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Friday, November 14, 2008

Why You Can Trust the Bible

Some people say the Bible is unreliable, and their views have gained wide acceptance. Thus many today dismiss what the Bible says as untrustworthy.

On the other hand, what Jesus Christ said in prayer to God promotes trust: “Your word is truth.” And the Bible itself claims to be inspired by God.—John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16.

What do you think about this? Is there sound basis for trusting the Bible? Or is there really evidence that the Bible is unreliable, that it contradicts itself and is inconsistent?

Does It Contradict Itself?

While some may claim the Bible contradicts itself, has anyone ever shown you an actual example? We have never seen one that could withstand scrutiny. True, there may appear to be discrepancies in certain Bible accounts. But the problem usually is lack of knowledge regarding details and circumstances of the times.

For example, some persons will draw attention to what they consider a discrepancy in the Bible, asking: ‘Where did Cain get his wife?’ The assumption is that Cain and Abel were the only children of Adam and Eve. But the assumption is based on a misunderstanding of what the Bible says. The Bible explains that Adam “became father to sons and daughters.” (Genesis 5:4) Thus Cain married one of his sisters or possibly a niece.

Often critics are just looking for contradictions and so may declare: ‘The Bible writer Matthew says that an army officer came to ask Jesus a favor, while Luke says that representatives were sent to ask. Which one is correct?’ (Matthew 8:5, 6; Luke 7:2, 3) But is this really a contradiction?

When the activity or work of people is credited to the one who is actually responsible for it, a reasonable person does not claim a discrepancy. For example, do you consider a report to be in error that says a mayor built a road even though the actual building of the road was done by his engineers and laborers? Of course not! Similarly, it is not inconsistent for Matthew to say that the army officer made a request of Jesus but, as Luke writes, that such a request was made through certain representatives.

As more details are known, apparent discrepancies in the Bible disappear.

History and Science

The historical accuracy of the Bible was once widely doubted. Critics, for example, questioned the existence of such Bible characters as King Sargon of Assyria, Belshazzar of Babylon, and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. But recent discoveries have verified one Bible account after another. Thus historian Moshe Pearlman wrote: “Suddenly, sceptics who had doubted the authenticity even of the historical parts of the Old Testament began to revise their views.”

If we are to trust the Bible, it must also be accurate in matters of science. Is it? Not long ago scientists, in contradiction of the Bible, asserted that the universe had no beginning. However, astronomer Robert Jastrow recently pointed to newer information that refutes this, explaining: “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same.”—Genesis 1:1.

Men have also changed their views relative to the shape of the earth. “Voyages of discovery,” explains The World Book Encyclopedia, “showed that the world was round, not flat as most people had believed.” But the Bible was correct all along! More than 2,000 years before those voyages, the Bible said at Isaiah 40:22: “There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth,” or as other translations say, “the globe of the earth” (Douay), “the round earth.” (Moffatt)

Thus the more humans learn, the greater the evidence is that the Bible can be trusted. A former director of the British Museum, Sir Frederic Kenyon, wrote: “The results already achieved confirm what faith would suggest, that the Bible can do nothing but gain from an increase of knowledge.”

Foretelling the Future

But can we really trust the Bible’s forecasts for the future, including its promises of a ‘righteous new heavens and new earth’? (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:3, 4) Well, what has been the Bible’s record of reliability in the past? Time and time again prophecies given even hundreds of years in advance have been fulfilled in exact detail!

For example, the Bible foretold the overthrow of mighty Babylon nearly 200 years before it happened. In fact, the Medes, who became aligned with the Persians, were named as the conquerors. And although Cyrus, the Persian king, had not even been born as yet, the Bible foretold that he would be prominent in the conquest. It said that Babylon’s protecting waters, the river Euphrates, “must be dried up,” and that “the gates [of Babylon] will not be shut.”—Jeremiah 50:38; Isaiah 13:17-19; 44:27–45:1.

