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7. Beginners' Bible Basics
In a day when truth is under attack from all quarters, we go back to the very basics of our Faith to consider the questions about the Bible – why is it so important to Christians, why can you believe what you read in it, and so on. This is a call to remind ourselves of the basics of our faith.
Q1. Why is the Bible so important to Christians?
A1. Without the Bible we would have NO faith.
All over the world we find so-called ‘world religions', a central characteristic of which, we see, is people reaching out to the ‘spiritual world' which they sense is there, and the beliefs they have come up with based on their struggles to create spiritual meaning. If Christians didn't have the Bible, they would be the same.
Q2. So how does the Bible make it different?
A2. The Bible reveals God to us.
The Bible is the record of God's dealings with the nation of Israel and then the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the formation of the Church nearly two thousand years ago. Within all those 66 books that form the Bible, we find the existence, nature and characteristics of God being revealed. The Bible is the record of God's activity within history. It also shows us what He feels about us.
Q3. Why would Christians have no faith without it?
A3. Christian Faith is based on the biblical revelation of God
Contrary to some modern speculation, the Christian faith is not made up of a lot of people's bright ideas but rests entirely on the basis of the revelation of God as seen through His interaction with Israel for nearly two thousand years, and then His revelation through His Son just two thousand years ago. We can't emphasise this enough – we believe in God because He has revealed Himself in these ways and that has been recorded in the pages of what we now call the ‘Bible'.
Q4. How can we trust what we find in the Bible?
A4. There's a double answer here.
There are two things to consider. First there is, can we trust that what we have written in our Bible today is what was originally written? Second there is the question of whether we can trust the history or the teaching of that original writing.
Q5. So how can we trust the Old Testament?
A5. We trust the respect the Jews had for it.
The first five books are thought to be written or compiled by Moses and because he had such respect as an important leader, they respected what he wrote. Subsequent writings similarly took on great respect by the scribes and leaders of the day and the authority of the word often came with the authority of the prophet, say, who brought it. Thus in their eyes it became very significant and it was very important that it was checked for veracity.
Q6. But how do we know that what we've got is how it was written?
A6. Copyists (scribes) took immense care.
When a scroll of parchment or similar material became old and damaged in any way at all, they made sure that it was copied before there was any question of its content, and immense care was taken to ensure that literally every letter and every dot was checked to make sure that copies were as exact as was humanly possible. Once they were sure about that then the old scroll was completely destroyed. The care which they took in maintaining top quality copies, also shows the respect with which they held the writings.
Q7. So how can we trust the writers of the O.T.?
A7. We need to go back to see why it was written.
It starts out with Moses and at Mount Sinai we find, “ Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said .” (Ex 24:4) which became referred to as “ the book of the covenant ” (Ex 24:7). Similarly we find, “ So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests .” Moses was so revered as a leader who spoke to the Lord ‘face to face' (Ex 33:11), that the very process of recording what the Lord said and did became equally revered and immense care was taken to ensure it was correct.
Q8. What about the New Testament?
A8. We have more copies than any other ancient writing
The numbers of scrolls and parchments in museums around the world that make up the New Testament exceeds 20,000. F.F.Bruce, a leading scholar said, “...the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the NT may be regarded as finally established .”
Q9. Can we trust the writers though?
A9. Why would they have told lies?
To write in those days was a real effort and we have to ask why would all the Gospel writers make that effort to make up a story? Were they inaccurate in recalling what happened? Well the answer is to check them one against another. That's one thing we do when we do Bible Study.
Q10. Recap: What have we considered so far?
A10. Why we can trust the writers of the Bible:
• The Bible is the basis of our Christian faith. It reveals God to us.
• We can trust the quality of the O.T. because of the reverence and immense care given it by Jewish copyists.
• We trust the content because of the reverence given to God revealed in it that challenges any careless reporting.
• We can trust the quality of the N.T. because of the immense numbers of scrolls & parchments still existing today.
• We trust the writers of the New Testament because they gave their lives for it and truth & integrity are key requirements in the Christian faith and they wouldn't have been able to live a lie.
Q11. Should we take the Bible literally?
A11. Where it records history, yes.
We need to distinguish between historical, narrative writing (which tells what actually happened in history) which we should take literally, and teaching, prophecy or poetry which may include picture language which will need interpreting.
