Author Archives: Jon Paulien

Original Teacher’s Notes for Revelation 1:1-8 (Week 1)

LESSON 1
THE GOSPEL FROM PATMOS

Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 1:1.

Study Focus: The Prologue (Rev. 1:1-8) and the Book of Revelation as a whole.

Introduction: The Prologue to Rev. (Rev. 1:1-8) introduces the main themes of the book in relatively plain language. These verses contain no scary beasts, no heavenly journeys and no seven-fold sequences. Instead, they describe how the book got here (1:1-3), who sent it (1:4-6), and how everything will turn out in the end (1:7-8). The Prologue expresses the centrality of Jesus Christ to the whole book and prepares the reader for what is to come in straightforward language.

Lesson Themes: The Prologue to the Book of Revelation introduces the following themes:

1. Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation. This is made clear by the title of the book (Rev. 1:1), the qualities and actions of Jesus Christ (1:5-6) and His central role at the Second Coming (1:7).
2. The Book Concerns Future Events. These are not just end-time events, most were already future in John’s day (Rev 1:1).
3. The Vision Is Given in Symbolic Language. This is clear from one of the key words in Rev. 1:1 and that verse’s allusion to Daniel 2.
4. The Threeness of God. There is a “triple trinity” of persons, qualities and actions in Rev. 1:4-6.
5. The Return of Jesus. Rev. 1:7-8 addresses this.

Life Application. The concluding questions invite the participants to balance the powerful insights of a Seventh-day Adventist reading of Revelation with the centrality of Jesus Christ in the End-Time story.

Part II. Commentary

The introductory essay tells us that the entire lesson series is based on the SDA concept of inspiration, the historicist method of prophetic interpretation, the unique organizational structure of Revelation, and a Christ-centered approach to interpretation.
The historicist method is supported by the broad structure of Revelation itself. The book begins with the seven churches (Rev. 1:9 – 3:22), which primarily concern the situation of John’s day. The seals and the trumpets, on the other hand, each cover from the time of John to the End (4:1 – 11:18). The last half of the book (11:19 – 22:5), on the other hand, focuses almost exclusively on the last days of earth’s history and beyond. This method is also supported by the allusion to Daniel 2 in the very first verse of the book (see the elaboration on this point in theme 3 below).

Main Themes of Lesson 1 Elaborated:
1. Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation (Rev. 1:1, 5-7). The book opens with a chain of revelation that centers in Jesus. He is the first person mentioned in the book, and the One who passes the revelation on to John (Rev. 1:1). What God gave to Jesus is called “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). What Jesus passed on to John is called “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2), “the things that he saw” (Greek: hosa eiden). What John passed on to his readers was “the words of this prophecy” (1:3), what John wrote.
This chain of revelation is important for Seventh-day Adventists. It indicates clearly that the “testimony of Jesus” here is not the book of Revelation itself, which is what John wrote (1:3), it is the visionary gift that John saw (1:2). The remnant of Rev. 12:17 will later also have the “testimony of Jesus,” a visionary gift similar to the one John had.
So the Prologue points to Jesus as the central figure of Rev. The book is a revelation from Jesus and about Jesus (1:1). Jesus is qualified for His special role by his death, resurrection and heavenly reign (1:5a). In the End, He will also come with the clouds (1:7).

2. The Book Concerns Future Events. Rev. 1:1 tells us that a major purpose of the book is to “show His servants what must happen soon.” These are events in the future, from John’s perspective. But what does the text mean by “soon”? The 2,000 years that have passed since Rev. was written do not seem like soon! So the word “soon” must clearly be from God’s perspective in which a day is like 1,000 years (2 Peter 3:8).
But from our perspective the return of Jesus has always been soon as well. We don’t know when Jesus will actually come, but we do know that in terms of our conscious experience (Eccl. 9:5) He will seem to come an instant after we die. So the opportunity for us to get ready for His coming is now rather than sometime in the future. If Jesus’ coming were not portrayed as soon, many people would delay getting ready for His return.

