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Ancient Manuscripts and Biblical Authority

May 2, 2017 Pastor: Don Green Series: The History of the Bible

Topic: Midweek Sermons


We're glad you're with us today. I know some of you have come a long way to be with us, others have faced physical challenges over the past few days, we're glad you're with us too and just a wonderful night to be together. I need to explain what I'm talking about and why I'm talking about it this evening. We had a wonderful time last week with John MacArthur speaking to us via live video link. There is always a little bit of hesitation when you're doing something like that because you never know how the technology is going to work, is the technology going to work or not, and you have to be prepared as the pastor in case it doesn't. You know, you can't just have people show up and then, "Well, I don't know what to say," because the technology is not working, and so I had prepared a message that I was prepared to preach in case something went wrong last week and tonight I have the opportunity to preach it here to you this evening and I'm very very excited about it. These are matters that are just so crucial.

If you take notes, if you want a title for tonight's message, it's going to sound very dry and dusty and arcane, the title of tonight's message is "Ancient Manuscripts and Biblical Authority." Ancient manuscripts and biblical authority, and as obscure as that might sound, it is possible that I have never preached a more foundational message during the five years of Truth Community Church than what we're going to consider this evening. There are a lot of foundational things but everything comes down to the authority of the Bible and ultimately you have to deal with these issues that we're coming together tonight to study, depending on how the time goes, it's possible that this may turn into two messages. We'll just see how it all unfolds. My heart is very full tonight with the joy of being able to share these things with you.

Now, just by way of getting started and what we're going to do today is probably start with that which is most familiar and go through that a little bit quickly and then go into things that perhaps are not as familiar, or for some of you, you'll be hearing things tonight for the very first time and that's a blessed privilege for me to be able to introduce you to these things. So starting with the most familiar things that we could talk about, it is no secret whatsoever at Truth Community Church that we hold a high view of the word of God, of the 66 books of the Bible, of the Scriptures. We look at a passage like Psalm 19:7 and 9 and let it inform the way that we think about God's word. You know those verses, I'll read them.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.

And then verse 10 goes on to say,

10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.

God's word is precious and God's word is perfect and that's the foundation of everything that we do and teach here at Truth Community Church. We're glad to be in complete agreement with a ministry like John MacArthur's who teaches these same things and has for 60 years or more.

Now, along with that you could also consider a New Testament passage, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that says,

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

What does Paul go on to say after that? Well, sometimes we stop just there at the end of verse 17, don't we? But Paul goes on and gives a solemn charge to Timothy, some of the last words that we have from the pen of the Apostle Paul. In light of that he says,

1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word;

That is a solemn command in the presence of God, in the presence of Christ. The Apostle Paul told Timothy, "Preach the word," and that carries through to today's church and so that's why we do what we do. We take that charge seriously. I know that you take that charge seriously, that's why you come here, that's why you want to be a part of a church like that. We take that seriously. We don't joke about this. We'll joke about a lot of things outside the pulpit, we don't joke about this. This is too serious.

So from those passages and many others, Psalm 19, 2 Timothy 3, we say that the Bible, the 66 books of the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament in our English text, that Bible and that Bible alone is God's word and we have a high view of it. We respect it and that's why we teach it and we've seen the power of God's word at work in our own hearts, haven't we? You have and I have and so we respect God's word.

Now, stepping into some things that are review from earlier theological studies that we've had, because it's God's word, we believe that the Bible is inspired and that it is inerrant, and I just want to talk about those two terms for just a moment. They are technical theological terms. The Greek word for "inspired" found in 2 Timothy 3:16 is "theopneustos" and it means literally "God-breathed"; that the Scriptures are God-breathed. The idea is that this speaks to the origin of Scripture. It came from the mind of God and he breathed it out through the human authors so that what they wrote was exactly what God intended to be written. That's why we can say it's God's word. And God did this by a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit so as to preserve those men from error when they were writing the Scriptures. You cannot simply consider the Scriptures as a man-made document because they are divine in origin and Scriptures are a supernatural product of a supernatural God of truth and, therefore, what the Scriptures say is true, it is the word of God.

