When we open the Christian Bible, we are immediately confronted with a unique claim, even from the opening verses.
“In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of Elohim was moving over the surface of the waters.”
These first two verses claim to reveal God’s work in creation. And then, immediately, we are confronted with a second claim, equally unique.
“Then Elohim said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
This third verse claims to reveal God’s words. And so, from the very beginning, the Bible claims to be a revelation of both the works and words of God. And if we began with these verses, and continued to read to the end of the Bible, we would come to the Revelation given to a man named John, and we would read these words:
“‘These are the true words of God.'”
“And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.'”
And so at the end, the Bible again claims to be a revelation of God’s works (in re-creating all things), and His words. What’s more, between the Bible’s first verses, and its final verses, it makes this same claim more than 5,000 times. But there is one statement given, one claim made, that encompasses the reality of its Divine origin, more clearly and more forcefully than any other.
“All Scripture is God-breathed 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)
The word God-breathed is often translated with the English word, “inspired.” But the concept is meant to express that these words comprising all Scripture have their source in the very lungs of God. They are breathed out, spoken into the world, by God Himself. They are His words. And they are profitable in four areas (teaching, reproof, correction and training). When they are used to our profit in these areas, they make us adequate as God’s people, and they equip us to do everything He calls us to do.
There are several key ideas revealed in this statement. The first is the Divine origin of the Scripture, which we have just examined. The second is its total sufficiency. Nowhere else in the Scripture is any other collection of words called profitable. The Scripture reserves that description for itself alone. And in all Scripture, which alone is profitable, the man of God has all that he needs to make him adequate and equipped.
But if the statement is accepted as true, that all Scripture is God-breathed, profitable and sufficient, then the natural question becomes: what comprises all Scripture?
The Old Testament. The Scripture itself makes some clear and interesting statements about its comprisal. Consider the following statement spoken by King Joshua, as recorded by Luke:
“…’all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scripture.”
The Lord Joshua clearly refers to the Scriptures as a collection of three books: the Law of Moses; the Prophets; and the Psalms. By way of comparison, the Hebrew Tanakh is comprised of exactly these three sections, known to Judaism as Torah (the Law of Moses), Nevi’im (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings, which include the Psalms). At the time King Joshua walked physically on the earth, this body of literature was the only part of our Bibles that had yet been written. And the Hebrew Tanakh is identical in content to the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. The only difference is a change in the organization and order of the individual books.
Clearly then, the Old Testament is Scripture. But what about the New Testament?
The New Testament. The New Testament is comprised of three basic sections as well: the Gospels; the Acts; and the Letters. Within the Letters, there are two sub-sections: the Letters of Paul; and the Letters of other men (including two of King Joshua’s half-brothers).
In his second letter, a man named Peter (one of the twelve chosen Apostles of our Lord Joshua), made an important statement.
“…our beloved brother, Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you…in all his letters…in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
(2 Peter 3:15-16)
The Apostle Peter clearly believes that Paul’s letters are on par with, and of one essence with, the rest of the Scriptures, so much so, that any who distort his message face destruction for doing so.
In one such letter, the Apostle Paul also made an important declaration.
“For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.'”
(1 Timothy 5:18)
Paul quotes two sources here, and calls them both Scripture. The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25:4, in the Torah, part of the Old Testament Law. The second quote was originally spoken by the Lord Joshua Himself, and is actually recorded in two sources, Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7. Clearly the Apostle Paul (whose letters are Scripture) taught that the Gospel accounts were also Scripture. He also clearly expresses that Luke’s Gospel (from which he quotes verbatim in the passage above) is Scripture. Luke’s Gospel is actually written in two sections. We have them preserved as the Gospel of Luke, and the Book of Acts. Together, these two books comprise a distinct unit with a single, continuous narrative flow.
Taken all together, it becomes apparent that the writings of the Apostles as contained in the Gospels, Acts and the Letters, were also regarded as Scripture, in the same sense that the Old Testament record was regarded as Scripture.
It is for this reason that Paul makes the following statement:
“…God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Joshua Himself being the corner stone…”
In saying this, Paul asserts clearly that the foundation upon which the church of Joshua was built is the entirety of Scripture, both the New Testament (recorded by the apostles), and the Old Testament (recorded by the prophets).
Its Composition and Translation
Composition. When you pick up your Bible to read it, you are most likely reading a translation of the text, rather than the original text itself, since no part of the Old or New Testaments was written in English. Rather, the human writers of the Old Testament wrote in ancient Hebrew (and, on rare occasions, in ancient Aramaic; see Genesis 31:47; Ezra 4:8 – 7:26; Jeremiah 10:11; Daniel 2:4b – 7:28). And the writers of the New Testament wrote in ancient Koine Greek.