3. The Vision Is Given in Symbolic Language. Generally, the best way to approach Scripture is to take everything literally, unless it is clear that a symbol is intended. In Rev. the opposite approach is indicated by the first verse. There it tells us that the entire vision was “signified” (Rev. 1:1, KJV, Greek: esêmanen) by either God or Jesus. So in Rev. the best way to approach the text is to treat everything as a symbol, unless it is clear that a literal meaning is intended (for example, “Jesus Christ” in Rev. 1:1 should be taken literally).
This insight takes even clearer shape when the reader discovers an allusion to Daniel 2 in the first verse of the book. The only other place in the Bible that combines “signified” with the unusual expression “what must take place” (Rev. 1:1, RSV, NIV, Greek: a dei genesthai) is Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image was the place where God “signified” (2:45) to him “what must take place” (2:28) in the last days. What was to be “in the last days” in Daniel is now “soon” in Revelation.
At the very opening of the book of Revelation, therefore, one finds a powerful allusion to Daniel 2. This allusion ties the two books together, like companion volumes. While Revelation alludes to many of the prophets, there is a special bond between it and the book of Daniel. So we should expect at least some of the symbolism of Rev. to point to sequences of history that run from the prophet’s time until the End. Not all of Daniel is historical apocalyptic, but much of it is, and that is the case also with Revelation.

4. The Threeness of God. Rev. 1:4-6 opens the book with what could be called a “triple trinity.” First of all, there is a “trinity” of persons; the Father (the one who is, was, and is to come), the Holy Spirit (represented by the seven spirits), and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is mentioned last because He is the subject of the next two “trinities.”
Next comes a trinity of qualities that ground the role Jesus plays in Rev. He is the one who died (He is the faithful witness/martyr— Greek: martus), rose (the “firstborn of the dead”), and joined the Father on His throne (“ruler of the kings of the earth”). The death and resurrection of Jesus provide the foundation of His heavenly reign.
The final “trinity” is a trinity of actions. Jesus loves us (Greek present tense), has freed or washed (two different Greek words that sound the same, but are one letter different) us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom and priests to God. The ultimate outcome of Jesus’ love, as expressed in His death and resurrection, is to raise His people to the highest possible status; kings and priests.
5. The Return of Jesus. The picture of Jesus’ return in Rev. 1:7 is based on allusions to Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12. The “he” of 1:7 clearly refers to Jesus, as He has been the subject of the previous two verses. “Coming with the clouds” recalls the son of man who comes with clouds to the Ancient of Days and receives dominion over the kingdoms of the earth (Dan. 7:13-14). In Rev. Jesus’ right to rule over the earth is recognized in heaven at His ascension (Rev. 5) and on earth at the Second Coming (Rev. 1:7).
The allusion to Zechariah is particularly interesting. In Zech. 12:7-8 it is Yahweh who comes (Zech 12:7-8), in Rev. it is Jesus who comes. In Zech. 12:10, it is Yahweh who is pierced, in Rev. it is Jesus who is pierced. In Zech. it is the inhabitants of Jerusalem who see God come (Zech. 12:8-10), in Rev. it is the whole earth that sees Jesus come. In Zech. 12:11-12 it is the clans of Jerusalem that mourn, in Rev. it is the tribes of the whole earth that mourn.
In Revelation’s use of the Old Testament, therefore, there is a shift in emphasis from Yahweh to Jesus. There is a similar shift from the literal and local things of Israel to the spiritual, worldwide impact of the gospel and the church.

Part III: Life Application

1. The lesson focuses on the opening to the book of Rev., the Prologue (1:1-8). One way to begin the lesson would be to ask What is your favorite Bible story opening? Participants might answer “baby Moses in the bulrushes,” “the diet test for Daniel and his three friends in Daniel 1,” “the anointing of David, the shepherd boy,” or “angels visit the shepherds at Jesus’ birth,” as examples. How does the opening of a Bible story or book affect the way you understand the rest of the story?

