Bible Teaching FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why are the Jews “God’s People” – Why not any other Nation?
Creation and Evolution – Which is right, or are they compatible?
Is God a Trinity?
Does 1 John 5:7 support the Trinity?
Why so many Christian Churches?
Is there life elsewhere?
Can we communicate with the dead?
Are there ghosts?
Can our ancestors influence our lives?
Reincarnation – Does it happen?
Can we foretell the future?
Does the Bible contain prophecies of the future?
What is “Inspiration”?
Why Are There So Many Modern Versions of the Bible?
Can we work miracles now?
What is “The Holy Spirit”?
Bible Origins, texts and translations – which is right?
What is “Transubstantiation?”
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED
The question is frequently asked, “Why did God choose the Jews to be His special people?” We cannot do better than repeat the reason that God gave to Israel through Moses:
“Thou art an holy people unto the Lord Thy God; the Lord Thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love upon you nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord Thy God, He is God, the faithful God which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations; and repayeth them that hate Him to their face, to destroy them; He will not be slack to Him that hateth him, He will repay him to his face. Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments and the statutes, and the judgements which I command thee this day to do them.” (Deuteronomy 7:7–11)
God’s love for Israel originated with a promise He had made to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that He would make their descendants into a great nation. It was to be God’s reward to these men of faith who trusted Him. But it would always be conditional upon Israel’s obedience, and from the Bible record we know that Israel was not obedient. As soon as they became a nation they showed that they were unreliable in their service to God. As soon as God left them for a few days without Moses, the leader He had chosen for them, they turned their backs on God and worshipped idols. Throughout their history they continually neglected Him, preferring the gods of the surrounding nations. God tolerated this for a long time, forgave them and restored them many times, but at the end, true to His word, He punished them by allowing powerful foreign enemies to invade their land and take them into captivity, and by a final destruction at the hand of the Romans in 70 CE, leaving only a remnant to be scattered among the nations.
So why the Jews? God needed a nation through whom His will and purpose might be put into operation, and made known to all nations. Had Israel been faithful and obedient God would have made them into a great nation then and there, three thousand years ago and the glory of God would have been displayed to the world through them, as in fact it was briefly, in king Solomon’s reign. But they were disobedient and God cast them off as He said He would. Even in their disobedience, they are a witness to God’s power and His faithfulness to man for all to see and learn from. God keeps His word. Israel’s misfortunes over the past two thousand years are a witness to God’s integrity. Today the Jews show no particular Godly qualities, nor have they ever done much to endear themselves to the nations around them. The Jews have remained ever since a lesson to us all, and they will continue to be so, because God, true to His promises, will ultimately restore a remnant of Israel to His favour when Christ returns. With that restoration of Israel, God will include blessings for all nations of the world.
Israel was chosen as an object lesson to the rest of the world, to demonstrate how God would favour people who trusted and obeyed Him and also would punish those that turned their backs on Him and trusted in their own ability. As God promised the forefathers of Israel, His purpose will still be carried out, using Israel as one of the instruments of His purpose, but not before there is a complete reconciliation between Israel and their God, and Jesus the Messiah will be the means of that reconciliation at his return.
A form of evolutionary theory existed among the Greeks, and maybe other ancient peoples, but when Christianity took over the civilised world in the 4th century CE. creation as recounted in the Bible was generally accepted as the authoritative account of how the world began. Then, in the 18th century, as scientific knowledge increased, discoveries were made in biology and geology which seemed at first sight to contradict the possibility that God brought all things on the earth into existence within six literal days, six thousand years ago, as the usual understanding of the Genesis account then required. Particularly, there were fossil and actual remains of animals and plants, some of which no longer exist, and which appeared to be much older than a literal understanding of the Biblical Creation would allow. Darwin and others who shared his thinking developed a theory of “Evolution” which totally denied creation, and substituted a belief that life on earth evolved gradually over many millions of years by a process of random mutation and natural selection. The theory has not, and probably cannot be, satisfactorily proved in any scientific sense but it is widely accepted by the majority of scientists and is taught in schools as fact.
