Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: The Bible

The origin of the Bible

[This is an attempt to write a Bible study lesson for twelve to fourteen year old children. I invite you to read it and tell me what you think. All helpful criticism, comments and suggestions are welcome.]

People who do not have a system of writing pass on their history from generation to generation by story telling. They sit around a campfire in the evening, or in a warm lodge during the winter months, old and young together, and the storyteller recounts a story from their history. The storyteller knows the old ones have heard these stories hundreds of times and they are so firmly fixed in their minds that he dare not change even one little detail. This is called oral history and it is as reliable as written history.

The book of Genesis is oral history that was later written down. During the whole time period covered by Genesis storytelling was the only means of recording history. Some other peoples developed systems of recording events through the use of pictographs. Pictographs use symbols that represent birds, animals, flowers, trees and people to tell a story. Such a system cannot record all the details found in oral history.

The first chapter of Genesis is not like the oral history of the rest of the book. It is an eyewitness account, but there were no people to see what was happening in those first six days. The only one who could have provided these details is God Himself.

How did this get put into writing? We have no description of how it happened, but we know that the Hebrew alphabet was the first phonetic alphabet. There is no record of any such alphabet, no written history, no written law, before Moses went up the mountain and spent forty days with God. When Moses came down from the mountain he had the ten commandments written in a phonetic alphabet. It is logical to think that this is when he began the task of putting the book of Genesis into writing and that God revealed to him the details of events that had no human witnesses.

A phonetic alphabet uses symbols to represent each sound that makes up a word. This made it possible to record oral history word for word. The Greeks took the Hebrew alphabet and changed the shapes of the letters. The Romans changed the shapes again to give us the alphabet we now use. The word alphabet comes from the names of the first two letters. In Hebrew they were Aleph and Bet. In Greek they were called Alpha and Beta.

Now the people of God had a system for recording their history, their poetry and the words of their prophets. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Through the centuries that followed God inspired other men to write events and prophecies so that they would be preserved for future generations. This is history that we can trust.

Look up the verses and write in your own words how you would explain them to someone else.

1. Exodus 20:4-6.
How would it have been possible to teach this with pictographs that were themselves a likeness of things on the earth?

2. Joshua 1:8.
Why should we read the Bible?

3. Luke 1:1-4.
Luke was a careful historian. He checked his information, gave the names of important Jewish and Roman officials and other information that help us connect the events in his gospel to events in other written histories of the time. Does that help you to trust what he tells us about Jesus?

4. Acts 26:26
The apostle Paul is telling king Agrippa that the events of Jesus’ life were well known at that time. Why do you suppose some people today would try to say they never happened?

5. Deuteronomy 4:2.
How might we add to, or diminish from, the words of the Bible?

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Give them reasons to believe

I just read a sentence from a children’s lesson about the Bible that leaves me bewildered. I don’t want to reveal the source, but here is the sentence: “Through the past centuries many ungodly men have determined and tried to destroy the Bible, the Word of God, but have not been able to accomplish it.”

Folks, this is whistling past the graveyard. The writer is saying:“I have this uneasy feeling that there might be something scary out there, so I’ll make a happy noise and pretend that I’m not scared.”

That just won’t do. Children who are old enough to read something at this level, with its bombastic writing style, already know that confidence in the Bible has been destroyed for the majority of the people in our country. Even among those who say they are Christians and go to church, many don’t believe the first few chapters of the Bible can be considered to be fact.

Our children deserve something more than “don’t worry, just believe.” We need to endow them with a solid foundation of why the Bible can be trusted. If it’s not being done, someone needs to write a new series of lessons for children who are coming into that age where they are beginning to question the meaning of life and the validity of faith. Let’s give them solid information, not platitudes.

I think I may have just talked myself into doing some writing.

Three keys to getting the most out of reading the Bible

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Read it like a story book, not a recipe book

A cook will pick up a recipe book and look for the type of dish he wants to make. The recipe will list all the ingredients and provide all the instructions needed to prepare that dish. Some folks try to use the Bible in the same way, taking a short passage and trying to find what it says about how to live their Christian life that day. Was that passage meant to be read that way, separated from the context in which it is found? I don’t think so.

A story book will introduce a number of characters, but the story will centre on one of them. We learn to know that person’s character and will come to feel and care about what he or she feels. God is the central character of the Bible. Each time we read a book of the Bible all the way through we get to know Him a little better. We understand what is important to Him, what He really cares about, how He can hate sin, yet be compassionate to the sinner.

The reason He finds sin so distasteful is because it is so harmful to us. He has made a way that we can be forgiven and no longer be controlled by the power of sin. When we make a mistake He does not berate us, but wants to help us go on again. When we meet God outside of the Bible, we find Him to be exactly the person we have been reading about.

