FROM GOD TO US

The Divine Chain of Communication

Dan R. Smedra


God, the Creator of the Universe, has chosen to communicate with mankind.  However, we might as well face an important fact up front, while God is perfectly just in His actions, He is not egalitarian in His ways.  So He says...

I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.  Romans 9:15

 

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  1 Corinthians 1:27

 

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?  Matthew 20:15

God is perfectly just and fair.  But He is under no obligation to act according to our definition or sense of either "justice" or "fairness."  In Isaiah chapter 55, He says:

Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. (v3)

 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. (v8)

 

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (v9) 

Purple text are direct quotations from the Bible with reference to book, chapter, and verse.


 

The word "Bible" comes from the Greek "bibla" meaning "books."  The sixty-six books of the Bible are unique.  They alone are God's exclusive revelation to mankind.  An analysis of all other so-called sacred writings demonstrates that they fall far short of the matchless character of the Bible.

 

This article seeks to provide short and concise explanations for six key biblical concepts:

These are the "links" in the chain of God's communication to us.

 

Being sovereign, God is entirely effective in His efforts to communicate.  This is because His activity is supernaturally initiated as well as supernaturally sustained.  The fact that mankind is sinful, fallible, or prone to error are no serious obstacle to God.

By contrast, religious liberalism believes God is helpless in the face of man's sinfulness.  Each and every link in the chain of communication, mentioned above, is vulnerable to failure.  Thus, mankind is doomed to uncertainty, doubt, and a hopeless groping in the darkness of human speculation.  Through their institutionalized skepticism, they hope is for non-accountability.

 

Because many men and women approach the Bible independently and with a sense of their own strength (as in opening a can with a can opener), they do wrestle with its meaning and fail to interpret Scripture accurately, some even to the point of their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).  However, the failure is theirs, not God's.

 

REVELATION

As used in this article, "revelation" denotes an intelligible communication.(1)  Revelation is an objective, propositional disclosure by God.  Revelation originates with God and is largely dependent on supernatural agencies and means.  It is the divine act of communicating to man what otherwise man would not know...a supernatural interposition into the affairs of men.(2)

God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in times past to the [Jewish] fathers by the [Jewish] prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son... Hebrews 1:1,2  

In the ancient past, God spoke via visions, dreams, and sometimes with an audible voice.  Later, God the Son, the Living Word, walked and talked among mankind.  God has also spoken by His exclusive, inerrant Word, the sixty-six books of the Bible.  With its completion, the Bible became the means by which God speaks to us today.  By means of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the written Word, God brings us to know and experience the Living Word--the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The subjects of God's revelation are many, but limited to what He in His wisdom wants us to know about Himself, ourselves, and the sphere of reality which surrounds us.  Despite the fraudulent claim of Pentecostal/charismatics, New Age devotees, and varieties of mystics, God is not giving any new revelation today.  Those who claim otherwise are engaged in deceptive ploys.

INSPIRATION

Inspiration is the supernatural, direct divine influence which secures an accurate transference of truth in language which others may understand.  It is that controlling influence which God exerted over the human authors who penned the original autographs of Scripture.  God is able to produce a book which is verbally accurate, the precise statement in every particular of His own thought.  Inspiration is the means by which revelation becomes objectively disclosed.

For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?  John 5:46, 47.

 

All Scripture is God-breathed [inspired] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness...  2 Timothy 3:16

 

For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  2 Peter 1:21.

Inspiration uniquely endows the Bible with veracity and authority.  The nature of inspiration is verbal, plenary, and includes dual authorship (human and Divine).  By verbal inspiration is meant that, in the original writings, the Spirit guided in the choice of the words used.  However, the human authorship was respected to the extent that the writers' characteristics are preserved and their style and vocabulary are employed, but without the intrusion of error.  By plenary inspiration is meant that the accuracy which the verbal inspiration secures, is extended to every portion of the Bible so that it is in all its parts both infallible as to truth and final as to divine authority.  Dual authorship means that on the divine side, the Scriptures are the Word of God in the sense that they originate with Him and are the expression of His mind alone; and, on the human side, certain men have been chosen of God for the high honor and responsibility of receiving God's Word and transcribing it into written form.

