Scripture

The third thing I am going to preach about is scripture, the bible in other words. Why should we read the bible? Why should Christians, followers of Jesus, study the bible? One good reason is that the bible tells us the truth about Jesus.

Is the bible we have rather unreliable history? Has it been transmitted through too many stages of copying, editing and translation? As ancient history books go, there is a huge number of new testament manuscripts from very near the original times of writing. We have thousands of manuscripts of the new testament dating from as little as three hundred years after the originals; we have manuscripts of parts of the new testament less than a century later than the originals. So, compared to other ancient history books, we can be very sure what the new testament writers actually wrote.

Is the bible just myths and parables? Did the writers ever intend people to read it literally? We do need to be careful to understand what sort of writing a part of the bible is when we read it: it is no good reading a poem as a history book, or a story as a list of instructions. But the gospels were written  so that people can know the truth about Jesus (Luke 1:3,4; John 21:24).

Are the gospels just lies? Did the gospel writers make up their stories about Jesus? Or did they copy down stories exaggerated after the event? No-one can explain a rational motive for Jews to tell lies about their God that got them persecuted and, often, killed. Were the stories exaggerated between Jesus’ ministry and the gospels being written, like a game of ‘Telephone’? No: that is exactly why eyewitnesses are mentioned in the gospels (Luke 1:2; John 21:24). In a culture like first century Judea, people use oral traditions and rely on their memories a lot more than we do: the people who followed Jesus before the new testament was finished had better-trained memories than people in our culture and checked everything with eyewitnesses.

The new testament gives us the best information we have about Jesus (and it is good information) and one of the things the new testament tells us about Jesus is that the Jewish scripture — the old testament — also tells us the truth about him (2 Timothy 3:16). If we can trust the gospels then we must take seriously their account of how Jesus understands the old testament (Matthew 15:3-6; Mark 7:9-13; Luke 24:27,44): he teaches that it is fulfilled in him: it is about him. If we want to follow Jesus, we need to study the new testament, which was written so that we may believe in him, and the old testament, which he says is a book looking forward to and fulfilled in him.

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