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Friday, April 17, 2009

The Mysterious Book

Want to start an argument? Go into a so-called intellectual space and began a discussion with the words "the Bible says". Or better yet go to your ethics or philosophy class and when they are examining current events such as abortion, gay marriage, cohabitation, or evolution try to base your answers on scripture. Watch as people either cut you into piece or laugh you to scorn. But why? Why are there all these different opinions about the Bible with some believing it is the Word of the Living God, some reducing it to just a good moral book, and some criticising every aspect of it? The following interview attempts to answer the hard questions about this mysterious book.

SHAWN: Hey listen, the big question today is this: Is the Bible really God's Word? I mean, does the Bible actually make that claim for itself?

MARK: It does in fact if you look at Isaiah, chapter 40 and verse eight. It says, Isaiah 40, verse eight: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever."
In other words, the Word of God is eternal. In 3,000 different places the Bible says it is inspired. It either says, "The Lord said" or "God said." So to deny the inspiration of the Bible is to deny 3,000 different places.

SHAWN: You said, 3,000, not three or 30, but 3,000 places.

MARK: Exactly. There are passages like this found in Second Timothy, chapter three and verse 16, one of the classic texts of Scripture. In Second Timothy three and verse 16, it says: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God."

SHAWN: All scripture?

MARK: So, the totality of scripture is God inspired. God revealed Himself in scripture either through visions in the night, or dreams in the night, or He directly impressed the minds of the Bible writers. The Bible was written over a 1,500-year period of time by 44 different authors and 66 books. And that's why Peter says, that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. So this is not a human book, but it claims itself to be a divine book.

SHAWN: Now, that's amazing. It says that scripture is inspired. Yet, often today, we say, well, Beethoven was inspired to write music and Einstein was inspired when he discovered this or that. What's the difference? I mean, we talk about inspiration all the time. What does the Bible actually mean when it says it is inspired?

MARK: There is a difference between human inspiration and divine inspiration. I can be inspired to write a good book. That's human inspiration. Divine inspiration is authoritative. In divine inspiration, God reveals Himself in a vision, or dream, or God directly impresses the mind. Now God doesn't dictate every word. The Bible writers write in the context of their own personality, their own background. But the product, the end result of what they have written, is indeed the living Word of God. If I write an inspiring book, it's still my word. But the Bible claims to be the Word of the living God. It has divine authority and that's the difference.

SHAWN: Now, you know, one thing I've noticed is that when I get into the Old Testament in particular, you hear the prophets, every one of them, saying: This is the Word of the Lord. They understood this inspiration to be the Word of God. Is that right?

MARK: Correct.

SHAWN: What about the New Testament? I mean, often in the New Testament, people would quote the Old Testament. They all knew that to be scripture. So I've heard a lot of people say, "All right, the Old Testament is Scripture." They all believed that. The New Testament is man's word.

MARK: Well, in the New Testament, you have face-to-face encounters with Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four Gospels are written by disciples who had face-to-face encounters with Jesus. The Apostle Paul, of course, was dramatically converted on Damascus road, and again had an encounter with Christ. So throughout the New Testament, you have first-hand, reliable histories, inspired by the Holy Spirit of encounters with Jesus. And that's why, in the text we quoted earlier, in Second Timothy, chapter three, verse 16, says all of scripture is inspired by God. There is a unity, there is a wholeness, there's an integrated wholeness of all of scripture.

SHAWN: Now, that must be why Peter talks at one point, doesn't he, about Paul's letter? He says they are hard to be understood. But then he calls them scripture. So they did understand the New Testament to be scripture as well as the old.

MARK: Certainly.

SHAWN: All right, well still, you know they claim that it was inspired and I know what a lot of people again are thinking today as they listen to us talk about this. You can claim anything you want, but surely, over the years, as we have become wiser in history and wiser through archeology, we have discovered that the archaeologist's spade disproves the words of the Bible.