2. The lesson brings out two things that participants may feel are in tension with each other: a) the centrality of Jesus Christ, and b) the value added of a Seventh-day Adventist, historicist, reading of Rev. The teacher can invite the participants to wrestle with this tension by questions such as: What value does the unique SDA approach offer in today’s world? How do you keep a balance between articulating the historical details of the SDA reading of Rev. and uplifting Jesus Christ as the center of all hope? Some answers to the first of these questions: The SDA view a) answers the three great philosophical questions; Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? b) helps us see the hand of God in history, c) gives us confidence in the midst of chaos that God is still in control of history, and d) gives us confidence that since God has been active throughout history, the hope that we have for the End is also real.

Sabbath School Series on Revelation Begins Next Week

Each week this coming quarter I plan to post three things (God willing); my “Teacher’s Edition” comments on the main lesson in pre-edited form, my analysis of the changes in my TE comments introduced in the editorial process and their theological significance (if any), and Ranko Stefanovic’s analysis of the changes introduced into the main lesson that he wrote, along with his original. The purpose of these three postings each week is to assist students and teachers in their understanding of the issues related to each week’s lesson.

If you don’t like some of the changes the editors made, I’d prefer you didn’t blame Cliff Goldstein personally. While he is the editor of record, there are large committees that approve the lessons and on a subject like Revelation there will be many hardline opinions to wrestle with. In addition, sometimes after a manuscript is approved, even “higher” authorities may assert themselves into the text, and that temptation is especially strong with a subject like the Book of Revelation. But overall, most of what I wrote did get through and what was changed can be clarified in this blog series. I hope you will find this helpful for your own study and teaching of the Adult Bible Study Guides for next quarter. For those who don’t have access to the standard printed edition of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide or the Teacher’s Edition for this quarter, you can access them online week by week at https://www.absg.adventist.org/. You can also download audio of me teaching the lesson ahead of time each week at http://pineknoll.org/sabbath-school-lessons.

On Monday next week, I plan to post (linked on both Twitter and Facebook) my Teacher’s Edition comments in their pre-edited form, for those who would like to view them or compare with the edited version. On Tuesday I plan to post my analysis of the changes made in next week’s Teacher’s Edition. On Thursday I plan to post Ranko Stefanovic’s original manuscript for the standard Sabbath School lesson for the week along with a few comments from him on the changes made. If you take advantage of these resources, you should be well prepared.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Ten, “The Reminder of the Evidence”

If God values nothing higher than our freedom, why has He placed right in the heart of the “royal law of liberty” (James) a command to remember the Sabbath? Is this possibly one instance where God has imposed an arbitrary requirement upon His people, just to show His authority and test their willingness to obey? But the whole message of Scripture is that there is no arbitrariness in our God. God’s laws were given to help us, to protect us in our ignorance and immaturity, to lead us back to trust.

Viewed in the larger setting of the great controversy over the character and government of God, the Sabbath was “made for man” (Jesus) after sin entered the universe. Repeatedly in the sixty-six books of the Bible, the Sabbath is connected with times of special demonstration of the truth about our God — the perfection and freedom of creation week, the freeing of His people from Egyptian bondage, the costly and convincing evidence of crucifixion week, the promise of peace and freedom in the earth made new.

The Sabbath is a monument to freedom. It sums up the good news about God. It reminds us of the everlasting truth that “sets us free” (Jesus) and will keep us free for eternity. It should always be a “delight” (Isaiah), to be enjoyed in the highest sense of freedom. Observed merely as obedience to an arbitrary command, the Sabbath could turn us against God – even lead us to “crucify Him once again” (Hebrews 6) — then hurry home to keep the Sabbath holy, as happened that sad Friday nineteen hundred years ago.

