This story appeared in the Fall 1993 Reader’s Digest; When the preacher’s car broke down on a country road, he walked to a nearby roadside bar to use the phone. After calling for a tow truck, he spotted his old friend, Frank, drunk and shabbily dressed at the bar.
“What happened to you, Frank?” asked the good reverend, “You used to be happy and well off.” Frank told a sad tale of bad investments that had led to his downfall.
“Go home,” the preacher said. “Open your Bible at random, stick your finger on the page and there will be God’s answer.”
Some time later, the preacher bumped into Frank, who was wearing a Gucci suit, sporting a Rolex watch and had just stepped out of a Mercedes. “Frank.” said the preacher, “I am glad to see things ‘really turned around for you’.”
“Yes, preacher, and I owe it all to you,” said Frank. “I did just what you said. I opened my Bible, put my finger down on the page – and there was the answer — Chapter 11.”
Now, I am pretty sure that is not what the pastor had in mind. This Sunday, I thought we might take a look at the complexity, authority and reliability of the Bible. The Bible was written over a 1,600 year period by 40 different men.
The time of the writing was approximately from 1,500BC to 400BC for the Old Testament- and 30AD to 100AD for the New Testament. While the Bible is one book, it is actually an accumulation of 66 smaller books. There are 39 books in the Old Testament – and 27 in the New.
The word Bible means Book (in Latin) or Books (in Greek). And the word ‘Gospel’ means Good News.
The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew with some Aramaic. The first 5 books of the Bible are referred to as the Torah, the Pentateuch or the 5 books of Moses. (which includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Old Testament is divided into the Law, the Prophets and the Writings – sometimes called the wisdom writings.
The Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek and we call that the Septuagint. In Latin it is called the Vulgate. Over time, the full Bible has been translated into over 683 languages. The New Testament has been translated into 1,534 Languages. And there are at least 450 different English translations.
The New Testament was written primarily in Common Greek. The first Followers called it ‘The New Covenant’. In its earliest form; we have over 5,000 Greek copies, 8,000 Latin Copies and over 1,000 copies in other languages. We also have historical proof outside the Gospel for the life of Jesus.
There are at least 9 (some say 11) major non-biblical ‘hostile to the gospel’ authors who write about Jesus. The were Jews, Romans and even writers from other religions. Besides that, there are many other references ‘in history’ about the life of Jesus. He is mentioned and acknowledged in several opposing religious sacred texts.
Historians, archeologists and scholars have repeatedly affirmed the authenticity and accuracy of the Bible.
The discovery of the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ in the spring of 1947, confirmed their original text. Unlike other religious writings, the Bible reads as a factual news account – of real events, places, people, and dialogue – that can and have often be proven and confirmed.
The Roman Catholic Church also includes 14 or 15 (depending on how you count them) other writings in their Old Testament called the Apocrypha (which means ‘hidden books’).
We call the Catholic Bible the Common Bible. They actually added back in these 15 books that were left out, about 500 years after the Council of Trent closed the original 39 books of the Old Testament.
The closed Bible is referred to as ‘the closed canon’. A canon means a measuring rod. They final books were approved as measuring up to meet God’s high standards of truth.
There are deuteroncanonical or Apocryphal books that are sacred historical texts and even pseudopigrapha (questionable Jewish books) about the Bible. While the first set have important historical information (like the life of the Maccabees) they did not contain information about God. The later books have inaccurate information, locations or conflicting stories.
The New Testament was officially closed and canonized between 375 and 397AD by most Christian traditions. But many theologians believe it was set in stone by 100AD. The earliest document declaring a possible closed canon was an Easter document in 367AD.
The Old Testament deals with the early faith journey of the Hebrews, Israelites, or Jewish nation. It begins with God’s creation, deals with his relationship to a fallen world and calls us to put our hope and trust in God, alone.
The New Testament primary deals with the life of Jesus, his earthly experiences, his ministry, his revelations (healings, miracles and teaching), his sacrifice for us and his triumphant resurrection. The New Testament ushers in the time of the Holy Spirit and lays down a vision of the end times when Jesus returns and God reigns.
While the Bible was written over a great period of time by 40 different authors, it has an amazing flow and constancy. 300 recorded prophecies have already been fulfilled but there are still more than 700 we are watching and waiting to see come alive.
