Back to the Basics: The Word of God Part 2
We are going through a new series called “Back to the Basics: Knowing why you believe what you believe.” This series will hopefully solidify our faith as we walk through in an overview fashion, the statement of faith of our church. Interestingly, if you ever studied Paul’s letters, you will notice that he spends a lot of time laying out the doctrine before the duty. The “what” of the Christian life always flow out of the “why.” Therefore, if you tell people what to do without going over why you should do it and the heart behind it, faith will be mere drudgery and rules. So my intent here is not merely to pass on information, but for the Lord to change our heart in a way that will influence the way we live. I would add then, that the issues in our behavior are because of our issues with our beliefs. They are interconnected.
The first point in our statement of faith says: We believe that the Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, is the inspired and infallible Word of God, the necessary and complete revelation of His will for salvation, and is the ultimate authority for Christian faith and life. And if you remember last week, we looked at:
I. Why should I trust the Bible?
We looked at the manuscript evidence, the internal evidence and the evidence of fulfilled prophecy. I encourage you to do your own research on this regard if you dare. You do not need to check your mind at your door when you become a believer. The Christian faith has satisfied the greatest of minds in history and the Bible proves to be more than just a book. In fact, we also looked at:
II. Why is the Bible important for me?
We looked at 2 Tim. 3:14-17 and learned what it meant that the Bible is God-breathed. The word “inspiration” came up, which is “the act of the Holy Spirit in revealing to human writers God’s message that makes up the content of the Old and New Testaments.” We said the writers were not inspired, but the content, which God had written through and chosen for His Word was. As a result, if God wrote this book, it is completely authoritative. To ignore and disobey the Book means to ignore and disobey God. We also said it was infallible (completely true) inerrant, without mistakes in the original manuscripts. We can trust it. Lastly, it is important to realize that it is sufficient for how to know God, trust God and to live and serve God completely.
Now I want to move to:
III. How did we get the Bible?
In the statement of faith, you might notice the phrase “the Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments.” By the way, the word “Bible” simply means “book.” The word “testament” means covenant or an agreement made by two parties. How do we know which books belong to the Bible and which do not? The Roman Catholic Bibles, if you ever looked at one, contains more books than we have (called the Apocrypha). How did that happen? Should we have them as well? The Mormons say the Book of Mormon is equally as authoritative as the Scriptures. This is where the word canon comes in. The canon of Scripture refers to “the list of all the books that belong in the Bible.” So if “inspiration indicates how the Bible received its authority, whereas canonization tells how the Bible received its acceptance. It is one thing for God to give the Scriptures their authority, and quite another for men to recognize that authority.”
a) The Old Testament
We can see in Exodus that God Himself wrote on two tablets of stone of the 10 Commandments (it was “written with the finger of God” Ex. 31:18). The tablets were kept in the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10:5). Author Norm Geisler notes, “After the Temple was built, the sacred writings were kept in the Temple (2 Kings 22:8). This special attention and reverence paid to the Jewish Scriptures is tantamount to saying that they were considered canonical.” As we read through Scripture, we see that the collection of authoritative words from God grew with Moses’ first five books called the Pentateuch (Deut. 31:24-26; Ex. 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num. 33:2; Deut. 31:22) and then when God told Joshua to write (Josh. 24:26) and eventually through those God spoke through as prophets (1 Sam. 10:25; 1 Chron. 29:9; 2 Chron. 20:34; 2 Chron. 26:22; 32:32; Jer. 30:2).
Grudem dates Malachi to be written around 435 BC. I find it interesting that from that time to the time of Christ (called the 400 years of silence by some), the Jewish community did not recognize any writing of that time to be as divinely authoritative as all the Holy Scriptures they had from Moses to Malachi. There were other books written during the 400 years, but Josephus (born ~37 AD), probably the greatest Jewish historian, confirms this in his Contra Apion 1.8 when he says:
“From Artaxerxes until our time everything has been recorded, but has not been deemed worthy of like credit with what preceded, because the exact succession of the prophets ceased. But what faith we have placed in our own writings is evident by our conduct; for though so long a time has now passed, no one has dared to add anything to them, or to take anything from them, or to alter anything in them. That is, only the books written from Moses to Malachi, in the succession of Hebrew prophets, were considered to be canonical.”
