The Bible: Spirit inspired truthIntroduction
The gospel is a message from God concerning his coming kingdom. Right now we can become a member of God's new community. As a Kingdom member we receive many blessings. The blessings are sometimes called the sevenfold blessings of the Spirit. These blessings are covered in the Basic studies, numbers 8-14. The blessing dealt with in this study is truth. God gives his people eternal knowledge - the secrets of eternity. These secrets are revealed in the Bible.
The Bible is a library of books written down over a period from 1500 BC to 80AD. It contains the record of God's acts and words toward the human race. It tells of his dealings with the ancient Jewish people; it records his direct words to the Jewish people through his human messengers (the prophets); it outlines his final and complete revelation of himself in the person of Jesus Christ; it details the in-depth teaching and application of Jesus' words by his disciples. The Bible is God's word to us.
The Word of God
Christians believe that the Bible is more than just a record of past events, more than just a record of God's words to people long dead. We believe it is God's word to us right now; it is a living, vital and relevant word from God to every Christian in every age.
Christians believe it is God's word to us when "rightly interpreted". Some people argue that every word in the Bible is God's Word. We have to realize though, that God has used humans to pass on his words. The point of view, the limited understanding and style of writing of the human author, can be seen in each book of the Bible. Yet, God has made sure that the truth he wanted recorded for eternity is clearly presented. Our job, when we read the Bible, is to look for those truths of God that apply to every Christian in every age. Theologians call this type of eternal truth, propositional revelation.
So, the Bible is the revealed Word of God made known to the writers supernaturally and written down by them through the guiding hand of God and preserved by him up to our present time. We accept that the personality, lack of education etc. of the writers, as well as the entrance of errors in the Bible over the many years it was copied-out by hand, has affected it slightly, but in no way has this affected the truths which God wished to reveal.
The Old Testament
There are three sections to the Old Testament.
First, there are the historical books which start with Genesis and move through in time to when the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon.
Second, there are the books of poetry and wisdom - Psalms, Proverbs etc.
Third, the writings of the Prophets (God's messengers) - Isaiah etc.
The Jews had their own particular way of arranging the books of the Bible:
The Law. This consisted of the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch.
The Prophets. This falls into two parts.
a) The Former Prophets, Joshua to Kings.
b) The Latter Prophets, consisting of the three major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) and the twelve minor prophets.
The Writings. This consisted of the rest of the Old Testament books, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the five Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther), Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles.
ii] How the Old Testament developed
The first five books of the Bible are called the "Books of Moses" (The Pentateuch). Tradition has it that they were written by Moses at the time of the Exodus. There is no evidence for this, but it is certainly possible. All the information in the book of Genesis would have been passed on by word of mouth until it was finally written down. The book of Genesis is family / tribal oral tradition.
As the history of the Jewish people unfolded, the events were remembered and repeated to the next generation. That doesn't mean that their stories were inaccurate - ancient people were very careful in passing on their traditions. During the Kingdom period, 1000 BC onward, histories of their past were written out, some of which were accepted as "Inspired", i.e., God had guided their composition. The last history books were composed during or after the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon, 600 to 500 BC, using written records saved from the destruction of Jerusalem - Kings, Chronicles and finally Ezra and Nehemiah.
The book of Psalms is a collection of Jewish Hymns composed from the time of David (1000 BC) to 400 BC. Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings, many possibly from King Solomon. Proverbs, with Ecclesiastes and Job, are known as Wisdom literature. They show how a child of God can live as a member of the Kingdom in a fallen world. They also tackle the issue of the suffering of the righteous.
The Prophetic books are records of the teachings, sermons and writings of the messengers of God. These men spoke to the Jewish people between 800 BC and 400 BC. Some of the books were written by followers of the prophets, while others were written by the Prophets themselves. The writing prophets tended to be the later ones. Some of these used a special literary form known as Apocalyptic. Daniel, parts of Ezekiel and Zechariah are Apocalyptic literature.
So, slowly but surely, all the books in the Old Testament section of our Bible were accepted by the Jewish people as inspired. There are other books we call the Apocrypha that were regarded as important, but not God's word. When Jesus came to Palestine the library of accepted Old Testament books was virtually the same as our Bibles today.
iii] Is the Old Testament reliable?
