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Builders of Faith Explorer I:  Exploring Bible Truth

Lesson 2—What Is the Bible and Its Authority?

 

 

1.  Why do Christians accept the Hebrew Scriptures as their own Old Testament Scriptures?

 

Answer:  Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the earliest Christians were Jews. Thus, they saw themselves as the true continuation of the Jewish religion.  Therefore, there was no reason to not accept the Hebrew Scriptures as the earliest Christian Bible.

 

2.  Did Jesus Himself accept the Hebrew Scriptures?

 

“Then He [Jesus] said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’  And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”  Luke 24:44-45.

 

Answer:  Note that Jesus referred to the three divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures:  (1) Law (Torah); (2) Prophets; and (3) Writings. The Psalms is the largest book by far in the Writings section and is sometimes used to refer to the Writings section.  Then please note that He called these sections “the Scriptures.”

 

3.  What are the Apocrypha that two Christian denominations include as part of their Old Testament Scriptures?  And did Jesus include them as part of the Scriptures?

 

Answer:  The word “Apocrypha” means “hidden”, and these extra books are also called the deuterocanonical books, meaning “second canon” books.  They range from about 12-14 different books, although one tradition includes some of their material as part of other books of the Old Testament—in which case, the Apocryphal books appear as only 7 additional books.  Jesus’ reference in Luke 24:44 (see Question #2) to the three divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures means that He rejected all of the Apocryphal books because none of them was included in those Scriptures.  They were rejected by mainstream Judaism because all, or nearly all of them, were originally written in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic.  Therefore, Christians should reject all of these additional books as well.

 

4.  How did Jesus prepare His followers for the writing of the New Testament as also to be included in the Christian Bible?

 

A.  Luke 6:13:  “And when it was day, He [Jesus] called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:”—The word “apostles” means “the sent out ones”, which means that they were now official ambassadors for Jesus.  So the 12 disciples eventually became the 12 apostles.  This implies that whenever these apostles spoke or wrote about spiritual matters, Jesus’ followers were to accept their teachings as if Jesus Himself were teaching them.

 

B.  John 13:20:  “’Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.’”—This statement of Jesus was spoken near the end of His ministry and shortly before His crucifixion.  Thus, there is no doubt but that the disciples Jesus was speaking to were already official apostles.  And His statement confirms our conclusion in point A above.

 

C.  Exodus 3:10-14; Isaiah 6:8; Jeremiah 1:7; 35:15; Ezekiel 2:3; Haggai 1:12; and Malachi 4:5—These are just samples of numerous Old Testament passages in which God commissioned His prophets with a form of the verb “to send.”  This was never a casual sending, but the sending of the prophet to speak officially on God’s behalf.  That verb “to send” is, of course, related to the Greek word for “apostles”.  This evidence adds to the view that when Jesus named His apostles, they were just like prophets.  So anything they wrote on spiritual matters would naturally be viewed by Christians as Scripture.

 

D.  The Jewish Sanhredin was the highest religious authority in Judaism during Jesus’ day.  The Sanhredin used the equivalent of the Greek word “apostles” to describe their official ambassadors to Jews scattered beyond Judea.  And Jews who heard these apostles were to understand their spiritual teachings as if the entire Sanhredin were present and teaching the same thing.  There is little doubt that Jesus echoed this practice of the Sanhredin when He ordained His 12 disciples as apostles.

 

5.  Is the word “apostles” also used in a different sense from Jesus’ special, official ambassadors?

 

“And God has appointed these in the church:  first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles….”  I Corinthians 12:28.  “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers….”  Ephesians 4:11.

 

Answer:  In these two lists of spiritual gifts above, the word “apostles” refers to those who are sent by the church as missionaries or special envoys.  This is the more general use of the term “apostles”.  But the 12 apostles of Jesus are often called “special apostles” in order to distinguish them from more general apostles of the church.

 

6.  What three characteristics mark a special apostle of Jesus?

 

A.  Mark 3:13-14:  “And He [Jesus] went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted.  And they came to Him.  Then He appointed twelve…that He might send them out to preach.”—A special apostle must have been personally chosen by Jesus Himself.

 

B.  Mark 3:14:  “Then He [Jesus] appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach….”—A special apostle must have spent some personal time with Jesus.

 

C.  Acts 1:21-22:  “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”—A special apostle must have seen the resurrected Jesus.

 

7.  How did Paul, who wrote about half of the New Testament, meet the three characteristic marks of a special apostle of Jesus since he was not part of the original twelve?

 

A.  Acts 26:17:  “I [Jesus] will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you….”—The words “I now send you” can also be translated as “I now apostle you” or “I now make you an apostle.”  So Jesus personally called Saul (who became Paul) on his road-to-Damascus experience.

