence. We wouldn’t even think to read the Bible looking for that coherence that when we come to Holy Scripture, actually, we can see. And I want to show you that tonight. I want to show you the large scope of Scripture. What is the story all about? And I want to be very specific with some of the symbols, and show you how that works. 

I think that tonight could be really quite exciting for you. It’s very evident that the Bible has human authors, but the Holy Spirit, we believe, was superintending the writing of all of these 66 books that we call our Bible. And He was inspiring human authors who were fallible, but in such a way to keep all error out. It is infallible. It is inerrant. I personally believe it is fully inspired of God, who cannot lie. So, it must be a perfect book, as we will see. 

And I think that the way we’re going to approach it will show you that this is not a human book. Perhaps the greatest argument for inspiration, apart from the personal understanding that a Christian has about how this book transforms us and renews our mind and regenerates us and leads us from darkness to light and gives us a hope, apart from all of that the scripture does, there is a story going from beginning to end. 

Now, let me talk for just a brief minute about what we would expect if the Bible has one author. And I’m not looking at the human level right now. I’m looking at the divine, the evidence of the divine author that I can explore it like I would a book that had a single author. 

If you approach any piece of mimetic art, any kind of literature, poetry, a play, a novel, anything that is written, it has to have, I mean Aristotle was the first one to articulate this principle, it will have a beginning, middle, and an end. Any story will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You will have ideas that are introduced in the beginning, and, if it’s a good book, all of the ideas, the drama, the tension that’s introduced at the very beginning of the book will be resolved by the time you get to the end. Does that make sense? 

All of the themes will be tied up so that it is a complete work. And generally, the story will have a beginning and a middle and an ending. A Shakespeare tragedy, for example, is always five acts, and the first act introduces the tension. The last act is the resolution. The third act is always the great crisis. You follow? There is a battle, and something happens in that battle in the middle. And so, I want to look at the Bible. I want to identify it. The beginning and ending is easy, but I want to identify what the middle battle is all about. And then tie all of that together as a story so you’ll see how it coheres. 

So, the first thing I want to do is I want to look at the very beginning of the Bible. Now, I’m not going to be expositing individual texts, because we’re looking at the whole thing tonight and I think most of the time I’m going to spend is going to be in familiar passages to you. The first three chapters of Genesis and the last three chapters of Revelation. The beginning and the ending of the Bible. And when we look at the beginning and the ending of the Bible we find some similarities. 

The Bible begins with a wedding in a garden paradise, and it ends with a wedding in a garden paradise. Isn’t that true? And there are four things that we find in common that introduce the themes that are developed and resolved. 

The first is, both of them, there’s a garden paradise. There is a bridal couple. Of course, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. There’s the serpent story in both of them, and there’s the tree of life. Now, if we look more carefully we can see that what is said about these four elements is not the same. For example, in the first, in Eden, we have a couple, we have a garden paradise. When we come to the end of Revelation there is the River of Life, the Tree of Life and all of that that reminds us of Eden, but we have there a city. A garden city. That’s different. 

Remember in Eden, Adam names Eve the mother of all living, because all of us, wherever we are in time and space in this world, descend from Adam and Eve. Isn’t that right? So, potentially she’s the mother of all living, but when we come to the end of Revelation, that potentiality has become actuality and we see all of the Godly from all the ages in a garden city. So, that’s different. And the differences are important, too, along with the similarities. 

In the first garden, in Eden, we have a bridal couple. We have Adam and his bride, Eve. But in the last paradise, at the end of the Bible, that couple, we still have a bridal couple, but not it’s identified to us as Christ, who is the bridegroom, and the church, the community of faith. That is the bride. It’s the same in a sense of having a bride and a bridegroom, but it is different in that we are not looking at Adam and Eve anymore. Now we are looking at Jesus and the church. 

We have a serpent story in the first garden. The serpent introduces sin and death into the story, and you all understand how he does that. By deceiving the women, and then by Adam ratifying that wicked choice of Eve. And so, all of human tragedy and the suffering and everything that we know that is evil in the world that unleashes a dynamic that is deadly and destructive. Sin and death are its consequences. 

When we come to the last garden, however, the serpent has been cast out. The serpent has been defeated which is John’s way of telling us that there is nothing to disturb the everlasting happiness of the new bridegroom, Christ, and His bride. See, we’re seeing similarities, but we’re seeing differences. 

The Tree of Life. The gift of immortality. There’s a Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, but, because of our sin, we are forbidden of partaking the Tree of Life. Isn’t that right? So, the garden says we can’t have the Tree of Life. And we are exiled from the garden from the Eastern Gate, and cherubim angels are put there with fiery swords to bar our entry, lest we partake of the Tree of Life in the state of sin and death. God exiles us from the garden. 

And so, right there, that’s anticipating. The story of redemption is how do we get back in to the garden? Can we get back in to the garden, because the goal from the very beginning of the Bible in chapter three is how do we partake of Tree of Life? That’s the tension. If we partake of the Tree of Life, then all things have been made right. 

So, the Tree of Life is forbidden to us in the Garden of Eden, but when we come to the last garden it’s said very specifically, twice in Revelation, Jesus says, “to him who overcomes, I will (what?) give to eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden.” So, when we come to the end of the book we see that, once again, we have entrance and access to the Tree of Life. It’s the promise of everlasting life which is the Gospel itself. We’re not perishing anymore. Rather, we who believe now have everlasting life. 

Now, if I compare the beginning and the ending, these two bookends of Scripture, you can see that they’re similar ideas, but all the ideas have been rounded out and completed when I come to the end. The whole tale has been told. There is large development. How is it that we now have a city when we only had a garden at the beginning? How is that we have Christ and the church? Where did that come from? A new Adam. Jesus is called a new Adam. So, how did Jesus take the place of Adam, and what does that teach us? And then the serpent, how did the serpent come to be defeated when he seems to be so triumphant in the first garden and the Tree of Life? How is it that we gained access once again to the Tree of Life? Weren’t those angels set there to prevent our taking of the Tree? 

