Powerful, Irrefutable Evidence on the Accuracy and Reliability of Scripture
From Josh McDowell—Popular Author, Speaker, and Founder of Josh McDowell Ministry
"God said, ‘Let there be. . .’ ” And when God spoke, things happened. Recapture the awe, the mystery, the passion and power of scripture in God-Breathed—where you’ll personally experience a life transformed by the One who spoke everything into existence, including you.
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The Undeniable Power and Reliability of Scripture
By Josh McDowell
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Josh McDowell Ministry
All rights reserved.
What's in a Word?
Nineteen years old and quite a skeptic. That described me as I left college and traveled to Europe to do research in an attempt to disprove Christianity—specifically to show that the Bible was historically unreliable and that Jesus was by no means the Son of God.
Standing in the Glasgow University library in Scotland, I stared at an ancient New Testament manuscript. It was a fragment from John 16, and the ink and papery substance on which it was written were more than sixteen hundred years old. This rare, third-century, handwritten portion of the Gospel of John was housed under a protective glass case in the university library. It was a priceless artifact that quoted the words of Jesus.
As I stood there, a strange and unexpected feeling washed over me. Though I could not read or understand a single line of the Greek in which that manuscript was written, those words seemed to reach out to me in an almost mystical way. Even though I was an unbeliever at the time, I sensed an uncanny power about those words.
Today's Noisy Words
Words. The right ones used in the right way can be powerful. But in today's world, I'm afraid a lot of people use a lot of words to produce merely a lot of noise.
Everywhere you look, you see people using a barrage of words in bite-size chunks in hopes of communicating. Take texting, for example. Our generation is "connected" now more than ever by smartphones. According to a recent Experian Marketing Services digital marketer report, the average number of texts per month by eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds is 3,853. That is more than 128 texts a day.
People are using words at an unprecedented rate through Facebook as well. Within the first quarter of 2014, Facebook reported more than 1.15 billion active users per month. The market research company eMarketer estimates that 40 percent of all US children under the age of twelve are online monthly. Nearly half will be online by 2015.
It's clear in today's world of texts, Twitter, Facebook, and e-mails that we are transmitting words at record levels. But are all these words truly connecting us, or are many of them simply a lot of noise? The Creator of words had a purpose in mind when he gave us the ability to write words and speak them to others. Used properly, words can effectively connect us relationally. Words are important, and the God-breathed words of Scripture are the most important of all. But we must listen to how words are being used in order to understand their true meaning.
Listening for the Meaning of Words
We humans have the unique ability to make varied sounds and arrange them in specific combinations that we call words. And each of these words is designed to mean something in particular. The languages we speak are composed of words, which are the building blocks of thoughts, ideas, and expressed feelings. When we assemble words in sentences to represent our thoughts, ideas, and feelings, they become the basic elements of our human communication.
Using words enables us to accomplish much of what we do in life. Through words we can communicate how to get from one place to another, complete tasks, form friendships, express love to a spouse, raise a family, and express our views on countless subjects. Words can transmit creative thoughts and ingenious ideas, but their most meaningful purpose is when we use them to connect to one another relationally. Yet when we're not attentive to words, or we fail to listen carefully to what someone says, words can become mere sounds or marks on a page and lose their power to connect us.
I remember the tragic beginning of my honeymoon. Dottie and I had known each other for only six short months before we married. I figured my lovely wife and I had a lifetime to really get to know each other, so I was in no particular hurry to discover all there was to know about her. But that wasn't the case for my new bride. I soon discovered that she was anxious to share her entire life story with me on our honeymoon.
We were driving a long distance through Mexico to Acapulco when Dottie began to tell me about herself, her family, her childhood, her likes and dislikes, her views on politics, marriage, and child rearing. You name it, and Dottie was prepared to talk about it.
I remember that, at some point, my receptive facilities went into overload and all the words she was saying began to sound like mere noise. Meanwhile, I was also trying to interpret the confusing road signs and stopping occasionally to fumble with a stack of maps. After a while, Dottie's talking became intermittent, and eventually she became silent. During that whole time, I had said little except the occasional "Yeah," "Uh-huh," and "I see." But to be honest, I got practically nothing out of my new wife's marathon of words. In fact, I hardly even noticed when she stopped talking.
Dottie had used a lot of words, but they meant little to me and did nothing to bring us closer together. Of course, she hadn't felt the need to explain to me what should have been obvious—that her exercise in self-disclosure was simply so that her brand-new husband could better know his brand-new wife. But when it became clear that I was clueless to what she was trying to accomplish, Dottie didn't remain shut down for long. She blew up!
