The supreme revelation of God—far greater than the revelation of Himself in nature, history, or providence—is found in the sacred Scriptures: the Bible. We would be ignorant of God, His nature, will, plans, purposes; of Christ, and the great doctrines of our salvation, or the Holy Spirit and His wonderful ministrations towards believers in Christ, and of our future destiny in the great eternity, did we not possess the revelation of these things as contained in the Bible. At the foundation of all our spiritual knowledge, then, lies "The Word of God." The Holy Spirit usually does not operate apart from this Word. Far more important, in a sense, is the study of the Scriptures than is prayer to the child of God. How would we know what to pray for, how to pray acceptably, and to whom to pray did we not have the written revelation of these things? When we pray we talk to God; when we read and study His Word He talks to us. Which is the more important, think you, that we talk to Him, or that He talk to us?
The Christian should know that the Bible will always be spoken against; therefore he should not fear opposition to the Word.
"For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89).
The Bible even as the Christ, has ever been, and ever will be while time shall last, "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence"; that on which "many...shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken" (Isaiah 8:14-15). There is no more fiercely attacked book today than the Bible—attacked by both friends and foes. It may be said that the Bible is, today, actually suffering more from the attacks made upon it by its professed friends than from all the machinations of its enemies. The destructive higher criticism which has done so much to destroy faith in the supernatural revelation found in the Scriptures will have much to answer for in the great day of reckoning.
The faith of the Christian should not be shaken because of these attacks. God has told us not to be disturbed over them. He says: "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not [be in] make haste." (Isaiah 28:16). These words are true of the incarnate and written Word alike. The words "he that believeth shall not make haste" mean that he who puts confidence in the Word, shall not be put to shame or confusion at such a time. The Christian need not worry when he sees the Bible being attacked. It is "an anvil that has worn out many hammers."
God has forewarned us to expect that some builders will refuse to build upon this stone, and that they will scorn it and cast it aside. But He also assures us that the stone will remain unshaken, and that he that buildeth upon it will "not make haste"—that is to say, he will not be thrown into panic or anxiety when confronted with such opposition. The Word of God will abide even though heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:18).
The past centuries have witnessed forms of opposition to the Word of God much more severe than those which characterize the criticism in our day. One has only to think back to that dark period at the birth of Christianity when its Founder lay dead in that tomb in Joseph's garden. Surely no enterprise ever seemed more hopeless or so completely at an end. Yet forth from the shadow of that cross and tomb there went forth a band of men to proclaim the truths contained in the Bible,
Or, again, one has only to look back upon those gloomy days when the Apostle Paul, the champion, the leader, the foremost representative of Christianity, lay languishing in the Roman prison, his head about to be laid upon the executioner's block, in order to realize in what straits the religion of Christ then found itself. Yet it survived even this shock.
The student of history has but to think of those fierce days of opposition from paganism with its gross sensuality; of oriental philosophy, with its keen logic and reason; of the renaissance of the fifteenth century, with its worship of reason and attempted dethronement of faith, to understand that if the Bible had not been a divine book it would have been destroyed centuries ago.
So dire was the condition of Christianity in England in the eighteenth century that Bishop Butler in his "Advertisement" to his Analogy of Religion says: "It has come, I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons that Christianity is not so much a subject for inquiry; but that it is now, at length, discovered to be fictitious; and accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule." Can the greatest pessimist amongst us say that Christianity is in anything like such a condition today?
Voltaire said that in one hundred years from his day, the Bible would be an unknown book; that if a man wanted to find it he would have to go to some antiquarian bookstore, and there, on some back shelf, he might, perhaps, find a copy of the Bible. Over one hundred years have passed since Voltaire made this statement, and it does not look as though it were anywhere near being fulfilled, for the Bible today is a more popular book than ever before in all its history. We venture to say that the theological controversies raging around the Bible today are nothing but a rehash of those of the past centuries, served up in new dress, as a comparison will show.
