Sermon at St Mary Hadlow –Bible Sunday – HC(CWO1) – 25th October 2015
2 Timothy 3 v14 – 4 v 5 – The inspiration of Scripture.
John 5 vv 36 –E – Believe the Scriptures and believe in Me.
- Introduction. “I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation and therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God.”, so wrote Charles Darwin in a private letter to a young barrister, Francis McDermott, in November 1880. Can a Christian today, believing in Jesus as the Son of God accept the Bible as divinely inspired by God the Holy Spirit? Can I expect you to accept the Apostle Paul’s statement in today’s Epistle reading, “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”? Yes, to both questions. The Apostle does not say that all scripture is equally useful. However I hope that in my overview of the book of Esther last month and in Mark Totty’s overview of the book of Job two weeks ago you were able to see that these less well known books have valuable lessons to teach us about God’s divine action in the affairs of nations in Esther and give us some insight into the difficult problem of suffering in the book of Job. Darwin did not lightly overthrow the Christian faith. He was very conscious of his wife’s sincere and devout faith. He rarely made any pronouncement about matters of faith and science but he could not help being deeply influenced by his own findings of long processes of evolution of animal and plant species despite this contradicting the current understanding of Genesis Ch 1. I cannot be a theologian on Sunday and an Engineer on Monday and ne’er the twain shall meet. I do believe that there is a real possibility of reconciliation, intellectually, between modern science and the Christian faith. I start this morning with Jesus’ views of Scripture, the New as well as the Old Testaments, for it these views that very much influence my own views. I will then go on briefly to look at a 21st century view, albeit not new, of the Biblical creation account and finally, on this foundation consider the practical application of scripture for us as Christians.
JESUS’ VIEW OF SCRIPTURE
- Inspiration. Jesus’ view of the inspiration of the Old Testament comes through quite explicitly on the occasion when he challenges the teachers of the law about his own position as the Messiah. His challenging question depends on the common assumption that an ancestor is superior to his descendant – a father commands his son, not the other way round. How is it that the Messiah, as Son of God can be also in the apparently inferior position of being son of King David? Specifically Jesus’ question is,
“How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:
‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” David himself, calls him Lord. How then can he be his son?”
The quotation is the opening verse of Psalm 110. In effect David is saying, ‘The supreme Lord, God the Father said to Jesus my Lord, “Sit at my right hand…”’ The Psalm was, then as now, widely regarded as a ‘Messianic psalm’, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, or to use the Greek word, the Christ. No answer is recorded as forthcoming from the teachers of the law. The divine inspiration of Scripture is fundamental to Jesus’ challenge to the Jewish legal authorities.
- Historical. The books of the Old Testament have a great variety of styles and forms of literature. Some Christians view the book of Job as a historical book, others as a constructed story, to make sense of God’s justice and the suffering of the righteous person. It actually matters but little whether the book is historical or not, because the point of the book does not depend on its historicity. God the Holy Spirit could still inspire the writer either way. Many books though are clearly written as historic accounts of God’s dealings with his chosen people, Israel and the surrounding nations. Jesus treats such literature as historic. Let me refer briefly to but one example. Jesus says to some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who ask him to produce a miraculous sign, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and one greater than Jonah is here.” (Matt 12 v 41). It is possible to take the book of Jonah, viewed on its own, as allegorical. ‘Are we though to suppose that imaginary people, who at the imaginary preaching of an imaginary prophet repented in imagination, shall rise up in that day and condemn the actual impenitence of those his actual hearers’, to quote J W Wenham in his booklet ‘Our Lord’s view of the Old Testament’. Jesus goes on to say “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgement with this generation and condemn it.” (Matt 12 v 42) – a clear historical reference to the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon.
- Authoritative. Thirdly Jesus regarded the Old Testament Scriptures as authoritative. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 5 v 17) and then he goes on to draw out the fundamental principles of some of the ten commandments rather than the current legalistic interpretation of them, thus placing greater authority upon them. On another occasion when some Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, pose what seems an impossible hypothetical question about the position in the resurrection of a woman who in obedience to the law had in turn been married to 7 brothers without producing any offspring, Jesus not only answers their hypothetical question but challenges them about resurrection by quoting God’s words to Moses at the incident of the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3 v 6) and goes on to say “He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are badly mistaken.” (Mk 12 v 26).