These specific details were fulfilled, as the historian Herodotus reported. Further, the Bible foretold that Babylon would eventually become uninhabited ruins. And that is just what happened. Today Babylon is a desolate heap of mounds. (Isaiah 13:20-22; Jeremiah 51:37, 41-43) And the Bible is full of other prophecies that have had dramatic fulfillment.

What then does the Bible foretell concerning the present world’s system of things? It says: “The final age of this world is to be a time of troubles. Men will love nothing but money and self; they will be arrogant, boastful, and abusive; with no respect for parents, no gratitude, no piety, no natural affection . . . They will be men who put pleasure in the place of God, men who preserve the outward form of religion, but are a standing denial of its reality.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5, The New English Bible.

Surely, we are seeing the fulfillment of this now! But the Bible also foretells for “the final age of this world” these things: “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages.” In addition, “there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences.”—Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:11.

Indeed, Bible prophecies are undergoing fulfillment today! Well, then, what about yet-to-be-fulfilled promises, such as: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it,” and, “They will have to beat their swords into plowshares . . . , neither will they learn war anymore”?—Psalm 37:29; Isaiah 2:4.

‘That’s just too good to be true,’ some may say. But really, there is no reason for us to doubt anything that our Creator promises. His Word can be trusted! (Titus 1:2) By examining the evidence further, you will become ever more convinced of this.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations are from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

Return of Christ

Definition: Before leaving the earth, Jesus Christ promised to return. Thrilling events in connection with God’s Kingdom are associated with that promise. It should be noted that there is a difference between coming and presence. Thus, while a person’s coming (associated with his arrival or return) occurs at a given time, his presence may thereafter extend over a period of years. In the Bible the Greek word er′kho‧mai (meaning “to come”) is also used with reference to Jesus’ directing his attention to an important task at a specific time during his presence, namely, to his work as Jehovah’s executioner at the war of the great day of God the Almighty.

Do the events associated with Christ’s presence take place in a very brief time or over a period of years?

Matt. 24:37-39: “Just as the days of Noah were, so the presence [“coming,” RS, TEV; “presence,” Yg, Ro, ED; Greek, pa‧rou‧si′a] of the Son of man will be. For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.” (The events of “the days of Noah” that are described here took place over a period of many years. Jesus compared his presence with what occurred back then.)

At Matthew 24:37 the Greek word pa‧rou‧si′a is used. Literally it means a “being alongside.” Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, 1968) gives “presence, of persons,” as its first definition of pa‧rou‧si′a. The sense of the word is clearly indicated at Philippians 2:12, where Paul contrasts his presence (pa‧rou‧si′a) with his absence (a‧pou‧si′a). On the other hand, in Matthew 24:30, which tells of the “Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” as Jehovah’s executioner at the war of Armageddon, the Greek word er‧kho′me‧non is used. Some translators use ‘coming’ for both Greek words, but those that are more careful convey the difference between the two.

Will Christ return in a manner visible to human eyes?

John 14:19: “A little longer and the world will behold me no more, but you [Jesus’ faithful apostles] will behold me, because I live and you will live.” (Jesus had promised his apostles that he would come again and take them to heaven to be with him. They could see him because they would be spirit creatures as he is. But the world would not see him again. Compare 1 Timothy 6:16.)

Acts 13:34: “He [God] resurrected him [Jesus] from the dead destined no more to return to corruption.” (Human bodies are by nature corruptible. That is why 1 Corinthians 15:42, 44 uses the word “corruption” in parallel construction with “physical body.” Jesus will never again have such a body.)

John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and, for a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (Having given it, Jesus does not take it back again. He does not thereby deprive mankind of the benefits of the sacrifice of his perfect human life.)

What is the meaning of Jesus’ coming “in the same manner” as he ascended to heaven?

Acts 1:9-11: “While they [Jesus’ apostles] were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their vision. And as they were gazing into the sky while he was on his way, also, look! two men in white garments stood alongside them, and they said: ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus who was received up from you into the sky will come thus in the same manner as you have beheld him going into the sky.’” (Notice that this says “the same manner,” not the same body. What was the “manner” of his ascent? As verse 9 shows, he disappeared from view, his departure being observed only by his disciples. The world in general was not aware of what happened. The same would be true of Christ’s return.)