The Bible withstood the shocks of those days, and why should it not withstand the same shocks today? In spite of all opposition, the church of Christ today has more members, builds more churches, circulates more Bibles, and makes her influence felt all over the world more than ever in all her previous history.
We should not, therefore, fear that Christianity and the Bible are going to pieces because it is asserted that the scholars of the day are against it. Of course, it is not true that the scholars of the world are arrayed against the Bible. Professor Tait of Edinburgh, a distinguished representative of physical science, in the International Review, denied such a statement. He asked who were the advanced, best, ablest thinkers of the past, or of that time. He then showed that, with a few exceptions, the scholars were on the side of the Bible and orthodoxy. The late George C. Romanes, who, after a long eclipse of the faith, died a believer, in addressing the students of Cambridge University, said that all the most illustrious names were listed on the side of orthodoxy; Sir W. Thompson, Sir George Stokes, Professors Tait, Adams, Clark, Maxwell, and Bailey—and the conditions are practically unchanged today.
But if it were true that scholarship is arrayed against the Bible, that fact would not predict or spell defeat or failure. Scholarship has never saved the church or brought it back from its backslidings to warmth or spiritual fervor. Philosophy and science never have, never can save a soul.
We are saved by faith, not by scholarship. Jesus Christ did not choose a company of university men to be His disciples and apostles, to go forth and win the world for God. We are not disparaging scholarship; we need it, and the more consecrated scholarship we have the better for the interests of the Bible and Christianity. No premium should be put upon ignorance. The principal authors of the Old and New Testaments, Moses and Paul, were scholars. What we do assert is that Christianity is not dependent upon scholarship (1 Corinthians 1:24-26).
We need not fear the increase in the knowledge of the sciences...The Bible has nothing to fear from the pick-axe of the geologist, from the telescope of the astronomer, from the skull of the anthropologist, from the instrument of the chemist, or from the pen of the scientific writer.
Every Christian should know how to approach the Bible.
"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Psalm 119:18).
First, his approach should be a personal one.
He should read and study the Bible firsthand, and for himself. He should be more anxious to hear what the Spirit will teach him, through prayerful waiting, what the Word of God actually says, than what writers and commentators have to say about what it says, or what they think it says or, as is sometimes the case, what it should say. It is better to ask the Bible what it says than to tell it what to say.
We are living in an age of predigested foods—foods someone else has masticated first, forsooth. Such food may be all right for invalids and dyspeptics; but the robust, sound, healthy man would rather do his own mastication.
Some people study books about nature and call that nature study. The best place to study nature is in the fields and woods. Books and pictures are but reflections of nature. If you want to enjoy the beauty of a garden you do not send someone else out to look at it for you. You do not study nature by proxy; why then should you study the word of God by proxy?
It is related that once when Alexander went to visit Diogenes, the old philosopher was reading a book with his back towards the sun. Alexander took his place behind Diogenes, between him and the sun, and so cast a shadow on the book.
"What can I do for you, Diogenes?" said Alexander.
"Get out of my light so that I may read," replied the philosopher.
And so say we to the books and helps that we are prone to substitute for the Word of God. Helps they may be towards the understanding of it, but substitutes for the first hand study of the Scriptures by the aid of the Holy Spirit they never can be. Let the Bible speak to you for itself. Listen, yourself, to its voice. If it is my health you are discussing, then I have a right to be heard, for I know how I feel better than the doctors or you can tell me. So if the Bible is the issue, then let it speak for itself. Let it give its own account of how it came to be (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), and what are the conditions it imposes on those who would understand its teachings (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).
Second, the Christian should approach the Bible as a unique Book.
"As man is among the animals, so is the Bible among books." It is not a matter of difference with regard to degree, but of intrinsic quality. All other books are human; the Bible is divine. All other books are man-wrought; the Bible is God-breathed. Other books are the products of the human understanding; the Bible is the result of the movings in the hearts of holy men by the Holy Spirit of God. The Bible is not like the books of other religions: they are comparative; the Bible is not in that class; it is superlative. It stands alone, and receives the obeisance of the sheaves of mere literature surrounding it, just as the sheaves of Joseph's brethren bowed to his sheaf.