In the 18th and 19th centuries creation and evolution were seen as mutually exclusive. Evolution was seen by many as eliminating the need for God the Creator. If life on earth began and developed according to evolutionary theories, then there was no place for a supreme authority to plan and supervise life on earth. This view of life that did not need God was welcomed by a world that was becoming increasingly self-confident and atheistic. But over the years, further research has largely failed to produce the anticipated evidence necessary to confirm the theory of evolution in the form then current; rather the opposite has happened. The classification and grouping and dating of fossils has displayed a very uneven development, and not the gradual progression from one improved life form to another which was expected. There are also bursts of activity recorded by the fossils, interspersed with long periods of inactivity, and huge gaps in the supposed order of development. The fossil record does not support the elementary theory of evolution.
Reaction has set in, and alternative ways of looking at the book of Genesis, some reasonable, some less so, have done much to close the gap, leaving God supreme as the originator and curator of life on earth, while at the same time accounting for some of the genuinely unquestionable evidence of early life forms that has been unearthed by the biologists and geologists.
A more realistic understanding of Scripture might allow for an agreement with science. If there is a God, then the Bible and science must be compatible even if we cannot see it. One problem centres on the six “days” of Creation described in Genesis. If they are not literal periods of 24 hours, then it is possible they represent much longer periods of time in which life could have been established in a succession of creations, which, in turn, left their fossil remains in successive layers of rock. An alternative view is that each “day” as recorded in Genesis was an announcement of that phase of the work of God that was to follow. A sensible view, which is not a compromise but a consolidation of ideas, permits us to see in the Genesis record a prolonged period of Creation, always in God’s hands, compatible with the fossil record.
To understand evolution is not our problem. God gave us His account of the beginning of things that describes events in a way that is readily understandable. Once we can accept that God’s account of things in the Bible, and the findings of the scientists may refer to the same events, we have a basis for reconciliation. We need to take hold from the Genesis account that God was and still is at the centre of things and is controlling events.
Belief that God is a Trinity consisting of a co-equal, co-eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit is regarded as essential for all true Christians by the majority of churches today. Those who do not share this belief are the exceptions, including ourselves, the Christadelphians, the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and doubtless other lesser known groups and individuals. There have always been such groups of believers throughout the history of Christianity. We ought also to remember that many have left the Christian faith altogether because they cannot commit themselves to a dogma which is by the admission of the churches, a mystery.
Why are present-day Christian Churches so insistent on belief in the doctrine of the Trinity? We need to go back to the early years of the Church for an answer. It would seem that some of the fathers of the early Church felt that the way forward was to combine the teaching of Jesus with the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, and thus achieve an understanding of the universe to which everyone could agree.
Aristotle and Plato, Greek philosophers before the time of Christ, speculated about the nature of God and developed a triune formula for the superhuman world consisting of a Supreme Being, a “Demiurge” or Creator, and a World Soul. As the fathers of the church came in contact with this philosophy, there was a temptation to find common understanding with the Greeks, so they gradually merged the speculations of the Greeks with the teaching of Jesus. As they saw it, Greek philosophy and Christianity already shared a belief in a Supreme Being, whom they called God; and they compared Jesus, “by whom all things were created”, with the Greek demiurge.
Making Jesus the creator of the material world derives from a misunderstanding of John 1:3 and similar passages which appear to refer to Jesus as the Creator. Jesus is central to the creation of God’s ultimate world of the future: without Jesus there could be no future. The creation of the material world is incidental to God’s ultimate purpose, and He is the Creator of all things. If Jesus were the creator of the material world then he would have had to have existed before the Creation, so the Bible account of his birth in the Gospels would have to be “spiritualised” or understood in some way that did not conflict with the idea that Jesus had always existed.
The Holy Spirit was a late arrival in the Trinity, and for many years there was sharp disagreement as to whether the Holy Spirit was God’s executive power, or whether it was controlled by Jesus. Eventually, with their eye on the Greek “world soul” the early Church fathers of the Alexandrian School came to see the Holy Spirit as the life force that kept all things alive. They gave the Holy Spirit a personality and promoted him to a co-equal, co-eternal “person” who could join the Father and the Son to make a Trinity. A combination of the “world soul” idea and the idea that Jesus must have existed before the Creation, also gave rise to “immortal souls” – the concept that all living creatures have an inner invisible part called a soul, which will continue to exist after death, and may have always existed. But that is another story.
