Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What A Squirrel Believes – Bibliology

What A Squirrel Believes
I believe the Bible, consisting of thirty-nine books in the Old Testament and twenty-seven books in the New Testament, to be the written Revelation of God. The Scriptures are fully inspired by God and inerrant & infallible in the original writings. God intends that His Revelation be understood by humanity, and, therefore, normal rules of language should be used in the interpretation of the Bible. The Bible is sufficient for religious instruction, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and is of supreme and final authority regarding all matters upon which it touches. In matters not touched upon by the Bible, what is right and true must be assessed in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Scriptures.

Bibliology is that part of theology that deals with the Bible itself; what it is, how we got it, and how it is to be understood.

There is no doubt that the doctrine of God must be at the center of any Christian statement of faith, but the doctrine of Scripture must come first, because only through the Scriptures can we come to know and understand God.

What The Bible Is:

There are two ways in which God reveals Himself; general revelation and special revelation.

General revelation is God revealed in His creation. Creation alone is sufficient so that all men have the knowledge of God’s existence. Paul writes in Romans, “…that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” [Romans 1:19-20] So creation alone gives all of us the knowledge that God exists.

In addition to physical creation, general revelation also includes the human conscience. All people everywhere have a sense of what is right and what is wrong [Romans 2:1]. Every culture has rules against murder and stealing and the like. This moral sense is flawed and distorted by sin, but it exists, none the less, and it reveals to all men that God is a moral God. Included in this knowledge is the concept of justice and that wrongdoing requires some sort of reckoning.

From general revelation, all men know that God is, that He is vastly powerful, and that He is moral. But that is all that general revelation reveals. The only way we can know anything else about God is if He tells us; and that is where special revelation comes in. Special revelation is God’s telling us about Himself, and it is found in the pages of the scriptures we know as the Bible.

Why only the Bible? Why not the Buddhist writings, or the Book of Mormon, or the Hindu Vedas, or the Qur’an? The simple answer is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. My reasoning is this:
  • Jesus said that He is God [John 8:58];

  • Jesus proved that He is God by rising from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:3-8];

  • Jesus confirmed the Jewish scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) [Luke 16:31]

  • Jesus hand-picked the writers of the New Testament [John 15:16].

While all religious writings claim divine origins, none but the Bible can offer any kind of objective evidence to support the claim.

How We Got the Bible:

Many view the Bible just like any other book, as simply the work of men, but it is much more then that. While it is true that the Bible was written by men, it is also true that God spoke through these men. Peter tells us, “…no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” [2 Peter 1:21] And Paul writes [2 Timothy 3:16-17], “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” So, all of Scripture is from God through men moved by, or “carried along” by, the Holy Spirit.

When I say that I believe that the Scriptures are “inerrant & infallible in the original writings,” I mean that the copies we have are, well, copies. We do not have any of the original writings. For many people, this is quite a problem. “If we don’t have the originals,” they say, “how can we know that what we have is what was really written so long ago?” That is a very important question!

The facts are that we do not have the original writings of any ancient works as old as the Bible. Before the printing press, making copies of a book was a difficult and labor intensive project, as everything had to be copied by hand. And, for many writings, few ancient copies remain. We have only 10 ancient copies of the writings of Julius Caesar, and they were made 1000 years after he penned the originals. Aristotle fares better; we have about 50 copies of his writings, but the earliest of them was made 1400 years after the originals. Homer’s Iliad does much better, with 600+ copies, and the earliest of these were made only 500 years after Homer first wrote it.

How does the Bible compare to these other ancient documents? For the New Testament of the Bible, we have more then 5800+ Greek manuscript copies, and the earliest date to less than 100 years after the New Testament was first written. The Bible was also translated into other languages very early in its history, and we have thousands of other ancient manuscripts in other languages, such as Syriac, Aramaic, Coptic, and Latin, that can be studied also. By comparing all these old copies, scholars of textual criticism endeavor to weed through the mistakes that occurred during the copying process to reconstruct the original words of the text. These scholars say that they are 99%+ sure of the original text, and that the parts that they are unsure of, less than 1%, do not materially affect the meaning of the text. It is pretty clear that the text of the Bible that we have today is an accurate representation of what was originally written. (Most good modern translations have footnotes that explain the different textual variants, and Greek critical texts, such as the Nestle-Aland 27, or “NA27”, will have vast footnotes that describe all the textual variants.)

How We Understand the Bible:

Because God used language to reveal Himself to people, it stands to reason that He desires that His Bible be understood by people. Therefore, it makes sense that the normal rules of language should apply to the Bible. This is called “grammatical-historical” interpretation. Grammatical-historical interpretation simply means that we look to understand the Bible by using the rules of grammar while taking into account the historical & cultural context that existed at the time it was written. In other words, we should take a literal approach to understanding the Bible, trusting that God has said exactly what He meant.

In the Bible, God tells us all that we need to know in order to find salvation in Jesus Christ and to prepare us to serve Him. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 says, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” So, the Bible is sufficient, and this is the heart of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

Scripture must be our final authority in everything. When the Creator of everything tells us how things are, what is left to be said? Scripture must stand above science and philosophy and human reason. The only correct understanding of anything is the understanding that is in accordance with the clear teachings of the Bible.

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