It wasn't the best start to a honeymoon, but after Dottie explained what she was trying to do, and I did a lot of apologizing, we figured it out together. From that point on, our words began to make sense to one another. I began to see the loving heart of my wife, who wanted me to know her for who she is, and she began to see a husband who, despite his initial lapse into insensitivity, wanted to make his new wife happy.
As Dottie and I look back at our honeymoon now, we laugh about it. But it taught us the importance of words and of listening and interpreting and finding the true meaning of thoughts and feelings that flow from our hearts.
It takes time and effort to communicate effectively with meaningful words. It also takes time and effort to listen, translate, and accurately interpret the meaning of those words. In a real sense, there is an art to using words. And the God-breathed words of Scripture, in particular, artfully communicate a powerful message designed to bring meaning to our lives.
God Is the Master of Powerful Words
"God said, 'Let there be ...'" (Genesis 1:3). At some point in the distant past, God spoke words. And when he did, things happened. There was such creative power behind those words that the sun, stars, and moon burst into being. Out of God's mouth came words that formed everything that exists, including you and me.
Not only did God use powerful words to bring about the existence of all things, he also used words to bring meaning to our lives and our relationships. Then, in time, he had those meaningful words committed to writing.
The Bible, God-breathed words of life, is meant to give us everything we need in order to understand who we are, why we're here, and where we're going. It is made up of living words from God himself to guide us to the very meaning of life, love, relationships, and the joy God originally intended for his children. The words in the Bible are extremely powerful. Yet, for whatever reason, far too many people in the world have failed to be gripped by the power of those words.
In the pages of God-Breathed, we want to journey together to recapture the awe, the mystery, the passion, and the power of God's words in his book. The Bible is no ordinary book. Within its pages are hidden the answers to our every need, direction for our lives, and practical insights for living a life of fulfillment and joy. That is not merely hype; it is what the Author of the book intended from the very beginning.
Consider the following true story about how the consummate master of words unveiled the meaning of Scripture to those he loved.
It had been the worst week of their lives. The two travelers tried to sort things out as they walked the seven miles from the city of Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. Their greatest hope for being freed from the oppression of the Roman Empire had been in a man they thought was their Messiah. But three days ago he had been taken by the Romans and crucified. Their hopes had died with the death of the one they called Jesus.
That's the way life tends to be. We hope for things, and some things even work out; but, more often than not, we face disappointments, heartache, and loss. Even though we try to find meaning and joy during troubled times, it's an ongoing struggle. That's how these two men may have felt as they walked together along the dusty road.
"I don't know what to think about it," the first one said.
"I don't either," the other replied. "I've heard that Peter himself saw the empty tomb."
"Yeah," his companion countered, "but that doesn't necessarily mean Jesus was raised from the dead like the women are claiming."
About that time, a stranger joined them on their journey. "What are you two talking about?" he asked.
One of the two, whose name was Cleopas, responded, "You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn't heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days" (Luke 24:18).
"What things?" the stranger asked.
The two companions told the uninformed stranger all about Jesus—who they had believed he was, how he'd been crucified, and how he was now reported to have risen from the dead. They may have shared their emotional ups and downs. They no doubt talked about the joy they had experienced with Jesus, the hope they had placed in him, and their disappointment in the fact that the Romans had killed him.
After hearing what the two travelers said, and sensing their confusion, the stranger began to quote the words of God to them. Drawing upon the writings of Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what the Scriptures said and meant about this Messiah whose name was Jesus.
When they arrived at their destination, the two men asked their new friend to join them for a meal and a night's stay. When they sat down to eat, the stranger broke the bread, blessed it, and handed it to them. Then something astonishing happened. The men recognized this stranger as none other than Jesus himself. And then he vanished before their very eyes. They turned to each other in amazement and said, "Didn't our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32).
These two companions had heard from childhood the words Jesus quoted to them from the Scriptures. They had grown up reading these Scriptures, but the master of powerful words breathed new life into them. And as he did, he inspired and warmed their hearts, transformed disappointment into hope, and gave them insights for living a life of joy. That is what God's Word is meant to do for us. "For the word of God is alive and powerful" (Hebrews 4:12). It reveals the true heart of a God who loves us and wants us to know him. God's Word has the power to draw us into an intimate relationship with him that will truly transform our lives.
God Is the Master of Reliable Words
As a nineteen-year-old university student, I was intrigued by the ancient writings of Scripture. Though I was a skeptic, as I've mentioned, I sensed a strange power about the words I saw penned on that sixteen-hundred-year-old manuscript. But I didn't trust them to be reliable. In fact, I initially set out to prove that today's Bible is nothing more than a collection of distorted and unreliable records of historical and mythical events. I reasoned that if we couldn't trust that the writings of Scripture had been accurately handed down over the centuries, we would have no basis for the truth claims of the Bible. Simply put, if the Bible is not a reliable document of history, then everything it says about God and the Christian faith is in question.
