Is the Bible Trustworthy? Part 2

10 06 2009

Ever since Satan challenged God’s promises and Eve succumbed (Gen. 3:1-7), the enemy of our souls has been attacking God’s Word with his own version of what God means.  As soon as Jesus made His first move toward His mission, Lucifer was ready to challenge His every word.  During Jesus’ time of fasting and prayer for forty days, Satan came to contradict the words of Jesus with his own interpretation of Scripture.  And as a result, for thousands of years, men have been tempted to distrust, doubt, and deny the validity of God’s holy Word. 

As a missionary and pastor I have heard just about every conceivable question and interpretation of the Bible that man has to offer.  While some of them have bordered on the ridiculous, many comments are simply based out of ignorance and are sincerely asked in a search for truth.  It is with such people in mind, and the many at Mountain Springs who regularly ask me thought-provoking questions, that I write this article.

I would refer any reader to my sermon in the doctrine series, The Bible: God Speaks, given April 24th, 2009, for further elaboration on the topic of the Bible in general.

This is part two in my blog on Bible translations.  If you would like to understand the context of the last blog, let me encourage you to read part one first.

God’s Publishing Process

How did we get our current Bible? Is the English translation that you are using reliable?  Can you have confidence that the Bible you are holding is anything like the manuscripts written by the first authors?  These are excellent questions.  The Bible purports to have divine qualities.  But does it really?  And if so, how were these qualities passed down through the generations to make up our English version of the Bible?

There is a divine process that has been used by God to give us our current Bible.  This process can be summed up in a five part process:  Revelationà Inspirationà Canonicityà Preservation à Transmission. In part one, we concerned ourselves with revelation and inspiration.  In part two, we will continue our look at God’s publishing process.

Canonicity

John MacArthur writes, “We must understand that the Bible is actually one book with one Divine Author, though it was written over a period of 1,500 years through the pens of 40 human writers.  The Bible began with the creation account of Genesis 1, 2 written by Moses about 1405 B.C., and extends to the eternity future account of Revelation 21, 22, written by the Apostle John about A.D. 95.  During this time, God progressively revealed Himself and His purposes in the inspired Scriptures.” (Study Bible p. xiv)

This raises a significant question: “How did the church know which books ought to be recognized as canonical or authoritative?  Which writings should be included and excluded?”  We find three ways that the early church fathers determined the authenticity of a book for the Bible.

  1. Conformity to “the rule of faith.” Did the book in question conform with orthodoxy?  Christian truth recognized as normative in the churches?
  2. Apostolicity. Was the writer of the book an apostle or did the writer of the book have immediate contact with the apostles? For example, Mark’s gospel was tied to Peter and Luke’s to Paul.
  3. Catholicity. For a document to be considered canonical it must have had widespread and continuous acceptance and usage by churches everywhere.

Thus, when the various councils in church history met to determine the authenticity of a book, they did not vote for canonicity, rather they recognized what the churches had come to determine as authoritative.  Much like ordination in our church, we are not ordaining anyone but simply publically recognizing someone who God is already ordaining through the life they live and witness of their ministry.  In a similar way, the church fathers and theologians who came together recognized the twenty-seven books that became the New Testament as being authoritative based on the criteria above and the consensus of the church.  In simplistic form, the church already believed these books to be the canon of Scripture and the councils confirmed what was already common knowledge.

In regard to the Old Testament, MacArthur writes, “With regard to the Old Testament, by the time of Christ, all of the Old Testament had been written and accepted in the Jewish community.  The last book, Malachi, had been completed about 430 B.C.  Not only does the Old Testament canon conform to the Old Testament which has since been used throughout the centuries, but it does not contain the uninspired and spurious Apocrypha, that group of 14 rogue writings which were written after Malachi and attached to the Old Testament about 200-150 B.C. in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint (LXX), appearing to the very day in some versions of the Bible.  However, not one passage from the Apocrypha is cited by any New Testament writer, nor did Jesus affirm any of it as He recognized the Old Testament canon of His era (cf. Luke 24:27,44).” (ibid, p. xv)

Carson and Moo write, “The fact that substantially the whole church came to recognize the same twenty-seven books as canonical is remarkable when it is remembered that the result was not contrived. All that the several churches throughout the Empire could do was to witness to their own experience with the documents and share whatever knowledge they might have about their origin and character. When consideration is given to the diversity in cultural backgrounds and in orientation to the essentials of the Christian faith within the churches, their common agreement about which books belonged to the New Testament serves to suggest that this final decision did not originate solely at the human level.” (Barker, Lane, and Michaels, The New Testament Speaks, p. 29; qtd. in Carson, Moo, and Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 736).

The completed Bible was formulated early in the history of the church.  By the end of the second century all but seven books (Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, James, and Revelation) were recognized as apostolic, and by the end of the fourth century all twenty-seven books in our present canon were recognized by all the churches of the West.

F. F. Bruce writes: “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa—at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397—but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of these communities” (F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, p. 27).


Preservation

How do we know for sure that the Bible that was first written down by the original authors has been preserved and handed down to us accurately?  How do we know for sure that the Bible you are holding is truly the inspired, written Word of God?

Critics of the accuracy of the Bible routinely claim that it is in fact a series of fables and legends that have developed over hundreds of years because there are not enough copies of ancient manuscripts to alleviate their skepticism. However, a simple shepherd boy dealt a death blow to their criticisms in 1947. He wandered into a cave in the Middle East and discovered large pottery jars filled with leather scrolls that had been wrapped in linen cloth.

Amazingly, the ancient copies of the books of the Bible were in good condition despite their age and the harsh climate.  This was due to the fact that they had been well sealed for nearly nineteen hundred years. What are now known as “The Dead Sea Scrolls” are made up of some forty thousand inscribed ancient fragments.  From these fragments, more than five hundred books have been reconstructed, including some Old Testament books such as a complete copy of Isaiah.

I have visited on several occasions the Dead Sea Museum and viewed for myself the entire book of Isaiah.  The amazing thing is that the fragments found, the book of Isaiah in particular, are word for word the same as the Old Testament that we use today.

If someone seeks to eliminate the trustworthiness of the New Testament, then to be consistent they would also have to dismiss virtually the entire canon of Western literature and pull everything from Homer to Plato to Aristotle off of bookstore shelves and out of classroom discussions. The transmission process of Scripture is, by God’s providential grace, without peer.

The Bible says thus about itself in Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”   With increased archeological discoveries, the truth of this statement become more and more clear.

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.  (Isaiah 55:11)

Transmission

The Bible has been translated into over 3000 languages.  How can we be sure that these translations are accurate?  How can we be confident that our English Bible reads the same as the original autographs written by Paul and Peter?  Let’s look now at transmission through the centuries. 

Transmission occurred when the autographa was carefully copied by trained scribes so that other copies could be made available for people to read. While these handwritten copies have the occasional minor error (e.g., spelling or punctuation):

  • They were accepted as accurate and authoritative by God’s people (e.g., Deuteronomy 17:18 cf. 1 Kings 2:3; Ezra 7:14; Nehemiah 8:8). For example, the apostles, who were the senior leaders in the early church, taught from copies of the books of the Bible. (Acts 17:2; 18:8)
  • The early church tested all teachings against the existing scrolls. (Acts 17:11)
  • Furthermore, Jesus Himself taught from copies of the books, not the autographa, and treated them as authoritative. (e.g., Matthew 12:3–5; 21:16, 42; Luke 4:16–21; 10:26)
  • In conclusion, God’s people have always relied on manuscripts, and these writings have proven to be accurate and trustworthy. Jesus’ own perfect example assures us of their trustworthiness.

Tragically, opponents of Scripture have attacked the Bible’s trustworthiness by falsely stating that our current English translations are built upon poorly transmitted copies. However, the bibliographical test of Scripture flatly refutes this false argument. The bibliographical test seeks to determine the historicity of an ancient text by analyzing the quantity and quality of copied manuscripts, as well as how far removed they are from the time of the originals.

The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature. There are more than five thousand Greek manuscripts, about eight thousand Latin manuscripts, and another one thousand manuscripts in other languages (Syriac, Coptic, etc.). Both the number of transmitted manuscripts we possess of Scripture and their proximity in date to the autographa are astounding and unparalleled in the canon of Western literature. Moreover, the Scripture quoted in the works of the early Christian writers (mostly AD 95–150) are so extensive that virtually the entire New Testament can be reconstructed, except for eleven verses, mostly from 2 and 3 John.

Our English Bible

The translation of a full English Bible began with John Wycliffe (ca. A.D. 1330-1384), who made the first translation of the whole of Scripture (Old and New Testament).  Later, William Tyndale was associated with the first New Testament translation of the Bible in A.D. 1526.  Myles Coverdale followed in A.D. 1535, by delivering the first complete Bible printed in English.  In 1611, the King James Version (KJV) had been completed.  Since then, there have been many translations printed from the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures.  In my next blog we will look at each of the major translations and analyze their strengths and weaknesses.

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,

Steve


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20 07 2009
Ibn Anwar

Please visit http://www.unveiling-christianity.com for responses to the above article and others like it.

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