So, the differences, the story of the Bible is how do we get from this garden, with these images and this state, to the last garden. There is a large amount of Scripture, obviously, between the first three chapters and the last three chapters. Do you follow that? You see the logic of it? 

So, we’ve identified the beginning and the ending. That’s the largest frame of Scripture, and that is raising certain questions that we should have in mind. When you approach any work of literature you would expect to see that kind of a story development. The beginning and the ending are very critical, and when you get to the end everything is worked out. But there is a crisis in the middle, too. We need to identify what is that crisis. 

So, we want to know where is the middle of the Bible? What constitutes the middle? Where’s that change of direction? We saw that the dynamic coming out of Eden was pretty tragic. Where is that reversed? 

Now, when we are in the garden story, I want you to listen with me to the story. I want to retell it. It should be familiar, I think, to most of you. Most of us will know, even if we’ve only be of faith a short while we know Genesis one to three. And there’s some remarkable things that indicate the large theme of Scripture that we’re given from the very beginning. God makes man, He says, in His own image. An image of God He made them. And how did He make them? Male and female. It takes both male and female to adequately reflect the image of God. So, He makes the male and the female, the sexual terms, that become, of course, Adam and Eve. 

Now, what is it that we learn about that? What you want to notice anytime you read something is that when something happens that’s unexpected and something happens right away that very unexpected, and that is that with all the animals God makes the male with his female. He just brings them up out of the ground, we’re told. All the animals. The male and his companion. And God the blesses the animals and says what? Be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth. And we can understand the logic of that, because we understand that the animals are sexual beings. So, here is the animal with his mate, and we understand now how God can work out that process. But God doesn’t do that with man. In fact, God makes Adam alone, and we’re wondering, that’s unusual. Why would God do that? Why would you have the male and not have a female? What is the purpose and the logic of that? God’s going to command Adam be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, but it’s very obvious from the very beginning that man can’t accomplish what God has commanded. 

And so, you read through the Genesis narrative of creation, you’ve all read it. You know it says, “God spoke and it was good. God said something else and it was good.” Ten times God speaks and it’s good and then at the end it’s very good. All of the creation is made and it’s perfect, but one thing is not good. And that is, it is not good for the man to be alone. 

Now, it’s not like God is just figuring that out, okay? There is a logic that’s prompting to think about it. This is a significant clue to the theme of the whole Bible. God makes Adam alone. In fact, when he says that it’s like Moses is pointing this out. This is the only defect. When this defect is cured, the creation will be perfect and very good. So, God says, “It’s not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” And, I mean, it’s a magnificent verse, but after that verse you would expect to read what? About the creation of the women. Isn’t that right? That’s what you would expect to read, but you don’t. 

And again, that arrests our attention. The text is drawing our attention to that. Why does God not make the women at that point? He says, “I’m going to make a women suitable for him, a bride suitable for him.” But he doesn’t do that. Instead He brings the animals to Adam. He brings them to Adam for Adam to name, and Adam names all of the animals. And I think that’s a taxonomic classification, frankly. I think that he’s looking at a very fine distinction. He’s learning about his God in doing that. 

Go to the zoo. Look at the magnificent imagination of God who created all of these creatures. And so, Adam is given the joy of naming them all, but God brings them, just like He does to Noah later, He brings them in their pairs. The male and the female. The male and the female. And in doing that, Adam is learning what? That he is male and he has no companion. And so it’s very evident that God is teaching the man that he needs the woman. And Adam is learning of his loneliness. He’s learning of his incapacity to accomplish what God has designed him to do. To be fruitful and multiply. He can’t do it. And when God has created that heart in this bridegroom, that’s when He makes the women. Only when he prepares the heart of the man. 

So, the Bible, right from the beginning, is teaching us, is instructing us what God will supply what needs we have. We become aware of them. God is a good God. He gives that which He’s created the desire in us for. 

Now, listen to how God does that, because again this surprises you. You would think, having read this account, that we know that Adam was made of what? He was made of the dust of the ground. The clay of the earth. Isn’t that right? God fashioned his physical body out of the dust of the ground. So, you would expect that God would simply take some more of the dust of the ground, the clay of the earth, to make the woman. But He doesn’t. And there again that’s to attract our attention. Something significant is happening here. This is how God creates the bride. 

Listen to me for a minute. Here is Adam in the full perfection of his manhood, in the full, capacious mind that he has, unclouded by sin. He’s filled with the vitality of life, and God brings upon Him a deep sleep, very unusual words, a sleep like a coma. So, this Adam, who is so full of life, is laid out on the ground in front of us. He looks like a dead man, and we’re startled by that. Imagine the scene. That will help you interpreting the Bible. Imagine that you’re the angels looking down at this scene and you think, “What is God doing? This one who is so filled with life now looks like he’s a corpse.” 

Then, God does something even more startling. He pierces the side. He creates a deep and a bloody wound. What is He doing? Destroying this perfect creature that He’s made. What has Adam does to deserve this? Adam is innocent. And yet even in his innocence he’s being wounded, deeply wounded, and God takes out of the side of the man that substance with which you will create the bride. Then, God heals Adam of his wounding, and awakens him in a garden and this is God’s heart. Father God, His delight is to bring together the bride and the groom. 

From the very beginning we see that. He is the Father of the groom, and He is the Father of the bride. He brings them together. That’s the joy of Father God. And Adam sees the wife, recognizes that she’s the one who makes him able to accomplish what God has commanded. “Be fruitful and multiply. Have dominion over the beasts.” She’s the one that will enable him to do that, and the first time he speaks is in poetry. It’s in song. It’s beautiful. It’s wonderful. 

They’re in perfect harmony. They’re in a garden. It’s glorious. That’s the way that we learn, from the very beginning, that the love that Father God desires between the husband and the wife can only come from a very deep and profound wounding. 

