Foundations in Faith, 2:
The Holy Bible
Foundations in Faith, 2:
The Holy Bible
Growing Through God's Word
Jesus said, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). But after we have been born again, what then? Is there life after birth?
Of course there is. A new born baby will grow if the environment is healthy and the food is nourishing. So will a new born Christian. Growth is the natural condition of all living, healthy organisms. God's plan for every Christian is that we grow, "To the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).
One of the ways we grow is by allowing the Word of God to form and feed us. The Apostle Peter said, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2).
The Apostle Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
God has a wonderful, unique purpose for each of us. He redeemed us so that we may fulfill that purpose and glorify Him in our generation. We will grow into people who live God’s purpose as we feed on the Word of God, read it, study it, meditate on it, listen to it being skillfully taught, allow it to teach us, impact, correct, nourish and transform us.
Where do we find God’s Word? In the Bible.
In the following lessons, we will examine the Bible and how we may apply it to our lives.
Foundations in Faith, 2:
The Holy Bible
What is the Bible?
The word “Bible” is derived from two Greek words, ta biblia — the books. The Bible is a library of 66 books written by many different writers inspired by one God, containing the history of God’s creative, redeeming work. This process, God inspiring and men writing, took place over a period of 1500 years in a variety of cultures and in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
The Bible is divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament, which was written over a period of centuries, begins with God’s creative work at the dawn of history, recorded by Moses around 1405 BC. It concludes with the prophet Malachi, who lived approximately 450 years before the birth of Christ.
There are three basic sections in the Old Testament:
1. The Law and the Historical books, beginning with Genesis and ending with Esther. These 17 books contain prehistoric narratives such as the creation story; also the history of the Hebrew people and the Law and commandments which God gave to them through Moses.
2 The Writings — 5 books beginning with Job and ending with the Song of Solomon. The most popular of these are the Psalms, which developed out of the worship life of the Hebrew people. Also contained in the Writings are the Proverbs, a collection of wise sayings and also Ecclesiastes.
3. The Prophets — 17 books beginning with Isaiah and ending with Malachi. These books contain the recorded messages of God’s prophetic messengers to Israel.
The New Testament begins with the life of the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus. His birth, ministry, death and resurrection are recounted in the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then we have a historical book — the Acts of the Apostles, which records the early history of the church.
Following this we have 21 letters (epistles), written to various persons and churches. The New Testament concludes with the Revelation, containing messages for seven churches which existed in that day and prophecies of the end of time. The New Testament was written entirely in the first century, that is, within one generation of the life of Jesus.
A Note On Translations
Because the Bible was written in the ancient languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, it is necessary to translate it into the various modern languages. Since translations have been made in different centuries by many different scholars, there are a variety of texts which read somewhat differently. For instance, the King James, published in 1611, will not read exactly the same as the New International Version published in 1978, event though both are in English.
This is to be expected. Scholars living in different cultures and times, using a variety of language patterns and a diversity of ancient manuscripts will produce slightly different results. Also, there were no printing presses until the 1400s A.D. which meant that for centuries, every copy of the Old and New Testament was made by hand.
For many centuries, the dominant translation of the Bible was in Latin. Since very few people read Latin, this meant that the Bible was not read, heard or understood by most people for more than one thousand years. Followers of Christ literally lived in the dark.
The history of translation into modern languages is heroic and bloody. As recently as the 1500s, men were still being put to death because they translated the Bible into languages such as English or German. We owe so much to those faithful saints who sacrificed everything so that we would be able to freely read and study God's Word!
All of the books of the Bible are organized in chapter and verse divisions for our convenience. This was not done by the authors but by later editors. When we read Matthew 6:5, that means Matthew chapter 6 and verse 5.
The Canon of Scripture
Canon refers to a rule, model or standard. The canon of Scripture is the authoritative collection of sacred books set by church council. How did the Old and New Testaments arrive in their present form? Why, out of the many manuscripts handed down from generation to generation, were some books selected and others left out?
