SOME THINGS WE OUGHT TO KNOW…
The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word biblos (book). By the second century Christians were using the plural; biblia, to describe the Bible, because the Bible is more than one book. It is 66 individual books forming the one book we call the Bible.
The Bible is divided into two major sections. We call the first part the Old Testament and the second part we call the New Testament. The word testament means “covenant” or “agreement”. That means that these two major parts of the Bible are actually two periods of time under two major covenants or agreements between God and His people. The Old Testament (OT), deals with beginning of the earth, mankind before the Law, then of the calling and history of the Jewish nation and as such it is the Old Covenant. The New Testament (NT), deals with the life of Jesus Christ (though actually, the Gospels; which contain the life of Christ, was still the period of Law; therefore technically it falls under the Old Covenant), the beginning of the Church age and the application of the redemption brought about by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. As such, it is the New Covenant.
Even though the Bible has two sections, it has one great theme; God providing a sacrifice for the sins of all people. The Old Testament was based in the sacrifice of animals, while the New Testament reveals how those animals were a preparation for the ultimate sacrifice for our sin; the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The writing of the individual books of the Bible was done by about forty men of many occupations, over a period of approximately 1,500 years. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew with a smaller section written in Aramaic. All the New Testament was written in Greek. But, you don’t have to worry about being a scholar in linguistics to understand the Bible. You will find that there are several good translations of the Bible that help us to understand exactly what was written so very long ago.
GOD HAS SPOKEN TO US IN THE BIBLE.
- The most important verses telling us where we got our Bible is 2 Timothy 3:16. What does it say about the Scriptures?
(The word “inspired” is actually a combination of two Greek words that mean “God‑breathed”. From this word that we label the Bible as the “Word of God”.)
- According to 2 Peter 1:20,21, what is the source of Scripture?
There is interesting insight into the ‘way’ God worked in the lives of the men who wrote the Bible. Look up Acts 27:14‑17 (a story from the life of the Apostle, Paul). In the story, the storm was so strong they let the ship be driven by the wind. In the Greek language the word for “driven” in Acts 27 is the same word for “carried” in 2 Peter 1:20,21. In other words, the Holy Spirit “carried” these men along, causing them to write exactly what God wanted; not compromising their individuality.
The way that the same story (as in some of the events of the life of Christ), is told in different ways from different authors bothers some people; as if the Bible has contradictions. But it isn’t much different than 4 or 5 people reporting as eyewitnesses of an event. Because of the characteristic makeup and personality of the individuals, they may tell different versions of the story, but all versions would be true. So too, God did not dictate the Scriptures but used the character and personality of the individual writers to record exactly what He wanted us to know. So, in Biblical terminology, “inspiration” is the process by which Spirit-moved writers recorded God-breathed writings. When inspiration is seen as a total process, it includes both the writer and the writings; but, when it is seen as a product (2 Tim. 3:16), it relates only to the writings.
IMPORTANT TERMINOLOGY: the distinction between inspiration, revelation and illumination
- Inspiration refers to the receiving and recording of Truth (2 Pet. 1:20, 21). It is the way God achieved His purpose of giving His revelation of the Bible. In inspiration, the prophet received from God what he in turn related to others. Inspiration, as a total process, includes both the person (prophet, writer) and what was written.
- Revelation refers to the origin and giving of Truth (1 Co. 2:10). It could be called ‘divine disclosure’, thus only by God who alone can give a revelation or disclosure of truth (man at best can only have an interpretation or discovery of that truth). The revelations of God to man takes place in two ways: (1) Jesus Christ, Himself, and (2) His Word; the Scriptures.
- Illumination focuses on understanding the Truth (1 Co. 2:13, 14). As God reveals truth, through illumination man understands it; however, both illumination and understanding are acts of God. Illumination is possible only through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that gives the born-again believer insights into God’s Word. Part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to open, unfold and teach mankind the things of God and aid them in the application to their personal lives.
THE BIBLE: INSPIRED BY GOD
In the history of the church the orthodox (conservative, traditional, normal and acceptable by most people of the church) view of inspiration has been described as verbal and plenary. By using the word ‘verbal inspiration’ it means that the Spirit of God guided in the choice of words used in the original writings which also takes into account the individual personalities of the writers. However, the orthodox view also teaches that all the words that were used were equally inspired of God. This is what is meant by the use of the ‘plenary’ which means “full inspiration”, as opposed views that claim only partial inspiration for the Bible.
