At times in life we tend to go our own way instead of walking with God. In fact, sometimes we don’t just walk away from Him, we actually run! But if we truly belong to Him, He will not let us run forever. Often He will have to break us, wound us, in order to keep us from going astray and forgetting our dependence upon Him. These wounds might be painful, but they are really the marks of grace. They are proof that He knows us and loves us enough to keep us close to His side.
How the Bible Defies the Odds
Take 40 people to the library and tell them to choose any books they want. Some people must choose more than one so that there are 66 books in all. What are the odds that all 66 books would be in agreement and form one continuous story? It is statistically impossible! The 66 books of the Bible were written by 40 authors from diverse backgrounds, living over a period of about 1,500 years, and yet when all 66 books are brought together, they form one complete, unified story from beginning to end. This is just more evidence confirming the Divine authorship of this amazing Book.
Last Sunday, we started our brand new series for the year, where we are teaching through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. We’re calling the series Unravel. I shared with you then, the reason we chose that title is for a very specific reason. The word “unravel” means to untangle something that is tangled or knotted. It means to clarify something, to unravel a mystery. That’s what the Bible is for a whole lot of people. It’s a mystery. Or it just looks like a tangled blob of all these different stories that somehow intersect and intertwine. But you’ve never had anybody help you untangle that and straighten it all out and make sense of it. That’s our desire this year, as we go through the entire Bible, looking at all the key events, the key people. I think by the time we’re through with this, you will understand why we called this series what we did. I think it’s going to have a powerful impact on every one of us. I’m praying it will with me, first of all and foremost.
I told you everybody was expecting we were going to start in Genesis 1:1 last Sunday, and I told you we’re actually not going to get to that until next week. The reason for that is I wanted to take the first two Sundays before we jump into Genesis 1:1 and start talking about creation and all that. I wanted us to take a couple of weeks and just pause and consider this Book that we’re going to study, that we’re going to spend a long time in and ask ourselves the question, first of all, are we convinced that this Book truly is the Word of God? Because if we’re not, we’ve got to start there.
This series will have no impact on you other than to fill your head with some facts and details and figures and stats if you do not believe that this Book truly is the Word of God and that it has the power to transform your life.
We began looking at some of the evidence last week for the Bible. We looked through a number of things, and we’re going to continue that today. Then next Sunday, we will actually start in Genesis 1:1. If you come next Sunday, you’re going to hear some things that maybe you’ve never ever heard from the first portion of Genesis before.
Last Sunday, we started examining the Bible and really calling it into question, holding it up to the X-ray machine and saying, let’s really stop and ask ourselves, are we just doing church? Did we just grow up this way? Are we just kind of in the motion of this? Have we ever actually stopped for ourselves and settled this matter of whether or not I truly believe the Bible is the Word of God? Because here’s the thing—a lot of people don’t. You can’t look at all these people and say, “Well, they’re just ignorant dummies, they don’t know.” That’s not the case. There’s some very brilliant people who don’t believe the Bible.
Here are some quotes from some people of what they think about the Bible. This is one from way back, the official dictionary used by the Soviet Union before it’s collapse of communism. Here’s what it said: “The Bible is a collection of fantastic legends without scientific support. It is full of dark hints, historical mistakes, and contradictions. It serves as a factor for gaining power and subjugating unknown nations.”
Here’s what Alister Crowley said. Does that name ring a bell for anybody? He’s an occultist. He said, “One would go mad if one took the Bible seriously. But to take it seriously, one must already be mad.”
Here’s what Dan Brown said, author of The Da Vinci Code. He said, “You can point to the alleged miracles of the Bible or any other religious texts, but they are nothing but old stories, fabricated by man and then exaggerated over time.” I don’t think I want to support any of his movies or buy his books. Do you?
But not everybody feels that way. Here are some quotes from some other pretty well-known people. We’ll start way back. President George Washington said, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” Patrick Henry: “The Bible is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed. Immanuel Kant said, “The existence of the Bible is the greatest benefit which the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.”
There’s one more, and I want to include this one for us as a church. I want us always to remind ourselves, as a church, of the importance of keeping the Bible front and center in everything we do here, because it’s not happening in every church anymore. Here’s what Alistair Begg said, many of you know him. He said, “A good church is a Bible-centered church. Nothing is as important as this. Not a large congregation, not a witty pastor, or a tangible experience of the Holy Spirit.”
