In the previous lesson, we looked at the very interesting history and background of the Bible and noted all of the interesting events that have shaped it through time. We begin this lesson by asking a very important question, “Why should we study the Bible?”
Most of us already know about the Bible and the special story it contains. We know that the Bible introduces us to God, the Father, and helps us understand his character, ways, and his special plans for us. The Bible also tells us about God’s special son, Jesus Christ, and how he was sent to the earth on a special mission to save mankind through his death on a cross. It is also from the pages of the Bible that we learn about the history of the universe. However, perhaps the most important thing we learn from the Bible is God’s answer to life’s most basic and important questions, “Where did I come from?”, “Why am I here?”, and of course, “Where am I going?” Without these answers where would we be?
Many people today do not believe that the Bible is so important. They believe that the Bible is just another ordinary book that deserves no special recognition. From what we saw in our previous lesson, it should be easy to see that the Bible is anything but ordinary! Since there is so much controversy over the matter, let us investigate further and see what we can find.
We have already discovered that there were approximately 40 different people who wrote the 66 books of the Bible, but were these people really the true authors of the books they wrote? We will look at some passages from the Bible that might give us an explanation about this matter.
Let us begin our search by looking at how Jesus thought of himself and his own authority. (Please read Matthew 28:18.)1 Please notice how ALL AUTHORITY was given to him IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH. During his earthly life, Jesus began the process of revealing the teachings of what we now call the New Testament. The first four books, more commonly known as “the Gospels”, give us a detailed account of his travels and teachings. We should obey Jesus’ teachings because they are actually the teachings he received from his Father in heaven and passed along to us. (To understand more about this point please stop and read what Jesus said about his teachings in John 7:16-17; 8:28-29; 12:48-49; and 14:10-11.) Did you notice how Jesus was careful to point out that he had no authority in himself, but that all the things he did and taught were the things that his Father wanted? The authority behind Jesus work and teachings was always God!
Now let us turn to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Most Bibles will read something like, “All SCRIPTURE2 is INSPIRED by GOD.” If you will remember our last lesson, you might recall how we mentioned that the New Testament was originally written in the Greek language. In verse 16 of this passage, where most English Bibles have the word “inspired” the original Greek language literally says that all scripture is “God-breathed”. The meaning of this word simply carries the idea that the Bible comes to us from God and NOT from men.
This is a very important point because since it is FROM GOD then the scripture is a useful tool for us! The writer here continues to develop his thought by listing several things the scripture is useful for. First, he says that it is useful for teaching. Then he mentions reproof – which is a word that means showing someone what is wrong in their life or refuting errors people might teach. Next, he says that it is useful for correcting – which means making something that is wrong to become correct again or helping people improve themselves. Next, he mentions the instruction/discipline in the way of justice3. Once he completes his list, he ends the thought by indicating that all of these things are true for a purpose, “So that the person who belongs to God might be completely ready, being completely equipped for any good work.” If we summarize everything that is said we find that the Bible comes from God, it is useful for us, and that if we have it then we are completely equipped to serve God! Moreover, please do not forget that the only reason why the Bible accomplishes all of this in our lives is because it comes from God and not from man!
This same idea is also found in the passage, 2 Peter 1:20-21. Here the topic of discussion is “prophecy”. When the Bible speaks of prophecy, it has a different meaning than most of us think of when we hear the word today. When we hear this word, we usually think of someone making predictions about the future. “Prophecy”, as it is used in the Bible, simply means, “a message which comes from another person.” This message is usually delivered by a person who acts as a “spokesperson”. The Bible refers to these spokespersons as “prophets”. Therefore, prophets are simply people who deliver messages that come from other people. It is important to know that prophets do not make up their messages. They receive their messages. They speak only what they receive! This is very similar to what a “Press Secretary” does for the President of a country. The job of the Press Secretary is to pass along messages from the President to the people. He does not have the authority to make up messages. Whatever the President tells him to say, he says!
This is the main point Peter is making here in this passage. He states that “written prophecy” (his point would apply the same whether the message was written or spoken) never came about as the result of what the prophet wanted to say. Instead, he explains that God (through the Holy Spirit) guided the minds of the prophets and gave them the messages that he wanted them to speak and write. Therefore, when we read the written message from God today, we should not simply read it and tell or teach what we think it means. We must study it carefully until we can understand what God meant to say and then tell and teach that message to others. We should never teach our opinions in place of God’s true message!
