I’m like you, when a new show or series comes on TV, and it’s typically on the Discovery Channel or the History channel, and it’s about the Bible – I want to watch it. I get excited to watch it, but then after I watch it, it seems to leave me with questions, and doubts and even suspicions. And if I have those feelings then I have to assume that other people do to – but that’s not how the Bible should make us feel.
And I’ll tell you what the questions are – they are – who wrote the Bible? Wasn’t it people? And if it was people, don’t people make mistakes, don’t people make contradictions? Who got to decide what books are in the Bible? Who got to decide what books are left out? Why is the Catholic bible different? Why are there so many translations – and since there have been so many translations – hasn’t some information gotten lost along the way?
Because let’s face it, if the Bible is God’s instruction manual for living, our road map to heaven and the main means by which we can know God, then it becomes extremely important to know whether it’s reliable.
That’s what I want to cover these next two weeks – I want to answer this for you- once and for all and hopefully give you some rest and some peace of mind.
I. What is the Bible? It’s a collection of books and letters written by over 40 authors and written over a period of 1,500 years.
The word “BIBLE” comes from the Latin word Biblia and the Greek word Biblos, both of which mean “book.” The word probably comes from the city of Byblos which is in Lebanon. It was the Egyptian city that the Greeks first got their paper from.
A. The Bible is written in 3 languages:
1. Hebrew – and to understand ancient Hebrew, the Bible is also our most primary source. Our most profitable archeological find was the Dead Sea Scrolls back in 1947, but before that – Hebrew was very difficult to translate. For instance we know Joseph had a special coat, but we have no idea what made it special. The word we translate as “many colors” appears nowhere else in the Bible, and for all we know it was a Coat with long sleeves, or a coat with much embroidery or even a coat of choice wool – we have no way of knowing. Hebrew is very hard to read, how would you like to decipher a language that has no vowels, no spaces between words – and reads right to left.
2. Aramaic – was the language of the Assyrians and Babylonians and Persian empires all of which conquered Israel at one time or another. If you remember our stories of Daniel and the Lions Den – this is when the Israelites began speaking this language and it replaced Hebrew as their native tongue.
However, before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls the earliest known manuscripts (copies) of the Bible were not Hebrew, but Greek
3. Greek – is the oldest of all the European languages – it dates back 1,400 years before Jesus. The Bible is written in Koine Greek which is what the Persian and Egyptian trade merchants spoke
B. The Bible is also broken into two sections that we call “testaments” which is another word for covenant or agreement.
1. The Old Testament – 39 books believed to be inspired by God and written over a period of a thousand years. We break the OT down into 5 sections:
a. Pentateuch – first five books written by Moses
b. History books – 12 books
c. Poetry and Wisdom – 5 books
d. Prophets – 17 books
The Hebrew bible (the TaNaKh) has the same books – but they break the books down differently into 3 divisions:
a. Law (Ta / Torah)
b. Prophets (Nivilim)
c. Writings (Ketuvim)
One of the Oldest copies of the OT is The Septuagint – this copy was written in the third century in Alexandria Egypt. The legend says that King Ptolemy II wanted copies of every book in his library including the Hebrew scriptures, so he had 72 Jewish scribes translate their texts into Greek – the entire process supposedly took 72 days (Septuagint is the Latin word for 70.)
Now, this is typically where the question of scribal error’s comes up – without a photo copier, surly someone made a mistake. Well, to combat mistakes the Hebrew scribes came up with a set of rules.. here are a few:
The scroll had to be written on a clean animal parchment. The pen had to be a feather from a clean bird.
Before writing the name of God, the scribe would wipe his pen clean and say, “I am writing the name of God, holy is his name.” And once they began writing the name of God, they could not be distracted or stopped for any reason.
Each skin had to contain a specific amount of columns, equal through the entire book.
Each column could not be less than 48 or more than 60 lines in length.
The column width had to be exactly 30 letters
The space the size of a thread, was to appear between each letter and if letters touched each other, the manuscript was burned. If there was a tear or a smudge in the document, it was burned.
A space of three lines had to appear between each book
No word could be copied for memory, it had to be copied letter by letter.
After 30 days of completion a second scribe had to count the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurred in each book and then compare it to the original. He also had to find the middle word on each page – and make sure it was the same as the original.
Oh and by the way, the OT has 304,805 letters making up 79,976 words.
In addition, any manuscript that became old, worn or torn – was destroyed; to preserve it’s integrity. This is why that before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls we had very few Hebrew manuscripts.
But in 1947, a young shepherd boy discovered a series of caves that contained clay pots and what would later be called the Dead Sea Scrolls; wherein archeologists and bible scholars found 972 texts of scripture.
