Sunday, February 9, 2013                        Basics Index


February Theme – the Bible – SUPPLEMENT
Can We Rely on Our Bibles Today?

 We have established that the Bible IS the word of God.   It is both inspired and understandable.  But is what we have today accurate?

IT has been argued that since we do not have the autographs (originals) and that what we have is a copy of a copy of a copy that it is probably corrupted and therefore unreliable.  This argument is used by critics of scripture who want to reject its validity or who want to only accept portions of it.

While it is true that we don’t have the originals, and what we have is the product of generations of copies, is the conclusion accurate.  I think not!  It is my conviction that what we have today is just as much the word of God as what was originally said and that we need to take His message “word for word.”  In this lesson, I want to talk a little about how Bible translation works.  IT is important that we understand this so that 1) We can answer critics and 2) We can have confidence in the Bible ourselves.

NOTE: About 3 years ago, I presented an 8 lesson series on how we got our Bibles.  It is available at our web site:  Some of today’s material will be taken from these lessons.  Because of time constraints, this lesson is only a fundamental and brief discussion of this subject.

 I.                    Are the books we have today the complete scripture?

a.        Canon- The word “canon” is from the Greek word, “Kanōn” which meant a reed.  The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Revised notes that from this word “came the idea of a measuring rod, later a rule or norm of faith, and eventually a catalogue or list.”  In other words, it came to mean the standard.

When we speak of the Canon of the Bible, we mean “the collection of religious writings divinely inspired and hence authoritative.” (ibid)  More simply, the Canon is those books that have been determined to be the WORD OF GOD!

b.       The Bible consists of 66 books.  39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament.  There are some who question whether or not these books are the complete canon.  Some believe there are other books that ought to be included, while others might question the authority of those that we do use.  Let us take a brief look at this.  I believe we have the Bible God intended for us to have – it is the complete revelation of God for us today. 

c.        The Old Testament – there are some strong points to verify it because of the New Testament and Jewish documentation.  Consider the following:

                                                   i.      Jewish documentation.  Centuries prior to the coming of Christ, Jewish history records the Canon they accepted.  In content, it is consistent with our Old Testament (though in a different order).
An interesting quote about the inspiration of the Old Testament identifies how the Jews went about determining what belonged in the Canon.  They took very seriously the word of God and would have gone to great lengths to verify that which belonged and reject that which did NOT belong. 
“The books accepted by the Jewish community originated over a period of approximately one thousand years. The first question regarding a writing’s acceptance was whether the book was written by a prophet of God. Generally the book would have statements such as, “thus says the Lord,” or “the word of the Lord came.” Second, miraculous signs or accuracy of fulfillment served as confirmation of a prophet’s message. Third, the book had to be internally consistent with the revelation of God found in the teachings of other canonical books, especially what God gave through Moses.”[1]

                                                  ii.      The New Testament lends great validity to the inspiration of the Old Testament.

1.       The frequency with which the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament as a source of authority. The Old Testament is quoted more than 250 times in the New Testament with it being alluded to more than 1000 times.
Much of this attributing it directly as the word of God.  For example: In Matthew 21:42 Jesus said, “Have you not read in the scriptures…”
1 Cor. 14:21 says, ““In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord.” NOTE: What is significant about this verse is that Paul is quoting from Isaiah 28:11-12.  He refers to it as “the law” thus indicating that more than the 5 books of Moses (Gen – Deut.) being the law of God.

2.       Fulfilled prophecies in the New Testament lend validity to the God authorship of the Old Testament. (Validating the NT thus validates the OT, AND visa-versa).

3.       Consider Luke 24:44, “Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”
The reference made by Jesus demonstrated familiarity with the Hebrew Canon.  The Hebrew canon consisted of 24 (these are the same 39 books we have but several were combined into one) books in 3 divisions.  The divisions were called:

a.         The Torah (Gen – Deut),

b.        The Nevi’im which consisted of 8 books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel {combines 1 & 2), Kings (combines 1 & 2), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and “The Twelve” (Our minor prophets).

c.        The Kethuvim or writings which consisted of 11 books including Psalms, Job, Proverbs, The 5 rolls (Meginoth) –Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations & Esther; and the Historical books – Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah (combined) and Chronicles (combines 1 & 2).

NOTICE that it was these 3 sections Jesus made reference to as fulfilled prophecy concerning Him.

                                                iii.      What about the Apocrypha?  Perhaps you have heard of the Apocrypha.  It is a group of books recorded mostly after the time of Malachi (which seemed to indicate that God’s writings would end until the time of the coming of Elijah (John the Baptist).  Just a couple of thoughts about this:

a.        There was not universal acceptance of these books as part of the Jewish Bible and actually they were rejected as uninspired.

b.       In the New Testament, all 3 portions of the Hebrew Canon are quoted liberally.  But not once is the Apocrypha cited.

c.        Actually, the Apocrypha was not even recognized as Canon by Catholicism until 1546 at the Council of Trent.

d.       The New Testament – more challenging,

                                                   i.      As with the OT, there are other books that some think are inspired or were excluded whatever reason.  Movies such as the DaVinci Code and others make reference to books that were supposedly left out.

                                                  ii.      It was not until 367 AD that the canon we have was officially published.  It was in a letter written to Athanasius.  However, understand that the majority of the books were decided early in the 2nd century (with the exception of about 7 books).

                                                iii.      The criteria for accepting books at Canon.

1.       IT is worthy of note that the canon was not chosen, but rather it was “discovered.”  They didn’t just vote on whether or not to accept something.  There were standards through which they were able to recognize, accept, affirm and confirm it.