What is meant by his ‘coming on the clouds’ and ‘every eye seeing him’?

Rev. 1:7: “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, and those who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief because of him.” (Also Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27)

What is indicated by “clouds”? Invisibility. When an airplane is in a thick cloud or above the clouds, people on the ground usually cannot see it, although they may hear the roar of the engines. Jehovah told Moses: “I am coming to you in a dark cloud.” Moses did not see God, but that cloud indicated Jehovah’s invisible presence. (Ex. 19:9; see also Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 11:25.) If Christ were to appear visibly in the heavens, it is obvious that not “every eye” would see him. If he appeared over Australia, for example, he would not be visible in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, would he?

In what sense will ‘every eye see him’? They will discern from events on earth that he is invisibly present. Also referring to sight that is not physical, John 9:41 reports: “Jesus said to [the Pharisees]: ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin. But now you say, “We see.” Your sin remains.’” (Compare Romans 1:20.) Following Christ’s return, some persons show faith; they recognize the sign of his presence. Others reject the evidence, but when Christ goes into action as God’s executioner of the wicked, even they will discern from the manifestation of his power that the destruction is not from men but from heaven. They will know what is happening because they were warned in advance. Because of what is overtaking them, they will “beat themselves in grief.”

Who are “those who pierced him”? Literally, Roman soldiers did this at the time of Jesus’ execution. But they have long been dead. So this must refer to people who similarly mistreat, or ‘pierce,’ Christ’s true followers during “the last days.”—Matt. 25:40, 45.

Can it really be said that a person has ‘come’ or that he is ‘present’ if he is not visible?

The apostle Paul spoke of his being “absent in body but present in spirit” with the congregation in Corinth.—1 Cor. 5:3.

Jehovah spoke of his ‘going down’ to confuse the language of the builders of the tower of Babel. (Gen. 11:7) He also said that he would “go down” to deliver Israel from bondage to Egypt. And God assured Moses, “My own person will go along” to lead Israel to the Promised Land. (Ex. 3:8; 33:14) But no human ever saw God.—Ex. 33:20; John 1:18.

What are some of the events with which the Bible associates the presence of Christ?

Dan. 7:13, 14: “With the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man [Jesus Christ] happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days [Jehovah God] he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.”

1 Thess. 4:15, 16: “This is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.” (So, those who will rule with Christ would be resurrected to be with him in heaven—first those who had died in years past and then those who would die following the Lord’s return.)

Matt. 25:31-33: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.”

2 Thess. 1:7-9: “To you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength.”

Luke 23:42, 43: “He [the sympathetic evildoer impaled alongside Jesus] went on to say: ‘Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.’ And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.’” (Under Jesus’ rule, all the earth will become a paradise; the dead who are in God’s memory will be raised with an opportunity to enjoy perfect life on earth forever.)

- Reasoning From the Scriptures, published by the WTB&TS

All Suffering Soon to End!

At some time in your life, you have likely asked, ‘Why all the suffering?’ For thousands of years, the human family has suffered greatly from wars, poverty, disasters, crime, injustice, sickness, and death. The past hundred years have seen more suffering than ever before. Will all of this ever end?

The comforting answer is yes, and very soon! God’s Word, the Bible, proclaims: “The wicked one will be no more . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” For how long? “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29.

After God removes wickedness and suffering, the earth will be transformed into a paradise. Then people will be able to live forever in perfect health and happiness. God’s Word foretells: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”—Revelation 21:4.

In that new world, even dead ones will be brought back to life to share in those blessings: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) That is why Jesus Christ could tell a repentant evildoer who expressed faith in him: “You will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:43.

Why Did Suffering Start?

Since God purposed for humans to have such a marvelous future, why did he permit suffering to start? Why has he allowed it for so long?

