2 Peter 1:16-21
Some time ago, a popular book was written called The Da Vinci Code. It makes several claims about how the Bible came to be. It claims:
1. The people who were in power in the 4th century decided which books to canonize based on a political agenda. In the process, they excluded the books that depicted the truth about Jesus.
2. The books that we commonly call Gnostic Gospels are the books that were excluded, but they are the ones that contain the truth.
The reason I reference this book and movie is because it seems to contain a lot of the misnomers going around about how the Bible came to be. What I want to do today is help you understand how the Bible ACTUALLY came to be and what the Bible says about itself. I want to begin by sharing with you a passage of Scripture from 2 Peter 1:16-21.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter begins by reminding his readers that the stories and things he and the other apostle’s share with the believers are not just made up, but they were eye witness accounts of Jesus. In the same way, Paul believes the words he speaks to be the words of God as well. For example, he shares in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 that he is thankful for them because they accepted his words as the words of God and not as something that was devised by human hands. It is important to understand that first and foremost, the testimony passed down from the apostles was considered to be scripture or the Word of God.
Peter then goes on to say that they also have the prophetic message, which is completely reliable. He goes as far as to say that no single prophecy of Scripture was just that person’s interpretation of things, but it has it’s origins in God as the Holy Spirit carries them along. The prophetic message is what we have contained in the Old Testament. Generally speaking, the Old Testament was available to the early Christians in most the same form it is today. Peter speaks about the Old Testament the way we generally talk about the Bible today.
In Peter’s second letter, Peter goes on to include Paul’s writing as Scripture. His point in doing so is that apparently people have misunderstood Paul’s writings or they have twisted them. Peter says they are doing this just like the do “other scripture.” The picture we have forming is that by the end of the first century, we already have a group of texts and teaching that are being circulated around to the churches that are being called “Scripture.” We have the oral teachings of Jesus, which were soon written down and circulated, the Old Testament, and the writings of Paul. By the mid second Century the four gospels were already recognized as Scripture. Before the third century Acts, 1 and 2 John, Jude and Revelation were already recognized as Scripture.
Eusebius, who is was one of the early church theologians who wrote in the late 3rd and early fourth centuries gave a threefold criteria for inclusion in the Bible.
1. Usefulness to the church
2. Apostolic origins
3. Theological consistency with books that is clearly apostolic.
As you can clearly see from Scripture’s own testimony, the books of the Bible were pretty close to being finalized before the 300’s when The Da Vinci Code claimed the books of the Bible were selected. There was no political agenda or a random selection. The books which were “canonized” as official were the ones primarily being used in the first place.
The Gnostic Gospels tend to be written well after the four gospels we find in the New Testament. It is suspected that the earliest Gospel is Mark, written near 70A.D. It is believed that Matthew and Luke were written sometime after this and that they both used a copy of Mark and a document called Q which is a set of sayings that are found in Matthew and Luck, but not in Mark. Then, the gospel of John was written in the 90’s. The earliest Gnostic Gospel written was the Gospel of Thomas, which was not composed until the mid to late 100’s. This means that if one were to weigh the historical evidence, the Gnostic Gospels would be less reliable than the four accounts we have in the New Testament.
The Gnostic Gospels themselves contain material that is directly opposed to the larger teachings on the New Testament. This means that the material that most of the church used to construct its belief about God and Jesus did not match up with the teachings of the Gnostics. For example, Gnostics teach that certain people receive “special revelation” and that this is the correct knowledge. This revelation remains secrete to the world at large. The New Testament teaches the opposite. It teaches that the church is to be a light to the world and the Jesus love the whole world and revealed himself the world he loved. Gnostics also believed that the body was completely evil and spirit is completely good. The New Testament teaches that all creation is good, including the body and that God wants to redeem all of creation and restore it to its original goodness.
The Different Translations
After the Bible was officially put together, it has been translated many times and in many languages. Often when we go to the book store we look through so many different kinds of Bibles and we can easily be confused about which translation to pick. I am going to do my best to help you this morning, because my goal in this sermon is to help motivate you to go out and read your Bible or if you do not have one, for you to go out and bye one and read it.
There are essentially three types of bible translations.
1. Word for Word- NASB
2. Thought for Thought TNIV, NIV, NRSV, NLT,
3. Paraphrase- The Message, The Living Bible
The type of Bible you will need will depend on your purpose for using it. If you want a Bible that is the closest to the original wording for doing in-depth study, then a word for word transition may be best. If you want a translation that conveys the overall thought of the bible, but you can still use for a study bible, then a thought for thought translation will be good. If you want something to help you get the gist of something or help you understand the passage, then a paraphrase would be good.
Here are some warnings though: (1) I would never use a paraphrase as my study bible. I would use one as a supplemental reading to my study though. (2) Group translations are always better than single person translations because you get more than one person’s opinion on a text. (3) The study notes at the bottom of your Bible are not the bible itself and it is good to know that it may not always be correct. Here is how I use Bible translations. I use the NASB for serious bible studies. I preach from the TNIV because it is a good translation and it reads well. I use the Message sometimes as a way to give me some thoughts about how these verses could be read.
What Makes the Word, the Word?
I want to end this discussion by talking about what makes your bible the word of God. Each of the books of the Bible was written by human beings in Greek, Hebrew, or sometimes Aramaic. The books have been translated in many languages. The Bibles in front of us have been translated from Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic into English. There are so many cultural differences between the 21st century and the world the Bible was written in. What still makes them “The Word of God?”
I believe it is the same thing that Peter and Paul discovered as the taught and shared about Jesus. The story of how God brought salvation to this world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is contained in the pages of this great book. For that reason, this book will never cease to be “The Word of God” and it will never stop convicting human hearts and offering grace to a broken world. As John Wesley once said,
“I want to know one thing,” —the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book.”