Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Inspiration of Scripture and How We Got the Bible

Recently someone asked the question, "Where did we get the Bible anyway and how do we know it came from God?" This is a good question to ask, especially if the question is asked by a Christian. It is never wrong to ask questions because when we have questions it forces us to think about our faith and to understand it better. As the church father Anselm once said, faith seeks understanding. The Christian who asks questions should then be drawn by the Holy Spirit to seek answers and to understand the Christian response to the question. Of course, no answer to the question we ask can ever fully satisfy every possible refutation of the Christian position. The unbeliever asks questions with the intention of justifying unbelief. The Christian, however, asks questions so that he or she can have a rationally justified foundation for his or her faith.

How we got the book we know as the Bible is a long and complicated history. In fact, the Holy Bible is composed of many writings and types of literature or genre of literature. Some of the books are historical narrative, others are poetry or wisdom literature. When we try to trace the original authors of the books and their historical dates and sources the process can be long and complicated. This does not mean that we know nothing about the original authors or the date and time of the various books' composition. There are many good resources available which can answer some of the questions Christians have about these issues. For example, there are introductory textbooks which summarize the background, date and author of the books of the Old Testament. Usually the title of such a textbook will be something like, "An Introduction to the Old Testament." The same thing is true of the New Testament. Introductory books will be something like, "An Introduction to the New Testament." These books give the student a summary of each book of the Bible and the cultural, historical, date of the writing of the book, and the most likely person who wrote it.

Another issue for us to consider is canonization. The "canon" of Scripture is the authoritative collection of the books together into the one book we know as the "Holy Bible." For one thing, the Bible was originally composed in the languages of the Hebrew people in Old Testament times, which was Hebrew and Aramaic, and in the New Testament the language of Koine Greek. As each of the books of the Bible were composed they gained a following among the religious leaders and became generally recognized as being inspired by God. The Old Testament writers wrote the very words of God as the Holy Spirit directed them. Though the writings are indeed the composition of prophets and apostles, they are also fully divine and are the very words of God himself. The majority of the 39 books of the Old Testament were fully canonized as an authoritative collection in the form we can recognize today at least as far back as the last book, Malachi. However, a major portion of the OT was in place by at least the time of the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C., although the Jewish religious leaders never officially "canonized" the Tanakh until the Council of Jamnia in the first century. Modern scholarship questions whether this council ever took place at all but the fact remains that the Hebrew canon gradually and definitively became solidified into the authoritative collection which both Jews and Christians recognize today. (Judaism has slightly different titles and ways of ordering the Tanakh but essentially the Christian Old Testament and the Tanakh are the same).

The story gets more complicated during the intertestamental period between the time of the Old Testament books and the writing and collection of the New Testament into a canon of 27 books. During the time between the writing of Malachi and the writing of the books of the New Testament there were many Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphal books such as The Assumption of Moses, The Book of Enoch, etc. These books heavily influenced both Jews and the later Christians. Several books of the New Testament either allude to apocryphal works or even quote from them. Jude, for example, mentions Enoch and has a couple of quotes from Enoch. This does not in any way mean that Enoch is an inspired book but it does indicate the influence of these books on Christian writers and that apparently God inspired the quotations to be included in the Bible.

Even though the New Testament books were in circulation for at least 300 or more years prior to their being canonized, they were always inspired by God even before the Christian churches in general accepted them as such. The Protestant position is that the church fallibly collected the books of the New Testament as we have them today. This means that the books of the Bible are infallible and inerrant as they are individually written. They are the very word of God. However, the Bible itself is a "fallible" collection or "canon." In other words, the church is not perfect and can make errors. It is possible that some books should have been included but were not. However, almost no one is arguing that even one of the books in the canon should not have been included, although Martin Luther once argued that the Epistle of James should not be included because Luther was concerned that James' emphasis on sanctification as a supernatural product of our justification by faith would lead some to think that Christians are saved or "justified" by good works rather than by a faith that is living and evidenced or "justified" by good works. In other words, justifying faith is justified before men by the good works it produces. But before God men are only justified by faith. In fact, even our sanctification is a gift of God (Philippians 2:13).

Another issue to be considered are the books which are in dispute between Protestants and Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox churches. Protestants call these books the Apocrypha because both the Eastern churches and the Western churches of the 4th century said that these books were not to be considered equal to Scripture but instead were to be read only for background to the Bible. No doctrine was to be built upon them. Both Athanasius in the East and Jerome in the West said the same thing though neither were completely faithful to their statement that these books are only for public edification and not for dogmatic doctrinal teaching. It is for these reasons that the Church of England sided with the Protestants and included the following statement defining the books of the Bible:

Article VI

Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scripture for Salvation

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

In the name of Holy Scripture, we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Of the names and number of the Canonical Books.

