How Can Anyone Be Certain of the Bible's Meaning? (Below)
In a religiously pluralistic culture, the Bible no longer commands a dominant market share of respect. This objection demands a response!
One of the most often asked questions is "Why should I regard the Bible as God's Word? What about all of the other ‘scriptures?’" EXAMPLES: Hinduism (Rig Vedas; Upanishads); Buddhism (Pali Canon; Sutras; Tibetian Book of the Dead); Confucianism (Analects of Confucius); Islam (Quran); Ba’hai (Writings of Baha’u’llah); Mormonism (Book of Mormon).
In fact, most people have a negative bias against the Bible, and a positive bias toward other "scriptures." If you appeal to the Bible, you’re likely to hear, "Everyone knows the Bible is full of errors and contradictions." But if you refer to other "scriptures," you will probably be viewed as enlightened. (See Questions Skeptics Ask)
This is a very ironic situation, because there is far more evidence to believe that the Bible is true than any other "scripture." I want to examine three lines of this evidence . . .
QUALIFY: My purpose is not to bash other scriptures. They have great value as literary and cultural artifacts, and they each contain elements of truth and beauty. The issue we are pursuing this morning is: Do they deserve to be called God’s Word?"
It claims to be God’s revealed Word.
EXAMPLES of God claiming to speak in the Bible (see Jer. 26:2; 2 Pet. 1:21). Certainly, this claim does not in itself validate the Bible. But it does make it one of very few "scriptures" that even make this claim. Most people assume that all "scriptures" make this claim, but this is far from the case. One of the best kept secrets is the fact that very few "scriptures" even claim to be God’s revealed Word.
The "scriptures" of Hinduism and Buddhism never claim to be a revelation from God for the obvious reason that the eastern god is not a Person who speaks. Rather, they claim only to be human speculation.
Likewise, the sacred Chinese books claim no supernatural inspiration or authority, Confucianism being less a religion than a venerable moral tradition.
In fact, only the Bible and those religions rooted in the Bible (including Islam and the Christian sects, like Mormonism) claim to have books that are actual revelation from God.
When we compare the Bible with, say, the Koran or the Book of Mormon, we find some very important differences. (Also See The Qu’ran)
It interfaces accurately with science and history.
Why is this so important? Because the nature of spiritual truth claims is that they cannot be directly verified. How can we directly verify whether God is personal or impersonal? What the afterlife is like? Whether salvation is by works or by grace? If all we have to go on is the assertion of the "scriptures," there would be no way to decide. This is why Christians’ circular reasoning ("The Bible is trustworthy because it is God’s Word") is unhelpful at best and discrediting at worst.
But if that same text made factual assertions about areas we could test—like, say, scientific or historical matters—then we could indirectly test their spiritual truth claims. If they interface inaccurately in these areas we can test, why should we trust them in the areas we can’t test? On the other hand, if they do interface accurately in these testable areas, we have a basis for taking them seriously in their spiritual truth claims.
Non-Christian scholars realized this linkage. That’s why they expended so much effort on discrediting the Bible’s assertions about science and history. Doug showed that there is no contradiction between the Bible and scientific facts on week #2. What about history? Isn’t the Bible full of undeniable historical errors? Although it was once confidently assumed that archeology would prove the historical inaccuracy of the Bible, this is far from the case. While we cannot say that archeology proves the authority of the Bible, it is fair to say that archeological evidence has provided external confirmation of hundreds of biblical statements.
Scholars considered the Genesis account of Abraham (including Sodom and Gomorrah) to be mythological or ahistorical. Ur was excavated and shown to be a flourishing city around 2000 BC. The Ebla Tablets include some of the kings mentioned in Gen. 14. Tell Mardikh tablets mention Sodom and Gomorrah.
Scholars said Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because the art of writing was virtually unknown in Israel prior to David's time (1000 BC). The Ras Shamra Tablets date from 1400 BC. Ebla takes this back to Abraham's time (2100 BC). Both show that writing was well-advanced by this time.
