When you finish this session you should be able to:
- Understand the phrase “the battle for the Bible”
- Comprehend a working definition of Scripture
- Observe the First Testament canon
- Observe the Second Testament canon
- Know that scripture is authoritative
- Grasp a working knowledge about the idea of inerrancy
- Understand the reverence of the Scripture: the Bible is not God
- Knowing how to practice Scripture in our lives
- Seeing the Power in Scripture for change
- Realizing that Scripture is a God-breathed book
- Grasping the words of God in the words of humankind
In this session, we will introduce you to the idea that of the phrase “the battle for the Bible. Second, we will understand a working definition of Scripture. Third, we will observe the First Testament canon. Third, we will observe the Second Testament Canon. Then, we will help you know that Scripture is authoritative. Next, we will help you understand the idea of inerrancy. Then, we will observe that the Bible is not God. Next, we will suggest how to practice Scripture in real-life situations. Then, we will observe the power of Scripture for change in our lives. Next, we will consider the idea that Scripture is a God-breathed book. Finally, we will help you grasp the concept that the Bible is the words of God in the words of humankind.
Where We Are Going
The Battle for the Bible
A Working Definition of Scripture
The First Testament Canon
The Second Testament Canon
Scripture is Authoritative
A Working Knowledge About the Idea of Inerrancy
The Reverence Of Scripture: The Bible Is Not God
The Power in Scripture
Scripture Is a God-breathed Book
The Words of God in the Words of Humankind
The Battle for the Bible
Several years ago the phrase “battle for the Bible” was a war cry within the Christian ecclesiae. As in any war, there were (and still are to some degree) two major sides who aimed their artillery toward each other and fired repeatedly. In most wars, someone wins. In this war, neither did. Quite the opposite may be true. Both sides may have lost. It is an old trick of the devil to get believers to go to war over anything. It is the sad truth that we do so all too often.
There are three statements of belief that we can state at the beginning to provide a firm foundation for a belief in the authority of Scripture for our lives.
- Scripture is authoritative
- Scripture is the primary source for guiding our life during this present evil age
- Our doctrine and practice must find their foundation in Scripture
A Working Definition of Scripture
Dr. George Ladd defines Scripture as the word of God written in the words of men.[ref]George Ladd. New Testament and Criticism. 1967. 12.[/ref] This means that Scripture is written in the words of men and is at the same time the word of God. This ides is primarily seen in the acts of God that he performed on behalf of his children. Scripture is the story of God’s faithfulness to the Salvation History of his chosen people. Thus, when we become familiar with how God has acted in faithfulness, we will have a firm foundation in God and his faithfulness.
How Did We Get Our Scripture?
Let’s begin our journey by observing how Scripture came to us. What was the process that occurred that allows us to read Scripture in our own language?
The Process of Scripture
As a physical record, Scripture came to us over a period of time. Tradition reveals that the First Testament documents were started by Moses in about 1400 B.C. (others give the date of 1280 B.C.). At the beginning of the Intertestamental Period (approximately 400 B.C.), the writing was finished. The actual Pentateuch text was assembled somewhere around 950 B.C. (others say 550 B.C.) during the rule of Solomon. The final books of the First Testament were finished around 150 B.C.
We can see that this process took about a thousand years. The time was much shorter for the writing of the Second Testament. Galatians was written around A.D. 49 and Revelation was written around A.D. 96.
Who Wrote Scripture?
Scripture is a collection of books, written by many authors. All of the writers were Jewish, except Luke, who was a Greek. The authors wrote from diverse places like Palestine, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. The reasons that caused these writers to produce their books were as diverse as the authors themselves.
How many books are there in Scripture? Your answer will depend on the tradition in which you grew up. It is often the case that when people become new Jesus followers, they are often disturbed when they hear there are books that the early Christians read that are not found in their Bible. They want to know who decided which books were in or out. They want to know how this was decided. When did the canon come into existence? The word canon was used by the early ecclesiae in the following way.
The Canon was a list of books that were considered to be authoritative. These books were used by the ecclesiae to measure beliefs. The early ecclesiae had two canons: the First Testament which was inherited from the Jews and the Second Testament canon which emerged over a three hundred year period of time.
The First Testament Canon
There are three parts to the Jewish First Testament:
The Law: The Law consists of the first five books of the First Testament and was believed to be the work of Moses. These five books contain the record of creation, the call of Abraham, the rise of the nation of Israel, the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt, the giving of the covenant and its stipulations, which was the lifestyle guide for the Jewish nation.
The Prophets: There are two groups: The former prophets which include Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, and the latter prophets which contain Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets. These books show the acts of God and his interpretative word about the rise and fall of the children of Israel.