The Jewish scholars were very careful in copying out the books of the Old Testament. Each book was carefully copied onto leather or copper and rolled up to form a scroll. We actually have copies of the Old Testament books dating from around 200 BC.
The New Testament
There are four sections in the New Testament.
a) The Gospels - the life and teachings of Jesus.
b) The Acts - the history of the early church, especially the life of Paul the apostle.
c) The Epistles - the letters from disciples to different churches. The majority were written by Paul who worked at developing Christian theology. Paul is, in a sense, Jesus' expositor (one who explains the teachings of another).
d) The Revelation - The prophecy of John.
ii] How the New Testament developed
The sayings and acts of Jesus were remembered by his disciples and passed on to new Christians. As time went by, this information became standardized and probably a great number of Christians could have recited it word by word. As the original disciples began to die, pressure obviously developed to record our Lord's life and teachings for posterity. Using the common knowledge available, and through personal investigation, Mark, then Luke and then Matthew, composed their own interpretation of Jesus and his teachings - 60 to 70 AD. They were most likely not apostles, nor eyewitnesses, but their accounts rested on the testimony of the apostles. Also, they were not just historians, but rather theologians who brought their own understanding of Jesus to their writings. John, the disciple of Jesus, then produced his account which was used by an editor for the gospel of John, cf., Jn.21:24.
The book of Acts was an extension of Luke's Gospel, and was composed by Luke a friend of Paul the apostle.
The Epistles, or letters ,were composed from 50 AD to around 70 AD. They were written to deal with practical and spiritual problems within the churches.
The Revelation was probably the last book written, possibly as late as 90 AD.
It took some 200 years (fixed in the 4th Century) for the early church to decide on what books were inspired. The Revelation, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and James were the last to be accepted. Naturally, quite a few compositions were rejected. It is worth reading some of the Apocryphal Gospels to see how shallow and fake they are in comparison with the gospels in the Bible. Initially the different books were written on papyrus (reed paper) and made into a scroll. As Bible books were accepted, churches built up a library of scrolls for the use of members. Finally, the different scrolls were bound into one single book made of vellum (pages made from the skin of calves).
All the New Testament Books were originally written in Greek - the common language of the time.
iii] Is the New Testament reliable?
We have so many copies of New Testament books dating back to the beginning of the second century, that we are now sure our Bibles closely follows the original writings.
How the Bible came to us
The early Christians used the Greek New Testament writings and a Greek Old Testament version called the Septuagint. These were later translated into Latin, the most famous being the Bible of Jerome 420 AD. The first English bible was translated by John Wycliffe in 1380, using the Latin version. Of course, all these versions had to be copied by hand and were worth a fortune.
With the invention of printing, William Tyndale published his English New Testament in 1526 translated from the Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions. The Coverdale English Bible followed in 1535. Then there was the Great Bible in 1539, The Authorized Version in 1611 and finally today, the mass of versions we have to choose from.
The Bible and authority
Most of us are products of modern Western thinking and as such no longer seek meaning beyond ourselves, but rather from within. This way of thinking has affected the way we view authority; we do not easily submit to any authority, other than our own; we see ourselves as the masters of our own destiny.
Although Christians have seen the church and tradition as sources of authority along with the Bible, Protestants have emphasized the Bible as their only source of authority. The slogan used to be, "a believer and their Bible." With the development of rationalism, the stress has moved off the Bible onto the believer. Although many still claim to be Biblicists, the weight is now upon our own personal interpretation and application of the Scriptures, ie., authority rests with me. This is a very dangerous trend.
The best way to handle this problem is be aware that there is an interaction between the authority of the Bible and reason. To deny that we apply reason to the Bible, that we are rationalists, is to fool ourselves. We then pretend that we are "biblical", while tending to function in a "what-I-think-is-best (for the sake of the gospel)" way. The phrase "for the sake of the gospel" is often used to justify our own personal agenda.
The Bible is, without doubt, the most researched and carefully translated book in the world today. We can trust it with our lives. Seeing this is the case, consider the degree to which you willingly submit yourself to its teachings.