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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
The Paradigm • Episode 13
Is the Bible Trustworthy?
69m • December 13, 2021
How do we teach the Bible to our children? How can a book written by humans be divinely authoritative? Is the Bible historically accurate? In this episode, Tim, Jon, and Carissa wrap up the Paradigm series by responding to your questions!
What You'll Learn:
  • The balance of making Scripture understandable to children and difficult Biblical themes
  • Scripture is like a symphony
  • The process of biblical redaction
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QUOTE

When Jesus commissions the apostles at the end of Matthew, he says, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me.” The divine authority that I am putting myself under when I follow Jesus is that of the person of Jesus, the actual risen Jesus. He’s the one I’m following, and I accept his authority over my life. One of the ways I submit to that authority and hear and understand who Jesus is and how to follow him is in a community of followers with whom I read these texts. In other words, Scripture’s authority is derivative to an actual person.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Bible is not a children’s book, but children are meant to be aware of the themes it presents. Just like with any other work of art or literature, each parent has to exercise discernment to know when and how their children may be ready to enter those conversations.
  • Scripture is like a symphony. A first-time listener can still appreciate the music and follow the melody. Years of studying and careful listening produce a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the nuances of the piece.
  • The process of biblical redaction is just the process by which the biblical texts were compiled over a period of time and crafted to convey specific literary themes. The events in the Bible are literal and historical, and the biblical authors shape the details of those events in a way that communicates their theological significance (e.g. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the Gospel of Jesus in slightly different ways.)

How Do We Teach the Bible to Our Children?

Lisa from Australia (1:01)

I have two young kids that I'm trying to raise Christian, but I'm confused as to how to communicate the depth of the Bible to them. I don't want to teach them that it’s a moral rule book, but I want to give them a good foundation based in the Bible, through modeling and setting an example. But I was just wondering if you had any good tips for passing on a good paradigm of the Bible to kids.

Communicating the Bible to children can be tough, as it doesn’t shy away from violence, human evil, death, and other topics that many kids don’t have a category for until they’re older. Carissa reminds us that, just like we invite adults to be curious about the Bible, recognizing it was written in another time and culture, we can do the same with kids. The more they feel comfortable asking questions—alongside developing an awareness of God’s good and loving character—the more they may carry those habits into their adult lives.

Jon shares his approach with his own kids, which involves reading through every story and letting the Bible speak for itself. As they read through the stories of the Bible as a family, Jon helps his kids identify themes that connect one story to the next. Jon also asks his children the questions that naturally come up for many of us when we read the Bible. For instance, “What happens when God’s people are deceptive and not a blessing to others?” Using the paradigm we’ve been discussing throughout this series has been helpful for Jon, who realized the stories of the Bible became boring to him as a child simply because they were moralized. Reading the Bible as a unified story composed of intricate themes that address common human questions has created a deeper fascination with the Bible for both him and his family.

Tim explains that for the first few years of his children’s lives, he read them only stories about Jesus, in the hope that they would be captivated by who he is and see the rest of the Bible as a story leading to him.

The Bible is not a children’s book, but children are meant to be aware of the themes it presents. Just like with any other work of literature or film that contains content that is not age-appropriate for children, each parent has to exercise discernment to know when and how their children may be ready to enter those conversations.

Are the Epistles Meditation Literature?

Natasha from Texas (15:54)

I really enjoyed the episode on the Bible as meditation literature, but I’m wondering how we see this attribute of Scripture in the New Testament. For example, it feels easier, or maybe more intuitive, to read the Psalms and the Proverbs as meditation literature, but it’s more difficult for me to see the letters to the churches as meditation literature. I would love and appreciate your insight on this.

While the epistles do “feel” less like meditation literature at face value, they are just as intentionally and intricately designed as any other portion of Scripture—that design just looks different. For instance, Paul often opens his letters to the churches with a prayer of thanksgiving packed with themes he explores throughout the rest of the letter. Discourse (the literary genre of the epistles) is more familiar to modern Western readers or anyone who has ever written an essay, while narrative and poetry are more foreign to many of us and, therefore, lend themselves to deeper pondering.

Can Anyone Understand the Bible?

Matthew from Michigan (25:45)

I am wondering what you would say about the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. In my tradition, and I believe in evangelical circles in general, it is commonly believed that the basic message of salvation is clear in Scripture. Yet I hear you guys talking about meditation literature that requires many, many re-readings and years of meditation in order to discern the true meaning. Do you reject the idea of perspicuity? Do you think the Scripture is simple and clear in any sense?

The doctrine of perspicuity asks: Is the basic message of Scripture clear? We think the answer is yes. But do we also think the Bible requires years and years of re-reading to understand? Yes.

