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How We Got the Bible; Chapter
from Reading The Bible With Understanding
by Dr. Lane Burgland
The New Testament
The New Testament is a much shorter collection of books and took considerably less time than the Old Testament to write. The earliest New Testament work, 1 either 1 Thessalonians or Galatians, was written about A.D. 50. The last book, Revelation, appeared near the end of the first century A.D. Thus, while the Old Testament may have taken about 1,000 years to write, the New Testament was written over only 50 years or so. Most of the letters of Paul and the epistle of James were probably written first. Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their gospels in the late 50s and in the 60s. Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter may also have been written in the 60s. Very likely John wrote his gospel, his epistles and Revelation later in the first century A.D.
The New Testament Canon
The canon of the New Testament (the list of books considered to be Holy Scripture) was shaped by several factors: the desire to know about Jesus and His teachings, the need to fight heresy and persecution, and for use in worship services. Ultimately, as with the Old Testament, the books that became the New Testament impressed their readers as being different, special, and having the "ring of truth" about them. Most of the New Testament books are connected to an apostle as well (Mark is associated with Peter, Luke with Paul). 2
The early Christian church did not "decide" what books were authoritative, but they did recognize the unique nature of the works that we know as the New Testament. In his Easter letter to his congregations in A.D. 367. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, Egypt, listed the 27 New Testament books as "divine" and called them "springs of salvation." In A.D. 397, at Carthage in North Africa, a church council met (with Augustine in attendance) and confirmed the canon of the New Testament. After that, very little significant discussion about which books belonged in the Bible took place until Reformation times. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the writers of Scripture, also guided the Christian church to identify which books are, in fact, part of the canon.
Inspiration and Inerrancy
In the Bible God reveals Himself to people. He speaks honestly and bluntly about our problem (sin) and His solution (Christ crucified). He speaks the truth to us, both in the severity of the Law and the sweetness of the Gospel.
If the Bible is merely a human record of observations, meditations, and pious thoughts about God, we would expect errors of various sorts (historical, geographical, scientific, and the like). If it is truly God's Word, we would expect accuracy in both these smaller matters anti the larger issues (such as the nature of God and the relationship between Him and us). We believe the original writings (called autographs) were inerrant, that is, contained no error of any sort. 3
We also believe that Scripture is inspired, that is, that God is responsible for writing it. Inspiration differs from dictation, where God dictates the words of the Bible to a person who, as it were, is in a trance. But inspiration does not work this way. Read Luke 1:1-4 and answer the following:
1. Is Luke an eyewitness of the events in his gospel?
2. How did other writers get their information?
3. How did Luke get his information?
4. Where did Luke get the information in Luke 1 and 2?
5. Does Luke claim to write a chronological account?
Luke is an eyewitness to some of the events
in the second volume of his work (Acts), 4
but he is not present at the events he records in the gospel of Luke. Luke
would have had a number of resources available to him, including eyewitnesses
(such as Peter and other apostles) and the Jerusalem archives (e.g., the
Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:22-29). Like other writers, Luke would have had to
do research to get his information.
The material in Luke 1 and 2, so familiar to many Christians. is a good example of the kind of research Luke might have done. At the time Luke writes his gospel, almost everyone in those two chapters is dead. Jesus is, of course, alive, having ascended into heaven. Probably Luke's source is Mary herself. She would have known what she and the angel Gabriel discussed, what Elizabeth said when Mary visited her, and she alone would have known what she "pondered in her heart" when the shepherds came to the manger (Luke 2:19).
Although we cannot prove it, Luke could very well have interviewed Mary personally. If Luke wrote Luke and Acts during Paul's Roman imprisonment (A.D. 60-62), and if Mary gave birth to Jesus when she was in her early or middle teen years, 5 she would only have been in her early eighties at the time of the interview. Tradition locates her in her later years in Ephesus where the beloved disciple, John, conducted his ministry. 6 This would have been close enough to Rome for Luke to make the journey without seriously interrupting his time with Paul. 7
In his introduction Luke claims to write an ''orderly'' account. This commonly means a chronological or sequential account of Jesus' life and public ministry and of how the Gospel got from Jerusalem to Rome. It doesn't mean that Luke didn't pull together certain teachings of Jesus under a specific topic or that every detail of his account is exactly chronological, but it does mean that Luke writes an accurate and coherent history of Jesus (gospel of Luke) and of the Gospel's spread (book of Acts).
