Lesson 1. Understanding The Bible

Discover Truth

2 Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”1

Introduction

As we begin our journey to Discover Truth, we must first establish the necessary groundwork on which all other aspects of our curriculum rely. In Lesson 1, we will begin by studying the relevance of the Bible as well as other foundational characteristics of the Bible such as inspiration, authority, inerrancy, theme, role, order, divisions, and consistency. We will then turn our focus to the history of the Bible by familiarizing ourselves with the canonization process, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the various translations of the Bible.

Relevance of the Bible

Despite its antiquity, the Bible continues to be the most popular book in the world with more than one hundred million new copies of the Bible produced each year.(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 20.Why has the Bible remained relevant to people from the time it was first recorded until today? The answer to this question lies in the belief that the Bible is the actual Word of God to us.(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 20. The Bible is much more than a collection of ancient texts and historical facts.(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 21. The Bible is God’s living Word to each and every person – and remains relevant no matter the century, culture, or circumstance. The more we read and study the Bible, the better we understand God, His will for us, and His plans for the future. If we read, study, and apply its principles to our lives, the Bible will draw us closer to our heavenly Father and will ultimately transform our lives.

From the moment we surrender our life to Christ, we embark on our journey of sanctification: the process by which we are transformed to become more like Christ.(Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000).This is God’s plan and perfect will for us (1 Thessalonians 4:3.) Through sanctification, the Holy Spirit strengthens our ability to resist sin by drawing us closer to God. Sanctification is accomplished through two critical components: (1) the power of the Holy Spirit that comes to live in us at the time of our salvation (Romans 8:3-4) and (2) the power contained within the Word of God when we read it and apply it to our lives (John 17:17). Both of these components equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). “Through the work of the Holy Spirit and our growth in the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, we are continually transformed into the women and men of God that He calls us to be.” “When we neglect the second necessary component required for sanctification, the study of God’s Word, we settle for a spiritual growth that is slow and full of roadblocks." “But, when we study, understand, and apply God’s Word to our lives, we begin to exchange a stagnant or slow-paced spiritual growth journey for a steady and fulfilling one that will bring glory to God and transformation to our lives.”

God’s Word is transformational, but only at the pace and depth to which we expose ourselves to it. (Bedford, TX: Creative Enterprises Studio, 2016), 119.

-Ann White

Eighty-eight percent of Americans own at least one Bible, yet recent studies conclude that very few actually read it or know how to apply it to their lives.Therefore, the crisis in our country today is not a lack of access to God’s Word, as in some countries; instead, it’s a lack of knowledge of what God’s Word actually says. Additionally, many of us, when we do begin reading and studying God’s Word, incorporate our own beliefs, preferences, and traditions into our study. Regardless of whether we learned these beliefs, preferences, and traditions from family members, childhood acquaintances, and/or spiritual mentors, we must challenge and test them against the truth of the Bible, so we do not adopt misinformation about God and His Word. Therefore, it is critically important we become properly grounded in our view of God and His Word and develop reliable observation, interpretation and application skills, in order to understand the Bible more accurately and apply His Word more properly.

Characteristics of the Bible

Before we begin to study God’s Word, we must understand how to appropriately approach God’s Word. In order to ensure a proper perspective, we must accept, trust, and understand the following seven foundational characteristics regarding the nature of the Bible.

7 Foundational Characteristics of the Bible

  1. Inspiration
  2. Authority
  3. Inerrancy
  4. Theme
  5. Role
  6. Order and Divisions
  7. Consistency

Inspiration

The inspiration of Scripture refers to the influence God exerted over the human writers of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 443.God used humans with various backgrounds, personalities, writing styles, and cultural contexts to pen His words. In 2 Peter 1:21, we are told that no prophecy ever came “by the impulse of man,” but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” These human authors and the Holy Spirit were involved in producing an inspired original text of Scripture. It is important to note, inspiration guarantees only the accuracy of the original writings, not of later copies or modern translations.Yet, the degree of accuracy with which the biblical text has been transmitted through the years is extraordinary. Therefore, we can be confident the Bible we have today is the very word of God.

