You are sitting in the pew on Sunday morning listening to the pastor talk about a Bible verse and all of a sudden he says, “The Greek word is ‘didaskolos.’” Why do preachers do that? Why do preachers like to bring up Greek and Hebrew?
The prophets and apostles did not write the Bible in English. Most of the Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew, the language of the Jews before they were taken captive by the Babylonians. Most of the New Testament was written in Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire in the days of the apostles. A few portions of the Bible were written in Aramaic, a language related to Hebrew that was probably the native language of Jesus and his disciples.
When studying the Bible it is helpful to remember all of our English Bibles are translations of another language. Unfortunately, whenever a text is translated from one language into another something is lost in the transmission of information. A word that is very precise in one language may not be able to be translated by an equally precise word in another. Emphasis communicated by grammar or word order in one language may not be easily communicated in another.
Many of those who study the Bible recognize the value of the additional information that can be learned by looking at the Greek or Hebrew words behind the English the translation. One example of this value is the different meanings of the Greek words translated “love” in English. One word emphasizes a deep commitment to another and the other word points towards a deep fondness for another. Neither of these concepts are easily translated into English, and are not clearly communicated by the word “love.”
A preacher will refer to the Greek or Hebrew when he wants to point out the significance of a meaning that is not immediately obvious in the English translation. This is not to imply the average reader cannot understand the Word of God. Instead, it shows that Scripture is understandable to modern readers. We can know what the original authors wrote and meant.
On a related note, modern technological tools make it easy for the Bible student to see the original text and the meanings of those ancient words. The most accessible of these tools is based on the concordance of James Strong. Smartphone apps like Olive Tree and YouVersion offer Bible translations with built in links to Strong’s Concordance. By tapping a word you can see the Greek or Hebrew word, the various ways it is translated into English and, most importantly, a basic definition of the Greek or Hebrew word.
The Bible claims to be the Word of God. The Bible does not claim to be an inspirational message about how to be more spiritual. The Bible claims to be instructions directly from God that have been written down by men. The Bible is what God has said to men. The Bible includes God’s requirements of people.
The Bible speaks with authority. The authority of the Bible does not come from the wisdom of its teachings, though it is wise. The authority of the Bible is not based upon its instructions being superior to all others, though its principles are best. The authority of the Bible is not a result of the superior skill of its human authors or because of the many millions who have followed its instructions. The authority of the Bible is based entirely on the authority of God.
As the Word of God, the Bible has the same authority over the individual that God does. Wayne Grudem said, “To disbelieve or disobey any word of God is to disbelieve or disobey God.” This is why James 1 says, “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.” (James 1:22) The Bible certainly expects its words to be obeyed. For example, the commands in the books of Moses come with warnings of severe consequences if they are not obeyed. And the letter to the church in Thessalonika instructs the church to punish those who did not obey its commands. (2 Thessalonians 3:14).
The Bible’s authority covers every area of life. Though the Bible does not give specific instructions about every possible situation (Scripture does not teach a dentist how to repair a broken tooth), it does give instructions that apply to every possible situation. The Bible teaches a dentist what his behavior and attitude should be while repairing a tooth. The Bible gives many specific instructions that speak directly to daily life. The Bible teaches an employee to work with diligence for the pleasure of God. (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Colossians 3:22-23) Scripture teaches children to obey their parents and parents to train their children with care and compassion. (Ephesians 6:1-34) The instructions in the Word of God cover every area of life, and are to be obeyed.
God in His grace has given us commands that are good for us. The commands of the Bible are always wisest and best. Through obedience to the Bible, the individual is made wise, joyful and understanding. The Bible’s commands are not always easy to obey but they are always right and good. The one who obeys God’s Word will be blessed of God. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-2)
The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written over a span of nearly 2,000 years. The first five books are five of the six oldest books in the Bible and were written by Moses nearly 1,500 years before the birth of Jesus. In Genesis Moses wrote about creation an event that took place 3,500 years before he wrote about it. How did Moses know what happened? One possible answer to these questions is that Moses relied on oral traditions passed down from Adam through Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob until they eventually reached Moses. Oral tradition has also been suggested as the source material of other portions of the Old Testament and of the New Testament gospels. Is this what happened? Is the Bible based on stories that were passed down from one generation to another before finally being written down?
Some believe the Bible relies on oral traditions because they want to discredit the accuracy of Scripture. They argue that if Moses relied on stories passed down from generation to generation then no one can be certain those stories were not exaggerated or changed over the years. The game of telephone illustrates this problem. Get a group of people together and whisper a simple sentence into the ear of the first person who then whispers it to another person. By the time the last person hears the message it has changed completely. “I like fuzzy, red dogs” becomes “I drink large beverages.”