The Writings: The balance of the First Testament books falls within this category. There are lyrical poetry and wisdom books such as Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and the Song of Songs. There are historical books like Daniel, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. By the beginning of the first century, the Hebrew Testament was complete. It was confirmed in Jamina in the mid-‘90s by a Jewish council.
Around 250 B.C. a group of Alexandrian Jews translated a number of the First Testament books. This version is called the Septuagint (LXX). This translation had additional books which later Jewry did not accept as authoritative. These books are called the Apocrypha by the Protestants. The Septuagint had a wide exposure during the first century. Some of the authors of the Second Testament books often quoted from it instead of the Hebrew Text.
During the first fifteen hundred years of the ecclesiae, the Reformation period, these Apocryphal books caused many arguments and dissensions. The question about the authority of the Apocrypha surfaced during the Reformation. The Reformers returned to the Hebrew Canon of Jamina, while the Catholic Church reaffirmed its allegiance to the Apocrypha as authoritative at the Council of Trent.
The Second Testament Canon
The Second Testament books were written on a material called papyrus that was made from the papyrus plant, an abundant material in the region of the Nile. Papyrus rolls measured about ten inches wide and thirty feet long. The material itself was flimsy and not very durable. Over the years thousands of Second Testament manuscripts written on various sizes of papyrus have been discovered. Here is how multiple manuscripts could have occurred.
When Paul wrote to the ecclesiae at Colosse, a city in ancient Phrygia about twelve miles to the north of Laodicea near the road that led from Ephesus to the Euphrates he most likely wrote on papyrus. Because of the frail makeup of this material, it would literally begin to fall apart if it was handled very much. The same is often true of well-used Bibles today, which fall apart at the seams. As an example, the cover of the NIV Bible that I used all the way through Bible College completely fell of the spine of the book.
Because the letter was read over and over, a scribe would copy it to another piece of papyrus or make several copies. The scribes were the early Xerox machines, with one exception: they often made some errors in writing. Besides the possibility of a scribal copy because of usage, Paul told another church that they should read the letter he had sent to the Colossians (Col. 4.16) which would cause more copies of the letter to be copied, which in turn would cause more copy errors. In addition, some manuscripts had scribal notes in the margins that later copiers copied into the text.
The letters written by Paul were the first to be circulated and began to be understood as having the same authority as the First Testament (2 Peter 3.14-16). By the mid-Second Century, the four Gospels were being used authoritatively in the ecclesiae. However, there was no consensus within the Second Century ecclesiae of a list of authoritative books. The first known attempt of making a list occurred with Marcion. He tried to persuade the ecclesiae of her need for having a canon by composing one of his own. In the Bible of Marcion, there was only a Second Testament of which he had rewritten some parts. The ecclesiae in this century cast aside Marcion while retaining his concept. His ex-communication contributed to the expansion of the canon within the ecclesiae.
Over the next two hundred years, the ecclesiae began to define her canon. At the close of the fourth century, she decided on twenty-seven books, which the ecclesiae today still holds to be the authoritative word of God.
The two basic criteria that were used in the formation stages of the canon were: Was the book or letter written by an apostle/missionary or one of his protégées and did its message change the lives of people? While this process occurred as a part of human history, I contend that the ecclesiae listened to God over these years and saw in these certain pieces of literature the hand of God and heard in its reading the voice of God.
Scripture is Authoritative
Scripture is the authoritative word of God. G. W. Bromiley writes:
…the Bible assumes everywhere that it is a message directly given by God Himself. in the First Testament as in the Second Testament the claim to a more than human authority is everywhere implicit, and in many places, it finds direct and open expression. It is claimed, e.g., that Moses received from God both the moral law and also more detailed commandments, even extending to arrangements for the Tabernacle. The prophets maintained that they were not speaking their own words, but the message which God Himself had given to them. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke with authority because He was conscious of speaking not merely as the historical Teacher but as the eternal Son. The apostles did not doubt as to the authoritativeness of their pronouncements, whether they were quoting our Lord or developing the Christian message under the guidance of the outpoured Spirit” (“The Authority Of Scripture,” New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition).
A Working Knowledge About The Idea Of Inerrancy
Two words in the Christian vocabulary have caused more divisiveness in the ecclesiae within this century than almost any others. They are inerrancy and tongues. When either of these words is uttered, a red flag is raised in almost all hearers. The most popular definition of inerrancy is found in a book by Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible. Therein he states,
This Word is free from all errors in its original autographs…. It is wholly trustworthy in matters of history and doctrine…. The authors of Scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, were preserved from making factual, historical, scientific, or other error” (30-31).
The problem with this whole topic is that we impose a Western standard of defining error based on a scientific worldview. We often do not allow the standards of the ancient world to prevail in its own literature. These topics have been greatly debated by men and women of faith and reason within the Evangelical ecclesiae.
