The BIble (Pillars of Faith Series)

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There is a lot of criticism of the Bible right now. “It’s old, it’s unreliable, it doesn’t reflect modern understandings, it’s just another religious outlook.” Some would even say it is destructive. And yet we as Christians turn to it. In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Paul says to Timothy, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Our statement of faith reads: “We believe the Holy Bible to be the inspired Word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts. It is our standard for faith and practice and the measure by which all of life and personal revelation is to be evaluated.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21)

So let’s talk about the Bible. Why do we believe what we do about the Bible, and why does it matter? This will be a very brief overview; I encourage you to use the resources listed at the end.

 We claim the Bible is ‘breathed out,’ or inspired: God expressed himself accurately, uniquely and sufficiently through human authors.  All communication occurs in a context, so the writers use their language (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek), their jargon and their personality (there are different styles), but God inspired them and guided them so that they wrote accurately. The Bible is unique in that it is the only revelation from God to which we ascribe this level of trust. There is no other revelation that carries the authority of the Bible. It is sufficient means not only is it the only revelation of this nature that we have, it’s the only revelation of this nature that we need.

We claim the Bible is inerrant: “When all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm”  (Dr. Paul Feinberg). To say this confidently, we need to be confident that what we have today is what we are supposed to have, and that we are able to interpret it properly. Fortunately, that’s our next sections J

We claim the Bible is canonical (the books are the right books). The ‘canon’ is a ruler, a measure by which all other claims to revelation are judged. Let's look at how both of these sections of the Bible became part of the canon.

OLD TESTAMENT

  • Ezra, in the late 5th century BC, gave  22 books to the Sopherim (priests who performed their functions at the Temple, and who eventually became the Sanhedrin). These books were kept in the Temple.
  •  Shortly after, the Jews closed the Old Testament canon, because “ the succession of prophets ceased” (Josephus) and “the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.” (Talmud) 
  • Daniel, in the 7th century BC wrote (Daniel 9:2): “in the first year of his reign [Darius], I, Daniel understood from the scrolls, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” The book of Jeremiah was part of a larger collection of books/scrolls that Daniel considered authoritative.
  • The Prologue to Ecclesiasticus, written by a Jewish scribe about middle 2nd century B.C., mentions a Greek translation of “the Law itself, the Prophecies, and the rest of the books.” The implication is that there exists a collection of books that was then translated into Greek. (the info in the last two paragraphs are  from http://www.credomag.com/2015/03/25/how-did-we-get-the-old-testament-paul-d-wegner/)

Josephus wrote in the first century AD: “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have] but only twenty-two books (they combined the 39 to 22), which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind until his death…but as to the time from the death of Moses until the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.”

NEW TESTAMENT

 There were six requirements for a book to make it into the New Testament:

A.  Apostolicity: Was the book written by a first generation apostle or disciple?

B. Antiquity: Was the authorship by a Christian leader from the church’s first generation?

C. Authenticity: Do historical traditions affirm the writings’ authorship and authority?

D. Ubiquity: Did the book have a history of "continuous and widespread approval” among Christians?

E. Universality: Is the book consistent with the OT and known NT writings?

F. Effect: Does the book change lives? Does it have a spiritual and moral effect?

 The shape of the accepted books took place fairly quickly considering how long it would have taken for the writing to circulate and be discussed. Paul was writing in the 50’s; Matthew, Mark and Luke were written in the 70’s.

  • Clement of Rome: eight New Testament books (A.D. 95)
  • Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle: 15 books (A.D. 108)
  • Ignatius of Antioch: seven books (A.D. 115) 
  • Irenaeus, in 130 A.D.: current canon, with some reservations
  • Origen, in 185: current canon with some reservations
  • 150-180: most current NT books were widely accepted
  • 200 A.D.: Muratorian Fragment records a list of books very similar to what we have today
  • Athanasius, AD 367 - accepted them all
  • Following councils affirm the core canon, though some traditions add certain books (deuterocanonical books)

We claim the Bible is reliable. It has been preserved accurately.

The Massoretes in the 10th century (around 916 A.D.) had complete copies of Old Testament books such as Isaiah.  When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 in Qumran, we found a complete copy of the book of Isaiah, both books of Samuel and fragments of almost every book in the Old Testament (dated to 100 BC). So how do the Massoret and Qumran texts compare with 1,000 years difference between the two texts? In Isaiah 53, only 17 letters are different. 10 are spelling differences (honor/honour). 4 are additional conjunctions (‘and’). One is the last 3 letters for the Hebrew word for light, added to complete the thought of "they shall see" at the end of verse 11.