God’s laws were not given to be a burden or to restrict us. They were given to help us, to protect us in the days of our ignorance and immaturity, and to lead us back to trust and freedom. God values nothing higher than our freedom. When you go through all the sixty-six books and you come to the last one, the book of Revelation, you note that God is still asking us to remember Him as our Creator. When we keep the Sabbath we remember the Creator, who fashioned a beautiful world for us to live in and gave us the Sabbath so we could enjoy the creation. The Sabbath is a beautiful reminder of what God is like.

This completes my summaries of the first ten chapters of the book Conversations About God. We will take a break on this subject for about three months, so we can study the book of Revelation together through the Adult Bible Study Guides that I helped to produce. Then we will return to posting the full text of chapters 11-20 of Conversations About God over the year that follows.

The Meaning of Christmas

This is probably not the time of year when Jesus was born. More likely He was born in September-October (when shepherds would be in the fields). That means Christmas could be the day when Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb, but we don’t have any records or evidence so that we can know for sure. What we do know is that this is the time of year when most people in the Western world, at least, actually do give a thought or two to the birth of Christ. So it is appropriate at this time of year to think of what Christmas tells us about God.

Think of the risk involved. God chooses to take human form in order to reveal in an accessible way what God is like (John 1:14-18; 14:9). He could have come fully formed, like the original Adam, and face all the challenges of this life as an adult, with adult reasoning and capacities. But instead God entrusts Himself to a human mother, to feed, train and protect Him. What could possibly go wrong with this picture? It is the story of incredible, risk-taking, no-holds-barred love. It is only in such a full-bodied way that human beings could fully discover what God is like (Heb 1:1-3) and God could fully experience what humanity in all of its sinfulness and rebellion is like (Heb 5:6). Only a love that will not let us go would do that. A love that was willing to allow His own creatures to torture and kill Him rather than retaliate (Luke 23:34). There is no need to be afraid of such a God and there is every reason to worship Him. And the good news is that we become like the kind of God we worship. To worship and admire a God like that is to become more and more like Him.

Wouldn’t it be a great Christmas if that happened to you?

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Nine, “There Is No Need to Be Afraid of God”

If God were the kind of person his enemies have made Him out to be; arbitrary, vengeful and severe; there could be no real freedom, and our worship and obedience would be driven by our fears. Sadly, millions have been turned away from God by Satan’s perversion of the truth. But Jesus came to bring the truth about God that sets us free, truth that makes it possible for mere mortals to be His friends.

To be afraid of God is to misunderstand, even to deny, the truths that He paid such a price to reveal. Though God is infinite in majesty and power, He values nothing higher than the freedom of His intelligent creatures. He desires that their love, their worship, their trust, their willingness to listen, may be freely given. God not only prefers it that way, He knows that if our love and trust are not freely given, there would be no genuine freedom in His family. And God would rather die (on the cross) than preside over a universe that is not free.

Besides, God also knows that the obedience that springs from fear will actually turn His children into rebels. As we have seen (Chapter Eight), He has demonstrated this truth at great cost on the cross. Rebelliousness is the very essence of sin. God sent His Son to do away with sin (Rom 8:3). But in order to do away with rebelliousness and distrust, He must first do away with fear. It is fear that has turned so many away from God. It is fear that has inspired rebelliousness even in the hearts of those who seek to obey Him, but do not know Him well. God went to the cross in Christ to make it eternally clear that there is no need for His children to be afraid of Him. While He is infinite in power, He is also infinitely gracious. Surely such a God is worthy of our love, our reverence, our worship, and our willingness to listen and obey.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Eight, “The Most Costly and Convincing Evidence”

The way Jesus suffered and died is the greatest revelation of the truth about God the universe will ever see or ever need. Correctly understood, it means defeat for the accuser of our Heavenly Father. No wonder Satan has sought to obscure, even pervert, the meaning of the cross! So why did Jesus have to die? Why was it not enough for Jesus simply to tell us the truth about His Father? Why couldn’t His own gracious treatment of sinners demonstrate that God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be? Why did Jesus also have to die? Why was there no other way?

