2 Timothy 3:16-17
Between the years 2003-2006 there was an exit poll done of people who attended seeker studies at United Methodist Churches and left disappointed. In these polls they were quoted as saying, “You don’t know your own story. You don’t know who you are and what you believe.” “Methodists are all over the map. I spent almost a year finding out that they don’t have a clue what they really believe.” Now this quote came from the magazine, Good News. In it the author was talking about how Comedy Central fake news anchor, Jon Stewart, called the United Methodist Church “the University of Phoenix of religions.” Now that might hurt a little but there is truth in it.
Let’s face it, if you grew up in the church or are new to the church you might have a ton of questions about what we believe. You may have no clue why we believe we need salvation, or why we believe the Bible is the Word of God. I am hoping, over the course of these next six weeks, that we can journey through some of these basic ideas. Now I have to warn you, you will receive a bias view. I will be approaching these topics from a Christian, Protestant and United Methodist perspective. That is who I am and what I have received as my training and schooling. If you are looking for a non-partisan view, you may have to look somewhere else. But I promise I will try to bring you all sides of these topics. These are also very general sermons. I cannot get down into the nitty-gritty of these topics. There are whole books, classes, semesters, and degrees given for these topics, so to think I can cover everything in 20 minutes is ridiculous. My main goal is too simply give you some information on this topic, some background, some history and some perspective. If you desire to learn more, please let me know and I can guide you to some more sources.
With that all said, let’s jump into today’s basic idea, the Bible. What is it? How did it come to be? What do we do with it? First off let’s start with the question “What is it?” The word bible comes from the Greek word Biblia which means book. There are 66 books in the Bible. There are 39 books that make up the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament and 27 books that make up the New Testament. We don’t call it the Bibles, or the books, because together we believe that these 66 books are, as Timothy says, are “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” These writings, which were done by 40 different authors over 1500 years, tell the story of the human and divine encounters. It may have been written by human hands but we believe that God inspired it and has helped preserve it over these years. But it is still written by the hands of humans, translated by humans, and copied by humans. God did not come down and write all this down, copy it throughout the years, and the printed your copy for you. We cannot escape the fact that fallen, sinful humans were involved in the process.
In the Book of Discipline we find the articles of religions for both the Methodist Church and the Evangelical Brethren, which are the two denominations which came together to form the United Methodist Church in 1968. In these articles it states that the Bible holds what is necessary for our salvation. It tells the story of how humanity and God have interacted during a certain period of time, but it does so to show us the reason we need, how to achieve, and what do to when we get salvation. This is not a scientific book. This is not a history book. There is some history in it but the point of it is not to be a history book. The Bible points us, the reader, to how God’s plan of salvation has come to be and how we are to live as a transformed people.
It does this through different written mediums. There is some history in it. In the Old Testament there are tons of accounts about the history of God’s chosen nation, Israel. There are also prophetic writings, storytelling, poetry, wisdom and letter writings. In some cases we are looking into the history of a certain nation and in other cases we are reading someone else’s mail. But all of this points to the fact that God loves us.
The Bible doesn’t have all the answers to everything we will come in contact with in life. The Bible will not tell us about photosynthesis or why Monarch Butterflies migrate. It is not a scientific book. The Bible doesn’t tell us how to fix a broken cell phone or an oil leak in your car. It is not a ‘DIY’ book. The Bible tells the story of God’s plan and implementation of salvation for humanity. Through these writings the Bible does give us insight on how to live and how to interact with others.
How did it come to be? How did it come from an oral tradition to words on a page that we can hold in our hands? If you trust some fiction writers it seems there was a secret council long ago that voted on each book and canonized them. Canonized means they made them official scripture. But that truly isn’t so. As far back as Moses, the people of God have had written words they saw as holy words. In Deut. 31 Moses said that the law, or the Torah, should be placed in the Ark of the Covenant. When the temple was built the Torah, or first five books of the Bible, historic documentation and prophetic writings were all kept on scrolls in this holy place. Around 290 BC the books we have in Old Testament were seen as the holy scriptures. There were debates which ones should be followed but the 39 books were seen as the Old Testament Cannon almost 300 years before Christ was born.
It wasn’t until about 300 years after Jesus birth that a list of important writings about his life and the birth of the church was made. At an official council meeting of church leaders in 367 AD, also known as the Council of Hippo (Hippo is a city located in the Northern African in what is now Algeria, right in the middle of the Mediterranean). And then again it was finalized at the Council of Carthage in 397. At these Councils the religious leaders did not make back room deals on what Gospel or Epistle to let in but really simply made official the writings that for years had been seen as the Word of God by believers. The writings that were accepted at these Councils are what we have in our Bible now, the 27 books of the New Testament.