The process of formation whereby the Old Testament came into being in its present form is obscure, but it appears that by the time of Jesus, that process was complete. Holy men met together in sacred assembly and prayed, sought the mind of the Lord and approved the sacred texts. We believe that God was in control of that process and those books which He inspired were chosen. Those books which He did not inspire were rejected.
The formation of the New Testament canon is easier to trace. The early church considered the Old Testament writings to be the inspired Word of God and these Scriptures were read when churches met for worship and teaching. There were also accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus circulating among the churches (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written between A.D. 50-70. John was probably written between A.D. 80-90.) The churches also read letters written to the churches by apostles and other holy authors.
Gradually, by the middle of the second century A.D. most of the books which now comprise the New Testament were accepted as authoritative. By the end of the fourth century, the New Testament canon was set as solemn assemblies of Godly bishops, led by the Holy Spirit, prayed for guidance and together set their approval on the inspired, holy Scriptures. It was not a case of those bishops choosing which books were inspired and which were not. Rather, they recognized and endorsed those books which, over the centuries, had been received and confirmed by the churches as inspired.
There is also a collection of 14 books called the Apocrypha which were written after the time of Malachi, probably between 200-150 B.C. These books were attached to a Greek translation of the Old Testament but were never accepted as authoritative by Jewish or Christian leaders. No New Testament writer quotes from them nor did Jesus ever recognize those books as Scripture.
They have never been recognized as inspired or authoritative by the Christian Church, though some translations do carry them.
Preservation of the Texts
How do we know that the original words of the writers have been preserved? That is an important question because the printing press was not invented until around 1440 A.D. Up to that time, books of the Bible were copied by hand.
Until the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the earliest Old Testament manuscripts dated back to A.D. 325 and they are incredibly consistent with later manuscripts. The Dead Sea scrolls, which were discovered between 1947 and 1956, contain an almost complete copy of Isaiah which dates back to the first or second century before Christ. This scroll contains no significant differences from much later copies of Isaiah. This is God’s way of attesting that He not only inspired the texts but also preserved them.
There are nearly 6,000 copies of Greek New Testament manuscripts (including fragments), 10,000 Latin manuscripts (including fragments) and many more in a variety of ancient languages, dating from 125 A.D. to the invention of the printing press. This means that we have access to manuscripts and fragments which were read by the Christians who were discipled by Timothy, Titus and possibly even by John the Apostle.
Considering that these texts were hand copied until 1440 A.D., it is amazing that there is only a 0.01 percent variation in texts. None of the variations create any doctrinal problems. They are mostly attributed to copying errors.
God preserved His word. Truly, as the Psalmist testifies, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).
Inspired, Revealed, Authoritative
The Bible is the inspired, revealed, authoritative Word of God.
1. By inspired we mean that God worked through the mind and personality of each original writer — Luke, Moses, Paul, etc. — inspiring them to receive His divine revelation of truth. The Apostle Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The word which we translate inspired is theopneustos, literally God-breathed.
2. By revealed we mean that God revealed His perfect truth to the writers and preserved them from error as they recorded it. The original manuscript of each book is the perfect Word of God revealed without error. Though there have been minor mistakes and differences in copying and translating, these have been marvelously few and have not modified any of the basic truths of the Bible.
3. Throughout the centuries God has protected and maintained His Word. Just as He inspired the writing of the original manuscripts, so He has watched over the translation and transmission of Scripture. The Bible is authoritative for our lives because it is the inspired, revealed Word of God to us and we can receive it, believe it and live it with confidence and faith.
What does the Bible say about the Bible?
1. It is inspired by God.
a. Jesus believed this:
When Jesus quoted the Old Testament, He said that those words were “spoken to you by God” (Matthew 22:31,32). In quoting from one of David’s Psalms, Jesus said that David was writing “in the Spirit” (Matthew 22:43). That means inspired by the Holy Spirit.
b. The Apostle Paul believed this:
In quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Paul said, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers” (Acts 28:25). Paul believed that when Isaiah spoke, it was God the Holy Spirit speaking through him. We have already quoted Paul’s words to Timothy in which he referred to all Scripture as inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
c. The Apostle Peter believed this:
“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20,21). How was Scripture written? As men were moved by the Spirit of God.
d. The writer to the Hebrews believed this:
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (Hebrews 1:1). When the prophets spoke, it was God speaking through them.
e. The writers of the Old Testament believed this:
We read this testimony constantly in the writings of the prophets, “Hear the word of the Lord” (Isa. 1:10, 28:14,22). “Listen O heavens and hear O earth, for the Lord speaks” (Isa. 1:2 and Jeremiah 10:1). In these and many other examples we see that the prophets believed that God was speaking through them.