The cross is “the most costly and convincing evidence” because the unique and awful way in which Jesus suffered and died reveals something about God and His government that had to be clarified before trust and peace could be restored again. Our God has been accused of being unworthy of the trust of His created beings, of being arbitrary, vengeful, and severe. He has particularly been accused of lying to His children, of lying about death being the result of sin. It does no good for God to simply deny such charges or to claim that He is speaking the truth. It is only by the demonstration of trustworthiness over a long period of time and under a great variety of difficult circumstances that trust can be re-established and confirmed.

There are three fundamental questions that were raised by Satan’s rebellion and the great controversy over the character and government of God. God could have answered these questions with assertions and arbitrary shows of force. But God values freedom so much, that the only way to answer these questions is through demonstration over a long period of time and in a wide variety of circumstances. At the heart of these “circumstances” is the cross. The suffering and death of Jesus answered the three great questions about God’s character:

1) Can we trust God to tell the truth about sin and death? If God does not tell the truth, then we can’t trust Him. In the Garden (Eden) God warned Adam and Eve that to eat of the Tree of Knowledge would cause their death. But the same adversary told Eve that God had lied (Gen 3:4-5). In the Word of God and His dealings in history, God provided abundant evidence that what He says can be trusted. But is sin really the cause of death, as God has claimed? In another Garden (Gethsemane), Jesus fell to the ground dying, a consequence of human sin. Already in Gethsemane, Jesus clearly demonstrated that sin leads to death, and that God was telling the truth about sin and death.

2) What is God’s role in the death of the sinner? Does justice demand that God
torture His children to death for refusing to love Him? The experience of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane also demonstrated that God was not killing his Son. To the contrary, God sent an angel to sustain Him (Luke 22:43). If Jesus had died in the Garden of Gethsemane, it would not have been because His Father had killed Him. He did not lay a hand on His Son. Many, nevertheless, believe that justice requires God to torture His children to death. But it was not God killing His Son in Gethsemane, Jesus was laying His own life down (John 10:18). Death is the result of sin, but it is not torture and execution at the hands of our gracious God. But there was a third question that also needed to be answered. Gethsemane by itself would not have been enough, the answer to the third question required the cross.

3) Why is it so important to understand that God does not execute his sinful
Children? The simple answer: Because obedience that springs from fear produces the character of a rebel. If God kills and tortures those who refuse to obey Him, even His followers will not serve Him out of love and trust, they will serve Him only out of fear. Obedience that springs from fear produces the heart of a rebel. This was clearly demonstrated at the cross, where Jesus not only died, but was also tortured and crucified. By whom? By the Father? Or by allies of the most devout group of Sabbath-keeping, tithe-paying, health-reforming, Bible-quoting “adventists” the world has ever known? The religious leaders who crucified Jesus were serving God out of fear. And the obedience that springs from fear produces the character of a rebel.

Upcoming: Project “Revelation DIY“

A friend of mine, Werner E. Lange, has started a very interesting project in relation to the Sabbath School Lessons for the next quarter. He is the retired book-editor of the German Adventist Publishing House and has edited several of my books.

I am excited about his project called “Revelation DIY” (Do it yourself). The aim is not to present a verse-by-verse interpretation or a different study guide, but rather to show church members an approach whereby they can discover themselves the meaning of the visions and judge whether a given interpretation does justice to the text and its context. His goal is for church members to be less dependent on pastors, books or study guides, and more on the Word of God itself. He contends that Revelation is easier to understand than many people think—provided that we approach it with the appropriate tools for its interpretation. The principles he uses are based on my book The Deep Things of God, which is still available.