Read the Authorized Version, not the King James Version

This is said tongue in cheek, they are almost the same Bible, but not quite. Lancelot Andrews and the other translators of the Bible first published in 1611 were humble men who did not think it was up to them to settle every question of meaning. Thus, when there was not agreement on the meaning of certain words, one meaning would be placed in the text and the other in the margin. Here are the translators’ words of explanation:

“It hath pleased God in His divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence. There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident, so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgement of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption.”

The translation of 1611 has no official name but is known in most of the English-speaking world as the Authorized Version. This does not mean that it was ever an official version, or required to be read in the churches of England, simply that King James I of England authorized the formation of a committee to do prepare a new translation.

It is in the United States of America that the name King James Version has been popularized, as though the king himself did the translating. And as far as I have found, all the Bibles calling themselves King James Bibles omit the marginal notes place there by the translators. The notes are few, but they do accomplish the purpose stated by the translators. They considered these notes to be an integral part of the Bible and in my mind they are of far greater value than the notes that are substituted in so-called “Study Bibles” or “Reference Bibles.”

Read it out loud

If you look at the title page of AV (or KJV) Bibles, you will find the words: “Appointed to be read in churches.” Do not misconstrue “appointed” to mean “commanded.” In 1611 the word meant “arranged.” The wording of the AV was carefully arranged for reading out loud.

In 1611 many people could not read, and many of those who could read would not have been able to buy a copy of the complete Bible. The translators kept this in mind as they worked, carefully choosing words and sentence structure that would impress themselves upon the listeners in such a way that the words would stick in their minds. For the final editorial review of the translation, the leaders of the individual committees assembled around a table and one would read. If any passage did not sound right to one of the others around the table, he would raise his hand. The reading would stop and they would rework the passage until all were satisfied that it best conveyed the meaning of the original text in the most effective English words.

That carefulness on the part of men who were masters of both the ancient languages and of English produced a Bible that is still by far the easiest to memorize. The majority of the words are words of one syllable and they are arranged in a cadence that is pleasing and striking to the ear. Newer versions may be easier to understand in places, at the cost of some depth of meaning, but sound so flat as to be difficult to remember. What’s the point of trying to memorize them anyway? They will be replaced in a few years by another, newer and “better” version. I’m afraid that something of great value is lost in these new versions.

Joy to the world

Angelic messages surrounding the birth of Jesus:

To Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:11-19): And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings

To Mary (Luke 1:26-38): And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

To Joseph (Matthew 1:18-24): Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

To the shepherds (Luke 2:8-14): And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

To the Magi and to Joseph (Matthew 2:12-15): And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

And again to Joseph (Matthew 2:19-21): But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

Merry Christmas!

Book Review: Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

At the ripe old age of 17 I believed I had outgrown any need for the Bible. It was almost ten years before I opened the book again. I was sceptical, but I thought there might be something worthwhile somewhere in this collection of writings. I guess I was looking for answers, but didn’t really expect to find any.

After a few months the connectedness of this “collection of writings” became harder and harder to ignore. There was no way I could pick and choose what I wanted to believe of its content, every part of it was connected to all the other parts. This was one book and I ether had to reject the whole thing, or believe the whole thing. This conviction was a major step leading up to my conversion a year later.

It is difficult for me to understand why so many Christians don’t seem to have caught on to this fact. Perhaps it is because they read here and there without ever reading through a whole book of the Bible. Perhaps it is because of outside helps that purport to explain the Bible. Reference books can be helpful, but one should never put too much confidence in them.

The Bible explains itself. There are symbols that have the same meaning whenever they appear. The more you read, the clearer the meaning becomes. There are threads of meaning that can be followed through the whole Bible. Many Bible stories are impressive and meaningful to a small child, yet there are depths to those stories that can never be fully plumbed in a lifetime of Bible study.

One of the workshop leaders at the Inscribe Christian Writers Conference recommended the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. The editors of this book attempt to trace the continuity of images and themes throughout the Bible. I like the approach of this book, yet I’m not going to say that they got everything just right – none of us ever do. This is a good book for the serious student of the Bible, and for those who have never caught on to the idea of how the themes and images of the book are woven together so tightly from beginning to end.

This is a big book, over 1,000 pages. Beware of shipping costs if you try to buy it online. I ordered mine from Kennedy’s Parable in Saskatoon. The price was higher than buying it online, but there were no shipping costs.

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, General Editors: Leland Ryken, James C Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III.  © 1998 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

The achilles heel of reference Bibles

An ancient Waldensian confession of faith states that their preachers were required, before being ordained, to memorize the gospels of Matthew and John, all the Epistles, and a good part of the writings of Solomon, David and the prophets. Of course that was necessary in their day, before the invention of the printing press. After all, a manuscript copy of the Scriptures was far too bulky to be carried about.

