Again, I read 2 Peter 1: 3, “According as his divine power has given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”
With the passing of the years, issues change and a different line of preaching is in demand. The paramount issue today is not what the Bible teaches on some special subject, but whether or not the Bible itself is credible and reliable. The time and place of the establishment of the church, the design of baptism, the operation of the Holy Spirit, etc. etc. are, for the time, largely relegated. Men who claim to be educated are ridiculing the Word of God, and declaring it unworthy of the confidence of man. In discussing matters today, one must know the meaning of certain terms and be able to defend the claims of Christianity. I call attention to such words as integrity, genuineness, and authenticity. What do we mean by these words?
Without being tedious, let me submit that by the integrity of an ancient book is meant its wholeness, or its uncorrupted preservation. That integrity has been preserved when it has come down the ages without material change. The branch of science treating of this subject is called Textual Criticism or Biblical Criticism.
There is not a writing of antiquity but that in passing down the ages has had some change in it. A restoration of the original text has ever been a useful and important work. Christians believe that our Bible today is a true and accurate statement of what God revealed through holy men of old. They accept the integrity of this sacred volume.
By the genuineness of a book is simply meant that it was written by the one whose name it bears. In case no name is attached, its author would be determined from other considerations. Was the letter to the Romans written by Paul or did another write it and forge his name?
The authenticity of a book raises the question of its credibility or reliability. In order to be authentic, a book does not have to be infallibly accurate, but it must possess that degree of reliability which belongs to historical writings of the better class. In the light of this setting, is the Word of God authentic? This involves the science of Historical Criticism or Higher Criticism. This again is of two classes. Christians are interested in Higher Criticism of a constructive kind. Infidels are engaged in the destructive type.
To determine the authenticity of any writing, certain canons have been formulated. The following are generally accepted.
1. The writings of a contemporary, who is credible, and who has had the opportunity for personal knowledge of the facts recorded, have the highest degree of credibility. Under this head, public records, monuments, and inscriptions, made by contemporaries, are included.
2. Those of a writer who may be reasonably supposed to have obtained his information from eyewitnesses possess the second degree of credibility.
3. Writings based upon oral tradition have the least degree of credibility, but when the traditions of one people are corroborated by those of a foreign and even hostile people, their value is wonderfully increased. Their value depends upon the improbability of accidental agreement, and the impossibility of collusion.
4. The concurrent testimony of independent writers greatly increases the probability of an event; and their agreement has the greater force when it is purely incidental, as when one only alludes to an event which the other narrates, or mentions a circumstance incidentally explained by another.
An application of these canons to the writers of the New Testament will be classed as follows:
Of the four gospels, Matthew and John come under Canon 1, because they were eyewitnesses of what they wrote. The same is true of Luke regarding that portion of Acts in which he speaks in the first person; and of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John in their epistles, as far as they record things that took place under their observation. The two gospels Mark and Luke, and a part of Acts come under Canon 2, because they wrote such events as were narrated to them.
So, out of the eight known writers of the New Testament, six possess the highest degree of historical credibility, so far as opportunities to know are concerned, and only two have the second degree.
The high character of these writings evidenced by the purity of the sentiments expressed, lifts them to above the suspicion of being untrustworthy, and secures to them a credibility equal to that of the very best historians.
Unless there is a special reason for doubt, their writings should be accepted as readily as any of the facts which go to make up history.[For much of this sermon I have quoted and copied statements made by brethren A. Campbell and J. W. McGarvey.]
CMS editor: This lesson was edited into four parts for posting here and the scripture quotations were updated from the KJV to the NKJV. This lesson was originally published in Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons – Volume 3, lessons delivered at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville Tennessee between March 18th and April 1st 1928