His elaborations are published in both German and English on the website of the Hansa-Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The first (PDF Revelation DIY1, the text of a sermon) concerns hints on the interpretation in the introduction of the Revelation; the second is a lecture on specific principles of interpretation, focusing especially on how to detect and apply the allusions to the Old Testament. From January on you can download his elaborations with hints on the interpretational approach for the chapters in Revelation upon which the Sabbath School lesson for that week is based. He will also show dead ends in interpretation and give some explanations of the text (the one on Rev 1:10–20 is already available). You can access all PDFs here.
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I am personally very curious about his suggestions for interpretation. Some years ago he translated and heavily revised (with my approval) my Facebook comments on Revelation 12–14 and put them into book form. From the detailed discussions we had, I know that he is a careful and thorough Bible student and has internalized my principles for the interpretation of Revelation. He would remind me when I hadn’t followed my own rules and challenged some of my interpretations (often with success).

I would love to see more open discussion about Adventist interpretations of Revelation. Ellen White encourages us to study the book thoroughly, even claiming that we haven’t understood it well enough (see the quotations at the end of PDF DIY 0). And Jesus promises a special blessing for those who read Revelation and heed what they have learned (Rev 1:3). So let’s study it anew and with an open mind. We just might be surprised at what we learn.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Seven, “The Question of Authority”

The Great Controversy is not over who has the greater power, God or the adversary. Satan has never accused God of lacking physical power. In fact, the book of James says that whenever Satan thinks of the power of the One who created the whole vast universe, he trembles with fear (James 2:19). And he knows he has but a short time (Rev 12:12). Satan has not accused God of being weak, he has accused Him of abusing His divine power and failing to tell the truth. Specifically, God has been accused of being arbitrary in His use of power, of being exacting and vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. If those charges were true, then surely it would not be safe to trust in God. Who would want to spend eternity with such a Deity?

And yet one third of the brilliant angels, intelligent as they are, have agreed that Satan is right. They agree that God has indeed abused His power and is not worthy of their trust or ours. For thousands of years they have worked to convince us of the rightness of their charges. Just as God has sought to demonstrate that He is not the kind of Person His enemies have made Him out to be, so Satan in many and various ways has sought to twist and pervert the truth in support of his cause. Most diabolically, I believe, Satan has used the teachings of religion and even of Christianity to support his case. He has even perverted the meaning of the cross in support of his accusation that God demands our obedience under threat of painful execution.

“Love Me or I’ll kill you,” is his satanic perversion of God’s warning in the beginning: “Children, I don’t want you to die. If you go your own rebellious, disorderly way, you will die.” Consider the extensive damage caused by Satan’s devilish caricature of God’s words in the Garden of Eden. If God has really said, “Love Me or I’ll torture you for eternity in sulfurous flames,” how could there be any real love? How could there be any real trust? I wonder how many millions have been turned against God by that perversion of the truth. Or worse, I wonder how many people have found it possible to accept that picture of God and still try to serve Him. They offer Him the obedience that springs from fear, and then suffer the destructive consequences of forced submission.

The good news, of course, is that God is not the kind of Person His enemies have made Him out to be. The whole Bible presents a refutation of these charges, not based on mere claims, but rather on the evidence of demonstration. The whole Bible demonstrates God’s way of exercising authority and power. I think that is very good news which leads us to repentance and to trust. Understanding the way God runs His universe will keep it secure and free and at peace for the rest of eternity.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Six, “Evaluating the Evidence”

We have learned from our study of the Bible that all God asks of us is trust. If we would only trust in Him enough, He could readily heal the damage sin has done. That is all He asked before the war began. That’s all He asks now of those who have been damaged and caught up in this war. All He will ever ask of us in the future is trust. Where there is mutual trust and trustworthiness, no cheating, there is perfect security, perfect freedom, perfect peace. And this is what God desires the most. But is that conclusion based on the right interpretation of the Bible? Have we rightly weighed and understood the biblical evidence?