Here is a little taste of what the Bible says about itself. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God.” Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” 2 Peter 1:20 says, “Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation for no prophecy ever came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by”—or carried along by—”the Holy Spirit.”
Last week, we looked at some of the claims of the Bible and some of the evidence that continues to surface historically, scientifically, and so on, to prove the Bible. We read these two batches of quotes from people who clearly do not believe the Bible is true or accurate or certainly not God’s Word, and we read from people who do believe it. Who’s right and who’s wrong? We think, well, our team is better. Of course, we’re right. How do you know that? I ask you from time to time, “How do you know I’m not lying to you up here?” You’d better know.
The New Testament tells us about a group of people called the Bereans. It sort of puts them above everybody else, because it says after they heard Paul teach, they went home and searched the Scriptures to make sure that what the apostle Paul was telling them was true. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, and some flashy guy comes in here, some big name comes in, and you just automatically go, “Oh, well, whatever he’s telling us is true.” No, don’t just be fed stuff. You’ve got to know. You’ve got to get into this Book for yourself. You’ve got to build a defense for yourself. You’ve got to have an understanding for yourself. This is a scary thing, parents. But for us, our children have to decide for themselves. They better because you can only ride on mom and dad’s beliefs for so long, and then you run out of gas.
I’ll repeat what I said last week: If this Bible isn’t true, let’s shut this place down and go live for ourselves and do whatever we want to do, because we are wasting our time. But here’s the thing, here’s the real kicker: If the Bible is true, as I told you last Sunday, there are enormous consequences and implications for you and me. Enormous.
Last week, we looked at the indestructibility of the Bible, we looked at some scientific evidence, we looked at historical and archeological evidence. We looked at how Jesus Himself believed in the Scriptures and how He said that the Scriptures were truth, that they were the Word of God. Then we looked at how the Bible has changed our lives. I can testify to that, personally.
Today, I want to look at three things. First of all, the unity of the Bible. The unity of the Bible, you could say, the consistency, whatever you want to call that there.
I have an experiment for you to try if you want. At some point, call up 40 of your closest friends, and have them meet you at the library and say, “All right, spread out anywhere you want to in the library. Each of you go and pick any book you want to pick from anywhere in the library, pick any book.” But here’s the thing, one friend has to pick five books, one has to pick seven, two have to pick three books, four friends have to pick two books, and one guy has to pick 13 books. Then all the other people just pick one book each, and they bring all those books back, and that’ll total 66 books. You get a big table and you lay all those 66 books out in any order you want. Then you begin reading with the first book, and you read that first book, or maybe just skim it and get an idea, and then you open the second book and you start reading that and the third, and you do that for all 66 books. What do you think the odds would be that all 66 of those books would link together in order to form one continuous story? Any takers on that one? The odds are zero. There’s no chance. That’s what you call a statistical, not improbability, but a statistical impossibility. I think you could do that once an hour for the rest of your life and it would never happen. That all of those books when brought together would be in agreement, they would fit together and form one story from beginning to end, the odds of that are insane.
Well, let’s up the game a little bit. We were talking about 40 people in one city, all living at the same time, in the same culture, who all kind of knew each other. What if there were 40 people who lived over a period of more than 1,500 years, on three different continents, in different cultures, speaking different languages, having different occupations, different personalities, different viewpoints, and you asked each one of them to write a book or a letter, some would write multiple, as many as 13, and then you bring all those books together after 1,500 years. What are the odds that all of those books would fit together and be in agreement and tell one story from beginning to end? Impossible. Yet, when we talk about the Bible, that is exactly how the Bible came to be.
The Bible is a collection of 66 separate books and letters by 40 different authors who lived over a span of more than 1,500 years. They spoke different languages, they had different personalities, they grew up in different cultures, they had different views on life. They wrote from a diversity of settings, some wrote in peacetime, some wrote in wartime, some wrote in prosperity, some in famine, some in freedom, some in enslavement, some in joy, some in deep sorrow.
That’s not even the end of the diversity. It goes another layer deeper than that. These authors, as I mentioned a second ago, had very little in common across those 1,500 years. They were from all walks of life. There were government officials, shepherds, fishermen, kings, servants to the king, a prime minister, military generals, priests, prophets, musicians, a doctor, a tax collector, a rabbi who was a tent maker on the side.