When God created Adam and Eve, He made them perfect in body and mind. He put them in a paradise garden and gave them satisfying work to do. The Bible states: “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) If they had obeyed God, they would have produced perfect children, and the earth would have become a global paradise, where people would live forever in peace and happiness.

God implanted in Adam and Eve the wonderful gift of free will as part of the human makeup. They were not to be mindless robots. However, their continued happiness depended upon their using free will in the right way—to obey God’s laws. God says: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk.” (Isaiah 48:17) Misuse of free will would result in catastrophe, since humans were not created to be successful independent of God. The Bible says: “To earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.”—Jeremiah 10:23.

Sadly, our first parents felt that they could be independent of God and still be successful. But when they pulled away from God’s rulership, he no longer sustained them in perfection. So they began to degenerate until finally they got old and died. Consistent with the laws of genetics, we have inherited that imperfection and death.—Romans 5:12.

The Main Issue—Sovereignty

Why did God not destroy Adam and Eve and start over with another human pair? Because God’s universal sovereignty, that is, his right to rule, had been challenged. The question was, Who has the right to rule, and whose rule is right? By extension, Could humans do better if not ruled by God? In allowing them enough time to experiment with total freedom, God would establish once and for all whether they are better off under his rule or their own. The time allowed had to be long enough for humans to try all types of political, social, economic, and religious systems apart from God’s guidance.

What has been the result? Thousands of years of human history tell us that there has been more and more suffering. In the past century, the human family has experienced the worst suffering ever. Millions were murdered during the Holocaust. Over 100 million have been slaughtered in wars. Crime and violence are rampant. Drug abuse is epidemic. Sexually transmitted diseases continue to spread. Tens of millions die each year of hunger and disease. Family life and moral values have broken down everywhere. No human government has the answers to these problems. Not one of them has overcome aging, sickness, and death.

The human condition is just as the Bible foretold for our times. God’s Word identifies our era as “the last days” of this system of things when “critical times hard to deal with will be here.” And just as the Bible said, ‘wicked men and impostors have advanced from bad to worse.’—2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13.

Suffering Is Near Its End

All the evidence shows that we are nearing the end of man’s tragic experiment in independence from God. It has been clearly demonstrated that rulership by humans apart from God can never succeed. Only God’s rulership can bring peace, happiness, perfect health, and everlasting life. So Jehovah’s toleration of wickedness and suffering is nearing its end. Soon God will intervene in human affairs by destroying this entire unsatisfactory system of things.

Bible prophecy says: “In the days of those kings [human rulerships now existing] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom [in heaven] that will never be brought to ruin. . . . It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms [present rulerships], and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (Daniel 2:44) The vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty, his right to rule, by his heavenly Kingdom is the central teaching of the Bible. Foretelling a key part of the sign of “the last days,” Jesus said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:14.

When the end comes, who will survive? The Bible answers: “The upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth.” (Proverbs 2:21, 22) The upright are those who learn Jehovah’s will and do it. Jesus Christ said: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) Yes, “the world is passing away . . . , but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the modern-language New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References.

What Hope for Dead Loved Ones?

“If a man die, shall he live again?” asked the man Job long ago. (Job 14:14, King James Version) Perhaps you, too, have wondered about this. How would you feel if you knew that a reunion with your loved ones was possible right here on earth under the best of conditions? Well, the Bible makes the promise: “Your dead ones will live. . . . They will rise up.” And the Bible also says: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Isaiah 26:19; Psalm 37:29. To have real confidence in such promises, we need to answer some basic questions: Why do people die? Where are the dead? And how can we be sure they can live again?

