LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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CHAPTER 1

 

Christian Basics

 

 

Introduction

 

This study resource is designed to help you learn about Christianity in a group or by yourself.  We hope to be able to help answer your questions about basic Christian doctrine and beliefs.  You can also use it as a reference to help you to answer other people’s questions when they ask you about being a Christian.

We hope that the following pages will also encourage you to search the Bible for the answers you need by yourself.  Ultimately you need to be able to go to the Bible for God’s fresh word for your specific needs.  As you are learning, God will use many people to teach you many things.  But remember the wisdom and the power come only from Him.

The purpose of these pages is to help you understand some of the basic tenants of Christianity.  The ideas and ideals presented are important for you to understand.  We will attempt to show you in a logical fashion what a relationship with Jesus Christ is like.  As much factual information as possible will be presented while keeping with a general survey format.

We believe that the Christian faith is something held both in our hearts and in our minds.  Because a growing Christian has an inquisitive and active mind we will present many facts and cross references.  This together with the footnotes will give you a place to look when you, or someone you know has a question.

God has given us the power to understand many things. One of the most important is to learn about Him.  Challenge yourself to learn as much as you can about our Christian faith, its history, and people.  Most of us will be limited in our understanding, not by the limits of our minds, but by the lack of energy we allot to learning.

However we wish to make something clear.  There is no escaping that a step of faith is necessary to achieve salvation and a relationship with Christ. The primary residence of the Holy Spirit in us is in our hearts.

The field of argument encompassing proofs of Christianity is called apologetics.  It is an important field.  Many great scholars have devoted their lives to it.  Some of what we will present is the result of their labors.  It provides us comfort and room to grow intellectually and spiritually to understand some of their ideas.  But again that step of faith is necessary.

We believe that no satisfactory “proof” of the effectiveness of the Christian faith exists outside of the spiritual realm.  Our limited resources and minds will not allow us to have a complete understanding of God.  As Corrie Ten Boom said “A God small enough for our understanding will not be large enough for our need.”

 

THE BIBLE

SCRIPTURE

 

We believe the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, to be the inspired Word of God, without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men and the Divine and final authority for all Christian faith and life.

Where do these ideas come from, and why are they so important that we have chosen to begin here?  Let’s spend some time finding out.

The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, and has been for many centuries.  It is available in an incredible number of languages. Even now men are working to translate it into even more languages, so that all people may have the Scriptures available in their native tongue.  At every moment we can see the active hand of God motivating us to use and share this book called the Bible.

The question of the Bible is an important one.  Without it there are some things that mankind would never know from our own limited searching.  The Spiritual world is fundamentally different from the physical world we are so comfortable exploring.

If we are to know even the most basic things about God, He must tell us. God has revealed Himself in several ways.  Nature and ourselves are two examples.  Anyone who has ever owned a body (all of us) know that in the course of time things do not get better, but rather tend to decline without some active work.  In science this is called the law of entropy.  The guidance of some outside force in the universe can be seen, but only dimly.  Read Job 11:7–9

Another way God has told us about Himself is through His relationship with the nation of Israel and those around them.  He demonstrated His love, mercy, and sometimes His power in this way.  However all of these ways do not give us a very clear picture of Him.  None of us for instance have seen God’s involvement with history, or the events surrounding Christ’s ministry on earth personally.

Therefore it is necessary for God to reveal Himself to us in another way.  The way He chooses is through the Bible.  The question then arises, how do we know that the Bible as we know it is the complete and actual word of God?  For this we will examine the external and internal uniqueness of the Scripture.

 

Historical facts about the Bible

 

The Bible was written over a 1600 year span by over 40 authors, on three continents, in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). The Bible is by far the most widely circulated book ever.  Remember Mao’s “little red book”.  Twenty years ago it was read by a billion Chinese.  Now it has fallen into disfavor, less than 15 years after Chairman Mao’s death.

                                

Bible Publication Statistics

 

13,000 manuscript copies of all or part of the N.T.[1]

 

Jews preserved the O.T. as no other book has ever been. They counted each letter, syllable, word, and sentence.  They had special classes of men in there culture whose job it was to preserve the Scripture.