 

Only the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts (sixty-six autographs) were uniquely inspired.  These original autographs, which are no longer in existence, were inerrant--perfect in every respect.  However, inspiration, veracity, and authority does not automatically extend to every copy and translation of the Bible.  So how can we have confidence that our vernacular-language copies closely match the original autographs?  Good question.  And here's the basic answer.   The originals were meticulously copied thousands of times and archived.  Through comparative analysis of these copies, highly accurate replicas of the originals were created by skilled, ancient-language linguists.  A brief example will suffice.  Regarding the inerrancy of our present-day New Testament text, the late Greek scholar Dr. Kenneth Wuest wrote:

In recent times, the Chester Beatty manuscripts have been discovered, which are dated between A.D. 200-300. The original manuscripts of the NT were still in existence in A.D. 200, according to Tertullian, one of the Church Fathers. But we can go still further back and forge an unbroken chain to the original documents which left the pens of the Bible writers, in the Writings of the Apostolic and Church Fathers, which were commentaries based upon the NT manuscripts, and which contain the entire NT in quotations, with the exception of John 8:1–11 which was stricken out of some early texts because of a mistaken fear that its contents would encourage adultery. Thus, we have an unbroken link between our present Greek printed texts and the original hand-written manuscripts. The errors which crept in during 1,500 years of copying by hand have all been eliminated and a correct text formed, so that scholars tell us that 999 words out of every thousand in our present Greek text are the same as those of the original autographs, and that the thousandth word concerning which there may be some difference of opinion is of so little consequence, that it does not affect any historical fact or doctrine. These textual experts had a vast amount of material with which to work: 4,000 Greek manuscripts, 8,000 copies of the Latin Vulgate, and 2,000 copies of the NT in other languages--14,000 available sources from which to reconstruct a correct text.

For those wanting to dig deeper into the details, obtain and read:

CANONICITY

Canonicity is the process by which the sixty-six original autographs were identified as divinely inspired.  The concept that certain sacred writings were authoritative, while others were not, extends from the time of Moses.  The term "canon" means ruler or measuring rod--a standard.  Historically, the word has been used in both a passive and active sense.  Passively, canon means the rule or standard by which a writing is judged to be inspired and thus authoritative.  In the active sense, the Bible is the canon by which all else is measured and judged.  The development of the canon of Scripture is detailed and complex, but our current goal is brevity. 

 

Canonicity is the inherent status that results from an ancient text being inspired by God.  Canonicity is discovered by men of God who evaluate the text based on strict criteria.  The people of God do not determine canonicity; God imparts the status of canonicity through inspiration.  The people of God have played a crucial role in the process of canonization through the centuries, albeit not a determinative one.(3)

 

The Jewish community stored the OT canon beside the ark of the covenant--a holy place, and by tradition mandated any manuscript handler undergo a special ceremonial cleansing.  OT manuscripts were consider canonical if they were written by a genuine Jewish Prophet--an authenticated spokesman of God who participated in the OT prophetic succession.  By law, false prophets were put to death (Deuteronomy 13).  Only the books from Moses to Malachi met these criteria, being confirmed by Jesus Christ himself.  OT canonicity was not based on: age of the manuscript, the fact that it was written in the Hebrew language, that it agreed with the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy), or that it possessed religious value.

 

The five basic criteria making up the discovery process are: 1) is it inspired--does it claim to be from God?  2) is it prophetic--was it written by an acknowledged spokesman for God?  3) is it authentic--does it tell the truth about God, man, etc?  4) is it dynamic--does it have life-transforming powers from God?  and 5) was the book received or accepted by the people of God for whom it was originally written as being from God?  Apocryphal and other religious writings do not meet the criteria for being discovered/identified as canonical.  Contrary to the claim of some, no official committee or council "canonized" the Bible.

 

Further detail is available in: Thy Word is Truth and From God to Us.

 

TRANSLATIONS

As we learned earlier, the original autographs were meticulously copied and archived.  By comparative analysis of these copies, highly accurate replicas of the originals were created by skilled, ancient-language linguists.  Using these documents as their source, skilled translators convert Scripture from the original languages to other extant tongues.  The process of translation is both science and art, and the translator brings many tools to the task.

 

In general, there are several approaches to translation.  A translation is "merely the rendering of a given literary composition from one language into another."  "A literal translation is an attempt to express, as far as possible, the exact meaning of the original words of the text being translated.  It is a "word-for-word" rendering of the text."  By contrast, a paraphrase is "a 'free' or 'loose' translation.  It attempts to communicate 'ideas' rather than the word-for-word autograph.  Hence, it is more of an interpretation than is a literal translation."(4)

 

The following chart summarizes the spectrum of translation approaches used in producing several popular English Bibles, with the New International Version (NIV) as a center point.  No endorsement is inferred by use of the chart.

 

 

The more recent translations, including the English Standard Version - ESV, (which doesn't appear on the chart) and the 'updated' NASB, are word-for-word translations.

 

Opinions run strong regarding which translation is "the best" and which is the "the worst."  In brief, we use the NIV, ESV, and NKJV for general reading, and add the [Greek] Interlinear, Revised KJV, updated NASB, ASV, and Darby for comparative study.  We hold to the standard of word-for-word translations as primary, but also acknowledge their limitations in failing to capture differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. 