A Christian theological college was established at Alexandria in Egypt at the end of the 3rd century to discuss and promulgate such ideas. It was presided over by Clement, a very learned Christian philosopher. The Lion Handbook of the Bible records: “The crucial achievement of Clement and Origen was to put over the Gospel in terms by which it could be understood by people familiar with the highest forms of Greek culture. They established once for all the respectability of the new faith.” The Encyclopaedia Britannica states: “He (Clement) was the first to bring all the culture of the Greeks and the speculation of Christian heretics to bear on the exposition of Christian truth.” The Church was “thinking aloud” at this stage, with many circulating opinions and many who disagreed with the concept of a trinity.
In the year 325 CE. The Roman Emperor Constantine called a Council in which the speculations concerning the trinity could be discussed. The majority being in favour of the now more popular trinitarian views, a trinitarian formula was drawn up which also anathematised or, in their terms, condemned to “everlasting punishment”, all who could not accept it. From that day onwards the Trinity has been the accepted teaching of the mainstream Church, regardless of its pagan origins and complete lack of Biblical support. From that time onwards those who disagreed with the doctrine of the Trinity were regarded as heretics and were liable to be put to death.
There have always been those who preferred to follow Bible truth. John Milton, the English poet (1608–1674) is a good example. He wrote: “For my part I adhere to the Holy Scriptures alone, I follow no other heresy or sect. If, therefore, the Father be the God of Christ, and the same be our God, and if there be none other God but One, then there can be no God beside the Father.” The doctrine of the Trinity links the apostate Church with human philosophy and temporal authority rather than the Bible.
Proposed arguments from Scripture are without much strength, such as the reference to Genesis 1: 26, where God says “Let us make man in our image”. Those who hold the doctrine of The Trinity presume that God is addressing the other two persons of the Trinity, but this is an assumption. If there is no Trinity, then the alternative is that God was speaking to the angels who were assisting Him in the work of Creation. Another argument sometimes offered is to refer to the fact that both Jesus (2 Tim. 1:10) and God (1 Timothy 1:1) are described as “Saviour”, therefore Jesus must be God. It overlooks the fact that human saviours are also referred to in the Bible. God sent “saviours” who were human warrior leaders to deliver Israel against their enemies (Nehemiah 9:27).
Cardinal Newman a leading Roman Catholic theologian of the 19th century admitted that the Trinity is the invention of the Church and cannot be learned from Scripture. He wrote:
“It may startle those who are but acquainted with the popular writing of this day, yet, I believe, the most accurate consideration of the subject will lead us to acquiesce in the statement as a general truth, that the doctrines in question (viz., the Trinity and the Incarnation) have never been learned merely from Scripture. Surely the sacred volume was never intended, and is not adapted to teach us our creed; however certain it is that we can prove our creed from it, when it has once been taught us… From the very first, the rule has been, as a matter of fact, for the Church to teach the truth, and then appeal to Scripture in vindication of its own teaching.”
– Arians of the Fourth Century, pp. 55–56.
This quotation makes it clear that to the Roman Catholics it is not important whether or not any doctrine originates from or is supported by Scripture. For them it is sufficient that it is taught by the Church. For the purposes of our investigation we require precisely the opposite terms of reference – If it is not to be found in the Bible it is of human origin and can therefore be discounted.
The only Scripture which appears to support the doctrine of the Trinity is 1 John 5:7. This is found in the English King James Version of 1611 CE, but has been omitted from nearly every more recent version on the grounds that it does not appear in any early manuscripts and is therefore an insertion to the text at a later date purely to establish or justify the doctrine of the Trinity. The arguments against the inclusion of this passage are as follows:
The earliest citation appealed to is Cyprian:
“The Lord says, ‘I and the Father are one;’ and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘And these three are one.’” Cyprian, ‘Treatise 1 – On the Unity of the Church’, section 6, c. 258 AD.
There is no indication whether or not Cyprian knew the text as we have it in the KJV, the quote here is simply too small to judge. Dealing with this and all other manuscript and patristic quotations, Bruce Metzger, United Bible Societies 1994, writes:
“A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, the most authoritative textual commentary on the most authoritative Greek New Testament text available, says: ‘That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain’ and goes on to point out that the passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except eight, and there are well over two thousand. Seven of these date from the 16th century, and the eighth is an alternative reading added to a 10th century manuscript.”
The passage is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies of their day. Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin), Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215.