 

As of 1904 the Britain Bible Society had printed 409,000,000 Bibles.

 

By 1932 the German Bible Society had produced 1,330,213,815 Bibles.

 

In 1966 America produced 87,398,961 Bibles.

 

The O. T. was translated into Greek (The Septuagint) in about 250 B.C.

 

By 1966 the whole Bible had been translated into 240 languages and dialects and parts of the Bible into 739 additional ones.

 

Today it is rare for another book to out-sell the Bible for even a one month period.[2]

 

 

The Internal Uniqueness of the Bible

 

The Bible reveals many things that we by ourselves have no way of knowing.  Many of the Old Testament prophesies, for instance, were written hundreds of years before they came to pass. (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53)   There are still prophesies in the Bible that have not yet come to pass.  In this way the Bible is able to show us its accuracy by itself.

Accepting that the Bible is the word of God therefore hinges on faith, historical evidence, and the fact that it is performing a living work in millions of lives today.

 

 The Canonization of Scripture

 

But how do we know that the Bible is the complete and accurate word of God?  Who decided what should be included?  The Old Testament is easy.  This body of literature had been stable for at least 300 years before the birth of Christ.  Therefore we know that Christ’s view of the Old Testament should be ours because it is the same text.

What does Christ say?  In Luke 24:44 He says “. . . Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.”  In Luke 10:35 . . . and the Scripture cannot be broken . . .”.  And for Jesus’s thoughts on the difference between man’s tradition and the Scripture read Mark 7:1–13 looking closely at vs 13.  It tells us that it is wrong to put tradition above the Scriptures.

The New Testament is somewhat more complex in its origin. Christ’s life and work on earth produced quite a stir as you can well imagine.  It seems as if everyone with a pen and some papyrus had something to say about Jesus of Nazareth.

This was an age when communication and travel were not as easy as they are today.  Because of this sometimes someone would hear about Jesus or His works and be affected by them.  Later this person would share verbally or in written form his beliefs and experiences.  Since there was little communication between many of the so called Christian sects some truly bizarre ideas started to develop.

By the third century AD it was clear for a number of reasons that something had to be done to protect the Church from heresy.  Many Churches were using books of doubtful origin in their services.  Furthermore in A.D. 303 the edict of Diocletian called for the destruction of the sacred books of the Christians.  Who wanted to die for just a book?  Christians needed to know what was actually the Scripture, and worth protecting with their lives.

The basic test for the canonization of a book of the Bible was its apostolic origin.  The value of the words was that they were taught directly or inspired by Christ.

Athanasius of Alexandria (A.D. 367) gives us the earliest list of Scripture that is exactly the same as our own.  However as early as A.D. 115 Polycarp, Clement, and others use the term “as it is said in these scriptures” and “It is written”.  Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John.  We can see the high view with which the written scripture is held from Ignatius (A.D. 50–115) when he says “I do not wish to command you as Peter and Paul; they were apostles . . .”.  From this we see that the apostolic origin of the written word was considered of the first importance from the very earliest times.

It may be that some works of genuine value are not included in our present Bible.  However it is most important to know without any doubt that the scripture that we use is 100% reliable.  Anything that had a questionable origin was therefore not included.  This was much better done in the early church than now.  At the time that the process began there were still people living who had sat at the feet of the apostles!

 

The Extent of Inspiration

 

Another popular topic of discussion regarding the Bible is the extent of inspiration.  Two of the terms used are plenary and verbal inspiration.  Plenary means full.  When used in connection with inspiration it means that all scripture is of God and without error.  This is restricted to the original text in the original language.

The term verbal inspiration indicates that the inspiration extends to the words of the Bible themselves, not only the ideas.  Verbal inspiration holds that God through the Holy Spirit has guaranteed the authenticity and reliability of the very words used, without depriving the writers of their individuality.[3]  (2 Peter 1:20–21)

Some argue that the Bible contains the word of God rather than is the word of God.  This however presents us with a problem.  How can we know what parts of the Bible are reliable and what parts are not?  If we are going to pick and choose the parts of the Bible we are going to believe, we are choosing on the basis of personal need or desire.  This is a shaky basis on which to proceed.