In the case of the four gospels the supposed use of oral tradition is offered as an explanation of how the legend of Jesus grew from a story about a famous teacher to become the story of a great miracle worker and the Son of God. In this case, the correction to that assertion is clear. The authors of the gospels did not rely on oral traditions passed down from previous generations. Matthew and John declared they were writing what they knew from their own experience with Jesus. Luke specifically states he “had a perfect understanding of all things from the first.” (Luke 1:3) Luke compiled eyewitness testimony to put together his gospel and Mark hints that he was an eyewitness of the crucifixion and the resurrection. The gospels were not based on generations of oral traditions, but were eyewitness accounts of those who were there.
The Gospels are not the only eyewitness records in the Bible. Most of the historical books of the Bible are first hand records written by people who lived through the events they describe. This still leaves the problem of events like creation that the authors could not have witnessed. In cases like those, the author may have relied on some sort of tradition handed down through the generations. However, some things must be revealed by God. Adam was able to tell what happened after he was created, but only God can tell what happened on the days before He created man.
We know some portions of the Bible rely on source materials. Luke points to his use of eyewitnesses as the source material for his gospel. Places in the Kings and Chronicles indicate reliance on non-Biblical sources for their information. The use of outside sources, including oral tradition, is not a problem. Nor does it require the material to be full of error, myth or legend.
The Bible is the inspired Word of God. God was moving through human authors to write His Word. He guided any use of source material so the apostles and prophets only wrote what is completely accurate. The use of oral tradition in the Bible, does not occur frequently and it does not mean the Bible is in error. “Thy Word is true.” (Psalm 119:160)
A reader recently asked the question, “Why is wine mentioned in the Bible when wine drinking is forbidden?” Below is a portion of the answer given.
The fact that the Bible talks about people drinking wine does not necessarily mean it approves of such behavior. Many actions are described in the Bible which are not necessarily approved by God. For example, the Bible never records a rebuke or condemnation of David for having multiple wives, but we know from other passages that his polygamy was a sin. (Deuteronomy 17:15-17) The fact that the Bible describes people drinking alcohol does not necessarily mean it approves of such behavior or encourages Christians to practice it.
The Old Testament Hebrew word and the New Testament Greek word that are usually translated “wine” are generic terms. Both Greek and Hebrew words refer to drink made from grapes. This drink could be fermented grape juice or it could be unfermented grape juice. The only way to know whether it is describing wine or Welch’s is from the context. At times the context is unclear and sometimes we only think it is clear because of our preexisting ideas. For example, in the account of Jesus turning water into wine, most people naturally assume Jesus made a big jug of Merlot because alcoholic wine is often served at weddings today. Who would serve their guests grape juice? Yet, other cultures drank fresh squeezed grape juice. One example from the Bible is found in Genesis 40 when Joseph was imprisoned in Egypt. He met Pharaoh’s cupbearer who told him of a dream in which he squeezed fresh grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and gave it to him to drink. Some of the details of the dream were a bit fantastical, but Joseph and the cupbearer seem to have thought grape juice a normal beverage for a king to drink.
When the Old Testament talks about alcoholic drinks it often uses one of two different terms: “wine” and “strong drink.” “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:31) The modern reader thinks wine is something like Chardonnay and strong drink is something like Vodka. This is impossible. Fermentation can only produce a drink with an alcohol content up to 15%. The only way to get higher concentrations of alcohol is through distillation. Distillation was not discovered until sometime after A.D. 600. The last book of the Bible was written over 500 years before anyone made distilled liquors. The Bible never speaks of any alcoholic drink stronger than the strongest naturally occurring alcohols. Therefore, strong drink is not 150 proof Whiskey. Strong drink is full strength wine with an alcohol content of, at most, 12-15%.
History and archeology also show that in ancient times alcoholic wines were commonly diluted before drinking. The usual ratio of dilution was one part wine to 3-5 parts water. This means that in Biblical times the average alcohol content of wine (not strong drink) was the same or less than that found in the average beer today. The wine drunk in Biblical times was not the same as the wine commonly drunk in America today.
I believe the Biblical warnings about alcohol are strong enough that no one should drink distilled liquors or modern day wine. When the Bible discusses the merits of drinking alcohol it almost always presents drinking as a course of action filled with many dangers. Without a definitive Biblical prohibition I cannot say the Bible forbids all consumption of alcohol, but I would warn those who drink low alcohol beverages, such as beer or wine coolers, to do so with great caution. In my opinion, the wisest position for the Christian today is to avoid drinking alcohol.