We see further confirmation in other rabbinical literature as well as from the Qumran community (the group that gave us the Dead Sea Scrolls) that there were no subsequent writings that the Jews recognized as Scripture. In the New Testament, there is no indication Jesus or His disciples disputed the Old Testament books. Jesus and the New Testament authors quote various parts of the OT over 295 times, but never once do they cite any other writings as having divine authority. Now Jude 14-15 and Paul both allude to other writings, but they are more by way of illustration than proof. Moreover, neither of those verses starts with “As it is written,” or “God says,” or “thus says the Lord,” which are typical introductions to attribute to divine authority. In sum, Moses to Malachi are the only books that consist the Old Testament canon. The Jewish Bible contains the same books as in our Bible, except the order might be different and some books have been condensed into one (1 and 2 Kings, 12 minor prophets, Ezra and Nehemiah for example).
b) The New Testament
As for the New Testament, Jesus promises the disciples (called apostles after the resurrection) that they will be given a supernatural ability by the Holy Spirit to remember “all” that Jesus had said, and would guide them into “all the truth.” You may remember Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring into remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26). It also seems that the apostles claimed equal authority to the Old Testament prophets, “an authority to speak and write words that are God’s very words.” In other words, propheticity determines canonicity. Peter says this (2 Pet. 3:2; Acts 5:2-4) as well as Paul (1 Cor. 2:13; 14:37; 2 Cor. 13:3; Rom. 2:16; Gal. 1:8-9; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:8, 15; 2 Thess. 3:6). You might remember from last week that Peter uses the word “Scriptures” to describe Paul’s writings in 2 Pet. 3:15-16 and Paul quotes Luke when he says, “the Scriptures says” (1 Tim. 5:18). So early on in the church, the apostles knew that God was speaking through them and they were writing God’s Word.
So those in the office of apostle had the authority given by God to write the words of Scripture. So these writings were accepted by the early church as part of the canon of Scripture. This would include Matthew, John, all 13 letters of Paul, 1 and 2 Peter, James (1 Cor. 15:7, Gal. 1:19 seem to indicate James as an apostle), 1 and 2 Peter, 1,2, and 3 John and Revelation. This leaves Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews and Jude. Mark was acknowledged due to his close association with Peter as was Luke/Acts because of Luke’s close association with Paul. Jude was accepted due to the fact he was Jesus’ half-brother. Hebrews was debated because the author was unknown, though many said it was Paul. Nevertheless, eventually, since “the majestic glory of Christ shines forth from the pages of the epistle so brightly that no believer who reads it seriously should ever want to question its place in the canon.”
According to Geisler, the criteria used were the following: 1) Is the book authoritative—does it claim to be of God? (2) Is it prophetic—was it written by a servant of God? (3) Is it authentic—does it tell the truth about God, man, etc.? (4) Is the book dynamic—does it possess the life-transforming power of God? (5) Is this book received or accepted by the people of God for whom it was originally written—is it recognized as being from God? So for example, when the The Gospel of Thomas showed up and people claimed it should be in the canon, it was scrutinized. First of all, it was not written by Thomas the apostle, and no one knows who really wrote it. But look at how it ends (par. 114):
Simon Peter said to them: “Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said: “Lo, I shall lead her, so that I may make her a male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself a male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
How many ladies would like this in the Bible? It has other bogus stories as well and thus rejected. It was because of these criteria the Apocrypha was rejected, which we will look at in a second.
In 367 AD, Athanasius, a church father, wrote a letter where he listed the 27 books in New Testament as we have it today. The churches in the eastern part of the Mediterranean world would accept this as the New Testament canon. 30 years later, the Council of Carthage, representing the churches in the western part of the Mediterranean would agree with this as well. These are the earliest final lists we have of our present day canon.