The Bible is not a book; it is the Book. For this reason it is impossible for the Christian to read the Bible "just as he would read any other book," as he is so often told he should do. He cannot do it because the Bible is not like other books. Shall a man read a letter from his revered and departed mother just as he would read a patent-medicine advertisement? He simply cannot do it. One can read the Bible as he reads other books only when other books make the same claims that the Bible makes for itself.
And even then the rival claimants must be subjected to strictest criticism and judgment. But no other book in fact makes claims such as the Bible makes. It was John McNeill, the Scottish preacher, who, dealing with this subject, said: "You ask me to look on the Bible as I would on any other book? You might as well ask me to look upon every other woman as I look upon my wife. I simply cannot do it. I won't do it. You may call me narrow and a bigot, and straight-laced, all that, and more too, if you like. But after you have had your say, I must tell you that after I have looked on other women I am powerfully prejudiced in favor of my wife Peggy."
We cannot look upon the Bible as we do upon any other Book. There is something in the Bible that will not let us do it. Can we read the Bible ignorant of all its superior claims, its unique history, its marvelous achievements, its unparalleled influence upon the life of individuals, nations and races? It would be consummate foolishness to attempt such a thing even were it possible, which it most certainly is not.
Shakespeare, Milton, Browning, Carlyle, Ruskin, and other noted writers are a literary luxury; the Bible is a vital necessity; they are cake, the Bible is bread. "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life," said Jesus. He meant to say that the Bible is life-giving and life-sustaining. This cannot be said of any other or all other books in the world. The Bible is in a class all by itself. It is not comparative; it is superlative. The Christian must recognize this fact in his approach to it. It is literature—it is true; it is the "world's best literature." But it is more; it is Scripture. There is a difference between the two things: literature is the letter; Scripture is the letter inbreathed by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16).
Other sacred books are of the earth, earthy; the Bible is the revelation from heaven—true the mold is human but the gold is divine. Other sacred books are man reaching after God; the Bible is the reach of God after man. Other sacred books contain man's thoughts about God, the Bible contains God's thoughts about man.
He should approach the Bible as the inspired Word of God.
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16).
When we speak of the Bible as being inspired we mean that the sacred writings are the result of a certain influence or influences exerted by God upon their authors; that the writings are "God-breathed," as the word literally means; that "no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (i. e, it did not originate with the private impulse of any particular individual). "For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21, R.V.). We do not have in the Scriptures the meditations of men about God, but the divinely inspired thoughts and words of God about men (1 Thessalonians 2:13). And there is quite a difference between these two things.
The word "inspired" is a strong one and indicates the strong, conscious inbreathing of God into men, qualifying them to give utterance to truth. The Scriptures are the result of the divine inbreathing, just as human speech is uttered by the breathing through man's mouth. The participle "moved" may be translated "when moved," thereby declaring that the Scriptures were not written by mere men, or at their own or any other human being's suggestion, but by holy men when they were moved upon, compelled, yes driven by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was specially and miraculously present in and with the writers of the Scriptures, revealing to them truths which they had not known before, and guiding them alike in the record of these truths and of the transactions which they may have copied from existing material, and transactions and even events of which they were eye and ear witnesses, so that they were able to present them with substantial accuracy and without error to the minds of others. This is our claim for the original autographs of the Scriptures—that they are the inspired, authoritative, and infallible Word of God.
He should approach the Bible as the Book of final authority in matters of faith and practice.
"He taught them as one having authority" (Matthew 7:29).
The Bible is not to be looked upon as advisory or suggestive, but commandatory and imperative. It is not a volume of opinions; it is a Book of commands. It does not say, "It is suggested, recommended, or advised," but it is written, "commanded." It is not only true; it is absolute and final truth. No other book dare usurp its place, authority or function. The Bible alone, of all other books, has the right to command my life, to say what I shall believe, to command how I shall act. The Word of God shall "judge me in the last day," yea, it is my judge now.