It is fair to say that Scripture teaches truth. However, when this proposition is stated, the opposite side of the coin may also be true. If Scripture teaches the truth, then it cannot teach error. It is often the case that the ecclesiae has spent more time discussing how the Bible does not teach error, than trying to discover the truth the Bible does teach.
The following comes from an article in a magazine I edited in the ‘80s:
Answer this question: What size screwdriver do you need to saw a “two-by-six” piece of lumber? We immediately recognize the question as inappropriate. A standard must be appropriate and consistent with its intended purpose. How can one fault a carpenter for measuring a table leg accurately to only one decimal place just because the standard of accuracy in a laboratory runs to several places of decimals? The question, then, is: what degree of precision or imprecision is compatible with the intended purpose of the Bible? Jesus called attention to the mustard seed when teaching about the kingdom of God. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree (Matthew 13.32).
This is a scriptural statement of proposition. If it must address us scientifically, as some suggest it must, then we have an error in botany. Technically we now know that the mustard seed is neither the smallest of seeds nor the largest of shrubs. So if the purpose of Jesus or Scripture is to teach or address science, we have a bold and inescapable error here.
However, if we realize that Jesus’ intent was not to teach botany, but to instruct us about the kingdom of God, then we have a different situation to which scientific criteria is irrelevant. If what Jesus said regarding the kingdom of God was wrong, then we would have a bonafide error. But, we believe, to the contrary, that what Jesus said is true and authoritative. The mystery of the kingdom, in this parable, is that what starts through a small band of socially insignificant people will end up in the glory of the Lord filling the whole earth (“First Fruits,” November 1984, 12).
A discussion about inerrancy almost always causes more heat than light. The student of Scripture is faced with many illustrations like the one above. The standard that he or she chooses to apply to discover the meaning will determine the conclusion that is reached. It seems to me that it is more beneficial for followers of Jesus to try to discover the truth of Scripture, rather than a debate on which side of this issue one should stand. Often the result of such debate is the breaking of fellowship if a person does not choose the supposed correct side.
It may be best, when studying Scripture, to allow Scripture to speak truth based on the customs and manners of expressing truth in the ancient times, rather than forcing some distant twentieth-century scientific criteria upon it.
The Reverence Of Scripture: The Bible Is Not God
Parts of the ecclesiae seem to practice a kind of bibliolatry in which the Bible is worshiped rather than the God of the Bible. It is fair to state: The Bible is not God. If so, there may be a new trinity in this century. Do we worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible? Scripture is God’s word, but it should not be the point of our worship but will inform us how to better worship. Scripture certainly leads us to live life better. We should allow Scripture to speak to us devotionally, as well as have our devotions informed from scholarly resources. Let Scripture be the vehicle that God intended it to be! Literature informs us of who God is, what his deeds are, what they mean, who we are, how we relate to God, and how we relate to others.
Our practice of life must find its foundation in Scripture. However, not everything that we practice is spelled out in the print of Scripture. We carry on many activities in the life of the ecclesiae that are not explicitly found in the pages of Scripture. Every Sunday as we arrive at our ecclesia at the corner of walk and don’t walk, Anytown, in the Western Hemisphere, we may deposit our kids in Sunday School. This concept is modern. It is not found in Scripture. It has become a sacred tradition in the ecclesiae and is often like the precepts that the Jews placed around the Law. Don’t reach out and touch it or you may bring back a nub. While it is fair to suggest that Sunday School is not found (along with pews, tables, chairs, buildings, youth departments, bands, platforms, clocks, sound systems, tapes, closed-circuit TV, etc.), the concept of training and education is found. We know that we have to provide biblical instruction for the members of the local ecclesia. Scripture informs us to do so. The message of Scripture is solid. The form in which we pursue that message is changeable.
Seeing the Power in Scripture for Change
Scripture is full of stories that demonstrate the power and presence of God. It is the primary conveyance he used to communicate with his children. There are two levels of Scripture of which we must be aware. One is devotional, the other is informed devotions. First, a word about devotional use. God can and does break into our lives as we read his word and speak to us directly. This message is for us, but it is not the meaning of the text of Scripture we may be reading. We may share it as a personal word to us, but it is abusive to share it as the intended meaning of the author which the first hearer would have heard. The second is informed devotions in which we learn to fill our toolbox with appropriate tools to help us come to grips with the message of God in the First and Second Testaments. Both are necessary for a healthy believer.
