There are questions that every believer wants to know about the Bible. The "what," "where," and "why" are the obvious items of interest. How, is the Bible put together? Can I trust the Bible or is it another book with good stuff? Do Christians have to read this document? This article is the second in the Bible Doctrinal Studies by Pastor Bolender at Austin Bible Church.
A study on inspiration, revelation, inerrancy, canonicity, and basic hermeneutical principles.
Prior to salvation, the unbeliever had any number of influences molding and fashioning them to the image of the world (Eph. 2:1-3). After salvation, though, the new believer is in need of being grounded in the Word of God, beginning the edification process of being transformed by the renewing of their mind (Rom. 12:2). The newborn babe must take in the pure milk of the Word (1 Pet. 2:2)st.
The believer is a new creation, “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). That believer now needs to be equipped for these works. That equipping comes through the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17), as they are communicated in a local church (Eph. 4:11-13).
The new believer must come to understand that God’s Word is 100% trustworthy and accurate (Psa. 12:6; Prov. 30:5). It is His Word, not the works of men (Lk. 1:70; Acts 1:16; 3:18,21; 4:25; 2 Pet. 1:20-21 cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). God, Himself has magnified it according to His own name (Ps. 138:2). It is therefore worthy of our devotion, and the means by which we can worship Him. Believers should strive to rightly divide the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15)nd, embracing the Whole Purpose of God (Acts 20:27), and build their understanding of Him order on order, line online, a little here and a little there (Isa. 28:13).
Inspiration and Revelation
Keep things simple—don’t begin by having a theology book or a denomination tell believers what the Bible is. The Bible tells believers what the Bible is! It is God’s message to man, revealing Himself to mankind in a way that the general revelation of creation could never do. A terrific description and definition of “revelation” comes in 1st Corinthians 2:9 (citing Isaiah). “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” The role of the Holy Spirit is to search out all things, even the depths of God, and reveal such things to believers (1 Cor. 2:10-13)st. God reveals what cannot be learned in any other non-revelatory manner.
The Bible declares itself to be the God-breathed and profitable training manual for all believers (2 Tim. 3:16-17)nd. θεόπνευστος Strongs #2315 tells us that human instruments were involved in the recording of the written word, but the source of that written record was the very breath (Spirit) of God. 2nd Peter 1:10-21 corroborates this as do over 3800 Scripture passages declaring “thus says the Lord.” These passages are the simplest way to define “inspiration.” God the Holy Spirit inspired the men He chose to write Scripture.
Strictly speaking, revelation and inspiration no longer occur today. The business of writing Scripture ended in 96AD with the completion of the Book of Revelation by the Apostle John. Believers who study the Bible today will have things from the Scripture revealed to them by the Holy Spirit, but no special revelation will be given beyond what the written Scripture contains.
The new believer needs to understand that the Bible is the work of God and not man. Only God Himself can possibly be the Author of the Bible. Given that the 66 Books which comprise the Bible were composed over a span of 1600 years, no single human being could have lived long enough to produce it. Just as certain—no multiple human beings over such time could have coordinated such a singular message woven throughout the entire Bible. In the case of the Bible, over 40 human authors contributed to the Bible in three different languages. These authors in many ways couldn’t have been more different. Shepherds, herdsmen, priests, kings, doctors, lawyers, fishermen, soldiers, carpenters, & musicians were among the human authors that God worked through to produce His written testimony.
Only God Himself with Omniscience & Foreknowledge could have written such a prophetic work. At least one-fifth of the Bible was, at the time it was written, an anticipation of the future (prophetic). Believers today may overlook this important matter, because to a 21st-century believer, much of the prophetic content of the Bible has already been fulfilled. There is still a great deal left unfulfilled (yet future), but the total amount of the Bible that was prophetic when it was given is largely overlooked.
One example here, out of literally thousands, will suffice to illustrate the prophetic nature of the Bible. In 539BC the prophet Daniel delivered a prophecy pertaining to a decree that a coming king would make for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Daniel declared that after the completion of 483 years after that king’s decree Messiah the Prince would be cut off and have nothing (Dan. 9:24-27). 95 years later, on March 5, 444BC Nehemiah recorded the Persian King Artaxerxes’ decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Neh. 2:1-8).
Now, don’t get side-tracked by using a 365.24219879 day per year calendar (365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 45.975 seconds per year). Daniel used a 360-day calendar in his prophecies (Dan. 7:24-25; 12:7), and when correlated with the Apostle John’s Book of Revelation (Rev. 11:2,3; 12:6,14; 13:5) the 360 day year is sometimes referred to as a “prophetic year.” The 483 prophetic years amount to a little over 476 solar (calendar) years, from 444BC to 33AD.
Now, 69 7-year periods of 360 days equal 173,880 days. Beginning on March 5, 444BC, and counting 173,880 days brings us to March 30 (Nisan 10), 33AD. This was the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Four days later, on April 3, 33AD (Nisan 14, Passover) Jesus Christ was crucified. Messiah the Prince was indeed “cut off.”