Authority

The Bible claims to be authoritative in that all the words of Scripture are God’s words (John 17:17).(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 73.God himself did not audibly speak every word in Scripture. The Bible also includes words and conversations spoken by other individuals. God recorded their conversations for the purpose of teaching, reproof, instruction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, every word, properly interpreted in context, comes with authority from God. Consequently, when we disbelieve or disobey God’s Word, we disbelieve or disobey God. As we read the Bible, the Holy Spirit will speak to our hearts and affirm that the words of Scripture are the very words of God Himself. Since God’s Word is absolute Truth, His Word must be the authority in our lives.

Inerrancy

The inerrancy of Scripture refers to the fact the Bible is always true (Psalm 12:6; Proverbs 30:5) and free from all “falsehood, fraud, and deceit.”Inerrancy addresses the question of “truthfulness in speech.”This means that what the Bible says about a particular topic it addresses is true even though the Bible does not tell us everything there is to know about the particular topic.Additionally, we can trust the Bible is absolutely true, even when it uses approximations and vague language to describe certain events or phenomena. “Inerrancy has to do with truthfulness, not with the degree of precision with which events are reported.”

Theme

There are many themes throughout Scripture, but the overarching theme of the Bible seems to be best described as reconciliation.(Chicago: Moody, 1998), 48-55.God deeply desires to be reconciled with the crown of His creation –– mankind. Reconciliation involves a restoration of fellowship between sinful man and a holy God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.In the Old Testament, sin entered the world, separating us from God. In the New Testament, our sin is exchanged for Christ’s righteousness when we believe and accept Him as our Lord and Savior. Bible teachers are called to be messengers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) and are therefore expected to encourage others to be restored to a right relationship with God.

Role

What role does the Bible play in our lives? Here are three points to think about regarding the role the Bible should have in our lives. First, the Bible enlightens our hearts and minds.56-58.Second, the Bible reveals truth that cannot be known or discovered from any other source (Psalm 19:7-11), thereby exposing sin in our lives (Romans 7:7; Hebrews 4:12-13).56-58. And third, the Bible equips us for service (Timothy 3:16-17).56-58. The role of the Bible as a whole can be seen as an instruction manual for life. Our job is to accept its role, allow it to impact our actions, behaviors, and decisions, and encourage others to do the same.

Order and Divisions

The Bible consists of sixty-six books written in an organized fashion – but not in chronological order. Memorizing the order of the biblical books is helpful in Bible Study so we can easily locate each book and classify them in their specific division.

The Bible contains two major divisions called the Old Testament and New Testament. Both Old and New Testaments have various types of literature that form additional divisions.

The Old Testament has thirty-nine books representing five divisions.

  1. Law
  2. History
  3. Poetry and Wisdom
  4. Major Prophets
  5. Minor Prophets

The first division of the Old Testament is called The Pentateuch, also known as the Torah or Law, and includes five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.38-39.The second division, History, includes twelve historical books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.38-39. The third division is a combination of Poetry and Wisdom and includes five books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.38-39.The final two divisions, the Major Prophets and Minor Prophets, include the remaining seventeen books of the Old Testament and are considered prophetic books.38-39. The Major Prophets include five books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel. The Minor Prophets include twelve books: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The New Testament has twenty-seven books representing five divisions.

  1. Gospels
  2. History
  3. Paul’s Epistles
  4. General Epistles
  5. Prophecy

The first four books of the New Testament are called the Gospels and include Matthew, Mark, Luke and John The second division is one historical book entitled Acts and is often called the history of the early church.38-39.The third and fourth divisions are called Letters or Epistles and are categorized by authorship. The apostle Paul is the author of nine letters to new churches: Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians. He also authored four letters to personal friends: First and Second Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. The additional eight letters in which Paul is not identified as the author are called General Epistles: Hebrews, James, First and Second Peter, First, Second, Third John, and Jude.54. The final division of the New Testament is one prophetic/apocalyptic book entitled Revelation. The book of Revelation addresses the seven churches in Asia Minor or modern day Turkey and presents future happenings in the Kingdom of God.54. The ability to recognize each type of literature and the division in which the literature appears in the Bible will support the accurate interpretation of each Bible passage.

