I thought it might be good to spend a little time thinking about how a particular writing came to be included in what we now know as the Bible. In order to understand that, you first need to understand the word “canon” because in theological writings you will often read the term “canon of scripture”.
Canon when used like this, comes from the root word “reed”.
In biblical times, the reed was used as a measuring rod, and came to mean “standard”. Therefore in order for a book to be included in the “canon of scripture” it had to meet several criteria.
There were different ones used for the Old and New Testaments and over the next two postings we will look at each of these. First, the Old Testament.
For a writing to be considered for inclusion in the Old Testament Canon of Scriptures the following questions were asked about that writing:
- Was it written by a prophet of God? If it was written by a spokesperson of God then it was the Word of God.
- Was the writer confirmed by the acts of God? Frequently miracles separated the false prophets from the real ones.
- Did the message tell the truth about God? God cannot contradict himself, nor can he utter that which is false. Therefore, did a particular writing agree with other, already established writings?
- Does it come with the power of God? The early church fathers who established the canon of scriptures believed that the Word of God was “living and active” and consequently ought to have transformative powers in the lives of those who encountered it.
- Was it accepted by the people of God? Did those who knew the prophet, accept that the book had been penned by him and did the message convey what his life had conveyed?
In the next posting we will look at the standards used to include or exclude books from the New Testament. For now let’s examine some more of the book of Mark.
Notice Mark 2:1-12
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Can you answer the following questions?
- Whose faith did Jesus respond to in the healing of the paralytic man? (Mark 2:5)
- What did Jesus say to the paralytic man? (Mark 2:5)
- Why did Jesus’ statement to the paralytic man upset the teachers of the law? (Mark 2:6)
- What did healing the paralytic man prove? (Mark 2:10)
- If only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:6) but Jesus also has the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:10) what do these verses tell us about Jesus?
Remember to post any questions you have and we will start a discussion.
Let’s look at another amazing prophecy from the book of Daniel.
In Daniel 9:24-27 we read…24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. 25 “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
I want to focus our attention on a single aspect of this multiple part prophecy.
In verse 25 we read that, “From the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One…” would be a series of seven “‘sevens’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’”. These “sevens” are seven year periods. Therefore if we do the math Daniel is saying that sometime in the future a decree to rebuild Jerusalem will be made and then 483 years later (seven sevens and sixty-two sevens = 49 years + 434 years) the Anointed One will come.
Here’s where it gets amazing! Jerusalem was indeed destroyed and on the 1st day of the Jewish month of Nisan 444 B.C. Artaxerxes King of Persia issued a decree that the city of Jerusalem should be rebuilt.
Now the math…
The Prophecy said that it would be 483 years from this edict until the Anointed One came.
Since we are not using the Jewish calendar but the Gregorian one, we have to convert the 483 years based on the Jewish calendar into solar years which the Gregorian calendar uses. 360 days divided by 365.25 gives us a conversion factor of 0.9856. If we multiply the 483 years of Daniels prophecy (which used the Jewish calendar) by this conversion factor we get 476 solar or Gregorian years which is what our calendar uses.
476 solar years from 444 B.C brings us up to A.D. 33. If we look at the exact date of 1 Nisan and go from there factoring in the conversion from Jewish to Gregorian we come to 10 Nisan which is March 30, 33 A.D.
That may not seem like much to you but do you know what that day was?
March 30, 33 A.D. was a Sunday and it was the exact day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. Today we call that day “Palm” Sunday because the people waved palm branches and laid them before Jesus indicating that He was their king as he entered Jerusalem.
Let me help you put all of this into perspective.
Daniel prophesied about an edict to rebuild Jerusalem 160 years before that edict was made and that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem. That prophecy was 636 years before Christ entered Jerusalem and Daniel prophesied the EXACT DAY!
What an amazing book the Bible is!
More scripture later!
Oops, I forget to get into the fulfilled prophecies that support the Bible as a truly unique book. There are so many of them in so many different areas perhaps it would be good if we limited the course of our investigations a little. Let’s just look at the prophecies that are given concerning the possibility that Jesus was and is the Messiah.
Let’s take an objective look at just a few of the prophecies concerning the Messiah and see if we find the fulfillment in the life of Jesus. In order to make it a little more difficult… that someone might try to live in such a way as to only seem to fulfill them, let’s look at eight prophecies that would be beyond the ability of a person to arrange their life so as to seem to fulfill them.