The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic, except the Latin; and it is not found (a) in the Old Latin in its earliest form, or in the Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome or as revised by Alcuin in the 9th century. Martin Luther did not include it in his first edition of the German Bible. The earliest instance of the passage being quoted as a part of the actual text of the Epistle, is in a 4th century Latin treatise entitled Liber Apologeticus (chapter 4), attributed either to the Spanish heretic Priscillian (died about 385), or to his follower Bishop Instantius. It appears to have originated as a marginal note which in later copies found its way into the text. In the 5th century this marginal note was quoted by Latin Fathers in North Africa and Italy as part of the text of the Epistle, and from the 6th century onwards it is found more and more frequently in manuscripts of the Old Latin and of the Vulgate. The wording of the passage differs.
If the passage were original, no good reason could be found to account for its omission, either accidentally or intentionally, by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and by translators of ancient versions.
The passage makes an awkward break in the sense. Isaac Newton, a serious 17th Century Bible scholar commented: “Let them make good sense of it who are able, for my part I can make none.”
It will be asked, “How does this verse come to be included in the King James Bible of 1611?” The translators of the New Testament of the KJV used the compilation of Greek manuscripts translated by Erasmus in 1515 CE, and known as the “Textus Receptus” which contains the verse. A scholar asked Erasmus why he had originally left out this verse. Erasmus replied that he would have inserted it if he could have found a single Greek manuscript that had it. Roman Catholic scholars in Dublin then produced the “Codex Montfortianus” which contained the verse, and on the strength of this document alone Erasmus felt obliged to insert the verse in his third and later editions of the Textus Receptus. The Codex Montfortianus is a 16th century translation into Greek from the Vulgate.
On January 13th 1897 the Inquisition in Rome stated that “one could not safely deny or call into doubt the authenticity of the verse.” But Raymond E. Brown, an American scholar writing in 1982 notes that “all recent Catholic scholarly discussion has recognised that the verse is neither genuine nor authentic.”
The fact that the Christian world is divided into so many churches and differing religious groups, all different from one another, might seem to put the value and integrity of Christianity into doubt. They cannot all be right. In fact, logically, because they differ, only one or perhaps even no church claiming to represent Christ today can be the true church. There are, of course, those who say that minor differences in belief and practice between churches do not matter and there are many roads to the kingdom, and that we shall all get there in the end, but this is not how the Bible teaches us to look at things.
The church lost its way in the 4th Century CE when it merged with the pagan Roman Empire. With the exception of a few groups who held to original Christian beliefs and were persecuted to extinction, the church was ruled by authority and not by conviction. In those times understanding and belief in the Gospel played little part in being a “Christian.” It is true that then and for the next thousand years there was only “one church” and few people in those days thought that it could be otherwise. It did not seem to worry them that the church consisted of nations constantly at war with each other, and killing one another to gain material power and prosperity, but in theory at least, they all belonged to the same church and worshipped the same God.
This artificial unity and solidarity of the church broke down when access to the Bible enabled people to see that the church was full of error and superstition and corruption, and that the dogmas of the Church were not found in the Bible. Separating between truth and error was not an easy task. For most churches today, belief is a mixture of church tradition and Bible truth. The differences between the major churches today are the result of trying unsuccessfully to combine the errors and superstitions of the old pagan/Christian church with the truth of the Bible.
It has been estimated that across the world there may be as many as fifteen thousand separate Christian “churches.” They all have differing beliefs and practices which keep them apart. Many of these churches are the product of a charismatic leader who makes extravagant claims to spiritual authority, and at the same time makes a fortune out of those who are foolish enough to believe him and support him financially. Fortunately we do not have to examine all of them to understand who is right and who is wrong. It is much simpler to go straight to the Bible and establish our faith on what we find written there, and discard the remainder however powerful, wealthy, well supported and influential they may be. These other churches may be sincere in what they believe, but sincerity is not enough. If we find that what they teach is not supported by the Bible then we have a responsibility not to support them or co-operate with them in any way.
Two simple tests would rule out most of the churches today as not being truly “Christian”. The first is that Christ taught his disciples not to resist evil, not to fight or take up arms in defence of their beliefs, their country, their property, or life itself. Jesus himself laid down his life for all mankind without resisting those who would take it away from him. How many Christian churches today would follow his example in this requirement? With few exceptions, “Christian” churches today encourage and support the military activities of the countries which govern them. How can they be “Christian”? The second test which would eliminate most churches today is to ask whether they are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ to set up God’s kingdom on this earth, as is clearly taught in the Bible by Jesus himself. How many churches today hold out this hope to their members? These two tests eliminate most churches claiming to be “Christian.”