Scholars said the Law of Moses could not have been developed earlier than 5th century BC. But Hittite Suzerainty treaties (15th century BC) bear remarkable similarity to the form of Mosaic Covenant. Also, Hammurabi (1700 BC), Lipit-Ishtar (1860 BC), Eshnunna (1950 BC) refute this claim.
Many scholars disputed the historicity of David. But the Tablet of Tel Dan, excavated in 1993, confirms the biblical record. This tablet commemorates the victory of the "house of David" by his 9th century BC descendent Asa over Baashaas, as recorded in 1 Kings 15:16.
This is why the renowned Jewish archeologist Nelson Glueck says, "It may be stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical passage. Scores of archeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.". [Also See Section Archaeology and The Bible]
19th century critics, like Sir William Ramsay, claimed that Luke was a terrible historian. But excavations have proven otherwise. See Acts and Archaeology
For example, they scoffed at his references to Lysanius as tetrarch of Abilene (Lk. 3:1) because the only Lysanius known from ancient sources was executed in 36 BC—60 years before Luke’s reference. But two Greek inscriptions from Abila, northwest of Damascus, now prove there was a "Lysanius the tetrarch" between the years AD 14 and 29.
Likewise, they rejected Luke’s claim that Sergius Paulus was proconsul of Cyprus in the late 40’s AD (Acts 13:7). But excavations in Cyprus revealed at least one inscription (cornerstone of government building??) attributed to Sergius Paulus as proconsul.
Thus, Ramsay, who began his excavations to prove Luke to be untrustworthy, concluded after years of study that "Luke's history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness . . ." and "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians."
Archeological works have also explained apparent contradictions in the New Testament. Scholars have long cited Lk. 18:35 and Mk. 10:46 as one such contradiction that proved that one of the biblical authors was mistaken. Excavations have since revealed that there were actually two Jericho’s at this time, the original Jericho (to which the Jewish Mark would have referred) and the new Roman Jericho (to which the Greek Luke would have referred).
This is why John W. Montgomery says, "Careful comparison of the New Testament with inscriptions and other early independent evidence has confirmed their primary claims . . . Competent historical scholarship must regard the New Testament documents as coming from the first century and as reflecting primary-source testimony about the person and claims of Jesus."
When we look at other "scriptures," we find they do not interface with history at all, or they interface inaccurately.
The eastern "scriptures" have no interest in history, because this is the world of illusion from which we are to be delivered. Ancient polytheistic religions likewise had no interest in history. Their gods acted only in myths, removed as far as possible from real history.
The Koran is almost entirely assertions of Allah. It has very little historical interface, and what there is contains clear inaccuracies. [See Errors in The Qur’an]
Sura 26:55-60 says that the Israelites under Pharaoh were but "a scanty band" (in contrast to the multitude mentioned in Ex. 1:9) and that in leaving Egypt they forsook "their gardens and fountains and splendid dwellings" (in contrast to their slavery and hardship mentioned Ex. 1:11-14). This renders the whole motive for Israel’s deliverance obscure.
Sura 5:119 reflects Muhammad’s gross misunderstanding of the Trinity—that it is composed of the Father, Jesus and Mary.
The Book of Mormon makes many historical references, but it too is full of historical anachronisms and geographical inaccuracies. [Also See Inconsistencies in The Book of Mormon]
1 Nephi 2:5-8 states that the river Laman emptied into the Red Sea. But there has never been any river that emptied into the Red Sea, either in historic or prehistoric times.
Alma 46:15 states that believers were called "Christians" back in 73 BC—fully seven decades before Jesus was even born!
It provides a unique means of authenticating its claim.
While the above point shows why we shouldn’t take seriously other "scriptures’" truth claims, it doesn’t provide compelling evidence that the Bible itself is divinely inspired. Since the Bible makes such a claim for itself, might we not expect it to produce some unique way of authenticating its claim?
The Bible actually anticipates our need for such unique authentication and provides its own means of authentication via the phenomenon of fulfilled prophecy.