Now, what is that story telling us? Think about that. An innocent man, in all of his perfection, in the sleep of death, the side opened in a wounding, the wife for the bride extracted from the side, the side heals, and awakened in the garden to see his bride. Don’t you see that that story in Genesis 2 anticipates another story. It’s like the angels can see this happening, this is the pattern that God desires for this love story, but what happens He’s looking to His Son, who is destined to become a man. “Son, it’s not good for Adam to be alone. Son, it’s not good for you to rule alone. I will make a bride suitable for you.” 

And how will He do that? John is the one that tells you. Doesn’t he? Christ comes as a new Adam. He’s perfect, full of life, but God brings upon Him, upon the cross, the sleep of death. And He knows when He bows His head in death, and gives His spirit up to the Father, He knows that His side too will be opened by a spear, and out will come the water and the blood. The blood for the bride’s purchase. The water for her purification. And He will be laid into the womb of Adam, the earth, and then Father God will heal His wounding and awaken Him in a garden. And he will bring to Him one who will represent the bride. 

She’s not the Bride. She represents the bride. It’s Mary Magdalene. And Resurrection Morning here is the one chosen to represent the Bride. And He calls her woman. And He says, “Why are you weeping?” Here is God wiping away the tears. There is no reason for tears. He’s restored the garden. She mistakenly thinks He’s the gardener. 

Well, the reality is He is the gardener. He’s returned the garden to us. He’s given us the promise of intimacy with the Father. All of that. That is gesturing toward the middle battle. So, now we can identify where is the middle battle. 

Now, what are the sides of that battle? And how is that set up? The battle is anticipated for us after the Fall, when God speaks to serpent and announces the Gospel. It’s Genesis 3:15. It’s when God says to the serpent, “You will have the seed, and the woman will have the seed. And the destiny of this conflict of redemption that’s going to go all the way through the Bible is the enmity that God will put between these two seed. The result of that will be a battle where the serpent will sting the heal, but that heal will crush the head of the serpent. 

That prophesy is what drives the whole of the Old Testament, and into the New Testament. That drives the story. That quarrel between the two seed. So, when we come to the time of Jesus, which we’ve already identified, the religious leaders will go out to John the Baptist, and John the Baptist will see them coming. And in the spirit of prophesy what does he say? “You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Remember that? That’s not just some kind of oriental insult. In the spirit of prophesy what is he saying? “You are the seed of the serpent.” And they are the ones who will what? Attack the seed of the woman. The virgin-born Christ. That’s where the battle takes place. 

Now, how is it that the Gospel writers describe that battle? I need you to follow with me in this, because the way that they battle in the middle is the cross work of Jesus, but also the open tomb. You’ve got to have both. You’ve got to have both of them in order to have your Gospel. You’ve got to have the cross of Jesus, but you’ve also got to have the resurrection message the open tomb. 

So, what the Gospel writers are doing is showing us how Jesus reverses the fall. He undoes all of the fall between the cross and the open tomb. Now, how does He do that? Well, think with me for a minute, we’re back in Genesis 3, we’ve been cast out of the garden, we’re in the Eastern Gate, we’re cast out to the east. The cherubim angels are there to bar our way – right? – back to the Tree of Life. We have to make it back to the Tree of Life. We have the hope that God will send the seed of the woman who will somehow make it possible for us to go through those angels who bar our way. Somehow they must be passed.  

Then, we must come to the Tree of Knowledge that we have partaken of, both from Adam and Eve, and in our own sin as we’ve ratified their wicked choice. We owe a debt at the Tree of Knowledge, and that debt is our death. And then, we want to partake of the Tree of Life. So, how is all of that going to happen? And the Gospel writers so characterize this battle that we can see how that is exactly what Christ is doing. Christ is the hero of the Scriptures. 

So, how does that take place? Well, the way that Matthew portrays this, I’m going to begin with Matthew. Matthew, understanding, of course, that the body of Jesus is a temple, John teaches us that. He spoke of, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He spoke of the temple of His body. There are two temples in Jerusalem at this battle. There is the temple of Christ’s body that is being crucified on the cross, but there is also the temple of Herod. 

Now, tabernacle and temple is a large set of images that go right through the Scriptures. The essence of that is that the Holy of Holies, and the tabernacle, and the temple. The Holy of Holies represents Eden. It represents the Garden of Eden. It’s cuboidal. It’s squared to the four points of the compass like Eden. That’s where God dwells. And there is a veil. The only opening is through the east. And there is a veil that guards that Holy of Holies. Do you understand? You can’t go back there. You will die. Only the high priest once a year under special circumstances can dare to go behind that veil. Because on that veil Moses commanded that the images of the cherubim angels be woven onto that veil. You see, they represent what? That we are outside of the garden. Don’t they? The images of the cherubim, the angels that bar our way are woven onto that veil. 

When Christ’s body is torn in his crucifixion, the author of Hebrews says that His flesh was the veil. When His flesh is torn, God takes that veil in the temple and does what? Remember? He tears it in two from top to bottom. What is He doing? He is dismissing those angels, emblematically, that had barred our way back into the pleasant garden. He’s dismissing those angels from their duty. He is inviting us to come, like the author of Hebrews says, “When the veil of His flesh, Jesus, was torn, He opened up a new and living way for us.” That is, we can now go into the garden. We can approach the Tree of Life. That’s our goal. We want to approach the Tree of Life. 

So, that first impediment, Matthew tells us, when that veil is torn the angels are dismissed. That goes all the way back to the very end of Genesis 3. That first impediment is taken away by the sacrifice of Jesus. 

Now, the second thing, this is what Mark and Luke together do, is how Jesus reverses the work of Satan. They frame the cross and the open tomb between two suppers. There is the Last Supper, before Jesus suffers, and there is the Emmaus Supper. Remember? The road to Emmaus on the day of resurrection? Jesus goes to that supper with His disciples. So, Mark and Luke are putting the redemptive work of Jesus, the battle between two suppers. 