That’s not even the end of the diversity and complexity. There’s another layer because the Bible was written in multiple literary styles. You have history, you have science, you have law (civil law, criminal law, ethical law, ritual law), you have lyric poetry, you have parables, you have allegories, you have biographies. You have personal correspondence. You have personal memoirs and diaries, in addition to all the prophetic and apocalyptic writing in the Bible, but it doesn’t stop there.
There’s another layer of diversity and complexity that just increases the odds of this all coming together. The Bible addresses dozens of controversial topics: marriage, conduct, friendship, morality, dress, worship, government, employee-employer relationships, money, taxes, the existence of God, how the world came into being, life after death, and on and on it goes. When you bring all of that together, the wonder of it all is that all of those 66 books, all of those 1,189 chapters, all of those more than 31,000 verses, nearly 800,000 words, all come together somehow to form one story: the story of God’s redemption for mankind. The continuity and consistency of the Bible is nothing short of astounding. I’m telling you, it cannot be explained in human terms. It can’t be.
I love the study of statistics and probability, always have. Some of you know my parents. I was raised getting a Ph.D. in theology from the time I was spitting up baby food. Every morning at the breakfast table, every night at the dinner table, we heard the Word of God.
My dad is no shallow thinker. He spent 14 years writing one book. And it’s just on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, nevermind the whole Bible. I got some deep, deep stuff, but I reached a point in my life where I had to stop and say, now wait a minute. I love my mom and dad, I don’t think they’d lie to me, but what if they’ve been lied to and they don’t know? No disrespect. I just had to find out for myself.
As I said, I love statistics and probability, so I tend to view things through that lens. I’m here to tell you, I went on a journey for a couple of years where I explored everything out there. I don’t mean I got involved in it. I read about it, I asked questions about it, I dug into it, and I did the same thing with the Bible.
I’m telling you, the odds of what I just described to you about the Bible coming together in that way by chance, the odds are zero. It brought me to my knees. I couldn’t walk away from that. I couldn’t dismiss that. Even if you do, it’s going to haunt you. It’s going to be that little itch that you can’t scratch. After looking at all the evidence, the only intelligent thing I have to say to someone who has seen all the evidence and still doesn’t believe is, “Oh, come on. Come on!” That’s it. That’s all I got.
All of those people, all of their writings, over all of that time, coming together in agreement. You can’t get four people to agree on one thing, nevermind 40 people to agree on all that the Bible does. Just watch the evening news sometime. You know when they have the split screen, and they have three or four people up there discussing one topic? Just look at your watch. It won’t be 10 seconds before the mayhem and the diversity and the anger and the division ensues.
F.F. Bruce said this, listen to this, this is powerful: “Take just ten authors from one walk of life, in one generation, from one place, at one time, on one continent, in one mood, in one language to write about one controversial subject.” And he asked, “What would be the result of that? Harmony or diversity of opinion?” We know what the answer is. I can barely be in a room with myself without a difference of opinion. You take any two people and give them any controversial topic, even if they’re the best of friends, they’re going to have some different viewpoints on some pretty important things from time to time. Even people working together who like each other, who are working for the same objective, they still have a hard time always being in agreement and keeping all the facts straight.
This has never happened to me, but at some points in this church, people mess things up. They go, “No, you said it was the 8th. No, it’s not the 8th. It’s the 13th.” We plan events, and we can’t even keep that straight sometimes. Simple things.
The odds of human beings pulling this off? No, you’ve got to be kidding me. So how is it possible for 40 different authors living over a period of 1,500 years to write the Bible under such diverse circumstances, and do it with complete harmony and unity? Here’s the answer: It’s because there weren’t actually 40 authors of the Bible. There were 40 writers. There was one Author. His Word is always true. He never contradicts Himself. That’s why there’s continuity from beginning to end. It’s because there’s only one Author. He wrote it all.
As you read through the Bible, you start to see these themes running all the way through. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this series. I wanted to do this for such a long time because a series like this is really important. It’s going to help us see the Bible as it really is. Things are going to surface from the pages that you’ve never noticed before.
When some of these things click with you, let me tell you, they’re going to click with a loud click, and you’re going to get it and you’re going to go, “Oh, wow! I can’t believe I never saw that before.” It is going to increase your love for the Word of God, and it’s going to increase your faith in Him and in His Word. We could all use a little of that.