2. The Bible testifies that it is valuable for teaching, correcting and equipping God’s people:
In the passage previously quoted, Paul refers to the Scriptures as “the sacred writings” which are able to supply wisdom, reproof, correction, training “so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
3. The Bible testifies that it is a source of spiritual nourishment for the believer:
Peter refers to the Word of God as milk (I Peter 2:2). Jesus says that it is more necessary than bread (Matthew 4:4). Paul reminded the young man Timothy that as he studied the word and taught the word, he would be “constantly nourished” (I Timothy 4:6).
4. The Bible testifies that if we act on the Word of God, (not just hear it but live it), it provides a foundation for our lives, like building a house on solid rock (Matthew 7:24).
5. The Bible testifies that it provides direction — a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalms 119:105, 130).
6. The Bible testifies that it contains God’s living Word, releasing vitality and healing into our lives (Proverbs 4:20-22).
7. The Bible testifies that it reveals God’s plan for the salvation of people (Romans 10:17
2 Timothy 3:15).
8. The Bible testifies that it is eternally true, unchanging:
The Psalmist said, “Forever O Lord, your word is settled in heaven” (Psalms 119:89). God’s word is forever settled because God is unchanging and He only speaks truth. Whatever God says is eternally true and forever fresh, relevant.
Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The entire universe will be dissolved someday and God will create a new universe, yet not one of His words will pass away.
The Apostle Peter referred to God’s Word as, “Seed which is … imperishable … the living and enduring word of God” (I Peter 1:23).
Again, the Psalmist adds, “The sum of Your word is truth and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119:160).
9. The Bible, God’s Word, testifies that it is living, active, creative, powerful:
“For the word of God is living and active (powerful) and sharper than any two edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
a. Because the Word of God is alive, it communicates salvation to those who are receptive to it:
Notice in Acts 2:37 after Peter preached, the people “were pierced to the heart” by the Word of God and cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” The living Word cuts down to the heart of the listener and if we are receptive, it convicts us of sin and convinces us of God's remedy, the blood of Jesus. But notice also in 5:33, when Peter testified to the Council and again in 7:54, after Stephen preached to the same Council, the listeners were pierced by the same Word but their response was rage. Their hearts were not open to the Word that would have brought them forgiveness of sin and everlasting life.
b. Because the Word of God is alive it performs its work in us who believe:
The Apostle Paul gave thanks that the church “received the Word of God which you heard from us … not as the word of men but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (I Thessalonians 2:13). That work includes bringing us to salvation by convincing us of the reality of our sin and God’s grace; and also teaching, guiding, warning, restoring, equipping, healing, nourishing.
Of special importance is the work of sanctification, which is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit whereby God progressively establishes His holiness in us. The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and refines us, tests us, purifies us, matures us.
A good example of this is found in the life of Joseph, a righteous man of the Old Testament. Early in life, God had given him a sense of purpose and destiny but he went through years of trial before he entered God’s purpose. We read, “Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him” (Psalms 105:19). The word tested is tsaraph which can be translated tried, purified, refined, purged as silver or gold. Because the Word of God is alive it acts upon us — refining, testing, purifying, preparing us to live the purpose God has for us.
c. The living Word of God carries in it the power needed to fulfill that Word:
When the angel Gabriel informed Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of God, she did not understand how that could happen, since she was a virgin. The angel replied that “the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). He then testified, “For nothing will be impossible with God,” (1:37). That verse may be translated, “For no word (rhema) of God is empty of power.”
Every Word that God speaks contains in it the power necessary to call into being the reality of that word. Just as an acorn contains the building blocks of an oak tree, just as human DNA contains the information needed to build a human being, so the Word of God carries in it the life and power needed to bring that word into fulfillment.