Q12. Isn't the Bible difficult to Understand?
A12. Only in as far as it is a spiritual book
The Bible speaks about spiritual matters – about God, how He has designed the world, and how we ‘work'. We are flesh, mind and spirit and so, for instance, it goes beyond mere psychology and includes the world of the spirit and how our spirit works. Now God is Spirit and therefore the wise person reading the Bible asks Him for help in understanding. Most of what is in the Bible is just about ordinary life and therefore is not difficult to understand.
Q13. Are there contradictions in the Bible?
A13. Contrary to popular belief – No!
What many people call contradictions are simply the same thing but seen from a different viewpoint. A good example of this is in 2 Sam 24:1 and 1 Chron 21:1 where we find God and Satan respectively enticing David in his existing pride into a wrong action that then clearly warranted punishment. A wider perspective of the Bible shows that God uses Satan, and so although God instigated it, Satan did it. Almost invariably if we will take the trouble to think through the events, we'll be able to see no contradiction. Often it's simply like different people today talking about, say, a multiple car crash after the event and different ones emphasise different things they saw.
Q14. But what about where different words in speech are used in different Gospels?
A14. We need to understand the different culture producing a different writing style.
An example of this would be Jesus' answer to the High Priest at his trial when asked if he is the Son of God. Mt 26:64 has Jesus replying, “Yes, it is as you say.” while Mk 14:62 simply has him replying, “ I am.” Different words but same meaning.
What is important to realise as we try to get inside what really happened, is that the four Gospel writers were not approaching their tasks with the same mindset that we might do it in the twenty-first century. We would know that we are going to be held accountable to others who will question our every detail. For us, details are vital. For the four Gospel writers, details are not vital, just the overall truth. This side of heaven we'll not know some of the precise words used but the bulk of the words and the meanings behind them are the same. There is never contradiction over the overall meaning in such cases.
8. Questions about 'Life'
When we considered ‘Life' in "Life is for Living" it raised a number of questions. Here are some questions and answers to hopefully clarify this vital teaching.
Q1. Can you clarify the difference between physical and ‘spiritual' life?
A1. Well, first of all, both of them originate from God. Physical life refers to the energy (spirit) that God imparts to ‘kick-start' us off and make us living beings. Every human being has this sort of life. Although every human being has a spirit, it is only energised (brought to life) when the Holy Spirit comes and indwells us at conversion. In "Life is for Living" we saw a lot of verses that show how that is referred to in the New Testament.
Q2. How does physical life (energy) vary?
A2. It runs down when we expend energy doing physical activity, and it is also depleted when we become ill, lose sleep, or have a poor diet. Obviously, in the purely physical realm, we can rebuild our energy by keeping fit, having enough sleep and eating properly. A healthy physical life depends on maintaining a good balance with all these things.
Q3. You said that spiritual energy also varies. How does that happen?
A3. Our spiritual energy is depleted when we give out a lot in activities that have a spiritual dimension. For example Elijah went through a real spiritual ‘down-time' after the conflict on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 19:3,4). When we come under attack from the enemy, that can also deplete our spiritual energy and bring us down.
Q4. You said that becoming a Christian affects every aspect of our lives, including the physical side of us. Can you explain how that happens?
A4. Yes, I suggested that before we become a Christian our body demands of us – hunger, thirst, desire etc. are natural expressions of this. Giving way to these demands all the time, means that excesses cause harm to our body. When we become a Christian the presence of God's Spirit (His energy) within us, enables us to take charge of our bodies and bring order to the way we use them. So the Christian will no longer abuse their body by over-eating, drunkenness, drug abuse, over work leading to exhaustion, etc. This is what happens when we let the Holy Spirit lead us as a spirit of self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7); He enables us to take charge of our bodies.
Q5. But you also said that the spiritual energy that the Spirit brings us, impacts the physical side of our lives. How does that happen?
A5. God's power within us can bring energy that is revealed in changes to our physical bodies. In the same way that Jesus reached out and touched people and brought physical healing in his ministry on earth so he, by his Spirit living within us, can bring strength that overcomes weariness, energy that brings a sense of well-being, and healing that overcomes sickness.
