GOD’S SPECIAL BOOK
The Bible, the Word of God, is God’s special book. It is a supernatural book.
The Bible is unique and unusual among all other books. It is one of the oldest books in the world, and yet it is the most modern.
The Bible speaks clearly to every age-group, into every society and to every individual.
Portions of the Bible were written almost 4,000 years ago, but it still tells us very important things for today, like:
Who is God?
Can I know God?…How?
Who am I?
Where did I come from?
What is my purpose?
And how do I fulfill it?
Is this life all there is?
KEY TO GOD’S PLAN
Many different people were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Bible. Yet their writings are completely unified and consistent with each other. They all fit together beautifully, and point in the same direction.
The Bible includes history, science, law; biography, philosophy, prophecy; drama and romance; poetry and song.
The Bible is full of the thoughts, plans and promises of God for you and for the rest of mankind. We were given God’s Word to help us understand Who God is, what He is doing in the earth, and how we can be active in His Kingdom plan.
Though the Bible includes many things, it actually has only one main idea: God’s loving plan to bring mankind into a full relationship with Himself. And the key to that plan is the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
GOD HAS SHOWN HIMSELF
The Bible is the divinely inspired and infallible (never wrong) revelation of God to man. It is not merely the words of men written to other men. (For a more complete study on the inspiration, inerrancy and interpretation of the Bible, see Chapter Two of this article.)
Our God is a God Who delights in making Himself known to His creatures. He desires to reveal Himself to us.
God has not remained silent, like the idols or gods of other religions. He is a God of love, Who communicates His love and purposes to His people.
Man can reveal his own thoughts and ideas to someone else, but a mere man cannot know what another man is thinking. And man could never know what God is thinking, unless God were to reveal Himself to man. Only God can make Himself known to us, and reveal His thoughts to man.
“For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:11 nkjv).
God speaks in order to reveal Himself. From the time of Genesis, and all throughout history, God has spoken to mankind and shown Himself to us.
SO MUCH MORE…
God’s words are powerful. With only His word, the world and all that it contains was created. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth“ (Ps 33:6).
Some people believe that the revelation of God through His creation (nature) is enough. They don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word, and think it is unnecessary for knowing God.
It is true that creation practically shouts of the majesty and awesome power of God; it is true that nature shows how incredibly wise and infinitely creative God is. A literal translation of Psalm 19:1 from Hebrew says, “The heavens are actively engaged in declaring to their utmost the glory and handiwork of God.”
All of creation speaks of the worthiness of God. The Bible declares that the rocks and stones would worship Him if we did not! (See Luke 19:28-40.) That is how awesome and worthy He truly is!
But there is so much more to God than what nature or creation can show us.
What of His incredible love? His awesome Holiness? His marvelous Grace? His plan of Salvation for mankind?
Down through the ages, God has spoken through chosen men and women to make known His will. “God who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” (Heb 1:1,2 nkjv).
God’s greatest revelation of love was in the Person of Jesus Christ, the “Word made flesh”. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” (Jn 1:1-14).
The Bible is the revelation of God Himself to mankind. But is it “the Word of God”? And what does that phrase really mean?
MORE THAN A BOOK
The name “Bible” comes from the Greek word biblios, which means “the book”.
But the Bible is more than just a book. Paul called it “the holy scriptures” (Rom 1:2), the “sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15 RSV), and “the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2).
In many verses, the Bible is also called “The Scriptures”, meaning “holy writings” (Mt 22:29; Mk 12:24; Lk 24:27; Jn 5:39; Acts 17:11; Rom 1:2, and others).
The Bible is divided into two major sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The word “testament” was originally translated “covenant”. Both the Old Testament and New Testament represent a covenant that God made with His people.
There are 39 books in the Old Testament, and 27 books in the New Testament, for a total of 66 books in the Bible.
It is important to remember that the Old Testament Law, or Covenant, has now been superceded by the New “Covenant” (Testament) established by Christ (see Hebrews 8:6-10:18). The Old Covenant has not been cancelled out, but has been “overwritten” by the fulfillment of Christ’s work.
THE OLD TESTAMENT
Jesus said, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44).