Before 1947 the oldest biblical manuscript we had was dated from 900 AD.
After 1947 the oldest biblical manuscript we had was from 125 BC.
Why is that significant? Well, for your friend who insists the bible has changed or been altered as it’s been rewritten from language to language or from translation to translation… the answer is….
Once the Dead Sea scrolls were compared to the ones that we had been using for biblical translation, we found them to be 95 % identical. Documents 1,000 years apart with only a 5% variation – and that variation was only spelling and style that in no way changed the meaning of the text.
That means that over the thousands of years the bible was spoken, carried, translated, and written – it has always remained the same. AND we have the copies to prove it.
The books of the Old Testament are called the CANON. Canon comes from the Greek word for “rule” or “standard of measure.”
Now, during the time of Christ, we know they had copies of the Hebrew scriptures, our own Bible tells us that Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, in fact Jesus quotes from 24 different books of the Old Testament.
So who decided which books would be in the Old Testament?
Well, after Jesus, in the year 70, the Hebrew temple was destroyed by Rome and thus, much of the sacred writings were also lost.
So, in fear that the Bible would be lost, several Rabbis’ founded a school of Jewish law in Joppa and began compiling a list of which books would be preserved. The list they came up with, is the same CANON we have today.
However, they would argue that they did not “choose” the canon, but rather affirmed the books that were already the most widely used and most spiritual in the faith.
What about the Apocrypha? Well, the 16 Apocryphal books take place between 400 BC and the time of Jesus.
So when the Jews were already affirming the Canon in the year 70, the Apocrypha already existed. And so it was the Jews who rejected these books as Scripture and of course they are not included in the protestant Bible either. In fact it wasn’t even until 1546 that the Roman Catholic Church included them in their Bibles. (so only the last 500 years)
So is the Apocrypha scripture? Well, it depends on who you ask. Catholics will say yes, Protestants and Jews would say, “no.” Why do we think they were not included? Well, they’re never quoted in either the Old Testament or the New. We also do not see the books quoted by Jesus or the Early Church. Plus, one other crucial thing, none of the writers of the Apocrypha ever say they are writing “…the words of God.”
And so we see, the Bible is a very exclusive club. Not every book makes the cut, each book has to be vetted against some pretty strict guidelines.
So in order for a book to be considered for CANON
1. Is it authoritative? Meaning is it the words of God
2. Is it prophetic? Does it speak the true words of God
3. Is it authentic? Do we know who wrote it? Were they an eye witness?
4. Is it dynamic? Do these words change lives?
5. Was it received, collected, read and used by the church? In other words, was this a book that many people have kept, copied and preserved through history?
What makes a best seller- a best seller? Word of mouth! Popularity. You, telling friends, buying more copies, loaning copies, people talking about the book over coffee. This is what happened to the Bible as well. The books that people read and loved were copied and taught from – the books that didn’t change lives, or that people didn’t trust were not. It wasn’t a conspiracy, there was no ulterior motive, the books we have now are the same books people have read from and loved since 100 AD
2. The New Testament – contains 27 books. The New Testament is also broken into sections being - the first four books are:
a. Gospels (life of Jesus)
b. Letters written to Churches/ people
c. Revelation / prophecy
Of the four Gospels Mark was the first to be written perhaps as early as 64 or 65. Why is this important? Well, because it has to do with accuracy. If Jesus died around the year 30 then Mark was written within 30 years of Jesus’ life.
That means when Mark was read, many people who had seen these events first hand were still alive – meaning if there were any errors or mistakes in the text, it would have been very easy to discredit.
This brings up the question of reliability.
Currently it’s estimated that the Bible has 25,000 manuscripts around the world. Now, how does that compare with other reliable historical documents?
Well, for instance Homer’s Iliad – we have 643 copies. The oldest copy we have was written 400 years after Homer’s death.
We have 7 copies of the works of Plato – the oldest copy was written 1,300 years after Plato’s death.
The earliest copies of the Bible we have (or oldest) are fragments from the gospel of John and they were written within 50 years of John’s death. In fact, of the complete New Testament, we have 5,600 copies and the time gap is only 225 years
Which means using the accepted standard for evaluating reliability of ancient texts, the bible stands alone – it has no equal. No other historical book comes close.
New Testament Canon – How was the NT put together? Again, authorship was crucial, originally the rule was that it had to be written by an apostle or Paul with exception of Mark and Luke, since they both had approval by the Apostles.