Q6. Are you saying that if I get sick I haven't got God's energy (Spirit) in me?
A6. Definitely not! Because we live in this ‘Fallen World' where Sin causes human beings, and all of Creation, to malfunction, we can become prey to illnesses etc. simply because we are living in this world. We can be involved in accidents that leave us physically impaired. In our pre-Christian lives we might have been involved with occult activities which can harm or impair our lives, affecting our spiritual lives and even our physical lives today.
Q7. Am I stuck with such things then?
A7. Oh no, God can always heal us of any physical thing if He wants to and if we ask Him in faith. If there are spiritual things that hinder us as a result of past occult contacts, we need to repent of those things and ask a mature spiritual leader to pray over us to set us free from those past things.
Q8. Why do we sometimes feel emotionally low?
A8. Emotions are simply how we feel and they can be affected by:
a) how we think about ourselves generally - we may not have yet realised who we are in Christ and still have lost self-esteem,
b) our state of health – if we are run down we may also feel low,
c) bad negative experiences with other people – which may bruise us, and
d) the enemy accusing us in our minds – making us feel guilty and a failure.
These are all negative emotions.
Q9. You said His energy can change our emotions. How?
A9. a) He constantly encourages us, and that lifts us,
b) He brings strength or healing and that lifts us,
c) He helps us have a right perspective about other people and that releases us from feeling down about them,
d) He gives us faith to resist Satan and that breaks the negatives.
a),c) & d) are all about the revelation He brings us. b) is about power He shares with us.
Q10. Can you say why you consider this teaching so important?
A10. It is all about the life or energy that God gives us to live out our lives. So often in the past we have simply considered what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, but mostly we haven't realised that this is all about energy, and energy is what determines the quality of the life we live.
Q11. What do you mean about quality of life we live?
A11. If we are weak physically, we are lethargic and are unable to work or indeed enjoy life, and we are also vulnerable to illness. If we are weak spiritually then similarly, we are unable to serve the Lord, unable to enjoy our spiritual heritage and are vulnerable to enemy attack. Thus our spiritual health and spiritual strength are of vital importance to us.
Q12. So why should our ‘spiritual strength' be weak?
A12. Well, we did refer to this before. Just as physical energy is depleted when we do work, so our spiritual energy is depleted when we do ‘spiritual work' or spiritual things that just sap our energy.
Q13 What sort of things?
A13. Any time we are purposefully living contrary to God's design, it is going to be tiring us spiritually. A classic example is when we have bad attitudes towards other people. Until we put those attitudes right we are constantly struggling against the Holy Spirit who is trying to get you to conform to God's will. This is tiring!
At the same time, God allows the enemy to lean on you, again to help bring you through to see your need to put things right with Him, and fighting the enemy is also energy sapping.
Q14. So what do we do to remedy that?
A14. Well, it's to do with how we get our resources. Almost certainly at such times we won't be praying or reading our Bible etc. and so we will not be getting the fresh resources from God that we need. Thus we get worn down. It's only when we come to ourselves and see what is going on that we repent, put it right, and get back into a right place where we are not fighting the Holy Spirit or the enemy, and where we are now also getting fresh resources.
Q15. You mentioned Bible Reading, Prayer etc before. How do they actually resource us?
A15. It's not those things in themselves; it's who we encounter when we do those things. We've said at the start that God is the source of all ‘life' (energy) so when we make contact with Him we receive His life.
Q16. But I don't seem to get anything out of Bible reading!
Q16. Look at the way you go about Bible reading, prayer or even worship. It is quite easy to ‘do' them because you're told to, or you think you ‘ought' to. When we approach these things like that, we are just performing a ritual and that doesn't make contact with God. It is when we purposefully turn to the Lord that we encounter Him. The Bible says if “ you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29). In other words we must really want to encounter God.
Q17. Yes, but what do I actually DO?
A17. Whenever you read your Bible, come to prayer, or even come to worship on a Sunday morning, pause us and ask the Lord to help you. James, in his letter wrote, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you .” (Jas 4:8), i.e. if you want to come to God and purposefully go to do that, He WILL come close to you, and when you do that, there is that life or energy transfer that we have been speaking about. It's a faith thing, but it DOES happen when we reach out to Him.