Have you ever played the Telphone Game? It works best with at least 10 people; even more is better. You whisper a message to the first person. That person in turn whispers it to the next person. And on it goes until it reaches the last person, who then announces aloud what he or she heard.
If you have never played this game, you would be surprised at the degree to which the final version of the original message can be changed through the process of verbal transmission.
Actually, cultures with oral traditions can do a fairly good job of perserving their stories, as long as they take careful precautions in passing them from one generation to the next. Nevertheless, changes do enter, and after a few centuries you will find notable variations. The basic theme and story line won't change, but details begin to drift. And after a thousand years, even the most basic elements of the story become distorted.
Cultures with written traditions do a lot better. It is easier to faithfully reproduce a written document. And if extreme precautions are taken, such as was done by the ancient Hebrew scribes (see Evidence), the document can be preserved essentially unchanged.
The degree to which these precautions are taken depend upon the value placed upon the story or document.
The ancient Hebrews believed that the scripture texts were the inspired Word of God. That alone was enough to motivate them to take the extreme measures that they did in order to preserve their accuracy. But why is it important to have an accurate transmission of a document believed to be a communication from God? Here, I present a few reasons why the human race might benefit from such a text.
Of course, the validity of the reasons presented in each of the following sections depends on whether or not we can accept the Bible as authoritative. As was pointed out on the Evidence page, this in turn depends on the validity of Jesus Christ's claims about himself. I am not going to repeat the content of that page here; feel free to read it for yourself. For the purposes of this page, the following sections will assume that the Bible can be accepted as the authoritative Word of God, and its content trusted.
On the page about Life, the Universe and Everything, I present a series of arguments in favor of the existence of God. However, if you read them, you should immediately realize that, while they support the idea that God exists, they say absolutely nothing about the nature of God.
Some people will argue that the existence of beauty and abundance in this world demonstrate that God is loving and caring. But do they? How do we know that He is not merely a great Artist who created them for His own enjoyment, but will get a big belly laugh out of throwing us humans into Hell to burn forever? What does the visible nature of the Universe say about God's personality—or that He even has anything that we would recognize as one? Does anything we see in the Heavens or on Earth give conclusive evidence that God is forgiving? Or that He is strict and harsh and will severely punish the slightest infraction with no opportunity for a second chance? Or that maybe He just doesn't give a rip one way or the other?
Throughout history, people have accepted that God exists, and then proceeded to come up with more different ideas as to His nature than you can shake a stick at. The major religions do not agree on who God is.
So how can anyone know?
We can know by revelation. The Bible says a lot about the nature of God; His love, justice, forgiveness and much more. We do not need to guess. An authoritative source was deliberately preserved over the millennia in order to answer these questions. So in answer to the principal question, the Bible was preserved so that we can know who God is.
What human beings are and where we came from is not a trivial issue. Are we animals? Or are we the result of intelligent design? And if the latter, for what purpose were we made?
The Bible is clear that human beings are not the result of random chemical reactions. We were created with a purpose. Now we can argue all we want about the specific mechanism through which God created human beings, but if we accept the Bible as the Word of God, we have to agree that we did purposefully come from His hand.
This is important. If we recognize that there is purpose in our existence, we will be motivated to seek out that purpose. We will be motivated to seek the One who is our Creator and find out why He made us and what He expects of us. This is another reason why the Bible texts were preserved throughout history, so that we would know that we were created with a purpose, and to recognize all that that implies.
If we assume that God exists, the next question becomes: So what? How does that affect me? Does He care what I do with my life? Did He just create human beings and then go off on a celestial fishing trip, leaving us to stew in our own juices? Or does He intervene in our lives? If He does, what are His motivations? Does He do it for our own good, or does He just “stir up the ant nest?”
Again, the scientific evidence supporting the bare existence of a Creator does not tell us what the Creator wants or expects of us. For that, just like regarding who He is, we need revelation. The Bible is full of texts explaining what God expects of us. We do not need to be in the dark, wondering if He approves of this or that. We can look at His commands and principles, and know for certain.
Yes, there are what people refer to as “gray areas”. But are they really gray? Or is it that people do not want to accept what the Bible clearly says about a subject, so they invent arguments and elevate them to the same level as the scripture texts?
If we truly accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, then we will not argue with it. If God says something is right, then it is okay. But if He says that it is wrong, then it is wrong, and no amount of human arguing will ever change that. It's really not that difficult to know what God expects of us. What we do about it is where the rubber meets the road.