Based upon Jesus’ words, the Old Testament has commonly been divided into three major sections:
- The Law
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
- The Prophets
Former: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
Latter: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel; the Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
- The Writings
Poetical: Psalms, Proverbs, Job
Five Rolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes
Historical: Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles
THE NEW TESTAMENT
The New Testament is commonly divided into 5 sections:
- The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
- The Acts of the Apostles
- The Epistles of Paul (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon)
- The General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, 3 John, Jude)
- The Book of Revelation
CHAPTERS AND VERSES
It is important to remember that the Bible was not originally divided into chapters and verses as we have it today.
These features were added for convenience of reference only within the last 600 years.
These chapter and verse divisions are helpful for finding things, but they can be misleading as well.
Those who added these divisions in the Bible did the best they could to keep related passages together.
But sometimes the divisions can fall right in the middle of a subject being dealt with, and the reader may think that a new subject is being introduced.
It may even be necessary to ignore the chapter divisions as you read, in order to finish reading the subject being addressed.
An example of this can be found in Galatians 3:26-29. Those four verses would be better understood if they had been placed at the beginning of Galatians 4, instead of at the end of Galatians 3.
This is particularly true with the New Testament writings. The Epistles, for example, were written in the format, or style, of a letter, rather than an historical record (I & II Kings, I & II Samuel, etc.) or poem (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.).
The Bible is one book, but it is made up of many books. These books were written by at least 40 different writers who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. They lived over a period of more than 1,500 years, spanning 60 generations.
The last writer died more than 1900 years ago. Many of the writers never met or spoke to each other. They lived in different parts of the world, over three continents – Asia, Africa and Europe.
Many of these writers lived hundreds of years apart. There was no way for them to communicate with each other about the basic concepts in the Bible.
They even wrote portions of the Scriptures in different languages, depending on where and when they lived. The books of the Bible were written in three different languages: Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.
…BUT ONE TRUE AUTHOR
The Biblical writers had various occupations, and many different levels of society and education. They were kings and statesmen; soldiers and tax-collectors; theologians and scribes; doctors and butlers; shepherds and fishermen…and more.
The Bible was written by various writers, at various times, in various languages, from various places.
Yet the Bible is miraculously unified and consistent in its message; it is easy to see that the Bible had one true Author – God Himself.
If you assembled 20 writers from the same generation, the same time, the same country and the same language – and had them write about one subject – they would inevitably have many different opinions and conflicting ideas!
Yet the Bible manages to cover many complicated and controversial subjects, and still remain a single, unified book. This helps us to see that an all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful God was truly THE source of its construction and purpose.
REACHING OUT TO ALL
There are 66 books in the Bible. The authors of 55 of the books have been well identified by tradition and historical study.
Scholars today are less certain as to who exactly wrote the following books: Judges; Ruth; 1 & 2 Samuel; 1 & 2 Kings; 1 & 2 Chronicles; Esther; Job; Hebrews.
However, we can be absolutely confident that these books of the Bible are inspired by the Holy Spirit. And that their contents are totally trustworthy as the Word of God. Ultimately, God is the true Author of each and every book in the Bible.
Some books of the Bible cover long periods of history, such as Genesis or 1 & 2 Kings. It is possible they are a collection of several writings by several authors, which were put together into one book by one individual chosen by God.
Psalms and Proverbs are good examples of multiple authors being inspired by the same Holy Spirit.
So then, the actual number of writers of the Scriptures could be well in excess of 40.
Most of the writers were Jews, and wrote from the context of the Jewish religion and culture. Even so, the words of the Bible reach out to people of ALL nations, ALL ages, ALL races, ALL social classes.
But who decided which of the many ancient writings should be included in the Bible, and how was that decided?
HOW WERE THE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE CHOSEN?
We have seen how the Bible is truly the inspired Word of God. But it is important to not just accept this fact without a good understanding of how we have received the Bible in its current form.
The inspired collection of books in both the Old and New Testaments is called the Canon of the Bible.
This word comes from the Greek kanon, meaning a “measuring rod or reed”. This signifies a rule or standard to which certain books must “measure up” in order to be considered Holy Scripture.
“Canonization” is the process by which the church leaders gave their final approval and acceptance to the books considered for inclusion in the Scriptures.
It is important to note that the Church or its leaders did not CREATE the Canon. They did not give the books divine authority or power. It is the “God-breathed” origin (inspiration) of a book which gives it anointing and then determines its canonicity.