As Solomon said in Proverbs 23, “Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.”
If you were to read the entire Bible you would not find a direct command from God saying “Thou shalt read the Bible everday.” Some Christians seem to believe they have no obligation to read or study Scripture. Some churches and denominations actively discourage their members from reading the Bible on their own. However, the Bible clearly teaches Christian to desire to read and study the Word. The book of First Peter says the Christian should hunger for Scripture the way a baby hungers for milk. (1 Peter 2:2)
Christians, should desire to know and study the Bible because God draws a definite link between the believer’s knowledge of the Bible and the ability to live in the way that pleases God. In the book 1 John the apostle writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:3-5). How is the Christian to know how Christ lived and be able to imitate His life without diligently studying the record of Jesus’ life? Obedience is only possible through careful attention to the rule He has given to His children.
Scripture also teaches that the Christian’s desire to know the Bible is a sign of spiritual health. 1 John 4:6 says, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Those who are truly saved will long to be taught the Bible by skilled teachers and the spiritual authorities God has placed in their lives. The healthy Christian will long to know the Word of God. Just as a loss of appetite is a symptom of physical illness, so a lack of hunger for the Word is a certain symptom of spiritual malaise.
A desire to know and to study the Bible does not necessarily mean the Christian will always be overflowing with enthusiasm to do so. A desire to study the Bible may be shown by the Christian springing out of bed in the morning eager to rush to a comfortable chair and spend time drinking in the Word. Though many Christians long to have this excitement for the Word, the fact is in real life very few do. However, a lack of an overflowing enthusiasm does not mean the desire for the Bible is less sincere. The average person is probably not excited about the next meal. They do not run to the table with glee, anxious for the food that will be set before them. Does this mean they lack sincerity in their eating? Does this mean the meal is of less importance to their life? The Christian knows the Word of Godfeeds his soul and desires to feast at the banquet of Scripture.
Possibly the most widely known Bible verse in America is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” The verse is often quoted when one person declares the actions of another to be wrong. Was Jesus saying that no person should ever tell another person they are doing something wrong?
A recent conversation is a good example of how this verse is commonly used. A man claimed to be “a Christ” and then claimed that everyone who believes also become Christs. He was informed that he was not Christ, Jesus is the only Christ and Christhood is not conferred upon any believers. The immediate response was “Judge not.” Many use the verse in the same way in situations where they feel like their decisions or actions are being attacked. The two words are wielded as if they are a magic shield able to deflect every attack, criticism, question, confrontation or uncomfortable conversation.
To bowdlerize the famous words of a Hollywood sage, “You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The Bible says, “Judge not.” The Bible also says. “Judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) “Try the spirits, whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) “Prove all things.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Each one of those verses requires a judgment that discerns between right and wrong.
If the popular view of Matthew 7:1 were correct, then Jesus Himself would be guilty of violating it’s command. Jesus judged people. He told an adulterous woman to stop sinning. He called religious leaders white washed mausoleums, poisonous serpents and hypocrites. The Apostle Paul judged the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11). Paul also judged Alexander, Hymaneus, Philetus, Demas and various other unnamed teachers. Jesus and the Apostles often committed the cardinal sin of the 21st century. They judged people. They did not violate the command of Matthew 7
“Judge not” is a warning to not judge superficial, self-righteous judgment. Jesus condemned the condemnation of others based upon personal preferences and shallow relationships. The self-righteous, malicious condemnation of another person because they do not meet your own opinions of what they should and should not do is forbidden. The irony of the misuse of Matthew 7:1 is the majority of the people who attack others with “Judge not” or its derivatives are disobeying the command of Jesus. They are guilty of condemning the actions of another based upon nothing more than their own personal preferences. The Bible condemns self-righteousness which replaces the Biblical standard for a cultural or personal one. The Bible commands Christians to evaluate the actions, beliefs and motives of ourselves and others according to the standard of the Word of God. Christians are not forbidden to warn others about sin, call a person to repentance or confront a false gospel. They are commanded to do those things.
Anyone shopping for a new Bible is likely to be overwhelmed by the choices available today. The bewildering array of translations, all cryptically encoded behind letter trios, is enough to confuse even a seasoned pastor. When one is forced to choose between acronyms like KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV, NLT, HCSB, ASV, ATV, ABC, QUV, WWE, the letters soon become a meaningless jumble.
Despite the challenges, sorting through the jargon to select a good translation is important. Not all versions are translated equal. Some translators did their job poorly. Some translators included too much of their own interpretations. Some translators intentionally distorted the meaning of key verses. Can a person find the gospel in a bad translation?