Now, just to be clear and to define our terms carefully: when we talk about the word "inspiration," let's think about that for a minute. You know, people will use that word loosely today, "Oh, that poet was so inspired when he wrote 'Humpty Dumpty,'" or whatever. "That was a great act of human achievement and he was inspired." That's not what we're talking about when we talk about it theologically in reference to the Scripture. We're not talking about something that is an elevated statement in a human realm but what we are saying is that God worked through the authors; that God inspired them; God worked through them; God breathed out his word through them in order to produce a perfect, reliable, voluntary, self-disclosure from God to man. Perfect in every respect, true in every respect because it could be no other way. God is a God of perfect absolute truth. Scripture says in Titus 1 it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore if we have a book that is from God, we know for certain that it is true in everything that it affirms. It could be no other way. You could not have a book from God, the God of truth, that also lies to you along the way, misleads you or has errors somewhere tucked away in it. That's just nonsense to think that way and so we have a high view of God because it is an inspired work of the God of truth.

Now along with that, another word that we use to talk about Scripture is, it is inerrant, which means that is is without error. Because God superintended the writing of the Scriptures, he preserved them from error in everything that they affirm. Everything that Scripture says is true, says is a fact, is absolutely reliable and it is authoritative. It is inerrant so that whatever the Bible says about the unseen realm, God, sin, salvation, Christ, angels, demons, whatever it says in the unseen realm is absolutely true and reliable. Nothing can contradict it correctly. Whatever the Bible speaks about in the known realm, the seen realm of science or history, whatever Scripture speaks to those issues when it speaks to those issues, it is also perfectly reliable, absolutely true, not subject to correction – this is an important qualification – to the degree of specificity intended in the text so that whatever Scripture intends to say is absolutely true.

Now, there are those who want to say, and they include a lot of mischief when they say this, there are those who want to say all truth is God's truth, and what they mean by that is often they are talking about putting science on a parallel realm of authority with Scripture and saying that these two are of equal value and therefore you have to interpret them in light of one another. That is not true. That is a lie from the pit of hell because Scripture is authoritative over even science itself, and if science, current trends in science, contradict Scripture, Scripture is correct and science is wrong and Scripture corrects science, not the other way around. That is absolutely essential to understand and we uphold that and we defend that without apology and without qualification. So there you go. That's just a little bit of introduction and I'm just starting to get warmed up here.

Now, we say the Bible is God's word. Here's where we're going to start to take you into other realms that maybe you haven't considered before and I want to just kind of guide you through some of these things that are on my mind and heart tonight. When we say the Bible is inerrant and we say that the Bible is inspired, here's a question that we need to ask: what text is inspired and inerrant? What text is inspired and inerrant? You might think that I'm going to get into the whole King James only thing but that's not where I'm going with this at all. What I want to introduce you to and to help you think through is this: technically speaking, most strictly speaking when we affirm the doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy, we are only talking about – let's just limit it to inspiration, the God-breathed text – when we affirm the doctrine of inspiration, we are only talking about the original documents from the hands of the human authors, that original document written by the Apostle Paul or by Dr. Luke when he wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. These original documents are known as the autographs. You know, they were the original document from the original, inspired, Biblical author.

Now here's the challenge to us as we start to think through these things: we do not have the original autographs any longer. They have long been lost to the course of history, to the course of time, written on documents that were perishable over time. They're gone and we don't have them and so if we do not have the autographs of Scripture, some people will say, those who want to cause mischief will say something like this, "Because you do not have the autographs of Scripture, then the doctrine of inerrancy is meaningless. It doesn't count. It doesn't matter because you don't have the original documents and the doctrine of inerrancy applies only to the original documents.

Now if you've never been acquainted with these issues before, that sounds like a pretty compelling argument. That's kind of intimidating, especially if you have a guy known as Dr. Bart Ehrman who has studied in these realms greatly and takes what he knows and twists it and turns it in order to intimidate sincere common believers like us and to make us doubt the trustworthiness of God's word. How are we to respond to this? Well, guys like that never tell you the whole truth and they never tell you that everything that they're saying has been answered in multiple ways by multiple men over multiple decades. They never tell you that. What they do is they take unsuspecting people, give them a part of the story and part of the facts, and then attempt to persuade you that your faith in the Bible and your faith in Christ is misplaced. Well, tonight what we're trying to do is preemptively protect you from that kind of nonsense and that kind of demonic drivel.