The early Church and its leaders merely SAW the worth in the books that came to be included in the Bible, and RECOGNIZED the inspiration of God which the books already contained. The Canon of Scripture was determined by God and then discovered by men.
The American scientist Benjamin Franklin, who lived in the 1700’s, did not invent electricity. He just discovered it and recognized it for what it was.
In the same way, the people of the Church did not “invent” or create the Scriptures. They just recognized and received certain writings based on the obvious God-breathed inspiration of those writings.
Hundreds Bear Witness
There were many false books and writings produced at the same time Scripture was being written.
Church leaders carefully reviewed ancient writings, and rejected many of them. They wanted to be absolutely convinced that a book had divine origins before it was to become part of the Bible
It became necessary for the people of God to carefully establish a set of “guidelines” to help determine which writings should be part of the Bible.
These principles also helped assure that what was to be included in the Bible would not be decided by a select few. Many hundreds, if not thousands, would have to “bear witness” that certain writings were of God.
The following principles helped to guide the selection of what writings were to be included in the Canon of Scriptures.
Five Tests Of Authenticity
- Divine Authority
Each book in the Bible possesses a prophetic or divine pronouncement and often contains the phrases “Thus saith the Lord” or “The word of the Lord came to me.”.
This divine authority was also shown in the telling of what God had done in the history of His people.
- Prophetic Authorship
The Word of God is given to His people through Spirit-moved, God-appointed men known as prophets (Heb 1:1).
Books were considered for inclusion in the Bible only if they were written by recognized prophets, apostles, or someone close to them.
- Authentic Truth
A book with heresy […define…] or doctrinal errors was obviously not inspired by God, and was therefore rejected. If a writing contradicted previously accepted biblical revelation, it was also rejected as false.
God cannot lie: No book given by God would contain falsehood or contradiction. Each book would agree with the other books God had inspired.
The Bereans “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). They wisely made sure that what Paul was teaching matched up with God’s previous revelation in the Old Testament.
- Dynamic Power
Though this is harder to determine, the books of the Bible must contain dynamic, life-changing power.
“For the Word of God is quick and powerful…” (Heb 4:12), and can be used “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).
Sound, God-breathed teaching builds up, edifies and liberates (2 Tim 3:15; 1 Pet 1:23; John 8:32). False teaching discourages, tears down and leads to bondage; It will deceive people, and lead them astray from worshipping the One true God and His Son Jesus Christ.
- Wide Acceptance
One more test was used to determine if a book was “God-breathed”: Was it recognized in the churches? Was it accepted, collected, shared and used as God’s Word by God’s people?
Communication was difficult, and transportation methods were slow in earlier times. Thus, it took many, many centuries to finalize the acceptance of all 66 books in the Canon of Scripture.
Of course, the people of God accepted many writings without delay, such as the writings of Moses and the Apostle Paul. But other writings had to endure much scrutiny and withstand the test of time.
HOW CAN WE KNOW THE BIBLE IS STILL ACCURATE?
The story of how our Bible came to us in the form we now have it, is a long one. It is filled with the miraculous events of God’s preservation of His precious Word.
It all begins with the original documents being penned by holy men of
God “as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:20-21; II Tim 3:16).
THE OLD TESTAMENT
Not A Single Mistake
The Old Testament Scriptures were undoubtedly written and copied onto the skins of animals. Leather was far more available than paper when the Old Testament was written.
Rolls were made by sewing many animal skins together. The rolls could be as short as a few feet, or as long as 100 feet – or longer. These rolls were rolled onto one or two sticks.
The Jews who acted as the Scripture copyists had an intense reverence for the Scriptures. Because of this, they worked diligently with an almost fanatical discipline to be absolutely accurate in their copying of the Scriptures.
They had a very complicated system of cross-checking their work. Every single letter, word and verse was counted! They would even measure the spaces between words, and knew exactly how much space was needed to copy a full book.
Using such minute measurements, they would carefully check each new copy. If the letter or word count differed from the original, the copyists would search until the error was located and corrected. If there was a single mistake, the entire page was destroyed!
Complete And Undamaged
The scribes’ attention to detail was so successful that the accuracy and detail of the Old Testament has been protected and preserved. Though we do not have the original documents, we can be assured of the accuracy of the copies we now have.