 

While the original 1611 Authorized Version (aka "King James", which is technically not a version, but the fifth revision of William Tyndale's* 1526 translation) may have a regal sound when read, the meaning of many portions of the King James Bible is lost upon readers unfamiliar with the vernacular of the 16th and early 17th century Elizabethan English culture.  Based on my nearly five decades as a born-again Christian, I often wonder whether the KJV's contemporary popularity is due to the fact that some people would rather not know the actual meaning of the text!

 

* In 1456, Johannes Gutenberg produced the first printed Bible, which was in Latin.  The English Bible you likely hold in your hands cost William Tyndale his life!  In 1535, Tyndale was arrested in Antwerp by papal (Catholic) authorities and imprisoned near Brussels.  The following year he was executed for his translation work.

A clergyman hopelessly entrenched in Roman Catholic dogma once taunted Tyndale with the statement, “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.”  Tyndale was infuriated by such Roman Catholic heresies, and he replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!”   

Again, the two books previously mentioned provide extensive details.

ILLUMINATION

Here is the most important link in the chain!  Illumination is the supernatural influence or ministry of the Holy Spirit which enables all who are in right relation with God to understand the Scriptures.  Because of the Fall, mankind is spiritually dead towards God and crippled by a unique spiritual blindness.  This form of blindness is not offset by general revelation or so-called common grace.  Neither is it negated through the use of mind-expanding drugs, meditation, centering, or any facet of Eastern or Western mysticism.  Mankind is unable to cognitively grasp or accurately understand spiritual realities without the non-inclusive supernatural intervention of God the Holy Spirit.  In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 we read:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (v14)

 

...but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. (v10)

 

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. (v12)  

There is not the slightest possibility that the most educated and brilliant mind can make one step of progress in the understanding of spiritual truth apart from the direct, supernatural teaching to the individual heart [mind] by the indwelling Spirit.  Hence the imperative aspect of the New BirthLooking into the Gospel of Luke, chaper 24 we read:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (v27)

 

Then their eyes [understanding] were opened and they recognized Him... (v31)

 

And they said to one another, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?" (v32)

Typically, it is the absence of illumination that explains the "dual-sphere" interpretation of the meaning of Scriptures.  By dual-sphere we mean, Scripture read through the humanistic eyes of those not born-again versus Scripture seen and interpreted by those having the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit.  Because of this difference in perspective, the Bible is truly two different Books on a practical level.  

INTERPRETATION

Finally, we must consider the issue of principles of interpretation.  If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times, "Well, that's YOUR interpretation!"  Of course, it can make a difference which principles, if any, one applies to Scripture.  For the born-again Christian, having surrendered hostility to the claims of an Authoritative God, normal principles of interpretation will seem natural.  Over time, gone will be both the desire and will to obfuscate the plain meaning of the text.  Nevertheless, it's good that we discover and embrace recognized rules of Scripture interpretation.  The discipline or science of interpretation is called hermeneutics.  And so principles of interpretation are synonymous with hermeneutic rules.  These rules are simple and any honest reader of the Bible will want to commit them to memory.  They are often referred to as the historic-grammatical method of interpretation.

  1. Interpret grammatically.  Respect the meaning of words, the form of sentences, and the peculiarities of idiom.  The "common" meaning is typically the correct meaning, unless it's shown to be inconsistent with other words in the sentence, with the argument or context, or with other parts of Scripture.  The true meaning is typically the sense which was intended by the inspired writers, though imperfectly understood by the writers themselves.

  2. Interpret according to the context.  The true meaning of a word, will often be modified by the connection in which it is used.

  3. Interpret with regard to the scope and design of the book itself, or of some larger section in which the words and expression occur.  Think, "What's the bigger picture?"

  4. Compare Scripture with Scripture.  Propositional truth is the consistent explanation of all that Scripture teaches upon a particular subject.  The above four rules allow for all the various genre of language: i.e., parables, prophecy, apocalyptic, poetry, wisdom literature, figures of speech, and idioms.(5)

In contrast to this historic-grammatical (normal) method of interpretation, there exists the spiritualizing approach.  Basically, this method ignores all four rules above when the plain sense meaning of a verse or portion of Scripture is intellectually or emotionally unacceptable to the reader.  Typically, the reader has approached Scripture with certain previously-formed beliefs (presuppositions).  When the conflict is sensed, the reader will attempt to "spiritualize" the text so as to maintain their currently held belief.  A good example of this this is spiritualizing encounter with the first chapter of Genesis.  Faithful to scientific "truth," all religious liberals and secular naturalists will axiomatically reject the plain and normal meaning of the creation event and spiritualize the language.  For most, the result of the spiritualizing method of interpretation is to classify the Bible into the literary genre of humanly-contrived myths.  Of course, that is THEIR foolish and reprobate interpretation.