So how are we to think about this? Well, here's what you need to understand and we're going to not go too deeply into this, just to give you by way of introduction. It is true that we do not have the autographs of Scripture. We don't have the original 27 books of the New Testament in our possession. They are nowhere to be found. They're gone, okay? But that does not affect or diminish our ability to assert the inerrancy of Scripture as we stand here today. The content of those originals was handed down to us over the centuries through a process of copying of the documents over multiple centuries and over multiple geographic locations. The people of the first century when they received these letters and these books from the apostles and their close associates, realized that they had something of enormous value in their hands and they wanted to spread the word, they wanted to share it with others so they did what you would do in the same circumstance – and remember this is before the days of mechanical reproduction, before the days of the printing press – what did they do? They took the effort and they wrote these things out by hand again and again and again. When they had the original, they copied it out so that it could be preserved and so that it could be spread to other areas that had not received this document themselves.

That's what happened and so this is happening over a long period of time, multiple, multiple copies are prepared, and so you go from the original source, it's copied and sent elsewhere, they get it, they say, "Wow, this is God's word. We've got to copy this and send it to somebody else and so it multiplies geometrically and spreads throughout the region of the known world during that time. So we don't have the original documents themselves but we have thousands of witnesses, so to speak, in full and partial manuscripts of copies of those documents that are telling us what the original said. In fact, the numbers on this are quite impressive and dwarf anything in any other manner of human literature. It dwarfs the most popular known works of writers like Homer and things like that.

So the most recent numbers, the most recent count is that we have 5,800 approximately, 5,800 full or partial manuscripts of the Greek New Testament in whole or in part. In addition to that, in terms of what we have testifying to what those original documents say, not only were the original in Greek copied, just limiting our discussion to the New Testament for now, they were translated into the other major languages that existed at the time. So Latin and Syriac, Coptic and other lesser languages, the Scriptures were translated into those other languages as well, giving us an idea of what the original said. And not only that, the Scriptures were quoted in the early church fathers' writings so as the early teachers of the Christian church after the apostolic era were writing commentaries and writing letters and all of that, they were quoting the New Testament. They were quoting what they had. They had documents in front of them that we don't have in front of us now and there are tens of thousands of things like that, so-much-so these quotations in the writing of the early church – listen to this, this is a quote from Bruce Metzger, one of the premier textual critics/scholars of the past hundred years or more. Talking about these quotations in the writings of the early church he said this and I quote, "So extensive are these citations," the one in the early church fathers, "So extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed," if we lost all of the manuscripts and we lost all of the translations and we only had, I'm expanding on what he said here. I should have said end quote ten minutes ago. "If we only had the writings of the church fathers," here's what Bruce Metzger says, "they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament."

So we have three large groups of witnesses: we have these manuscripts that have been produced over centuries; we have the translations in different languages that were working off the documents, very close original copies or very close to the originals; and we have these quotations from the early church fathers whose volumes fill multiple shelves of those who have them. And so here's what you need to see, is that when people say the doctrine of inerrancy is meaningless because we don't have the original documents, what they're neglecting to tell you is that we have multiple streams, multiple witnesses telling us what those documents said.

Now along with that, some people will say that because the Bible was originally written primarily in Hebrew and Greek, portions of it also in Aramaic, they say the doctrine of inspiration, the doctrine of inerrancy does not apply to the English Bible. Now, you start to see where this really matters to you because most of you rely on the English Bible to be your source of God's word and many of you, most of you perhaps, do not read Hebrew, you do not read Greek, you do not read Aramaic, and so that kind of challenge against the doctrine of inspiration and the doctrine of inerrancy, saying it doesn't apply to the English Bible, it's critical for us to know how to respond to that and how to think through it.

Now, so we ask this question. I've actually answered two questions here so far. What does inspired and inerrant mean? We dealt with that. We said, "What text is inspired and inerrant?" and we said it's limited to the original documents but we don't have those documents and so we ask this question then: so do we actually have the word of God today or not? That, like, matters. That's everything. Everything hinges on that question and let's give a definitive, unqualified answer to it and the answer to that question is: yes, we do have the word of God but we need to understand how to think through it.

