Welcome to the new year and a new Bible study. For the next little while, I’d like to look at different aspects of the Christian life that new Christians should learn. In fact, those who have been Christians for a long time should learn them as well, if they don’t know already.
Since God’s word is the physical source for all we know of God and Christianity, we’re going to begin with the Bible, its creation, its authority, and its power. Because the Bible is a very large subject. I do not claim to be exhaustive in my presentation here. I just want to cover the high spots of information that I believe a Christian should know about God’s word and some other subjects we’ll cover. So, let’s jump in with the Bible’s Creation.
The Bible is a collection of books written by more than forty authors over the course of fifteen hundred years. It is divided into two sections or testaments, the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament is composed of thirty-nine books, in its current edition, written primarily in Hebrew, and covers the span of time from Creation to around 400 B.C. It begins by speaking of all of creation, but quickly narrows to those who follow God. Eventually it becomes more of the history of God’s chosen people, the Israelites.
The books of the Old Testament are grouped into different categories; the Pentateuch which is the first five books and referred to as the Law, History, Poetry and Wisdom, and the Prophets. Their listing in the canon has differed over the years depending on who had copies, which were duplicated by hand and not really placed in any particular order. The Old Testament as canon was fixed before the time of the New Testament and was the scriptures referenced in the New Testament. It was eventually translated into Greek, called the Septuagint, as Greek became the common language of the time.
The New Testament is written in Greek and composed of twenty-seven books made up of the four Gospels, History in the book of Acts, and Letters of instruction and prophecy. All of the known authors are Jewish with the exception of Luke, the writer of Luke and Acts. The writer of Hebrews, who is not specified in the text, is generally considered to be the Apostle Paul, but there is still discussion about that.
It appears that the letters written by Paul the Apostle were written first of the New Testament books. Paul’s letters were copied and circulated among the many churches which helped to establish the foundation that became the New Testament.
The gospels followed, and they were also copied by hand and circulated among the early churches. Contrary to the tales of some biblical skeptics, the New Testament was not put together by Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicaea. By the time of the Council, the early churches had already begun using the writings we know as the New Testament.
As more and more copies of the letters and gospels emerged, along with false gospels and letters, the early church fathers decided upon certain criteria in determining the makeup of the New Testament canon. Those criteria were apostolicity, orthodoxy, and catholicity.
Apostolicity asked the question, did the writing come from a New Testament Apostle, one who knew Jesus personally and was called by Him to be an Apostle, or a very close associate of an Apostle. Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul were obviously Apostles. Mark and Luke were very close to the Apostles and may have been first hand witnesses to the ministry of Jesus. Since James and Jude were the half-brothers of Jesus, there is the question as to whether they would be considered Apostles or just very close associates, but they pass the test either way. The writer of Hebrews was apparently known well enough for that book to pass the apostolicity test.
The second criteria is Orthodoxy. It asked the question, is the writing in line with established Christian beliefs. By the time of the writings, the teachings of the original Apostles and those who were taught directly by them had been exercised and passed on to the members of the early churches. Also, the letters of Paul and Peter did a very good job of conveying Jesus’s teachings. When the question of orthodoxy was raised over any document, it would not have been difficult to see whether the writing in question agreed with established norms.
And the final criteria was that of Catholicity. For a given writing, was there unified acceptance among the Christian churches and leaders. It is important to note here that the Churches were composed of believers who were indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Their decisions regarding any of the writings of that time were not simply arbitrary actions of wisdom and personal knowledge. They prayed and fasted and asked the guidance of God before making such decisions. And God is perfectly capable of keeping His word in the form He desires.
Using the specified criteria and the leading of the Holy Spirit, the early church leaders eventually had the books they believed to be the inspired word of God. And after the invention of the printing press, the books eventually fell into an order which became the standard for the Bible we have today.
One last thing. Skeptics ask how we can trust the Bible’s veracity as it was copied so much and the events it covers occurred two thousand years ago. Consider this. We currently have more than eighteen hundred manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad, and no one doubts it’s construction.
We have more than sixty-six thousand manuscripts of the Bible, and they vary very little. There is less than one fifth of one percent of textual variants among the Bible manuscripts which are classified as meaningful and viable, although they draw the most criticism. However, of the small percentage that does vary, none has any issue on doctrine.
So there you have the Bible as we know it today. Next week we’ll look at the authority of the Bible and possibly the power of it.
Have a great week!
For more information, watch “The God Who Speaks,” a documentary produced by the American Family Association. The information provided in this post I acquired while studying at Blue Mountain College, now known as Blue Mountain Christian University, and heard again in the aforementioned AFA documentary. I claim no possession of original facts or ideas. I simply share what I’ve heard and learned from thirty-five plus years of ministry.
Do you know Jesus? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? According to scripture, all anyone must do is recognize their sin condition, realize that Christ died to pay for that sin, and ask Him to save them from it. Salvation is a gift of grace we receive by faith. Meet Him today! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need more information.
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