These original documents no longer exist. The reason we do not have the remains of the originals is due to the reverence and care of the Jewish scribes. Whenever a manuscript showed signs of age or was accidentally damaged, it had to be either buried or burned after a new, exact duplicate had been made.
This was done to protect the integrity of the copies made of each prior manuscript. Can you imagine having a copy of only half the Psalms because the copy you were reading was made from a damaged or incomplete original?! God has gone to great effort to preserve the Scriptures for us!
Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (see chapter 2 of this article), our oldest copies of the Hebrew text were dated around 900 A.D. These Dead Sea Scrolls documents, written on leather, are dated between 200 B.C. and 68 A.D. One of the scrolls is a complete copy of Isaiah – making this manuscript a thousand years older than any previous copy scholars possessed!
The most important part of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery is the similarity between those scrolls and the other copies already in existence.
The Dead Sea Scrolls conclusively and overwhelmingly demonstrate the extraordinary accuracy and precision of the Jewish scribes in their task of copying the Scriptures.
In comparing two copies of the same thing (the Scriptures) copied by two totally different groups of Jews a thousand years apart, we find no significant or important differences or contradictions. This gives us strong reason to be confident of the Bible’s accuracy.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
All the New Testament books – written between 40 AD and 95 AD – were written on a kind of paper. This paper was made from papyrus reeds and was used as individual sheets or glued together to make rolls.
The manuscript evidence supporting the New Testament is overwhelming. The Bible, in fact, has far more documentary evidence for its accuracy and reliability than any other ancient writing.
The Word Stands Forever
Virgil, the most celebrated poet of ancient Rome, lived and wrote around the time of Christ, when the Roman Empire dominated the known world.
We have no originals of Virgil’s work, and fewer than two dozen copies; scholars, in fact, will accept as few as ten copies to verify that an ancient literary work is genuine. The oldest copy we do have of Virgil’s work was not made until over three centuries after his death, when the sun was already setting on the glory days of Rome.
The earliest of the more than twenty-four thousand manuscript copies we have of the New Testament were made twenty or thirty years within one generation after the originals were written . . .within the lifetime of people who knew Jesus!
Over 5400 of these copies are in Greek – the language in which the original New Testament was written. And when these copies are compared with each other, each copy matches the rest with an accuracy rate of very nearly 100%!
The text of the New Testament is more substantiated and verified than any other ancient document in existence!
Praise God for His holy Word! “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.” (Is. 40:8)
THE BIBLE THROUGH THE AGES
Vulgate to Wycliffe
As stated earlier, the story of how we came to have our modern Bible is a long one. It is beyond the scope of this article to include all the details. However, the following is a brief overview of how we got the Bible we use today.
Up until 670 A.D. the only widely used Bible was in Latin; it was called the Vulgate. Jerome, in the 4th century, had translated it from the Hebrew and Greek texts.
After Jerome’s time, many portions of Scripture were translated from Latin into Old English. Then, in 1382, the whole Bible was translated into English by John Wycliffe. After the “Wycliffe Bible,” many new English translations were made.
This created a great deal of discussion and argument among the English Christians as they debated which translation was best.
King James And Beyond
In 1604 King James I authorized the translation of a new Bible. A group of 47 scholars worked for six years, using the best Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of their day. After much painstaking work and strict attention to accuracy, the King James Version was published in 1611. This version went through several revisions in later years, primarily to update the English language used in it.
Today, we have many more, and much older, Greek and Hebrew manuscripts from which we can translate the Scriptures. But there is very little difference between the existing manuscripts, and those differences do not affect a single doctrinal issue or rule of faith!
There are many excellent translations that can be used; personal preference is the only deciding factor in what a person can choose. Four of the most accurate and reliable translations of the Bible are:
- The King James versions (KJV, 1611); poetic language, reliable translations, but some old English vocabulary which may be obsolete or have changed meaning.
- The New King James Version (NKJV, 1982); updates some of the older vocabulary of KJV, but still retains much of the majestic language style.
- New American Standard Bible (NASB, 1971); based on oldest manuscripts available, accuracy is excellent, readability good.
- New International Version (NIV, 1978); accuracy of this version is good, with a fresh contemporary style and language.