We do not expect any further writings to be added to the canon because Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us that in these last days God has spoken to us in Christ as the finality to the revelation of God in Christ. Rev. 22: 18-19 warns of adding anything to “this book.” Though John was directly referring to Revelation itself, the truth of that statement can be applied to the whole of Scripture.
c) What about the Apocrypha?
Let me share briefly about this set of 14 or 15 books that are common now in Catholic Bibles called the Apocrypha (which means “things that are hidden”). First of all, these books were never accepted by the Jews as Scripture. Some of the books detail events that took place between Malachi and Jesus, but as I mentioned earlier, studying the writings during that time indicates that the Jews did not see any divinely authoritative writings during that time. In addition, Jesus and the New Testament authors make no mention of it. Really the dispute started in the early history of the church.
The earliest Christian evidence was decidedly against viewing the Apocrypha as whether it should be part of Scripture. There were doctrinal and historical inconsistencies with a number of the books. In 1546, the Roman Catholic Church officially declared the Apocrypha as part of the canon. Why did they do this? It was a response to the Protestant Reformation and to the teachings of Luther, who were preaching faith alone and in Christ alone. Apparently, “the books of the Apocrypha contain support for the Catholic teaching of prayers for the dead and justification by faith plus works, not by faith alone.” So with that in mind, the Apocrypha should not be considered as part of the biblical canon. But they are valuable for historical research or study, for example.
In the end, how do we know we have the right books? First of all, there is faith involved that our God loves us, in control of all of history, and is the kind of Father who will not lead us astray and leave us without what we need. Grudem asks, “could it be right of us to believe that God our Father, who controls all history, would allow all of his church for almost 2000 years to be deprived of something he himself values so highly and is so necessary for our spiritual lives?” So in the end, we can study the historical evidence, but we must rest on the faithfulness and providence of God that He has communicated and preserved all that we need to know Him, follow Him and serve Him for His glory.
d) The History of the Bible
To conclude this section, here is a small timeline of some of the history behind the Bible:
c. 1400–400 B.C. Books of the Hebrew Old Testament written
c. 250–200 B.C. The Septuagint, a popular Greek translation of the Old Testament, produced
A.D. 45–85? Books of the Greek New Testament written
c. 305-310 Lucian of Antioch’s Greek New Testament text; becomes a foundation for later Bibles
367 Athanasius’s Festal Letter lists complete New Testament canon (27 books) for the first time
397 Council of Carthage establishes orthodox New Testament canon (27 books)
c. 400 Jerome translates the Bible into Latin; this “Vulgate” becomes standard of medieval church
ENGLISH VERSIONS FROM LATIN
c. 650 Caedmon, a monk, puts Bible books into verse
c. 735 >Historian Bede translates the Gospels
871-899 King Alfred the Great translates the Psalms and 10 Commandments
950 The 7th-century Lindisfarne Gospels receive English translation
955-1020 Aelfric translates various Bible books
c. 1300 Invention of eyeglasses aids copying
1380-1382 John Wycliffe and associates make first translation of the whole Bible into English
1455 Gutenberg’s Latin Bible—first from press
ENGLISH VERSIONS FROM GREEK
1516 Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, forerunner to the Textus Receptus used by KJV translators
1525 William Tyndale makes the first translation of the New Testament from Greek into English
1536 Tyndale strangled and burned
1537 Miles Coverdale’s Bible completes Tyndale’s work on the Old Testament
1538 Great Bible, assembled by John Rogers, the first English Bible authorized for public use
1560 Geneva Bible—the work of William Whittingham, a Protestant English exile in Geneva
1568 Bishop’s Bible—a revision of the Great Bible
1582 Rheims New Testament published
1607-1611 King James Version, the “Authorized Version,” is made
1782 AD: Robert Aitken's Bible; The First English Language Bible (KJV) Printed in America.
1808 AD: Jane Aitken's Bible (Daughter of Robert Aitken); The First Bible to be printed by a Woman.
1833 AD: Noah Webster's Bible; After Producing his Famous Dictionary, Webster Printed his Own Revision of the King James Bible.