So it was that when the Lord spoke, “Let there be light,” a universe of light and life burst into being. His Word contained in itself the power necessary to bring that Word to fulfillment.
We are reminded of the story of the Roman officer who sent a message to Jesus, asking Him to heal his servant (Luke 7:1-10). Because he understood the authority of Jesus and the power of His Word, the officer did not ask Jesus to come to his house, “But just say the word and my servant will be healed” (Luke 7:7).
d. Because the Word of God is alive it proves itself to those who are wiling to obey it. Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17).
10. The Bible testifies that because it is the Word of God, it is perfect, sure, right, desirable, sweet, enduring forever. Therefore it restores the soul, makes us wise, gives us joy, enlightens us, provides warning and leads us to great reward (Psalms 19:7-11).
“The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times” (Ps. 12:6)
11. The Bible testifies that God is watching over His Word to bring it into reality, to accomplish His purpose.
a. “For I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12).
b. “Whatever word I speak will be performed” (Ezekiel 12:25).
c. “And being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:21).
God cannot lie, cannot be unfaithful to His promises. His Word is true, powerful and life-giving. What He promises will be done. Through Isaiah, the Lord said it most beautifully,
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will my word be which goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty without accomplishing what I desire and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11).
12. The Bible testifies that God’s Word communicates life to those who hear it, if we are in relationship with God:
Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life … For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself" (John 5:24,26).
Because Jesus is God, He is uncreated, Self-Existent. Because He has life in Himself, He is able to give life to all who believe in Him. The Word of God reveals Jesus, draws us to Him and communicates His life and truth to us.
However, there were people who listened to Jesus and were not drawn to Him, did not receive eternal life. That’s because they were separated from Him by unbelief. There is life in the Word but apart from Jesus we cannot access that life.
Jesus said to those who were accusing and opposing Him,
“If God were your Father, you would love me ... Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear my word. You are of your father the devil and you want to do the desires of your father ... He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:42-44, 47).
If anyone is not in a redeemed, faith relationship with God, they do not hear with the ear of faith and the Word has no impact on their lives. In fact, the Apostle Paul reveals that the gospel “is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3,4)
But if we are sharing the life of God through faith in Christ, we hear the Word of God and the Word acts upon us and within us.
What are we to do with the Bible?
1. Store the Word of God in our hearts, meditate on it and confess it (Joshua 1:6-9).
2. Live the Word of God, obey it, act on it (Matthew 7:24-27).
What happens when we live according to God’s Word?
1. We have the courage and strength to succeed (Joshua 1:6-9).
2. We prosper according to God’s plan for our fulfillment (Psalm 1:1-3).
3. We progressively learn to walk in freedom (John 8:31,32).
4. We are progressively transformed in the grace and knowledge and likeness of Jesus (Romans 12:2 2 Corinthians 3:18).
Considering that the Bible is God’s inspired, creative, powerful, life transforming Word, let us treasure it, feed on it and live it each day!
1. What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired?
2. What does the Word of God do in us when we read it, study it, meditate on its truth and live according to that truth?
Foundations in Faith, 2:
The Holy Bible
What Should We Do With the Bible?
A. Store the Word of God in our hearts:
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Colossians 3:16). Richly could be translated extravagantly or abundantly and dwell means to be at home. Letting the Word of God find an abundant home within us means far more than merely reading it. We store God’s truth in our heart and let it control our thoughts and actions.
B. Study the Word of God:
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Diligent, accurate handling of the Word of truth means studying it, listening to skillful teachers, thinking on it. When we come across a passage we don’t understand, we can investigate through on-line commentaries, look up sermon archives of ministries we trust, check out our church library, purchase a Bible with study notes.
Remember also that the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible writers now indwells you and assists you in understanding and interpreting the Scriptures. Jesus said that the Spirit would “guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13).
C. Live the Word of God:
Moses exhorted Joshua, “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8).
Notice three aspects of Moses’ exhortation:
1. The Word “shall not depart from your mouth.”
Speak the Word, let it be part of the vocabulary of your life. Speak the word of God over your life and the lives of others. Especially as we pray we can repeat and confess God’s truth.