The First Book of Samuel.
The Second Book of Samuel.
The First Book of Kings.
The Second Book of Kings.
The First Book of Chronicles.
The Second Book of Chronicles.
The First Book of Esdras.
The Second Book of Esdras.
The Book of Esther.
The Book of Job.
The Psalms.
The Proverbs.
Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher.
Cantica, or Songs of Solomon.
Four Prophets the Greater.
Twelve Prophets the Less.
All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them canonical.

And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine. Such are these following:

The Third Book of Esdras.
The Fourth Book of Esdras.
The Book of Tobias.
The Book of Judith.
The rest of the Book of Esther.
The Book of Wisdom.
Jesus the Son of Sirach.
Baruch the Prophet.
The Song of the Three Children.
The Story of Susanna.
Of Bel and the Dragon.
The Prayer of Manasses.
The First Book of Maccabees.
The Second Book of Maccabees.
[39 Articles of Religion, Article VI]

It would be impossible to discuss every detail of the issues dealing with the Bible. But it should be pointed out that even though the Bible is not a book of science or history or geography it is amazing that the historical narratives mention real individuals in history. For example, we know that Pontius Pilate and Herod Agrippa were real historical figures during the time of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament period the Assyrians were confirmed as a real nation even though scholars had long argued that the Assyrians were mythological and did not exist in actual history. Today we know that is not so. Though there are admittedly some apparent contradictions in Scripture, these may yet be explained as we learn more and discover more archaeological evidences supporting the historical narratives in the Bible.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the doctrine of inspiration is a complicated issue as well since most conservative and confessing Evangelical Protestants believe in the verbal plenary view of inspiration. That is, every word of the Bible is fully inspired by God or literally "God breathed." Of course, the Bible records even the words of wicked men and even Satan. This does not mean that we follow the examples of the wicked but rather the sins of the wicked are infallibly and inerrantly recorded in Scripture by God himself to warn us of the consequences of such sins. Most Evangelicals take an incarnational view of Scripture. The Scriptures are fully divine because they are inspired by God but they are fully human as well because the books are written by completely and fully human individuals. They are not robots taken over by the Spirit of God yet God fully directs their thoughts and words such that the Bible is fully and completely the very words of God in written form. The Bible does not merely record words that contain God's word or which "become" God's word as we are inspired by them. No, the Bible is propositional truth in written form. It is God's very word whether we accept what it says or not. The Bible is the objective truth of God set forth in written form and anyone who can read can see what God has said to us.

The Bible is meant to lead us to salvation and is so plain that even a child can read it and understand it and be saved:

"But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:14-17, KJV) 1

"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1:19-21, KJV) 2

While we do not have the original writings or original autographs of the original writers of the books of the Bible, we do have hundreds of manuscripts of the Old Testament dating back to the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls and we have literally thousands of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament dating as far back as the 2nd century, though most of the Greek manuscripts are much later. Textual criticism has for the most part established that the Bible is a highly accurate reflection of what was in the original autographs.

There is an amazing unity and flow through the canon of Scripture from Genesis all the way to Revelation. The basic organization of the Bible is creation, fall, redemption, and judgment. Some have argued that there is a scarlet thread which runs from the beginning of the Bible to the end. That is, there are references to Christ and his redeeming blood shed for sinners from the beginning of the Bible to the end. For the person who is a born-again Christian and who has a genuine faith in God and in Jesus Christ his Son, questions about the Bible lead us to a deeper understanding of our faith, who God is, and a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. If God is there before creation, then it follows that He will reveal Himself as a personal and triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit both in creation or natural revelation and in special revelation in the Bible and in His Son Jesus Christ:

" For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Romans 1:18-21, ESV)

" Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high," (Hebrews 1:1-3, ESV) 3

God's general revelation in the natural world, which is His creation, is not enough to bring us to saving faith. (See Article XVIII). We must be born-again and we must hear the Gospel preached. Thus, God's special revelation in His Son Jesus Christ is the central point in all of human history. Everything we know about Jesus is revealed to us in the special revelation of Holy Scripture. It behooves us, therefore, to listen to God's very words as they are recorded for us in the Holy Bible.

For further study see:

The Canon of Scripture.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy with Exposition.

The Inspiration of Scripture.

The Westminster Confession of Faith: Of the Holy Scripture.

1 The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

2 Ibid.

3 The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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