Death, and What Happens When We Die

The Bible makes it clear that God did not originally intend for humans to die. He created the first human pair Adam and Eve, placed them in an earthly paradise called Eden, and instructed them to have children and extend their Paradise home earth wide. They would die only if they disobeyed his instructions.—Genesis 1:28; 2:15-17. Lacking appreciation for God’s kindness, Adam and Eve did disobey and were made to pay the prescribed penalty. “You [will] return to the ground,” God told Adam, “for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) Before his creation Adam did not exist; he was dust. And for his disobedience, or sin, Adam was sentenced to return to dust, to a state of nonexistence. Death is thus an absence of life. The Bible draws the contrast: “The wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life.” (Romans 6:23) Showing that death is a state of total unconsciousness, the Bible says: “For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) When a person dies, the Bible explains: “His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Psalm 146:3, 4. However, since only Adam and Eve disobeyed that command in Eden, why do we all die? It is because all of us were born after Adam’s disobedience, and so we all inherited sin and death from him. As the Bible explains: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men.”—Romans 5:12; Job 14:4. Yet someone may ask: ‘Don’t humans have an immortal soul that survives death?’ Many have taught this, even saying that death is a doorway to another life. But that idea does not come from the Bible. Rather, God’s Word teaches that you are a soul, that your soul is really you, with all your physical and mental qualities. (Genesis 2:7; Jeremiah 2:34; Proverbs 2:10) Also, the Bible says: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) Nowhere does the Bible teach that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of the body.

How Humans Can Live Again

After sin and death entered the world, God revealed that it was his purpose that the dead be restored to life by means of a resurrection. Thus the Bible explains: “Abraham . . . reckoned that God was able to raise [his son Isaac] up even from the dead.” (Hebrews 11:17-19) Abraham’s confidence was not misplaced, for the Bible says of the Almighty: “He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living, for they are all living to him.”—Luke 20:37, 38. Yes, Almighty God has not only the power but also the desire to resurrect persons whom he chooses. Jesus Christ himself said: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.”—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15. Not long after saying this, Jesus met a funeral procession coming out of the Israelite city of Nain. The dead young man was the only child of a widow. On seeing her extreme grief, Jesus was moved with pity. So, addressing the corpse, he commanded: “Young man, I say to you, Get up!” And the man sat up, and Jesus gave him to his mother.—Luke 7:11-17. As in the case of that widow, there was also great ecstasy when Jesus visited the home of Jairus, a presiding officer of the Jewish synagogue. His 12-year-old daughter had died. But when Jesus arrived at Jairus’ home, he went over to the dead child and said: “Girl, get up!” And she did!—Luke 8:40-56. Later, Jesus’ friend Lazarus died. When Jesus arrived at his home, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Although deeply grieved, his sister Martha expressed hope, saying: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” But Jesus went to the tomb, ordered the stone to be removed, and called: “Lazarus, come on out!” And he did!—John 11:11-44. Now think about this: What was Lazarus’ condition during those four days he was dead? Lazarus did not say anything about being in a heaven of bliss or a hell of torment, which surely he would have done if he had been there. No, Lazarus was completely unconscious in death and would have remained so until “the resurrection on the last day” if Jesus had not then restored him to life. It is true that these miracles of Jesus were of only temporary benefit, since those that he resurrected died again. However, he gave proof 1,900 years ago that, with God’s power, the dead really can live again! So by his miracles Jesus showed on a small scale what will take place on earth under the Kingdom of God.

When a Loved One Dies

When the enemy death strikes, your grief can be great, even though you may hope in the resurrection. Abraham had faith his wife would live again, yet we read that “Abraham came in to bewail Sarah and to weep over her.” (Genesis 23:2) And what about Jesus? When Lazarus died, he “groaned in the spirit and became troubled,” and shortly afterward he “gave way to tears.” (John 11:33, 35) So, when someone you love dies, it does not show weakness to cry. When a child dies, it is particularly hard for the mother. Thus the Bible acknowledges the bitter grief that a mother can feel. (2 Kings 4:27) Of course, it is difficult for the bereaved father as well. “O that I might have died, I myself, instead of you,” lamented King David when his son Absalom died.—2 Samuel 18:33. Yet, because you have confidence in the resurrection, your sorrow will not be unrelenting. As the Bible says, you will “not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Rather, you will draw close to God in prayer, and the Bible promises that “he himself will sustain you.”—Psalm 55:22.

- Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations are from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.