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 WHAT IS THE BIBLE?

We live at a time when man's genius for learning and invention has brought the world to the very brink of self-destruction. Yet the one clear message of hope and of certainty in this most uncertain world, the message of the Bible, is almost everywhere summarily dismissed from thoughtful consideration. Such a dismissal seems to have been made without any real appreciation of what the Bible is all about, how it has come to us, who wrote it. or when and why it was written. The purpose of these pages is to appeal to you to think again whether such a dismissal is valid from a purely logical point of view, or whether the sceptical intellectualism of our times has predisposed us to a false judgment, to pass a verdict without a true assessment of the evidence.

Let it be stated at the outset that the Bible itself claims unreservedly to be the word of God. The prophets of the Old Testament begin many of their declarations with such phrases as "Thus saith the Lord.. " or "The Lord said unto me ..." In the New Testament Peter writes:

"For it was not through any human whim that men prophesied of old. Men they were. but. impelled by the Holy Spirit. they spoke the wards of God"

Or again. Paul says plainly:

"ALL scripture is given by inspiration of God..."

When Paul. as quoted above. uses the word 'scripture', he is obviously referring to the Old Testament 'writings' because that is what the word literally means. Our word Bible is from a Greek word meaning 'books`. It is perhaps some measure of its special nature that it is usually called the 'Holy Bible' or sacred book.

A SPECIAL LIBRARY

This definition of the word Bible as a book, however, needs qualification. for it is really a collection of books or writings: 66 separate books. bound into one volume. They are books on widely differing topics, from law to poetry, from history and prophecy, to teaching and practice. They were written by many authors from all manner of backgrounds, including kings, herdsmen, lawyers, courtiers, fishermen. These books were brought together gradually over a period of more than 1000 years, yet all are linked in harmony by a powerful theme -- inexplicably so, apart from the inspiration of which Paul speaks.

The volume itself is divided into two distinct sections known as the Old and New Testaments, but the Old is really incomplete without the New and the New cannot be explained without the Old. The Old Testament scriptures, the holy books of the Jewish people, were further divided by them into three parts -- the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. The Law consisted of the first five books of Moses; the Writings included the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and the books of Chronicles. All the rest were classified as the Prophets. It was this three-fold division that Jesus referred to when he said:

"All things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me "

Broadly speaking the Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew and was completed some 400 years before Christ. The New Testament was written in Greek and was completed about 60 years after Christ rose from the dead.

It would not be unreasonable to ask at this stage: How do we know that the most ancient Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament still represent a faithful record of the original writings of which there are now none available? This is a valid question and in answer we make four points. The first is the almost superstitious regard that the Jews had, and still have, for the exact letter of Holy Scripture. To the extent that their Scribes were scrupulously careful in making copies. For example, to prevent any mistake they counted every word and every letter in every word and if there happened to be a letter written in a different style from the others in the text they were copying, they did not allow themselves to correct it, they copied it strictly, small or large, just as it was. Secondly, we can make appeal to the Samaritan Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) a record kept quite independently from the Jewish record, as the Jews had no dealing with the Samaritans and that the text is for all critical purposes the same. The third appeal can be made to the Dead Sea Scrolls - discovered in our times - which, although dating back to before the time of Christ, give added authority to the translation of Isaiah particularly as we have it translated in our Authorised Version. Finally the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek about 200 years before Christ. Most of the quotations made in the New Testament are in the words of this translation - including the quotation that Jesus himself makes from Isaiah.

This translation into the Greek is known as the 'Septuagint', from the tradition that 70 men were employed in the work. The Septuagint version provided the order to the books of the Old Testament which is still found in our English Bibles today.

If we now consider the New Testament, some of the oldest Greek manuscripts for this date back to the fourth and early part of the fifth century AD. They are:

The Codex Vaticanus which is kept in the library of the Vatican

The Codex Sinaiticus.

[So named because it was found in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai by Tischendorf in 1844 and was purchased by the British Museum in 1933]

The Codex Alexandrinus.

[given as a present to King Charles 1 by a Greek Patriarch of Alexandria and which may also be seen in the British Museum.]

In addition to these manuscripts and many other fragments going back to the second century AD, there are in the works of the early fathers of the church many quotations from the Scriptures, which provide a further proof of the authenticity and accuracy of the text. From all these resources the Bible has been accurately translated into the languages of every country of the world and has exerted immeasurable influence on successive generations.

WHY IS THE BIBLE IMPORTANT?

The Old and New Testaments together form an incomparable treasury of writings far transcending any human works at all levels of human consciousness. Only in the Bible can we find the answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved"

In the Bible alone is to be found knowledge of the One who is able to effect this salvation.

It shall greatly helpe ye to understand scripture
if thou mark
not only what is spoken or wrytten
but of whom and to whom
with what words
at what time
where
to what intent
with what circumstance
considering what goeth before, and what followeth

Miles Coverdale