1841 AD: English Hexapla New Testament; an Early Textual Comparison showing the Greek and 6 Famous English Translations in Parallel Columns.
1885 AD: The "English Revised Version" Bible; The First Major English Revision of the KJV.
1901 AD: The "American Standard Version"; The First Major American Revision of the KJV.
1971 AD: The "New American Standard Bible" (NASB) is published as a "Modern and Accurate Word for Word English Translation" of the Bible.
1973 AD: The "New International Version" (NIV) is published as a "Modern and Accurate Phrase for Phrase English Translation" of the Bible.
1982 AD: The "New King James Version" (NKJV) is published as a "Modern English Version Maintaining the Original Style of the King James."
2002 AD: The English Standard Version (ESV) is published as a translation to bridge the gap between the accuracy of the NASB and the readability of the NIV.
As for as which version is the best, I would say, “the one you read.” If you are interested in serious study, I would get a literal translation (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV for ex.) and read it with a more formal translation (NIV or NLT). I use the ESV because it is a solid attempt to combine both as mentioned above.
Hopefully what I shared above gave you a glimpse on bible history. Here is the next question for us to ponder:
IV. What is the message of the Bible?
So if God wrote a book and providentially watched over the collection of it, what was His point in doing so? We alluded to this last week, but it is very important that we don’t miss the forest by looking at the trees. What is the big idea of the Bible? The message of the Bible is about how God unfolds a plan of redemption to save mankind through Jesus Christ. The Word of God brings us to the Son of God. If you miss Jesus Christ in your readings and study of Scripture, you missed the forest.
Jesus Himself says this in John 5:39-40: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Remember the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection? Jesus joins them and explains the Scriptures to them, meaning all of the Old Testament and Luke writes, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). Perhaps Jesus did as Tim Keller explains in the following video.
I think often our Bible studies and many sermons, especially those in the Old Testament, point us to ourselves and we end up with a “be like so-and-so” application. In your discipleship relationships, always bring it back to Jesus. In your reading of the Old Testament, bring it back to Jesus. We must always end up at the cross of Jesus.
So Jesus is the message of the Bible.
V. How do I get into the Bible?
I want to close with some help in getting into God’s Word. One of the things I hope to do every week when we are in God’s Word is to show you how to study it for yourself. I am all about the proverbial getting people to fish for themselves than giving them a fish. So when you hear me say, “Circle this,” or “look at the verbs” or “underline that word,” I’m not just telling you what to do, I’m hopefully demonstrating to you some keys to Bible study for yourselves.
So how do you get into God’s Word?
a) Let the Bible read you
Get into God’s Word by letting it get into you. Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, or joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Word cuts us open and lays us bare. If we go into the Word with that mentality, I wonder if the results will be different? “Lord, cut me open and lay me bare.” What is in this passage that you want me to see about me? What is in this passage that you want me to see about you, Lord? What part of me is not surrendered to you? And if the Lord draws you to a particular verse, read it and reread it. Pray it back to the Lord. This is where the discipline of meditation comes in. Psalm 1:2 says the truly blessed person is the one who meditates on His Word. Warren Wiersbe says, “If we speak to the Lord about the Word, the Word will speak to us about the Lord.” If you don’t talk to your Bible, the Bible will not talk to you! The Lord tells Joshua after Moses died to be strong and courageous. It’s one thing to tell that someone and then another to enable him to do it. The key to success Joshua, God tells him, is to meditate on His Word (Josh. 1:7-8). Write the date and occasion of these encounters in the margin of the Bible. Journal about it and I bet you it starts to become part of you.
b) Have a quality plan
Sometimes we get caught under the weight of how much I should be reading. But let me encourage you that God is far more interested in quality than quantity. While I am not suggesting reading one verse the entire year, I am encouraging you not to be overwhelmed by how many chapters someone else is reading or feeling like God is disappointed with the number of chapters you have read. Perhaps take one book of the Bible and take one month to read it. Have a quality plan. Without some sort of plan that works for you, you will end up in the Psalms out of guilt or not the read the Bible at all. By the way, it takes practice. I know some of you are doing P90x. From what I understand, perseverance is key. It might take you 90 days to do the first day’s exercise, because you have to train yourself. You need a plan. Hopefully you wouldn’t expect me to show up every Sunday and say, “Ok Lord, give it to me.” I need to plan and work at the Word and trust God with the rest. You will get back as much as you put in.