Now, why suppers? Well, how did we fall? How is it that we fell? It was by eating. Isn’t that right? We partook of the Tree of Knowledge, which was elicit. And then, we were forbidden from eating the Tree of Life. And then, we were excluded. Everything has to do with eating. Eating the wrong tree and then not being permitted to eat the Tree of Eternal Life. 

So, the two evangelists, Mark and Luke, have two suppers, and in order to understand what they’re doing by portraying those suppers, you have to recall how we fell. Eve, when she saw that the fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes, desirable to make one wise, what does Moses tell you? She took of its fruit. She ate, and she gave to her husband with her and he ate. It seems so simple. Doesn’t it? But that is the great place of decision. That is disobedience against the good and omnipotent God. 

She took of its fruit and ate and gave to her husband with her. And just those three verbs, all of the human sorrow and tragedy that comes is introduced with just these three little words. She took, and ate, and gave. 

Now, what is the significance of that? Well, then we’re told, when Adam partakes of it as well, what? Their eyes are opened and they know their nakedness. They had been naked, but without shame. Now, they are aware of their nakedness shamefully. Distance comes. All the relationships are destroyed between God, between the man and the wife. Everything happens there. But that’s the way we fell. She took of its fruit and ate, and gave to her husband with her, and their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. 

Mark tells us about the Last Supper. The memorial supper before He suffers. Jesus, anticipating His death, says what? This is my body, which is broken for you. Listen to me. Take and eat. And He gives it to them. You see what He’s doing? Take. Eat. And give. He takes the verbs of our Fall, and makes them the verbs of our restoration. 

He is undoing the work of the enemy. He is setting loose a counter dynamic of redemption to what Eve sets loose when she disobeys. By His obedient death He is enabling us to be restored. That’s before He suffers. The battle takes place. After the battle is done and He is resurrected He meets His Emmaus Disciples. He expounds the Old Testament to them. They don’t know. Their eyes are hindered. They don’t know who He is. They invite Him into supper. He goes into the supper and He blesses the bread. And when He breaks the bread they recognize Him. Do you follow me? Luke says, then their eyes were opened and they knew Him. See the difference? 

Paul says that Jesus is the covering of our shame. So, the whole Fall has been undone in the way that that has been presented, the way that Mark and Luke present it. 

Dr. Chip Bennett: 

Can I jump in for just a second here? 

Dr. Warren Gage: 


Dr. Chip Bennett: 


         I hope that you all are seeing that there’s some connectedness here to the stories. What we’re trying to do here is to help you see that what starts off in the beginning is also finished in the end, and in the middle there’s all kinds of stuff going on. So, when you’re reading your Bible, you know, and you see the stories of David and Goliath, and you see that Goliath come out in scale armor, those words should mean something. You know what have scales. Serpents have scales. 

And how does David kill Goliath? With a stone to his head. He crushes the head. As you’re reading the Bible you’re going to see these certain things go through, and they sort of pan all the way. So, you’re asking, “How do we read our Bible?” Understanding these themes are absolutely important to understanding the whole trajectory of Scripture. 

Which leads to our second point which we want to talk about which is genre calibration. One of the most tried and true hermeneutical positions is that we need to understand the literature of Scripture that we are reading. You can’t read a narrative like you would poetry. You don’t read a Dr. Seuss like you read a science textbook, correct? Whereas, I would say that understanding the literary nature of Scripture needs to take place from book to book, there is also an overarching genre of Scripture. 

So, we’ve laid out. You see these weddings. You see the end of the weddings. You see the eyes open. You see eyes open. All of this stuff is moving all throughout the Bible. These are the threads and themes, but there is a genre that any book you read in the Bible, the Bible has. I don’t know if you know what a skeleton key is. It sort of opens up stuff. It unlocks things for you and me. It tells you what to look for, this genre calibration. You start to go, “You know what, I know where this is going, because I know what I’m reading.” And so, understanding the themes and threads and the genre of Scripture is what will help us when we read our Bible. 

Now, I would call the majority of Scripture, when we look at this from a genre standpoint, I would call it Gospel. The problem is that you and I, when we think of Gospel, unfortunately what we think of is an alter call. We think of somebody’s preached the Gospel. Somebody’s having an alter call. Somebody’s coming to accept Jesus. That’s what we think of when we think of Gospel. The term itself means “good news.” So, I would like for you to think of the Bible, the overarching genre, whatever you’re book you’re reading, is you’re reading something that is telling you good news. It may not look like good news right now, but it’s telling you about good news. 

God is reconciling the world to Himself. He is restoring that which has been broken and damaged. He’s taking the wounded and He is healing them. Listen to some of the metaphors that are used in the Bible. Even if you’ve read it just a little bit you’ll know this is in there. Darkness will be followed by light. The barren will be made fruitful. The captives will be set free. Wrath will be propitiated by mercy. The curse will be changed into blessing. Infirmities will be made whole. Poverty will be turned into riches. The downcast will be what? Raised up. Judgement will yield to comfort. The exile will be returned. Bitter will be made sweet. Death will yield to life. 

This whole genre runs throughout the entire Bible, and I think everyone of us gets this. We see it. We know it’s there, but since the term gospel has so many different nuances, I would like to suggest for a moment, bear with me, that we look at the Bible through a different lens of genre. And that genre, we’re going to call comedy. 

And the reason I say that is because if you understand classical comedy you will understand what the writers of the Bible are doing. We unfortunately think of comedy as sitcoms. Something I laugh at. Ha ha. McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre. But classical comedy was one of the two most fundamental genres of stories. They encapsulate the whole human condition. We know this idea of gospel genre calibration when we see these masks. They encapsulate the whole of humanity. The sadness and the laughing. The hurt and the lifting up. 