As I said at the end of the previous section, what we do about God's standards and expectations is where the rubber meets the road. Even so, there is more than just one possible response to finding out that we are not doing what God wants of us. Do we just give up and blow our brains out? Do we shrug it off and say, “So what?” Do we try harder to “be good”? What can we expect God's response to our response to be? Will He just say, “Sorry, you lose!” and slam the door in our face? Or will He give us a second chance?
Knowing what God expects of us when we screw up and disobey is important. It will guide how we react to recognizing our own guilt and failure. Again, the Bible clearly lays out not only God's standards, but what He will do when each of us finally comes face-to-face with those standards and our own inadequacy.
Knowing that there is forgiveness encourages repentance. That emphasizes yet another reason why God saw to it that the Bible texts were accurately preserved: so that we would know about His forgiveness—and what His conditions are for obtaining it.
If you are unsure about where you stand with regard to this issue, please visit the page about Beyond Death.
Knowing that the characteristics of the Universe require a Creator does not tell us what the Creator plans to do with that Universe—or with us. If the Universe were “closed”—i.e. that it held sufficient mass to reverse its expansion and someday in the distant future collapse back on itself—we might at least hazard a guess that He intends to destroy it, and possibly us as well. But the Universe has been shown to be open; it can potentially expand forever without self-destruction. So the question remains open: What does the Creator intend for the future?
Here, as much as with any of the previous issues, we require revelation. As I point out in What the Future Holds, there are almost as many speculations about future possibilities as there are humans on the face of the planet. And since we cannot see the future, none of them can be clearly demonstrated to be correct, unless we can put our trust in a specific revelation as being from God, and thus accurate.
So this is yet one more reason why the Bible has been preserved over the millennia: So that we would know what God has planned for the future, and can in turn respond accordingly.
Life is about choices. We decide what we believe, what we want to do with our lives, how we will conduct ourselves in our day-to-day living, what we will have for dinner, where we will go for vacation, and so on. It is pretty clear that, within the limits imposed by the nature of the world we live in, we have a free will.
In much of modern thinking, freedom is essentially defined as the liberty to make whatever choices we want, without being subject to limitations beyond those imposed by nature. Of course, it is immediately clear that this definition is seriously flawed; what if my “choice” is to go get a shotgun and blow your guts out? There have to be at least some limitations. However, even this rather extreme example falls short of recognizing the true flaws of unlimited choice, and how it actually enslaves, rather than sets a person free.
By nature, humans are limited in what we can possibly know by means of our own senses. We occupy a very tiny portion of the Universe, both in space and in time. And as I point out in The World Around Us, the portion of the Universe that we cannot even detect with our senses is considerably greater than the portion that we can.
So how do we decide what to believe? How do we decide what is right and wrong? How do we know what all the consequences are of our choices?
Without some limitations—without some kind of guide to help us find the correct answers—we are forced to speculate. And since this entails choosing not to base our speculations on anything that we accept as an absolute foundation—essentially, the basic defining characteristic of moral relativism—how do we defend our choices?
We have to defend them based on the power of our own reasoning. And when our own reasoning isn't enough, the best we can then do is fall back on the reasoning of other human beings who share our beliefs. Since we do not acknowledge an absolute standard, this just amounts to “passing the buck”.
In a sense, this is “freedom”, since I make my own choices. But it does not set me free. It does not release me to have the inner peace that what I believe is solidly grounded in something that I can trust implicitly, an authority that I can confidently refer to when discussing the subject. That is true freedom.
You may argue that modern science provides such an absolute authority. In one sense, you are correct. What has actually been observed and demonstrated to be consistent is something that we can rely on. This does not conflict with the idea that God has revealed Himself through a written record. Indeed, one would expect the world around us—the work of the Creator—to be consistent with what God reveals by other means. After all, He is the same God.
What we must be careful of is confusing what is clearly observed with what is actually unproven theory. There are a lot of ideas today that are presented as “science”, when in reality they do not fall in that category. If you have not already read the parent page on Life, the Universe and Everything, please do so. Specifically, read the section on the various types of evidence. Then read the page on The World Around Us. And after that, stop and take a good, hard look at some of what you may consider to be proven scientific fact, and ask yourself if it really falls in that category. If you are honest with yourself, you might be surprised.
An authoritative standard liberates us from having to rely upon our own reasoning to do what it cannot do. As I stated at the beginning of the previous section, this page assumes that the Bible can be accepted as the authoritative Word of God. Again, if you have trouble accepting that, please read (or re-read) the page on Evidence. As I point out there, the evidence is not scientific, but legal-historical. I know that I cannot reach into your heart and mind and change either one. All I can do is ask that you at least approach the subject with an open mind.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” — Jesus Christ (John 8:32)
Copyright © 2005-2017 William R. Penning. All rights reserved.