Have you ever wondered whether the ancient scribes who copied the Scriptures left things out or added things in? Could God have given Moses twelve commandments only to have some scribe along the way decide to eliminate two of them? What if, during the copying of the Gospel of John, a hundred years after he wrote it, a scribe left out five chapters? Imagine if overzealous scribes added to or twisted the recorded things Jesus said or did in order to inject their own ideas. How can we be sure that we have a Bible that accurately represents what God inspired people to write on his behalf? Since we have none of the original manuscripts, how can we know that the copies in our possession are reliable and accurate?
Face it, if we can't be confident that Scripture is a reliable book of history, we can't assert that it is the power-filled Word of God. Sure, God may be the master of powerful words, but if his words have not been passed down accurately to us, the power of those words would be lost.
Today, I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Scripture is reliable and its very words are God's own and have real power. As a university student, somewhere in the hidden recesses of my heart I wanted to believe God was real and cared for me. But I had no true basis for believing that, unless the Bible was reliable.
You don't either.
You may sincerely believe in God and that his Word has power. Yet at some point, that faith will be tested. If your faith is rooted in evidence that the Bible is truly reliable, you will have all the assurance necessary to trust that God's Word is absolutely true. I can assure you, there is clear evidence that God has miraculously superintended the transmission and copying of his words to us, so that we can know we have his truth as he intended. You and I can know that God's Word has been handed down to us reliably; and because of that, we can experience his powerful words in our everyday lives. That is what this book is about: knowing with certainty that we can experience the power of God's Word as revealed in the Bible, because it's reliable.
What to Expect
Knowing that the Bible is a reliable conveyor of God's Word is a prerequisite to understanding that his words are powerful. So it would seem logical to discuss the Bible's reliability before dealing with its power. But I want to reverse the order, and here's why: Frankly, I want to appeal to an inner desire that I believe we all share. Somewhere deep inside, you no doubt find the idea appealing that there is an all-powerful being in the universe who loves you dearly. It speaks to a deep desire in every human heart. I want to appeal to that desire before I appeal to your intellect. That's why I want to start by sharing with you how and why God's book has power. My hope is that this groundwork will help you capture more deeply the beauty, mystery, and intrigue of God's Word. To truly sense the power of Scripture is to be captivated by its Author and to develop a true love for him and a longing to know the deep meaning of the words he has recorded for you.
So in the next seven chapters, we will explore the power of Scripture—how it is truly a living book; what its true purpose is; how it was meant to be interpreted; how it is relevant to your everyday life; and how you can gain a true love for this unique, one-of-a-kind document.
After we've been gripped by the power of the God-breathed Word, we will uncover how truly reliable it is, and we will develop a deepened trust that the words in the Bible have been accurately passed down to us. This is what gives us assurance that God has revealed his true nature to us. We will examine how Scripture is reliable using modern tests for any book's reliability; we'll confront apparent contradictions in Scripture; and we'll explain how the Bible can become more alive to you.
Warning! Be prepared to be captivated by God's Word. When we truly understand and experience the power and reliability of Scripture, our "hearts will burn within us." This is because we are not simply talking about recorded history and stories of biblical characters. We are talking about a book that is strangely alive.
My prayer is that you will discover in the God-breathed words of Scripture a greater power and relevance to your own life. There is a mystery to God's book, and he wants you to discover it. There are treasures and insights you need in order to deal with the challenges of life. And God wants you to find them by looking for him in his Word. "'If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,' says the LORD" (Jeremiah 29:13–14).
Let's start looking!
Excerpted from God Breathed by Josh McDowell. Copyright © 2015 Josh McDowell Ministry. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 What's in a Word? 9
Section 1 The Power of Scripture
2 Why the Bible Is Alive 23
3 The True Purpose of the Bible 37
4 101 Ways to Interpret the Bible? Not Really 51
5 How the Bible Is Personally Relevant 69
6 Authored by God or by Man? 89
7 Who Decided What Books Would Become Scripture? 99
8 Unique: One of a Kind 111
Section 2 The Reliability of Scripture
9 Before the Printing Press 121
10 Tests for Reliability of Ancient Literature 141
11 Testing the Historical Reliability of the Old Testament 151
12 Testing the Historical Reliability of the New Testament 163
13 What about the Errors and Contradictions in Scripture? The Internal Evidence Test 175
14 Are Writings from Other Religions Considered Scripture? 193
15 How the Bible Can Come Alive in Your Life 207
About the Author 224