Now of course that led to many other books supposedly written by biblical characters. There is the secret book of James, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Apocalypse of Paul just to name a few. In fact there were as many as 50 different “gospels” in circulation before the NT was canonized.
However, much like the Old Testament, the New Testament canon came about by simply drawing on the books that Christians were using the most. So as you can imagine, books that were not heavily used or taught, were eventually not copied, or when Roman officials came to your house and demanded that you turn over your holy books for burning, which ones will you surrender? The books you love? No, you’re going to hand them some of those “other books.”
Later, in 367, Athanasius of Alexandria authored the 39th Festal Letter, or Easter letter, which was approved at the Quinisext Council. In it, he listed the same 27 books of the New Testament that we use today.
In 382 The Pope asked his scribe a man named Jerome to transcribe the four Gospels from Latin. Jerome worked on the project for 2 years and when the Pope died, Jerome continued his work to include the entire Bible – it became known as the Latin Vulgate (where we get vulgar meaning common, it was a Bible for the common person) and the books in the Vulgate are the same ones we use today.
Later, in 393, the Synod of Hippo made a list of 27 canonical NT books, and (say it with me) they are the same ones we use today.
Suffice it to say that the New Testament developed, or evolved, over the course of the first 250-300 years of Christian history. Meaning, no one particular person made the decision. Nor was the decision made by any one church or council.
And since it was a slowly forming process over the course of 300 years, there was also no “agenda” or “secret plan” in it’s assembly. The particular writings that became those of the New Testament gradually came into being over time.
Now canonization always raises other questions. “How do we know those people weighed all the facts, maybe they threw away a document that was written by an apostle and we’ll never know about it.”
All right…. Let me tell you a story:
When Josiah was King of Judah, the people of God at that time were worshiping a lot of false gods and doing a lot of strange things. But Josiah began to miss the ways of his forefathers and he set out to “seek the God of his ancestor David.” 2 Chronicles 34:3
So Josiah ordered the destruction of pagan idols and temples and he started a rebuilding project. Well, one day his high priest Hilkiah was working to rebuild the temple and he came across an ancient scroll – he felt it was important and he rushed it to the King’s scribe. The scribe began to read the scroll to King Josiah and even though neither the scribe nor the King had heard the scroll read in their life time – they were able to recognize it’s language as being the scriptures. How? Well because it’s words were the same words they were taught as children.
2 Chronicles 34:19-21
And when the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah… saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book.”
You see, Josiah and Hilkiah recognized the scriptures upon hearing them. It’s God’s word, He’s going to make sure it’s known and recognized, right?
And when people ask, “Well what if the wrong books were left out and wrong books were left in…” That statement shows a complete lack of trust in God.
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
The author, David loves the word of God, several of his writings talk about how much care and devotion he has for it. And notice he uses words like perfect, reviving, sure, wise, right, pure, enlightening, enduring and righteous.
He certainly thinks these words are God’s words, right? You wouldn’t use those same words to describe something that was written by people.
In Psalm 119:86 he writes “All of your commands can be trusted.” Here the author says that everything in the Bible can be trusted as true because it comes from God.
Listen, God chose to reveal himself to us by His word – and this is the word we have. So if this book isn’t right…. then…. people didn’t get it wrong – GOD did! Right? This book has to be right – because – by default – it’s the book we have. Does that make sense?
Now, I’ve answered some questions this week, and we’ll answer more next week, but for now let me try to reassure some doubts. You know it’s interesting, we spend hours learning about God and yet, we hardly devote any time to learning about the book that we learn about God from.
A little something about myself – I’m a huge sci-fi geek. I love Star Wars, Star Trek all those space shows – and one of the words those shows introduced to us is “scan.” Scanning something is being able to check it out, to get a read on it, to decipher if it’s safe or harmful. So let’s S.C.A.N. the bible
“S” Sufficient – this means the Bible contains everything we need for Salvation and knowledge of God. This is a doctrine. It means scripture is clear enough to make us accountable to carry out our present responsibilities to God.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Notice it says, “so that we may be compete.” Do you need to be more complete? Extra complete? No? Then scripture is sufficient.
Let me teach you a Latin phrase “Sola Sciptura” it was one of the five pillars of the reformation. It means “by Scripture alone.” It was a battle cry that opposed any force that would “add to” the words of God. It was the “just say no” of its day when institutions and other religions said, “there is more to Christianity than just the Bible.” Oh, you’ve only read the Bible, well you need the “rest of the story.”
Martin Luther said it best, “A simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it”.
And sadly this is the doctrine of scripture that we forget the most. You know, we can say all the right things about the Bible, and even read it every day, but when life gets difficult, or just a little bit boring, we stray away…. and we look for new words, and new revelations, and new experiences to bring us closer to God.
