What makes the Bible authentic? Find out in this first of a six-part series.
The statement of faith, published by the Church of God (Seventh Day) as This We Believe, states, “. . . the Bible is the only authoritative . . . rule of faith and conduct for humanity.” This isn’t just wishful thinking or guessing in the dark. When Peter tells us to defend the “hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), he is asking us to engage in apologetics, a word that means a reasoned argument or defense of a belief. Our belief that the Bible is God’s Word and our faith in its promises are based on the authority we believe Scripture has. But is this authority defensible?
Biblical authority is derived from its authenticity, and this involves at least six issues:
Illumination and Application
The first four deal with the Bible’s authority over our lives, and are the main focus of this six-part series. The last two, taken together, deal with the Bible’s impact on our lives, which is, in its own way, apologetics too.
All six topics bring with them particular challenges. Revelation raises the problem of derivation: How do we know the Bible came from God? Inspiration raises the problem of communication: How did God get the message into the text? Canonization raises the problem of recognition: Why does the Bible contain the books it does, and not others? Preservation raises the problem of replication: How do we know what we have today is what was originally written?
Illumination and application, respectively, raise the problems of interpretation and transformation (of people): How do we get the meaning God put into the text without putting our biases into it? And how is this Book making a difference in our everyday lives?
Let’s briefly preview each area of interest, with fuller treatment to come in the remaining issues of the 2018 BA.
At least four kinds of revelation are claimed by the Bible. The first is creation (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20). Creation tells us some things about God, but not everything we need to know. No matter how long you look at it, you will receive no instruction on how to live. Creation provides what theologians sometimes refer to as limited revelation. Miracles are another kind of limited revelation. They teach us something, but not everything.
There are also two types of complete revelation. The first is the written Word of God — the Bible, which we seek to defend with our apologetics. The Word of God in person is another complete revelation. We don’t just learn about God from His written words. We also learn about Him through the person of Jesus the Messiah. He is God come in the flesh (John 1:1, 14), and what we need to know about God we can see in Jesus Christ (John 14:9; Colossians 2:9).
How did God get the message into the text? One predominant view of inspiration among many Christians is that God put the thoughts into the writers’ minds, and they expressed these thoughts in their own way.
But it’s not just that the writers were inspired; it’s the writings themselves. Second Peter 1:21 says that men of God spoke as they were “moved” by the Spirit. That may sound as if the writers were inspired, but the word moved is translated from a Greek word that communicates something stronger than the sense of inspiring the writer. It refers to moving someone in the sense of directing them. God-inspired Scripture means “God-breathed” Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV).
How did the books we have in the Bible make it in there? The earliest Christians used at least four criteria of recognition to determine what was to be accepted as Scripture.
The first was the Book’s own Divine claim to authority. Second, the early church expected God’s Word to come through the witness of recognized apostles and prophets, or someone directly connected with one (Ephesians 3:5). The third criterion was that the early Christians knew the Bible must agree with itself. They knew you couldn’t insert a book that contradicted what had already been established to be God’s Word. The fourth criterion was that a book had to be widely accepted by the mature believers, and accepted quickly.
How do we know what we have today is what was originally written?
Apart from the Bible, the classical writer with the most extant documentary testimony is Demosthenes, of whom about two hundred manuscripts have survived. In contrast, the New Testament has about twenty thousand manuscripts. They don’t all contain the entire New Testament. In fact, most of them contain only portions of it, but the vast majority of those — around 95 and 99 percent (called the Majority Text) — agree with one another.
Illumination and application
The Holy Spirit reveals the meaning of Scripture to people in whom Jesus dwells. When we come to the Messiah, His Spirit provides illumination. “Good understanding have all those who do His commandments,” the Bible says (Psalm 111:10). That’s how illumination happens. It takes trust and obedience. Why? Because we learn and know by doing. If we want to understand the mind of God, we have to practice applying the mind of God, and that brings us full circle to the issue of application.
We can have confidence in the Bible as God’s written Word. It has Divine authority and should impact our lives. We can trust its direction when we seek it with humble hearts and open minds. In the following five articles in this series, we will attempt to show in greater detail why “the Bible is the only authoritative . . . rule of faith and conduct for humanity.”