Day 2, Talk 1: Doctrine of Holy Scripture

You have a Bible, we sure hope that you read it as well, but what is the Bible? Why should we read it and what if it's all wrong! Let's start with the first question, Bible Project guys come to our rescue with this amazing video.

Let's dig deeper now.


Holy Scripture


The divine inspiration and infallibility of the Holy Scripture (by which we mean the 66 books of the Bible), as originally given, and its supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct


1. Introduction

The word ‘Scripture’ means a writing or a sacred writing (2 Tim 3:16). This word is found in 52 places in the NT and in one place in the OT.


2. Revelation

Revelation is the act whereby God reveals himself to mankind. Self-revelation is the best means to know God who is infinite. In a general sense, we see two major types of revelation in the Scripture:

(i) General Revelation is where God revealed or reveals Himself through nature and other means.

(ii) Specific or Special revelation includes Jesus Christ and the Word of God i.e. the Bible i.e. the Holy Scripture.


3. The term ‘Bible’

The word Bible is derived from the Greek word ‘biblos’ meaning ‘the book’. It is also known as ‘the Writings’ or ‘the Scriptures’. The collection of all the books of the Bible was called ‘biblia’ or ‘the books’ in the 5th century. The Bible consists of two sections: The Old Testament (Testament means covenant), consisting of 39 books, and the New Testament consisting of 27 books. In the OT, the books are arranged according to the similarity of subject matter (taken from The Septuagint i.e. middle of third century BC).


The order of the books in OT are:

(i) The Pentateuch (the Law or five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)

(ii) 12 Historical books (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Songs of Solomon)

(iii) 5 books of Poetry and Wisdom (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Songs of Solomon)

(iv) 17 Prophetical books (5 major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel and 12 minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). The writing of the OT covered a span of a 1200-1400 years.


The NT books are in four groups:

(i) The 4 gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, John)

(ii) Acts of the Apostles,

(iii) 21 letters or epistles (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude) and

(iv) Revelation. These books are written within a span of 100 years.


Some basic facts about the Bible are as follows:

(i) Was primarily written in two languages: Hebrew and Greek (Jesus spoke Aramaic)

(ii) It is a library of 66 books

(iii) Was written by almost 40 different authors

(iv) Was written over a period of 1600 years from 3600 to 2000 years ago

(v) Has survived the test of time.


4. How did the Bible come to be written

Two clear statements from the NT answer this question: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophetʼs 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.” (2 Pet 1:20,21). “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). So, Bible has dual authorship: God and humans who wrote his Word.


5. Canon

In classical Greek, the word "canon" properly signifies "a straight rod," or "a carpenter's rule”. So, “the Canon of the Bible” means “a list of divinely authorized books of the Bible.” By applying this measure, only 66 books were found to be divinely inspired.

First of all, it is important to remember that certain books were canonical even before the tests were put to them. The tests only prove what is intrinsically there. In the same way, neither the Church nor Councils made any book canonical or authentic; either the book was authentic or it was not when it was written. The Church and its Councils recognized and verified certain books as the Word of God, and in time those so recognized were collected together in what we now call the Bible.


A few critical questions were asked for authorizing the books; all the answers had to be ‘yes’ for any books to be recognized as inspired:

a) Was the book written by a prophet of God? Or someone in close proximity to an Apostle?

b) Was it confirmed by acts of God? (Heb 1:1, 2:3-4)

c) Does it conform to the truth already revealed? (Dt 18:20-22)

d) Does it have the power of God to edify? (2 Tim 3:16-17)

e) Whether such a book had enjoyed continuous acceptance and usage by the early Church?


5.1 The formation of the Canon

When we speak of the ‘formation’ of the canon we actually mean the recognition of the canonical books by the church. This took time; it did not happen overnight. The Old Testament canon is based on the acceptance of the 39 books by the Jews, the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles. Even today a Jew refers to them similarly: he calls them tanach”, abbreviating the three parts - the Law =Torah, Prophets = Nevi’im, and Psalms = Ketuvim. There are 12 other books besides the 39 books, which are called Apocrypha. These were in circulation but were excluded from the OT by the Jews themselves. Their inclusion in the Catholic Bible is only from the 4th or 5th century AD. For the Jews of Jesus’ time, only the 39 books were recognized as Canon. These 12 books of Apocrypha were never accepted by the Jews or by our Lord at par with the 39 books of the OT. They were revered but were not considered as Scripture. By AD 367 the Churches to the eastern side of Mediterranean world accepted the list of 27 books of New Testament as inspired. The selection of the canon was a process that went on until each book proved its own worth by passing the tests of canonicity.


6. The divine inspiration of the Scripture

“Inspiration means the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Scripture writers which rendered an accurate record of the revelation or resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.” Scholars uphold the theory of inspiration and suggest that not just the words were inspired but the very person involved was inspired. In other words, both the writer and writings were inspired.