2. “Meditate on it.”
Think about the Word, let your mind, your thoughts be saturated and controlled by God’s truth. There are so many other sources of information and opinion that try to press into our senses; so many other perspectives that attempt to influence the way we see our world. Let God’s perspective, God’s heart and mind, be our primary influence.
3. “Do according to all that is written in it.”
Live the Word, let God’s truth determine and control your actions, lifestyle, and decisions. In the epistle of James we read, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). It’s not enough to talk the truth — we need to walk it.
What happens when we store, study and live God's Word?
1. We prosper, our way is successful.
After exhorting Joshua to speak, meditate and live the Word of God, Moses promised, “Then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8).
He whose “delight is in the law of the Lord,” who on that law “meditates day and night … will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:2,3).
2. We are renewed and transformed.
Paul reminds us that as we surrender our lives to God every day, refusing conformity to the values and philosophies of this world, we will be “transformed by the renewing” of our minds (Romans 12:1,2). That renewal takes place in and through God’s Word.
The apostle also reminds us that as we gaze into the mirror of God’s Word, the reflection of Jesus that we see will cause us to be “transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
3. We are continually being set free.
Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31,32). Continuing in the Word means, as we have said, living it consistently. It is good to know and confess the truth but it is essential that principles of Godly truth inform the way we make our decisions and live our life. When we are doing this — living the word of truth — the Spirit of God takes the living Word of God and performs a progressive work of liberation in us, setting us free from deceptions and strongholds that blocked and resisted God’s good purpose for our lives.
4. We share God's nature and escape the corruption in the world.
Peter reminds us that God has made precious promises to us (which we locate in His Word). By these promises we “may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world” (2 Peter 1:4). As we internalize the powerful, creative Word of God, we are transformed in our thinking, our values, our lifestyle. We become partakers of God’s way of thinking, God’s values. We share God’s life. Because God’s life is everlasting, we are escaping the decay and corruption which characterize this world.
5. We live in the blessing appropriate to God’s purpose for our lives.
Moses exhorted the people of Israel to “obey the Lord” and “to do all His commandments.” He then promised a multitude of blessings that would come upon them and overtake them (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). Surely as we humble ourselves before God’s truth, there is great blessing to gain.
There is nothing more necessary to our growth as followers of Jesus than developing a love for the Word of God. It is essential that we understand the Bible to be truth spoken by a Truth-Giver who transcends our society and our generation. If there is no Truth-Giver greater than our world, then there is no objective, transcendent source or reference point for truth.
This would mean that all truth is relative and subjective — truth is what you say it is, truth is what I say, what they say. Whose truth will prevail?
Whoever has the most power to convince or coerce — their truth will prevail. Whoever has the most guns or the most money; whoever has purchased the most judges, bishops, prime ministers and presidents; whoever controls the greatest number of media outlets —their truth will prevail.
If the church abandons the foundational doctrine that the Bible is God’s inspired, revealed Word, then those who deny God’s sovereign design in creating the universe, who deny the atoning work of Christ on the cross or the reality of His resurrection, have as much credibility as those who uphold traditional doctrines of truth.
Thankfully, the reality of God’s creative, redeeming work in this world is not defined by the opinions of people or the politically correct doctrines of fallen, corrupt civilization. Perfect truth is revealed by God in His Word. That Word is inspired, revealed, authoritative and we can believe it and live it with confidence because it is spoken to us by a Truth-Giver who transcends our world — the eternal, living God.
We do not stand in judgment over God’s Word. Rather, God’s Word of truth stands over us, judging, awakening, convicting, convincing, redeeming, restoring, transforming, nourishing, guiding and keeping us through time and into eternity.
It is vitally important that we develop a love for God’s truth and a disciplined study of it. Then we will grow in the grace and knowledge and likeness of Jesus. Then we will become the men and women who can fulfill the Lord’s purpose for our lives and glorify Him in our generation.
1. How do we store the Word of God in our heart?
2. What are some of the good things that happen when we store, study and live God’s Word?