Consider what God told the Israelites as they entered into a religiously pluralistic culture (read Deut. 18:20-22). There were lots of gods, lots of prophets, lots of "scriptures." How were they to know which one was true? His answer was that his spokesmen would couple their spiritual teaching with short-term, detailed predictions, and that they would be willing to pay with their lives if their predictions were wrong. The true God alone could know the future with perfect accuracy, so only those who made such predictions spoke for him.
So the Old Testament prophets were vindicated by their short-term predictions. This is one reason why their many long-term predictions were recorded—predictions of historical events and (supremely) the coming of Messiah. The time factor is important, because in this way a solid record of evidence could be laid down and others could have access to that evidence.
Ezekiel predicted the destruction of Tyre, including many unique details, several centuries in advance (refer to Ezek. 26 tape).
The Old Testament prophets made hundreds of predictions about the coming Messiah, most of which were beyond anyone’s power to deliberately fulfill, or beyond anyone’s desire to fulfill unless they were the Messiah.
Time (Dan. 9:24,25) - Over 500 years earlier, his death was predicted to the year. Refer to Faith Makes Sense for full treatment.
Birthplace (Micah 5:2) - Of course, Jesus had no control over this.
Response of Jews (Isa. 53) - So detailed that prior to the Dead Sea Scrolls, many though it was a Christian forgery.
Mode of Execution (Ps. 22:1-18) - This was predicted several centuries before crucifixion was invented!
It was this kind of evidence to which the apostles referred when they proclaimed that Jesus' death and resurrection was "according to the scriptures" (Lk. 24:44-48; Acts 3:18,24; 17:2,3; 1 Cor. 15:3-5). They were claiming to have the one true message about God, but they were also providing unique evidence for that claim. They were saying, "Don’t believe our message just because we say so. Check out the predictions, and then check out what happened." [Also See Section on Prophecy]
What about other "scriptures?"
In the vast majority, there is no prophecy at all, or any comparably unique means of self-authentication. Muhummad acknowledged that the biblical prophets were confirmed by miraculous signs (Surahs 3:184; 17:103; 23:45)—including prophecy, but when he was asked for similar confirmation that his message was from God, he refused (Surahs 2:118; 4:153; 6:8,9,37) and regarded the request as impious.
The predictions of other so-called prophets are unworthy of being comparison to the biblical prophets.
They usually lack context and the syntax is so general that any specific interpretation (and therefore, any verification) is impossible. EXAMPLES:
NOSTRADAMUS (Century II Q 34, about 1555): "The senseless ire of the furious combat will cause steel to be flashed at the table by brothers: To part them death, wound, and curiously, The proud will come to harm France." One author claims this was a prediction of the Camp David peace agreement in 1978. The "table" refers to the bargaining table, the "proud duel" refers to international terrorism, and the "harm" to France refers to the result of de-stabilization in the Near East since the assassination of Sadat. [See Nostradamus and Other Psychics]
BAHA’U’LLAH (The Hidden Words, #63, about 1858): "O ye peoples of the world! Know ye verily that an unforeseen calamity is following you and that grievous retribution awaiteth you. Think not the deeds ye have committed have been blotted out from My sight. By My beauty! All you doings hath My pen graven with open characters upon tablets of chrysolite." This is so general that it has no verification value. [More on Baha’i]
Their predictions are specific, but demonstrably wrong. Andre Kole has estimated a 92% failure rate among such "prophets." For example, the day after Jean Dixon predicted that Jacqueline Kennedy would never remarry, she was wed to Aristotle Onassis!
Conclusion: So What?
So God has gone to great lengths to show you that he has a message for you. He did this because he loves you, and because he wants you to understand his purpose for your life.
So another line of evidence is experiencing the impact of his message on your life. If you expose yourself to God’s Word with an open heart, it will convict and draw you to him.
So start learning and responding to his message!
Start reading the gospel of John, praying that God will help you understand who Jesus is how to receive the gift of new life that he offers you. [See Salvation]
How Can Anyone Be Certain of the Bible's Meaning?