6.1 Modes of Inspiration

How did the Holy Spirit operate upon the minds of the writers?

(i) Mechanical or dictation: Did God dictate the words to the human authors? No!

(ii) Thought inspiration: Did God inspire the thoughts of the authors, not their words? No!

(iii) Partial inspiration: Does the Bible contain the Word of God? No!

(iv) Is it plenary (full) verbal inspiration: Yes! All Scripture is inspired by God. Plenary extends to everything in the Bible, not just parts that speak on matters of faith and practice. Verbal extends to the very words of Scripture, not just teachings. Verbal inspiration holds that God, by His Spirit, has guaranteed the authenticity and reliability of the very words that were written, without depriving the writers of their individuality.


7. The infallibility of the Scripture

The Bible tells us about a God who is infallible i.e. who cannot fail. As the ultimate author of Scripture, He has infallibly/reliably revealed himself. Literally it means not fallible or breakable, i.e., the quality of not leading people astray and fully reliable. As applied to Scripture it means, “divine quality of the inspired writings which makes them an authoritative and trustworthy guide for the believers’ life and thought.”


8. The inerrancy of the Scripture

The words “inerrancy” or “inerrant” is frequently used in association with infallible, implying the absence of error. It is the result of divine inspiration. Jesus appealed to the Bible as infallible authority. When tempted by the devil in wilderness, He quoted three times from the OT (Dt 6-8. cf. Mt 4:1-11). Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (Jn 17:17). He Himself was the truth (Jn 14:6) and told no lies. Since the Bible is perfect, it is without error. Christ teaches in Jn 10:35—”the Scripture cannot be broken”—that it is impossible that the Scripture could be wrong. We must remember the following:

  • God is truthful and therefore beyond error (Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18)

  • God is the ultimate author of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20–21)

9. As originally given

This phrase is often used to acknowledge that we do not possess the original manuscripts (autographs) of the Bible. It also reminds us of the fallibility of the transcription and translation process.


So, are the copies also inerrant or without error? The original copies of OT were written on leather or papyrus from the time of Moses (1,450 BC) to the time prophet Malachi (400 BC). Until the sensational discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, we did not possess copies of the OT earlier than AD 895. The reason for this is simply that the Jews had an almost superstitious veneration for the text which impelled them to bury copies that had become too old for use. They checked each copy carefully by counting the middle letter of pages, books and sections. Someone has said that everything countable was counted. More than 5,000 manuscripts of NT exist today, which makes the NT the best attested document in all ancient writings. Not only there are so many copies of NT in existence, but many of them are earliest copies. In additions, there are 2,000 lectionaries (Church service books containing many Scripture portions), more than 86,000 quotations of the NT in the church Fathers, Old Latin, Syriac and Egyptian translations dating from the 3rd century, and Jerome’s Latin translation (AD 400). All of these and all the scholarly works that have been done with it assure us that we possess today an accurate and reliable text of the Bible. The minor slips and inaccuracies which might have crept into the work of copyists and translators are acknowledged. But we can have every confidence that our modern Bibles very closely and for all practical purposes essentially reflect the content and the meaning of the originals.


10. Supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct

God’s authority is expressed in and through the Scripture (because the Bible conveys God’s message, it carries the same weight as God himself would command if He was speaking to us personally.) There are three possible authorities: Reason, Church (tradition) and the Bible. Reason is finite, limited and corrupted by sin. Reason has its place but cannot be a maker of doctrines. Church (tradition) may be considered God’s representative on earth; but not God himself. So, even Church traditions should not be taken to have ultimate authority over our faith and action. So, reason, experiences and the Church are not to be used as primary authorities. But they may be used as secondary authorities next to Scripture. It is an essential part of our belief that the Church can add nothing to the Bible and that all its doctrines must be tested by their fidelity to the Bible.


11. Implication

  • Read, study, meditate, obey and teach (Ps 1:2; Jos 1:8; Acts 17:11; Is 34:16); Memorise it (Ps 119:11); Tremble at it (Is 66:12); Walk in its light (Ps 119:9,105) and treasure it (Job 23:12)

  • In the Bible, God reveals salvation. God reveals Himself so that people may know Him.

  • Holy Spirit teaches through the Scripture. What the biblical text means for our lives today is something we learn only as the Spirit stirs up our consciences.

  • Scripture promotes ethics: those who believe in the authority of Scripture should be manifesting the ethical dimension of Christ-like holiness more than anyone else.

  • Scripture controls and transforms the Christian conscience.


References:

Charles C. Ryrie, “A Survey of Bible Doctrine,” Secunderabad: GS Books, 2017.

Millard J. Erickson, “Introducing Christian Doctrine,” (3rd Ed), Michigan, USA: Baker Academic, 2015.

Training Department, UESI, "An Outline of Christian Doctrines,” 2016, Unpublished Manuscript.

Wayne A. Grudem, “Systematic Theology,” Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.

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