So let’s look at this for a little bit here, contrasting, sort of, how Adam and Christ are through this genre. In comedy, there is a trajectory to go from low to high, but in tragedy you go from high to low. So, let’s look at this, classical tragedy begins high and ends low. Its trajectory is what we call gravity. Gravitas. Adam begins high. He’s created in the image of God. But what does he do? He falls. It’s sudden and complete. He returns to the dust from which he came. Comedy on the other hand, though it begins low and ends high, and it ends with a happily ever after. It ends with levity. Levitas. 

So, let’s look at Christ. He’s the last Adam. How’s He born? High of low? He’s born lowly, okay? He’s placed in a grave. Dead. But He’s raised from the grave, and He ascends into heaven. And when He’s seated on the throne He’s given dominion over all things, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:21-28. If you look at classical comedy in the middle of a comic narrative, guess what? There is a battle, and the battle is always won. In tragedy, the battle’s lost. Take Adam again. Adam’s battle was lost. The serpent deceives Eve. She partakes the fruit. Adam follows her in to sin. God intended for man to have dominion over the beasts, but instead the beast has dominion over the man. But in comedy the battle’s won. 

So, let’s look at Jesus here as contrast. He defeats the serpent. He brings and end to sin and death. He raises from the grave, and then Paul taunts the serpent by saying, “O Death, where is your sting?” Where is your sting? Comedy ends, as a general rule, in a wedding supper. So, tragedy ends with social disintegration in the community in death of the protagonist. Adam.  

Adam’s fall ends in a broken relationship with his wife and God. His story ultimately ends with his death and the death of all of his descendants. Because of Adam, death comes to all. But in contrast, Jesus, His resurrection brings in the community of God and man. His story ends with a wedding supper where sinners and outcasts are restored to the community. He ushers in the restoration of all things. He brings life to all. 

And Jesus summarizes this in his walk to Emmaus that Warren was talking about in Luke 24:26. He summarizes it, moving from suffering to glory. Jesus claims, when He’s talking with these disciples in Luke 24, that He shows them out of Moses, the Law, the Prophets, Psalms, all of those books, He says everything from suffering to glory. And that is the trajectory of classical comedy. It’s the trajectory of Gospel. 

So, listen to this. Just listen to this as we work through some of the books of the Bible. In Genesis we’re taught that Adam and Eve, having fallen under the judgement of death, will nevertheless become parents of all the living, and they’re given the promise that life will ultimately overcome death itself. 

Exodus teaches us that we are brought from slavery to liberty. Leviticus teaches that the wrath of God will be propitiated by mercy. Numbers teaches us through the Balaam story that God will turn a curse into a blessing. Deuteronomy assures us that even though we may go into the wilderness, we will be brought out to a land flowing with milk and honey. 

See, are you’re reading these books there is an overall genre. There’s the threads and themes that there’s a genre. Let’s look at the Prophets. The Prophets always talk about God’s judgement, but they don’t stop there. When they get done with God’s judgement, they offer comfort and hope. Isaiah says it this way. He says, “‘Comfort my people’, says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended and her iniquity is pardoned.’” Isaiah 40:1-2. 

They offer reassurance to people going through trials. Jeremiah says, in Jeremiah 29:11, To those who are captive in Babylon he says, “I know the purposes I have for you. They’re plans for wholeness. They’re not plans for evil. To give a future and a hope.” 

Isaiah tells us that the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the mute will sing for joy. And the lame will not only walk, but they leap for joy. He says the wilderness and the desert will be glad. The dry ground will blossom like the rose. Sorrow and sighing will flee away. Pilgrims from all of the Earth will come to Zion. 

Ezekiel tells us that the scorched land will become pools of water. Dried bones will take on flesh, and be animated once again with spirit. 

Jeremiah says that God will turn His peoples mourning into joy. The scattered will be gathered again to be restored to God with shouts of joy. 

Hosea tells us that the torn will be healed and broken, and will be bound up. 

Joel tells us that the judgement of God will pass. The hills will drip with sweet wine, and mountains will flow with milk. 

Amos says a day is coming when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream. 

Micah says that swords will be hammered into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation. Neither will they learn war anymore. 

Zephaniah tells us that God will sing over His people as He restores their joy. 

So, when you’re reading the Bible, when you’re looking at these books, when you’re seeing what you’re reading, you now have a great genre or filter to read. And I would call it ultimately Gospel, but seeing through the lens of comedy will help you to understand. So, when you’re reading the Bible and you’re bogged down in some of the stuff, when you’re trying to understand what’s going on in the Old Testament, if you will continue to read you will see these patterns that move through all of Scripture. God is taking you and me from suffering to glory. And as you see that overall genre, and you tie that in to these threads and themes as you start reading the Bible, it starts to make a little bit more sense. 

Do you have anything you want to add on the comedic life, or living a life of comedy? 

Dr. Warren Gage: 


         Paul says that there are three pure virtues: faith, hope, and love. We talk a lot, in Protestantism particularly, about faith. We’re justified by faith alone. Is that right? So, we focus on faith and the content of our faith, and all that. It’s given a lot of attention. We talk about love. Don’t we? I mean, love is the essence of the nature of God. It’s the example of Christ. God is love. We give due attention to love. But often what’s left out, I think, is hope. And understanding the trajectory of the Bible, the way the Bible is put together, I think that’s the message of great hope. 

God has ordained that this life will have suffering, but He says, “After suffering will come glory.” And that glory that’s set before us enables us to persevere through the trials of this life. The Psalmist gives us the promise. He says, “Sorrow will come and will lodge for an evening, but joy comes in the morning.” Never does that happen more than on the morning of resurrection. Isn’t that right? From the very beginning we’re told that there’s darkness and then comes the light. We are given a hope of what God intends to do with us. The whole theme of this is that God is espousing us to Christ, our Bridegroom. The Lord Jesus has a bridegroom love for you. You’re the one that He dreamed of when He hung His head in death. 