This is simply one out of thousands of places where Divine prophecy has been given in Scripture and recorded by both later Scripture and secular history. Only God could compose such a prophetic work. “I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isa. 46:9-10).
Some have pointed to the Bible for its unique description of humanity. Of all the world’s religions, only Christianity as taught in the Bible accurately depicts mankind’s lost estate and total need for Divine substitutionary atonement and redemption. Only the Bible communicates a significant meaning of life or purpose for human existence. Every other present or past religious text in the world has reflected Satanic kosmos wisdom in one way or another. Only the Bible accurately presents the Divine viewpoint, even as it exposes Satanic kosmos wisdom for what it is!
over the millennia to transform the lives of those who study it. This evidence may be anecdotal, but it is so universal as to be undeniable.
The new believer may come under angelic attack and be exposed to other so-called books of the Bible. Maybe they’ll get ahold of a Catholic Bible and find some extra books in there. Do Tobit and Judith really belong in between Nehemiah and Esther? What about 1st & 2nd Maccabees? Why doesn’t the Pastor’s Bible have the Book of Wisdom or Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), or Baruch?
A full study on Canonicity, manuscript transmission, and textual criticism is rightly reserved for advanced Bible studies. Pastors, scholars, and other serious students of God’s Word will at some point examine the complete spectrum of history, archaeology, and language research. A basic overview, though, is essential for the new believer in order for them to confidently take hold of their modern Bibles as the faithful provision of God’s Word.
Canonicity can be examined subjectively and objectively. Subjectively, Canonicity refers to the “rule” or “standard” utilized by man in recognizing God’s legitimate Books of the Bile and rejecting illegitimate books claiming to be Scripture. κανών Strongs #2583: a means to determine the quality of something; rule, standard. (Latin cănon). Objectively, a Book’s legitimacy is determined by God Himself. If He wrote it, it is God-breathed and therefore Scripture.
“A book is not the Word of God because it is accepted by the people of God. Rather, it was accepted by the people of God because it is the Word of God” (Norman Geisler). Jesus Christ’s use of the phrase “It is written” declares the authoritative nature of the Canon of Scripture (Matt. 4:4,7,10). “It is written” denotes Divine Authority as Scripture certainly is.
The human Authors selected to record the God-breathed written Word of God were provided Divine offices and gifts in order to affirm their authenticity. Miracles were evidence of their Divine authority. Old Testament Prophets were held to a perfect 100% standard. One false prophecy marked a false prophet. From Moses to Malachi, the human authorship of Old Testament Books was entrusted to Prophets, or those scribes associated with Prophets in their ministry (Jos. Contra Apion 1.8). Inspired writings were considered sacred and kept by the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 31:24-26), and eventually kept preserved in the Temple (2 Kgs. 22:8).
The Church had no such central “archive” or holy place to keep every Gospel and Epistle. The New Testament Books were written by Apostles, or those scribes associated with Apostles in their ministry (Mark, taught by Peter; Luke, taught by Paul). Like the Old Testament Prophets, the Apostles were granted signs and wonders and miracles to establish their Scripture writing credentials (2 Cor. 12:12)nd. Each Book was received by its respective audience, copied and distributed to other local churches, and spread throughout the world in that manner (Col. 4:16).
Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. Being the work of the perfect God, they are perfect in every way (Matt. 5:48; Jms. 1:17). The original documents penned by the human authors of Scripture are called Autographs. They were perfect in every way from the day in which they were written under Divine Inspiration. Copies of those manuscripts, being the product of human activity are subject to human error. Copies of copies of original manuscripts are vulnerable to repeating previous errors as well as making entirely new errors. Copies of copies of copies . . . well, you get the idea.
The art and science of Textual Criticism is the process by which manuscripts are assembled, collated, and compared. Differences between manuscripts are identified, recorded, analyzed, and classified. These differences are called text variants. Scribal errors crept in through the centuries, and yet the types of errors that were made are most often easy to observe. Haplography, dittography, metathesis, fusion, fission, homophony, & homoeoteleuton are among the classifications of unintential scribal errors.
One remarkable advantage to having thousands of manuscripts with hundreds of thousands of text variants is that human error can be recognized, identified, and remedied. In other words, all of the variant readings provide all of the evidence necessary to overcome the shortcomings of human error and confidently refer to “the original text” of the Bible. Believers separated from Moses by nearly 3500 years can be assured that their copies of Genesis are accurate copies and translations of the very words that God breathed through His instrument Moses.
The study of interpretation is known as Hermeneutics. This term comes from the Greek verb ἑρμηνεύω Strongs #2059 meaning to translate, to interpret. This verb is found in John 1:42; 9:7; and Hebrews 7:2. The nouns ἑρμηνεία Strongs #2058 translation, interpretation and ἑρμηνευτής interpreter also appear in the New Testament.
Intermediate and advanced principles of interpretation are properly taught in more intermediate and advanced Bible studies. Nevertheless, as with Canonicity, certain basic principles should be given to the brand new believer. These foundational principles will keep the new believer from making some very serious mistakes as the foundations of their understanding are being established.
