12 February 2009

How we got the Bible--part 1

What follows here and next week is not an exhaustive study of the process by which God spoke His Scriptures to man and how they were preserved and copied and transmitted from one generation to the next. It is relatively rudimentary, and there are many very reliable works written on the subject, such as:

The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell
The Text of the New Testament by Bruce Metzger
The Authority of the New Testament by N.B. Stonehouse
A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler & William Nix
The King James Only Controversy by Dr. James White
The Books and the Parchments by F.F Bruce
The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable by F.F. Bruce
ANYTHING by F.F. Bruce, for that matter!

Today we will begin a study of how we got what we call the Bible. When some new religion pops up, some new system that is totally against the truth, what is the first thing they attack? The word of God. Do you think it was an accident that the first lie that was ever spoken on earth was a direct assault against the word of God? Genesis 3:1Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Hath God indeed said…?” Many of the largest cults and false religions all started with one lie—“Hath God indeed said?” Islam says that the Bible was corrupted. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society—the headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses—says that their “translation” of the Bible is the only one that is correct because, they say, the Bible has been corrupted. Mormonism teaches that men have “taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious.” All these groups have one thing in common—they all cast doubt on the word of God.

Then of course you have your flat-out, Bible-hating atheists who call this a storybook, or a bunch of made-up fables. They're pretty easy to dismiss. Seems the popular thing to do today to make yourself sound like you're super-intelligent is to go around saying, “I’m an atheist. I'm too smart to believe all that God stuff.” BTW, who is it that says in his heart “There is no God?” But there are some systems that they will say they believe in the truth of the Scriptures, but you need someone to interpret them for you. Anybody know what is the largest system that teaches this? It's the Roman Catholic system, which says that you can't understand what the Bible says. “You can't understand the Bible. Leave that up to your priest and the Pope.”

So, let’s begin, and we’re going to begin by dealing with some myths and misconceptions about the Bible. First, the Bible does not contain the ideas of men. This was not cooked up by a bunch of guys sitting around a fire in the middle of the desert, saying “Hey, I got an idea! Let’s write a book about how everything came to be.” The words contained in here were not the ideas of men—these words come from God Himself. The most commonly used verse in the Bible that talks about the Bible is 2nd Timothy 3:16 (ESV)All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. We can also look at 2nd Peter 1:20-21knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. What we have in here comes from God. It is not a collection of stories invented by men—it is truth from God that was written down by men. Which brings me to my next point: not all the books in the Bible are arranged in chronological order. Now, from Genesis up through Esther, those books are in pretty much chronological order. Some of them overlap others—the books of Samuel and the Kings and Chronicles, then Ezra and Nehemiah and Esther. But after Esther, from Job through Malachi, the books are arranged not so much chronologically, but by the type of writing. From Job through Song of Solomon, we have the wisdom books. Then Isaiah through Daniel are the “major prophets.” Hosea through Malachi are the “minor prophets.” So don’t think of the Bible as just one long narrative story.

And it wasn’t written by one man or group of men at one time. The first five books—Genesis through Deuteronomy—these books were written about 1400-1500 years before Christ. The Psalms were written by several different authors over a period of many years. Most of them were written by King David. Then Isaiah lived about 750 years before Christ. Malachi, about 400 years B.C. Then we have the New Testament. Those books were written at various times anywhere between 20-60 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. They were not just written in one place. The Torah was written in what we know as Israel. Daniel was written in Babylon, what we now know as Iraq. The New Testament was written in Greece, Turkey, Italy.

Oh, and one final thing: Why do we have so many translations? Because the Bible was not written in English. It was not written in King James English, it was not written by King James. I actually had someone tell me one time, “Well, you know, when King James wrote the Bible…” The majority of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Parts of Daniel and Ezra were written in a language called Aramaic. It was a language that was close to Hebrew, spoken in Babylon back then. It’s extremely rare these days, and in fact is almost nonexistent anymore. Then the New Testament was written in Greek. These languages don’t always translate into English very well. You know how if you're going from Spanish to English, it's pretty much a word-for-word, 1:1 ratio of definitions from one into the other? Greek and Hebrew don't work that way. One Hebrew word can have six different English meanings. Greek is a little more specific, but it's still not always exact.