The author of Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before Him.” He focused on the hope that was set before Him. He despised the shame of the cross. He was able to endure the cross because of hope. You’ve got to have hope to persevere through the sorrows and the trials of this life. Recognizing that God is good and He has ordained our suffering in order to draw our heart to Christ, our bridegroom, and to have us focused on it. Just like He prepared the heart of Adam for his bride, so He is preparing the hearts of the Bride for the Groom. I think that’s the way that God seems to have ordained all things, and suffering is a great part of the story. But we’re being given the tools to learn how to live with the expectancy of hope. 

This message, the whole Bible, is like that. I tried to summarize it the best I can. I think the summary of this whole story of the Bible is something like this: The story of the Bible begins with the Fall in Eden, but ends in the Wedding of Christ and the Church. This cosmic struggle of the seed of the woman against the serpent on the cross is the turning point in the middle of the story. All of redemptive history, which began in the Garden of Eden, is resolved in the events that occur between the Garden of Gethsemane and the Garden of the tomb.

There’s two gardens, and all of our redemption is worked out between those two gardens with the tree in midst. That’s the tree of the Cross. It’s the tree of death where Christ knows the penalty of sin. But that tree bears fruit and that is the blood and the bread. That is the fruit of that tree, and the Cross, you see, for Jesus it’s the tree of knowledge where He knows the weight of our sin. But for us, that tree becomes the Tree of Life. And if anyone in faith partakes in sincerity in this fruit of that tree, that is the blood and the body of our precious Lord who was the sacrifice for us. If anyone in faith partakes of that, you have partaken, already, of the Tree of Life. And that dynamic principle is already at work in you. 

The Bridegroom, God, has heroically overcome sin and death by crushing the serpent. And He ensures that one day He will receive His Bride in the garden city of the New Jerusalem. Where He will give Her the fruit of the Tree of Life. 

The message of the Bible is there for one of hope and victory. That’s the Gospel. It’s hope and victory. The story of the Bible gives the assurance that the serpent will be defeated, and God’s purposes established so that Christ can be united with His Bride. 

So, this is not just simply understanding how we approach the Bible in terms of literature, it’s giving us a philosophy of understanding how to live. And how to live in hope of all that God has given to us. And our Gospel of the love of the Bridegroom for you. That’s the story of the Bible. 

Dr. Chip Bennett: 


         And that explains when you’re reading in the Bible and you see some of the things where they talk about suffering, they talk about going through stuff, you can understand why these writers, in the middle of prison, in the middle of being beaten and bloodied, at midnight can start singing. Because they understand what they have. 

Paul says in Romans 15:4, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.”

I mean, I want you to think about that for a second. Everything that was written before, Paul tells the church at Rome that is was written for their instruction. Just focus on that for a minute. Everything that has happen happened so that you could be instructed. Those are incredible words that Paul has penned. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction. So that by steadfastness and by encouragement by the Scriptures we might have hope.” 

 When you’re reading the Bible, you should constantly be reading the Bible and seeing the hope that these stories are talking about. One of the problems we have when we read our Bible, if we’re going to be honest, is we read it devotionally. And I don’t want to say that you can’t do that, but I want to say that when you’re reading the Bible devotionally, you’re not getting the full tilt of, maybe, a story. And when you don’t get the full tilt of the story, you’re likely to misinterpret the story. 

If you don’t see, from the very beginning, that Luke Skywalker comes from Tatooine and ends up eventually overthrowing all of the powers of evil. If you only caught the middle of the story where he falls down after Vader has taken off his arm, and that’s all you saw, you would interpret that story differently. 

Without understanding these themes and these threads, and understanding the nature of Scripture, we’re likely to misinterpret it, and we’re likely to bog down in minutia that we don’t need to bog down. The Christian Church is known for something. Listen to me, this is really important. We’re known for something. We’re known for being a fearful lot. We’re known for people that are fearful. We post is on our Facebook all the time. What’s going on in the world? How come things are so bad? I can’t believe that’s going on. Whatever. We should be the people of hope. We’re not to be the people of fear. And yet, in our reading of Scripture, we bog down in the negative parts without completing the story to the positive parts. 

You read Joseph getting to sold to slavery and you miss out on the fact that he is raised to the right hand of Pharaoh. You’ve missed the story. If you only see Jesus getting beaten, but you don’t see the resurrection, you’ve missed the story. If you don’t see Jonah but in the whale, if you don’t see him getting spit out, you’ve missed the story. There’s so many things that you miss along the way if you don’t see the story. 

And that’s why we feel in giving you two particular things tonight: Understanding the themes and the threads. There’s wedding. There’s heroes. There’s serpents. There’s all of these things that go through. But then there’s an overarching genre that says, “Hey, even though it may look bad, it’s going to be okay. Even though it may be tears at night, it’s going to be joy in the morning.” If you and I truly read the Bible for the way the Bible was written, we would be people of great hope, because we would know how the story ends. 

We know that God never ever ever allows His people to finish off in suffering. Even the Book of Revelation teaches us that even though people who are dying at that time, physically, are whisked into the heavenlies, and are reigning with God. Suffering always gives way to glory. 

Now, I’d like to leave you a couple of more tools, and if you are taking notes these are some things that will help you practically in your reading of the Bible. If you take notes, please write these down. 

People speak and write in the conventions of their time. 

This is a really important understanding here. When people wrote Scripture, they wrote in the time that they wrote. And this is important here. If a passage means something to you that is could not have meant to the original audience, you probably have a bad interpretation. I.E. If you’re finding apache helicopters in the Book of Revelation, you probably are wrong. They would not have understood at that time. So, don’t somehow think that you have corner lot knowledge on something. It could not have meant that to them. There’s no way that it could mean that. And here’s the deal, and this is tough for us because we struggle with this, the Bible was not written to you and me. It was written for you and me, not to you and me. 