Others have read the biblical evidence and drawn different conclusions. Many of these are sincere followers of God, yet they perceive Him as arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. Many of them earnestly seek to win others to that kind of God. But if that is the kind of person God is, then He is not worthy of our trust, nor is He safe to trust. Sadly, this picture of God sounds a lot like the accusations Satan has made against God from the beginning of the conflict.

In responding to the accusations against Him, God is not willing to issue mere claims or denials. Anybody could do that. But when a person has been falsely accused of being untrustworthy, it does no good to deny it or to simply claim to be trustworthy. So God has answered the charges against Him with the evidence of demonstration. Only by the demonstration of trustworthiness over a sufficiently long period of time, and under a great variety of circumstances, can trust be re-established and confirmed. The Bible is a record of just such a demonstration.

Why is there so much historical detail in the Bible? So much of it seems of such little importance. But if God’s way of revealing Himself is demonstration, it is involving Himself in human affairs and saying, “Watch the way I handle situations. That’s the way to find out what I’m like.” If we did not have the historical details, we would not be in a position to recreate those original settings and understand why God would thunder one time and speak so softly another time.

The Bible is no mere collection of theological statements. Nor is it a code book of deeds to be done and sins to be shunned. It is rather an inspired record of God’s handling of the crisis of distrust in His universe. The only way to truly understand the Bible and rightly interpret it is to pick up the Bible and read it through as a whole. To be confident that we see the real meaning of the Bible, we must view it as a whole, relating all its parts to the one central theme — the truth about God Himself. Of every story, teaching and event, the same question must be raised: What does this say about God? Another question naturally follows: Can we trust the God that we see? That will be the subject of future chapters.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Five, “The Record of the Evidence”

Without the Bible we would know nothing about this conflict in God’s family. Nor would we have the record of how He has demonstrated His trustworthiness by His infinitely skillful and gracious way of handling the revolt. But can the Bible itself be trusted? Do we have the right collection of sixty-six books? Have the words been accurately preserved? Can we trust the many translations? And, most of all can we have confidence that we understand the meaning?

How should one decide which books of the Bible belong and which books do not? I think it helps a great deal to know the origin of these books. The opinion of centuries of believers, who were much closer to the writing of these books than we are, is of consequence. But nothing compares with reading them all. I have done it several times. It takes a long weekend without any interruption. I read all the way through the Old Testament and then the Old Testament Apocrypha and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, and the New Testament Apocrypha. And when you arrive at the Revelation of Peter, you haven’t forgotten Maccabees and Enoch and Romans and Genesis. They are still in your mind. Based on that experience, I agree with Catholic Jerome, Protestant Luther and the great Bible Societies, that the sixty-six books of our Protestant Bibles are the only ones that really measure up.

Have the words of the Bible been accurately preserved? All the original copies of the Bible have disappeared. There are thousands of hand-written copies, though, that have come down to us through the years. And no two of them are the same, which could distress a person who doesn’t know better. But there is a bright side to this. When you look at thousands of these manuscripts, and note what the differences are like, you would be moved to say that no other ancient document has been preserved with such care and accuracy as the books of the Bible. Let me quote the one-time curator of the British Museum, who spent a lifetime studying such matters, “You can pick the Bible up with confidence and say, for all practical purposes, we have the word of God.”

“In many and various ways” (Heb 1:1-3) God has spoken to us through the years. And in many and various ways those words have been translated into English and most of the other languages on this earth. How else could the gospel go to all the world? How could people find out about our God? So there is no substitute for taking the Bible (or preferably the versions, plural, of your choice) and sitting down together to read and study. Never has the evidence contained in the Bible been so readily available. And having all this evidence so readily available, let’s read it. Can we confidently come to the conclusion that we understand the meaning? That the evidence is really there? That the Bible can be trusted? And, as some of us who have spent a lot of time reading these versions believe: the Author who is behind the Bible can be trusted because there is trustworthy evidence in the record.