Assorted articles for those who harbor a passion for the Bible, Theology, Apologetics & Philosophy. Click on a topic to go to articles or browse through the archives.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Facts about Bible VII : The Canon

continued from Facts About Bible VI : Autographs, Manuscripts and Translations

If one is to believe the Bible is the Word of God, certain reasonable questions must be addressed to satisfy the curious nature in us all. Why are these books inspired by God and others not? Who decided this? How did they come to this decision? Asking these questions does not have to weaken ones faith, but answering them will certainly strengthen it.

Basically the Old Testament (as we know it today) was accepted by the early church for at least two reasons: 1) Hebrew tradition endorsed those books. 2)The apostles and other New Testament writers implicitly endorsed them by quoting from almost every OT book. If one believes in the authority of Christ, one should not have difficulty in trusting the endorsement of His closest disciples.

The history of the canon of the New Testament, however, is a bit more complex. Early on the decision as to which books would be accepted or rejected was made locally by elders or bishops. Lists of approved books were published at different times as the New Testament writings became available for examination. Though churches made these decisions independently, by the year 170 A.D. most churches were in agreement as to which writings were inspired. These became known as the "canon" of Scripture (Canon being the Greek word for "ruler" or "rod"). The New Testament canon would become the rule of faith for Christians.

With the proliferation of heretical doctrines and small church factions, christians became weary and doubts were raised about a few New Testament books that had been previously accepted. Athanasius c. 296 accepted all 27 NT books. The Revelation of John, accepted at first, was later rejected by a great number of churches in Asia Minor. Origen c. 185 accepted all 27 books with the exception of James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and Jude. Irenaeus c. 130 rejected the same books Origen did plus Hebrews.

Why were these books doubted? Hebrews was doubted because its author was unknown. Eventually it was later judged as having at least apostolic authority if not the authorship of an apostle. James appeared to contradict Romans' message. This is solved though in light of works being the natural fruit of genuine faith. 2 Peter had a different style than 1 Peter. It later became clear that Peter had used a scribe (1 Pet. 5:12). The author in 2 and 3 John calls himself elder and not apostle. This was evidently okay since the apostle Peter calls himself an elder as well (1 Pet. 5:1) Jude cites two non-canonical books. This is justified when one observes Paul quoting pagan poets (Acts. 17:28, Titus 1:12) The author of Revelation does not call himself an apostle. This doesn't prove he didn't write it. Furthermore, this book meets other criteria for canonicity.

Despite these minor disagreements, the majority of churches still accepted the 27 New Testament books and firmly rejected all others.

These were the criteria for determining which books should be accepted as canonical:

1) Was the book written or endorsed by a prophet or apostle?
2) Is the book authoritative?
3) Is the book in agreement with prior revelation?
4) Does the book have a transforming effect on its readers?
5) Was the book accepted by the people of God?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Facts About Bible VI : Autographs, Manuscripts and Translations

continued from Facts About Bible V : Date and authors

The Bible was and continues to be under assault. In times of persecution it was confiscated and burned. In modern times, while we have the freedom of religion, atheistic academia monolithically charges Scriptures as being irrelevant, barbaric or contradictory. How do we respond to these accusations in a way that sheds light on the truth of the Bible and prepares the way for the gospel? We must acquaint ourselves with the truth and an understanding of where our bible has come from to lay the foundations for trust on its reliability.

First there are a few terms that must be defined:

Autographs – These are the original texts penned by the author himself or an assistant.

Manuscripts – Until the printing press (1456) any text that was copied was done so by hand. These copies are called manuscripts.

Translations – Any copy of the Bible that is not in the original Greek or Hebrew is a translation. Anyone who does not read ancient Greek or Hebrew reads a translation of Scripture into their own language. Common practice is to translate from the original languages and not from another translation.

We have no autographs of any book of the Bible. What we do have is an abundance of manuscripts.

Here are the manuscripts still in existence of the Old and New Testaments:

Dead Sea Scrolls: 200 B.C. - 70 A.D. Contains the entire book of Isaiah and portions of every other OT book with the exception of Esther.

Geniza Fragments: 400 A.D. Has portions of the OT in Hebrew and Aramaic. Discovered in 1947 in Cairo, Egypt.