Nowadays we have reference Bibles and electronic Bibles that allow us to look up relevant verses on any topic that we are concerned about. With all that information about the Word of God at our fingertips, one would think that knowledge and understanding of the Word would be increasing at an exponential rate. Is it?

Not as far as I can see. The thing that is being missed in this reliance on search tools is that knowledge and understanding of the Bible is contextual and cumulative. If we do not understand the context in which one passage of Scripture was written, and how it is connected to all the rest of Scripture, we are pretty much Scripturally illiterate.

We need to read the whole Bible, and read it again and again. In doing that, we begin to see the whole picture; and we find that the Bible interprets itself. When we only read snatches here and there, we are reading Scriptures out of context all the time and then we need someone to tell us how it all fits together. Lots of people are quite willing to do that, but can we trust their interpretations? How can we even know if they are trustworthy if we don’t really know the Bible ourselves?

The Bible should not be treated as a black box that we can reach into and pull out a short passage of Scripture each morning to inspire us for that day. We are missing so much if we do not read a book of the Bible from beginning to end, reading a part each day. That is the way that our understanding will grow about what God has been doing in the world all these many years, and what He expects of us. The plan of salvation is implicit in the Old Testament, but we don’t really get it until we read the New. But we don’t really get what the New Testament is saying either if we haven’t read the Old.

All the Bible is interrelated and fits together in a way that reveals the hand of God at work over the many centuries it took to complete the book. It is a bottomless well of spiritual water, but we have to pump it up for ourselves. Let’s not drink from the stagnant pools that someone else has pumped and left behind.

Does the Bible say what you think it says?

This is a double-edged question, applying to believers and unbelievers alike. People today have all kinds of funny ideas about what the Bible says, ideas that they did not get from the Bible.

For instance, I once read a letter to the editor in a daily newspaper by a lady who claimed that the Bible commanded husbands to beat their wives and gave directions on how to go about it. I have read the Bible from cover to cover a number of times, in both English and French, and there is nothing that could possibly be construed to say such a thing. Possibly she got confused with the holy book of some other religion, but the teaching of the Bible is for husbands to love and cherish their wives as their own bodies and to give themselves for their wives.

Many Christians believe that the Fourth Commandment teaches that we need to attend a worship service once a week. There is nothing in the Ten Commandments, or anywhere else in the Bible, that says any such thing. All Israelite males were expected to attend the three main festivals in Jerusalem each year. Synagogues did not exist in the period covered by the Old Testament, thus there are no instructions at all in the Bible about weekly worship. (There is a verse in Psalms that says “they have destroyed all our synagogues.” Synagogue is a Greek word and does not appear in the original Hebrew text. Perhaps the translators got it right, but in this case I rather doubt it.) We worship once a week because we want to, not because the Bible tells us we have to.

The cure for all such misunderstandings is to actually read the Bible, not a verse or two here and a verse or two there, but the whole thing. That may sound like a tall order, but it is the only way to get the full picture of what the Bible is all about. If it sounds like too formidable a task to start at the beginning and read through to the end, then read a book from the Old Testament and then a book from the New Testament, with the goal of eventually covering the whole Bible.

The Bible should be read in bite-sized chunks so that you can absorb what you have read. A chapter at a time, or less for the really long chapters. That will take about four years to get through the whole book.

The more you read the Bible, the more you understand how it all is linked together and interprets itself. Context is the key to understanding the Bible. Trying to understand a verse, or a group of verses, apart from their context, is a recipe for misunderstanding.

A doctrinal scenario that relies on “rightly dividing the word of truth” should not be trusted. You can make the Bible say all kinds of weird and wonderful things when you cut it into little pieces and reassemble it according to such a scheme. If the Bible was supposed to be understood in that way it would have been written that way.

The apostle Paul’s instruction about “rightly dividing the word” should be considered together with the apostle Peter’s warning about those who wrest the Scripture to their own destruction. Wrest means to twist or tear apart. Rightly dividing means to deal uprightly. An honest approach to the Bible will uncover the rich treasures that it contains; the more we read, the more we will discover.

Dumbing down the gospel

I think it is dawning on many people that evangelical Christianity has shallowed out over the past generation or two. I will be so bold as to suggest some causes which are not often mentioned by others.