Here are eight prophecies about the Messiah that would be beyond the ability of a person to control them for obvious reasons.
1. Place of birth (Micah 5:2)
2. Time of Birth (Daniel 9:25, Genesis 49:10)
3. Manner of Birth (Isaiah 7:14)
5. Manner of Death (Psalm 22:16)
6. People’s Reactions
In Jesus every one of these was fulfilled exactly! You might say, “but that’s only eight things.” Those aren’t all of them. In the life of Jesus there are
over 300 fulfilled Old Testament Prophecies!
But just considering those eight and all the variables that might occur within those eight, Professor Peter Stoner in His book, “Science Speaks” writes…
“We find the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies in 1 in 1017 (that’s 17 zeros after the one). In order to help us understand this staggering probability if we took 1 in 1017 silver dollars and put them on the face of the state of Texas they would cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of those silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man.”
Imagine what the odds would have been if we considered all 300 fulfilled prophecies and remember these are only the prophecies concerning the Messiah. The Bible has hundreds and hundreds of other fulfilled prophecies to its credit.
It is truly a divinely inspired book!
Let’s look at a little more if it.
In Mark 1:35-45 we read….
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. 40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. 43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
Answer these questions:
- What time of day did Jesus pray? (Mark 1:35)
- When the man with leprosy asked is Jesus was willing to heal him, what did Jesus say? (Mark 1:41)
- What did the man with leprosy do after Jesus healed him? (Mark 1:45)
Remember to post your comments and questions.
As you are probably aware when the Bible was first written down the material that it was written on was perishable. The printing press would not be invented for hundreds of years so during the time between the actual events described in the Bible, the recording of those events in written form, and the invention of the printing press the Bible was hand copied over and over.
The amazing thing about the Bible is that in all those years of hand writing the accurateness and correctness of the copies did not diminish in the least!
The Bible has ten times more manuscript evidence than any other ten ancient documents combined! John Warwick Montgomery said, “ to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.”
Bernard Ramm, commenting on the accuracy of the New Testament said, “Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. They kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity – scribes, lawyers, massoretes. Who ever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or Seneca?”
That exactness in its preservation led to another category in which the Bible far outshines any other writing. It’s circulation. It is rare for a book to sell a million copies ever. It is rarer still to find one that has sold ten million copies. The Bible has sold billions of copies! That’s right billions!
In 1998 alone the United Bible Societies reported that their member organizations distributed 20.8 million complete Bibles and another 20.1 million New Testaments. When portions of scripture and selections are also included, the total distribution that year exceeded 585 million copies in a single year and that only includes members in their society!
No other book has ever even come close to the Bible’s circulation! It is truly a remarkably unique book!
Let’s consider a little more if it.
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. 29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. 32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Answer these questions:
- Why were the people amazed at Jesus’ teaching? (Mark1:22)
- What did the evil spirit know about Jesus? (Mark1:24)
- What did Simon’s mother-in-law do after Jesus healed her? (Mark1:31)
- Who did the people bring to Jesus to be healed? (Mark1:32)
Remember to post your questions.
I thought that I might spend a little time today supporting the historical accuracy of the Bible in comparison to other well-respected ancient writings. Some criticize the Bible as not being accurate in its translations and therefore not to be revered more so than any other religious book.
However, I would like to suggest that with no thought to the miraculous construction of the Bible which we considered in the last posting, that the Bible is by far more reliable in it’s supporting manuscripts that any other ancient writing.
Below, I have listed what are perhaps the most well known ancient writings and the number of intact copies of those writings. Judge for yourself what is reliable and what is not.
Another fascinating fact that the New Testament has supporting its authenticity when compared to other ancient writings, is that we have copies in several different languages. What makes this interesting is that almost no other ancient writing was ever translated into another language in the early years of its existence. Christianity has always been a missionary faith with the desire for every nation to hear of Christ being central to the heart of Christianity. Even from Christianity’s earliest history the Bible has been copied into other languages so that people speaking those languages might be able to read the Bible. There are over 15,000 ancient copies of portions of the New Testament in languages other than those in which it was originally written and these support the original message of the New Testament.
In my next posting we will be looking at fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and how time proves the reliability of the Bible.
Let’s look at a little more scripture from the first chapter of the book of Mark.
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” 16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Can you answer these questions?