MARK: Shawn, I really think that the opposite is true, that the spade of the archaeologist confirms the authenticity of the Bible. Let me give you a variety of examples.
Take the Moabite stone, for example. The Moabite stone was discovered in Jordan in 1868 and over the last 140 years, we have had a chance to confirm the authenticity of the Moabite stone. It records, in the rock, the Moabite attacks on Israel. Now you can read about those attacks in the Old Testament. But here you have the stone record. Or take for example, the Lachish letters. The Lachish letters were discovered in southern Israel, north of Beersheba, about 24 miles, from 1932 to 1938. The Lachish letters record Nebuchadnezzar's attack on Jerusalem in 586 B.C, and so you can read it in the Bible. You read it in the rock records.
I remember when I was living in England, I often went to the British Museum and looked at the archaeological discoveries there; and there are two of particular note. One is the Rosetta Stone.

SHAWN: Sure, we all probably learned about that in school.

MARK: It's about three and a half feet high, about a foot and a half long. It's black basalt stone. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, he took with him probably two to three thousand artisans and scholars. They went down and they were digging in a place called Rosetta. They came across this Rosetta Stone.
Now the Rosetta Stone was significant because it had three languages on it. The top was hieroglyphics, the center was a cursive Egyptian language, and the bottom was Greek. And so, as they saw this, they looked at the hieroglyphics and nobody could understand, of course, at that time, 1798, the picture language of the Egyptians. So these monuments were looking down on humanity. They were towering over all humanity and nobody could understand the meaning of them.
But the interesting thing is they began to look at the Rosetta Stone and they saw the hieroglyphics; and they noticed that in the hieroglyphics there was a little circle around some words. It was called a cartouche. And they guessed, they said that circle must encircle king's names. They began to compare it with the cursive Egyptian and the Greek, and they worked backward from the Greek.
And there was a brilliant French man by the name of Jean Paul Champion and he was able to figure out a translation of the hieroglyphics from the Rosetta Stone. Once that happened, those picture monuments began speaking to us. Now let me tell you one example of how they confirm the authenticity of the Bible.
There is a group of people called the Hittites, mentioned in the Bible 47 times. Now up until we unlocked the meaning of the hieroglyphics, the scholars said the Hittites never existed.

SHAWN: Yes, I have actually read some older books that say, "Those dim Christians believe in Hittites. There never was such a thing"

MARK: Exactly. And the Hittites are mentioned in the Bible as having major attacks on the Egyptians and being a major nation. The scholars said for years, they never existed, the Christians are ignorant to believe in them. But all the while, the hieroglyphics were speaking to us of battles between the Egyptians and the Hittites. And once we unlocked the hieroglyphics through the Rosetta Stone, today there is not a modern scholar in the world that disbelieves the Hittites. So the Bible rather than being disproved by archeology is indeed proved by archeology.
SHAWN: Didn't they actually find some Hittite ruins up in Turkey I think they actually discovered the civilization.

MARK: Numerous Hittite cities. (And I have great graphics of those and we use them in our lectures on archeology all the time.) The major cities had thousands of people living in them.
The other thing that, to me, is significant in the British Museum is the Cyrus Cylinder. The Cyrus Cylinder is a barrel cylinder. It's about this long and it's round and the ancients would often write on these cylinders. Now in the Bible in Isaiah, chapter 44, there is a remarkable prophecy, made 150 years before Cyrus was even born.

SHAWN: That was Isaiah 44?

MARK: Yes, Isaiah 44 and Israel was in captivity to the Babylonians. And the Bible predicted that a man by the name of Cyrus, Isaiah 44, verse 28. It says of Cyrus, "He is my shepherd, He shall perform all my pleasure even saying to Jerusalem, you will be built." Now, verse 27 says that Cyrus would dry up the rivers. Now this prophecy was made 150 years before Cyrus was born. It was made by Isaiah.

SHAWN: Humanly, that's impossible.

MARK: It is. You see, this prophecy was made 680-700 B.C., before Christ. And Cyrus, the Persian king, attacked the Babylonian empire in 539 B.C. So here is a prophecy made well in advance.
Cyrus, the Persian king came down, went to attack Babylon, and recognized that he couldn't do it. The Babylonians had a 20-year food supply in the city. The River Euphrates ran through the center of the city supplying it with a constant water supply. Two chariots could race side by side on the top of the walls of Babylon. You just couldn't attack it.
Cyrus, brilliantly, in a major architectural engineering feat, diverted the Euphrates River into large reservoirs. On the night of a drunken feast in Babylon, he marched his soldiers down through the riverbed and they came up inside the city, attacked and overthrew it.
Now here is the remarkable thing. The Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum, describes Cyrus' attack. It says that he dried-up the river. It says that he was the leader; and remarkably enough, he says that he let the captives of Israel go free to rebuild their temple. Exactly, like predicted in the Bible, confirmed in the rock records.

