By Rev. Lance Filio
The president once again puts religion on center stage when he asked his audience to prove the existence of God by producing a selfie picture with him. At first, I thought, is this fake news? However, when I search the internet and saw articles from reputable social media news agency, I learned this was all true. Duterte challenged his critic that he will step down from office if they can show him a selfie of God. Obviously, the president was arguing the absurd. Being a shrewd lawyer himself, he knows that no one can produce a picture of God, let alone a selfie with him.
However, the Filipinos are indeed gullible people. Several people argued the presence of apparitions as pieces of evidence for God. They submitted a picture of rock and cloud formation of similar-looking apparitions of Jesus or Mary. They claimed that these prove the existence of God but we know that all things being equal their claim is as absurd as the president.
So why do we believe in God? In order for us to intelligently answer this question, we need to answer first the foundation of such claims. We cannot join the madness of producing pieces of evidence and counter-evidences. We need to ground our claims on the authority of the Word of God. This is what we will be doing today. We will lay down the reasons for our belief in the Bible.
There are two grounds for believing the Bible. The first is based on external reasons and these points to the historicity and integrity of Scripture. These are confirmations outside the Bible or those other sources that confirm the historicity of the events in Scripture. While these uphold the integrity of Scripture, it does only provide a higher probability of its truthfulness but not absolute certainty. The second is based on internal reason and these points to the pieces of evidence put forth by the Bible itself. These are the divine qualities reflected by Scripture. They are God’s divine attribute of personality, wisdom, love, and truth. They show that Scripture infallibly and inerrantly speaks of God.
Yet in spite of these two points, submission to them as reasonable grounds can only be received efficiently through the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. It is only by the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of a sinner that makes them believe it as reasons.
So this is what we will be hearing this morning: (1) The Historicity and Integrity of Scripture; (2) The Majesty and Unity of Scripture; and (3) The Holy Spirit’s Work of Illumination in Scripture.
The Historicity and Integrity of Scripture
Christianity is a public faith that has public claims in history. Compared to other cult religions which ground their claims on secret knowledge exclusive to their adherents, the stories of the Bible happened in real life places during a specific period or real life people which can be all be verified in history. In archeology or the study of historical artifacts, several biblical stories and people have been confirmed by archeological reports.
For example, King Hezekiah, who ruled over Judah. He can be found in the biblical account of the Old Testament (2 Kings 17-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32). However, he was recently discovered in archeology when a seal that belonged to him was uncovered during a dig in Jerusalem. His seal reads “Belonging to Hezekiah (Son of) Ahaz king of Judah.
Aside from archeological discoveries, ancient historians wrote about the existence of Jesus and the early Christians of the first century. Dr. K. Scott Oliphint wrote:
“In their writing, Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny recorded some central and crucial Christian teachings and beliefs, including the fact that his followers believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, and long after his death on the cross, worshiped him as if he was God. A multitude of historical and cultural evidence shows the historical consistency of the Old and New Testaments.”
This goes to prove the historicity and integrity of Scripture because the people and events that they wrote about were confirmed by non-Christian sources. However, Filipinos do not hold archeologists and historians authoritative. We dismiss them as irrelevant claims which do not merit any value over our lives. In contrast, Filipinos only accept the immediate history and experience of people he/she knows or personally connected to. The Bible is only made relevant to us when those whom he/she respects. At the same time, Filipinos, similar to any Eastern religion, holds history, not as linear progression in time but a repetitive and seasonal cycle. This mindset prohibits Filipinos from acknowledging any objective assessment of history. They only consider immediate and relatable facts surrounding them.
Therefore, the only way we can find external reasons acceptable is by Christian education. We need to align ourselves with a Scriptural view of history. God’s redemptive work from Genesis to Revelation and at the same time, the history of the church from its inauguration to consummation needs to be understood first then our view of creation including secular history will make sense to us. Without learning the facts of creation and redemption, we are trapped by our own ignorance. Scripture encourages to follow God’s thoughts after him and we can only do this with instructions and teachings.
So do we recognize the external grounds for believing in the Bible? If not then we need to learn more beyond our personal histories and expand our knowledge of history in general and redemptive history in particular.
My wife hates Social studies and specifically history. She still received good grades on this subject. She did it by memorizing important people or events but because she did not have any appreciation of history in general, she forgot all about them now. Her view of secular history, in general, influenced her view of redemptive history in particular. Scripture, which in the majority are historical books, was read in an ahistorical manner. However, Christianity at its core is a historical religion. Christ incarnated, died, resurrected as a concrete event of history. These are public events in history. Therefore, in order for my wife to learn about her reasons for believing Scripture, she needs to learn history. She needs to learn about her faith not just in the realm of private experience but also as a historical reality. Just like her, we all need this. We need to learn about the history of Christianity.
In sum, we have verifiable, external, historical grounds for believing in the Bible. However, can these reasons provide us with absolute certainty? No, at best we can only point to them as highly probable grounds for accepting the Bible. This leads us to our next grounds, the internal reasons. These are grounds for believing as seen from Scripture itself.
The Majesty and Unity of Scripture
Again, we need to ask ourselves, what would it take for me to believe the Bible is true?
