might have noticed that we pay a lot of attention to the Bible—the Scriptures,
as they are also known. The word “Bible” starts with a capital “B” in the
English language. This is a reflection of the place of esteem this book has held
lately it seems that “everyone knows” the Bible is untrustworthy. In this
lesson we will examine the evidence for the Bible, see what its proper use
truly is, and suggest some habits you should form in reading it.
myth goes something like this: “well, the Bible was never written down until
several centuries after the time of Christ. He probably did some cool
things—but how can we know which parts are authentic and which aren’t?”
sounding statement; only one problem—it’s false. Let’s take this problem in
three easy steps:
How do I know the original
documents of the Bible are trustworthy? In particular, how do I know they’re
old enough that the eyewitnesses to Jesus read them?
Given that I have a good original,
how do I know that all those monks didn’t mess up the copies?
And given those two, how do I know
I have a good translation?
consider the original documents first. If the original documents date from the
time of the Apostles, you know that they’re likely to be correct. If they
don’t, then who knows what errors might have crept in, right? So what about
those documents? A few facts:
The time we are concerned about
runs up to about AD 70—when Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans. St. Paul died
in AD 64, so we would be looking for indications that the originals existed in
Jerusalem before AD 70. Is there any such indication?
The myth says there’s nothing
there. But—by way of example—there is an almost complete copy of the Gospel of
John (one of the later books—which has been carbon dated to AD 120. It was
found in a monastery in Egypt. That means that it’s not the original, and that
the original must have been copied several times before this copy was made.
There is also the internal
evidence of the book itself. Look at the book of Acts, for example. There are
dozens of place names and ruler names—minor rulers whose names would have been
forgotten after a few years (can you tell me who was mayor of Los Angeles in
1933?). That book ends with Paul still living. We know from history that he
died in AD 64. Acts is either an extremely well researched hoax—or it’s
There are other witnesses, too.
The enemies of Christianity—mostly Roman—quoted the Gospels extensively during
the second century AD. Their quotations track quite nicely with the Gospels.
This evidence tells us that the Gospels were well known by about AD 100.
Other evidence is found in the
fact that complete translations of the New Testament into other languages show
up starting about AD 120.
Iraneus—a Christian writer—gives
us a summary of the Gospels. The undisputed date for this is AD 170.
all this evidence, why is there such a myth? Simple. Until the 4th century
AD, the New Testament was available only in pieces—book by book. When
Constantine—the first Roman emperor who was a Christian—took over, he
commissioned an Imperial set of copies of the New Testament. This was about AD
325. One of those copies is still in existence. But making official copies is
very different from writing down the legends.
let’s take up the “Xerox problem” - how do we know we have good copies? There
are two answers to that:
First, there are something like
15,000 manuscripts of the New Testament (or parts thereof) which date before AD
1000. Just in sheer numbers alone this dwarfs the copies of any other ancient
book. (The Odyssey of Homer is second—with less than two hundred).
More to the point, have you every
considered how people know there are thousands of mistakes in the Bible? It’s
because scholars have been able to trace the origins of these mistakes from
copier to copier. If you know how many mistakes there are, you must have a
pretty good idea of the correct answer.
other thing: most of the earliest copies were not made by monks, but by
professional copiers. You went down to the local scriptorum and asked
for a copy to be made. The slaves who did it checked their work by adding all
the letters in the rows, and in the columns—and checking those totals against
the originals. Some of those tallies can still be seen in manuscripts today.
last: how do I know I have a good translation? Since the time of the King
James we’ve known how to do that. James (the king, not the apostle) had a
problem—all the existing English translations were riddled with someone’s
bias. He had a kingdom to unite. So he commissioned two groups of scholars to
work on the translation. A scholar would translate the work to start with;
his work would be reviewed by a small group; their work would be reviewed by
the entire company. When finished, the two companies got together to hash out
result was the King James Bible—the standard of the English speaking peoples
for almost 300 years. The method was so successful that it is still used for
modern translations today.
that we’ve disposed of the question of authenticity, we need to know what to do
with the Bible. All Christians agree that the Bible is “inspired.” What they
don’t agree on is what “inspired” means.
Liberal Christians hold that much
of the Old Testament is composed of Jewish myths (particularly in Genesis), and
that only the later parts of the Bible are accurate. The later parts certainly
have more manuscript evidence, but is this sufficient to draw such a
At the other end of the spectrum
we have conservative Christians who claim that every word is literally,
infallibly correct. But only when read from the King James—the 1611 version of
the King James.
we ought to take a look at what the Bible says about the Bible.
hammers are not very good at driving screws; they’re even worse at mending
broken pottery. So if you want to know how to interpret the Bible, perhaps you
should start with the purpose of the Bible. That’s found here:
The Holy Bible, New International
16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for
correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God
thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
So now it’s clear: whatever your view of the Bible’s
inspiration, it’s God’s book which is intended to
Teach us what to do right
Rebuke us when we do wrong
Educate us in righteousness
Equip us for good works.
Use of the Bible
If you want to do this the wrong way, go out and get a
massive looking copy of the Bible. One with plenty of pictures and sections
added on. Put it on your coffee table—and never read it.
But if you want that Bible to do what God intended it
to do, here are some ideas:
Buy a translation that you can read.
The King James is magnificent, but not very readable today.
Use a program of daily Bible
reading. Make it a habit—at the same time each day, read the Scripture reading
for the day. You should be able to read through it all in a year.
Memorize. In times of trouble the key verses you memorize will
come back to comfort you.
Attend a regular Bible study—once
a week—either on Sunday morning or during the week (both, if you can arrange
Does it sound like too much work? There are actually
Bibles arranged in a daily reading format. It will take most readers about 15
minutes a day to read enough of the Bible to get through it in a year. There
are also helps like daily devotionals to encourage your reading.
“But what if I don’t understand part of it?” Nobody,
but nobody, understands all of God’s mind. If it bothers you, ask. (You’ll
give your Bible teacher something to worry about.)
“I get bored with genealogies!” So do the rest of
us. For the most part, you can skim over them—just remember they are there to
tell you that you’re reading about real people who had ancestors and
descendants. That’s not the stuff that myths are made of.
Mining the good stuff
The Bible is a collection of writings. Sometimes it
helps to know where to look. So here are some high spots:
Feeling like you have something to
say, and don’t know how to say it? Go to Psalms—there is a Psalm for almost
Want to know Jesus better? Read
his life story in the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Everyone can use a little wisdom
now and then—so read Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and James.
Beginners should stay away from...
...Prophecy. Particularly the book of Revelation.
Why? There are a lot of opinions out there, some of them very much half-baked.
If you want to know about prophecy (and you will, eventually) then get into a
Bible study that takes it step by step. And take each step with a grain of
salt. Your first trip into prophecy should be with an experienced guide.