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What is the Bible? - Arrival Series [6-21-20]

Here's what "The Book of Order" of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church says about the Bible:

All Scripture is self-attesting and being Truth, requires our unreserved submission in all areas of life. The infallible Word of God, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is a complete and unified witness to God's redemptive acts culminating in the incarnation of the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible, uniquely and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, is the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks.

As we consider what the Bible is, it's not a bad idea to first start with what the Bible is not:

  • The Bible is not a science textbook. It expresses the two most important questions about creation - the who and the why. To be honest, that's all I need to be certain about. I love science and theories and speculations about all that other stuff. I'm fascinated by notions of micro and macro evolution and quantum physics. I'm interested in how science tries to explain the reasons why people do the things they do and behave the way they behave. I have no interest in visiting the Creation Museum or the Ark Experience. If you've gone to either of those or are planning on going, I have no opinion one way or another. I am satisfied with the who and why of creation. That's my primary expectation when I read the Bible.

  • The Bible contains narratives of what people think, do, and say. Just because it's in the Bible doesn't means it's approved by God or an expression of what God wants us to think, do, or say.

  • Just because I can't understand something that's in the Bible, doesn't mean the Bible is wrong.

  • There's more, but for me these are the biggest expectations or assumptions I don't bring to the Bible.

Of equal importance is paying attention to the challenges of translating the Bible from its original languages - Hebrew & Greek - into English. And no, the King James Version isn't the gold standard for translations. I learned a long time ago that some churches and pastors think the KJV is the only version authorized by God. Some people think it's wrong to use any

translation other than the KJV. Weird.

Anytime you translate from one language to another, you face all kinds of obstacles. Add to that the need to maintain the integrity of God's revealed will, and you've got a daunting task. Why? Because sometimes words and phrases are difficult to translate from one language to another. Look at how you need a study guide to understand certain words or phrases or ways of saying things from Shakespeare. Language changes. There are region/geographical difference in words and definitions. Sometimes you have to look beyond a word or phrase to the context in order to properly translate. "He kicked the bucket" can mean two distinctly different things, depending on context. There's nothing simple about seeking to gain the meaning of something written in a different language from an unfamiliar cultural context. Are you with me on that? It's a daunting task.

Here's a brief example from Amos 8:1-2:

  • NRSV: {God} said, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A basket

of summer {qys} fruit." Then the Lord said to me, "The end {qs} has

come upon my people Israel."

  • TNIV: "What do you see, Amos," God asked. "A basket of ripe {qys} fruit," I answered. Then the Lord said to me, "The time is ripe {qs} for my people Israel."

In Hebrews, the words "qys" and "qs" were pronounced virtually the same. What English words do you use? Fortunately, in this case, the slight variance in translation doesn't change meaning. The point of Amos 8:1-2 is that the season of God's passing over Israel's sin has come to an end. There has been no harvest of repentance.

Add to that the fact that in both the Old and New Testaments, translators are using copies of copies of original manuscripts, and you can see the challenge. Which manuscripts are most reliable? The oldest ones? The ones with a consensus of agreement? Let's say, for sake of example, five ancient manuscripts of a certain passage are in full agreement, except for one word. There's a slightly different form of a word used that slightly changes the meaning in one of the manuscripts. What do you do? A good study Bible will note that challenge in the footnotes. I find this to be both interesting, fun, and amazing. Amazing because of how consistently

I don't usually share lengthy quotes, but here's an exception. This speaks volumes about the value of bringing a healthy mindset to the study of God's Word:

"Bible characters are sometimes good and sometimes evil, sometimes wise and sometimes foolish. They are sometimes punished and sometimes shown mercy, sometimes well-off and sometimes miserable. Your task is to learn God's Word from the narratives about them, not try to do everything that was done in the Bible. Just because someone in a Bible story did something, it does not mean that you have either permission or obligation to do it, too." "What you can and should do is to obey what God in Scripture actually commands Christian believers to do. Narratives are precious to us because they so vividly demonstrate God's involvement in the world and illustrate His principles and calling. They thus teach us a lot - but what they directly teach us does not systematically include personal ethics. For this area of life, we must turn elsewhere in the Scriptures - to the various places where personal ethics are actually taught categorically and explicitly. The richness and variety of the Scriptures must be understood as our ally - a welcome resource, and never a complicated burden." - "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart

What all this means is that the process of discovering God's intentions in the Bible is a humble and careful effort to find in the language of Scripture what the human authors intended to communicate. Limited abilities, traditional biases, personal sin, and cultural assumptions often obscure Biblical texts. Therefore the work of the Holy Spirit is essential for right understanding of the Bible. Prayer is a necessity for understanding and applying God's Word.

These thoughts and notions are the foundation upon which we stand our desk and place our chair when we sit down to study the Bible. These thoughts and notions are the lighted canopy over our heads as we align our lives with God's revealed purposes.

Are you so firmly grounded? Every year, whether it's Easter or Christmas, there arise new and creative attacks on God's Word. Most of the time you can see through these as indirect attacks on Jesus. Sometimes it's an attempt to discredit the reliability of the Biblical text. Or some new archeological evidence that undermines something in the Bible. Or even a radical new interpretation of a passage or two. It happens almost every year.

And still the Bible stands. Critics will rise and fall, but God's Word will remain strong and true.

If all of these things are true, then the Bible is the only message of eternal life. If all of these things are true, then there are no other sources of truth about God, our relationship with God, and His plan and purpose for our lives.

Psalm 96:5 - For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the

Lord made the heavens.

John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

John 6:65-69 - And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

Acts 4:12 - And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among us, by which we must be saved.

1 John 2:23 - No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

  • This passage merits further explanation. What John means is other religions do not constitute many paths to the one God, for all other religions refuse to confess that Jesus is God's Son.

1 John 5:12 - Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Luke 10:16 - The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.

We can build our lives and our eternity on the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of God's Word. On this solid rock I stand…all other ground is sinking sand…all other ground is sinking sand.

Next week, we'll look at several reasons why we trust the Bible to be the Word of God.

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