For some reason we don’t like that the Bible doesn’t tell us many details about Heaven, so what do we do? We flock to the bookstores to read, the accounts of children who claim to have been there. For some reason we don’t trust the Bible as historical so what do we do? We turn news anchors into best selling authors. It’s amazing to me how many millions of people will read a work of a fiction, but never crack open God’s word.
We read self-help books, we seek out mediums and spiritualists and we read our horoscope. We try Kabala, hypnosis and a whole slew of worldly concoctions.
Are those things bad? Are those books bad? Well, here’s the thing. And I’ll share a little of what my Dad told me growing up. My Dad doesn’t use a Bible with notes when he reads. He has Bibles with notes, but when he’s reading (just to read) he doesn’t use those Bibles – do you know why? He doesn’t want his mind to be confused between God’s words and people’s. In other words, you don’t want to be trying to think about what the Bible said and then be confused as to whether it’s in the Bible or not. “God helps those who help themselves, Cleanliness is next to Godliness….” not in the Bible.
When we read outside sources, sometimes our brain puts that information (at no fault of our own) into the same folder.
People who have studied this, who are experts in their field (and who are smarter than you or me) have already removed the diamonds from the rocks and handed them to you. Paul tells Timothy that the Bible is all you need to be “complete.” You have the articles of worth in your hands, (tell me) why would you want to go back to the rock pile?
“C” – Clarity: That means the message of the Bible is clear. Did I loose you? Some of you are saying, “Ah… maybe to you, but not to me. When I read the Bible it’s very confusing.” I agree, parts of the Bible can be confusing. We just got through reading Job and I told you throughout that many words and phrases in Job are hard to decipher, and there are many passages like that in scripture, so what do we mean the Bible is “clear.”
Well, the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture is not a blanket covering that means every verse in the Bible will be obvious to everyone. Rather, what it means is that ordinary people – using ordinary means can accurately understand enough of what is important to be faithful Christians.
In other words, the main things we need to know, believe, and do can be clearly seen in the Bible. Listen to what Moses says about God’s word
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
And here is where the question of discrepancies pops up; contradictions. How can the Bible say something in one part and then something different in another part… that doesn’t seem clear. And yes, like we said, some portions of Scripture are clearer than others. Not every passage has a simple or an obvious meaning.
But, the good news is; the Bible is a single story, and it’s told with a single voice, so anytime it’s not clear in one section – you need to go and look at it in another. When we approach a subject in the Bible we ask ‘what is the theme?’ What were God’s intentions? And we study other passages and we compare, and hopefully we arrive at a conclusion.
Does everyone arrive at the same conclusion? No. But that doesn’t mean the Bible is full of contradictions – if anything it means that people are. Right? When in doubt, blame the reader, not the book. And that brings us to….
“A” Authority: The last word always goes to God’s Word. We must never allow the teachings of people – science, or of church to take precedence over Scripture. Sola Scriptora.
2 Peter 1:19-21
No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter says, “nothing in this book came from a human author;” and so if it’s all God’s word, then IT has to be the authority.
Not to mention that Jesus trusted the Bible. Have you ever heard someone say, “I trust what Jesus said, I’m just not so sure about the rest of the Bible.” Yea, but Jesus trusted the scriptures.
Matthew 5:18, Jesus said,
For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Jesus looks at the Bible and says, “this is going to last until the end of time.” It’s going to accomplish what God wants to accomplish in this world.
In John 10:35 Jesus said “Scripture can not be broken..”
So, Jesus proclaimed the authority of the Bible. When you read how Jesus talked about the Bible with people, he would back up his argument with scripture. So if Jesus believed every single sentence and every single word of scripture – then so should we.
But what’s sad is – when I go to churches, I’m still surprised by how few people bother to look at their Bibles when the pastor talks or let alone – bring a Bible to follow along in. I don’t know what it is -laziness, forgetfulness, or if its something else, but it’s not a good habit. Listen, as a pastor, I have no authority in myself. And I don’t want people to just “take my word for it.” God’s church should be testing everything against God’s authoritative word.
“N” Necessity: The Bible is necessary. In other words we cannot know God solely by personal experience or human reason. We need God’s word to tell us how to live, who Christ is, and how to be saved.
Many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter said, “Why would we leave? Your words are necessary.” The bottom line is that the “word of the world” is not like the “word of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:6-7
Among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
Earthly wisdom is new and now. But Biblical wisdom is ancient and everlasting. One is fleeting (“doomed to pass away”; 1 Cor. 2:6) while the other is fixed and firm (“decreed before the ages”; v. 7). If we want the “wisdom” of passing fashions, impressive brains, and talented people, then we can look to the world.