Consistency

As stated previously, the Bible is a collection of sixty-six books. These books were written over a period of approximately 1500 years by more than 40 authors: kings, prophets, leaders, and followers of Jesus Christ on three different continents.67. The Bible is remarkably unique among books for its message, consistency, survival, and its power to change lives. The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament were written primarily in Hebrew, with some Aramaic.79. The twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written in Greek.79. The consistency of the Bible is remarkable considering it was written over many centuries of time by a variety of authors who used multiple languages. Evidence in the form of thousands of manuscripts exists to support the veracity of the Bible. However, attempts to discredit the consistency of the Bible continue to occur, but to no avail. The Bible remains reliable, consistent and true in its teachings.

History of the Bible

As Bible study teachers, there is a good chance we will be asked questions concerning the history of the Bible since students are often interested in the reliability and authority of God’s Word. We should therefore become familiar with four historical topics:

  1. The Canonization of the Bible
  2. The Apocrypha
  3. The Dead Sea Scrolls
  4. The Translations of the Bible

Canonization of the Bible

The term “canon” originally came from the Greek word kanon and referred to a “rule” or “standard.”(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 103.By the fourth century AD, the meaning of the word “canon” was broadened to refer to the biblical books that were accepted as uniquely inspired and authoritative.446.Today, we still use the word canon today to refer to the biblical books that the church views as authoritative.446. But, how do we know we have the right collection of biblical books? This question is critical since Protestants, Roman Catholics, and the Eastern Orthodox Church disagree on which books are to be included in the canon.103. Below we have provided a broad overview of the history of canonization to further answer this question.

The History of Old Testament Canonization

Protestants defend an Old Testament canon that includes thirty-nine books and argue these books are the only ones accepted as authoritative and inspired by the Jews and Apostles during the time of Christ.103.In contrast, Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches maintain that certain apocryphal books (books written during the time between Malachi and the New Testament) are also authoritative.105. So, how do we know which books actually form the inspired Old Testament collection?

First, it is important to understand that the Old Testament books that were placed into the canon were of a “self-authenticating nature and did not derive their authority from a person or an ecclesiastical decree.”99.In other words, these books did not receive authority simply because they were placed in the Canon; rather, these books were recognized by Israel as authoritative and were consequently included in the canon.99.In fact, throughout Scripture, there is evidence that from a very early time some books of the Old Testament were considered authoritative and greatly revered (Exodus 17:14-16; 24:3-4, 7). For example, The Ten Commandments were stored in the Ark of the Covenant, a cherished place (Exodus 25:16, 21; Deuteronomy 10:2-5; 1 Kings 8:9; Hebrews 9:4).99.The Law was taught to priests and was to be read every seven years with nothing added or taken away from its contents (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; 31:24-26;). Additionally, Daniel demonstrates that during his time, the book of Jeremiah was considered part of a larger collection of books that was deemed authoritative.99.Daniel 9:2 states, “In the first year of his reign [Darius], I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.”

While discussions and debates regarding the canonical status of certain Old Testament books continued well into the Christian era, scholars suggest that the Old Testament canon was completed in the third or fourth century B.C.104. Rabbinic literature and the writings of Josephus (a first century Jewish historian) affirm this thought by demonstrating that most first century Jews commonly believed that divinely inspired writings ceased after the last of the minor prophets (Malachi).104.This means the early Jews and Apostles did not include books dated after approximately 450-500 B.C. as part of the Hebrew Bible.104.

Despite this fact, from the second century on, a majority of Christians accepted the Apocrypha as canonical while a minority remained faithful to the Jewish canon. It was not until the sixteenth century Reformation that Christians began to return to the study of the Jewish Bible that was used by the Apostles and Jesus.105.It is commonly believed therefore that the Jews were definitely in agreement upon the boundaries and the authoritative nature of the Hebrew Bible during the New Testament times. Later, the New Testament books were added to the Hebrew Bible to complete the Christian canon.105.Listed below are four probable criteria used in determining which books were included in the Old Testament canon:115.