Repeat series subject and purposes. Objection 2 dealt with the reliability of the Bible--this concerns the clarity and understandability of the Bible. You hear this objection surface in various ways:
"We should rely on the clergy/experts to tell us what the Bible means."
"That's just your interpretation."
"The Bible has been used to justify everything you can think of. You can make it mean anything you want it to mean."
"The locus of meaning is neither the author nor the text; it is the reader. All texts are social constructs. It is impossible to get inside the heads of the authors; we can only desconstruct the text and create meaning for ourselves from it."
Why is this objection so widespread? There are several reasons:
Portions of the Bible are difficult to understand. Paul distinguished between "milk" and "meat." Even Peter admitted this about some of the content in Paul's letters (2 Pet. 3:16). It is easy to erroneously extrapolate this to the whole Bible.
Biblical illiteracy is rampant. Most people have never read the Bible cover to cover, or even carefully read key biblical books like John or Romans. Such illiteracy makes it more difficult to refute this objection, while the objection makes it easy to excuse continued illiteracy!
Church history records ugly disagreements over the Bible's meaning. Most people are aware that churches have disagreed--sometimes seriously and even violently--over interpretation of the Bible (REFORMATION; DROWNING ANABAPTISTS; "SO MANY DENOMINATIONS;" QUASI-CHRISTIAN CULTS). To many, this links the whole idea of biblical interpretation to ugly controversy.
Relativism undermines confidence in objective meaning. Once you believe that something may be true "for you" but not true "for me," isn't it more enlightened and civilized to take this position? [See Section on Relativism]
I believe this is one of the most prevalent and insidious objections to Christianity today, subtly eroding the Bible's authority for both non-Christians and Christians. Even if there is excellent evidence that the Bible is inspired by God (WEEK #2), why study it if you can't be certain of its meaning?
Also See Section Reading and Understanding Your Bible
God Makes The Main Message Clear
Doesn't it make sense that if a loving God has recorded a vital message for humans, he would communicate it in such a way that we can understand that message? Only a cruel, sadistic God would purposefully record his message in such an obscure way that we could not be reasonably certain we understand it.
God has communicated many things to us through the Bible. Some things are more difficult to understand, but he has gone out of his way to make his main message clear to us (John. 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16). He has done this in three ways:
By using language that is sufficiently clear. If we approach the Bible like we would approach any other piece of literature, we find that its main message is indeed understandable.
Consider this statement: "GO TO THE KROGER STORE & BUY 10 LBS. OF POTATOES." Now we might reasonably ask which Kroger store and which kind of potatoes. If we were unfamiliar with American culture, we might even ask what a potato is and how much a pound is. But would it ever be acceptable to interpret this statement to mean: "GO TO THE HIMILAYAN MOUNTAINS & MEDITATE ON YOUR NAVEL?" Would it be correct to say no one can be confident he understands this statement?
Now consider this statement: "HE WHO BELIEVES IN THE SON HAS ETERNAL LIFE; BUT HE WHO DOES NOT OBEY THE SON SHALL NOT SEE LIFE, BUT THE WRATH OF GOD ABIDES ON HIM." We might reasonably ask who the Son is, what "believe" means, or if "believe" and "obey" are being used synonymously. But would it ever be acceptable to interpret this statement to mean: "IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THE SON BECAUSE EVERYONE GOES TO HEAVEN?" Would it be correct to say that no one can be confident he understands this statement?
"When it comes to the central core of the Christian faith . . . the Biblical evidence is overwhelming. The deity of Christ, the triune nature of God, the creation of the world by God, the sinfulness of all humanity, salvation by grace through faith, the resurrection of the dead--these and many other such matters are clearly taught in scripture." 
IRONY: Those who resort to radical skepticism about the clarity of the Bible expect me to understand their objection! I often reply by saying, "I can't understand what you mean . . . "
By repeating the main message. If you want your young children to understand something important, you say it to them several times and in different ways. This is what God does, for example, with the issue of how we get his acceptance.