 

B.  Galatians 1:11-12, 17:  “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.”—Paul asserts that Jesus directly taught him the gospel.  The word for “revelation” in verse 12 can refer to visions, but its meaning here as “appearing” must be in view because time spent with Jesus personally was a qualification to be a special apostle.  When you study the three accounts of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, 22, and 26, they show that everyone saw a bright light and heard sounds, but that only Paul heard and understood Jesus’ words.  A regular vision is when no one near the person having the vision sees or hears anything at all that the person having the vision sees or hears.  And since Jesus’ next coming to earth would be to raise the righteous dead (I Thessalonians 4:16), He must have miraculously spoken directly from heaven—and likewise in Arabia.  Both of these experiences were after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to heaven, so that Paul also saw the resurrected Jesus.

 

C.  II Peter 3:15-16:  “…and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”—The fact that the apostle Peter accepted Paul as an inspired apostle whose writings constituted Scripture justifies our understanding that Paul met all three criteria to be a special apostle.

 

8.  How and when was the canon of the New Testament accepted by Christians?

 

Answer:  The process of collecting and evaluating the various early Christian literature took considerable time because (1) we know from other Christian sources that believers were picky in only accepting letters and books they were convinced were written by a special apostle or a close associate of an apostle, and (2) without photocopy machines, printing presses, or electronic means of communication, the Christians scattered all over the Near East, North Africa, and Europe needed time for this process to be completed.  But before the end of the 4th century A.D., the 27 books of the New Testament were accepted by a wide consensus.  There were a few radicals, for example, who would only accept Gentile writers’ works, but a broad consensus had been completed before the end of the 4th century.

 

9.  Why weren’t books like the Gospel of Thomas and other similar works included in the New Testament?  Was there a conspiracy to exclude them in order to create one official version of Christianity?

 

Answer:  Modern skeptics of Christianity have speculated that there was a conspiracy to throw out books that did not fit the establishment’s view of what Christianity should be.  There simply is no evidence to support that notion.  Indeed, we now have the tools to date such books, and we know that none of the so-called “lost books of the Bible” were written as early as the 1st century A.D. Therefore, their titles are a lie because persons like the apostle Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and so on were obviously dead by then and could not have written them.  This is the reason the early Christians did not accept them.  It’s as simple as that.

 

10.  If the church created the Bible, then isn’t the church above the Bible?

 

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness….”  II Timothy 3:16.

 

Answer:  There are those who say that the church created the Bible because (1) its writers were part of God’s community, and (2) church councils of bishops decreed which books would be included in the Bible.  However, the Bible is both a human and a divine book.  But it would not be the Bible if it were not inspired by God; so His authority is supreme over the human writers.  Moreover, as we saw in Question #8 above, the process of collecting and evaluating letters and books for inclusion in the Bible or for their exclusion from it was a gradual process that involved ordinary church members.  By the time any church councils declared which books rightfully belonged in the New Testament, the church at large had already settled the matter, and the church councils only confirmed what the members had determined.  Therefore, the church did not create the Bible, meaning that the church must be subject to the Bible!

 

11.  Do the bishops of the church have any guarantee that they will never teach spiritual error?  If so, then doesn’t the church have the last word in interpreting the Bible?

 

Answer:  If the answer to the first part of the question above were “true”, then the second part must also be “true”.  But it is not true. First, no bishop could have the same spiritual teaching authority as the apostles (and Jesus) because none had the same experience of meeting the three criteria outlined in Question #6 above.  Second, to declare that a bishop’s ordination gives him the Holy Spirit in a special way to guarantee that he will never teach error does not work either, for there is no hint of this authority in the New Testament. Finally, to state that this spiritual error-free guarantee only applies to church councils of bishops (bishops as a whole) is illogical because individual bishops, not the whole community of bishops, are ordained.  Moreover, church councils in Christian history have sometimes conflicted with each other just as individual bishops have—even over significant theological matters.  Therefore, Church Tradition derived from the bishops of a church is not above the Bible, but must be subject to the Bible.

 

12.  How did Jesus react to a group of Pharisees and scribes who accused His disciples of not following Jewish Tradition?

 

“Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him [Jesus], ‘Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?’…He [Jesus] said to them, ‘All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”  Mark 7:5-9.

 

Answer:  The Pharisees were the champions of the Oral Law in rabbinical Judaism.  They believed the Oral Law came from God to Moses, and was then handed down secretly and orally until the Pharisees brought it out into the open.  Later it was written down as part of the Jewish Talmud.  Jesus clearly refuted their entire idea of a true Oral Law and called it Tradition that often rejected “the commandment of God”.  There should be no question, on the basis of our discussions in Questions #10-12, that Jesus viewed religious Tradition as being contrary to God’s true Law and to the Scriptures.