The question as to what is the ultimate and final authority in matters moral and religious is always interesting. Where is the seat of authority in matters of religion? This is always the problem of the day. Various replies are given to the question.
Reason, says one, is the seat of final authority. May not the intellect with the various functions be relied upon to render sure judgments? One has only to recall the grotesque fancies that have from time to time taken hold of the finest and brainiest men and led them into the grossest delusions to satisfy himself that the seat of authority does not lie in the reason. Not that we are to throw reason away in matters of religion: for while faith is often times above reason, it is by no means contrary to it. Faith is opposed not to reason, but to sight. The voice of reason, however, is not to be considered final and authoritative. Reason is only one of the human faculties, and it, equally with others has been affected by sin. Then there is an objective revelation outside of reason.
Can we not depend upon conscience, that faculty as delicate and sensitive as the balance turned by a speck of dust, to admonish us of evil, to praise us for the good, and settle for the right and wrong of matters religious? We have but to recall into what incalculable mischief the consciences of some men have led them: Saul of Tarsus, for example—to speedily recognize that we must look elsewhere for our authority. "In all good conscience men have written deadly heresies in their books, and under the sanctions of religious conscience have performed deeds of violence and shame."
There are people who claim that the church is the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice. This is the position of the Roman Catholic Church. Called of God, divinely founded, with perpetual witnesses to the truth, with bishops and councils—surely the church is a sufficient guide. Yet what enormities have flourished under the banner of the church! So long as she is composed of fallible human beings the church can never be final and authoritative in matters of faith and practice.
On every hand we hear the cry: "Back to Christ!" He and He alone, we are told, is the final and ultimate authority in all these matters. We certainly have no desire to take any glory away from the church's Lord and Master in order to give it to so sacred a Book even as the Bible. We are willing to go "Back to Christ." But where shall we find Him? With the exception of a reference in Josephus and a line or two in Tacitus where, outside of the Bible, shall we find Christ? So we see that in order to get "Back to Christ" we are in duty bound to fall back upon the Scriptures. The New Testament has preserved for us the record of Christ in its
For our Master Himself the Scriptures were considered sufficient authority in matters of faith and practice. It would repay anyone to look up all the passages in which these words of the Master occur, "Is it not written," "Have ye not read?" "What saith the Scriptures?" "It is written." A careful study of such scripture references will reveal the fact that Christ referred to the Scriptures as the authority which settled matters of faith and practice for Him. Should the Bible be less to the church than it was to the church's Master? We think not.
A Roman Catholic priest on being asked to prove that the church, i.e., the Roman Catholic Church, is the final authority, referred the inquirer to Matthew 16:18-19, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock," etc, saying, "There is my authority for claiming authority for my church." Do you not see the ludicrousness of his position—he had to fall back on the Scriptures for authority to prove that his church had any authority. So the Bible, in the last analysis, is the final authority.
The Bible should be approached as a spiritual book—as the Book of God for the "man of God."
"The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God ... neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14).
There must needs be a spiritual affinity existing between the student of the Word of God and the Word itself. The Holy Spirit, who taught those holy men of old how and what to write, is the One who alone can teach men today how to read the sacred writings. He who inspired them must illumine now. The sun dial is a useful instrument, but of what use is it without the sun? So it is with the Bible: its truth cannot be seen or understood unless by the aid of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was not written for the scientist, the geologist, the anthropologist, the scholar, as such; it was written for "the man of God" (2 Timothy 3:16). And that is the reason why many a poor, illiterate "man of God" has gone clear into the kingdom of truth while many a mere scholar has been fumbling with the latch trying to get in. "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, [that] thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Matthew 11:25-26).
Much is said today with regard to different kinds of criticism: historical, exegetical, literary, philological. They may all be well in their proper place, but they are absolutely useless and worse than useless unless they are saturated with and controlled by that spiritual criticism which is so necessary to qualify and control all the rest, both natural and supernatural. This is the spirit and culture that has saved the Bible.