Ben Asher Manuscripts: 700-950 A.D. Copies of the OT based done by many generations of the Ben Asher family.

P 52: 125 A.D. The oldest surviving New Testament manuscript which contains a small portion of John 18

Bodmer P 66: 200 A.D. A papyrus manuscript that contains a large section of John.

Chester Beatty Biblical papyrus P 46: 200 A.D. Pauline letters and Hebrews.

Bodmer papyrus P 75: 225 A.D. Gospels of Luke and John.

Chester Beatty Biblical papyrus P 45: 250 - 300 A.D. Portions of the four gospels plus Acts

Codex Sinaiticus: 350 A.D. Contains the entire New Testament and almost the entire Old Testament in Greek.

Codex Vaticanus: 350 A.D. An almost complete New Testament.

Aramaic Targums: 400 B.C. - The Old Testament began being translated in Aramaic.

Septuagint: 250 B.C. - Translation of the Old Testament into Greek. Used by the apostles and the early Church.

Old Latin: 195 A.D. - The first translations of OT and NT into Latin from the Greek.

The Old Syriac: 300 A.D. - Translation of the NT from Greek into Syriac.

The Coptic Versions: 300 A.D. - Translation into language spoken in Egypt.

The Latin Vulgate: 380 A.D. - Translated by Jerome from the original Hebrew and Greek. The official translation of the western Church until the reformation. After the protestant reformation many translations appeared into the common languages of the time.

The first English Translation: 1380 A.D. - Translated by John Wycliffe from the Latin Vulgate.

King James Version: 1611 A.D. - Translated from the original Hebrew and Greek.

New American Standard Version: 1971 A.D. - Used older manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek that were not available in the time of the KJV. This translation follows the original in a more word-for-word style.

New International Version: 1983 A.D. - Like the NASV made use of the older manuscripts but follows a more thought-for-thought style of translation. (ex. Hebrews 9.25)

Go to the next post in the series - Bible : The canon

Facts About Bible V : Date and authors


continued from Facts About Bible IV : Inspiration

All 66 books of the Bible were written over the course of approximately 1500 years by over 40 authors. In the table below, you will see dates and authors of biblical books as determined by the research of reputable scholars'. Naturally, the question of date and authorship is frequently subject to debate and differing views. There are different degrees of certainty when it comes to historical information varying from very certain to educated guess. Without digressing into controversial issues, this table displays the widely accepted views on dates and authors. (Click on image to view)

Go to the next post in the series - Bible : Autographs, Manuscripts and Translations

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Facts about Bible IV : Inspiration

continued from Facts about Bible III : New Testament

The Scriptures are more than just wise or well-written or accurate, it is the inspired Word of God. That is why we call it the Holy Scriptures or the Holy Bible. What does it mean to be inspired by God? Is that like when we are inspired to paint a painting or write a poem? When penning the books of the Bible, were the authors taken over the by Holy Spirit and writing in a subconscious and trance-like state?

Let's look at a few Bible references:
2 Timothy 3.16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”

What some translations have as “by inspiration”(e.g. KJV), the NIV renders “God-breathed”. The inspiration for writing the Bible wasn't just a creative disposition the apostles and prophets woke up with one day, but rather the message contained in Scriptures came directly from the mouth of God.

2 Peter 1.20,21 “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The manner by which God used the biblical authors are seen in the words “carried along”. Peter says that these men of God “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
The word used in the original Greek is the same used in Acts 27 when the ship Paul was in was being conducted by the wind and storm. In other words, the ship in Acts was being carried by the windy storm even though the sailors were doing everything in their power to control the ship's course. They were unloading cargo, lowering anchors and trying to steer the ship safely through the storm, but in the end, the wind was taking the ship where it pleased. In the same way, God did not take captive the bodies of His spokesmen and use them like human typewriters to produce His Word. These biblical writers still had a functioning mind and a vocabulary at their disposal to express themselves even though in the end it was the Holy Spirit that was carrying them along to produce God's Word.

That is why though the Bible is the Word of God, we still see in the original Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic a reflection of the authors command of the language and personal style. Isaiah is written with a very powerful literary style while John's writings are usually clear and simple. Some of Peter's writings expose a weak command of the Greek of his time.