But if we want—and if we need—a necessary wisdom that is beyond us, that is outside of us, that will never fail us, we must look into the things that God has revealed to us through His word.
S.C.A.N. (sufficient, clear, authoritative and necessary) What a difference these four doctrines of Scripture make for everyday life and godliness. It means, counselors can guide meaningfully because Scripture is sufficient. Bible study leaders can lead with confidence because Scripture is clear. Preachers can teach with boldness because their biblical text is authoritative. And evangelists can win souls with urgency because the Scripture is necessary.
Folks, a majority of people who claim the Bible is filled with errors and contradictions know very little about the Bible. The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of people who have studied the Bible in-depth are amazed at it’s authority and accuracy.
So why do people attack it and discredit it? The Answer: “Because the Bible makes a claim on you.”
Most books can be an enjoyable read, but in the end they make no demands of you. They don’t ask you to change your life. The Bible, on other hand, makes some big claims. It makes claims on who God really is. It makes claims on the only way someone can find God. It makes claims on how you should live your life, spend your money, raise your kids, run your business, be a spouse and make decisions. And (most importantly) it makes claims on what you should believe.
And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but – people don’t like being told what to do.
Therefore, it is in the interest of many people and groups to find reasons to disbelieve the Bible. Because if people can get away with thinking it is not accurate, or that its claims are invalid, then we don’t have to change our behavior, or give up our old lives.
But…if the Bible, as it’s been shown today, is accurate and authoritative, then the question for you this morning is, “Will you believe the Bible and its claims on your life, and will you dig in to it reading it every day to gain your direction and guidance from God?”
Because let’s face it, if the Bible is God’s instruction manual for living, our road map to heaven and the main means by which we can know God, then it becomes extremely important to know whether it’s reliable.
Unless you frequent the Texas Renaissance festival you probably know very little about the middle ages. But it was the thousand years between the Roman empire and the Reformation. This was the time of Robin Hood, of Joan of Arc, of the code of chivalry, and of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. During the Middle Ages the church in the East faced the challenge of Islam, a challenge the church of the West took up with the crusades.
The church of the west touched everyone’s lives, from the richest King to the poorest serf. Almost everyone belonged to the church, was baptized in the church, would pray in church, get married in church, hear sermons in church, live by church laws, and pay their taxes to support the church. The parish was the center of town, the cathedral was the center of the city, and the King paid honor to the Pope.
The Middle ages can be divided into thirds, the dark ages which lasted until the year 1,000 – the high middle ages from 1,000 to 1,300 and the late middle ages until about 1492 when Columbus discovered America.
And see it was the beginning of the dark ages – a time when confusion, ignorance and disorder ruled, that the one institution held its own – the church - Through it all – the church remained a pillar of common life.
So with the church dominating all of life its no wonder that the stories and teachings of the Bible permeated people’s thoughts and lives to the extent that would be hard for us to imagine today. The bible was told in drama, in art, in poetry and even architecture. And some of the most fascinating relics of the Middle Ages are beautiful pages of the Bible surrounded by gold leaf illustrations.
And you could say, “yea but by now the Bible is assembled and printed – surely that’s the end of the story.” Well, not so much – because now the translation wars begin. Now people begin to argue which “version” of the Bible is the best and sadly.. it’s a war some people think they are still fighting.
The church of the west used the Latin vulgate (vulgar/common) while the church of the east read the Bible in Greek. Today it’s not as common to find an entire Greek manuscript, but one of the earliest we know about was a fifth century copy of the book of Genesis called “the cotton Genesis” because it was assembled by a man named Robert Bruce Cotton. The book was beautiful because it had more than 300 miniature hand drawn illustrations on over 400 pages. The manuscript survived for 1,250 years and then in 1731 there was a fire and today there are only 18 pages that remain.
Suffice it to say – everyone knew about the Bible – but most could not hear it or read it in their own language. Chiefly because the church of its day discouraged translating it into the common tongue. Why? Well, because first – if French is the language of love, then Latin is the language of faith. Style and preference demanded that the Bible be read in the “best” language - naturally. And second – it was a form of control.
If you wanted to know what the Bible said – you had to go to church – you had to trust the priest. It was a way for the church to build dependability into their followers.
And so it was around 1320 that a man named John Wycliffe came onto the scene. Wycliffe was trained as a mathematician and a scientist and a theologian – and it was his philosophy that since Jesus was poor – his church should be poor as well. He hated the wealth and opulence of the church – not to mention he hated the hypocritical nature of the church – because you see… the Kings and the rich owned Bibles written in French just for them, but the poor were denied a Bible in their own tongue.
Wycliffe began a “back roots” following of missionaries called Lollards. Lollards isn’t a nice name, it was a derogatory term to denote an uneducated person. Wycliffs missionaries followed the instructions of Jesus – they wore robes, wore sandals and carried a walking stick, they journeyed in poverty and shared the gospel with people who would provide them room and board. And so it wasn’t long before Wycliffe made the choice that he would translate the Bible into English. Wycliffe worked on the New Testament, his colleague worked on the Old. But when his friend was excommunicated from the church and left England, Wycliffe was forced to finish the Bible on his own.
And even though Wycliffe died from a stroke in 1384 – for the next 31 years his English bible was in underground circulation – and then in 1415, the church council of Constance declared him a heretic – all of his authored books were burned and at the decree of the Pope, his body was exhumed, burned and cast into the English river.
Today we have about 250 copies of Wycliffes Bible. Because in 1408 the archbishop declared it illegal to translate any portion of the Bible into English (or any other language.)
But… between 1450 and 1550 the world… changed; and that BIG CHANGE was; Literacy. There is power in the written word, and during the next 100 years – four major things happened in the story of the Bible.
1. The invention of the printing press
2. Widespread translation into the spoken language of the people
3. More translations, meant more eyes – more people were studying the word – and so more people were discovering it’s meaning
4. The reformation removed the pope and the church as the supreme authority and the Bile became the bedrock of the faith.
The Bible you have in your hands – we owe just as much to this man. Johann Guttenberg. (John Gooseflesh). Here is a guy who took the idea of a wine press and said, “huh, I wonder if I could make books with that.”
It was said of Guttenburg that he could print as many books in a day as it had previously taken in a year. Before Guttenberg the library at Cambridge only had 122 books.
Just to give you an idea – Here is a portion of the library in my office. Each shelf has about 35 books – so 122 books would be about 4 shelves. 4 Shelves of books – for an entire collegiate library.
Guttenberg’s Bible was beautiful. It wasn’t some hack job in comic sans. He painstakingly reproduced over 100,000 pieces that would resemble a hand drawn caligraphers pen – each Bible was printed on vellum that came from over 160 animals.
And by the year 1,500 printing presses were popping up all over and it’s estimated that over 30 thousand different titled books were being published.
So by the time Martin Luther was born in 1483 – he grew up with the Bible as a printed volume. He’s like a child who grew up with cellphones and the internet – he didn’t know of another way to live. But it seems even in Luther’s day – the church was still experiencing issues with power and corruption.
In 1517 the Pope was building a huge basillica for Saint Peter. The Pope raised his capital by selling “salvation” and selling “forgiveness of sins.” This made Luther so mad – he wrote an email. Well in his day it was called… a letter. And in his letter he came up with 95 reasons why the church was wrong to do this.
Suffice it to say the church was not happy. They called Luther a “drunken German” and Luther called the Pope – “the anti-Christ.”
And so it was men like Luther, Zwingli, John Calvin and others who paved the way for the protestant reformation. A split from the church – and one of their battle cries was the Latin phrase we learned last week – sola scriptora – “by scripture alone.”
And so it was Luther’s hope to print the Bible into “a readable German.” The Bible had been previously printed in German, but Luther’s was contemporary and more urban. Luther said, “I endeavored to make Moses so German, that no one would suspect he was a Jew.”
Like Wycliffe, the Pope banned all of Luther’s writings as well as his German bible, but because of the printing press, it was too difficult to stop.
Within 50 years, just a single printing press would have been responsible for over 50 thousand copies of Luther’s bible alone.
In fact, several Bible translations that were 1st printed in the Middle Ages are still read today – Luther’s German bible, the KJV, & Douay-Rheims just to name a few.
Well the English language was constantly on the move. And so as the years went by there was a need for a clearer English translation. And even though Wycliffe had translated the Bible into English 150 years before – it was written in Middle English and it was difficult to read and understand.
So that brings us to this man – William Tyndale. Tyndale was a lot like Bill Gates. he saw the technology of the Bible and how important it was – and it was his hope to put a readable Bible in every home.
Of course, the church didn’t like him either, which forced Tyndale to move to Germany where he met Martin Luther and the two of them got into a whole mess of trouble. It was Luther and Tyndale’s hope to get the readable English bible back into England, but King Henry the 8th at the time was a Catholic and opposed them at every turn.
The rebels took to smuggling Bibles into England with imported groceries – because like any commodity, if you tell the people they can’t have it – it makes them want it even more.