There have been three bases for religious authority.  The first is tradition, or the authority of the church, which Roman Catholics have held.  The second is human reason to which liberal thinkers have held.  The third is the Bible itself, to which evangelicals have held. Evangelicals do not deny the value of human reason or tradition but submit them in the case of conflict to the authority of Scripture.

A person holding a high view of Scripture uses tools to study the text and relate it to the original words and language. For this reason even though the vast majority of us (myself included) do not know Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, it is important to use Bible translations that are direct translations from the original texts.  It is also important to not base our arguments on one verse of any one translation.  A good Bible student will have at least two translations at his elbow.  Two good ones are the King James or Authorized Version and the New Kings James Version.  Other good translations are the American Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, and The Amplified Bible versions.

However accepting the authority of the Bible does not guarantee instant understanding on our part.  The primary source of guidance should always be the Holy Spirit.  Scripture must be opened for us by the Holy Spirit.

While Christ was walking here on earth with His disciples He took many opportunities to explain both Himself and the Old Testament Scriptures to them.  We however do not have that opportunity. Before Jesus ascended into Heaven He promised to send a counselor, the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 24:45 Jesus opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures.  In John 16:13 He says that He will send the Spirit of Truth to guide us to truth.  When you read the Bible pray that God will make it plain to you through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

When looking at and reading the Bible it is important to realize that it is not a science text or a daily diary of Christ’s life.  There appear to be legitimate conflicts in parallel accounts of the same events and other difficulties, although not near as many as some would have you believe.

The Bible describes events as they appear to happen.  For instance we describe the sun as “rising in the east” even though we have known for centuries that it doesn’t rise at all.  In the same way the Scriptures uses common terms which are generally understood to describe events.

The Bible also uses allegories or parables (stories) to illustrate a point.  We should be careful when we look at scripture in a literal way.  After all would you want to date the woman described in Song of Songs 4:1–5?  All in all much of what we receive from reading the Scripture has to do with the attitude with which we approach it.  This does not mean that the substance of what it says changes with our outlook however.

In conclusion we can see that the Bible as we have it today is the vital and living word of God.  We know this from the impact it is having on our lives today.  No other ancient text has nearly as many manuscripts surviving from dates close to the original writing.  No other text has had the impact it has and continues to have on millions of lives.  No other text is printed in anywhere near its quantity or in as many languages.  Voltaire predicted that Christianity would be dead within 100 years after his death in 1778.  Fifty years after he died the Geneva Bible Society was using his house, and printing press, to print stacks of Bibles!

                                

I paused last eve beside the blacksmith’s door,

And heard the anvil ring, the vespers chime,

And looking in I saw upon the floor

Old hammers, worn with beating years of time

“How many anvils have you had?” said I’

“To wear and batter all those hammers so?”

“Just one,” he answered.  Then with twinkling eye:

“The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”

And so, I thought, the anvil of God’s Word

For ages skeptics’ blows have beat upon,

But though the noise of falling blows was heard

The anvil is unchanged; the hammers gone.[4]


 

Discussion Questions

 

 

1)      Why is the origin of the Bible important?

 

 

 

2)      Why is it important to believe in the authority of scripture?

 

 

 

3)      What does it mean that the Bible is inspired?

 

 

 

4)      How is the ministry of the Holy Spirit essential to the understanding of the Scripture?

 

 

 

5)      List some reasons why it is important to know what the Bible says thoroughly.

 

 

 



[1] A. T. Robertson a noted authority on NT grammar and Bible History.

[2] Quoting figures from Bible Societies, found in Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell c1972 p Campus Crusade for Christ.  His   sources were Encyclopedia Britannica, Americana, One Thousand   Wonderful Things About the Bible (Pickering), All About the Bible   (Collet), Protestant Christian Evidence (B. Ramm), and A General Introduction to the Bible (Geisler and Nix)

[3] Know What You Believe by Paul E. Little c 1970, 1985, 1987  SP Publications Inc.  Victor Books, Wheaton IL.

[4] John Clifford, 1836–1923