Sunday, December 04, 2005

What Do We Believe About the Bible?

2 Timothy 3:16 says "All Scripture is God-breahted and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."   The Bible is inspired by God.  It has many different authors but the same theme runs through it.  The personality of the "authors" was not suppressed and the different writing styles are evident.  The way God inspired the "authors" is open to debate.  Some people think that the Holy Spirit came down and put thoughts into the "authors" heads so that God's feelings came out in the "authors" own words.  Others think that God was preparing the "authors" their whole lives, that the Holy Spirit was shaping them, so that they would write down what God wanted when they wrote their book or books of the Bible.

Confusion developed in the early church as to what books were inspired by God.  In 397 A.D. a council was called together in Carthage to decide which books to include in the Bible.  They developed a Canon to test the books.  Here are some of the requirements.  The books must have been written by an apostle or someone who had met somebody who knew Jesus after he rose from the dead.  The book must recognize the Old Testament as God's word.  The book must be in agreement with the other books already accepted and speak of Jesus as the son of God.  Some of the books that are part of our Bible that some thought should be excluded are Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, James, II Peter, II and III John, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation, and Esther.

Until 1546 a group of 14 books known as the Apocrypha were considered to be part of the Bible.  These books were finally rejected for the following reasons: they were not found in the original Old Testament, they were never quoted from by Jesus or any other part of the Bible, and some of the Apocryphal books disclaim inspiration.  The books were rejected from the Protestant Bibles, but are still part of the Roman Catholic Bibles.

The Bible has been around for a long time--for some books of the Bible, over 4,000 years.  Shakespeare's plays, written roughly four hundred years ago, have no less than 20 different versions per play, each with significant differences.  Since Shakespeare's plays were written much later than the Bible, and after the invention of the modern printing press, wouldn't the Bible, which has been around longer and for a long time copied by hand, greatly have changed since the original copy?  Yet when the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered, they were almost exactly like today's Bible.  The only changes are those marked by footnotes.  The copying of the Bible was done very carefully and slowly.  Great care was taken to make sure everything was the same.  After the person copying the Bible had finished a sentence they would read the sentence from both copies over.  They would then count the number of words in each copy, then the number of letters in each copy and make very sure everything was exact, right down to the number of crossed Ts and dotted Is.  The real reason, of course, that the Bible stayed the same was because of God.  We now can read the Bible to determine God's will.  The Bible is a fantastic book.

[Editor's notes: This was a paper I wrote for my confirmation class in 8th grade.  The confirmation class was for 2 years on Wednesday nights from 7th to 8th Grade, at the end of which we all had to write papers from a list of possible topics, and then (if memory serves) I think we read these papers aloud at a special ceremony.
We wrote these papers ourselves, submitted the rough drafts to our pastor, who went through and red-lined them and then had brief one on one meetings with us and gave us suggestions on our final draft.  (If memory serves, in my case the pastor only gave me suggestions on style, so any mistakes of content in this paper are my own fault and not his.)
We were not required to cite sources for this paper, and so being a typical lazy 14 year-old, I didn't cite any of my sources.  A lot of the information in here came from my memory anyway so I wouldn't have been able to cite it--little bits and pieces of information that I had accumulated over 14 years of Sunday School and 8 years of Christian School.  (One of our middle school teachers at used to read to us from various Christian apologetic books, and I absorbed a lot of this information even if I couldn't have given the page number.  If memory serves I think the books were written by Josh McDowell, probably his Evidence that Demands a Verdict Book.)  Also worth noting this paper was written in 1992 before the Internet made information so readily available.

Have my views changed since I was 14?  Oh yes.  But it's still useful to remember where we came from, so I am including this paper here anyway even though I would disagree with much of it now.

I don't have the time now to refute everything in this paper, but here are just a couple of highlights:

* I seem to have been confused about the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The council at 397 decided the books of the New Testament.  I'm muddling the issue by including a list of controversial Old Testament books in the same paragraph.
Likewise the Dead Sea scrolls are relevant only to the Old Testament books.  And even here, they are only a partial collection.

* Catholics wouldn't call it the Apocrypha.  They call it the Deuterocanon. 

* Shakespeare may have released different versions of his plays during his own lifetime, which accounts for some of the different variations.  It's not really a fair comparison.  Besides which there actually are a number of significant textual problems with the Bible.  Even though the Dead Sea Scrolls are not too far off from our current Hebrew versions of the Old Testament, The Greek (Septuagint) and Hebrew versions of the Old Testament differ significantly.  There are also problems with the New Testament.  The resurrected Jesus does not originally appear in the Gospel of Mark and was added later.  The story about the adulterous woman does not originally appear in John and was added later.  I Corinthians 14 originally does not contain the commandment for women to keep silent in Church meetings and was added later.  Et cetera.

* I don't remember where I got the criteria for testing canonical books in my 2nd paragraph, but it is a flawed criteria.  For example books like Hebrews were written anonymously.  Jude quotes from apocryphal material.  I and II Peter are likely forged and not written by Peter and I and II Timothy were not written by Paul. ]

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