I get a lot of comments from people who say that they are Christians, but they don’t believe that the Bible was written or inspired by God. Others tell me that they believe that the Bible was inspired by God in its original form, but that over time it has been copied and translated so often that the Bible we have today is no longer God’s Word.
I have also been told that the Bible was never meant to be taken literally. The events described in the Bible are myths and parables, only written to inspire us, especially the Genesis accounts.
Others have told me that the Bible does not contain accurate historical information, that Jesus didn’t really perform miracles, and that the purpose of the Bible is just for us to try to imitate the example of Christ.
What Does the Bible Have to Say for Itself?
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
What does “God-breathed” really mean? How did God inspire the authors of the Bible? The apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:16, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
As for the Old Testament (OT), Peter adds, “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
The Old Testament
The first 5 books of the OT were written by Moses. Through a series of Divine Coincidences (my own term for events in which God works anonymously), Moses was prepared for this awesome responsibility.
I’m sure you know the story about the baby Moses in the basket. Moses’ Hebrew slave parents saved him from the slaughter of all the boy babies, the Pharaoh’s idea to decrease the slave population to prevent the slaves from forming an army. The infant Moses was rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who raised him as a prince in the palace. He would have received a prince’s education – literature, mathematics, writing, and grammar.
Fast forward about eighty years. Moses has added about forty years of education in the school of hard knocks to the forty that he spent as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace. Ten nasty plagues and a miraculous crossing of the Red Sea later, and Moses is summoned to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the words of God. This book writing collaboration lasts forty days, interrupted when the people get tired of waiting for Moses and make an idol to worship. Moses comes back down, breaks the tablets written with the finger of God. The people repent, Moses goes back up the mountain for new tablets. Tradition has it that these stone tablets written with the finger of God contain the Ten Commandments. The Bible doesn’t say what medium is used for writing the rest of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), but it is clear that Moses is the author. During their forty year sojourn in the desert, Moses frequently set up a “tent of meeting” outside the camp. Exodus 33:9 tells us: “As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses.”
As for the rest of the Old Testament (OT), it was accepted as Scripture by the Hebrew (Jewish) people by the time of Christ. Jesus quoted from it frequently, from His encounter with Satan in the desert, to his exchanges with the Pharisees (the religious elite of the day). The Pharisees never question the Scriptures when they oppose Jesus.
The only issue that remained was the Apocrypha, with some debate and discussion continuing today. The vast majority of Hebrew scholars considered the Apocrypha to be good historical and religious documents, but not on the same level as the Hebrew Scriptures.
The New Testament
The first five books of the New Testament contain biography and history of the life of Christ and the early church. To be included in the Scriptural canon (books of authority – Bible) these books needed to conform to the following criteria:
Was the author an apostle or have a close connection with an apostle?
Is the book being accepted by the body of Christ at large?
Did the book contain consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching?
Did the book bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit? Again, it is crucial to remember that the church did not determine the canon. No early church council decided on the canon. It was God, and God alone, who determined which books belonged in the Bible. It was simply a matter of God’s imparting to His followers what He had already decided.
The rest of the New Testament consists of the letters of early church leaders. The apostle Paul wrote 11 or 12 of them (The authorship of Hebrews is unknown, but it is likely also Paul). Then the book of Revelation is wisdom literature – poetic prophecy.
How do we know that the Bible as we have it today is still the authoritative word of God? How do we know that centuries of copying and translating has not left us with a book that bears little resemblance to the original word of God?
Who decided which books belong in the Bible? How can we know that there are not others which have been omitted unjustly?
I will be addressing these two questions in further articles.