Now, some people when they hear about copies of documents and all of that, they'll say, "Well, this is just like a big game of telephone," and you know how that game of telephone works, one person starts and tells a story and orally it's transmitted so that by the time you're done it has nothing to do with the original and these critics, these foes of God's word, will try to create the impression that the copying process is like that so that you do not have a reliable evidence, a reliable testimony to what the original document said. Not true. Not true. Because we have these thousands of full or partial manuscripts preserved over the centuries, and you must understand this point, through very sophisticated and intelligent and well thought out dating methods, we are able to date many of these manuscripts to the second or third century. So we stand in the 21st century and we have evidence from the second and third century of what the first century document said. We are not prisoners of copies of copies of copies of copies of copies that have lost track of the original document, we have multiple streams of witnesses, multiple dates, multiple geographic areas telling us what that original document said. So you must understand this is foundational to your faith to realize that these manuscripts are representative of what the original text says.

Now having said that, I realize we're chewing a lot of meat here tonight and that's alright. I've been wanting to talk about this for a long time and we want to be honest with you and we want to help you understand what the real situation is so that you know. You know, it's very easy, especially as a new Christian, to just say, "Okay, well, here's the Bible," and to never really think about, "Well, how did it get here? How did we get this Bible that we believe to be the word of God?" So we're wanting to work through that.

Now, we have 5,800 manuscripts, okay? And the challenge is this: those manuscripts are not identical to one another. You think about it: if we had a 2,000 word document in front of us and all of us made copies of it, there would be differences if were copying it by hand. There would be differences and so as you look at these manuscripts and you study them, for various reasons there might be some differences in wording, there may be words that are added or words that are omitted, and this becomes a challenge. How do we get to that? Well, here's what you have to understand: we do not rely on any single one manuscript to tell us what the original said. It doesn't work that way. The key manuscripts, as I said, bridge 1,800-1,900 years of time, but here's what happens with these nearly 6,000 manuscripts available, what we do, and when we say "we," scholars who study these things. I'm not classifying myself with them, just using the plural "we" in a very loose sense. What we do is this: we compare these manuscripts one to the other, one to the other, one to the other, and they compare them with each other through the science known as textual criticism. It's a science and also an art. And when you do that, what you can do is you can isolate the differences between these documents, see where there is complete agreement, where there are differences and then you try to understand how those differences came into being so that you can determine what the original text said.

So if you look even in the margins of your English Bible, you'll find places like in John 7 at the end, and in John 8 or in Mark 16, you'll find texts where you'll find a marginal note that says, "The earliest manuscripts don't contain this text." That's okay. It's just telling you that what we have is the oldest manuscripts and they do not contain this text and that tells us that it was probably added later, therefore not part of the original autograph. That's the idea there, but for all of that that's said, here's what I want you to hear and I want to give you a little bit of information because this can be overwhelming, especially if you're hearing it for the first time. Overall, it is surprising and even shocking to a fair-minded observer how little variance there actually is between the manuscripts. The foundational scholars Wetscott and Hort from the 19th century concluded this, that only 1/8 of the Greek New Testament reflected textual variance, 12%. 88% of it is in agreement, 12% of it has textual variance of all kinds.

Now, don't let that throw you off because they go on to say that when you exclude trivial differences like spelling differences, you know, the English spelling of honor, h-o-n-o-r versus the British spelling with a "u," you eliminate things like that and other minor matters and you're left with only 1/1000 of the text that has any kind of significant variation whatsoever. In other words, putting this in percentages and in numbers that you can all understand: 99.999% of the Greek New Testament we're certain of what it says; in the remaining 1/1000 of the text, we may be uncertain of which reading is correct, we have the original reading, we're just not sure which one it is, so that by the time you get through it all, you realize that through this whole process, this very sophisticated process of textual criticism, you realize that we have reconstructed what the original is to a degree of almost absolute perfection.

So let me illustrate this for you. The process, contrary to what some King James advocates will say, the process of this is all very transparent. I'm holding in my hand one of my copies of the Greek New Testament, leather bound gift from a friend of mine from 10-15 years ago, he is now pastor in Washington state. You say, "Does that fact about your friend in Washington have anything to do with the inerrancy of Scripture?" No, absolutely not. It doesn't. I'm just adding that because it's a meaningful gift to me. That's all I'm saying. But this copy of the Greek New Testament, the fourth edition of the United Bible Society's version of it, lists out 60 pages of the manuscripts, the sources that they rely on, and the location and the dates of the manuscripts. The manuscripts are spread all over the world and they identify so that you can trace their source of authority to the decisions that they make. Now, that's pretty interesting. Sixty pages. That'll keep you going at night.