2.       Did it have the quality of inspiration? In other words, did it demonstrate “the fingerprint of God”?  IT claimed inspiration, continuity of flow.

3.       Was the author an apostle or have apostolic authority?  Either an apostle or those who had direct interactions with the apostles.

4.       Does the doctrine agree with the canon of truth or “the rule of faith”?  Its teachings could not contradict what the Bible taught.  (One reason many of the so-called pseudo-gospels are rejected is because they contain stories that contradict the 4 gospels of the NT).  This would also reject the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon, etc.

5.       Did the work receive wide circulation and acceptance? More than local acceptance.  In other words, the books were known to have been circulated. (Col 4:16, Rev. 1:4, Gal. 1:1-2, 1 Pet. 1:1, etc.)

6.       When was it written?  If a book was not penned in the 1st century (apostles and their contemporaries)

7.       With such strict criteria, many works were rejected and with cause.

                                                iv.      What about the 7 books that were questioned.  First, let it be noted that all NT books were recorded as inspired many years or centuries prior to the first complete list we now have.  IT is just that they were not all mentioned.  The 7 books that were questioned were not rejected, they simply required greater investigation and this for good reasons.  These books include:

1.       Hebrews – questioned because the author was not named. 

2.       James – because at first it seemed to contradict the epistles of Paul concerning faith and grace.   But with further discussion it was determined that there is no contradiction (and there is NOT!)

3.       2 Peter because it was a different style than 1st Peter and similar to Jude.  But being written later, the tone was different.

4.       2 & 3 John because of their personal nature and brevity.  But teachings very consistent with 1 John (not disputed).

5.       Jude – because of a quote by Enoch (vs. 14).  This was actually dismissed rather early as inconsequential (not being recorded doesn’t mean he didn’t say it).

6.       Revelation – because of its apocalyptic nature.  However, the bigger question dealt with its interpretation rather than its inspiration.

e.       Thoughts:  2 Tim. 2:16,17 tells us that scriptures inspired of God are profitable and able to make us complete..
Jude 3 tells us we have “the faith, once for all delivered.”

2 Peter 1:3-4 tells us His divine power has give to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness.”
 IF we do not have all that God intended for us to have, how can we rely on anything within its pages?

 II.                  The transmission of the text from originals to today.

a.        The other question we want to briefly address is the Bible we have today.  Since what we have is the result of copies does that mean error has been written into it?  Is it accurate today?  I am convinced that what we have IS the word of God and must be accepted word for word.  Why?  Because of the process that resulted in our texts.  Consider the following:

b.       The process of determining the accuracy of a text is called “textual criticism.”  It involves examining various manuscripts to determine the character (dating, accuracy, etc.) and authenticity of a work. 

c.        With the translation of the New Testament, what we have today is NOT the result of linear transmission (a straight line of copies – much like “the telephone game” where one mistake affects everyone after that) but a rich collection of manuscripts to work with.  A manuscript is a hand written document.  Scholars and translators will examine the various documents which include:
 - Fragments (portions of a document) – the are some of the oldest documents including P52 which is believed to have been written around 110-125 AD and contains a few verses in John 18 (31-34, 37-38),
 - Uncials (mss with all Greek Capital letters which date from the 3rd to the 8th centuries) – about 300 of these including the complete Codex Sinaticus (ca. 340 AD – the earliest complete New Testament in Greek) and Codex Alexandrinus (ca. 450 AD);  
 - Miniscules (mss from the 9th century and beyond which contain both capital and small case Greek letters) of which we have about 2795, plus another 1900+ lectionaries (books written that contain specific scriptures to be read by the church).  
 - In addition to this, we have about 19,000 manuscripts of various dates in other ancient languages (including Syrian, Coptic, Latin and Aramaic). 
- Together, it is estimated that there are more than 24,000 manuscripts.

d.       While there are differences in the various documents (called variants), through examining the various texts they can reach an accurate conclusion.  And most of these variants are insignificant (spelling errors, transposing words (i.e. Jesus Christ vs. Christ Jesus), omitting a word or a line of text, etc.)  This can easily be identified by comparing texts, especially when you have as many as we have. 

e.       By comparing these documents they can comprise a text that is believed to be 99.5% accurate (true to the original) which will be used to translate a Bible (into English or some other language).  There is much more to be said about this, but this is a brief summary. 

f.         As a case in point, consider the Dead Sea Scrolls.  While dealing with the translation of the Old Testament which was somewhat different, it gives a good example of accuracy in translation. 
Discovered in the 1940s by a boy throwing rocks into caves in Qumran when he heard something break.  It was a clay picture containing leather scrolls.  When they were found they contained substantial portions of the Old Testament including complete copies of Isaiah and Gen-Deut., Psalms, etc. and fragments which come from every book of the Old Testament except Esther, and other works (including some apocryphal books and commentaries, and numerous other works).  These manuscripts date to around 100 BC by the Essenes.  What is remarkable is that when a comparison was done with one of the Isaiah scrolls found there and earlier manuscripts the variants were minimal.  As an example, Isaiah 53 was examined which has 166 words in it.  In that chapter there were discovered 17 differences of which 10 were matters of spelling, 4 were stylistic changes and 3 were letters that comprised a word in vs. 11 (“light”) which was added to what it was compared with.[1][2]  In essence, the errors were overwhelmingly what we would call today, “typos”.  IT verified the accuracy of the text of the Old Testament and the methods used to preserve it.

     When you consider these thoughts, we have every reason to believe that the Bible we have IS the Word of God.  It was written and preserved so that we might have an understanding of His will for us.  Whether or not we accept it is another story.