One major thing we need to cover about this book we call the Bible is what language it was originally written in. This is important because to truly understand a piece of writing you need to go back to the original language to get the full and deepest picture. Different languages have different verb tenses, and they use different sentence structures. If we understand that it makes the writing come to life. This doesn’t mean that if we don’t learn the original languages that we miss out on the meaning of the scriptures, but understanding that if we are reading it in English we are reading a translation is very important.
The Bible was originally written in three different languages, Hebrew, Greek, and parts were in Aramaic. [pass out Hebrew OT and Greek NT) So how did we get from Hebrew and Greek to English? If you look up at the screen you can see some strange words up there. First off, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Aramaic first during the second exile. This is when the Jews were moved out of the Holy Land and into Babylon. After years and generations past many of the common people did not speak much Hebrew anymore. Instead they spoke Aramaic and so certain scrolls were translated into Aramaic for people to understand. Then around 300 BC the books of the Old Testament are seen as Canon. The rulers of this time were the Greeks who spoke what language? Greek! In 286 BC the Septuagint, or how it is abbreviated LXX, was created. This was the Old Testament texts translated from Hebrew into Greek when Alexander the Great made Greek the official language of the area. When we see the New Testament writers quote the Old Testaments, they are probably refereeing to the Septuagint text.
Almost all the writings of the New Testament were done in Greek since it was the common language of the Roman Empire. As the Church started to gain ground it was also the time that Latin was the official language of scholars. In 386 AD, St. Jerome went to Bethlehem and translated the Bible into Latin and this translation was called the Vulgate. A thousand years later and Europe is in the middle of the Dark Ages, a person named John Wycliffe decided to translate the Vulgate from Latin to English. Does anyone catch the importance of this and why this could be a problem? Wycliffe translated a translation. Things can get messy when you do this but it was a very important step. Before this only the priests knew the Latin and all the church services were held in Latin. Can you imagine going to church and listening to the liturgy in a language you don’t know? This translation of a translation at least made the scriptures accessible to the common person who spoke English.
In Germany in 1517 something started to change under the guidance of a monk named Martin Luther. We will learn more about him in later weeks but through the reformation which Luther started a gentleman named William Tyndale decided that instead of translating the Bible from Latin to English, why not go all the way back to the Hebrew and Greek. So he did. This was also the time a new machine was being used called the printing press. What this did was allow the masses to own, for the first time, their very own Bibles. Before then the Bible was at church and only read by the priests. Now everyone person could have one. King James in 1611, authorized a copy of this Bible and I think many of you have heard about that one.
Currently you can get lots of different types of Bibles in English. Now what type do you want…it all depends. If you pick up one of the pew Bibles, that is the New Revised Standard Version. This is a type of translation. The authors of this Bible went back to the Hebrew and Greek and tried to stay as true to the original text as possible, which, let’s be honest, at some points makes it a little hard to understand. This is the Message and it can be described as a paraphrase. Another common paraphrase is the Good News Bible. What this means is that they took a verse and then put into common English which can makes it easier to understand but may stray from the original Greek and Hebrew just a little.
If you look up on the screen you can see our 2 Timothy 3:16 in both the NSRV translation and in the Message version. They sound similar but the use of different words and different phrasing can bring out different areas of importance.
So what do we do with the Bible now? Is there a right version or translation compared to another…no. The important thing to remember is that if we are reading an English Bible we are reading a translation. Reading an English Bible is like watching a black and white movie. We can understand what is going on, know the characters, understand the plot and still be moved by the story. But if you did learn the original languages and read them you would be getting the scriptures in Full 1080p High Def.
What I love about the Bible is not only the story, not only the way God interacts with humanity and provides salvation. But also how it is the Living Word. The Bible has so much depth it is ridiculous. The more you learn about the Bible the more you realize how much you don’t know. I was talking with another minister who is getting his Master’s degree and he is writing a 20 plus paper on some verses in Ephesians 5. As he dives into these scriptures he uncovers layer after layer. There is importance to almost every word and deeper meanings that can be plucked out. He finds not only books on the subject but volumes on this little 6 chapter letter from Paul to the churches in Ephesus. There are thousands and thousands of pages written about something that will take you about 15 minutes to read. We can learn who wrote it and why. Who it was written to and what the context of it was. We can learn about the society it was written for and the implications it had on history. This is how impressive the Word of God is. Its wisdom, its power, its interpretation, and its relevance to our lives is endless.
I have only covered a fraction of what really could be said about the Bible. If we want to truly be inspired and transformed by God we have to spend time in His word. We have to learn all we can about this Living Word. I encourage you to read the Bible. Read it for yourself. Read from different translations so you can get a deeper understanding. But the most important thing we can do is read and read it often. If we do we will be awoken to another level of understanding of God, his plan of salvation and the transformative power of his Word.
And all God’s people said…Amen.