God used prophets in much the same way as you and I use writing instruments, like ballpoint pens or pencils, in our lives today! Therefore, although we might say that there were about 40 different people who wrote the books of the Bible, there is really only one true author for the Bible message and that is God! He made the message and placed it in the minds of his prophets, who in turn, spoke it and wrote it for the people. Understanding this point explains how it is possible for there to be 1500 years, 40 different writers, several different languages, in different places, and yet there are no contradictions!
Even though it was different individuals who did the writing of all the books the thoughts and teachings contained within the books themselves came from the same ONE source!
God took his message and delivered it into the minds of the people that he used as his “spokespersons” through the actions and work of the Holy Spirit
God used various people to speak and write his message, but these people never created the ideas and teachings of the Bible. They were “spokespersons”, passing along exactly what they received from the Lord
The result of this process was the book we study, which contains a written record of the complete message we have from God. We study it in order to KNOW what God wants us to do
This is not some modern theory of ours. There is evidence that the New Testament Christians believed that the teachings they received from their different teachers did not originate from the minds of their teachers. Consider what we read in 1 Thessalonians 2:13. The writer praises these people because they believed that those teachings came from God and this is why, today, we also believe that the Bible is the word of God!
This is another very good and important question. Almost everyone is familiar with the fact that there is an Old Testament and a New Testament inside the Bible. Please get a Bible right now and find the place that divides between the two testaments. Notice how the Old Testament is much thicker than the New Testament. What exactly IS a testament? If we look in a dictionary, we discover that “testament” is a word that was commonly used in Old English and it referred to an agreement made between two or more persons. Perhaps the most common word in modern English for such an agreement would be “contract”. Therefore, if we apply this modern word to our discussion about the two parts of the Bible, we find that there are two contracts in the Bible—an OLD contract and a NEW contract! While this wording might sound a strange, it is an accurate translation of the word! The Bible message explains many things about these agreements, which we will learn as we advance through our studies.
Please turn to the passage, Hebrews 1:1-2, and read it carefully. This passage tells us about God speaking to mankind. The writer of this book mentions different times, and different messages from God, and different prophets that were used by him. In the ancient times of the Bible, God spoke to a certain group of people, whom the writer calls “our ancestors”4, and God spoke a message to them through people the writer called “prophets”. Then the writer makes a contrasting point and indicates that in a different time, “these last days”—which was the time in which the writer and the people he was writing to were living—and through a different prophet (his son, Jesus Christ), God gave another (second) message.
|"God speaks to mankind"|
|2 different messages|
|the first message||the second message|
|the old times||the last times|
|through the prophets||through the SON|
|for the JEWS||for ALL people|
What does this mean? If we understand the writer correctly, it seems that there are actually TWO different messages from God contained in the Bible! They are different in several ways. Perhaps the diagram on the left will help illustrate what the writer is trying to say.
If we give a little thought to what he is saying, we will recognize that the first message is what we usually refer to as the “Old Testament” and, if we understand the writer’s point correctly, that message was only for the Jewish ancestors of the ancient times. The Old Testament is not the message in which God speaks to us today! The writer continues by saying that the message that is for us today is the second one—which would be the New Testament. This is the message where we find the teachings of Christ. (We will expand a lot more on this point as we progress through this study course.)
Isn’t this an interesting point? Do not worry because there is much more study yet to come!
All right, let us explore a follow-up question. “If the teachings of the Old Testament are not considered as OUR MESSAGE from God, today, then why is the Old Testament included inside of our Bibles?” Once again, we will go to the Bible to look for the answer. Please turn to Romans 15:4. This book was written to people who were Christians and it explains many things about their faith. Here in this passage, the writer speaks to them about things that were “written before”. If you consider carefully what the writer is saying in all of chapter 15, you can understand that he is referring to the Old Testament because the Old Testament was the only Scripture that was written down and collected together at that time. While the teachings of the New Testament existed at that time in spoken form, they were not written down until the middle and end of the 1st century. Therefore, the reference here to “things written” could only refer to the writings of the Old Testament. What does he say about those writings? He tells his readers that those writings that were written in the OLD TIMES were written as EXAMPLES for OUR instruction. This is interesting, don’t you think? He says that the Old Testament is for Christians too!
Another passage speaks on this same topic. Please turn to 1 Corinthians 10:6-12. Although similar to the previous passage, this one goes on to explain things more fully. The writer says that we can know if God is pleased with us by comparing our lives to the examples of all those people we read about in the Old Testament. If we do the same things that they did, then we will receive the same response from God that they did. Therefore, the main purpose of the Old Testament today is to teach us through the examples of the people we read about in the stories found there! However, we do not go directly to the teachings of the Old Testament for our specific instructions from God today. God gave his specific instructions for Christians in his second message. The New Testament teachings of Jesus are OUR message of instruction from God for today! We must apply the examples of the people we read about in the Old Testament, how they reacted to THEIR OWN message, as we consider what we will do with our message from God. If we choose to do the same thing they did then we will receive the same result!