 

Don't Bother Me

 

Addendum: For further study, obtain a copy of Roy Zuck's Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth, Victor Books, 1991.  This is an excellent seminary-level textbook used at Dallas Theological Seminary by Dr. Zuck.  The textbook is a great resource; however, it is a bit dated in that it was conceived and written before the adverse influence of postmodernism (aka: postmodern biblical criticism) took hold within academic circles and thus fails to address some of these more contemporary issues.

 

If you're a bit murky on postmodernism or "Emergent", that's acceptable...if you're over the age of 40.  You may get a better understanding by backing into this form of contemporary reality.  See the creatively satirical Emergence-See Po-Motivators for Emergent Christians, Motivational Posters for the Emerging Church Conversation CHAOS by TeamPyro.blogspot.com.

 

Also read:  General & Special Revelation - How God Has Revealed Himself

SO, WHAT'S IN THE BIBLE?

AND, WHERE SHOULD I START READING?

Two very good questions!  First, the books of the Bible, which chronicle over 2,000 years of history, can be generally organized into 6 groups.  The traditional designation of Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) is unfortunately misleading and typically causes confusion and theological errors in understanding.  So please, mentally discard the OT vs. NT concept!

  • The LAW (Torah) is the first five books, Genesis to Deuteronomy, which were written by Moses.  Genesis 1-11 contains the Creation narrative and account of the origin of life: plant, animal, and human; and the Noahic Agreement.  Genesis 12 to the end of Deuteronomy largely pertains to the Jewish nation of Israel, God's elect earthly people.

  • The PROPHETS (History, Major Prophets, & Minor Prophets) are 21 books located non-consecutively from Joshua to Malachi.  Again, these writing largely pertain to the Jewish nation of Israel.  It is through God's revelation to Israel that we learn much truth about God as well as about mankind--as represented in Israel's history.

  • The WRITINGS consist of historical excerpts, poetry, and philosophy, and include: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, I and II Chronicles, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther.

  • The SYNOPTIC GOSPELS (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) document the incarnation and life of God the Son--Jesus of Nazareth and his ministry to the nation of Israel.  In His public ministry, Jesus took up the message of himself as their awaited Messiah and was hailed as Israel's King, Son of David, and heir to the Throne at Jerusalem, in the Land of Promise.  Contrary to popular use, these Gospels do not present truth regarding the heavenly Church or the New Creation Christian.

  • The thirteen PAULINE EPISTLES (Romans to Philemon) pertain to the newly-formed body (Greek: ecclesia), the heavenly Church having Jesus Christ as both its Cornerstone and Head.  It is here that the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus Christ instructs the heavenly Body regarding His glorious New Creation.  These writings are directly addressed to Christians.

  • The GENERAL EPISTLES (Hebrews; James; 1 & 2 Peter; 1,2, & 3 John, and Jude) were written largely to the Jewish converts to Christianity, who were struggling with new truth and change.  Christians can learn valuable lessons from these struggles.

Finally, we have three books which do not fit neatly into any of the categories above.  The Gospel of John presents Jesus as God the Son, the eternal Word of God, and the distinct message of grace and salvation through believing.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  John 3:16

This is typically the best place to start reading for those unfamiliar with the Bible.  Here we have Christ preparing his then disciples for His pending death and resurrection.  The book of Acts chronicles the events immediately following Christ's resurrection, the advent of the Church (His Body) on the Day of Pentecost, the Gospel's transition from a largely Jewish context to that of the entire world, and Christianity's spread from Palestine all the way to Rome.  And, the final book of the Bible, Revelation, is a "vision" given to the Apostle John regarding spiritual concerns, prophetic issues, and future events--i. e., things to come.  


(1)  Throughout history, some have challenged the "extent to which the human mind can receive and understand divine revelation, insofar as this revelation is understood to include the communication of truth."  Of late, postmodernism has raised many questions regarding the limitations of human language.  For those skeptics or agnostics who question the ontological possibility of a "relationship between the human mind and the Divine mind," I suggest reading: THE WORD OF GOD AND THE MIND OF MAN by Ronald H. Nash,1982, P&R Publishing.

(2) SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Lewis S. Chafer, Dallas Seminary Press, 1947.  Quotations hereafter shown in italic text are from the same source.

(3) From God to Us, How we got our Bible, Geisler & Nix, Moody Press, 1974, p. 67.

(4) Ibid.

(5) SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Lewis S. Chafer, Dallas Seminary Press, 1947


God has Spoken and Speaks.  The Bible is THE expression of His Thoughts.

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