From A.D. 100 - 300, there are 36,000 early quotations of the New Testament in the existing documents from the early church fathers. We could basically recreate the New Testament from these writing if we needed to. These two quotes summarize the validity and trustworthiness of the Bible:

"There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament… if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt." F. F. Bruce 

" It can be asserted with confidence that the sacred text is exact and valid and that no article of faith and no moral precept in it has been distorted or lost." - B.B Warfield

 We claim the Bible is knowable. It can be studied accurately.

 “We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense.  The literal sense is… the meaning which the writer expressed.  Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text. This means the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.” Chicago Statement on Biblical Innerancy

There are three things to remember as we seek to read the Bible accurately.

Know the TRANSLATION.

Versions range from literal, word-for-word translations (King James) to versions that paraphrase with modern language (The message). Here is a good discussion on types of translations. I like reading biblegateway.com so I can read side-by-side translations that use different styles to communicate the same message.

Meaning always flows from the top down, so know the CONTEXT

“We can easily forget that Scripture is a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a crosscultural experience”  (Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes). Here are some  practical example of this principle in action: 

  • when Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet and lays down beside him (Ruth 3:4), she is not seducing him. She is asking him to assume the responsibility for her care, as her husband.
  • when you hear the violent will take the Kingdom of Heaven by force {Matthew 11:12}, it’s an analogy to sheep bursting out of pen after being penned up all night.

A word is in a sentence…paragraph…section…book, etc. Take the time to read the context. 

 Know the PURPOSE

  • Is it instructive (and to whom?): Take of your shoes (to Moses); don’t get tattoos (to the Jews for culture-bound reasons); “love your enemies…pray for them” (to all). All the sections are interactions, but the first two are not for us!
  • Corrective (and for what purpose?): Many things in NT letters were written to correct.  For example, the Corinthian ladies wear a covering, and men were told not to cover their head. I’m convinced that had to do with creating a culture in the church where all people had value and dignity, and with offering a testimony to the community that clearly displayed why the early church was not like the pagan temples. We don't insists that women cover their heads and men don't, but we do seek to obey the principle behind the correction Paul gave the church in Corinth. The Bible contains timeless principles that are sometimes expressed in timely ways. We always seek to understand the expression so we can honor the principle.
  • Descriptive:  You find this in many Old Testament stories, and a lot of the Book of Acts. Not everything is meant to be read as a standard. Sometimes it just describes life. We don’t sacrifice the first thing we see after a military victory, like Jephthah did with his daughter in Judges 10; we don’t meet in Jewish temples or homes for church usually (Acts 2:46).

 We claim the Bible is true.

 “… here is a faith firmly rooted in certain... historical events, a faith which would be false and misleading if those events had not actually taken place, but which, if they did take place, is unique in its relevance and exclusive in its demands on our allegiance. For these events did not merely set a process in motion and then themselves sink back into the past. The unique historical origin of Christianity is ascribed permanent, authoritative, absolute significance; what happened once is said to have happened once for all..." J.N.D Anderson

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

 http://biblos.com.  An excellent site with parallel versions, links to other similar verses, cross references, commentary, and explanations of Hebrew and Greek words.

http://www.biblegateway.com.   Bible Gateway has a searchable online Bible in over 100 versions and 50 languages. There are reading plans, commentaries, dictionaries, e-books, etc.

http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=1458.  Ray Vander Laan’s site called “Follow the Rabbi.”   An intriguing look into Jewish worldviews and customs, as well as other cultural insights that are helpful in understanding the venue in which the Bible was written.

http://www.str.org/site/PageServer.  Greg Koukl’s site, Stand To Reason, has a ton of helpful information, including a lot of insight on how to read the Bible accurately. Just search “Reading the Bible” on his site, and you will be off and running.

http://bible.cc/.  A great online parallel Bible with TONS of resources. My personal favorite.

Cold Case Christianity (http://coldcasechristianity.com) – the website and J. Warner Wallace’s books, Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. Wallace is a fantastic resource for looking at the historicity and reliability of the Bible as well as the Christian faith.

Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions, by Craig Blomberg (I have not read it ,but it’s been highly recommended).

The Case for Christ and The Case For Faith by Lee Strobel

 Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth Bailey.

Insights into Bible Times and Customs, by G Christian Weiss, published by Moody Press.

Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard.

Hard Sayings of the Bible, by Walter Kaiser, F.F. Bruce, and others. P

Is God a Moral Monster?  Making Sense of the Old Testament God, by Paul Copan.   A book on how to read the Old and New Testament faithfully, with a focus on understanding God in the Old Testament.

Hard Saying of the Old Testament, by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.  Insight into the historical, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds of troublesome passages in the Old Testament.

Hard Sayings of Paul, by Manfred T. Brauch. This book takes forty-eight different teachings of Paul, and provides background and context.

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, be E. Randolph Roberts and Brandon O’Brien

Series on Biblical books by Timothy Keller (such as Galatians For You) or N.T. Wright (his New Testament for Everyone set)