1. The Old Testament book must have contained no contradictions.

2. The Old Testament book must have been written by a prophet or someone recognized as having divine authority.

3. The Old Testament book originated through inspiration from God. Note: Many Biblical books include statements such as, “The word of the Lord came to” (Jeremiah 1:2, 4; 2:1; Ezekiel 6:1, 7:1) or “The Lord says,” (Isaiah 37:22; 43:1; Jeremiah 13:1). None of the Apocryphal books include such statements.

4. The Old Testament book must have been accepted by the Jews as authoritative material.

The History of New Testament Canonization

The New Testament books did not undermine the Old Testament canon, but rather, fulfilled many of the things that were longed for and prophesied about in the Old Testament.115.Therefore, the New Testament was necessary to complete God’s revelation.130. And historically, there has been much more agreement among Christians regarding the boundaries of the New Testament books than that of the Old Testament biblical books.109.

It is believed that Jesus died in approximately A.D. 30 and that the first gospel account of his life was written in A.D. 60. 130.So, for approximately 30 years, the teachings of Christ were spread orally. 130. The eyewitnesses of Jesus and the apostles could teach Christians the knowledge they had acquired.130. But, as time passed, Jewish leaders began to persecute Christians, requiring them to meet for worship separately, so fewer and fewer eyewitnesses remained readily accessible. 130. Consequently, the need arose to “safeguard” the accuracy of the words of Jesus and the apostles before all the firsthand witnesses died.129-130. So, the Apostles began writing the New Testament books during the first century. The 27 books that are in our New Testament Bibles were not written all at once, but were recorded during AD 49-95.448. The New Testament books were then circulated to local congregations for use in worship and were soon added to the Old Testament canon to form the Christian canon.130.

By the end of the first century, the New Testament churches had read various New Testament books, and seemed to have widely accepted the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Acts, and Paul’s letters as authoritative and canonical.130.But, as the second and third centuries progressed, several heresies developed threatening the orthodox Christian theology of the first century. Consequently, it became necessary for church leaders to respond to such heretical writing and agree upon a “list” of biblical books. 111.Beginning around A.D. 150 and lasting for another 200 years, Christians debated the “list” of New Testament books that should be treated as canonical. 111. In A.D. 367, a list of canonical books, that included the twenty-seven books that are in our New Testament today, was decided upon.111. Listed below are three probable criteria used in determining which books were included in the New Testament canon:

1. The New Testament book had to have been written by the Apostles, eyewitnesses to Jesus and his life. Note: Writers of books included in the canon of the New Testament must have come from the “apostolic age” (the first century). No more books could be added to this collection once the apostles died.

2. The New Testament book must have been orthodox in content and theology and consistent with the teaching of other New Testament books.

3. The New Testament Book written in the first century must have been preserved and thought to have been the most useful to a vast number of the early churches.

The Apocrypha

The Apocrypha is a collection of Jewish writings printed in the original King James Bible of 1611 and is included in Catholic Bibles today.(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 20.This collection of literature portrays the faith of the Jewish people living between the third century B.C.E and the first century C.E.(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 16.This time in history is often called the intertestmental period, the time between the events that occurred in the Old Testament and those that happened in the New Testament.(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 17. During this time, there was much political turmoil and distress for the Jews. Many Jews were enticed with the Greek culture and left the Jewish faith while others were forced to conform to the “Greek way of life.”(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 16. Yet, during this troubled and hostile time, there was a remnant of faithful Jews who strived to remain loyal and dedicated to God. The Apocryphal books record the testimony of these faithful men and women.(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 16.

While the Apocrypha gives us a better understanding of Jewish history as well as provides us with inspiration for living a faithful life to God, these books are not to be considered the Word of God. As Bible teachers, we must be able to distinguish between the Apocrypha and the true canon of Scripture. Therefore, let’s discuss a more detailed description of the contents in the Apocrypha and a summary of the significance and appropriate use of the Apocrypha for our study of the Bible today.

