The Holy Bible is the most widely read and distributed book in the world. We believe it is the inspired Word of God. But understanding what the Bible means, and feeling like it is a trustworthy source of God’s words can be tricky. Unpack the history of the Bible and how we understand it in today’s episode of Napkin Theology.
- Who chose the books to be in the Bible? And then why is it so hard to understand?
- How do we know that the Bible we are reading was interpreted the right way?
Pastor Mike's Answers:
So the Bible right. Up to about the 300s, 400s, 500s, 600s, there are four major centers of Christianity. There's Jerusalem, still, which is a major center of Christianity. Constantinople, around three, four, five, six hundred, becomes the capital. Constantine establishes that. Rome, of course. But the one that everybody misses is Alexandria, Ethiopia, because in Ethiopia was the largest Christian library of the ancient world.
And one of the main states of the early Christian church is Northern Africa in general. Now, that all changes before you get to 1080, 80, 85, because Islam rises up. So as Islam takes over Northern Africa, it overturns these northern African centers of Christianity, so that by the time you get to the creation of the canon, which is the Word of God, by the way. By the time you get to the creation of the canon, you have predominantly Europeans in the room. That's fair. But there are some non-Europeans in the room as well, because it is a council. All the pastors have come in for a full council.
First of all, let me say King James himself did not interpret the Bible. He underwrote the interpretation of it into English, the translation from the Latin, from the Greek into English. So he underwrote that. He paid for it. He commissioned it.
The Old Testament, the books are written between 1400 BC. Up until about 400 BC. You get all these books written, and a series of meetings, a series of gatherings of rabbis took place to kind of put together that list the Pentateuch. The first five books of the Old Testament, which have always been seen as Jewish scripture. They're the oldest books, and those are the books of the law that give real direction to Jewish life.
Then you get a lot of history books that happen: First and Second Kings, First and Second Chronicles, Joshua, Judges, Ruth. These are all history books. And then you get a group of prophetic books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel. And you have the major prophets and the minor prophets that have nothing to do with how important they are. That's kind of the way the Old Testament lays out.
New Testament is a little more complicated in the sense that it happened in a shorter period of time. As soon as Jesus raised from the dead, some of His apostles begin to write down what had happened. So you get the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The scriptures are uniformly written by followers of Jesus, predominantly people who walked with Jesus while He was here, with the obvious exception of Paul, who was converted by Jesus on the road to Damascus. So the books of the New Testament were really chosen that way.
So, interestingly enough, in our lifetime, they discovered a group of scrolls called the Dead Seas Scrolls. When they discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls, what they were able to do is there was a massive gap between these, as the oldest scrolls they had found intact of the Book of Isaiah. There was a massive gap between the oldest ones we had before and these. So what they were able to do is they were able to match how accurate is the rewriting the retranscribing of these between here and here.
What we know is, based on the Greek text that we have, we know how accurate our translations are today based on the Greek text. But how accurate was it back here prior to "we can track it, there's the piece we translated from." When they did this, I don't know. If you've ever read the book The Six Sigma Way. It's a business book that's talking about getting to almost zero mistakes in a high tech world. And so this this accuracy matched or exceeded what modern Jews as Six Sigma.
There were so few errors. The accuracy told us between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the next, the next oldest we had, the accuracy told us that what we have now can be trusted as an original. I say that to say, scientifically, I can argue that the Bible is what it originally portended to be, was meant to be. I can tell you that culturally, philosophically, anthropologically, and in terms of culture in general, that the Bible is taking us to a good place.
So I can argue from a scientific side that the accuracy is there based on the comparison from the Dead Sea Scrolls to what we have. And I can argue from a practical side that what the Bible is teaching us is right. Therefore, I could argue some level of inerrancy, though not a high level, because it wasn't a goal for ancients to be accurate. But I can argue a massive level of infallibility. The Bible teaches us things that do not fail us.
Now, for your question, why is it so hard to understand? And it is, but let me suggest that maybe it's not as tough as it seems. What if the Bible, and this is the way I view it, what if the Bible is not meant to give you a full picture of everything all at once? What if the Bible is more like the headlights of your car? And everything that is here inside those headlights? It's most clear here right in front of your car. It's visible, but not completely clear here, just a little ways out.
But what's out here, beyond the headlights, you don't even know is there. What if our life is constantly moving down a road this way, and God's Word begins to make sense to us when we reach the point that it should? And at times we read parts of it and it doesn't make any sense. But we're not there yet. We haven't experienced it.
I can tell you that when I was a kid, I would read phrases like, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. The only thing that could mean to me was I couldn't go fishing on Sunday because my grandpa wouldn't let me go fishing on Sunday. I couldn't go play whatever games I want to on Sunday. I couldn't go to the store on Sunday. All the restaurants were closed. That's what that meant to me.
But now I'm looking here and I'm trusting God's Word to give me perspective on this, and then I'm trusting God's Word. I don't quite see what that is, but I'm trusting God's Word to make that make sense. And then I know there's something out here I haven't experienced yet. But I'm trusting that God's Word and God's presence and the Holy Spirit in my life is going to help me understand and process that.
And by the time I get to here, way out in front of the car, all of these things back behind me will stack together to help me understand that in light of God's Word. So here's one thing I think is cool about the Scripture. Once it all stacks up like this, when this finally reaches up here and I'm looking at that thing, I'm going to find another verse. I'm going to find a verse I've read a thousand times, but based on everything I've seen back here and that new moment right there, I'm going to hear it in a whole new way.
Something that didn't make a bit of sense last time we read it suddenly speaks exactly to what we're facing, and we go, "oh, that's what that meant". But I think overall, Scripture is illuminated to us as we need it and illuminates what we need to see as we approach it. That's the way I view it. If you're not a believer, you're not in the word. You don't have headlights at all. You're just driving in the dark. And that's why an awful lot of people drive off the cliffs. That would be the way I view it. Or if you have bad headlights, kind of seeing what you should.