Tyndale was eventually arrested, jailed for 16 months and then executed. His last words were “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”
By the time Tyndale died, his Bible had sold over 50 thousand copies. And over the next 75 years, Bibles in the “vulgar” English exploded.
And sure we’d like to think that everyone’s motivation for printing a Bible translation was holy and pure, but sadly much like it always is with people - it was about politics. At the time the Geneva bible was the most popular – it was pocket sized, had maps and notes and was available to the most common person. But King James the I of England hated it.
When Mary queen of Scots was imprisoned in 1567, her son James the 6th became King of Scotland where he ruled for 35 years. In 1603 he became James the 1st when he became the King of England, Scotland and Ireland – and yes – he was a protestant.
James set out to create a new translation of the Bible to compete with the common vulgar translation in circulation and he called for the brightest and most educated from Cambridge and Oxford to be a part of it. 54 scholars in 6 committees set about the task of a new translation. However, it wasn’t entirely new. Many of the scholars used previous Bible translations for vocabulary help, and not surprisingly many of the verses in the King James were word for word from Tyndale’s Bible.
The KJV made it’s debut in 1611 and it was enormous. The first Bibles were 10 1/2 by 16 inches. Later smaller versions were of course printed along with one misprint translation deemed the “wicked bible” where the word “not” left out of the 7th commandment
“Thou shall commit adultery.”
Eventually the KJV took off primarily because of two reasons – first- it was the King’s bible – so it was an upper crust commodity. It was the Rolls Royce of Bibles. So if it’s the best – wouldn’t you want “the best?”
…Oh and secondly because King James made the Geneva bible illegal.
Ironically today, most Bible translations are owned by the publisher that prints it. For instance the ESV we just purchased is printed by Crossway, no other publisher prints it – that’s how publishers get around copywrite laws.
However, the KJV bible is public domain – anyone can print it – unless you live in the United Kingdom where the British Crown still owns the license.
The influence of the KJV has been profound – it’s helped form our language, has given contest to our literature, has inspired our music and for centuries it was the one book a family would own and read before all others.
In 1620 (only 9 years later) the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth rock and 20 years after that they had a printing press and were printing books of the Bible. The first colonists to America came for the express purpose to study the bible and worship God free of the crown. The first American colleges were seminaries trained to educate ministers to teach the Bible and in 1777 continental congress voted to import 20 thousand Bibles to America.
In fact the first complete Bible to be printed on American soil was a missionary bible. John Eliot who took his free time away from his church translated the Bible into Algonquin – one of the world’s most difficult languages for the native Americans. It took him 10 years.
The first Bible printed in America in a European language was Martin Luther’s German Bible in 1743. The American Bible society was founded in 1816 and they led four campaigns to put a Bible in every American household that didn’t already have one. Between 1882 and 1890 more than 6 million families benefitted and nearly half a million received a Bible.
The revised version came out in 1881, the American Standard came out in 1901, the New American Standard came out in 1942, the New King James in 1979 and the ESV that we have in our pews came out in 2001.
So what’s so great about the ESV?
Like was said, it’s a more literal translation than the best selling NIV. Its editors say of it, “An essentially literal translation, emphasizing word-for-word precision.”
So what’s the deal? Why all the Bible translations? And since there are so many – does that mean some Bibles are more right than others – or are some “more wrong?” How do people go about translating a Bible today?
Every time – do they have to go to Jerusalem and go through the archives and begin the translation process from scratch using relics and fragments? No. Today, because of the printing press we have the most accurate and reliable Hebrew and Greek sources and they are available to everyone.
The Hebrew source we use is the Stutgartensia which is a copy of the Masoretic text based on the Leningrad codex. The Greek source document we use is the Nestle aland, originally the Polygot Bible and it’s currently in its 27th edition. Its in it’s 27th edition because it’s constantly being updated and improved upon as we learn more and more about the Greek language.
Why is this important? Well for anyone who thinks that the Bible translation “changes” over time like a giant game of telephone – or that things get lost or change. But it’s not like that – new Bible translators use the same source documents every single time. New Bibles aren’t born off the backs of the predecessors, translators and editors always go back to the beginning.
Hebrews 4:12 (page 1278)
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
I want to show you 5 things really quick.
First, the author of Hebrews say that the Bible is “living.” Thanks to Guttenberg, the Library of Congress boasts to be the largest library in the world, with more than 150 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves.
The collections include more than 32 million books and other printed materials, 3.0 million recordings, 15 million photographs, 5 million maps, and 61 million manuscripts.