The Contents

The Apocrypha contains 16 Jewish writings that provide important information regarding the period of Judaism prior to the time of Jesus. The sixteen books in the Apocrypha include genres such as wisdom, history, liturgy, and prophecy and have been given the following titles:(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 7. (1) First Esdras, (2) Second Esdras, (3) First Maccabees, (4) Second Maccabees, (5) Third Maccabees, (6) Fourth Maccabees, (7) Wisdom of Ben Sira, (8) Wisdom of Solomon, (9) Baruch, (10) Tobit, (11) Judith, (12) Additions to Esther, (13) Additions to Daniel, (14) The Prayer of Manasseh, (15) Letter of Jeremiah, and (16) Psalm 151. Of these sixteen writings, the Roman Catholic Bible includes all of the above except First and Second Esdras, Third and Fourth Macabees, Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151. The Greek Orthodox Church excludes only Second Esdras and Fourth Maccabees.

Just as the Roman Catholic Church and Greek Orthodox Church differ in opinion regarding which Apocryphal books they consider authoritative, other churches that use the Apocrypha also differ in opinion regarding which of the 16 books listed above they consider authoritative. The sixteen books that have been provided above represent all of the possible books that a church might include in their version of the Apocrypha.(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 19.

The Significance and Use

Although the Apocrypha is not considered authoritative and inspired Scripture among Protestants, a study of the Apocrypha is rewarding and profitable for serious students of the Bible. Since the Apocrypha was written shortly following the closing of the Old Testament canon and briefly preceding the writing of the New Testament canon, this collection of Jewish literature provides helpful background and contextual information for our study of the New Testament. These documents shed light on early Jewish thought and traditions. For example, the Apocrypha provides insight into the respect the Jewish people had for the Torah or Law (the first five books of the Bible).(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 20. This information becomes significant when reading about the Jew’s resistance to the Apostle Paul’s instructions.

The Apocrypha helps us understand how difficult it would have been for the Jews who were devout in their adherence to the Law to obey the Apostle Paul’s instructions not to be bound to the Law and to accept the Gentile’s salvation as legitimate. The Apocrypha also offers insight into the prayers of the Jews providing us with a glimpse into their moral and upright lives.(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 21.

Finally, the Apocrypha is significant to biblical studies because the New Testament writers showed a familiarity with its contents. Yet, despite its value, the Apocrypha is most appropriately used as background information rather than authoritative scripture to be applied to our lives today. By the second century B.C.E., there is evidence of a set of sacred, authoritative writings that did not include the Apocrypha.(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 30. In Luke 24:44, Jesus claims, “Everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” And by the end of the first century C.E., we have evidence of a final, closed Old Testament canon described by the historian, Josephus that again does not include the Apocrypha.(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 31. But, the most compelling reason for not deeming the Apocrypha as authoritative Scripture is the fact that none of the New Testament authors quote a text from the Apocrypha as Scripture.(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 33.

In summary, we can be encouraged to read and examine the Apocrypha for important New Testament background information, but we must keep our study in proper perspective realizing that the Apocrypha is not part of the inspired, authoritative Word of God.

Dead Sea Scrolls

The fact that our Bible has been transmitted over a period of almost three thousand years has led many to ask probing questions concerning its preservation and accuracy.(Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001), 40.Many have wondered: Does the Bible we possess today accurately reflect the original Old and New Testament texts? How was the Bible preserved over all those years? And what did the early manuscripts look like? Although none of the original Old and New Testament manuscripts exists today, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provides answers to the questions above and evidence for the reliability of the Bible. Let’s discuss how the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and learn the significance of these biblical scrolls for us today.

The Discovery

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammed ed-Dib discovered ancient scrolls preserved in several clay jars in a Qumran cave near the shore of the Dead Sea.(Atlanta: The Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 1-2. While looking for a stray animal, the shepherd casually threw a stone into a cave and heard a shattering sound. Instead of immediately seeking to discover what it was he heard, he fled out of fear. He and his friend later returned to the cave determined to find what had been hit with the stone. After finally entering the cave, Muhammed ed-Dib and his friend found decaying rolls of leather in long jars in the floor of the cave. These ancient manuscripts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek became known as “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” eds. David N. Freedman, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, John D. Pleins, and Astrid B. Beck (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 2:85. The contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls were soon identified as ancient copies of biblical books and other Jewish religious texts.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 9. Copies of every book of the Hebrew Bible were found in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls except for the book of Esther.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 253.