- The Sabbath. Having seen briefly how Jesus regards the Scriptures of the Old Testament as inspired, authoritative and, where relevant, as historic, I am going to look at an area of frequent conflict with religious leaders and that is over the Sabbath. The 4th commandment of keeping the 7th day of the week as holy, a day of rest and worship must be seen in its original context of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt as a great blessing. In Egypt they had been slaves, making bricks day after day after day – no let up. Now to have a guaranteed day of rest was marvellous. The day of rest and worship, changed in the Church to Sunday, has been for Jew and Christian a great blessing and similarly for the Muslim with Friday as a day for rest from daily work and for prayer. Interestingly this commandment is based on the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2, of God creating the world in 6 days and resting on the 7th day. This might seem to give support to a literal understanding of creation having taken place in 6 x 24 hour periods, what is now called the Creationist view, a view that probably led Darwin to reject Christian belief, at least at the stage in 1880 when he wrote that letter. However Jesus’ statement to the Jews who persecuted him for healing a disabled man at the pool of Bethesda is very interesting. He says, “My Father is always at work to this very day and I too am working.” (Jn 5 v 17). This tells us two important things. Firstly at the end of the six hectic periods of creation God didn’t sit back with his arms folded, to put the situation in anthropomorphic terms. No, He changed to a less active mode, from creation to maintenance. Secondly the 7th period of creation has extended from the creation of man until the present, ‘My father is always at work to this very day’. There are other passages which I believe support creation taking place over long periods. This is not a new view. For example St Augustine did not think that the days of creation should be taken literally. On another occasion Jesus again goes to a fundamental principle and says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2 v 27). To put it in other words, the day of rest is not meant to be a legalistic straight jacket, but a means of benefit and blessing.
- New Testament. We see then that Jesus has a very high regard for the Old Testament Scriptures, regarding them as inspired by the Holy Spirit, historic where that is the required and natural sense of the document, authoritative, but to be understood in context and to be applied to the situation of the day using the underlying principles. One further important principle is that Jesus interprets the Scriptures in terms of covenant not of contract. Covenant is based on relationship more than rights duties and law as in a contract. In this case the covenant relationship originates with God, with his saving love, inviting our response. What though of the New Testament, bearing in mind that Jesus did not write anything himself, or if he did it has not survived and there is no reference known to any such writings? Jesus gave a very clear promise to the 12 apostles when he said, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have said to you” (Jn 14 v 26).
- Personal application. There is much debate as to Charles Darwin’s final position over the Christian faith. Let us not be put off our trust in the Scriptures by concern over a particular understanding of the Creation account or an undefined feeling that there is an inherent conflict between faith in the Scriptures and a modern scientific view of the world. As Jesus himself said, in today’s gospel reading, “The Scriptures testify about me,… come to me that you may have life.” (Jn 5 v 39, 40). To strengthen our faith in Jesus, we do well to hear more than two readings and a sermon once a week. Various organisations, such as the Scripture Union and the Bible Reading Fellowship publish daily Bible reading notes to help one understand and apply the Bible in everyday life. Sadly the Tonbridge Christian Book Centre is to close at the end of this year after over 38 years of faithful service by Norman and Mavis Nibloe, so no longer is there somewhere just to hand that one can walk into to acquire such notes. Julia or I can though give you a list of websites and of the nearest Christian bookshop, which is in Chatham. May we strengthen our faith in the living word of God, Jesus, through studying the written word of God.
1900 Words Christopher Miles
Sources for Bible reading notes etc.
|1. www.eden.co.uk E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Scripture Union – Daily Bread, including large print
Scripture Union – Encounter with God
Everyday with Jesus, including large print
New daylight, including large print
Day by Day with God
Tel: 0800 612 2186 or 0116 6244439
|3. Ten of Those www.10ofthose
Non-technical commentaries on books of the Bible and some notes e.g.
Walking with God day by day
|4. Burrswood Christian Hospital
Groombridge, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN3 9PY
Bookshop Tel 01892 865996 is able to supply Bible reading notes (BRF, SU and CWR). Mail order available
|2. Bible Reading Fellowship.||5. CLC (Christian Literature Crusade)
CLC Bookshop, 118 High Street, Chatham, ME4 4BY tel 01634 843926
Note: All three TCBC shops, namely, Tonbridge, Maidstone and Deal, are due to close in late December.