So, now we have those things out of the way—what is true about the Bible? Everything inside it. In our church's “Statement of Beliefs,” it says, "The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience." Basically, we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, spoken by God so that we may know God. There are no errors in it, that everything contained inside was spoken to men by God, and that it is the full word of God. So, let’s take a look at how it came to us. And to do this, we’re going to look at the 5 “W’s”: Who, what, why, where, when. We already know “How.”

First, we’re going to look at the “WHY?” Why did God speak His word to us? Well, we find the answer to that question in the Bible itself. That verse I mentioned earlier, 2nd Timothy 3:16 (ESV)All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. And a lot of times, we end it there. But really, we should go on and include the next verse, which says, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. God spoke this word to us so that we can teach others about Him. We cannot know of the things of God unless He Himself shows us. 1st Corinthians 2:11-14…no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God…The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. We cannot know the things of God with the minds we are born with. Now, that is not to say we can't understand that there is a God. Romans 1:20 says, since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…so that they are without excuse. We know that there is a Creator. And when someone claims that they have never believed in God, they show their foolishness. In that same passage, it says, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God…they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. Like I said, Who says in their heart, “There is no God?”

Everyone knows, at one time in their lives, that there is a God. But some make themselves believe a lie. This is why God spoke His word to us, so that those of us who do retain God in our thoughts can know the things of God. Unless He reveals His thoughts to us, we cannot know them. Isaiah 55:9“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” He also gave us His word so that we may know Him, and His Christ. John 20:30-31Jesus did many other signs…which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. 1st John 5:13These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. We don’t need a catechism. We don’t need a guy in Rome with a funny hat sitting in some big chair to tell us what to think. Of course, the Roman Catholic will try and tell you "You know, your doctrine of sola scriptura isn't in the Bible." Really? Then how do you explain 2nd Timothy 3:15…from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Paul was telling Timothy that even from the Old Testament alone one can learn of salvation by faith. The salvation that is found in Christ ALONE. Romans 15:4For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. 1st Corinthians 10:11Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1st Corinthians 2:11-14no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God…These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches…the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. That’s the WHY. So we may know God, and we may believe on the name of Jesus Christ.

Now, for the "WHO?" And no, we're not talking about the rock band that smashes their guitars and they play their songs on CSI. Not only do we need to ask, “Who did the writing?” But we also need to ask, “Who decided what to put in the Bible?” First “Who did the writing?” Answer: A bunch of different writers that were moved by the Holy Spirit. The first 5 books were written by Moses. Most of the Psalms were written by King David. The first Psalm was probably written by Ezra. Books like Isaiah and Jeremiah, and Habakkuk and Haggai—were written by the men they were named after. The gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—no kidding! Luke also wrote the book of Acts, John wrote 1st, 2nd, 3rd John and Revelation. Paul wrote the books from romans to Philemon.

Now, not just anyone could write some letter or scroll and say, “This is Scripture!” although many people did try. And God had some harsh words for them. In OT times, if someone tried to prophesy, and that prophecy did not come to pass, what happened to that person? Deuteronomy 18:20, God commands the people, “…the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak…that prophet shall die.” There are many fellows on TV that ought to be very thankful they didn’t live back then. Because they claim to be a “prophet of God.” Benny Hinn claims to speak things in the name of God that have not come to pass. If He had lived back then, to be as frank as I possibly can be, his body would be rotting under a pile of stones to this day. So that is one test of whether a particular writing was from God—if it was true. It had to be true, because God cannot lie.

