To grow as a Christian the Word of God must be paramount in our lives. How can we be certain that this book we call the Bible is the Word of God? How did God get His Word from His mind onto the pages of the Bible we hold in our lap? James B. Williams has a book entitled, “From the Mind of God to Mind of Man.” How does God get His Word from His mind into your mine? Here are the steps God took.
Step One: Revelation
When God speaks, He does not mumble. God has revealed Himself in two ways. God revealed Himself generally and specially.
A. God has revealed Himself generally through nature or creation as seen in Psalm 19:1-6. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.” Spurgeon said, “Creation is an outstretched hand pointing to God.” Nature is a giant billboard declaring, “There is a God.” General revelation, however, is sufficient to condemn the sinner but not sufficient to save. Paul declared this limitation in Romans 1:20.
B. God has revealed Himself specially in Scripture which David stated in Psalm 19:7-14. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” To the sinner who responds to the limited message of nature God will get him the saving gospel as He sent Peter to Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 10).
Step Two: Inspiration
A. Revelation is truth that God has communicated to man.
B. Inspiration is the means God used to write down revelation.
1. The origin of Scripture is recorded in 2 Timothy 3:16. Puritan Thomas Watson said, “The Old and New Testaments are the two lips of God by which He has spoken to us.” Scripture did not originate with man. The Bible is the Word of God.
2. The method of inspiration is recorded in 2 Peter 1:21.
a. There is a human instrumentality in the method. Peter says, “holy men of God spoke” or wrote is Peter’s idea that he makes clear in 3:16. Scripture did not originate with man but God used man in the recording of inspired Scripture.
b. There is the divine instrumentality also. This is called Dual Authorship. Peter continues his thought that “holy men of God spoke or wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” When the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture, the Holy Spirit suspended the ability of the writers to make mistakes. Therefore what they wrote was without error. This is the doctrine of Inerrancy.
Step Three: Canonicity
A. The canon of Scripture is the list of 66 inspired books that belong in the Bible.
B. The study of the canon of Scripture answers these questions, “Why are there only 66 books in the Bible?” “Who decided on these 66 books?” “What about Paul’s lost letter in 1 Corinthians 5:9?”
There are two answers. One is incorrect and the other is correct.
1. The Correct Answer: God decided which books would be in the Canon when He inspired the 66 books which were later recognized by godly believers.
2. The Incorrect Answer: The Roman Catholic Church decided and therefore included 14 other books called the Apocrypha. It was not until 1546 at the Council of Trent that the RCC declared the Apocrypha part of the canon or list of books that belonged in the Bible. These books are rejected because they contradict the message of the 66 inspired books. For example, apocryphal Judith and Tobit teach salvation by works. There are 250 New Testament quotes of Old Testament books in the New Testament and none from the Apocrypha.
Step Four: Textual Criticism
We do not possess the original writings of the apostles and prophets. We carry around a copy of a copy of a copy, etc. So how can we be confident that through the copying process, God has preserved His Word? For example, there are 5000 existing New Testament manuscripts in part or whole of the New Testament which is miracle in itself. There are only 9-10 copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars.
“Modern scholars believe they have a fairly exact rendering of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ since a handful of copies of the play made within 200 years of its original writing exist. But the New Testament is without question the most documented book in history” (Adrian Rogers. Back to the Basics, Vol 1 page 20). We posssess a papyrus fragment of John 18 that dates back to A.D. 125 or within less than 50 years when John wrote his Gospel.
Of the 5000 copies of the New Testament, however, no two are the same. The textual critic helps us determine the exact wording of the Bible by examining the existing manuscripts. There are three well know textual critics: Jerome, Erasmus, and the KJV translators.
Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch Roman Catholic scholar, is the most well know textual critic. Erasmus produced the first published Greek New Testament in 1516. Erasmus was severly criticized for trying to improve on Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Erasmus’ fourth edition became the basis for the Textus Receptus which in turn became the basis for the KJV. Erasmus compared 4 or 5 manuscripts to produce the KJV.
The textual critic guarantees that the Word of God in the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek have been preserved. Most believers today do not read and speak in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek which makes the next step necessary.
Step Five: Translation
God wants His Word in the common language of the people and He accomplishes this purpose through translations.
1. When the Greek language under the influence of Alexander the Great replaced Hebrew and Aramaic, God in His providence produced the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint in 200 B.C. The LXX was the Bible of the first century believer. The LXX was Jesus’ Bible. All of the OT quotes in Hebrews are from the LXX not the Hebrew and Aramaic.
2. When the Roman Empire succeeded the Greeks and Latin replaced Greek as the universal language of Europe and the common language of the people, God in His providence led Jerome, a textual critic who used the Old Latin Bible, to write the Latin Vulgate in 405. Jerome also was criticized for producing a new translation. The Latin Vulgate is important for two reasons
a) It was the Bible of the people for 1000 years.
b) Jerome’s Latin Vulgate became the basis for the first English Bible in 1350, Wycliffe’s Bible.
3. When English replaced Latin as the common language of the common people, God in His providence produced English translations.
a) The first was the John Wycliffe’s English N. T. translation in 1380 and two years later the Old Testament.
Wycliffe wanted to reform the corrupt RC whose priesthood generally was immoral. For this reason, Wycliffe is called, “The Morning Star of the Reformation.” Wycliffe believed if the common people had the Bible in their own language, they would demand a reformation of the church. Since 1229, the RCC had forbidden the use of the Bible to laymen. “The Word was precious or rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1).
Because Wycliffe knew no Hebrew and no Greek, he translated directly from the Latin Vulgate into the English vernacular. Wycliffe’s traveling preachers whom he trained called the Lollard’s went everywhere preaching and circulating Wycliffe’s English Bible. The RCC was infuriated that laypeople had the Bible in their language. One RCC Bishop complained, “The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity.”
In 1401, King Henry IV enacted a statue making “heresy” a secular crime punishable by burning. The heresy was spreading the Word of God in the common language of the people. The RCC courts began trying “heretics” and hauling convicted ones over to the secular courts for burning. The lay preachers, the Lollards, undaunted continued to preach and disseminate the English Bible. Then the RCC in England did what no other country had ever done. They forbad the circulation of the Bible in the common language of the people.
A penalty of burning was enforced for anyone owning or even reading the English Scriptures. In 1414 another Church decree banned Wycliffe’s books and warned that anyone who was caught reading the English Bible would “forfeit land, cattle, life, and goods from their heirs forever.”
The price of one copy of Scripture was expensive antedating the invention of the printing press. Many Christians were willing to pay large sums of money just to read the Scriptures for an hour or two. People would give a whole load of hay just to have the Scripture for an hour. We are unlike the believers of Wycliffe’s day. We are inundated with English Bibles. Also we are unwilling with freedom to read, study, memorize and meditate.
After Wycliffe died the RCC ordered Wycliffe’s books burned, his bones dug up, burned and scattered over the river flowing through Lutterworth, Wycliffe’s town.
In Part 2 we will consider William Tyndale’s English Bible.