2. The Reliability and Relevance of the BibleRelated Media
Objectives: Like last week, this lesson has a relational goal and an instructional goal. First, we want each member of the group to feel personally valued and excited about the study. We want them to continue building relationships with others in the group. Second, we want each person to have an opportunity to better understand, express, and reconsider their own thoughts about the Bible’s reliability and relevance. We will also try to introduce them to some basic apologetics for the Bible’s reliability.
One word of caution: This is a big subject. The ideal situation would be that you would have an opportunity to follow up with your friends sometime before next week to continue to discuss these challenging issues. By that time, they will have looked over the evidence on the handout we give at the end of the lesson and should be ready to discuss it more thoroughly. This follow-up conversation may illicit more questions.
Opening Dialogue (Allow about 10 minutes)
Discussion Prompt 1: In your own life, what do you rely on to guide you (yourself, a religious book or creed, culture, opinions of friends or family, etc)?
Discussion Prompt 2: In our culture, where do people turn to find meaning and purpose in life? Why?
Use these two questions as ice-breakers. Your goal is to simply raise the issue of what each person in the group relies upon as the ultimate authority in their lives. Is it their own feelings or reason? Is it friends, family, or culture? Or is it a religious book or the beliefs of their denomination? Try to draw everyone into this discussion. At this point, share your own view and feel free to tell them why you hold it, but don’t begin to defend the Bible as that ultimate authority. You’ll get to that in the next section.
Some people may be uncertain about their own source of authority for living, so try to ask specific questions to draw out the information you desire. How do they make major decisions? To whom do they turn for advice? What assumptions do they have about life that might be hidden under the surface?
Reliability (Allow about 15 minutes)
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you agree with the statement, “The words of the Bible are the words of God”? Why or why not?
This question is designed to start the group thinking about the Bible as a reliable guide for life. Try to draw out everyone’s views on this question. The most important part of the question is “Why or why not?” since this will begin to surface objections that they have to the Bible’s reliability, many of which you may be able to eventually help them overcome. Try not to let any one person control this part of the conversation. Also, present your own view and some of the evidence or theology that leads you to hold it, but again, don’t dominate the conversation.
Discussion Prompt 2: Do you think there are problems, inconsistencies, or errors in the Bible that reduce its reliability?
Your goal here is to probe misconceptions some may have about the Bible. If someone answers “yes” to this question, follow it up with, “do you know of any specifically?” Many people assume there are errors or hear that there are on TV or from a friend, but do not know of any errors themselves.
In our experience, some group members will actually have one or two supposed contradictions or errors that they will introduce into the discussion. Listen carefully and try to get the group to respond to each objection. If you know of a good answer to a biblical problem, feel free to state it here. If you run across a question you cannot answer, tell them you will do your best to find an answer and share it with them later.
Discussion Prompt 3: How does it compare to other religious books such as the Koran or the book of Mormon?
It’s very likely that no one in your group will have a solid answer to this question. So you may want to talk about it briefly. There are a few keys that this question is trying to draw out: (1) the Bible is much, much more reliable as an accurate historical document than any other religious book [we’ll give you facts to support this on the handout we’ll give out at the end], (2) the Bible is uniquely cohesive and unified for a book written over thousands of years by many different authors, (3) the Bible is surprisingly humble, including embarrassing truths such as the disunity and immaturity of many of the early churches, and even the sins of the heroes of the faith such as king David, Solomon, and Peter.
In our groups, a few people were from other faiths (such as Hinduism), so they obviously made a point to discuss the beliefs of their religious texts. The challenge in this instance was to be kind while presenting the point of view that the Bible is superior to other religious texts. One way to accomplish this is to present some strong evidence for the reliability of the Bible and then compare that evidence with other religious texts. Ask the group how we should decide on the reliability of a particular book. If we use traditional criteria such as internal agreement, external sources, and historical reliability, the Bible clearly comes out ahead.
Relevance (Allow about 10 minutes)
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you believe the Bible is a relevant guidebook for life in the 21st century?
Why or why not?
Our view, of course, is that even though the Bible was written 2000 years ago and says nothing directly about college football or the internet, it still has much to say about the truly important things in life. It is still a relevant guide for our beliefs, our values, our choices, and our relationships. Again, try to draw out conversation from all participants on this question. Be ready to share and briefly support your view.
One way to make this question interesting is to play devil’s advocate. For example, “Some people feel that the Bible is just a book of old stories and obsolete moral principles. Do you agree?” Direct questions like these to particular individuals and see what they have to say. Some may feel that the Bible is relevant but not superior to other religious texts. If that is the case, ask why and briefly discuss with the group why you feel that the Bible is particularly relevant today.
Discussion Prompt 2: What value does the Bible have in your own life?
This is a more personal question than the previous and should offer you a chance to share about the powerful impact the Bible has had in your own daily life (kind of a mini-testimony). Encourage everyone to share. The point of the question is that people will begin to see the Bible as a living and active book, one that has purpose and meaning for today.
We have found it very helpful if the group facilitator speaks first to get the conversation rolling. If nobody speaks up, you might want to ask some directed questions to individuals to get the conversation moving.
What Does it Say About Jesus? (Allow about 5 minutes)
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you think the Bible can be trusted in its description of Jesus’ life? Are there errors? Are there important things about Jesus left out of the Bible?
This is our “hook” question to prepare us for the study next week on the life of Christ. You don’t need to talk about it much this week, but may want to read it to give the group a heads-up about where the study is headed. If you do have time to talk about it, expect to get a lot of divergent answers. The popularity of books and movies like “The DaVinci Code” has really given people reasons to question the Bible’s account of Jesus’ life. So if time permits, just open this can-of-worms a bit so participants can start thinking about this question for next week.