The qualifications for a person to have their writing be accepted as being from God were:
  1. For the OT, that man had to be a true prophet of God. If the man was known to be called by God, and his prophecies had come to pass, and was known to be a true prophet, then if the man wrote, “Thus saith the LORD,” it was pretty well accepted that was what the LORD saith.
  2. For the New Testament, the person had to be either an apostle of Christ, or a close associate of an apostle. The basic factor for recognizing a book’s [value as Scripture] for the NT was divine inspiration, and the chief test for this was apostolicity (Josh McDowell, New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. 22). That’s why books like Mark and Luke are included because these men traveled with apostles such as Paul and Peter, and with Christ. N.B. Stonehouse said that the apostolic authority which speaks forth in the New Testament is never detached from the authority of the LORD himself. Wherever the apostles speak with authority, they do so as exercising the LORD's authority…” (Stonehouse, N. B., The Authority of the New Testament, p. 117-118).
  3. The writing had to be accepted by the people of God. That’s why the Gnostic “gospels” are not included. For one thing if you read them, it doesn’t take long to realize they are a bunch of hooey. Remember when “The DaVinci Code” came out, there was this big interest in the “Gospel of Thomas” and last year, I believe, ABC had that big special on “The Gospel of Judas.” And the accusation was that “These were removed from the Bible because they said things that the church didn’t like. The Roman Catholic system took them out of the Bible,” etc etc. These were never considered Scripture to begin with. No one in the early church considered them to be inspired—breathed out by God. All Scripture was given how? They were not removed from the canon because they were never in it to begin with.
Which brings us to the final point, who decides what Scripture is? One fellow put it this way: A book is not the word of God because it is accepted by the people of God. Rather, it was accepted by the people of God because it is the word of God…they merely recognize the divine authority which God gives to it (Norman Geisler & William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 210). There are many groups who claim that the only reason that the Bible contains the books it contains is because "Emperor Constantine commanded his priests what to believe, and ordered the people to believ the same way he did" or something or other. And when you get a knock on the door on a Saturday morning, and folks standing at your door with a Watchtower in their hand telling you that’s why the Bible was corrupted—eh, not so much.

Constantine did not decide what to put in the Bible and what to leave out. Just as the books of the Bible were not written by one man or one group of men at one time neither was the acceptance of the books of what we call the New Testament brought about by one man or any one group of men at one time. (In fact, the assertion by many Catholics that Rome was the sole arbiter of what was to be considered Scripture is not correct in the least. One thing people need to remember is to make a distinction between "Catholic" and "catholic" [Note the difference between capital "C" and lower-case "c"]). The canon of Scripture developed over the first couple hundred years after Christ. And there were many councils, gatherings of elders from churches throughout the land, that helped to shape the canon. That word “canon”— it does not mot mean those big guns that shoot from the side of a ship. It literally means “standard” or “measuring rod.”

And one of the biggest influences in shaping the canon of Scripture was a man named Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was a student of the apostle John. So Irenaeus was the student of a student of an apostle of Christ. That’s a pretty decent pedigree. Bible scholar F.F. Bruce writes, The importance of evidence lies in his link with the apostolic age and in his…associations. Brought up in Asia Minor at the feet of Polycarp, the disciple of John, he became Bishop of Lyons in Gaul, AD 180. His writings attest the [recognition as Scripture] of the fourfold Gospel and Acts, of Rom., 1 and 2 Cor., Gal., Eph., Phil., Col., 1 and 2 Thess., 1 and 2 Tim., and Titus, of I Peter and I John and of the Revelation. In his [works] it is evident that by AD 180 the idea of the fourfold Gospel had become so [obvious] throughout Christendom that it could be referred to as an established fact as obvious and inevitable and natural as the four…points of the compass…” (Bruce, F.F., The Books and the Parchments: How We Got Our English Bible, p. 109). In other words, because this man learned from a student of an apostle, his words carried quite a considerable weight.

So that is the “why” and “who” of how we got the Bible. Next week we will look at the “what” and the “when” and the “where.”

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