The basic principles of interpretation are easy enough to learn, and also simple to observe. When a Pastor or other Bible teacher departs from sound hermeneutics, the student can identify that departure quite easily. Such training and practice will make even the baby believer “noble-minded” and able to search the Scriptures and see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). Examining the Scriptures is the absolute and objective standard for validating a spoken Bible message. There must therefore be an absolute and objective method for interpreting and understanding the written Bible message.
Dr. Clinton Lockhart presented fifteen hermeneutical axioms in his work Principles of Interpretation. One such axiom serves to summarize the entire concept of Biblical interpretation. “The true object of interpretation is to apprehend the exact thought of the author.” Simply put, any particular passage may potentially be taken any number of different ways, but it was actually given by One specific Author with His precise intent.
Perhaps the easiest way to present Hermeneutics on a basic level is to begin with the obvious. The form of communication determines the means of interpretation. God chose to reveal Himself to human beings in the form of written communication. In this written communication He employed human languages. Appropriate interpretation of God’s Word involves linguistic study. Universally recognized laws of language must apply to the Bible as they would apply to any other written communication in order for the thoughts of the One speaking to be properly conveyed.
Now, don’t get the wrong impression here. The Bible is not like any other book in the history of the universe. It is Divine Revelation and unique in its origin, transmission, preservation, and application. Keeping all that in mind, the Bible is nevertheless a written communication composed through the medium of human languages. The form God chose to employ in transmitting His thoughts determined the method and means by which the recipients of His communication must employ in receiving and understanding His thoughts.
So, to state the obvious here: the Bible means what it says and says what it means. The nature of language itself demands that we approach the Bible on this basis. Obviosity must also address the thoughts behind the words. Dr. Clinton Lockhart also stated quite well: “The true object of speech is the impartation of thought.” Keeping things obvious the baby believer can recognize that the words of the Bible impart the thoughts of God. “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16)st. “Thinking” is also a sphere which demands a particular science for interpretation. The science of the formal principles of reasoning is called “logic.” Since the Bible communicates via human languages it must be interpreted linguistically. Since the Bible communicates God’s thinking it must be interpreted logically.
This doesn’t mean that every Bible class is a dissertation on logic, but it helps the student of God’s Word to keep logical principles in his mind as he approaches the text. Oh, what a favor the believer does for himself when he approaches God’s Word logically rather than emotionally! Logically, we can appreciate that the Bible can serve to interpret Itself. The laws of affirmation and non-contradiction help us to understand that Truth is absolutely true. God designed us to think and communicated His thoughts to us. Therefore all of our approaches to Bible study should follow appropriate methods of inductive and deductive logical study.
Two obvious axioms: handle language linguistically, and handle thoughts logically. Now, with these two obvious matters out of the way, we can proceed with four general rules for hermeneutics. These come from Rollin Thomas Chafer, The Science of Biblical Hermeneutics.
1. Interpret grammatically; with due regard to the meaning of words, the form of sentences, and the peculiarities of the idiom in the language employed.
2. Interpret according to context. The meaning of a word will often be modified by the connexion in which it is used.
3. Regard the scope or design of the book itself or some large section in which the words and expressions occur.
4. Compare Scripture with Scripture.
Intermediate and advanced studies in Hermeneutics will take the believer into a more detailed understanding of these two obvious axioms and four general rules. Some final thoughts here will serve to give the baby believer things to chew on and consider as they embark on their life-long study of God’s Word. Interpreting grammatically sometimes runs into some snags. The snags come when Bible interpreters encounter figurative language and don’t handle it appropriately.
“The literature of all lands and tongues abounds in figurative language. The Scriptures are no exception to this universal fact” (R.T. Chafer, ibid). Figurative language can include allegories, parables, types, and symbols. Additionally, some literal terms can be employed metaphorically, metonymically, or synecdochically. Do you see why these matters are withheld to more advanced studies? E.W. Bullinger wrote a tremendous work entitled Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. In this work, Bullinger designated over 200 distinct figures of speech found in the Bible. Several of these have from 30 to 40 varieties. Many figures of speech have duplicate names, so the total number of terms employed in describing figures of speech exceeds 500 different names.
Figurative language is effective in the way it is designed to be taken, but it is also subject to misunderstanding (misinterpretation) if it is not taken in the manner in which it is designed. Tremendous damage can be done if a Bible student takes a figurative passage literally. Likewise, the damage is done if a literal passage of Scripture is taken figuratively. The simple way for a baby believer to handle the Bible is this. Handle a parable like a parable. Handle an allegory as an allegory. Handle symbolism (such as an apocalyptic passage) as symbolism. Don’t force an allegory into a non-allegorical text. Don’t force symbolism into a non-symbolic text.
This is a red flag warning for believers against false teaching through inaccurate Bible interpretation. When a teacher starts to proclaim a figurative meaning for a text that gives no indication of being figurative, then sound hermeneutics have been abandoned. When the plain sense makes sense don’t look for any other sense.