Friday, December 31, 2010

What is the Bible? Where does it come from?

What we call the Bible contains the words of God. The word bible simply means book which is why the Bible is usually labeled as The Holy Bible, meaning the pure book, the book from God. The words of God were written by God's specific influence, spiritual direction, & sometimes dictation by His followers who were eye-witnesses of the events they wrote about. The Bible speaks about who God is and what God has done.

The Bible was originally written primarily in languages Hebrew, for the Old Testament, and Greek, for the New Testament. The text of the Bible has been preserved in what we are called manuscripts. Manuscripts are handwritten copies of a portion of text written by someone else. There are 5,686 Greek manuscripts for the New Testament and those manuscripts agree with each other 99.5% of the time. To put this in perspective, the New Testament was written in the first century. Shakespeare wrote his works in the 1600s and there is more variation in the surviving manuscripts of Shakespeare's works than in the Bible's manuscripts. Even if there were no manuscripts existing at all of the New Testament all but 11 verses from the entire New Testament can be reconstructed from material written within 150 to 200 years from the time of Christ. Based on the number of manuscripts, the date the manuscripts were written, and the agreement between the manuscripts, the Bible by far is the most reliable ancient text in existence. God has very much preserved His words through the many ancient manuscripts.

As the Bible spread throughout the world and new languages began to emerge the Bible has been translated many times into many languages. There are no perfect translations. Simply because of the difference between languages it cannot be so but many translations are largely accurate. Today we have a wealth of information regarding the languages of Greek and Hebrew to help us get the best understanding of what the Bible says even with our imperfect translations. Some translations today are more literal which means they take one word in the original language and translate it as one word into English and words are only added to help the English reader comprehend what has been written. A paraphrase is a translation that takes the meaning of a text of multiple words and rephrases it for an often clearer & simpler understanding. The benefit of the more literal translation is that there is less interpretation occurring from the translator. The NASB is an example of a more literal translation. The Message is an example of a paraphrase.

When reading an ordinary book it is not necessary to meet the author to benefit from the book. With the Bible, everything is different. It is necessary & vital to meet the Author if you are to understand the Bible. We can’t we expect to know the Bible of God without knowing the God of the Bible. One can never understand the message and intent of the Bible, unless you have a redeeming encounter with its Author.

The Holy Spirit of God is given to those who receive the free gift of eternal life that Jesus offers. It is the Holy Spirit of God who illuminates us to God’s word. By illuminates I mean that illumination makes the Bible understandable & clear, that the Holy Spirit of God shines light on the truth for us to see it. Jesus said in John 14:16, "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."

1 Corinthians 2:12-16 explains how the Holy Spirit of God is essential to learning the knowledge of God.
"We have received the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given to us by God. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. "Who can know what the Lord is thinking?" We can understand these things because we have the mind of Christ.

In Psalm 43:3, the writer prayed this, “O God, Send out Your light and Your truth, and let them lead me.”
Note the combination of light and truth in his prayer. It is wise to pray to the Holy Spirit for His light before you expose yourself to His truth. It is not enough to have the Bible. Many people take up the Bible and read—and receive no benefit at all. Why? Because they had the truth, but had no light to detect it.

More On Manuscript Trustworthiness
Homer's Iliad is an ancient Greek writing. It is the second most reliable ancient text next to the Bible. It said to have been written around 900 B.C. but the oldest manuscript we have of the Iliad is from 400 B.C. That is 500 years between supposed writing and the oldest existing copy. Again the New Testament was written in the first century. The oldest existing manuscript containing a portion of the New Testament is from 125 A.D. a mere 25 years from the first century. The 5,686 manuscripts of the New Testament agree with each other 99.5% of the time. Homer's Iliad has 653 manuscripts which only agree with each other 95% of the time and it is the second best preserved ancient document. The oldest manuscripts of Plato's writings are from 1200 years after he was said to be alive.

Let's say my great grandpa wrote a letter for our family's future generations. I made a copy of the letter 25 years after he died to preserve it. Would you say it would be likely that the copy I made was really of my great grandpa's letter after only 25 years? Now let us say that in the future people claim I wrote a letter to you but the oldest know copy of that letter came over 1000 years after I died. How much less reliable is that letter if it came so long after my death?

More on Literal Translations vs. Paraphrases
If anyone supposes he knows something not yet to know as he ought know (1 Corinthians 8:2, Literal)
If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know (1 Corinthians 8:2, NASB)
The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:2, NIV)
If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know. (1 Corinthians 8:2, NET)
Sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. (1 Corinthians 8:2, The Message)

See how in The Message, which is a paraphrase, meaning is lost and changed from what the original author intended. It almost even implies that our proud minds can, at other times, help us more than our humble hearts. So it is good when reading a paraphrase to have a more literal translation on hand to look at as well. Still I have come across times where The Message or the New Living Translation (another paraphrase) gave the meaning to the original words much more outright than the more literal NASB and others.

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