This is another very common and important question in the minds of many students. To find an answer we need to do a little historical research into the giving of the New Testament message in order to build upon a point that we discovered back in the first passage of this lesson; 2 Timothy 3:17. There, it was mentioned that a person having the scripture (Bible), “is completely ready, being completely equipped for any good work.” That seemed to be the conclusion being taught in early Christianity as the time of the New Testament was ending and the final books were being written. From other parts of our lesson material today, we know that the second message was supposed to be delivered by Jesus because he is God’s son and it was said that the second message was to be delivered from God through his son! Therefore, since so much of the message depends upon Jesus, the answer to our question needs to begin with look at his life and teaching history.
By comparing secular history to the details we find mentioned in the story of Jesus, we learn that he was born somewhere around the year 4 to 6 BC. (Please note the diagram below.) From that point forward, we know very little about his childhood and teenage years. We know that he grew up in much the same way as other boys of his time. He had parents who took care of him and he learned his father’s trade—carpentry. The Bible tells us that from the time he was about thirty (Luke 3:23) he traveled from place to place teaching people about the Kingdom of God. During his third year of teaching, the Jews had him arrested and crucified on the cross. However, the Bible says that Jesus rose from the grave and returned to heaven, where he waits today for the time when he will come back down here for a second time. If we look carefully at that period of time we find some very interesting things to consider about the message Jesus came to deliver from his Father and the completeness of that message.
Please turn to John 16:12-15 and read it carefully. If we look at the surrounding verses, we discover that Jesus was speaking to his disciples about his upcoming death and return to heaven. All at once, he makes a very remarkable statement. He states that even though he came to deliver teachings from God he would not be able to deliver ALL of the teachings of the second message personally. Wow!
However, did you notice how Jesus continues his explanation by saying that after he is gone, God will send the Holy Spirit to them, and that the Spirit will guide them to the complete truth?6 There is no way we can be confused about the point here because the original Greek language literally says that the Spirit will guide the disciples, “in every truth”7. This is an important point because some people today try to say that this verse simply teaches that whatever the Spirit reveals will be the truth (as opposed to being false), but the point is very different. Jesus first said that the message will be incomplete when he leaves to go back to heaven and that the Spirit will deliver the remaining portion of the second message direct to these disciples, and, after they have received this remaining portion, then the second message will be complete. Please notice how Jesus carefully states that the Spirit will not bring something new, rather, the Spirit will take Christ’s message and give that to them. Therefore, we learn that one of the main works of the Spirit will be the continuation of the message Jesus started and that work will end once the remaining portion of the message is delivered.
Not long after Jesus spoke these words, he was killed, rose from the dead, and returned to heaven. If we turn to the book of Acts and read chapter 2, we read about the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of Christ’s disciples. This coming was the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to them in John 16 and it was after this time that the disciples went out into the world teaching and preaching the message of Jesus. About thirty years later one of these disciples, the apostle Paul, while writing to a young missionary, named Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:17, indicates that a person possessing the scripture is “complete, equipped for every good work”8. If something is considered to be complete, then is it lacking anything? Of course not, and so we should be able to assume that by the time Paul wrote Timothy, whatever was lacking in the second message when Jesus left, had been given!
(If you look back at the timeline diagram on the previous page, you will notice the last portion of the first 100 years has an area marked “WARNINGS!” This section explains.)
With the point of 2 Timothy 3:17 in mind, let us consider some additional evidence on the topic before we make any conclusions Please find and read 1 Corinthians 4:6. This book is actually a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a group of Christians living in the Greek city of Corinth. If we begin reading this book in chapter 1, we would find that the situation in Corinth was filled with disunity. All through chapters 2 and 3, the writer tried to reason with his people, telling them in many ways, that all Christians must have unity both in thinking and in teaching. The passage we are interested in, here in chapter 4, is part of a summary placed at the end of a section – perhaps as a closing thought on the matter. Note how the writer’s advice for these people includes the principle of “not going beyond that which has been written”. Even though at that time in history, the complete collection of our 27-book New Testament was not yet in existence, most of the books had already been written and were being circulated among the Christians in different places—as individual “letters”. However, enough of the message had evidently been completed and written down. How else could the writer here tell his people that instead of relying upon one person or another’s ideas, they should establish a unity among themselves based upon a common submission to that which had been written? The point we must consider is this. The only way that the writer’s statement would make any sense is IF, by the time he wrote that statement, all of the things that were lacking in the message when Jesus left had been revealed. If it were complete then a completed and recorded message would be the basis for establishing unity among all the Christians. IT would become the authority!