Now, in addition to that, I say they make decisions about the textual differences and how you determine what the original text is. I hope I'm not going too far into this but this matters and it matters to me. Along with that, they don't just simply give you the Greek text, what they have done is they've published this 700 page book called "A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament" in which they detail for you the significant decisions that they made about the textual decisions, about what was the original text and what wasn't, and they give you 700 pages of explanation throughout the Greek New Testament telling you what the decisions were and why they decided what it was.

Now for almost everyone in this room, that's never going to matter to you, and it's not that you need to go out and learn Greek or learn textual criticism in order to be able to know that you have the word of God in your hand, but what's important for you to know is simply this: that the people who have given us what we consider to be the accurate Greek text have spent decades upon decades, if not centuries really, going back to the Reformation, evaluating these manuscripts and one generation of scholars building on the work of a prior generation of scholars, completely laying forth their reasons that, "We've looked at these manuscripts. Here's what we think it is. This is our judgment." It's done in a transparent way so that with all of these manuscripts, with all of this information, we have scholars who have dedicated their lives to this work and they have put in writing and put on display the reasons for what they do so that the Greek testament that we hold in our hands we can say, "This is a reflection of the original word of God." That's crucial to know. Now, and there are very small instances where we're just not quite sure of which reading is original, you should understand this: does that impact our doctrine of inerrancy? Are there little specks of defects in God's word because of that? No, there's not because none of those variations have anything to do with any central doctrine of the Christian faith.

So let's back up and take a breather here. God inspired the original writers and they wrote out what we call autographs. We don't have those anymore, but before they were lost, multiple copies of them were made by hand and it was distributed and copies of copies were made. Think about it this way: instead of having one witness to what the original text was, we have nearly 6,000 witnesses contributing to our understanding of what that original text was.

Now, here's an interesting question, at least I think it's interesting: why would God do it that way? Why would God preserve the text providentially through multiple witnesses like this rather than through making sure that the autographs were preserved so that we could always go back and say, "There is the autograph"? Why would he do it that way? Well, it's really not that hard to figure out and there are two reason: one spiritual and the other physical that I would just suggest for consideration.

First of all, let's consider the spiritual reason. Why would God do it this way? Because a lot of us, I won't speak for all of you or speak even for myself, a lot of us would prefer it to just be simple and clean, wouldn't we? You'd just like it to be clean. There's the autograph, when we talk about inerrancy, that's what it attaches to, and that simplifies it and we don't have any of these difficult issues to deal with and people don't have to write 800 page books to explain what the text is and how we got it. In one sense that would seem to be a lot simpler. Well, do you know what? Given the propensity of men toward false worship, what would men do if we did have the autographs? They would go and they would fall down and they would bow down in the presence of the written page. You say, "Really? I don't think so." Well, think again. Think again. There are billions of people throughout the world that will happily bow down before plaster painted blue and worship Mary and what do they think they're doing? They'll worship plaster. Think of what they would do if the actual autograph of God's word was there. We're so prone to false worship, God protects us and preserves us from that.

Secondly, think about it this way. You remember a year or two ago, I don't remember exactly when it was, when the Islamic State was on the march and they were going through Syria and you may have seen some of the news reports, they happily, gleefully, wickedly went into museums and just destroyed priceless works of art, priceless historical artifacts that are absolutely irreplaceable. They bombed and destroyed structures that were thousands of years old that were crucial to our understanding of world history in utter disregard to any human historic value that those things had. Well, can you imagine if we were dependent on one set of documents in one location, how vulnerable we would be to losing God's word if that's what we were depending on? You know, what if it was kept in the British Museum during WWII and the bombing of London took it out? Then where would we be? We've lost God's word. In the wisdom of God, he says, "No, what we'll do is we'll spread this so far and wide and in so many places." Beloved, it is impossible for God's word to be lost with the way that God has done it. It can never be lost because the witnesses to the original text are spread out in museums and universities throughout all of the world. It can never be lost. You would have to explode the entire world to make it go away and what did Jesus say? "Heaven and earth will pass away but my word won't pass away." Part of the way that he's done this is a providential way that he has kept it.

So we say this, we say it dogmatically, we say that we have the original word of God in the Greek language as we're talking about the New Testament. We say that definitively and without qualification and without apology but as we say that, we just want to be clear on the factual basis in what we mean by that. That's what we've tried to do this evening.