Scripture is also said to be ‘infallible’ according to the orthodox doctrine by which it means that the Word of God is unfailingly accurate; meaning that the Bible does not contain any error as a statement of fact. It IS true the Bible records some statements of men that are untrue or even the false teaching of Satan as in Gen. 3:4, but in all these cases it is clear that God does not affirm the truth of these statements. In stating that the Bible is verbally and fully inspired, and infallible and inerrant in its statement of truth, it is believed that God’s supernatural and perfect guidance is given every word of Scripture so that the Bible can be trusted as an accurate statement of divine truth.
It is very important to realize that the claim of inspiration applies to the original writings only and not to copies, translations or quotations. Since we don’t have any of the original writings any more, scholars have gone to great lengths to determine the accuracy of the text of the Bible that we now have. For the purpose of Biblical studies, it may be assumed that our present copies of the Bible are accurate reproductions of the original writings. Although many minor variations in text exist, these very rarely affect any teaching of the Bible and, as further manuscripts are discovered, they tend to confirm this conclusion.
For all practical purposes the Old Testament (OT), written in Hebrew, and the New Testament (NT), written in Greek, may be accepted as the very Word of God and a true statement of what God intended to communicate to man. What we have in our hands of the OT Hebrew Bible and the NT Greek Bible can be understood as being ‘virtually’ inspired as it relates to the faithful and accurate copying of the Word of God. Over time, Bible scholars have accumulated thousands of copies of manuscripts of the Bible. Some are in small portions, while others include whole books of the Bible or larger portions of the Bible. It is believed that, through the careful comparison of these manuscripts, what we possess in our current Hebrew and Greek Bibles is 99 44/100 accurate as to what we believe were contained in the original writings. The various translations of the Word of God are “virtually inspired” to the degree that they attempt to faithfully record what is in those existing manuscripts.
It may be added that we have always depended upon the Lord for the preservation of His Word down through history as He has overseen the copying and transference of His Word and also the translation by certain individuals who study the original languages, who then present an accurate translation into the language of a particular culture. Thus, we move beyond the simple act of mankind trying to preserve an important book and instead, depend upon the Lord for the faithful preservation of His Word and the accuracy of that preserved Word to mankind.
OF ALL ANCIENT WRITINGS HOW DO WE DETERMINE WHICH BOOKS ARE INSPIRED?
The first consideration in the chain of “from God to us” is inspiration; which is concerned with what God did when He breathed out the Scriptures.
The second consideration is canonization, which relates to the question of which books God inspired. Briefly stated, canonization deals with how the Bible received its acceptance; or how did mankind recognize those books as being a collection of God-inspired scriptures.
The original meaning of the term “canon” can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who used it in a literal sense: a kanon was a rod, ruler, staff or measuring rod. Later the term provided the basis for a definition of a “standard” or “norm”. In 2 Cor. 10:13-16, it bears the same sense of “sphere of action or influence”. Galatians 6:16 comes closest to the final theological significance of the word, as Paul says, “Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule (kanon). In early Christian use, it came to mean “rule of faith” or “authoritative Scripture”.
Once it is understood what “canon” or “canonicity” means, the question of how these books received the recognition as being part of the canon must be answered. One thing is certain. Canonicity is determined by God. A book is not inspired because men made it canonical. Mankind merely discovered it. It is canonical because God inspired it. The question remains however as to how did man “discover” what books were canonical? In other words, how was the “standard of God’s measure” found by men; and by what basis were writings found to meet that standard of measure.
There were 5 principles that we can say were “used” as the early church fathers began to recognize (not choose), which books were actually canonical.
(1) Is it authoritative? Does this book speak with authority? Does it have a self-vindicating authority that commands attention as it communicates? Does this book speak with the recognized authority that was also said of the Lord Jesus that He, “spoke as One that had authority” (Mk. 1:22).
(2) Is it prophetic? It seems reasonable that the Word of God inspired by the Spirit of God for the people of God would not be given through anyone other than a man of God (2 Pt. 1:20; Heb. 1:1), thus the book is judged by authorship; either a prophet (OT or NT times), or an apostle: a spokesman in the mainstream of redemptive revelation.
(3) Is it authentic? In other words, “Does the book tell the truth about God, man, etc., as it is already known by previous revelation? Also, is it a record of facts as they actually occurred? Because a book cannot contradict truth and still be truly God’s book.
(4) Is it dynamic? A dynamometer is a device for measuring force and / or power and is often related with the high-performance industry in connection with auto racing. “Dynamic” is used here in relating to the canonization of Scripture. Do the writings come with the ‘power of God’? Because the Word of God is “living and powerfully active” (Heb. 4:12), it should consequently have a transforming force for edification (2 Tim. 3:16), and evangelization (1 Pet. 1:23). If the obeyed message of the book did not carry out these themes; if it did not have the power to change a life, then God was apparently not behind its message.