But in all of this, the only book in that library that is alive is the Bible.
The word “living” is the Greek word ZAO and it literally means “breathing.” Last week we read 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says that “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”
We understand the Bible as a living document because we can feel it’s words in us and we can see how it continues to teach and inspire each new generation.
Second – Hebrews 4 says the Bible is “active.” The word “active” is the Greek word “Energy” and it’s where we get our English word… energy. We know that energy means; it means “at work” it’s a continuous action.
The Bible is a “working” book. It is not a dormant, in active, flacid, cold book.
The Scriptures are …living and active…and when we read the words …. they reach out and touch the needs of our lives…. in an almost tangible way. God says of His word…
Isaiah 55:11 (page 782)
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God describes scripture as being a living agent or a messenger that God sends to touch our lives. So, unlike any other book, ….. the Scriptures are living and active and: Third, It is a Piercing Word
Like a sharp sword which can lay open the human body with one slashing blow, so the sword of the God can open our life if we would let it. A sword is a weapon of violence, and true it can be used to attack and defend against enemies, but the Hebrew writer uses it to describe a sword that cuts ourselves. Perhaps today we would say the Bible is a scalpel. It is a surgeon’s knife that is precise and knows exactly how to tend to us and heal us.
And lastly the Bible is discerning. The word there is the Greek word Kritikos, it’s where we get the English word “critic.”
Last week I asked why people would try to discredit the Bible, why they would want to tear it down and find flaw with it – and it’s for this reason. The Bible penetrates into the innermost recesses of our being …. and it does so as a critic, it delves into our shadows, it exposes our darkness – and because it is also alive and active, the word of God then breathes into us and transforms us from the inside out.
“No one is uneducated who knows the Bible, and no one is wise who is ignorant of its teachings.” ~ Samuel Chadwick
I own something like 26 bibles. I am a bible junkie and right now there are probably 4 or 5 more Bibles that I want. Hey, some of you buy fishing reels, some of you buy riffles, some of you buy shoes…. I buy Bibles.
But listen, none of them do me any good, if I don’t read them. And this is my take home for you. I want you to think about your Bible. Yours. The one you read, or at least the one you’re supposed to be reading.
Do you like reading it? Do you understand it? Because I would argue that if your answer is no. I want you to go and get another one. I’m serious. Give yourself permission to buy a Bible that you like.
This is the story of God – it is unlike any other book in human history. And if you own a Bible that has a difficult translation, no helpful notes, missing pages, or in any other way doesn’t excite you. Get a new one.
And I get asked all of the time – what is the “best Bible” to get? And my answer will always be the same – the best Bible is the one that you read.
Translation – Translations vary because the English language is diverse and many people and publishers have their own opinion about which words are best to use. Does it mean one bible is better than any other? Absolutely not. If you walk into the Bible book store right now – any Bible on the shelf – is a good Bible. The only way you’re going to know which one is “best” is if you test drive a few.
A real quick lesson in translations: translations range is from “Word for Word to Thought for Thought.” And it all depends on what you are looking for.
Word for word means: the best possible word in English is chosen and placed into the sentence. And it gives you the best picture of the precise / literal meaning of each word.
Thought for Thought translations take great care to communicate in English the point or meaning of the text using contemporary English. This makes the translation much easier to understand and much easier to read. Typically my advice is to have one of each – read them side by side to get the best possible understanding.
Notice what translation is dead center? The NIV. That’s why it’s the number one seller. My advice is to go to the Bible book store and open several translations to the same passage and read them all – and decide which one sounds like a bible that you would read.
The new bibles in our pews are the English Standard version – notice it is four from the end as being a literal Word for word bible. Great for bible study – and it is the translation that Joanna and I both use – for personal reading and study.
I will always recommend a study Bible as well. I like notes. The reason I like good notes is – much of the discernment of our day has been discussed and argued by people much smarter than you and me, so while I am reading – I would like to read their input as well. Of course I believe we are all able to read and discern scripture on our own, but I think it’s even better to do so in a community setting.
Many Bibles also have a ‘Focus’ – For instance if the chronology part of the story is difficult for you – there is a chronological bible, archeology bible, apologetics bible, language? Key bible. There are even “Dad’s and Mom’s” Bibles “Teens and tweens” Bibles.
And yes, Bibles can be expensive – a lot of printing and effort go into Bibles, so they’re not always cheap – but if getting a new bible means it’s going to assist you in your relationship with God – then it’s worth it.
One of my favorite quotes is from John Wesley and I’ll leave you with this, he says, “I want to know one thing: the way to heaven. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book! At any price give me the book of God. Let me be a man of one book.”