So, we have to understand that there were conventions, there were statements, there were idioms, there were things that when we read the Bible we’re going to have to spend some time understanding. The Bible also, and this is the second point that I would make, it employs high communication. This is important for us to understand. It was written to specific people at specific times that understood the terms. We sometimes don’t.

I’ve said this before in this church and I’ll say it again. If I were to say, “Hey, the Cowboys are headed north to play on the frozen tundra against the Cheeseheads,” many of you all would go, “I understand that.” Some of you would go, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But if I said, “Hey, I’m talking about the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Football league going up to Green Bay to play the Green Bay Packers, who are called the Cheeseheads,” now all of a sudden you go, “I get it.” 

The Bible doesn’t go into explaining that detail. It is written to people at a time in high communication, and for us to truly get it, some of these things that we’re reading, we’re going to have to spend some time understanding what’s being said. We sort of recoil at that because we just want to open up the Bible and have it speak to us, and unfortunately we may be reading it wrong and out of context, and out of historical settings just because we’re treating it like a magic book. 

Thirdly, the Bible has, in my opinion, some very self-directed interpretive clues on how to read it. The Bible says certain things to you and me that tell us how to read it. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “I delivered to you as of first importance…” – when I hear first importance, I go, “That’s importance. First importance.” That sounds like that’s pretty important, right? So, I’m delivering to you as of first importance. Not third. Not eighth. First Importance. Get this. Focus in. Pay attention. The way I would say it is Paul is saying, “Lean in.” Okay? – “…Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” That means the Bible, because he’s talking about the Old Testament here in 1 Corinthians 15. He’s telling you that the Old Testament tells you that Christ is going to die for your sins. 

When you read the Old Testament do you find Christ dying for your sins? If you don’t, you might not be employing a good biblical hermeneutic. I fight all the time with some of my other professor friends who have a historical, grammatical hermeneutic. There’s nothing wrong with that. I appreciate that. But the Bible has some interpretive clues. Paul says, “First importance. Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” In other words, “Something in the Scriptures said He was going to die for our sins.” 

He also says that He was buried and raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. That’s incredible. “Third day” stuff in Scripture. And it’s interesting, if you go back into the concordance and look up “third day” you’ll find there’s a lot of “third day” references in the Old Testament. And when you start reading those “third day” references in the Old Testament, you’ll find God does crazy things on the third day. Like, He starts delivering people and doing stuff, and you start going, “Whoa, there might be a pattern here. There might be something going on.” Third day of creation. What happens? Life happens for the first time. 

So, is that just coincidence? Is it coincidence that when Abraham takes his son up on the mountain that’s going eventually be where the temple’s at. Is it just happenstance that it says that on the third day Abraham took his one and only son? It’s what it says. Did that just happen? Third day. One and only son. What’s he say then? It says he laid the wood on him as he carried the wood up the hill. Anybody else carry wood up a hill for you and me? He says, “Daddy, where’s the lamb?” He says, “Don’t worry. God will provide it.” And as his son is bound, and as he gets ready to take his sons life, his one and only son, all of a sudden in a thicket bush, you’d be expecting if you’re reading the story right, there should be a lamb. But there’s not. There’s a ram. 

Is it telling us that there’s a lamb yet to come? Is it bespeaking of something more?  Paul says, “First importance.” The Bible says Jesus is going to die for your sins and is going to raise on the third day, and that’s in the Old Testament. When Paul went into the synagogues what did he preach to them? He preached Jesus to them. If you can’t find Jesus in the Old Testament, your hermeneutics wrong. 

And you go, “Well He’s in Isaiah 53. I know He’s there. That’s where He’s at.” He’s all through the passages. I mean, Warren gave you a great example of the puncturing of Adam and the taking out of Adam’s side. All of these things form stuff in the Bible that really teach us. Daniel, when he’s lowered in to the lion’s den, there is a rock that is put over the tomb, and the king seals it with his sign. Anybody else go into a tomb, and have a rock rolled over, and sealing on the rock? You know when Daniel was lifted up, right? On the third day. Wow. Come on, man. Rock’s rolled away. Third day. That’s crazy stuff, right? Maybe it’s not crazy stuff. Maybe there’s a lot of stuff going on. 

Jonathan tells David on third day, “I’m going to shoot arrows, and if I shoot the far or shoot them short you’ll know the cue. On the third day you’ll be delivered.” On the third they find the waters of Marah, and God turns it into sweet waters. On the third day. And how does He do it? With a tree. Any other tree turn your waters that were bitter into sweet? Maybe there’s more going on here. Maybe we need to spend time looking at this. 

Jesus Himself says in John 5:39, “You searched the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life. And it is they that bear witness of me.”

 The Pharisees are reading the Old Testament and Jesus says, “What you’re reading there speaks of me.” If we’re not reading the Bible understanding that the Bible has themes and threads that run through. If we’re not reading the Bible understanding the overall genre of what Scripture is. If we’re not understanding that the Bible employs certain ways of communication to people at a specific time. If we’re not understanding some of the interpretive clues that the Bible is giving us about what the Bible is really about. 

A lot of people us the Bible to beat people over the head with doctrine. You ever met some of those people? The Bible’s not for that. The Bible is to show us about someone who came to redeem you and me, and to forgive us of our sins, and to bring us in to be His Church, and to be His Bride. And I would submit that we might be reading the Bible wrong, not because we’re bad people or because we’re trying to read it wrong, but we might just not be reading it right. And I hope that, as we’ve talked about here, you can see that. 

Warren wants to close out with something here. It’s a picture of the Last Supper, and I love when Warren talks about this. I think this’ll minister to your heart. Pay attention here to the screen and let Warren talk about this a little bit. 

Dr. Warren Gage:   

         What we’re trying to say is that there’s a focus. Jesus gives us the focus. He says it all speaks about Him. Isn’t that right? That was John 5:39. He says Moses and all the prophets, later the Psalms, they’re all speaking about Him. The suffering and glory of Christ. So, there’s a central focus. 