The Bible is totally unique. I know my English teacher is rolling over in her grave, because she told me unique is one of those words that doesn’t need a modifier. Sorry, the Bible is totally unique. I also end sentences with participles. I do that a lot just because I want to. Man, I’m not in school anymore. Don’t bug me with that kind of stuff. English is my second language. I’m doing okay with it, I think.
The Bible is unique. It’s unique because of all the other books it is characterized by an uncommon unity that utterly defies the ability of man. Despite all that diversity we looked at, it comes together, it snaps together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It’s almost like it was made to do that.
It brings one theme from beginning to end. You can’t even get past Genesis 3 without seeing this theme come off the page. That theme is man’s sin and God’s plan for redemption through Jesus Christ. That’s the theme of the whole Bible.
Not only the unity of the Bible, but secondly, the manuscript evidence of the Bible. I don’t have time to explore all this. I encourage you to go and dig into this for yourself. I’ll just quickly say this, the Bible stands alone as the most well-documented, best-presented literary work of all time. When compared to any other ancient writings, doesn’t matter who it is, the Bible stands head and shoulders above all of them.
Just in one area, for example, the number of manuscripts that are available to us. This is one weight that people use to measure the validity of an ancient work. Homer’s Iliad, the number of manuscripts they currently have, and they keep finding these just like they do with the Bible documents. Some Christians are reporting that there are only 637 manuscripts available of the Iliad, but that’s incorrect. There are actually 1,757 currently. Herodotus, his work called Histories, there are 109 copies. Plato’s work, Tetralogies, there are 210 copies. Caesar’s Gallic Wars, there are 251 copies. Sophocles’ tragedies, 193 copies. Tacitus, you can go on down the line, 31 copies, 160 copies. But when you come to the Bible, there are more than 24,000 manuscript copies of just the New Testament.
I want to wrap this up; my time is running out. The manuscript stuff is pretty breathtaking when you get into it. Let me just close with this. Number three, not only the unity of the Bible, not only the manuscript evidence, but the martyrdom of the authors. I didn’t really know what last point to use here. I had a bunch in my plans. But I think this is the one I want to finish on: the martyrdom of the authors.
Would you die for something you knew was a lie? I sure wouldn’t. Many of the Bible writers were put to death in horrific, barbaric ways in defense of their written testimony of the Word of God. In fact, all but one of the New Testament writers were executed. John was spared, but he was sent to live in exile by the Roman Emperor Titus. There have been people down through history who certainly have died for their beliefs, but that’s because they just believed that what they believed was the truth. It actually wasn’t the truth. They were convinced that it was the truth, but it actually wasn’t the truth. Many people have been fooled into believing something that wasn’t true.
What makes the New Testament authors’ martyrdom different from all of those others is that these men were in a position to know the truth about the very documents they had written. They knew in their heart whether what they had written down, what they had witnessed, actually had happened or not. All they had to do when it came time for their execution was to say, “Hey, listen, man, we were just goofing, okay? It was just a big prank. We just got together and we were pulling a hoax on everybody. None of this stuff we wrote is true, so let me go home, okay? It was just a big joke. Let’s forget about the whole thing.” They could have walked free, but not one of them did. Not one of them. Not even one of them lied to avoid death, knowing that it was the truth that he had written about, but choosing to lie or renounce his faith in Christ so that he could live, not one. No one knowingly dies for a lie. No one.
These men had nothing to gain by lying, except death. These biblical authors willingly said go ahead, man. Go ahead and kill me. I will never back down from what I have seen and what I’ve written about. I will never back down. Go ahead, do what you gotta do.
The reason they were able to do that is because they were eyewitnesses to the very events they recorded. They said I know this is the truth. I’m not only willing to live for it, I’m willing to die for it. We’ve got it reversed in our easy Christian culture today. We say, “Oh, I’m willing to die for it.” But we don’t even live for it. You need that again?
Back then they didn’t even think twice about living for Christ. If you became a Christian back then, you were putting your life on the line. Anyone who signed up, so to speak, they lived for Christ and they were willing to die for Him, but today we’ve got it so easy that we sort of hedge our bets on this statement because we know it’s probably never going to happen. But it will make me sound good if I say it. I go, “Yeah, I’m willing to die for Jesus.” But we’re not even living for him. It’s insanity.
It doesn’t stop with the Bible writers. You study history, I would encourage you to become a student of history. I didn’t like history in school. I didn’t like much of anything in school. Students, stay in school. When you study the history of the church, listen to me, the history of the church is written in blood. Men and women, by the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands over the course of time, have willingly marched to their death for this Bible that we teach.