(5) Was it received? Was / is the book accepted generally by the people of God? Two important factors must be understood regarding the acceptance of the canonical books. Acceptance actually includes both initial acceptance as well as subsequent and final acceptance by the church universal. It also means that the people of God to whom it was originally written actually received it as the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).
Remember though, that mankind did not determine which books were of the canon. God was solely responsible for the determination; mankind is responsible for the discovery of canonicity. How they did this is by the 5 points above. Thus the early Fathers sorted out, in the profusion of religious literature, then discovered and gave official recognition to the books that, by virtue of their divine inspiration, had been determined by God as canonical. The gradual accumulation of canonical books later fell under the responsibility of the people of God to collect and preserve these writings.
“RULES” OF INTERPRETATION
Under the category of “illumination” comes the responsibility of correct interpretation of the Bible. And it is essential to understand that “…no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20) In other words, the Bible is not to be read in such a way so as to conform to our opinions and assumptions but, instead, we must with help and power from the Holy Spirit conform to what it says. Thus, certain basic guidelines become necessary for correct interpretation (called ‘hermeneutics”), of the Word of God.
(1) There is complete trust and reliance upon the Holy Spirit for correct understanding of God’s Word. It makes sense that, since men were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what God the Father intended; it makes sense to trust the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit in the understanding and application of the Word of God.
(2) While there is complete reliance upon the Holy Spirit for instruction, certain other principles must be followed because we are all aware that while everyone claims to be “led” by the Holy Spirit in their interpretation of the Word of God, there are still differences in interpretation. Therefore, careful attention must be given to the purpose of the Bible as a whole. In interpreting the Bible, every text must be taken in the light of the total content of Scripture, as the Bible does not contradict itself.
(3) Every Bible interpretation must also take into consideration the message of each book of the Bible and the purpose for each particular book. Different books of the Bible require a different approach in their study because of historical setting, revelation and content. A study of Ecclesiastes is different than a study of the book of Revelation or of the Psalms. Interpretation must pay careful attention to the purpose of each book.
(4) To who was the book addressed? The answer to this question is highly relevant to the correct application of the Scripture. While all Scripture is given by inspiration equally by God, not all Scripture is equally applicable. A great deal of false doctrine has been believed solely by interpreting, then applying Scripture wrongly. Primary and secondary applications must be understood. Primary application might extend only to the individual or group to whom the Scripture is addressed; i.e., the epistle to the Galatians or a psalm written by David. The secondary application can be established for believers today as the particular truths are set forth in the scriptural text. So, while the OT law was addressed to Israel, Christians in this period of time can study it with profit as a revelation of God’s holiness with due allowance for the particulars which may be changed in their application.
(5) The context of a passage is a major consideration. In order to interpret Scripture properly, consideration must be given to the surrounding verses (immediate context); then within the context of the book; and then within the Bible as a whole. Often this gives the clues necessary to correctly interpret a verse or verses properly. Scripture which precedes and follows any given verse helps the reader understand the verse itself.
(6) Similar teachings elsewhere in the Word of God. Because the Bible cannot contradict itself, when a theological statement is made in one verse it should be harmonized with any other similar theological statement elsewhere. This is the purpose of systematic theology, which attempts to take all the divine revelation and restate it in doctrinal form which is not contradictory of any portion of Scripture. Often, books of the Bible will complement each other; for instance, OT prophecy as it relates to certain Gospel accounts or NT Epistles. Also, the book of Revelation depends upon the book of Daniel for its correct interpretation.
(7) Accurate exegesis (explanation, interpretation, and illustration of) and understanding of the words of a particular text. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, with a small portion written in Aramaic. This with knowledge of the original language (though not totally necessary) can be helpful in determining exactly what the text says. Students of Scripture who do not have an understanding of the original languages are not left without hope however. There are many scholarly, helpful linguistic works which can aid in correct Biblical interpretation of the languages.
(8) Guard against personal theological prejudice. There is a difference between correct, Biblical convictions and theological prejudices. Make certain your convictions do not twist Scripture to say what it does not say, to harmonize with your beliefs or preconceived ideas. Each text should be allowed to speak for itself, harmonizing with other Scripture even if it leaves the student with unresolved questions.
HOW THE OLD TESTAMENT FITS TOGETHER
Fill in each blank with the appropriate book of the Bible.
- The first five books of the Old Testament were written by Moses and are known as “the Law”.
(1) ______________________ The book that tells the beginning of all things.
(2) _______________________ God delivers His people from slavery in Egypt, and gives them His Law.
(3) _______________________ Laws of holiness and worship, with rules for sacrifice and purification.
(4) _______________________ God’s people disobey and wander in the desert wilderness for 40 years, but God remains faithful.