The Significance

The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls cannot be underestimated. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide support for the accuracy of the Hebrew texts used by all modern Bible translations.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 253.The contents of the biblical scrolls are approximately one-thousand years older than the Hebrew text that was used for all modern Bible translations.11. For example, the handwriting on the copy of the Daniel scroll can be dated in the late second century BC.3rd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 43.This ancient Daniel scroll is closer to its original biblical manuscript than any other biblical work in existence.3rd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 43. This means, “The ‘Dead Sea Bible’ is the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found.”11. This fact is important because it has allowed scholars to compare the traditional, Hebrew manuscripts (used in Bible translation) with the ancient Hebrew Dead Sea Scrolls (that are 1000 years older) and confirm the most accurate Hebrew and English translations.5. Additionally, the Dead Sea Scrolls are significant in that they have provided background information for what was going on in the culture before the time of Jesus Christ.264. Finally, the fact that such antiquated texts have been preserved over thousands of years and that there are numerous copies of many of them yields convincing evidence that the Bible is truly the inspired, inerrant, Word of God.

Translations of the Bible

In regard to Bible study, few things are as important as how the Bible has been translated.Translation involves preserving the meaning of a text from one language to another. Since the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek, translations are necessary so that we might know what God says in His Word. But, how did we get our English translation of the Bible?

The Process of Bible Translation

God worked through human authors to produce an inspired original text of Scripture written in Hebrew (Old Testament), Aramaic (Old Testament), and Greek (New Testament). We refer to these original texts as autographs. Over a period of time, people began to make copies of these original documents of Scripture. Before the printing press was invented, scribes copied the Bible by hand and made minor mistakes. Because of these minor mistakes, there were small differences in the Hebrew and Greek copies of Scripture. Consequently, scholars began to study and determine which copies most closely resemble the original texts. This practice is called textual criticism. These textual critics determined which Hebrew and Greek texts best represent the original autographs. Once this was determined, one Hebrew and two Greek texts became the basis for almost every modern English translation. Translators then worked to translate these standard Hebrew and Greek texts into English so that we might read, study, and apply God’s Word to our lives today. We can be thankful for these translators as they suffered much persecution to get the Bible into the language of ordinary people. Now, let’s discuss, a brief historical survey of the English translations of the Bible.

The History of Bible Translation:26-33.

St. Jerome in His Study (1480), by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

A.D. 400

The Bible was translated into Latin by an early Christian leader named Jerome. This translation became known as the Vulgate (a Latin word meaning “common”). This Bible was used for one-thousand years.

Beginning of the Gospel of John from a 14th-century copy of Wycliffe’s translation

1380

John Wycliffe was the first to translate the Bible into English. This Bible became known as the Wycliffe Bible. But, instead of using the Hebrew and Greek texts as a basis for translation, Wycliffe translated the Latin Bible word-for-word into English. Soon after, Wycliffe was persecuted for translating the Bible into the language of the ordinary people and was called a heretic. People were forbidden from reading this Bible and were penalized for doing so.

John Wycliffe

1388

John Purvey produced a much improved edition of the Wycliffe Bible. This Bible became the primary English Bible for two-hundred years.

The beginning of the Gospel of John, from Tyndale’s 1525 translation of the New Testament.

1526

William Tyndale completed an English New Testament that used the Greek text rather than the Latin language, but he died before finishing a translation of the Old Testament. Tyndale was killed and his body burned for working to translate the Bible into the language of ordinary people.

1535: Myles Coverdale produced the Coverdale Bible, a translation of the entire Bible into English.

1537

John Rogers, one of Tyndale’s associates, used a pen name (Thomas Matthew) and completed theMatthew Bible . John Rogers was also martyred for his commitment to Bible translation.

Title page of the Great Bible (1539)

1539

The Matthew Bible was revised by Coverdale and soon became known as the Great Bible because of its large size. This was the first English translation that was allowed to be read in the Church of England. Consequently, the Great Bible became popular with the people.

Geneva Bible

1560

William Whittingham, along with some others, completely revised the English Bible. This revision was known as the Geneva Bible which became the Bible of Shakespeare, the Puritans, and the Pilgrims.