Go to the next post in the series - Bible : Date and authors

Facts about Bible III : New Testament

continued from Facts about Bible II : Old Testament


In the New Testament, the first four books make up what we call the Gospels. These retell the story of Jesus' life and sacrifice and the good news of salvation. These are probably the most well known books of the Bible.

They are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Acts of the Apostles is considered a History book, much like the history books of the Old Testament. It tells the story of the primitive church and the works of the apostles of Christ. It is the only one of its kind the New Testament and therefore stands alone.

The bulk of the New Testament is in the section Letters. There are 21 letters in all. Some of these letters were addressed to local churches, some were addressed to Christians in general and others were addressed to individuals. A majority of the letters were written by the Apostle Paul.

The letters are Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1st and 2nd Peter, 1st, 2nd and 3rd John and Jude.

The final book of the Bible is Revelation. There were multitude of books written at the time that fit the genre of Apocalyptic. Only though showed itself to be the inspired Word of God, and that was Revelation, written by the apostle John.
Go to next post in the series - Bible : Inspiration

Facts about Bible II : Old Testament

continued from Facts about Bible

The scriptures is divided into two main sections – The Old and New Testaments. The former reveals the covenant between God and one people, i.e. Israel. The latter reveals the covenant between God and the chosen from all peoples, i.e. the Church. In the center is Christ – the most important person in God's redemptive plan. In Him and through Him salvation has been made available to members of every nation, tribe, tongue and in every era.

The books of the Bible can be further categorized by genre. In fact it is by genre that they are arranged the way they are in our bibles, as opposed to chronologically. The first five books, which are also called the Pentateuch, are labeled The Law. It receives this name due to its primary event being the Mosaic covenant and God's law for Israel.

These are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy

The next section, made up of 12 books, is History books. These books give an account of the history of the people of Israel.

These include: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.

Wisdom books come next. In this section we find wise sayings, songs, poetic and philosophical writings.

There are 5 books classified as wisdom books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Songs of Solomon.

The rest of the Old Testament is made of Prophets' books. There are seventeen in all. The first five are considered major prophets while the remaining twelve are called minor prophets. Prophetic books carry words of exhortation or admonishment towards Israel or other nations during different times in history. In them we find God, through His chosen spokesmen the prophets, warning of imminent judgment for the disobedient or calling for repentance and a return to His covenant. There are also a plethora of what are called, messianic prophecies, foretelling Christ's coming.

The prophets' books are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi.

Go to next post in series - Bible : New Testament

Facts about Bible

In many ways there is no greater book than the Bible. Simply put it is the Word of God. It is God's communication to man through man. It rests above any other writing for its author is above any other.

Giving witness to its greatness is the history of its dissemination. No book has been more copied, more read, more distributed, more studied, more translated and more sold. The nature of this achievement would be astounding on its own, but it is further appreciated when seen in light of Christianity's tumultuous beginnings. The first few centuries of the Christian church was replete with violent persecutions that led to the destruction of many biblical manuscripts. If the Bible had just survived, it would've been a miracle; the fact that it has become the most circulated book of all time, is no less than divine.

The objective of these postings (Facts about Bible) is to provide an introductory overview of the Bible. Structure, reliability and history are among some of the topics covered. Focusing on the 'big picture', the goal is to give the reader a greater familiarity with the Scriptures; to know what we believe and why we believe it.

The word Bible comes from the Greek Biblia, defined as papers or scrolls, words commonly used for books. The Bible is a book and a collection of books. It is composed of 66 individual books, penned by at least 40 different authors. It was written in various parts of the world, by a very diverse group; these include shepherds, kings, prophets, priests, fishermen, a tent maker and even a tax collector. It's originals were in three different languages. Hebrew, predominantly in the Old Testament; Greek, predominantly in the New and Aramaic in brief portions throughout.

The Bible's underlying message is the same throughout. From Genesis to Revelation the subject is God's redemptive plan for mankind. The fall of man is narrated in Genesis chapter 3. Genesis 1 and 2 tells us how it was “in the beginning”, Genesis 3 through Revelation 22 shows us God's plan in rescuing His fallen creation. From the promise of a seed that would crush the serpent's head to Jesus' assuring “Yes, I am coming soon”, the unwavering message is salvation.

Go to next post in series - Bible : Old Testament
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