SHAWN: So the general pattern of non-Biblical historians has been to corroborate what the Bible actually says.

MARK: Exactly. That is true in the Dead Sea Scrolls. You look at the Dead Sea Scrolls in the shrine of the book in Israel, the Dead Sea scrolls of Isaiah. It's some 54 feet long and Sir Frederick Kenyon, one of the leading archeologists in the world, a Bible student, says that the Christian can take the Bible in his hand and know it's the Word of God as corroborated by the Dead Sea Scrolls.
You take the Ebla tablets.

SHAWN: Now, those are interesting.

MARK: They really are, because I think the importance of the Ebla tablets is that there are two or three significances in them. One is, it's one of the largest, extensive libraries in rock records that we have found, it's thousands and thousands of volumes. But the Ebla Tablets mention the creation story very similar to the Bible creation story. A flood story very similar to the flood story. The Ebla tablets talk about Abraham, they talk about Isaac, and they talk about, here's the bombshell, two sin cities, Sodom and Gomorrah.

SHAWN: You are kidding.

MARK: They do in the Ebla tablets. So it's quite amazing and in my mind archeology confirms the authenticity of the Bible. But it's only the Spirit of God speaking to your heart as you study the Word that proves to you its authenticity.

SHAWN: Now, I know that somebody who is watching today is going to say, "Well, all right, the history checks out, but still there are contradictions and mistakes in the Bible all over the place." Now often, when they say that, I've asked them, well, where are they? And they don't know. But I remember, as a boy, I was reading through the Gospels and I noticed that Matthew gave a genealogy of Jesus and Luke gave a genealogy of Jesus, but they were different. And I thought, my word, is that a mistake? Why do there seem to be contradictions in the Bible?

MARK: There are apparent contradictions. And notice I'm careful in the choice of my words, I say apparent contradictions. I had that same question, Shawn, and I went to my theology professor when I was a college student. His name was Mel Clemons.
And I said, "Pastor Clemons, why is it that there are contradictions in the Bible?"
He's a very wise man. And he hesitated a moment and he said, "Mark, do you know what I do with the contradictions in the Bible?"
And I said, "No."
He said, "I have a little jar in my mind. Every time I come across an apparent contradiction, I just put it on a little scroll, a mental scroll and I put it in the jar in my mind."
And he said, "Do you know what happens? I'm studying the Bible three or four weeks later and I take the cap off that jar and I take out that one and I cross it off and I say, well, now I understand. Because it's just an apparent contradiction."
Shawn, I would rather know all that I know and not know all that I don't know than know all I don't know and not know what I know.

SHAWN: You've got to say that one more time for me.

MARK: I would rather know all that I know about God and His Word and not know all the things I don't know, than cast out all my certainty of what I do know and base it on the uncertainty that I don't know. What I'm really saying is that there is adequate evidence to believe in the Bible. You may read the Bible and come across something you think is a contradiction in your mind. You mentioned the genealogy.

SHAWN: Those genealogies right, I was about 12, maybe 13 and it bothered me to no end.

MARK: On that point, there is a simple answer which, of course, you and I both know now and that is, one genealogy is penned from Mary's perspective or Mary's genealogy and one is penned from Joseph's genealogy.

SHAWN: Right and as I looked at that, there's a reason for it. One traces Jesus back to Abraham and one traces Him back to Adam. So it proves that He is not only the covenant child, but He is also part of the human race. He is the second Adam.

MARK: And as we mature in our faith and as we mature in life, we are able to say in all honesty, yes, there are some things I don't understand about the Bible. And I would be less than honest if I didn't tell you that, yes, there are some passages that I read that are apparent contradictions. But the longer I mature in Christ, the more confidence there is that this word is the Word of the living God. This Word is inspired by God. And I will put the things I don't know on the back shelf of my mind, because here is the principle: You never let what you don't know keep you from enjoying and experiencing what you do know.

