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J.C. Ryle: Reasoning through the reliability of the Bible

Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 3.36.20 PM“How do I know that the Bible is really God’s word?”

“What evidence can you give me to prove that?”

Any Christian who has ever had a conversation with a non Christian about our faith has faced these questions.  Sure, there’s lots of information in the Bible about it’s authority, but answering this person with 2 Timothy 3:16 won’t be convincing.  So, how are we to begin to convince them?

19th Century Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle faced the same problem.  In his sermon “Inspiration” (which you can read for free here), he offers many arguments for the Bible which make even the most hardened skeptic pause.  Over the next three months,I will outline these arguments in a three part series.  I will begin where he begins: six arguments which appeal to common human experience.

He states that the Bible alone gives:

1)  A reasonable account of the beginning and end of the World.

The Bible claims two things about the creation of the universe that would be interesting to a person with a scientific/naturalistic worldview.  First, it claims that God created the world from nothing in a moment.  This understanding is consistent with the current scientific theory of the universe’s origin (the “Big Bang”) that is widely accepted by physicists.  Second, the Biblical creation account holds that creation took place sequentially.  Without getting into the inter-church debate on the relationship between Genesis and evolution,  Genesis clearly states that the heavenly bodies were created first with life following afterwards.  These two biblical claims can serve as a great starting point for conversation.

2)  A true and faithful account of man.

The Bible, through multiple genres, exposes the complexity of the human psyche.  It doesn’t offer a simplistic picture of humanity as “All Good” or “All Bad”.  It presents us as creatures with a natural capacity for sincere love and care for others (because we are made in the image of God); and at the same time beings primarily motivated by selfish desires (because we are infected with sin from the fall).  Such an understanding of humanity gives the best explanation of our experience of ourselves and others.

3)  A satisfying understanding of God.

If left to our own ability to understand God through His creation, humanity would learn that God is creative, orderly, and life-giving, but such knowledge does not satisfy our deepest human longings for unconditional love and acceptance.  In the Bible, God consistently reveals himself as the one who loves sinners, pays for their sins, adopts them into his family, and promises to never abandon them.  This offers an existential satisfaction that every human deeply wants.

4)  A complete provision for the salvation of fallen man.

While experts disagree on its cause and treatment, A common human experience is a pervasive, gnawing guilt.  Whether its by dismissing the standards that make us feel guilty or by performing good deeds to atone for our sins, we are always seeking ways to find relief from these feelings.  As we know, these two strategies do not bring peace to our hearts.  It is only in the story of Christ on the Cross where guilt can finally meet its end.

5)  Explains the state of things we see around us.

Ryle says it best:  “There are many things on earth which a natural man cannot explain.  The amazing inequality of conditions, the poverty and distress, the oppression and persecution, …, the failures of statesmen and legislators, the constant existence of uncured evils and abuses, all these things are often puzzling to him.  He sees, but he does not understand.  But the Bible can tell him that the whole world lieth within wickedness…”  Ryle goes onto point out that no amount of education, legislation, or technology can solve these problems.

Before I end, two notes.  First, I admit that these arguments have limits.  Alone, they probably won’t immediately bring a non believer to an unwavering belief in the inerrancy of Scripture.  They aren’t “silver bullets.”  But as Tim Keller argues in Making Sense of God, arguments like these are designed to make one “doubt their doubts” and look at the Bible in a new light.  They are a way to expose one’s presuppositions and show them that there are other ways to view the world.

Second, I’ve offered only a few of Ryle’s arguments in “Inspiration.”  He makes others that appeal to the Bible’s internal unity and harmony, its philosophical brilliance, its common wisdom for daily life, it’s historical reliability, and its positive impact on the cultures where it’s been expounded.  He also answers the most common objections to the Bible’s reliability.  It is these that I will explore in the next two segments.

My greatest hope is that you will be encouraged to engage skeptics and unbelievers with the truth that the Bible is the inspired word of God.  We do this not to win arguments or put people in their place, but we do it so that they might come to know the great love our God has for them.

This post was written by guest contributor Rev. Hamilton Smith, Pastor and Lead Planter of St. Thomas’ Anglican Church in Mount Pleasant S.C.  Hamilton is currently pursuing his Doctor of Ministry, with a focus on J.C. Ryle’s Reformation theology for today.  You can read Ryle’s sermon, “The Great Gathering,” for yourself by clicking here.  

This post was written by Rob Sturdy

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