- What was the role of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ water baptism? (Mark 1:10)
- What was God’s response to Jesus’ water baptism? (Mark 1:11)
- What did Jesus say a person should do to prepare for the kingdom of God? (Mark 1:15)
- What did Jesus tell Simon and Andrew he would make them? (Mark 1:17)
Keep at it! Everything great takes time!
Remember to post your questions and I will do my best to answer them all.
Staying true to my admonition in the last section to base what we believe, and consequently our faith on factual and accurate information, a necessary question prior to using the Bible as the foundation of our discipleship efforts is “What makes the Bible special?” Let me tell you…
The Bible is a book…
Written over a 1500 year span;
Written over 40 generations;
Written by more than 40 authors, from every walk of life – including kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, scholars, etc.:
Moses, a political leader, trained in the universities of Egypt
Peter, a fisherman
Amos, a herdsman
Joshua, a military general
Nehemiah, a cupbearer
Daniel, a prime minister
Luke, a doctor
Solomon, a king
Matthew, a tax collector
Paul, a rabbi
Written in different places:
Moses in the wilderness
Jeremiah in a dungeon
Daniel on a hillside and in a palace
Paul inside prison walls
Luke while traveling
John on the isle of Patmos
Others in the rigors of a military campaign
Written at different times:
David in times of war
Solomon in times of peace
Written during different moods:
Some writing from the heights of joy and
Others from the depths of sorrow and despair
Written on three continents:
Asia, Africa, Europe
Written in three languages:
Hebrew, the language of the old Testament
Aramaic, the common language of the Near East until the time of Alexander the Great
Greek, the New Testament language at the time of Christ
Finally, its subject matter includes hundreds of controversial topics. Yet, the biblical authors spoke with harmony and continuity from Genesis to Revelation. There is one unfolding story: “God’s redemption of man.”
(Borrowed from Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell)
Only a book written by a sovereign God who transcends both time and space could have put the bible together as He did. For these reasons and many more we can trust that the bible is God’s word and our guide for life and conduct.
Now that we have established the validity of the Bible let’s begin studying it.
I would like for you to begin in the book of Mark. It is one of the Gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. You can find it in the front of the New Testament which is about two-thirds to the back of most Bibles.
The chapters of each book are numbered and so are the verses. This was done many years after the time of Jesus to give a sort of index to the words in the Bible so that people could refer to things easier.
Begin with Mark chapter one verses 1-8 which is usually written Mark 1:1-8. In case you don’t have a Bible here is what it says…
1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” 4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
See if you can find the answers to these questions:
- What did the prophet Isaiah say that John would do? (Mark 1:2,3)
- What two things did John do to prepare the way for Jesus? (Mark 1:4)
- What kind of baptism did John preach and preform? (Mark 1:4)
- What did John say Jesus would baptize with? (Mark 1:8)
Remember if you have any questions at all you can comment on it and I will answer them with a future posting.
Great work! See you later!
Francis R. Beattie concluded that “Christianity is either EVERYTHING for mankind, or NOTHING. It is either the highest certainty or the greatest delusion….But if Christianity be EVERYTHING for mankind, it is important for every man to be able to give a good reason for the hope that is in him in regard to the eternal verities of the Christian faith. To accept these verities in an unthinking way, or to receive them simply on authority, is not enough for an intelligent and stable faith.”
That said more simply, we must know what we believe based on the facts of the thing and be able to defend that belief to others.
Our process of discipleship will be that very thing. Looking at the intellectually sound facts of Christianity and developing our beliefs from those facts while at the same time preparing for the moment when we can share those beliefs with another person.
In Matthew 22:37 Jesus commanded us to, “ love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your mind” (italics mine). For me that means that Jesus expects that we will engage our mind and the logical processes of our mind in the love that we have for God. To do any less seems to diminish God rather than enlarging him.
The apostle Paul said, “I know whom I have believed in,” (2 Timothy 1:12) and Jesus said, “You shall know (not ignore) the truth, and the truth shall set you free”. (John 8:32)
Paul Little wrote, “Faith in Christianity is based on evidence. It is reasonable faith. Faith in the Christian sense goes beyond reason but not against it.”
Some have suggested that sincere faith or blind faith is what is really important. That the substance and veracity of what you have faith in is less important. I could not disagree more. It is good to have faith, but it is not your faith that is the most important, but what you have faith in. The Apostle Paul said, “ If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty…And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:14,17)
So I ask you, “Where are you in your faith?”