Weizenfeld mit Sonnenuntergang

The Canon – Part 1: What do you read when you read ‚the Bible‘?

‎Canon of the New Testament - Part 1

From Christian

A child is watching you read and asks, “What are you reading?” “The Bible” “And what is the Bible?” “Well this book here.”

 One of the three volumes of the “Maximiner Riesenbibel” from the former imperial abbey of St. Maximin in Trier.

Well, your copy is probably not as old as this one. What else might a child ask you?

  • What does it say?
  • Who wrote it?
  • How old is it?

For the first question, we might answer with some child-friendly incidents or parables.

With the second question, we may already notice that it becomes more difficult than with other books where the author is written on the cover. If we say, “The Bible was written by God,” the child – and I admit he’s a pretty bright kid – might ask, “Can God write on paper?” “Yes, he sort of did at one time. But most of it was written by people.” “I thought God wrote it.” “Yes, but he had people write it down then.” “And how does that work.” Now it’s your turn to explain inspiration. “He put it into them.” “How does that work?” We realize that this is not as simple as we thought. “And did only one person write it? Or were there more?” I guess there’s still a lot of explaining to do.

“And then has there been only one book? Is it this one?” “Initially yes, no, it’s complicated. Actually, in the beginning there was no book at all. And strictly speaking, it’s not a book at all, it’s a collection of writings.” “But you said it was a book.” “Yes, that’s what we call it. But, after all, it took well over a thousand years to write.” “So one started, and the others kept writing more pages?” We could go on and on with this story. At some point, the topic of language and translations will come up. And then who compiled these things – and that brings us to the canon of the Christian scriptures.

And maybe we ask ourselves at some point how we know that the text we have in front of us is from God and that we have it exactly as He wants it. Nothing more, nothing less, right? At least that is what we should ask ourselves when we build our faith and our lives on this foundation.

I know that some people would like to stop now. It won’t be boring, I can promise you. But perhaps we feel an uneasiness, an underlying fear that a foundation of our faith is being shaken. And that can be frightening. And it may well be that some of the facts we are going to talk about are uncomfortable for you at first. I felt the same way. But it’s like when a dentist checks your tooth with something cold. Here is pain times something good: you know the nerve in the tooth is still alive. And if it hurts a little bit at first in the course of this series, it’s something like that: as far as your faith is concerned, there’s still life in it.

Why such a review of the foundation of our faith is so important becomes clear from a parable of Jesus:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

(Matthew 7:24-27 NIV)

Jesus wanted to explain why it is necessary to act accordingly. But it also applies to the foundations of our faith: If the foundation is not solid, the whole faith building can collapse. And anyone who has experienced how their own faith building can collapse because much of it was made up of the teachings of men might even lose their faith altogether if the foundation is poor.

The Bible is the foundation of our faith, isn’t it? And what about the tradition through the centuries by the church? Already we have another interesting question. And just as one person would spontaneously reject this, another may take it for granted – and many have probably given it little thought. But all this is unconsciously our context with which we read the Bible. Let us summarize some of these – partly unconscious – convictions in one sentence:

“The Bible is God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, fully inspired by God and thus containing exactly what God intended. It has been preserved for us to this day exactly as the Bible itself says so, every book, paragraph, sentence, word, comma and period.”

In this series, we want to examine these statements on the basis of the text of the Bible and historical facts. In doing so, we will not simply question things or sow doubts, but look for a stable, robust foundation based on facts. It will always be about concrete questions, which we will examine very concretely in order to find concrete answers, even if these are sometimes not as simple as we might prefer.

This is also important because some claims about the Bible and God do not stand up to the facts and this is then blamed on the Bible or God – even though the claim does not come from God and is not found in the Bible. This only brings the Bible or God unnecessarily into disrepute.

First, let’s start with a basic observation: When you read your Bible, are you reading exactly what God said or had written down? How many assumptions are already involved in this consideration? Are you aware of everything that stands between God and the text you are reading?

Some of the points to consider when reading the Bible
Some of the points to consider when reading the Bible

The diagram here is to illustrate all that lies between God’s thoughts or purposes and the text you read in your Bible:

  • Partly oral tradition as in parts of the ‘old testament’ or the gospels.
  • The scribe, that is, a person who received or formed and wrote down words and sentences – the autographs.
  • Those who copied the autographs and made copies of the copies.
  • Those who, over many decades, established the canon of the Bible, that is, which writings are included in ‘the Bible’.
  • Different manuscripts that have differences.
  • The texts were written in different cultures and languages that are thousands of years old.
  • The texts from the various, different manuscripts were translated from another language and culture into your language. Different translations contain different wording.
  • You have your own cultural background and understanding of the language in which you read the Bible.

All this and more must be taken into account and considered when we read the Bible in our language today.

“But surely God has directed this so that the Bible has been accurately handed down to us.” Isn’t that part of the statement I presented earlier? But perhaps you have the fear that was expressed in a comment on my video The Last Generation. In the video I had said that the part in Matthew 24:3 which is not mentioned in Mark and Luke was probably not in the autograph for good reasons. A comment then was:

“To claim that this so-called addition, “…which is the sign of your coming and the end of the world time”, that this should not be genuine, is not only daring but also very dangerous. …

  1. because this thought game, instills a spirit of uncertainty that threatens to destroy faith in the authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. What is there to doubt in the Bible, what is genuine, etc.?! If we are no longer sure that the Word of God has been faithfully handed down to us, then this is a very dangerous path we are taking. We then doubt the authenticity of the Word of God and also that God would not be able to preserve His written Word until today.”
Part of a commentary on the YouTube video The Last Generation

I fully understand this fear, because I had it too. And so have many others in the last centuries. That’s why we don’t want to do a ‘mind game that instills a spirit of uncertainty’ now. But rather to examine the facts in order to find a secure foundation on stone. And that is exactly what we will find. It may be that this thought instills too much fear in you at the moment. But ignoring and denying won’t help. Maybe later you will find the stability to address this issue.

In the next part of the series, we will first let the text of the Bible itself speak.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: