Where Did the Bible Come From?
Have you ever wondered where the Bible came from? Well, I know where this one came from. I found it in a condominium we bought in 1989. The previous owner must have left it. The name on the cover is Stephan Mark Hollon, and it’s inscribed to him from his grandmother on April 17, 1979, Stephan’s 14th birthday. If any of you know Stephan, let me know and maybe I can get this back to him. It’s a New American Standard translation.
There’s a story about a little boy who came running in from outside and asked the question every parent dreads: “Mommy, where did I come from?” Mommy had been prepared for this moment. She had read articles, bought books, and rehearsed again and again what she would say when her son asked the big question. But as she began her discourse about birds and bees, the little boy began to look more and more puzzled. Finally he said, “But, Mommy, Billy comes from California. I just want to know where I come from.”
A few weeks ago, I was in the multi-purpose room here at church and I picked up a Bible there and started reading it, the Living Bible edition. It really seemed to speak to me. It's a paraphrase and would be good for young people, people unfamiliar with the Bible, or people like me who like easy reading. The ideal is to go back to Hebrew and Greek, but reading any translation or version is better than not reading the Bible.
So where did the Bible come from? Why all the translations? Which is the best? Can the translations be trusted? Why do we think any Bible can be trusted? The church stands on the fact that the Bible is the word of God, the ultimate authority. How do we know?
For one thing, the Bible is the only book that claims to be the direct Word of God. It is the only holy book of any religion that is set in history that has been shown to be accurate through archaeological research. It is the only holy book with prophecy written thousands of years before its was fulfilled.
2 Timothy 3:16 says,
All Scripture is God-breathed.
The word “inspired” means “God-breathed.” We don’t know exactly HOW God inspired the prophets and apostles to write what He wanted us to know, but if you look at WHAT He inspired, it is clear that no man, let alone many men in different times and places, could have written it. The entire Bible “speaks with one voice”.
People knew who the true prophets were when they were alive because everything they predicted came true with 100% accuracy. If they said a battle would be lost, it was lost. That is not the case with Jeane Dixon, Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce or any of the false prophets mentioned in the Old Testament who told people what they wanted to hear.
The Old Testament was completed about 400 years before Jesus, yet it contains more than 200 very specific prophecies about His life and death. The Jews did not accept Him, but they use the same Scripture that contains those prophecies even today. Nobody went back and rewrote them so they'd fit Jesus’ life!
Only the originals are inspired, not translations or even copies unless they are accurate. But we don’t have originals for any part of the Bible. Could errors have crept in over time as people copied from the originals and recopied from the copies?
The Dead Sea Scrolls copy of Isaiah, dated about 70 A.D. is almost identical to the next earliest copy, dated 1100. The Jews were incredibly careful to copy their Scripture perfectly. They proofread again and again, even letter by letter backwards. Any page with a mistake was destroyed.
A lot more copying errors were made in the New Testament, but we have so many early copies that scholars are confident they have the true text. The New Testament has more than 5000 early manuscripts. The next best documented ancient book, the Iliad, has only 643. Some ancient books have only 2-3 early manuscripts, yet nobody suggests that they are frauds. One scholar said if we reject the New Testament, we’ll have to reject all other ancient books as well.
The Bible has come down through at least 3000 years of history as the world's best-known and most widely distributed book. That says something about the power behind it. If it IS God’s word, as it claims, God would not only inspire it but protect it through time against substantial corruption.
Might there be books that should have been included but were not? You may have heard that argument. By the year 300, several heresies had sprung up that called themselves "Christian." One rejected the entire Old Testament. Others chose only books that matched what they liked and added books of their own. The canon, or list of books in this Bible, was finalized in 325 A.D., in response to all the heresies.
If you have doubt about whether another book should have been included, I would encourage you to first read the Bible. Learn what it teaches. Get a feel for how God expresses Himself and be aware of how the Bible speaks to you in your heart, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Then read one of the books people say was "left out" and compare. Here is an example from the Gospel of Thomas, verse 22. Some people call it the fifth gospel and insist it should be included in our Bibles.
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].”
To me, that’s clearly not the inspired word of God. But unless I recognized God's style by reading what is His inspired word, how could I know the difference?
Can we trust the translations? If we trust that God inspired His Word, we can trust that He protects it from major error. Sir Frederick Kenyon, a world-class scholar, wrote, “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation through the centuries.”
I’m going to close with a reading from the Living Bible, Jude 20-25. This spoke to my heart in a way the New American Standard did not.
But you, dear friends, must build up your lives ever more strongly upon the foundation of our holy faith, learning to pray in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. Stay always within the boundaries where God's love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in His mercy is going to give you. Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren't pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin, while being merciful to them as sinners.
No translation is perfect. All are used by God to teach us Who God is, what He has done, what He expects from us and what He promises. One of His promises is that His Word will do what He intends for it to do.
Isaiah 55:10-11 says:
As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish… so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Note: This talk was presented by my husband Dennis at our small church.
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