The scholars have never saved the Bible. They never will. They have torn it to pieces, and had it not been divine and contained within it the hiding of the life of God, the old Book would have been wrecked upon the shores of scholarly destructive criticisms years ago. A little girl who had visited London was asked if she had seen any wild beasts over there. "Yes," she replied, "I saw some in the theological gardens." Not the scholars, but the sinners and the saints have saved the Bible. They have taken its promises and stepped out upon them, and proved to the world their truth. All the science in the world has never smoothed a dying pillow or supplied a hope in death.
The Bible must be approached with a willing and obedient mind.
"If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17).
The key to the understanding of the Scriptures lies in consecration, not scholarship; in surrender of the heart, not in genius or intellect. Pious men with no scholarship can go through the open door of truth, while scholars with no piety remain outside fumbling with the latch. "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him" (Matthew 11:25-27).
This is not belittling scholarship. We believe in scholarship, for we need it, and all we can get of it. Scholarship has many advantages. Given two men equally consecrated, the one ignorant and the other learned, and it is clearly evident that the learned will get more out of the Scriptures than the ignorant. We are not belittling scholarship, but just putting it where it belongs—in a subordinate place.
We are putting first things first, and giving the primary and supreme place to obedient faith. The assertion that academic training is absolutely necessary to the understanding of the Scriptures must be stoutly resisted with all one's might and main. Scholarship is a good deal, but it is not everything; nor does it accomplish the greatest things in the world. The realm of the moral and spiritual is vastly superior to that of the intellectual. It is Coleridge who says that all the mere products of the understanding tend to death. Faith men are greater than science men. Divinity is more important than philosophy, as heaven is more than earth, the soul than the body, the body than raiment, eternity than time. Let us put first things first. A big heart is better than a big head, and a great soul is of more importance than a great mind, that is, if they are to be measured, weighed, and compared.
We should not approach the Bible then—at least not primarily—with the question, How much of this can I understand? but, How much of it am I willing to obey?
The doors of the kingdom of truth swing on the hinges of obedience. All spiritual knowledge is in order to obedience. The law of the acquisition of spiritual knowledge is obedience. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17). Human teaching says, "Know first, then do." Divine teaching says, "Do first, then you will know."
The Bible is not a cabalistic Book. Its secrets are not reserved only for the intellectually initiated. The Bible is an open Book. Jesus said, "In secret have I said nothing." He who runs may read.
The dictionary is no substitute for the Bible, nor the lexicographer for the Holy Spirit. Etymology and syntax are not to take the place of spiritual illumination. The language of the Bible is the speech of Canaan, not of Egypt or Babylon. Only the chosen ones can say "Shibboleth"; the rest say "Sibboleth." Their speech betrayeth them that they are not "of this Way."
What the Persian Magi could not find out with the accumulated wisdom of the centuries the priests of God could tell them in a moment (Matthew 2:1-8). "Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts" (Psalm 119:98-100). "Days should speak," it is true, and "multitude of years should teach wisdom"; but do they always? By no means. "Great men are not always wise"; nor are gray hairs always an indication of wisdom. "But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding" (cf. Job 32:7-9). God ofttimes "taketh the wise in their own craftiness" (1 Corinthians 3:19). "The world by wisdom knew not God." We are saved by faith, not by scholarship (1 Corinthians 1:21). Not the clever, but the contrite are saved. It was by "foolishness," not by "wisdom" that God saved the world (1 Corinthians 1:21).
Obedience is the key to the understanding of the Bible, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17). "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord" (Hosea 6:3). The Holy Spirit is given to them that obey Him (Acts 5:32). Truth is often times hidden or concealed from those who are not willing to obey; hence the parabolic form of teaching used by the Master (cf. Matthew 13:10-15).
The fourfold requirement for a knowledge of the Scriptures is a pure heart, a simple faith, a surrendered will, and an obedient spirit. Such prerequisites are within the reach of the simplest and most humble child of God.