Children’s Bible story books: Parents have felt inadequate to help their children understand what the Bible is all about, and these attractive, nicely illustrated books have seemed like a godsend. But are they? The writers pick some of the more dramatic accounts in the Bible and attempt to weave a stand alone moral teaching into each story. This requires the insertion of editorial comments that may miss the relationship of the event recorded in the Bible to the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. The writer’s comments are well-intended, but sometimes presume an ability to read God’s mind to draw conclusions that are not even hinted at in the Bible.

Study Bibles: People feel intimidated at trying to study and understand the Bible, so many turn to reference Bibles that promise to aid them in their study of the Bible. The problem is that these study Bibles really become a substitute for personal Bible study. The point of view of the compiler of the study Bible is not blatantly displayed, yet it affects how they see the relationship of one passage of the Bible to others. Their point of view leads them to link passages that really have no connection to each other, to miss other links, and to use one passage as the key to understanding other similar passages that really say something quite different. It is would be better to trust the Bible to interpret itself and not separate verses from their context.

The desire for Christian unity: The desire is good, but the approach leads to downplaying denominational differences in doctrine and practice. I think most of us will admit that not all the differences were inspired by God, but to just abandon them has in many cases led to abandoning clear Scriptural teachings. True spiritual unity cannot be achieved by a spirit of compromise, but only by obedience to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. The “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is not the same thing as deciding to make nice to each other in public.

The remedy to all of these things is to become like the Bereans and search the Scriptures daily and to obey its teachings.

The Bible is enough

Many years ago, when Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth was the “Christian” publishing sensation, the pastor of the church we were attending chose to use that book as the basis for weekly Bible study through the winter. I won’t name the city, church or pastor. Spring came, we finished the book, and then during a private visit the pastor told me he didn’t believe anything in the book, he just thought of it as a way to get some people interested in Bible study.

I was shocked that he didn’t believe the book, which at the time I considered to be gospel truth. I was equally shocked that he would lead a Bible study that taught something he did not believe was Biblical. As time went on, I read more and more books by highly regarded authors expounding the same subject matter as Hal Lindsey’s book and I began to grow disenchanted. Henry Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, Lewis Sperry Chafer and many others , presented the dispensational, pre-millenial doctrine as unquestionable, Bible-based truth. Yet each one presented this supposedly foundational truth in a way that differed from all the others. The disillusionment was furthered by reading a book by Chafer that was written around 1940 and identified Benito Mussolini as the Antichrst who was at that very time setting up his end time kingdom.

The pre-millenial doctrine continues to generate endless speculation and has enabled writers to sell millions of books, tapes and even movies. In recent years, we are seeing a lot of books tying events in the Middle East to Bible prophecy and producing many fanciful scenarios of how this will all play out.

Another theme that has sold a lot of books in recent years is stories of visits to heaven, particularly by little children. I haven’t read any of these books, but I gather that some of the details don’t bear much resemblance to what the Bible tells us about heaven.

Now, one of the boys who was credited with multiple visits to heaven has denied the whole story. Alex Malarkey was in a serious automobile accident when he was six years old, was in a coma for several months and is left with a spinal cord injury causing major physical impairment. A book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, was written about his supposed heavenly experiences in the months following the accident. His mother. Beth, has suggested for years that the book was not to be trusted, but did not want to put words into her son’s mouth. Alex is now 16 and recently wrote the following letter:

Please excuse the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of heaven outside of what is written in the Bible . . . not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.

In Christ,

Alex Malarkey

The book names Alex Malarkey as co-author with his father. The parents are no longer together and the mother, Beth Malarkey is the primary care giver for Alex and his three younger siblings. She states that Alex has received no money from the book, nor much support for his medical needs. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven has now been withdrawn from the market.

Books like this are not what you want to give to your unbelieving friends. When the illusion is shattered and the story is revealed to be bunk, they are apt to think that means all of Christianity is bunk. Alex and his mother are right, we do not need colourful stories of doubtful veracity to prove the Christian way,  the Bible is enough.

Blaise Pascal on the prophecies

If a single man had written a book foretelling the time and manner of Jesus’s coming and Jesus had come in conformity with these prophecies, this would carry infinite weight.

But there is much more here. There is a succession of men over a period of 4,000 years, coming consistently and invariably one after the other, to foretell the same coming; there is an entire people proclaiming it, existing for 4,000 years to testify in a body to the certainty they feel about it, from which they cannot be deflected by whatever threats and persecutions they may suffer. This is of a quite different order 0f importance.

 

Since the prophets had given various signs which were all to appear at the coming of the Messiah, all these signs had to appear at the same time. Thus the fourth kingdom had to come in when Daniel’s seventy weeks were up and the sceptre had to be removed from Judah.

And all this came to pass without any difficulty. And then the Messiah had to come, and Christ came then, calling himself the Messiah, and this again without any difficulty. This cleanly proves the truth of prophecy.

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