The Bible is the most unique book in history, for many reasons. It is inter-connected and actually proofs itself. Despite having been written from many points of view. There is an unprecedented overlap of ideas, facts and truth. Historians, scholars and theologians are perplexed, to be honest. The chances of all these authors writing a book over 1,600 years and have it still mesh so perfectly is astronomical.
The Bible reveals the works and personhood of God to us. It inspires us, explains life to us, defines us, and shows us how to live with purpose, peace and in love. It strengthens us and builds us up. We believe that the Bible is a living word; that means it is ‘an ongoing revelation of God’s truth’. In that way, it is a bit of a mystery.
The Bible is a mixture of history, poetry, humor, prophecy, law, letters (Epistles), biographies, songs, laments (complaints), – advise, romance, parables and a story of a faith awakening. It is experiential, thought provoking and cerebral.
You can read it like a novel or contemplate its amazing intricacies. That is why we can study it in groups and will always see something new.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said, “This book had to be written by one of three people: good men, bad men or God. It couldn’t have been written by good men because they said it was inspired by the revelation of God; and good men don’t lie and deceive. It couldn’t have been written by bad men because bad men would not write something that would condemn themselves. It leaves only one conclusion. It was given by divine inspiration of God. That is why I am a man of one book, the Bible.”
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, wrote, “I am busily engaged in the study of the Bible. I believe it is God’s word because; it finds me where I am. I believe the Bible is ‘the best gift God has ever given to man’. He finishes with these words, “All the good of the Savior of the world, is communicated to us, through this Book.”
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down – and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”
Radio host Paul Harvey once said, “Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them.”
2 Timothy 3:16 gives us deeper truths about scripture. It says that all scripture is God-breathed. What does that mean? In Genesis, we find God-breathing in the Spirit of life into Adam. God-breathed means inspired or brought into life or to awaken.
We know that God did not write the Bible with his own hands, although some believe that. Instead, his spirit interpreted his hopes, his plans, his story and his truth in others to dictate the Bible. Reading it is a spiritual journey that compels us to live differently.
2 Timothy also tells us that the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training us in ways of righteousness. So that not only do we know God’s word but that we live it out. God has a standard for us and a mission. When we engage God in prayer and study the Bible, it changes us for the better. It revives us. It comes alive ‘in us’.
Revelation chapter 10:9 tells us to eat the word. We are to ingest it, make it part of our being – and allow it to live in us and give us strength and direction.
One study of Americans suggests that the active Christian home (those 24% of us that are faithful) have at least 3 Bibles at home. (It used to be 5) Yet we rarely pick it up – other than on Sunday Morning. I think we can do better than that!
One final note: you need to know the difference between a translation and a paraphrase.
A translation is the closest thing you will find to the original text (unless you learn to read Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic.) But the process of translating a book from one language to another is painstaking.
Because words or ideas sometimes do not ‘cross over well between languages’, alternative words are chosen. We call that transliteration.
That is why one Bible translation may look different from another. Most of the time, the choice of words has little effect. But reading multiple translations can narrow down the true meaning.
Good translations include; The NIV – New International Version, The King James and New King James version. Today’s English Version. The American or New American Standard Version. The contemporary English Version or the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
While the NIV is probably the easiest to read, the NRSV is said to be one of the most accurate in relation to the original, as a translation. It does not try to match each word but the original intent instead.
While the King James Version is good, it speaks in the king’s language. So, if you are good with Shakespeare and old English, or you grew up with it, you are probably fine but many cannot read and understand it. But it is poetic and has a rhythm and rhyme that some have lost.
A Paraphrase is closer to our modern language. While it is not an exact translation, it takes some liberties to make the text as understandable as possible. They are less reliable than translations but still useful for beginning readers. That is because God’s message always comes through.
Paraphrases include; The Message, the Living Bible and the New Life translation.
The important thing is to read a Bible, no matter the wording.
If you need a bible, we will get you one. But be patient with yourself. Some people think simply owning a Bible is enough, but it is not. In some countries they give their lives to be able to read one.
It has been said that the worst kind of believer is one who only knows a little about the faith but thinks they know everything. Your Bible is your lifeline!
So, start reading in the New Testament; pick Matthew, Mark or Luke first. Take time to pray and ask God to open your mind, heart and soul to his spirit. Then, when you do, I believe he will honor that.
That is your assignment…read your Bible this week. Take the Challenge – spend thirty days reading God’s word – and I know you will be blessed. Be inspired!