Resolve to conform your life to the teachings of the Scriptures as you learn them. The declared purpose of the Bible is to make bad men good; good men better; better men the best it is possible for them to be. The Scriptures purport to make ungodly men holy, holy men holier, and saints of all who believe. It is a Book of God for the man of God—to thoroughly furnish him unto all good works. To surrender the heart and life to its doctrines and precepts—this is to understand the Bible.
The study of the Bible in order to enforce its doctrines or to be able to defend its teachings, essential as such study seems to be, will not yield the best results. A study of the Bible for the purpose of obedience yields the greatest fruit. Do not find fault with the Bible because it shows you your faults, as the woman who smashed the mirror because it showed her that she had freckles. The Bible is a discoverer of faults and a revealer of virtues.
The Bible was written for the purpose of helping men in character building: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Law of Truth, as every other law, demands conformity to its requirements if its secret and power are to be obtained...
The approach of the Christian to the Bible must be like the approach of the Christian's Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
"For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15).
It surely should go without controversy that what was sufficient for the Master ought to be sufficient for the Church. The attitude of the Redeemer is worthy of imitation by the redeemed. What was the attitude of Christ towards the Scriptures? How did the Saviour regard the Word of God? If we can settle this question, we have settled the attitude of the Christian towards it.
First of all, it is clear from the words of Jesus that He accepted the narratives and events He referred to as being historical and true. He refers to the story of Creation, the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve (cf. Matthew 19:3-6 with Genesis 2:24); the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and Lot's wife (Luke 17:26-33), for example, as being facts and occurrences of actual history. These were not myths or allegories to the great Teacher sent from God—to Him who was and is "the wisdom of God." Critics may say that Jesus accepted the current views of His time regarding these things, which is virtually saying that He did not know any better. If so, then what becomes of His being the Truth, or of being omniscient, and of knowing all things? If He did not know these things how can we depend on His word with reference to deeper things, those things which pertain to the spiritual and eternal interests? Surely no kenotic theory of self-emptying must be held that robs Christ of His place as the infallible Teacher. Jesus put the stamp of His approval on these things—and, strange to say, they are the very things which destructive criticism says are myths—as being historical and true. If these things were sufficient for the Master, are they not sufficient for the Church? We think so.
In the second place, it is worthy of note that Jesus Christ accepted the Scriptures as the inspired and authoritative Word of God. He claimed that David "spake in (or by) the Spirit" (Matthew 22:43). He calls the Scriptures "the Word of God" as contrasted with the traditions of men: "Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition" (Mark 7:13).
In matters of doctrine Jesus appealed to the Bible as being final and authoritative. When the question of divorce and its grounds came up for settlement (Mark 10:2-12), was it not to the Word of God as found in Genesis 2 that Jesus referred them for the solution of the problem? When the Sadducees, who did not believe in a resurrection, would trap Him by putting hard questions regarding the future life (Luke 20:27-40), did He not again refer them to what was said to Moses at the bush (Exodus 3:6) as a direct and authoritative answer to their skepticism? When the Pharisees cavilled about His deity (Matthew 22:42-45), to what did He refer them for a conclusive answer? Was it not to the Psalms (Psalms 110:1)?
The same is true also with reference to matters of duty. Three times in the temptation in the wilderness Jesus used "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" to ward off the attacks of Satan. "It is written," and "It is written again," and still once more "It is written." These are Christ's answers; not eloquent and original, as unique sparks from the divine anvil such as could come from no son of man, but quotations from the Bible which anyone can use. Can we do better in meeting the temptations of life? We see here, surely, Christ's own estimate of the Scriptures. Again and again, when He was appealed to to settle some debatable question of conduct, He replied, "What saith the Scripture?" "Have ye not read?" "Go and read what that meaneth." Frequently He appeals to the Scriptures as the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice. "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures."
It is exceedingly important for us to understand this phase of the subject in this day when so much is made of the inner light as compared with the objective revelation—the sacred Scriptures. Surely Jesus had the "inner light" more than we all, did He not? Yet, when it came to matters of faith and practice, He referred to an objective revelation—the Word of God as the final authority.