By giving the Holy Spirit to help us understand and apply his Word. Such is God's love for us, that he gets supernaturally involved to teach us the meaning of his Word and how we should respond to it. Theologians call this the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:12 - As we come to the Bible humbly asking for God's help in understanding his Word so that we may obey it, he promises through his Spirit to illuminate its meaning and importance for our lives.
EXAMPLES: ME W/ REV. 3:20 AT CONVERSION. I not only understood that it meant Jesus desired to enter my heart to begin a personal relationship with him; I also knew that I needed to make this decision. Many of you could supply similar examples of this . . .
2 Tim. 2:7,15 - Nevertheless, we have a part to play in interpreting God's Word ("consider what I say . . . be dilgent to present yourself as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word . . . "). (THIS IS WHERE GRAMMATICAL-HISTORICAL HERMENEUTICS COMES IN.)
Disagreements Over Biblical Interpretation Occur For Two Reasons
Then why is there so much disagreement? People tend to lump disagreements concerning the Bible together, when there are actually two very different kinds of disagreements.
Because some non-essential issues are not clear. God has been pragmatic in his revelation. More important truths are stated clearly and repeated often. Less important things are more ambiguous. Because of this fact, one would expect uniformity of interpretation about the essentials and diversity of interpretation about the less important issues. EXAMPLES:
Should only professing Christians be baptized, or should infants of Christian parents also be baptized? [See Baptism]
Do people have free will to receive or reject Christ, or does God choose who will be saved?
InPlainSite.org Note: We have to disagree that the above is a non essential issue. The belief that it is God who chooses those who will be saved, quite naturally leads to the conclusion that of God chooses, then it is impossible to lose one’s salvation... Or the highly dangerous Once Saved Always Saved doctrine. See Section A Question of Salvation.
Does Israel continue to be God’s chosen nation or not?
Wherever the Bible has been the final authority, Christians have agreed on these important truths. Their disagreements with each other have been over issues which, while often important, are not crucial issues. This is why documents like the Apostles Creed can be formulated and agreed on by Christians from many different denominations down through the centuries. This is why it is possible for us to provide you with a concise "Statement of Faith" which agrees with all orthodox Christians (INFORMATION BOOTH). We should hold to our convictions in these areas, even work in different churches--but still unify around the essentials and fellowship and minister with each other as Christians (GRAHAM CRUSADE; VERITAS FORUM; URBAN CONCERN).
But clearly, "Christian" groups have also disagreed in their interpretation of even essential doctrines. How can this be explained? The answer to this question is surprisingly simple: Because another authority has replaced God's Word. The Bible is then ignored and/or twisted to support that new authority's doctrines. There are hundreds of examples of this:
RELIGIOUS TRADITION: Pharisees & Sadducees
NEW "SCRIPTURES": Book of Mormon
"KEYS" TO BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION: Key To Science & Health; Divine Principle; Roman Catholic Papal Infallibility & "Canon Law"
ALIEN PRESUPPOSITIONS: Naturalism; Pantheistic Avatars; Postmodern Thought
So the issue here is actually not one of differing interpretations at all, or that the Bible is unclear on essential matters, but of differing spiritual authorities.
Examine the Bible for yourself! God has recorded in it the most important truths in the world, and he has gone to great lengths to help you to understand it. It is without any dispute the most influential book in human civilization.
Contrast American disinterest despite tremendous accessibility and study tools to Russian hunger (PETROZAVODSK TEACHER).
NON-CHRISTIANS: Read the gospel of John. It was written for you, to help you understand who Jesus is and what he has done for you so you can put your trust in him and receive eternal life.
CHRISTIANS: Paul wrote most of his epistles (ROMANS) with the expectation that all Christians could understand and apply the contents enough to profit spiritually. Teachings like this are important to get you started and supplement, but they will never take the place of serious personal study. If you need help learning how to do this, come up afterward and we'll line you up with people to help you.
Test all other teachings by it!
 James Sire, Scripture Twisting (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980), pp. 12,13.