Now, you'd think I'd be done there and if I had any brain in my head, I would be done here, but I'm not done yet. What about the English Bible? You can say you've got the original word of God and it's attached and we know what the original Greek is and we've reconstructed that and so we have the original word of God in Greek, but when we talk theologically and we talk technically and we say that inspiration is limited to the original manuscripts, those were the perfect documents themselves, any individual manuscript that follows has mistakes and errors in it, by the multiplicity of witnesses, we correct those and reconstruct the original text. I'm talking about the Greek language here, but what about English? English was not the language in which the word of God was written. If inspiration is limited to the original Greek text and you cannot read Greek – again, just limiting this discussion to the New Testament, it complicates it to go and talk about Hebrew also – if you cannot read Greek, are you prevented from reading the very word of God? How can you say, "I'm reading the word of God," if you're not reading it in Greek?

That question matters. That's very important and here's what we need to understand – oh, and I'm speaking so technically and with such precision in what I'm about to say and don't jump ahead of me in what I'm saying here. We do not claim the same kind of direct inspiration for modern English translations that we claim for the original autographs. We don't claim that because God did not inspire writers of English to write his word. It was the writers of Greek in the New Testament in the first century that he inspired.

Now, did I just give away everything with what I just said? Did I just surrender all of the ground of biblical authority by making that statement? No, I'm just being honest with you. But, beloved, to give you the conclusion before I give you the reasons, you have in your hands if you have a responsible English translation like the NASB, the ESV, New King James, King James, I'll throw that in there too, you have the word of God in your hands no less than with the Greek text but I need to explain exactly what I mean by that. Because we know the Hebrew and Greek texts and because English is a robust language that is a capable, what I like to call a receptor language, you can take the Hebrew and Greek and English has the ability to express the richness of the meaning of Greek and Hebrew, because that is true, responsible translations in English carry the imprint of God without meaningful diminishment. Because English can accurately represent the meaning of the Greek text, then your English translation is the word of God as well.

Here's how we should think about this. I have an illustration that I think will help you. When we talk about the autographs, those autographs, the original Greek, that has direct authority from God, direct authority because that's what God inspired and when you reproduce the Greek text accurately, what the original said, that's direct authority because that is what God actually directly inspired. When we talk about English or English translations or any other translation in the world responsibly done, it has derivative authority. Derivative authority, its authority is derived from the Greek text, derived from the original languages. And here's what we mean by that. The original text has direct authority, you translate it and when that English text is accurately reflecting what it says, it's a derived authority meaning this: it has equivalent authority with the autographs because we can ascertain the meaning of the autographs from the translation and proper interpretation of the English text. When you read a responsible English translation, it is taking you and connecting you with what the autograph said.

Now, are there disputed words or technical imperfections in English? Sure there are, but to the extent that there are occasional difficulties conveying the Greek into English, God has given us collectively the church of his people, he has given skilled pastors and skilled scholars to help bridge the gap so that men who have ability that you and I don't have are able to help bridge the gap, that narrow little gap between English and Greek in those occasional areas where there are difficulties, we have men who are equipped to help us bridge the gap the rest of the way.

Here's an example to help you think about it, an illustration showing the difference between direct and derivative authority. Derivative authority is not diminished authority. Get that clear. It is not diminished authority, it is simply derivative. Here's an easy example to help that all of you can relate to, any of you that have every had kids. Most of my kids are grown now. In the older days when they were younger when I would speak to my children, it's still true today, I have direct authority. If I would tell one of them, "Go clean your room," they had to go clean their room because my authority as dad over them was direct and they had to obey.

Now, we have six kids and you know how it works, sometimes the younger ones want to play boss themselves and so it happened often, as it happened in your home, that the young ones would go to the older ones and say, so to speak, "Clean your room." Well, what does the older kid do with that? He says, "You're not my boss. I don't have to do what you tell me to do. You're not in authority over me," is the idea. They didn't express it that way, of course, but they realized that the younger one was not their boss and so they didn't have to do what they said. I have direct authority and the young one has no authority. But it all changes when I tell the younger one, "Go tell your older sister to clean her room." Now she comes and says, "Dad says you have to clean your room." She has no direct authority of her own but she has derivative authority because I have authorized her to speak on my behalf.