Inspiration is not like dictation, but a more personal and subtle guidance of the writer to set down exactly the words God has chosen. The writer uses all his faculties and abilities in the process.
We have shown how Luke's process may have included an interview with Mary. However, it also is possible that Luke received his information from other sources. That possibility in no way undermines the fact that Luke wrote an inspired, inerrant account.
Peter addresses the subject of inspiration in 2 Peter 1: 12-21. He reminds his readers of the transfiguration, which he personally witnessed (Matthew 17: Mark 9; Luke 9). There God's words confirmed the glow of Jesus. So also, Peter argues, the words of the Old Testament writers come from God, not from man. Peter includes New Testament writings as part of Holy Scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16, where he classes Paul's writings with "the other Scriptures."
The point, then, is this: Jesus, the Word of God (John 1: 1-18), is both human and divine. Scriptures, the written word of God, also have a divine side (origin, inspiration) and a human side (the authors and their world). Part of the adventure of Bible study is the investigation into the world of the authors of the books in the Bible. The things we learn equip us to understand more fully what we are reading.
The Purpose of Scripture
The primary purpose of Scripture is to introduce us to Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord (John 20:30-31). Read 2 Timothy 3:10-17 and answer the following:
1. What does it mean to say that Scripture is God-breathed?
2. Paul lists four functions of Scripture in verse 16. What are they?
3. What practical, day-to-day purpose does Scripture have?
God-breathed is a translation of inspired.
This tells us that the source and essential characteristic of Scripture is that
it comes from God and is God's own Word. Scripture is (not merely contains) the
Word of God, as Jesus affirms in John 10:35, where He uses the two terms
synonymously. The Bible is the source and standard for our teaching: it rebukes
us (condemns us of our sin) and corrects us (guides us in the way that we
should live). Confident of our salvation in Jesus Christ, we are thus
completely equipped to live a life that honors God and shows others the way to
salvation (see also Ephesians 2:8-10).
Notes to Chapter 14
1 Scholars are divided on the dates of many of the New Testament books.
2 Connection to an apostle was not an absolute requirement for canonization, as is apparent from the fact that the book of Hebrews was accepted as authoritative even though it has no clear connection with an apostle.
3 This does not mean that mistakes have not been made in copying the autographs or in translating the original languages. We shall discuss this further in the next section.
4 In Acts 16:10 Luke switches from the third person ("they") to the first person ("we"), indicating that he joined Paul, Silas, and Timothy on the second missionary journey (about A.D. 50).
5 Jesus was most likely born in 5 or 6 B.C. An error in calculation by the monk who invented our system of counting years (Dionysius Exiguus) is responsible for the odd fact that Jesus was born several years B.C. (Before Christ).
6 Travelers to Ephesus today are often taken to the house that is said to have been Mary's house. Jesus had commended Mary into John's care at the cross (John 19:26).
7 Luke was a very faithful companion of Paul. At the end, shortly before Paul was executed, everyone had deserted him except Luke (2 Timothv 4:11).
The Table of Dates
|Pentecost; Birthday of the
New Testament Church
Death of Stephen and Conversion of St. Paul
Founding of Gentile Church at Antioch: Paul Summoned to Antioch by Barnabas
Death of James the Son of Zebedee
EPISTLE OF ST. JAMES
St. Paul's First Missionary Journey
EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS
St. Paul's Second Missionary Journey
St. Paul's Third Missionary Journey
St. Paul's Caesarean Imprisonment
St. Paul's Voyage to Rome
St. Paul's Roman Imprisonment
COLOSSIANS, PHILEMON, EPHESIANS, PHILIPPIANS (The Captivity Letters)
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MARK
Fire in Rome. Neronian Persecution
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. LUKE. THE BOOK OF ACTS
Fall of Jerusalem
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. JOHN'S. 1,2, 3 JOHN
REVELATION OF ST. JOHN
From The Word of the Lord Grows by Martin H. Franzmann. CPH 1961. Used by Permission.
Taken from Reading the Bible with Understanding, copyright 1999. Used by permission of Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO 63118-3968. You can order Reading the Bible with Understanding for a total of $12 by calling the Issues, Etc. resource line at 1-800-737-0172.
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