A God-Breathed Book
God has revealed himself in Scripture by his works and words. The chief revelation of God is Jesus who came to show us what God is like and to secure our salvation. The vehicle which God chose to use to carry this message to the generations is Scripture. We might ask: In what way is Scripture the word of God? There are two passages in the Second Testament which can help us answer this question. The first illustration: Second Timothy 3.16 and the second illustration: Second Peter 1.21. Let’s observe them in that order.
| 2 Timothy 3.16
In the Timothy passage, the word translated God-breathed relates Scripture directly to God, though some recent translations have chosen the word inspire to translate the Greek word theopneustos (theo noose tos). The New International Version has chosen a better English word, God-breathed. The human words which are employed by God to give us his message are breathed with his life and surely are trustworthy. Paul told Timothy that the goal of these God-breathed words was to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness. The result of teaching that reproves, corrects, and puts us on the right path, is completeness in our lives and the mission of doing the works of God.
The concept of God-breathed might be understood by saying that “the written words” cannot be understood correctly without the breath of the Spirit of God.
| 2 Peter 1.21
In this passage, Peter talked about prophecy, but the message provides some clues about determining the character of Scripture. Peter said that prophecy comes from God, not from humans. The phrase from God provides us with a dimension of authority and trustworthiness. The origin does not exclude the human character of it (men spoke). While men spoke these words, they were from God. The essential understanding of Scripture as being God-breathed is that these words of humankind carry an essential quality of trustworthiness.
Often it is asked if the authors of the text of Scripture knew that this process of God-breathing was happening as they wrote their works.
Four illustrations will help provide an answer. First, in the opening of the book of Revelation, John told his readers that the book was a revelation and a prophecy (Rev. 1.1-3). This awareness was common in the First Testament prophets. Second, Luke, the author of Luke-Acts, wrote a description of the reasons and efforts for writing two books (Luke 1.1-4). He said that several had written accounts; the material he was going to write was handed down from eyewitnesses, and he had investigated everything that he was about to write about himself. The concept of being God-breathed doesn’t seem to appear in these verses. Third, Paul did not appear to be aware that his God-breathed process was going on when he was writing. He could even ask for help in the writing (Rom. 16.22). Finally, Peter saw the writings of Paul as somehow being in the corpus of First Testament authoritative books (2 Peter 3.14-16). It seems fair to say that some of the authors were aware, while others were not. It may also be said that because Paul had this experience on one occasion, it does not follow that he had it on every occasion.
The Words of God in the Words of Humankind
It is often said that Scripture is God’s word and not men’s word. The intention is correct, but the choice of words fall short of being helpful. The sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible are a collection of the words of men from many different places and times, written in many different kinds of literature. How did God’s word get to humankind?
The many and various books in Scripture were written to specific audiences. Some of these audiences are easier to discover than others. The purpose of the book can be readily identified. The difficulty we face is understanding how these books, which were written by different authors to different people at different times, can be the eternal word of God.
The erroneous picture that is most often given is that each author was simply the mouthpiece of God. God told the authors exactly what to write, each word of it. To our demise, we have been inundated with this concept. It is as if God was the boss and he dictated the words to his secretary. This errant view suggests that God overruled the personality of the author and the historical situation played no role in the production of the book. The writer was like a robot with no feelings, thoughts, or words of his own.
This is not a modern concept. The book of 2 Esdras, an apocryphal book which is dated from around A.D. 120, espouses this thought pattern. While not held as inspired by the Protestant section of the ecclesiae, these words do provide a window by which we can observe the thought pattern of people living during a specific time frame. Here is one such quote:
So I took the five men, as he commanded me, and we proceeded to the field, and remained there. And on the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, “Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you to drink.” Then I opened my mouth, and behold, a full cup was offered to me; it was full of something like water, but its color was like fire. And I took it and drank; and when I had drunk it my heart poured forth understanding, and wisdom increased in my breast, for my spirit retained its memory; and my mouth was opened, and was no longer closed. And the Most High gave understanding to the five men, and by turns they wrote what was dictated, in characters which they did not know. They sat forty days, and wrote during the daytime, and ate their bread at night. As for me, I spoke in the daytime and was not silent at night. So during the forty days ninety-four books were written. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, “Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge.” And I do so (2 Esdras 14.37-38.).
If this were the true way in which the books of Scripture came into being, we would have no problems with the text of Scripture at all. It would be only the word of God and in no way would it be the words of men.
However, it can be demonstrated that Scripture did not come to its authors as the Esdras passage depicted. We have received Scripture in three different languages: Hebrew and Aramaic in the First Testament and Greek in the Second Testament. It has been established that the Greek of the Second Testament was not some special holy language used by God, but was the common street language of the day.
The books of Scripture have distinct literary characteristics and styles. Mark was written in “sloppy” Greek, while Luke was written in “superior” Greek. Luke used hundreds of words that Matthew and Mark did not use in the production of their stories about Jesus. The human factor of Scripture can not be dismissed. The humanity of Scripture can be sidestepped. But, a true study of Scripture will embrace the humanity of the text which is God-breathed.
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