In view of all this it ought to be beyond all controversy to maintain that the attitude of the Christian towards the Bible ought to be like to that of his Master.
We may be sure that the Bible as we have it today is substantially the same as it left the hands of the inspired writers. [See The Book of Books by the author—Bible Institute Colportage Association, Chicago.]
The Bible, as we have it today, can be traced back to its original sources. To substantiate this claim let us follow certain lines of proof.
First, there is the proof from printed copies of the Bible. Printed copies of the Scriptures are extant today, dating as far back as the middle of the fifteenth century. In the library of Exeter College, Oxford, there is a copy of the Old Testament in Hebrew, dated A. D. 1488. In the Royal Library, Berlin, there is a Hebrew copy of the Old Testament, dated A. D. 1494. It was from this copy that Luther made his German translation of the Scriptures.
There are extant printed copies of the New Testament in Greek, dated Basil, A. D. 1516, and edited by Erasmus; in Latin, dated A. D. 1514. These printed copies on being compared agree in the main with the printed copies of the Bible we possess in this year of our Lord 1922. Thus we prove, by a single step, the Old and the New Testaments, in the form we have them now to have existed four hundred years ago. This evidence is open to the investigation of both Christian and skeptic.
But if the printed copies of the Bible take us back to the middle of the fifteenth century, the question may be asked, "What are you going to do about all the centuries between the fifteenth and the days of the apostles?" This question, difficult as it may seem, is not impossible to answer. There are manuscripts of the Scriptures which take us back to the middle of the fourth century. At the time the first printed copy of the Bible was issued there were in the possession of Christian scholars no less than two thousand such manuscripts—certainly a sufficient number to establish the integrity of the sacred text. If, which is certainly true, scholars are willing to accept ten or twenty copies at most of any classical writer as proving the genuineness and authenticity of his writings, how much more ought we to be willing to admit the same for the Scriptures, with over two thousand manuscripts! All these manuscripts, when compared, agree with the printed copies of the Scriptures which we possess today.
The question may be asked, "Why do these manuscripts date back as far only as the fourth century?" The answer may be found in the historic fact that in the year A. D. 302 the Emperor Diocletian ordered the wholesale destruction of the sacred books. Again, it should be remembered that in the year A. D. 330 the Emperor Constantine ordered a large number of copies of the sacred Scriptures to be made for use in the churches of his day. This accounts for the large number of manuscripts dating from the fourth century.
The manuscripts we are here speaking of contain, separately, but parts of the Scriptures; when put together and compared, however, they contain the whole Bible. Indeed, some of them contain the New Testament in full. Thus we see, that, as far back as the middle of the fourth century, the same Bible as that which we have in 1922 was in existence. The Bible of the fourth and the twentieth centuries are one and the same.
Church and Apostolic Fathers
We are still, however, especially so far as the New Testament is concerned, about three or four hundred years removed from the lifetime of the writers of the New Testament. How can we bridge this gulf? Again is this task made easy by indisputable historic facts. From the time of the death of the Apostle John, about 100 A. D, until about the fourth century, there arose in the Christian church certain defenders of the truth of the Christian religion, called "Apologists." These men are known as "The Church Fathers." In their religious controversies with the enemies of Christianity, as well as in their letters of instruction to Christians and churches, they made constant use of Scripture quotations. These are called the "Quotations of the Church Fathers." These quotations were made with great exactness. Indeed many of them are given verbatim. So numerous are these quotations that, we are told, were the New Testament blotted out of existence it could be restored entire, excepting eleven verses, from the "Quotations of the Church Fathers."
Between the "Church Fathers" and the apostles themselves, however, another gap occurs which is filled in by the "Apostolic Fathers," i. e, by men who were alive before the last of the apostles passed away. Polycarp, A. D. 70-150, a disciple of the Apostle John, and Clement of Rome, who was doubtless a companion of Paul (Philippians 4:3), were among the Apostolic Fathers. References are made to every part of the New Testament in the writings of these men. The New Testament must therefore have been in existence at the time of their writing.