Many schools that train people for vocational ministry (such schools are often called seminaries) actually teach these dead languages to their students, in order to prepare them to grapple seriously and personally with these ancient texts. If you have not attended seminary, or are not considering vocational ministry, you might still be interested in learning at least the rudiments of the biblical languages. If that is the case, there are many good resources available online; or you may feel free to contact our Elders for more information. For most English-speaking people, however, an English translation of the text is much more accessible. And as long as the translation is an accurate reflection of the original texts, you can be sure you are really reading the Scripture as it was intended to be read.
So how do you choose a translation?
Translation. There are many different English translations available. It can be a difficult, confusing and even intimidating task to try and choose one. Here are some helpful guides.
There are basically three approaches used when teams of translators come to the Scripture. The first approach is known as Formal Equivalence. Translators who approach the task this way work hard to retain, as much as possible, the form of the original documents. This reflects itself in the translation’s grammar and syntax, as well as in word choice and vocabulary. These kind of translations are often called literal translations, or word-for-word translations. The benefit of these translations is that they are very accurate in portraying the intended message of the original writers. The drawback is that they are often somewhat challenging to read and comprehend. Good examples of this kind of translation are: the King James Version; the New King James Version; the Revised Standard Version; the English Standard Version; and the New American Standard Version.
The second approach is known as Dynamic Equivalence. This approach focuses on expressing the thoughts of the original text, without much regard for its form. For this reason, such translations are often called thought-for-thought translations. The benefit of these translations is that they are usually much easier to read than literal translations. But a very serious drawback exists as well. In order for the translator to capture the essence of the original writer’s thought, he must naturally impose an interpretation on the text in front of him. If the translator’s interpretation is in error or is otherwise faulty, that error is reflected in his translation. A careless reader might accept such a faulty interpretation without much thought, and in doing so, might misunderstand either what the original writer intended to say, or what he meant by what he said. Good examples of this kind of translation are: the New International Version; the Holman Christian Standard Bible (now usually called the Christian Standard Bible); and the Contemporary English Version.
A third approach is known simply as Paraphrasing. This approach renders the basic idea of the text in language very easy to understand for the modern reader, but in ways entirely foreign to the original writer’s intention. The obvious benefit is that such translations are extremely easy to understand. The great danger of such translations is that they are, very literally, the words of men imposed on the ideas of Scripture. They rely so heavily on the translators interpretation of the text that the resulting translation rarely resembles the actual text at all. Good examples of this kind of translation are: the New Living Translation; the Message; and the New International Reader’s Version.
Our Elders make the following recommendations:
First, pick a translation and stick with it. Although it is helpful to read a variety of translations if you get stuck on a passage you don’t understand, reading the same translation regularly helps your brain to remember passages more easily.
Second, if you are genuinely desiring to understand the Scripture as it was given, choose a formal equivalence translation as your main translation. The translation that is generally accepted as the best and most literal translation is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Although for most people, it requires careful attention to read and understand, it is still the translation most highly recommended by our Elders. The English Standard Version is a very good alternative that is, perhaps, slightly easier to read.
In our discussion of translation above, we mentioned the word interpretation. Interpretation is different from translation in a very important way. Translation expresses in one language what a writer said in another language. Interpretation goes deeper, and expresses what a writer meant by what he said. The science of Bible interpretation is called hermeneutics. There are many different approaches to Bible interpretation. For a full and detailed explanation, our Elders invite you to listen to our study of hermeneutics and download the accompanying notes.
Summary and Doctrinal Statement
To summarize everything that has been said above as concisely as possible, we offer the following doctrinal statement:
Bibliology. We believe that the Bible, encompassing the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament, is the completed written revelation of God to men. We believe in its verbal, plenary inspiration. We affirm that it is infallible and entirely free from error in its original manuscripts. We further affirm that it is the final, sole, and sufficient authority in the lives of God’s children; and that within its text, the Christian has been given everything necessary for life and godliness.
We are convinced that the proper goal of hermeneutics is to discover single, authorial intent; and accordingly, we affirm and adhere to a strict, literal hermeneutic (also known as the historical-grammatical method of interpretation). We recognize and affirm the use of literary devices such as hyperbole, and metaphoric and symbolic language. Yet simultaneously we affirm that such devices are always used to clarify literal truth rather than to confuse it.
And we believe most strongly that the goal of every Christian is to know God personally and to fellowship with Him intimately as they hear His voice speaking clearly through His written Word. To that end, we devote ourselves as a church to the careful, thorough, systematic and fearful process of exegetical, expository study of the Scripture in its entirety.