This is a very famous picture, I’m sure all of you have seen it many times, by Leonardo da Vinci. It’s the way he imagined the Last Supper. I was staring at this many many years ago, looking at this picture, and noticed something about it. And that is, if you look at the line from the tapestries they describe a trajectory. Do you see how that works? The line goes to Jesus. Do you see the beams in the ceiling? You see how they all trace to a center. The floor, the way that this is all set up, all the lines in this picture focus on the center. That’s Jesus. 

It’s just beautiful. It’s his way of saying. Even the posture of the disciples. The dramatic moment here da Vinci is capturing is when Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” They’re all shocked, and they’re falling back, and they’re startled. “Is it me, Lord.” You can see, who is He talking about? “Is it me, Lord?” They’re all startled at that announcement, but every eye, even, is looking to the center. So, it’s the artist’s way of bringing everything. It’s a composition. There is one organizing mind, that’s da Vinci, that conceived of this scene and what it would have looked like. And he has so composed it that everything brings your eye to the very center, which is Jesus. 

And I think that that’s the largest argument, I think, we can make for inspiration. The Bible is just like that. Every piece of it, every story, is telling you the Gospel. Everything, you see Christ, His fingerprints all over. Not just the Bible, you see it all over creation once you understand how the Bible interprets creation. So, it all comes together in Him. And that’s your joy. He is your eternal companion. He is your eternal bridegroom. It’s His love that saved us. His love created us and His love saved us. We’re doubly bound to Him. And that’s the joy that’s set before you. That gives you hope in your own time of suffering. 

Dr. Chip Bennett: 

         So, hopefully, you know, this evening, and I want to, before we close us here, say a couple of things. Warren has been working on a story of the Bible, and honestly, if we were being candidly honest, we’ve probably gave you about two pages out of a 90-page work that’s ongoing. If there would be some interest in a Saturday session, we’d be willing to do that. We would need to take more time. I hope you can understand in an hour and fifteen minutes, and hour and a half, it is just very very difficult to be able.

For us to start trying to pull passages out and run through passages with you would be tough. I mean, a hermeneutics class usually goes at a minimum of eight weeks and there’s at least five to six hours of lecture each week that goes along with that. So, it’s a lot more in depth. If you have some interest in that we would like to know. And you can let us know that at the end here, because we’re going to hang out for a while. 

But I hope that you walk out of here going, “You know what? I can open up my Bible and, even if I’m struggling through some of it I can start to see some themes and some threads that I’ll find if I just keep reading. I’ll also be able to look at each book and realize that if I’m reading that seems negative at that particular moment, it’s probably going to give way to something positive, because that’s the way that God works. And I would instruct you, as you read your Bible, to adopt that lifestyle in your life. 

What a testimony we would have if we lived a life of the Gospel. If people would see in you and me a major difference in our lives, in the way we lived, the way we acted, the way we talked about other people, and all of those good things. And what I want to do here is I want to just read you something that Peter wrote to his church in closing. 

He says, “Put in your hearts. Well, do not fear what they fear. Do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. And always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” 

He says people are going to be fearing things, and you should not be fearing the same things they’re fearing. And when they see you and they see the hope that’s in you, you need to be able to explain to them why you have the hope that you have. And if there’s anything we can learn from reading the Bible is that at the end of the book, no matter how bad it was, at the end of the book God’s people win. And no matter all of the stuff in between here. And no matter all of the stuff that may be difficult to understand. there’s still plenty of stuff I don’t understand at all when I read the Scriptures. I mean, I read the book of Ezekiel and I have no idea what’s going on. I just want to stand on my head. I have no idea sometimes 

So, embracing that is okay. It’s not who knows everything so perfectly. It’s understanding the trajectory. So, I hope that we said something. I know that was our prayer, that we would say something that would benefit you tonight as you pursue your reading of the Bible. Warren and I are going to stay after. We will answer any questions that you may have at all. We’re going to stay up here as long as you want. So, please feel free to come up. We’ll talk to you. We’ll be as personal as we need to be with you. 

And then the last thing I’d like to do is, very quickly, if tonight meant anything at all, if you got anything out of this, please understand, we’re going to take up an offering. And the way the offering is going to work is, what we take up we’re going to give to Warren for coming up from Fort Lauderdale to bless him. To bless his ministry. If you enjoy Warren and you want to bless him, you can go to the Alexandrian forum online. You could give to that group.

Warren is doing a lot of great things in Fort Lauderdale and other places, teaching this stuff. And I think it’s a worthy cause, because I know Warren’s heart and I know who he is. He’s a very very good man. So, if you’ve enjoyed tonight, this is not going to Grace Community Church. This is going to Warren. We will give the offering to Warren. If you would give to that I would really appreciate it, because we want him to be blessed for coming up. 

And then, as soon as we take up the offering, if the ushers want to go ahead and start. You can pass it now. I will say a prayer over it. We will dismiss everybody. You’re welcome to take off at that point, and then we’re going to stay up here and we’ll field as many questions as you possibly want. Just come us. Talk to us, and we’ll stay here at least until nine o’clock or something. I don’t know. I’ll stay later. Warren may need to get home. 

So, let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father,

I pray that You’d take this offering and bless it, Lord, and increase it. Multiply it. Lord, I pray that as we take of this offering and give it to Warren and his ministry, I just play that he will be so richly blessed. Lord, he’s a good man. He loves You with all of his heart. It’s so evident that he appreciates your word. And I just pray, God, that as a church we could bless him as he goes back to Fort Lauderdale. Lord, I pray that as we also leave here tonight that You would take everybody safely. And I pray that You’d bring us all back. If we go to Grace for church services this weekend, if we go to other churches, God, I pray that You would bless them as well. God, bless all the churches in this area. Lord, we love You and thank You for it in Jesus name, and everybody said, “Amen.”