I don’t believe Bible reading and study is any different. We are people who want instant gratification. We consume so much junk food with entertainment and internet that our appetites for God’s Word is dull. As a result, what have we become? We are still drinking milk. The same old sin patterns have remained. We live on past mercies and past blessings. We need a fresh word from the Lord every day as much as we need a meal every day. Have a quality plan.
c) Share it with others
One of the privileges I have in studying God Word is that I get to share it with you. And there is no better way for us to retain something we read than when we pass it on to others. And what a blessing it would be if you were dialoging with others during the week either at Living Hope or in your Sunday School small groups or with your spouses or siblings about how God is blessing you in His Word! Deut. 6:6-9 encourages the Israelites to have the Word in their mouth after it is on their heart and to teach them to their children.
As I close, I think if we all knew God was going to be speaking personally at All State Arena and had words for each one of us, we will probably rush over there. But that is exactly what we believe the Bible to be. God has spoken and is speaking through His Word. We all want God’s will for our lives. Where should I live? Where should I work? Who should I marry? What should be my career choice? In my experience, this is how I see the Lord leading for these decisions. I never had the Lord speak to me audibly. But as I am immersed in His Word, I start to think like the Lord. His renews my thinking and transforming my heart to be like His. And as He renews my thinking and transforms my heart, He helps me to have the wisdom to make the best God-honoring decisions. So get in His Word to think like God, to have His heart and to make the decisions of life we need to make. And the more you do this, the more you will want to be in His Word.
Eugene Peterson makes an interesting connection between obedience and being in Scripture. He writes, “At age 35 I bought running shoes and began enjoying the smooth rhythms of long-distance running. Soon I was competing in 10K races every month or so, and then a marathon once a year. By then I was subscribing to and reading three running magazines! Then I pulled a muscle and couldn't run for a couple of months. Those magazines were still all over the house, but I never opened one. The moment I resumed running, though, I started reading again. That's when I realized that my reading was an extension of something I was a part of. I was reading for companionship and affirmation of the experience of running. I learned a few things along the way, but mostly it was to deepen my world of running. If I wasn't running, there was nothing to deepen.
The parallel with reading Scripture is striking. If I'm not living in active response to the living God, reading about his creation/salvation/holiness won't hold my interest for long. The most important question isn't "What does this mean," but "What can I obey?" Simple obedience will open up our lives to a text more quickly than any number of Bible studies, dictionaries, and concordances.”
MacArthur, J. (2003). Unleashing God's Word in Your Life (7).
Grudem, W. (54).
Geisler, N. L., & Nix, W. E. (202-203).
Grudem, W (56).
Geisler, N. L., & Nix, W. E. (206).
Grudem, W. (56).
Grudem, W. (60).
Grudem, W. (62).
Geisler, N. L., & Nix, W. E. (1974). From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible (67). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Grudem, W. (67).
Grudem, W. (63-64).
Grudem, W. (57-59).
Amended from Comfort, Philip quoted in Christianity Today, “How we got our Bible: Christian History Timeline,” http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1994/issue43/4322.html accessed 4 February 2011.
The following dates taken from “English Bible History,” http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/#timeline accessed 4 Feb 2011.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkNa6tLWrqk accessed 4 February 2011.
Wiersbe, W. W. (2004). Be Worshipful (1st ed.) (13). Colorado Springs, Colo.: Cook Communications Ministries.
Taken from www.preachingtoday.com quoting Peterson, Eugene. Eat This Book (William B. Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 70-71; paraphrased in the September 18 entry of Men of Integrity(September/October 2009)