Wednesday, March 30, 2011

About the Bible and Bible Study - Part 1

PART 1 – About the Bible    

I wanted to share some thoughts regarding the Bible and Bible study.   

There are controversies regarding the Bible and whether it is true or not (as a whole or in part), whether it is worth reading or not, whether it is a work of God or of man, and whether it can be trusted or not. 

If one follows most common, mainstream Bible teachings, the Bible will eventually seem to be full of contradictions.  Most Bible teachers will not usually straight up admit to that.  However, on one day, a person can receive a particular teaching and explanation about what is written in the Bible, and on another day, a person can be taught something that completely contradicts the teaching that came before it.  Excuses or some kind of weak pat answers are typically given to a person who asks why the Bible and God’s ways seem to be contradictory.  From my own experience, I have had plenty of such instances in my life.  And when the questions would start rolling through my mind, I would shoo them away like flies because I kept telling myself that “God’s ways aren’t my ways” and “Who am I to question God’s confusing behavior and plan?”  So I would just keep swatting away the pesky questions and try to content myself with an answer like, “That’s just the way it is, and I must accept it.”

Why does it seem like the Bible is full of contradictions or unexplainable difficulties?  Did God give us the Bible only to keep us all confused?  Did He really give us the Bible so we would know something about Him and His work and plans with mankind?  Or did He give us the Bible only to tease or confuse us? 

Is He merely teasing us by supposedly speaking double-talk such as…

“I love you always…but if you continue to reject me that will change”. 
“You can do nothing to earn my grace, except for this one little thing.” 
“My love is unconditional…except when you do this or don’t do that.” 
“Nothing can separate you from my love, except this or that.” 
“You are saved…oops, now you’re not, and it’s your fault—you made the wrong choice.” 
“I’m all-knowing, but I had no idea Adam and Eve would eat of the tree and mess it all up.”
“I’m all powerful and in control, but when you exercise your will I’m not so much”. 
“Christ death on the cross covers every sin…well, except the one of unbelief.”
“I am in control of your destiny, except when your will supersedes mine.” 
“I loved Israel, my first chosen people, but now I don’t because they are stubborn”. 
“Christ is the Ransom and Savior of all mankind…well, not quite all.” 
“It is my will that all mankind come into a realization of the truth, but your unbelieving will can overwhelm mine.”

Is that what God is really saying?  Is that Who He really is?  Can God be that weak?  Can His love be that conditional?

I do not believe so.  I am convinced that is not Who He is.  He has convinced me and shown me that He is not that way at all.

I believe the Bible to be the work of God inspiring men to write down genealogies, prophecies, historical events, and timeless truths as He directed those men to do so.  If the writings had been the work of men, they would have never written the things which revealed their own failures and fallibility.  Instead, the writings would have only touted the greatness of man instead of the greatness of God because man loves to brag about his successes and hide his failures. 

I’m not sure why God chose to entrust fallible men to write His words, but He did. 

The book we call the Bible is actually a group of ancient writings that have been collected, bound together, and translated into many languages.  I believe the Bible to be perfect and infallible in its most original writings.  However, I do not feel the same way about man’s translations of those ancient writings.  My main reasons for these feelings have to do with facts of grammar technicalities and mistranslations of some very important words.

Punctuation had no place in the original writings of the Scriptures.  The way a sentence is punctuated can thoroughly change the meaning of an idea or truth being expressed.  Numbered chapter divisions and verse subdivisions also had no part in the original writings.  These have also been added by man, and they may cause the reader to read and understand the text in a different way than if the text was flowing together without interruption.  Chapter titles and subheadings have also been added by man.  While all these items have been inserted in an effort to try to “help” people with Bible reading and study, I believe they have become a hindrance to comprehending the truth of God.  All of those additions have a great influence upon the reader and how that person understands the meaning of the words given by God.

Languages are ever “evolving”.  A word which means one thing in one period of time can evolve into a totally different connotation in the future.  For example, presently I am noticing the evolution of the word “sick”.  Sick has always meant to me that there is physical illness.  However, I have noticed that “sick” is now taking the connotation of something like “Cool!”  Instead of saying “That’s cool!” or “That’s awesome!”, I have heard people saying “That’s sick!”  I find it completely bizarre.  But such is the way languages evolve. 

When I pick up a translation of the Bible, I want to know that the translators of that particular version took extreme and utmost care in translating the Hebrew or Greek words from the ancient manuscripts into English words that correspond with what the Hebrew and the Greek words meant at the particular time when they were written.  I certainly do not want the translators’ “best guesses” or “biased personal opinions” of what the ancient words must have meant.  I don’t want a translation of a word after it may have evolved to mean something else.  I want to know that the translators searched other writings of the same ancient time period and confirmed the meaning of a particular word at the time it was originally written.

In addition to the grammatical additions and evolution of languages, we have the complexity of the ancient Greek language in which the New Testament was written.  The writings in their ancient languages can be quite complex and the merely statement of a word does not necessarily give us the whole meaning.  It is important to know in what way the Greek word was being expressed.  I go over a bit of this information in a recent post titled “The Simplicity of Salvation” where I explain a little bit about how Greek verbs have different “tenses”, “voices”, and “moods” that affect the meaning of the verb.  You cannot know the full meaning of a Greek verb unless you also understand in what tense, voice, and mood it is being expressed.

Language translations, teachings of others, traditions and creeds of men, punctuation, chapter and verse divisions, titling of chapters or verse sections, and commentary notes added in Bibles all greatly influence the way someone reads the Bible and understands the meaning of what is written and the character of God.

Does this mean we shouldn’t even bother reading a Bible or trying to study what it is teaching us?  By no means am I saying that!!  But, I firmly believe that it is of great importance to be aware of some of the things I have just mentioned.  There is no reason to read or study the Bible in ignorance or with careless assurance that everything taught in a church building by some popular pastor, written in some highly acclaimed Bible commentary, or written in the latest book that has everyone talking is the absolute and complete truth of God and about God.

To be continued in PART 2 – About Bible Study

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