Another passage we need to consider is Galatians 1:3-9. It forms the introduction to a letter that was written to Christians living in several towns located in the same geographical region. Once again, we should notice that there seems to be a problem with unity in these places. Evidently, according to what the writer says, there were actually people going around in these areas (and most likely other areas as well) changing the original teachings of Christianity! It also seems evident that many good Christian people were being confused by these teachers. The writer tells the readers not to accept any teaching that disagrees with the original teachings they received when the writer first visited them and taught them about Christianity. Let us think very carefully about this. The people were being asked to take the original teachings they had received and use them to compare with any new things they might hear. They were told to reject anything that did not agree with those original teachings. How could they be asked to do this unless those original teachings they received were both true and complete? Logic would demand this!
We should also consider 2 John 9-11. The time of this writing is at least 10 years later than our two previous passages and the situation in Christianity had become very discouraging. Aside from persecution, there was a very widespread movement of people claiming to be Christians but who were spreading wrong teachings! In this very short letter, the apostle John9 writes a very strong warning about what “truth” and “lies” really are, and, how genuine believers should respond to those who do not teach the truth. Notice how he speaks of the “teaching of Christ” and says that ANYONE who does not remain faithful to this teaching does not have God! Then notice how he adds a second warning when he states that Christians should not even welcome ANYONE who does not bring this teaching, and, that welcoming such a teacher would make them a partner with his evil works! Therefore, we see that at that time, delivering teachings that were different from Christ’s was considered to be an evil work. The point here is the same as in the previous passages we have studied in this section. The readers were being asked to compare what they had received in the beginning of their faith to anything new they might hear from new teachers. If anything these new teachers might say turned out to be different from the original teachings then they were told to reject both the teachings AND the teachers! The only way this could be possible would be if the original teachings they received were the complete teachings of Christ!
These passages have several things in common.
Without a doubt, this is a very serious matter! Please remember that the only way these warnings would make any sense at all to the original readers, and, influence them to be extra careful would be if a couple of things had to be true:
Otherwise, if the truth was not yet complete when the Christians received the above-cited letters, how could they determine the difference between a true teaching and a false teaching? A visitor could teach something different from what they had originally heard and then simply claim to be “under the guidance of the Spirit just like Jesus promised” and thus explain that they were giving the people a NEW TEACHING from God. From the passages we just studied, it seems likely that this was actually happening all over the Christian world at that time and the true apostles were concerned enough about the problem to issue warnings indicating that the REAL TRUTH was already complete and that no one should change it or stop following it!
With this in mind, here is a very important point to consider regarding what we see happening today. Many religious groups today claim to receive special guidance, enlightenment, or illumination from God through the Holy Spirit. Some even go so far as to say that a person cannot truly understand the Bible unless they are guided by the Holy Spirit. Most who make these claims will turn to passages like John 16:12-15 and use the promise Jesus made as justification for their claiming this special guidance. We often hear this claim given as a reason why we should accept their teachings and join their groups—because they believe that they are truly receiving DIRECT guidance from God himself!
The first point we need to consider is this. If the promise Jesus made in John 16 applies to our time, then that would mean that the message which Jesus left unfinished would also have to be considered “unfinished” in our time. The reason is simple. Jesus made that promise of guidance for a specific purpose. That purpose was so that his people would receive the remainder of the teachings of the second message that he was not able to give personally while he was alive. He was about to leave and the message was not yet complete. He promised that after he left, the message would be completed. He promised that this completion would happen by means of special guidance that the ones he was speaking to would receive after he left. This means that once the message would be completed then the promise would be considered fulfilled. If the promise was fulfilled in that time then it no longer applies to us. Therefore, the question of whether or not we can receive this promised guidance today is connected to the question of whether the second message is completed or not. If the message is now complete then there is no more promise. If we say that the promise applies to us, then that means the second message is still not complete. It cannot be both ways because Jesus told us the purpose of the guidance –to complete the message he started. We have just seen evidence that the ones who were guided by the Holy Spirit in the time of the New Testament believed that the message was completed in their lifetime. How then could we say that the message is not complete today when we KNOW that the message was completed during the lifetime of those Jesus made the promise to? If that promise Jesus made has been fulfilled then it does not apply to those of us living today!
To claim guidance and to receive such guidance are two different matters. Let us consider a very simple illustration. We know that it is a common practice today among religious minded people to ask God for spiritual guidance at the beginning of a Bible study. Through sincere prayer people ask the Lord for guidance to truth, and when the study time is over, the participants depart believing sincerely that the results and conclusions they made during their study time are true because they believe that during the study the Holy Spirit was guiding their minds. However, how can we be certain that guidance from the Holy Spirit actually happened? How can we know? Is there any way to prove whether this guidance has happened?