That's a picture of what we have with the difference between the direct authority of the Greek text and the derivative authority of the English text. The English text derives its authority from the fact that it accurately represents what the Greek text says and, therefore for you, the whole point of this, all of this 55 minute discussion or so, all of this designed to help you understand and think through how you went from documents written 2,000 years ago to have confidence in the Bible that you hold in your hands. That's what matters. That's why we've gone through this difficult exercise. This is why we've gone through such arcane matters. It is so that you can have a stronger and deeper and more informed understanding that the Bible that you hold in your hand is absolutely authoritative and absolutely trustworthy. That's why it matters to think through these things so that you are not tossed aside or discouraged or thrown off track by hearing something for the first time from those who are foes of God's word.

We can approach it another way. John MacArthur often says this, that the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. You know, if you have the written word in front of you and somebody distorts it and misinterprets it and says Jesus Christ is not God or you can be saved through your works, well, even if they're pointing to Scripture, they're not telling you the Scripture, they've twisted it so that it's no longer God's word because they've made it say something that it doesn't mean. The meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture.

Ask this question, we ask this question, this settles it: can I open the Bible randomly here to the book of Jude, can I open my English text and can I say does this English text allow me to determine the meaning of the original autograph of Jude? And the answer to that question is: yes, it does. And not only that, beloved, it's not just this historical process of transmission, it's not just these kinds of arguments about authority and all of that that we've gone through tonight, let's remember something even greater and more infinitely powerful at work when you are reading your English Bible as a Christian: you have dwelling within you the third person of the Trinity; you have the Holy Spirit illuminating your mind and giving you understanding and helping you and enlarging your capacity and elevating your mind to grasp things that you wouldn't be able to understand in your personal strength. So that you have just on a linear horizontal human level we can look and see the process that delivers an English Bible into our hands and says there is a solid unbroken line of connection to the original autographs and therefore because of that connection, I have God's word in my hand, God has given us pastors and teachers to help us understand, Ephesians 4, God gives teachers to his church so that his people can understand his word. And along with that, he puts the Holy Spirit within us so that the Spirit supernaturally illumines it to us. And along with that, he's implanted within the human consciousness laws of logic and understanding that help us know the way a document should be interpreted. All of these vast resources that God has given us, far more than simply preserving one document in one place to know that you have the word of God. God has given this plethora, this vast expanse of resources so that his self-disclosure to you would be authoritative and trustworthy in your own mind. That is amazing. That is great. That is why we treasure this book. A responsible English text speaks with the full authority of God.

Let's wrap it up with these two things. Why do we say these things? Why did I want to teach these things tonight? Well, first of all, we want to defend God's word in a lawless age. Whether anyone pays attention to what's said here tonight or not, God's word in its own intrinsic authority and infinite worth is worthy of being defended and we gladly give ourselves over to defend it against those who would undermine it, those who would attack it. We are proud and glad to stand on the front edge and say, "No, we will respond to that attack with truth," because God's word is worthy of that whether anyone hears it or not. Secondly, why do we do this? It's because we seek your blessing as you read God's word with a believing heart.

Look at Psalm 1 as we close here. Psalm 1, the first three verses. It says,

1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.

Beloved, God's word brings that blessing to you. Why we talked about these things tonight? It's because our church wants you to know that blessing, the blessing of the spiritual prosperity, the security, the comfort, the assurance of having a believing response to God's word. That's why we talk about these things. You can sum it all up in five words, all of this comes together in five words: you can trust God's word.

Let's pray.

Father, how great and magnificent is the wisdom and the power and the glory of your being. How wonderful is it that you so wisely disclosed yourself through the Scriptures and then you have magnificently preserved them for us to enjoy, to believe and to obey 2,000 years later. Father, we stand in awe of your word. Psalm 119 expresses our heart, 176 verses given over to a recognition of the greatness and the authority and the value of your word. Father, we respond in like manner tonight. Thank you for the Scriptures. Thank you for the written word. And Father, thank you for the Incarnate Word, our Lord Jesus Christ who obeyed your word perfectly as it had been revealed up to that time, who authorized the writing of the New Testament through his apostles. It is ultimately on the authority of Christ himself that we receive your word as the infallible, inerrant self-disclosure that it is. We rest in Christ who believed in your word, who affirmed it, who taught it, who explained it, who exemplified it, who was the Word in human flesh. So Father, we are lost in wonder, awe and praise at the greatness of what you have given to us, not only in the Scriptures but in our Lord Jesus Christ. For all of these things, Father, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts as we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

More in The History of the Bible

May 9, 2017

Early Christians and the Biblical Canon