Consider the worst case scenario. An individual in a cult reads the cult’s version of the Bible translated by members of the cult with little training in Greek or Hebrew. The translators intentionally change the text to undermine key Biblical truths, such as the deity of Jesus. Yet, even when incompetent heretics mangle the words of God, gospel truths are such a major part of the Bible they can never be entirely removed. Thomas Jefferson produced a highly edited version of the New Testament in which he attempted to cut out the Divinity of Jesus and all description of miracles. Yet, the gospel is still present. The Jesus Seminar voted to remove from the gospels everything they thought was myth. But they could not erase the gospel. The saving truths of the gospel so fill Scriptures that removing all gospel truths is nearly impossible. A Bible without the gospel could not rightly be called a Bible since it would be little more than two leather covers and a bookmark.
A person can be saved from a bad translation. The Bible itself contains evidence of the power of the gospel even when communicated by an inferior translation. At times Jesus and the apostles quoted from the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (today it has its own confusing three letter acronym, LXX). This translation was inferior to other texts available at the time. Jesus certainly knew the Septuagint was not the best translation, but He quoted from it any way. He quoted it as the Word of God. He quoted it expecting His hearers to believe and obey it as Scripture. Christians ought to have a translation that accurately communicates the inspired words written by Paul, Moses and others, but we need not fear that a weak translation is going to damn a soul to hell. The Holy Spirit is able to convict men of sin and show them their need of a Savior even when the truth of His Word has been obscured by the failures of men.
A bad translation may create confusion in the mind of the reader. A bad translation may require the soul winner take more time to explain key elements of the gospel. A poor translation may make sharing the gospel more challenging, but never let a bad translation stop you from sharing the gospel. Keep witnessing. The Word of God is alive and powerful. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
The Bible makes astonishing claims for itself. The Bible claims to be the Word of God given directly by God through men specially chosen by Him. The Bible claims to be free from all error. The Bible presents a history of the universe that is very different from the one taught in most science classes. The Bible speaks of places unfamiliar to us, with names that are foreign and a culture that is at times perplexing. All of which took place thousands of years ago. Many of the Bible’s claims cannot be directly verified. We have no direct evidence outside the Bible that proves it was written by apostles or prophets. But the lack of direct evidence does not mean belief in the truth of the Bible is a blind leap of faith.
The Bible is filled with historical details and descriptions that allow researchers to measure the accuracy of the Bible. For example, the Bible says Abraham had herds of camels (Genesis 24:8). Were camels in the Middle East during the time of Abraham? If they were not, then it undermines the reliability of Scripture. The same can be said of specific towns, villages, rulers, customs, laws and many other similar details mentioned in Scripture. If it can be proven that even one of these details is not an accurate historical record, then the Bible is not what it claims to be.
A word of caution, though. The absence of positive evidence does not disprove the Bible’s claim on a subject. Because we may not have archeological or other historical evidence verifying that ancient Israelites followed a leader named Joshua does not mean the Bible is false. History has repeatedly shown that evidence may yet be discovered which supports the Bible. Archeologists used to claim the Old Testament’s references to the Hittites was evidence the Bible was in error because no such people existed. Then they discovered evidence of the Hittites. The absence of confirming evidence is not proof the Bible is in error. Many details of Middle Eastern history are yet to be discovered and many will never be discovered.
One of the strongest evidences for the reliability of the Bible is fulfilled prophecy. Scripture contains hundreds of specific prophecies which include particulars like names, times and places. The Bible also sets a standard for prophecy. For prophecy to be from God it must be 100% accurate. One wrong prophecy overthrows all the right ones. If the Bible misses just one of its hundreds of prophecies, then it is not the Word of God. A careful examination of the propehcies of the Bible reveal it has never erred, not even once. The Bible prophesied the name of the king who would issue the command to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Isaiah 44:28). The Bible prophesied where Jesus would be born (Micah 5:2) and when He would die (Daniel 9:26). It foretold the death of David’s baby (2 Samuel 12:14), and the division of Israel after Solomon’s death (1 Kings 11:11-13). These and the many other detailed prophecies which have been fulfilled show the Bible is exactly what it claims to be.
Other evidence can be offered for the reliability of the Bible, but in the end you have to believe the Word. Those looking for a reason to doubt Scripture will always find one. Even those who desire to believe will face things they cannot fully explain. This is not proof the Bible is in error, but a reminder of our inability to fully understand God and His Word. You can and must believe the Bible is what it claims to be: God’s perfect Word.