Consider the following observation. When we examine the conclusions of one of these study groups today, and then compare them to the conclusions of other similar study groups, who are also asking God for this guidance, do we always see an identical set of teachings that leads to a unity of believers? No, we do not! In fact, as we pointed out at the beginning of this course, most religious groups believe and teach different things, even though many CLAIM that their teachings come direct from God through Holy Spirit guidance! This observation proves that something is not right! If all the groups who pray for and claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit are in fact being guided by the same one Holy Spirit that guided the original Christians, then should not ALL of the groups today receive exactly the same guidance, no matter what country they are in or what language they speak? In addition, should not that truth they receive today ALWAYS be the same truth that was originally revealed by the Holy Spirit during the time of the original disciples? If this guidance is taking place today and if it is from the SAME Spirit, and if he is revealing the SAME message, then all groups today should receive the same message, and, all groups today should receive the same message that was given to the original Christians.
How can we determine if a group of people claiming to be true Christians today is in fact teaching true Christianity? If the message for today is the same message as that which was given in the time of original Christianity, and if that message is the one contained inside the pages of the Bible, then all we have to do is listen to the claims of people today and compare those teachings to the ones we find in the Bible. If the teachings of the groups agree exactly with the teachings of the Bible then they are teaching true Christianity and they are TRUE CHRISTIANS. However, if their teachings and practices are not exactly the same then they are not! While that may sound judgmental, it really is not. After all, can a person CLAIM to be a Christian, and not follow the teachings of Christ? Is there more than one set of teachings that come from Christ? The warnings we studied earlier show us that there is not. Therefore, those warnings about not following anything different than what was originally revealed by Christ and his Apostles applies to us in exactly the same way it did to the original believers!
Considering all of the difficulties we face, and especially with all of the confusing teachings around us, we need to follow the example of the people mentioned in Acts 17:10-12. Please take time to stop and read about them. Those people are very good examples of the proper attitude each one of us ought to have about “religion”. Those people never accepted anything they were told until they first examined the scriptures to make certain that what the teachers were saying was true. This is how we must be today…because…it DOES make a difference what we believe and practice!
We are now at the end of Lesson 2 and we hope that you can now see that the Bible is truly no ordinary book. It has a special origin and an equally special purpose in our lives. In it, we are given the answers to all of life’s problems, but we must remember that it comes to us from God and, because of that, we must be very careful how we use it. Used in a right way, the Bible can lead us to a full and happy relationship with God. However, used in a wrong way, it will become the source of confusion and death!
1 When you see a Bible passage written down, the first number on the left refers to the chapter. For example, the passage in our text refers to the book of Matthew and the twenty-eighth chapter. When you are looking inside a book of the Bible, the chapter numbers are found in large dark print. In addition to the chapter reference, the number that follows after the colon (:) is the verse or verses inside of the chapter that we need to find. If there are a series of verses the starting number will appear first, then a dash mark, followed by the ending verse in the series. In the passage from Matthew listed in the lesson material above, we are interested in locating verse 18. When looking inside a book of the Bible, the verse numbers appear in very small sized print and so you might have to look carefully. Chapter and verse numbers were not included in the original Bible. They were added many years later in order to help people like us more easily find passages!
2 The Bible is not called “the Bible” in the verses found inside it. Instead, the original languages call it “scripture”, which is a word that simply means “writings”. The word “Bible” came to be used as a title for God’s message many years after Christianity began.
3 Most Bibles contain the word “righteousness” in this place, but the original word found in the text is the word that the Greek people commonly used for our word “justice”. So think of “justice” whenever you see the word “righteousness”.
4 The writer of the book of Hebrews was a Christian who possibly came from a Jewish background. When he speaks here of “ancestors” he is referring to the ancient Jews who lived during the time of the Old Testament.
5 A timeline is a line representing the passing of time. Earlier time starts on the left end and later times are found as we move to the right. We can place marks on the line to represent different events that happened during the time period. Once these events are marked, we have a picture showing how things happened and this often helps us to better understand things. Our timeline here begins with the birth of Jesus, which happened in about 4-6 BC, and ends at the year 100 AD.
6 For more information on the coming of the Holy Spirit, you might also want to read John 14:25-26.
7 The Greek text here reads “εν τη αληθεια πάση.” This phrase literally translates “in the every truth”.
8 This wording is found in the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible.
9 By this time, John was probably the only surviving member of the original 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ.
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