(5) _______________________ Moses restates the Law to the next generation of Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.
- The next twelve books continue the history of the nation of Israel.
(6) _____________________ (12) ___________________
(7) _____________________ (13) ____________________
(8) _____________________ (14) ____________________
(9) _____________________ (15) ____________________
(10) _____________________ (16) ____________________
(11) _____________________ (17) _____________________
- The next five books are called poetry. They deal with a variety of subjects.
(18) _________________ The sufferings of a man who loved and trusted God
(19) _________________ Songs of praise and instruction
(20) _________________ God’s practical wisdom for successful living
(21) _________________ The emptiness of earthly life without God
(22) _________________ A written portrait of love between a man and a woman
- The rest of the Old Testament consists of the teachings of sixteen great prophets in Israel. The writings of four of them are collectively known as the “major prophets,” because their books are longer than the others. It is actually grouped into five books, because the writings of Jeremiah are in two books: Jeremiah and Lamentations.
(23) ____________________ (25) _______________________
(24) ____________________ (26) _______________________
- Next come the twelve “minor prophets,” which are shorter books, ending the Old Testament.
(28) ___________________________ (34) ___________________________
(29) ___________________________ (35) ___________________________
(30) ___________________________ (36) ___________________________
(31) ___________________________ (37) ___________________________
(32) ___________________________ (38) ___________________________
(33) ___________________________ (39) ___________________________
Many people think that because the Old Testament is “old” it doesn’t have any real purpose for us today. Read Romans 15:4 and you’ll find Paul has a very definite idea about the value of the Old Testament in our daily lives.
HOW THE NEW TESTAMENT FITS TOGETHER
In the New Testament we find the life of Christ, early years in the growth of Christianity and letters (or epistles), written by some of the apostles to the early Christians.
- The first four books of the New Testament are historical. They each tell in their own
way of the life of Jesus Christ. They are called the Gospels, meaning good news.
(1) ________________ The life of Christ as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy
(2) ________________ Shows Christ’s life as that of a servant.
(3) ________________ Reveals more of the humanity of Christ’s life.
(4) ________________ The version of Christ’s life written by the apostle who seemed to be closest to Jesus Christ.
- (5) ________________ The book that is actually a 30 yr. “diary” of the early church, telling of its beginning and of the spread of the Christian church.
- The next 13 books of the Bible are letters (“epistles”). They were written to give instruction to the believers of those early churches and to encourage young men who were in the ministry. They were written by Paul (a very religious Jewish man) who was converted to Christianity. His story is told in Acts 9.
(6) _____________________ (7) _____________________
(8) _____________________ (9) _____________________
(10) _____________________ (11) _____________________
(12) _____________________ (13) ______________________
(14) _____________________ (15) ______________________
(16) _____________________ (17) ______________________
- The other eight letters, known as the “general letters”, were by various authors.
(19) ______________________ (23) ______________________
(20) ______________________ (24) ______________________
(21) ______________________ (25) ______________________
(22) ______________________ (26) ______________________
- The last book in the Bible tells of future events leading to the return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish His reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
STUDYING GOD’S WORD
- In 2 Tim. 2:15, what did Paul tell Timothy to aim for?
Knowing the Scriptures well requires more than reading them. Studying the Scriptures includes careful reading as well as writing down that is discovered. Reading can give you the overall picture of what the Bible says but study will help you absorb and remember it.
MEMORIZING GOD’S WORD
- What command did Moses give in Deuteronomy 11:18?
How can you apply this verse to your own life?
- Turn to Matthew 4:1‑11. Read the account of how Jesus overcame Satan’s three temptations. In each of the three answers Jesus gave to Satan, He quoted the Bible because He had memorized much of it when He was a young man.
How could you apply this example from Christ’s life to your own life? MEDITATING ON GOD’S WORD
Meditation means giving prayerful, careful thought to understanding God’s word and how it relates personally to you. It means thinking with a purpose.
- Read Paul’s command in Col. 3:16. What do you think it means to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”?
- In Psalm 1, what evidence do you see that God’s word is vitally important to the person God blesses?
- Read God’s words to Joshua in Josh. 1:8. What was Joshua required to do to be prosperous and successful?
- Consider Jesus’ words in Luke 6:45. How do you think meditating on God’s word can affect your speech and actions?
- Turn to Psalm 119. What did the writer pray for in verses 18. 73 and 125?
Asking these two questions will help you meditate on Scripture:
- What is the real meaning of this passage?
- How should it affect my life?
You can ask yourself these two questions as you hear God’s word preached, as you read the Bible, as you carefully study the Bible, and as you review verses you have memorized. GET INTO THE WORD!!!
Also check out the dangers of undisciplined professors of Jesus Christ: