What is the Bible?
Is it really the written Word of God? First we will look at what this book is and how it came about. The Bible is a collection of 66 separate books which together make a unique and powerful book. The word Bible comes from the Greek ‘biblia’ which simply means ‘books.’ The Bible is usually called “The Holy Bible”. Holy means to be ‘set apart by God.’ So The Holy Bible is the Word of God; it does not merely contain the words of God. It is different from all other religious books because God, through the Bible, enjoys letting people know about Himself. The unique design of the Bible is one of the best proofs of its divine inspiration. Many different men at different times wrote their part of this book, without any contradictions. This can only be explained by the Master Author’s guiding hand. .
According to 2 Timothy 3:16, all Scripture is equally inspired. The N.I.V. says “All Scripture is God-breathed…”. This refers to the work of the Holy Spirit in His creative capacity. We do not know the actual ‘How’ of inspiration, but Christians believe that each writer had liberty to use his own personality, education and experience within certain limits. Paul’s educated and logical mind is evident in books such as Romans and Galatians. The Holy Spirit watched over every thought, phrase and word to preserve accuracy.
The Test for Approval
Writings which were regarded as divinely inspired were accepted only when the writer was proven to be a True Prophet of God. That means no false prophecies had been spoken by him. This is quite different from unfulfilled prophecies.
The Old Testament
This was completed by 400 BC. The translation into Greek was done by 70 learned Scholars from Alexandria. This was known as the “Version of the Seventy” or the “Septuagint”. It was in common use during the time of Christ and the Apostles, and was frequently quoted in the New Testament. The other main version of the Old Testament is called the “Masoretic Text”.
How Did The New Testament Come About?
The New Testament completes the true written Word of God for all people and for all time. This means that the Bible is the standard by which we must judge all teaching, doctrine and belief. The Old and New Testaments together are sometimes referred to as the ‘Canon,’ which means ‘standard.’ Irenaeus of Lyons, an Elder of the early church, said in 180 AD, “The Scriptures are perfect, inasmuch as they were uttered by the Word of God, and His Spirit.” (note; Jesus was often referred to as ‘The Word of God,’ see John 1:1).
Along with many others Irenaeus used both Old and New Testaments as ‘Scripture’ without distinction. The early Church held a number of councils to make decisions on which were divinely inspired writings that could be commended to the growing church. Most New Testament books received official recognition within 100 years of being written. The last few were confirmed at the Council held in Carthage in 393 AD. Each was accepted because of its unmistakeable authority and inspiration. It is both reasonable and fair to suppose that He who inspired the New Testament writers also participated in the formation of it. We may confidently believe that we have in our hands the Word of God, complete and undiluted.
Some of the New Testament books were written to individuals, some to churches or groups of churches. Their self-evident authority and value caused them to be copied and recopied for an ever-widening public. By the year 90 AD many churches had copies of Paul’s letters, and by the early second century they had all four Gospels as well.
Before closing this section, we should look briefly at the Apocrypha. This is a collection of pre-Christian Jewish writings of a spiritual nature, written between 250 BC and the early Christian era. While the Apocrypha was known to Jesus and His disciples, it was never quoted as authoritative Scripture. The Council of Trent in 1546 finally gave it a degree of acceptance, but only the Roman Catholic Church continues to print the Apocrypha today. Their main versions are the Douay and Jerusalem Bibles.
What Does The Bible Say About Itself?
The writers of the Bible insisted over 3,000 times that their words were the Word of God. The words of Jesus plainly show that many of His arguments and teachings were based on quotations from almost every Old Testament book. As I have studied what the Bible says about itself, a very clear message is evident. It is best summed up in this passage; “Do not add to what I command you, and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you,” (Deuteronomy 4:2 NIV). Nowhere does any Scripture even hint at disagreeing or disputing with any other part. This theme goes right through to the end of Revelation, where there is a warning that those who add to the Bible will bring upon themselves all the plagues and curses written in the Bible, and those who subtract from it will find themselves removed from the ‘Book of Life’ (God’s record of those who are saved), and they will miss out on all of the Bible’s promised blessings.
Numerous Old Testament writers spoke of the Lord touching their tongue and putting His words in their mouths to speak to the people, for example 2 Samuel 23:2, and Jeremiah 1:9. Many of the Psalms of David and others spoke of the Words of the Lord being pure words which He would preserve for all generations. “The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever,” (Isaiah 40:8).
What Is The Scripture For?
Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, said during the Temptation: “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4).
Later on in Matthew 24:35, Jesus said very specifically that heaven and earth would pass away, but “My words will by no means pass away.” That is a statement indicating His Deity, for He is clearly stating that His word is the Word of God.
The writers of the New Testament tended to explain more than the Old Testament writers what Scripture was for. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). “For the Word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12). “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation (or origin), for prophecy never came by the will of man but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Peter 1:20,21).
I was interested to come across one Scripture which I hadn’t noticed before, which says that the Scriptures will be the standard of judgement on the last day. “He who rejects me and does not receive my words has that which judges him, the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day,” (John 12:48).
What About The Many Versions?
There are many versions or translations available, to suit every level of understanding and education. Since the major revisions of the Bible in the 1880’s, over 100 new versions have become available. There have been several good reasons why new versions have been needed. One of the most important has been the changing use of words. Some of the versions available, such as the ‘Good News’ and the ‘Living Bible,’ are not actual translations but paraphrases. The intent is not to stay with the original meanings of words, but to use word pictures to get the same message across. This has especially benefited those for whom English is a second language.
New Finds of Old Manuscripts
The other main reason why new versions have been required has been the increasing number of old manuscripts discovered containing significant portions of the Bible. Scholars have now sorted through the many thousands of pieces and whole manuscripts, and they have seen an overwhelming pattern of agreement with the original wording.
One major example is the Dead Sea Scrolls which were found in 1947. About one-third of the scrolls were portions of the Old Testament, mainly Psalms, Deuteronomy and Isaiah. These were about one thousand years older than other known copies, and showed how accurate most of the more recent ones have been. Even though copiers of manuscripts had made some errors, these do not affect the Bible’s reliability, according to Dr. Rene Pache of Lausanne University. He states “The errors affect no more than one one-thousandth part of the Biblical text, so we believe them far too insignificant to shake our faith in the inerrancy of the original manuscripts.”
The English Bible
Historically there were two major steps taken in the translation of the Bible into English. First the Authorised Version was commissioned by James the First and this was published in 1611. This was based strongly on previous translation work by Wycliffe and Tyndale. Although there were some copying errors in the 1611 version (which were mostly corrected with reprints) the version has stood the test of time as a masterpiece of English literature as well as one of the most accurate versions of its time.
The second significant event was supposed to be nothing more than a minor update of the 1611 edition and its reprints. This revision of the English Bible in 1881, led by Professors Hort and Westcott, produced nothing short of a new translation, with over 36,000 changes on the previous text. These changes were deemed necessary because of two new manuscripts known as Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Vaticanus, which were claimed to be older and apparently more reliable than all other known writings available.
Most translations and paraphrases printed since 1881 have come from this ‘Revised Version.’ However there has been a large and growing number of scholars who have challenged the accuracy and reliability of these two manuscripts. The main argument has been that these two manuscripts were accepted as reliable while at the same time over 2,700 other proven manuscripts were rejected. The changes which Hort and Westcott made resulted in their version having a significant bias against the Deity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. As far as I can tell from my reading and research the only versions of the Bible seemingly unaffected by this bias are the reprinted King James, New King James, and the New International Versions; the latter covers the issues with footnotes.
God Can’t Be Limited to One Version!
In summarising the issues involved in the multitude of versions and translations, I would say this; God can never be limited. Even a mis-translation of a version can still be used by God to touch people and to convict them of their sin and to show them their need of a Saviour. There is no evidence that shows God hid His true word for 1800 years and has only allowed this to be found in the past few decades. God’s Word is eternal, and no man or government will thwart God’s purposes. There used to be a bumper sticker around in the early 1980’s which read “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” It would be more accurate to read “God said it, and that settles it, whether I believe it or not.”
Heresies – Ancient and Modern
The Bible records that Satan tried to tempt Jesus into worshipping Him. Interestingly Jesus used three passages of Scripture to cause Satan to withdraw. The fact that Satan cringes before the power of Scripture is demonstrated time and time again by his incessant attacks against the Bible. He shudders before this book in which the world’s Saviour is announced and Satan the deceiver is unmasked. He hates the Bible, for it shows him as defeated from Genesis 3:15 to Revelation 20:10. Satan has caused men to burn the Bible, and others to ban it. At least twice in history he has also tried to corrupt it.
A significant portion of the letters of the Apostles could be described as Apologetics – that is not apologising for our faith – but plainly stating the reason for our faith in Jesus Christ. A few of the early churches did adopt some ideas about Jesus which were anti-Biblical, and that is a significant part of the reason why some Epistles were written – to put those churches right on issues of doctrine.
Despite these letters from the Apostles, false teachings still arose, and in the 4th century probably the most serious heresy surfaced through a man called Arius of Alexandria in Egypt. He proposed that Jesus was only a created being, and that even though He had existed before His physical birth and God had probably used Him to help create the world, that He was only the highest creature, and could be called ‘a’ god or a ‘Son of God’, but not God Himself.
The Arian Heresy and The Jehovah’s Witnesses
This heresy did influence some of the early churches including some of the churches in Greece due to the surrounding culture worship of the many gods. This false teaching is commonly called the Arian heresy, and it has resurfaced in the past 130 years through the Unitarian churches and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Witnesses even published a King James Version of the Bible in 1920 with a list of over 2,000 verses and words which needed to be crossed out because they were no longer acceptable. “Let each… go through his Bible, pencil in hand, and mark out these words, then read… and note the improvement.” The excuse for this mutilation of God’s Word by the Watchtower Society was to save people the expense of having to buy another Bible. It also showed without any doubt that they reject both the Deity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
This practice of crossing out wording with which they disagreed doesn’t seem to have been very successful, for shortly after this the Watchtower Society commissioned a German spiritist named Johannes Greber to re-translate the Bible and to make the amendments to fit their teaching. This they called the ‘New World Translation.’ No reputable Hebrew or Greek scholars have yet agreed with their changes, and many hundreds of scholars have rejected it outright as a fraudulent mis-translation. One of the more blatant changes is John 1:1 stating that Jesus is ‘a’ god. Every other translation in the world shows Jesus as ‘God’. Sadly the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim they took their lead from the revision in 1881 by Hort and Westcott. So the Jehovah’s Witness’ Translation fulfils the prophetic Scripture: “The (Holy) Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,…” (1 Timothy 4:1).
Other Counterfeit Scriptures
Two other groups who also fulfil this prophecy are the “Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity” and the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”
The first is more commonly called the “Moonies” or the “Unification Church.” Its founder, Sun Myung Moon, claimed a divine visitation by Jesus Christ in 1936 commissioning him to complete the work left undone by the unfortunate event of Jesus’ death. Moon later claimed that both Buddha and Mohammed endorsed this work. Moon, who regards his book ‘Divine Principle’ as more important than the Bible, was involved in spiritism at an early age.
The second group mentioned, the “Latter Day Saints” or “Mormons” was also begun by a person involved in spiritist practices, one Joseph Smith, Jr. Smith claimed a vision around 1820 from the “Angel Moroni,” the so-called son of Mormon. Both of these men experienced visitations which they claim were divinely inspired.
These visitations fit more closely with the Scripture which says, “No wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness,” (2 Corinthians 11:14,15 NIV).
The ‘angels’ which both Moon and Smith claimed to see were nothing less than demonic spirits.