Matthew Parker Archbishop of Canterbury (1559)

1568

Because of the notes on Calvinism in the margin of the Geneva Bible, the Bishops of England would not allow this Bible to be used in English churches. Matthew Parker, the Archbishop of Canterbury, oversaw the revision of the Great Bible. This revised version became known as The Bishops’ Bible.

1593

The Roman Catholic Church also wanted an English translation of the Bible with notes in the margin supporting its doctrine. So, Douai-Rheims Bible was translated.

The title page to the 1611 first edition of the Authorized Version Bible by Cornelis Boel

1604: King James I ordered the whole Bible to be newly translated for use in the churches of England. This newly translated version of the Bible became known as the King James Version and included the Apocrypha. The King James Version was one of the most widely used translations in the English-speaking world and has been revised many times (1629, 1638, 1729, 1762, 1769).

1769

Benjamin Blayney revised the King James Version. This revision became known as the Oxford Standard Edition and is the edition of the KJV still in use today. The Oxford Standard Edition of the KJV is different in thousands of places from the first 1611 KJV edition.

The Revised Version of the
New Testament translators, 1881

1885

The English Revised Version was the first English translation that took into consideration the modern practice of textual criticism. The ERV is based on a different Greek text than the KJV.

Title page to the American Standard Version of 1901

1901

American scholars revised the English Revised Version, a revision that became known as the American Standard Version.

Title page to the first edition of the Revised Standard Edition

1952

Translators sought to capture and communicate the meaning of Scriptures in English for public and private worship. This translation was called the Revised Standard Version.

1971

(rev. ed. 1995) - A translation that sought to closely imitates the form of the original languages was released. This translation, known as the New American Standard Bible, is one of the more popular translations today.

The New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 Thomas Nelson, Inc.

1982

The New King James Version was released in an attempt to update the language of the King James Version. The translators of the NKJV used the same underlying Greek text that the translators of the KJV used (textus receptus) .

Three Approaches to Bible Translation

Now, that we have discussed the process and the history of Bible translation, it is important to be familiar with the two primary approaches to translating the Bible. Recognizing the approaches to Bible translation will help us choose the Bible translation that is most appropriate for our particular situation and study.34.

The first approach scholars use in Bible translation is a more formal, literal and “word-for-word” approach.34.Formal translations strive to maintain the structure and wording of the original (Hebrew & Greek) languages as closely as possible. The New American Standard Bible (NASB), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and the English Standard Version (ESV) are examples of more formal translations of the Bible. The second primary approach to translating the Bible is the functional approach or “thought-for-thought” approach.34.

The functional approach tries to articulate the meaning of the original (Hebrew & Greek) texts in today’s language. The functional approach places less emphasis on imitating the exact wording and structure of the original languages and more focus on communicating the meaning of the original texts. Bible translations such as the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Good News Bible (GNB) have been translated according to the functional approach. It is important to mention that no translation is completely “formal” or “functional.”34. For example, the New International Version (NIV) is not completely formal or functional.

In addition to the two approaches to translating the Bible above, Bible students will also encounter a paraphrase, which is not a translation from the original languages but rather an explanation of a certain English translation using different words.35. The Living Bible, the Amplified Bible, and the Message are examples of a paraphrase. Rather than translating the Bible, a paraphrase is more like a commentary on the Bible. Because the editors make too many interpretive decisions for their readers in a paraphrase Bible, we recommend using a paraphrase like a commentary.

How to Choose a Bible Translation

Since there are so many translations to choose from, Bible students often wonder, “Which translation is best?” Here are some guidelines to consider:36. First, pick a translation that uses modern English; choose a translation that has been translated within the last fifty years. Second, choose a translation that is based on the standard Hebrew and Greek text. The King James Version (KJV) and New King James Version (NKJV) are based on a Hebrew and Greek text that is not the preferred standard texts used today. Since the KJV first appeared, older manuscripts of the Hebrew and Greek texts have been discovered. Scholars agree that these older manuscripts are much more reflective of the original text.29. In fact, many of the differences between the KJV and modern translations are due to differences in the standard or underlying Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.