SHAWN: Fantastic. You know, as I've thought about that, if this book is everything it claims to be, if God inspired it, that's an infinite story, an infinite mind inspiring infinite men to write. And so every time we come to it with our infinite minds, what are the odds we are going to get it all? That's not the only criticism that people have leveled at the Bible. I've heard people say, "Well, the Bible's just a good piece of propaganda. That book is so much in favor of Jews and Christians and it's just written to make them look good and so we can't trust a book like that. It's propaganda."

MARK: Well, did Moses look good when he slayed a man? Did David look good when he committed adultery with Bathsheba? Did the sons of Jacob look good when they lied, and they cheated? You know, the people that say that they don't read the Old Testament because those people often don't look very good, and Peter didn't look good when he denied his Lord.
You know, to me, Thomas didn't look good when he doubted. To me, the Bible is so honest. It's one of the greatest evidences of inspiration that it is fair-handed. Many books try to cover up the sins of their main characters. When you look, for example, we were talking about hieroglyphics and tomb paintings a little earlier in Egypt, when you look at those tomb paintings, do you ever see a fat Pharaoh?

SHAWN: No, you don't.

MARK: You never see a fat Pharaoh in those tomb paintings. Why not? Because the guy knew if he painted a Pharaoh with a potbelly, he'd be slain. He would be killed! So you have an Egyptian that's living right next to the Israelites. And you know, you always see these slim, muscular pharaohs. Every pharaoh is handsome. Why? Because you paint them in the best light.
The Bible, written at the same time, is very fair-handed. It shares the joys and the sorrows of its leading characters.

SHAWN: And it doesn't take God's people and say, "Look how wonderful they are."It actually does quite the opposite.

MARK: Well, you look at Israel, the history of Israel. It's the history of a nation that failed God often, but yet responded back as prophets led them to repentance, it responded back in obedience.

SHAWN: Now so, if it's propaganda, it's pretty bad propaganda.

MARK: It is.

SHAWN: It's not good propaganda at all. Well, you know, we've talked a little bit about the question: Can you trust the Bible? I think, ultimately, people don't begin to trust the Bible until they begin to prayerfully read it with an open mind and open heart. Here is the question: Why the Bible? I mean, why do we have it? For what purpose did God give it to us?

MARK: I remember a time in my college years when I was 21 years old. I was living and working in the jungles of Brazil. I was a student missionary there for a number of months; and I was up on the Amazon River longing for family, the first time I had ever traveled out of the United States and longing for home. I was dating a wonderful girl, who is now my wife. I could not wait to get back to port to Belem, Brazil, because I knew at least there I could get mail and I could get a love letter from my girlfriend.
And you know, the Bible is a love letter from our best friend. It's a love letter from God to us. God would love to communicate with us face to face. And He did that in the Garden of Eden, but because we are separated from God by sin, God impressed the minds of the prophets to write down the message of His love to reassure us through all time. And that's what the Bible is all about. The reason we need the Bible is because we are separated from face to face communication. So God reveals Himself.

SHAWN: Mark, thank you so much for joining me today and talking about this book that has changed so many lives.

MARK: I have seen all over the world, Shawn, the Bible transforming people's lives. The greatest evidence that the Bible is inspired is that it inspires me when I read it. And my friend, it will inspire you. As you read that book, it will be life-changing.

SHAWN: Thank you, Mark. You know, I have an obsession with books. I love the way they smell, the way they feel in my hand, and of course, I love to read them. But of all the books in my collection, there is one that stands out from the rest, and not just because it's a religious book. There really IS something different about the Bible.
When I open God's book, it seems as if I am suddenly ushered into the presence of God Himself. In those quiet moments when everyone else has gone to bed and I sit at my desk with an open Bible, it's as if Jesus is right there with me.
Now, no other book is quite like that. There is no doubt that some books have had a huge influence on the way I think, but nothing has so completely revolutionized my life like the Word of God.
You see, when you read the Bible, something begins to happen in your heart. It changes you. It molds you into the character of Christ. The Apostle Peter says that we are "born again" by the Word of God.
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Want to know more about this mysterious, yet accurate book? Keep reading this blog! I have some amazing things to share with you these next few weeks!

Interview from It is Written television show. You can find them on the web at www.itiswritten.com