Carissa shares the analogy that Scripture is like a symphony. A first-time listener or someone with an untrained ear can still appreciate the music and follow the melody. In that sense, they can understand the “message” of what’s being played. But years of studying and careful listening produces a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the nuances of the piece.

How Do We Help Our Churches Learn How to Read the Bible?

Jason from Georgia (32:32)

I want to ask about preaching and teaching to a church congregation from the perspective of this Bible reading paradigm. Assuming most people in the pews have never thought in these terms, do you think it's more loving and wise to directly confront wrong ways of reading the Bible, or to let the way it informs the pastor subtly and gradually nudge people to a different way of seeing Scripture?

The team discusses their preference for a “gentler” or less direct approach to reshaping how people read the Bible. A direct confrontation to methods of biblical interpretation that people have held for a long time can cause their walls to go up immediately, especially if there’s a long-held belief or tradition they feel is under attack. Tim and Carissa share that they have both found modeling to be helpful. Instead of telling people they’re about to interpret a passage of Scripture through the paradigm we’ve been discussing, they just do it. Over time, this gives people the opportunity to learn how to approach Scripture in this way.

Tim shares that when he was pastoring and teaching regularly on Sundays at a church in Portland, he had several rules of thumb for himself with every message:

  • Even if it’s only a minute or two in length, situate the given teaching passage within its context in the chapter and book.
  • Identify and explain at least one important hyperlink from another part of Scripture that’s being riffed on in the teaching passage.

By doing this, you can show people over time that you have to be familiar with the whole story of the Bible to understand its various components.

How Can a Book Written by Humans Be Divine?

Elizabeth from South Carolina (41:44)

If the Bible is written and assembled by humans, how can we be sure that what we have today is divine? What makes it trustworthy as opposed to other religious texts that claim to be divinely inspired?

To help answer this question, it can be helpful to ask, “What does trustworthy mean?” One thing that can be helpful is remembering what comes first in the order of authority: specifically, because Jesus has authority, we accept the authority of the written Scripture he’s given to humanity. In other words, if we find Jesus captivating, then we accept his written word––we don’t trust the Bible because it’s convincing “proof” of Jesus. That would be starting from the wrong point. We trust the Bible because we trust Jesus, not the other way around.

Tim doesn’t believe you can prove the Bible’s authority by its literary significance. He argues that we all must make a decision about who we believe Jesus to be, and if we submit to his authority, we must submit to his word.

Is the Bible Historically Accurate?

Daniel from Colorado (51:32)

I have a question related to Paradigm Episode 3. Hearing about these redactors or the redactions or editors, I think some people listening to that might have fears around the historicity of the Bible and if this affects the reality of whether these events actually happened. How do we view the Bible’s historicity in light of this?

In a modern context, to redact usually means to censor or improve something—it has a negative connotation. That is not how we mean it when we refer to biblical redactions. The process of biblical redaction is just the process by which the biblical texts were compiled over a period of time and crafted to convey specific literary themes. In this case, the authors and the editors of the Bible are the same thing. The Bible was written over time by a whole community.

For instance, numbers throughout the Bible carry significance throughout the story of the Bible. It’s possible people in Genesis truly died in their 777th year, and it’s also possible that age was assigned to convey a specific meaning attached to the number 777. Does that mean the Bible is not telling us what happened historically in a truthful way? In our modern Western understanding of history, to change a detail of a historical account to make it do what you want it to do literarily makes it less than factual. However, the biblical authors simply saw this differently. This is not to say that God didn’t literally act in history in people’s lives—he did. And when we read about his actions, the biblical authors retell those events in a way that communicates their theological significance. (This is why Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the Gospel of Jesus in slightly different ways.)

Referenced Resources

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Audience questions collected by Christopher Maier.

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Paradigm E1  –  1hr 5m
How Do You Read the Bible?
1hr 5m
Paradigm E2  –  53m
Who Wrote the Bible?
53m
Paradigm E3  –  59m
The Bible had Editors?
59m
Paradigm E4  –  53m
How the New Testament Came To Be
53m
Paradigm E5  –  56m
Who Is the Bible About?
56m
Paradigm E6  –  56m
Literature for a Lifetime
56m
1hr 19m
Paradigm E8  –  1hr 2m
Wisdom for Life’s Complexity
1hr 2m
59m
1hr 11m
Paradigm E11  –  1hr 3m
The Last Pillar: Communal Literature
1hr 3m
Feat. Dan Kimball  –  57m
How (Not) To Read the Bible
57m
Paradigm Q+R #2  –  1hr 9m
Is the Bible Trustworthy?
1hr 9m
Movements and Links  –  58m
Applying the Paradigm
58m
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