Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is Jesus or the Bible first?

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about the relationship between Jesus and the Bible:

 Q:  Do Christians believe the Bible because it is endorsed by Jesus, or do Christians believe in Jesus because the Bible says so?  Which comes first?

It is important to begin by remembering that salvation and the faith which receives it are completely gifts of God through the Holy Spirit.  No person can claim to have received God’s forgiveness based on their own philosophical strivings or efforts at discovering truth.  Instead, sinners hear the message of God’s forgiveness through trusting in Jesus as their substitute, and they rely on that truth to save them. 

This might seem like a bit of a chicken-and-egg question at first, but it does have important implications.  For those who are already Christians, it can be important to learn why their trust in Jesus is reasonable and be equipped to defend this truth against those who would seek to undermine it.   These kind of considerations play a part in answering the objections of opponents of Christianity who reject the truth claims of the Bible based on inaccurate preconceptions or faulty scholarship. 

This discipline is called apologetics (meaning to explain the faith), and this question addressed here falls into a category called epistemology.  Epistemology is the study of truth—specifically, answering the question, “How do we know what we know?”  So here, we ask, “Do we rely on the events of Jesus’ life because the Bible says so, or do we rely on the Bible, because Jesus endorses its contents?” 

Christian teachers over the centuries have been split over the question of the logical priority of the personal revelation of Jesus and written revelation of the Bible.  Some have reasoned that the Bible is primary.  This is reflected in the words of the children’s song, “Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.”  According to this understanding, belief in Jesus is reasonable, because the Bible says so. 

This is true when it comes to the question of how people are initially saved.  Ordinarily, whenever a person trusts in Jesus, they do so because they have heard his story in the Bible or because a person has preached or described this story to them.  They begin with the Bible and move to Jesus.  The weakness of this approach, though, is that a book becomes the center of Christianity instead of a person (Jesus) and the relevant events of His life (particularly the resurrection). 

Consequently, under this approach, opponents are given the opportunity to challenge Christians’ reliance on Jesus by way of undermining the reliability of the Bible or by deceptively using the Bible against those who are not well-educated in its claims and teachings. 

Historically, the more common and more stable approach to this question has been to begin with the events of Jesus’ life, especially the Resurrection, and build from there.  If Jesus rose, then the rest of His teachings are then confirmed.  This is based on the criteria that Jesus, Himself set for believing in His truthfulness when He told his opponents to “tear down this temple, [His body] “and I will raise it up again on the third day.”  What this means is that if Jesus rises after being crucified, He is to be believed, including his endorsement of the Old Testament and of the Apostles’ who would write the New after His Ascension. 

This brings the entire question down to the Resurrection.  If Jesus stayed dead, the whole Bible is to be disregarded, and Christians should abandon their churches.  If Jesus was alive again on Sunday after His crucifixion on Friday.  Christians believe, based on the testimony of hundreds of witnesses, some of which are recorded in the Bible, that Jesus did rise; therefore they believe in both Jesus and the Scripture that He endorsed. 

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