Thus step by step we are able to prove that the Bible (the New Testament at least—the Old we shall consider later) as we have it today is the same as that which existed in the days of the apostles. Our faith in God's Word rests upon no cunningly devised fables; it rests upon evidence, and any earnest, seeking soul can gain access to such evidence if he so desires. An earnest, intelligent search in the public reference libraries of any of our large cities will corroborate the truth here set forth.
The Old Testament
No doubt should now be left in our minds regarding the genuineness of the New Testament. But how about the Old Testament? Is the evidence for its genuineness and authenticity as abundant and convincing? Let us see.
Christ had the Old Testament in His possession. No one can read the Gospels carefully without being impressed with Christ's marvelous knowledge of the Old Testament. Not only in His defense during the wilderness temptation but throughout His entire career, the Master showed a remarkable familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures.
Were these Scriptures the same as we have them today?
That Christ constantly refers to the Sacred Writings, there can be no doubt. If one should go through the Gospels and mark every reference made by Christ to the Old Testament, it would be found that a very large number of the Old Testament books were referred to and quoted by Him. Now, this being true, it is self-evident that the books quoted from were in existence in our Lord's day.
Further, it is to be noted that our Lord not only quoted largely and freely from the Old Testament Scriptures, but that He referred to the sacred volume, as a whole, as possessing the same divisions into which we divide it today—"the law, the prophets, and the psalms."
"And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."
"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:27 and Luke 24:44).
There is no just reason to doubt that the Old Testament, as we have it today, was in existence in our Lord's day.
Testimony of Apostles
The apostles and writers of the New Testament possessed the Old Testament as we have it today. When Paul speaks of the "Scriptures" which Timothy had known from a child, he refers to the Old Testament. Peter's reference to the "Scriptures coming not in old time by the will of man," and John's allusion to "the Scriptures being fulfilled," all point to the Old Testament.
The quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament in the New are of a surprisingly large number. The direct quotations amount to 263. The allusions or references that are less direct number 376, making a total of 639.
There are ninety quotations from the Pentateuch, and references to it which amount to over one hundred. The Psalms are directly quoted from seventy-one times, references and allusions being made to them upwards of thirty times. The Prophecy of Isaiah is directly quoted from fifty-six times, and referred and alluded to forty-eight times. The Minor Prophets are quoted from and referred to about thirty times.
It is very evident from the above mentioned testimony that there existed in the days of the apostles and Christ the Old Testament as we have it today. Indeed, it can be clearly proven that the Old Testament existed even before our Lord's Day. An edition of the Hebrew Scriptures translated into the Greek language and called "The Septuagint Version" was in existence two hundred and eighty-five years before our Lord's birth. According to tradition this version was translated from the Hebrew by seventy-two Jews, each of whom, in a separate cell, made a complete translation of the entire Old Testament. This translation was made in Alexandria about the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus (B. C. 285). There is no need at this time for a discussion of the manner in which this translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was made. It is sufficient for the present purpose to know that as far back as the year B. C. 285 there was a copy of the Old Testament Scriptures, copies of which exist today, and which, on being compared agree as to the matter, form and structure, with the last copy of the Old Testament that leaves the press this year.
From the evidence we have submitted it can truly be said that the entire Bible as we have it today is indeed and in truth the very Word of God, written by the men whose names it bears, and with the text essentially unchanged, as genuine and authentic, as it was when it left the hands of the sacred writers.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." "For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven." In this day of crumbling creeds and confessions; in this day when men are not satisfied with the simple sound of the Gospel trumpet, but seek a gospel with variations; in this day when the exclamation mark of faith is being displaced by the interrogation mark of doubt and unbelief, it is a grand and glorious thing for the Christian to know that the Word of God standeth sure.
From What Every Christian Should Believe by William Evans. Chicago: Moody Press, ©1922.