These men, along with the founders of many other cult religions, failed to apply the tests of Scripture on what they experienced. The result is that they became deceived and passed their deception on to others.
The Book of Mormon – Is It Scripture?
Smith claimed a ‘new revelation’ from some gold plates given to him by Moroni. When translated into English, he claimed they became the “Book of Mormon.” Since its first printing, this “Inspired Word of God” and “The most correct of any book on earth” has needed over 8,400 amendments, mostly to cover up Smith’s prophetic words which time has proved false. Experts in many fields including archeology, anthropology and linguistics have all discredited the Book of Mormon.
The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. in 1979 issued the findings of their extensive investigations into the many claims in the Book of Mormon. They stated that on scientific and factual evidence the Book of Mormon was a work of fiction. Despite this the Mormon Church refuses to allow any independent testing of the evidence they claim would prove the book true. The truth about the Book of Mormon is that it was originally written by a Congregational minister, the Rev. Solomon Spaulding, who was Joseph Smith’s Sunday School teacher. Spaulding used to write what he termed “romances,” fairy stories, including some about Jesus visiting America after his resurrection. Smith must have stolen a copy of Spaulding’s manuscript. After adding 28 chapters from Isaiah and parts of Malachi (a total of 25,000 words from the Old Testament) plus some of his own fanciful prophecies, Smith then published it as his own work. An original copy of Spaulding’s manuscript has been checked against Smith’s Book of Mormon, and the similarities are painfully obvious.
Even after all this the Mormon missionaries knocking on your door will still try to convince you that this is the ‘divinely inspired Word of God.’ Perhaps their acceptance of this deception is because their leaders have never dared tell them the truth. Whatever, the Book of Mormon is a myth and a forgery. It is not a divinely inspired book at all. Neither are “Doctrines and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price.” These books don’t even agree with each other on key doctrines.
The warning of the Bible on adding to God’s Word is clear, and those who do are in danger of losing their salvation, if it was ever theirs. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ,” (Colossians 2:8 NIV).
God’s Inspired Word to Us
We have looked at what the Bible is, and how it came together. We have also seen how the many versions were developed. Books which cult groups have claimed as equal or superior in divine inspiration to the Bible have been clearly shown to be heretical, and not even worth reading. In Matthew 7:24, Jesus says, “Whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” For the Christian the options are limited to obedience or disobedience, for Jesus said “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…” (John 14:23a).
Measuring Revelations by The Bible
God may speak to His believing people through prophetic words, visions, dreams and other revelations: but God speaks to all His people most surely through the Bible. All forms of revelation should be weighed against the Bible. These should be put aside if they don’t measure up with the Scripture. Our leading for guidance and direction is best summed up by “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things: hold fast to what is good,” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).
So the Scripture – the written Word of God – is the supreme standard by which everything else should be judged and tested.
The Bible Explains “Why!”
Science may have answers to many questions, but that does not make the Bible irrelevant. Scientific explanations answer questions such as ‘How?’ But the ultimate question is ‘Why?’ and science cannot answer that. <br.
Science has many unproven theories which may differ from Scripture, but the God who created our world also wrote His Word truthfully. Many historical facts recorded in the Bible are now beginning to be proved by new finds in archeology etc.
There are those who teach that the church (or at least their denomination) is the final authority on matters of doctrine and life. All I can say is that the Word of God is infallible and trustworthy, and it is older and more accurate than any denominational church. The Bible is completely reliable and worthy of our reading, believing and obeying.
The Bible is not an idol. The Christian’s only desire is to worship and glorify the Lord the Bible reveals. The key to understanding the Bible is Jesus Christ. The unbeliever has difficulty understanding the Bible, and may remain untouched by its message of life and salvation.
The Christian believer accepts the supernatural character of Scripture – it is self-evident. We meet God through its pages, and find pardon, new life and the assurance of eternal salvation. God’s Word is true, and “…a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” (Psalm 119:105).
If you have never read the Bible, you may not be aware that God wants to speak to you through its pages. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.