Translation or Interpretation?
There are important differences between a translation version of the Bible and a paraphrase version of the Bible.
Primarily, a translation version seeks to literally translate from the original Greek and Hebrew languages in which the Bible was written into another language the reader can understand. A paraphrase version frequently attempts to explain or make commentary on the passages of Scripture. A paraphrase is more an interpretation of Scripture than a literal translation.
As long as the Bible student keeps this important difference in mind, a paraphrase version can be used as an additional tool of study. Some good paraphrase versions are the Phillips Bible, the Living Bible and the Amplified Bible.
Study, Study, Study!
It is also extremely important to note that several non-Christian cults promote their own “versions” of the Bible. Some of these almost seem like the genuine holy Scriptures, but are twisted by misinterpretation or even outright untruths. Cults use these to support their peculiar doctrines, which are intended to deceive and trap the ignorant and undiscerning.
This is not a new problem. Cults existed even in the days of the original apostles. Many of the New Testament books were written to disprove the false doctrines of these groups.
The best safeguard for yourself and the flock you lead, is to know the genuine Scriptures thoroughly! The only way to do this is to study, study, study with a heart that is open to the Holy Spirit’s illumination.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE WORD OF GOD AGREE
This ministry of the Holy Spirit is an awesome and powerful thing. It is wonderful to see even today how the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are always in perfect agreement.
The Bible is prophetic. It reveals God’s will through His Word and His works. It also reveals God’s plans and predictions.
Today, through the gift of prophecy, the Holy Spirit still inspires men of God to speak the words and will of God to others.
However, the written Word of God, the Bible, is already complete and nothing is to be added to it (Deut 4:2; Prov 30:5,6; Rev 22:18).
Modern-day prophecies should not add to or change what is already complete in the Bible.
Since the Bible is the ultimate source of truth, all other words and prophecies inspired by the Holy Spirit today must be compared to, or “judged” by, the Bible.
The Holy Spirit has already inspired what is in the written Word of God, and anything the Holy Spirit inspires today will agree with the Bible.
The Scriptures clearly tell us to judge all prophecy. “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Cor 14:29). But how is this done?
There is a final “court of appeal” by which all the manifestations or gifts operating in the Church can be judged. It is the written Word of God.
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word [i.e., the Bible], it is because there is no light in them” (Isa 8:20).
Peter calls the Word of God “a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as a light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Pet 1:19).
The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Word of God, and His working through others today will always agree with what is already in the Bible.
THE WORD AND THE SPIRIT IN BALANCE
It is wonderful to experience the gifts of the Holy Spirit manifesting in meetings and ministry situations.
But it is equally wonderful and important to be balanced believers who also stand firmly on the foundations of the Bible. We can and should be both Spirit-filled AND Bible-based believers!
There are many scripture verses that show the harmony between the Holy Spirit and the Word of God:
“The SPIRIT of the Lord spoke by me and His WORD was in my tongue” (2 Sam 23:2).
“I will pour out my SPIRIT unto you, I will make known my WORDS unto you” (Prov 1:23).
“The HOLY GHOST shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to SAY” (Lk 12:12).
“He…speaketh the WORDS of God: for God giveth not the SPIRIT by measure unto Him” (John 3:34).
“It is the SPIRIT that quickeneth…the WORDS that I speak…they are SPIRIT, and they are life” (John 6:63).
“SCRIPTURE must needs have been fulfilled, which the HOLY GHOST by the mouth of David spake” (Acts 1:16).
“They were all filled with the HOLY GHOST, and they spake the WORD of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
“After that ye heard the WORD of truth…ye were sealed with that HOLY SPIRIT of promise” (Eph 1:13).
“The sword of the SPIRIT, which is the WORD of God” (Eph 6:17).
(You can use your Bible concordance to find many other verses that show the harmony of the Word of God and the Spirit of God.)
The Holy Spirit was the inspiration for the writing of the Word of God, and His words and works will always agree with what is already in the Bible.
The Holy Spirit and the Bible are in complete unity. It is good and right to be people who fully embrace and live in the power of BOTH the Spirit and the Word!
We have learned that the Bible is the revelation of God Himself to mankind. But is it “the Word of God”? And what does that phrase really mean?
Let us examine these questions and more in the next chapter.