You sit here listening to all this today and think well, there’s some great statistics. I’m glad I know how many of Plato’s manuscripts are in existence. What’s for lunch? Great Phil, how does all of that historical stuff apply to my life right now, right here today? Man, I’ve got bills to pay that I can’t pay, I’ve got problems I’ve got to solve, I’ve got family issues. That’s all wonderful for 10:30 on a Sunday morning, but I’ve got life to live. How does this apply to me?
Here’s what you need to know about that. The Bible is true, and because of that, the Bible has everything to do with your life. The Bible is accurate about everything it says, and it is accurate about what it says about you and me. What it says about you and me is that we are sinners and that we are lost for all eternity, without hope, because we have offended a holy God. But just as quickly as it drops that bad news on us, the Bible also says that God made a way of redemption. He made a way for you to escape the wrath that is coming and to be saved. This book has everything to do with you.
The Bible says some hard things, and do you want to know why so many people hate the Bible? It’s because it pricks their conscience, and it disturbs them. It keeps them awake at night, and it bothers the fire out of them. They do everything they can to smother it, to quiet out the noise, the calling, “Come to Me, come to Me, I love you, I gave my life for you.” No, no, I don’t want to listen to that!
In some extraordinary way that is beyond my comprehension, God says in the book of Romans that He has made His truth plain to everyone whether they’ve ever stepped foot in a church building or not. I don’t exactly know how that works, but I trust Him. Everyone has an opportunity to accept or reject, including you.
The Bible says that one day, a day of reckoning will come. The Day of Judgment is going to come. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that “it is appointed unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment.” Who, in their right mind, would willingly hear that truth and just say, “Not for me.” Who, in their right mind, would knowingly walk towards a day of judgment before a holy God and say, “I’ll figure it out.” There’s not going to be any figuring out done on that day. It’s already figured out. I may say this 1,000 times during this series, but it is absolutely imperative that we are certain about God’s Word. Are you?
We will never get anything else in life settled until we settle this issue because nothing else is really going to connect and make sense. You’re just going to be chasing after stuff. “Ooh, isn’t this great.” Then a week later: “I gotta chase something else.” None of it makes sense unless we surrender ourselves, submit ourselves to the message of this Book.
I close by asking you: what have you done with the Bible? I don’t mean the physical Bible. I mean the message that the Bible contains, the message it proclaims. It doesn’t just contain it, it screams it. It shouts it. You can’t miss it.
I’m not asking if you own a Bible. I’m not even asking if you’ve read parts of the Bible. I’m asking what have you done with the message of the Bible? Are you riding on mom and dad’s faith? It’s okay for a while, but young people, listen, at some point, you’ve got to stand up and make a choice. You’ve got to stand up and be counted in one group or the other. Not just you young people, you wise people. For all of us older folks too, listen, the clock is ticking for all of us.
Every year in my life that goes by I hear it ticking louder and louder. You go, “Yeah, Phil, you’re a pastor so you think about these things.” There is no difference in the Body of Christ between me and you. I just have a different role than you. That’s it. We’re all the same. I hear the clock ticking louder and louder. Time’s running out, Phil, who are you living for? What are you living for? Is this Book guiding my life? Is it dictating my decisions, my thoughts, my actions, my desires, my goals, my dreams, my destiny? Or am I?
Next week, we begin actually going through the Bible. Before we do, I want to implore you one more time. If you have never come before the gospel that this Bible proclaims and knelt before it literally or figuratively, if you’ve never done that, all I know to do is to plead with you and say today is a pretty great day for that to change. Tomorrow? I don’t know. I can’t guarantee you we’ll be here next week, but you’ve got right now.
The God of this Bible is reaching out to you right now, in this moment, by His grace and His mercy. He’s saying to you, I know what you’ve done. I know who you are, but guess what? I love you, and My Son paid for all of your sin. Please just come and accept this gift. I don’t want to lose you. You’re a treasure to Me.
Would you come today? If you’ve never done that, before we start this series next week for real, can we all take a moment today and bow ourselves afresh before God and His Word and say, “God, I surrender again before You my silly stubborn self. Humble me, Father. Move in my life in this teaching series this year, that I will grow in my love for You, that I will grow in my faith for You, like I never have before, all for Your glory.