 

13.  Did Jesus really believe that the history of the Bible literally happened?  Or did He view much of it as mythology that only taught valuable spiritual lessons?

 

Answer:  Liberal critics of Christianity often discount the history recorded in the Bible, calling much of it myth that teaches good spiritual lessons.  But there is a certain quality of myth that the Bible does not have.  Rather, it reads like straight-forward history.  The answers below reveal that Jesus accepted Bible history as true also.  Therefore, Christians have no room to be suspicious of Bible history or its many miraculous events.

 

A.  Mark 10:6-8:  “But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’  ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’”.—This shows that Jesus believed in the Creation story, and that God took a personal hand in creating the first man and the first woman.

 

B.  Matthew 23:35-36:  “…that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”—Jesus believed in the historicity of Abel, recorded in Genesis 4, and declared that what the Hebrew people had done to many of the prophets would be done to them.  Clearly, this requires that He was talking about literal history.

 

C.  Matthew 24:37-39:  “For as in the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”—Jesus here endorsed the history of Noah and the global flood as a real phenomenon.

 

D.  John 8:57-58:  “Then the Jews said to Him [Jesus], ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’  Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’”—Jesus believed in the real person of Abraham.

 

E.  Luke 17:28-30, 32:  “Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot:  They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.  Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed….”  “Remember Lot’s wife.”—Not only did Jesus believe in Lot, but also in the real heavenly destruction of Sodom and Lot’s wife.

 

F.  Matthew 12:3:  “But He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him….”—Jesus believed in the historical David.

 

G.  Matthew 24:15:  “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet….”—Jesus believed in the prophet Daniel and the accuracy of his book.

 

H.  Matthew 12:39-41:  “…no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.”—Not only did Jesus believe that Jonah helped convert the city of Nineveh, but He also believed Jonah spent time inside the belly of a great fish and lived to tell about it.

 

 

Quiz for Lesson #2—What Is the Bible and Its Authority?

 

1.  Why do Christians accept the Old Testament books as Scripture? (3)

  Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.

  The first Christian Council officially declared them to be Scripture.

  The earliest Christians were Jews, so naturally they would accept the Old Testament.

  Jesus Himself accepted the Old Testament as Scripture.

Answer

Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.
The earliest Christians were Jews, so naturally they would accept the Old Testament.
Jesus Himself accepted the Old Testament as Scripture.

2.  Which of the following are part of the three divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures? (3)

  Law

  Patriarchs

  Prophets

  Psalms (or Writings)

Answer

Law
Prophets
Psalms (or Writings)

3.  Which of the following statements about the Apocrypha are true? (2)

  The word “Apocrypha” means “extra books”.

  Jesus rejected the Apocrypha.

  The Jewish people as a whole rejected the Apocrypha.

Answer

Jesus rejected the Apocrypha.
The Jewish people as a whole rejected the Apocrypha.

4.  How did Jesus prepare His followers to accept a New Testament? (1)

  Each of Jesus’ apostles was an official ambassador for Jesus.

  Jesus openly declared that a New Testament would be written after He returned to heaven.

Answer

Each of Jesus’ apostles was an official ambassador for Jesus.

5.  Identify the three characteristics that marked a special apostle of Jesus. (3)

  He must have been personally chosen to be an apostle by Jesus.

  He must be able to call fire down from heaven.

  He must have spent some personal time with Jesus.

  He must have seen the resurrected Jesus.

Answer

He must have been personally chosen to be an apostle by Jesus.
He must have spent some personal time with Jesus.
He must have seen the resurrected Jesus.

6.  Name the special apostle of Jesus who wrote most of the New Testament. (1)

  Peter

  Paul

  John

Answer

Paul

7.  There are 27 books in the New Testament. (1)

  True

  False

Answer

True

8.  Books like the Gospel of Thomas were excluded from the New Testament by a 2nd-century Church Council. (1)

  True

  False

Answer

False

9.  Which of the following statements about the Bible’s authority is true? (2)

  The church created the Bible, so the church is above the Bible.

  The Bible’s inspiration was recognized by the church, so that the Bible is above the church.

  Bishops have the last word on what the Bible means.

  Bishops are subject to the Bible since they do not meet the 3 criteria of the special apostles.

Answer

The Bible’s inspiration was recognized by the church, so that the Bible is above the church.
Bishops are subject to the Bible since they do not meet the 3 criteria of the special apostles.

10.  Jesus really believed that the history in the Bible actually happened. (1)

  True

  False

Answer

True