Third, pick a translation that has been translated by a committee rather than an individual. A group of translators will have more expertise than one individual could possibly possess. And finally, choose a translation that is right for your purpose at the time. For example, when you read to children, use a more simplified and functional translation such as the New Living Translation. And if you are reading to people who speak English as a second language, choose a translation such as The Good News Bible. But, for Bible study, we recommend using a more formal, word-for-word translation of the Bible such as the New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, or the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Remember when it comes to Bible study, how the Bible has been translated is of utmost importance. We can be thankful for the many translators who invested countless hours and even risked their lives to get the message of the Bible into our language, so that we might read, study, and apply it to our lives today.

Lesson 1 Exercise

Now that we have discussed the relevance of God’s Word, characteristics of God’s Word, and history of God’s Word, let’s review what we have learned.

1. Answer the review questions below about the characteristics of the Bible. Refer to your reading if you need help.

Inspiration

The __________________ of Scripture refers to the influence God exerted over the human writers of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).

_______________ ________________ and the Holy Spirit were involved in producing an inspired original text of Scripture.

Inspiration guarantees only the accuracy of the ___________ _____________, not of later copies or modern translations.

Authority

The Bible claims to be _____________________ in that all the words of Scripture are God’s Words
(2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When we disbelieve or disobey ____________ _____________, we disbelieve or disobey _____________.

Inerrancy

The inerrancy of Scripture refers to the fact that the Bible is always ________________ (Psalm 12:6; Proverbs 30:5) and free from all ________________, ________________, and ________________.

Theme

The overall theme of the Bible can be summarized by the word ______________________.

___________________ involves a restoration of fellowship between sinful man and a holy God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Role

The Bible _____________________ our hearts and minds.

The Bible __________________ __________ in our lives.

The Bible ____________ _________ for service.

Order

The arrangement of the books is by ______________ of ________________ more than by chronology.

Divisions

The Bible contains two major divisions called the ______________ ___________________ and
______________ ___________________.

The______________ ___________________ has thirty-nine books.

The New Testament has ________ books.

Consistency

The Bible is a collection of ___________ books that were written over a period of approximately ____________ years by more than ___________ kings, prophets, leaders, and followers of Jesus Christ on three different continents.

The Bible is remarkably unique among books for its message, its ___________________, its survival, and its power to change lives.

2. Answer the review questions below about the history of the Bible. Refer to your reading if
you need help.

The Canonization of the Bible

We use the word ______________ today to refer to the biblical books that the church views as authoritative.

It is commonly believed the Jews were in agreement upon the boundaries and the authoritative nature of the Hebrew Bible during the ___________________ ___________________ ___________________.

The standard for New Testament canonicity hinged on maintaining the following three criteria:

First, New Testament authors must have been connected to the ____________________.

Second, the content and theology of each New Testament book must be ________________in its teachings and consistent with the teaching of other New Testament books.

Finally, books that were written in the first century and __________________were thought to have been the most useful to a vast number of the early churches.

The Apocrypha

The _______________________ is a collection of Jewish writings printed in the original King James Bible of 1611 and in all Catholic Bibles today.

This collection of literature portrays the faith of the Jewish people living between the __________________ B.C.E and the ___________________ C.E.

Despite its value, the Apocrypha is most appropriately used as ___________________information rather than _______________________ scripture to be applied to our lives today.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The contents of the ________________ ________________ ________________ are approximately 1000 years older than the Hebrew text that was used for all modern Bible translations.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are significant in that they have provided background information for what was going on in the ___________________ before the time of Jesus Christ.

The Translations of the Bible

Translation involves preserving the ________________of a text from one language to another.

Formal translations strive to maintain the ______________and wording of the original (Hebrew & Greek) languages as closely as possible.

The second primary approach to translating the Bible is the _________________approach or “thought-for-thought” approach.

In addition to the two approaches to translating the Bible above, you will also encounter a ____________________, which is not a translation from the original languages but rather an explanation of a certain English translation using different words.

3. Answer the application questions below.

Do you accept the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Bible? Explain.

What translation of the Bible do you regularly read from and use in Bible study? Why?

Are you open to incorporating multiple translations in Bible study? Explain.

What new information did you learn in Lesson 1 that will strengthen your overall understanding of the Bible?

Resources for Further Study

Arnold, Clinton E.How We Got the Bible: A Visual Journey. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Paul D. Wegner.The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.