As Christians, we only looked at Scripture itself for our reasons to believe it. The Westminster Confession of faith wrote:
“We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof…”
The Bible is undoubtedly God’s Word for Christians. As believers, we submit to its authority and receive its divine testimony. What are our reasons for believing it? The Westminister Divines made it clear. We believe the Bible because of “the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection.” Essentially, it is the majesty and unity of Scripture should make us believe it.
However, as Filipinos, we typically do not receive God’s Word as such. In a weird way, the Bible is considered as a higher form of power. Yes, the Bible is viewed as essentially divine but in a materially deified way. The Word of God is often equated with God but in a hyper-immanent manner. Why? It is because a typical Filipino do not consider God as a being who is essentially or qualitatively different from us creatures or even as a separate Creator being distinct from his creation. The Filipino mind cannot make the distinction because we perceive higher powers as perfections found in created beings. And since the Bible is the Word of God, it is often misunderstood as materially created being elevated to a divine status.
The majesty and unity of Scripture were taken to mean as something materially divine. In practice, the physical Bible pages are being eaten to cure sickness. It is placed in the forehead to cure headaches; It is placed in the stomach to remedy stomaches. Just like the endless apparition of Jesus in the form of a status or a rock or cloud formations, the earthly is raised heavenly when touched by a divine entity. As a result, The Bible as God’s Word is respected but only as one of the competing voices in our minds. When we consider the Bible as one of the options competing for the attention of the people, we have never essentially recognized its absolute claims of authority. And as a source of authority, we cannot mentally assent to its absolute knowledge because we filter its contents using our own earthly mindset. We mistake God’s revelation speaking directly to us in our minds.
However, revelation did not happen this way. Divine Revelation is God’s personal communication in creation and redemption. It was the formation of God’s Word about God’s work revealed to men. It is revelation inscripturated as a collection of writings, letters, and books. It contains everything we need to know about God and about ourselves. Yes, the Bible comes to us in history, in forms of words, letters or prophecy but ultimately what we have in them are the very Words of God! Therefore, we receive God’s revelation through God’s communication in written words. The mediated form is divine not because it is materially divine. It is divine because it is the divine revelation of God!
Scripture comes to us a body of knowledge that demonstrates its divinity. But without the proper understanding of how the Bible becomes for us a source of knowledge and authority, the internal reasons for believing it would not make any sense. Unless we ourselves examine its contents as a whole, we will never be able to discern its majesty and unity. As a result, the Bible itself becomes a source of material power rather than a means to possess knowledge. But how can we avoid such error?
We need to study Scripture as a whole. Here we can appreciate the method used by the Reformers in studying the Bible. They insisted that we should learn what the Bible teaches as a whole. The technical term for this is the “whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27)”. From here we simply organize our understanding of what the Scripture teaches based on topics of doctrines. We look at Scripture as a whole and ask what does it teach about God?’ What does it teach about man? What does it teach about God’s relationship with man? As you can see, these organized themes are the major topics of theology, anthropology, soteriology and etc.
So in sum, the internal grounds for believing the Bible are the way it demonstrates its divinity. It possesses the majesty and unity that God revealed in Scripture. But can an unbeliever understand them without the internal witness of the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit’s Work of Illumination in Scripture
Well, the answer is no. Without the inward work of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul made it clear that “… the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18). He explained that in Christ are, “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). The preaching of Christ’s person and work, while appears foolish to this world, is the very message that God used to bring salvation to man.
Dr. J.I Packer summarized the relationship of God’s word and God’s inward work in the hearts of the believers this way:
Thus God authenticates Holy Scripture to us as his Word—not by some mystical experience or secret information privately whispered into some inner ear, not by human argument alone (strong as this may be), nor by the church’s testimony alone (impressive as this is when one looks back over two thousand years). God does it, rather, by means of the searching light and transforming power whereby Scripture evidences itself to be divine. The impact of this light and power is itself the Spirit’s witness “by and with the Word in our heart.” Argument, testimony from others, and our own particular experiences may prepare us to receive this witness, but the imparting of it, like the imparting of faith in Christ’s divine Saviorhood, is the prerogative of the sovereign Holy Spirit alone.
Therefore, our position as believers over unbelievers is not grounds for boasting but a reason for us to live humbly in this world. Why? Because we receive the gift of understanding God’s Word not because we are smarter or better than the rest of the people but simply we are recipients of His grace. Paul explained, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord. (1 Cor 1:26-31) ” What a sobering thought! We were chosen in spite of our ignorance and foolishness. Viewed this way, boasting is excluded. We have reasons to praise God for his saving work!
On the other hand, the wisdom of this world is unable to understand God’s saving work. Why? “For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor 1:19-21)”. What a frightening judgment! The boasting of these unbelievers is indeed foolish! They reject God’s wisdom because of their unbelief. No amount of knowledge can save them for they cannot understand the knowledge that comes from God.
So in sum, the reasons to believe in the Bible can only be understood in the light of God’s illuminating work. Going back again with to what the Westminster Confession wrote: “yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” The Word and the Spirit work hand in hand. Acting as one, it sufficiently provides reasons, externally and internally, for us to believe the Bible.
ZCRC(Imus), Let us submit to the authority of God’s Word over our lives. Let us receive the external and internal reasons for believing the Bible and live in the light of them. Let us be humble in our witness to God’s saving work through the preaching of the gospel and let us rely on the inward work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the hearts of men. May God continue to bless His people with His Word. Amen.