We need to approach this question from the other end. There is one God, who calls to us in these days through the message He has given us in the Bible. Anyone who understands that message and follows that teaching is a Christian. We cannot possibly know now all who believe as we do, and who throughout the years have come to similar conclusions to ourselves, and lived for Christ’s return. But we may group together where we recognise common belief, call ourselves “churches” and give ourselves names like “Christadelphian”; God knows who are His, and one day the faithful of all ages will be brought back to life to become His true Church revealed in the earth. In the meantime we stand by Bible teaching and accept no other authority. Our conviction that we truly understand the Gospel as it is given to us in the Bible imposes upon us a duty that we should be most willing to accept, that we search out and join with others who share these beliefs, and do our utmost to persuade those who do not.
There is no evidence that there is life as we understand it anywhere else in the universe. The possibility cannot be ruled out, but if it exists it does not affect our life on earth in any way. If God, our Creator, and the Creator of the whole universe wishes to involve us in any activities outside the limits of the Earth, then surely He would have told us so, and not left us to speculate about possible relationships with life elsewhere.
During the past century and maybe earlier, the idea has developed that life exists on other planets and perhaps elsewhere. Today there is a multi-million dollar industry engaged in space exploration and an even larger secondary industry producing masses of books, films and videos under the general heading of “Science Fiction”. Science Fiction has promoted what is now seen by many to be “Science Fact”. The stories told are usually about intelligent and scientifically advanced creatures living on another planet, who have built space ships to visit or invade Earth. The story usually includes a visit to earth by a space ship, and the abduction of humans for experimental purposes. They are sometimes returned, strangely modified by their experiences. Among the best known fictional characters is “ET” – the “Extra Terrestrial” little creature who gets left behind when his space ship leaves earth without him. There are the “X–Files” which deal with imaginary contacts between the American Government and visitors from outer space, and also the adventures of “Space Ship Enterprise”, set in the future, when a picked team of humans visits planets and stars in outer space, and have incredible adventures before returning home to Earth many years later. There are many variations on this theme which have filled the imaginations of writers and readers alike.
Apart from the addicts to profit-making fiction, there is a small core of firm believers who have no doubts that such strange things do happen and that creatures from outer space exist and do visit Earth. They can produce fuzzy photographs of space ships, and there are crop circles – the marks left in the ground where space ships are supposed to have landed and taken off. There are people who claim to have been abducted by spacemen and returned to earth. Most of the evidence produced for extra-terrestrial activity can be dismissed as practical joking which the perpetrators have admitted or which can be accounted for by natural objects and occurrences mistaken for the activities of space ships. The remainder, particularly the abductions, are the product of overheated imaginations. We have no need to take them seriously.
There has been an attempt to link religion with spacemen, and the serious claim has been made that Jesus Christ was himself a visiting spaceman. This would require us to abandon the Jesus presented to us in the New Testament – the Jesus who was “God’s only begotten Son,” the Jesus who was made in all things like his (earth-bound) brethren, the Jesus who conquered sin, and gave us the hope of eternal life on earth. There is no indication in the Bible that God has a purpose with any other planet involving us, or His Son Jesus Christ.
Men and women have always been reluctant to believe that we cease to exist after death. We have in the Bible the sure hope of resurrection from the dead at the return of Jesus Christ, faithfully repeated by every clergyman who conducts a funeral, but, apart from this assurance, the dead return to the ground and are totally unconscious and inactive.
In addition to, or in place of, that certain fact of resurrection from the dead, the philosophers of this world have introduced the idea that each of us has a “soul” which is the important part of our being, and which continues to exist elsewhere after death outside our bodies. Many people believe that departed souls are in heaven, where they can look down and observe our activities on earth. Some people believe that it is possible to make contact with these departed souls, and a whole network of so-called “Christian” churches has grown up which indulges in this fantasy. These fantasies are also held by “spiritualists” who have no religious basis for their beliefs at all but believe in an existence elsewhere after death. There are many methods used to attempt contact with the dead but the most usual is to employ someone with supposed special powers, known as a “medium”, who will act as a kind of “spirit postman”, taking messages and receiving answers from those who have “passed on” to the spirit world.
Communication with the dead has been attempted from earliest times; it happened in Bible times, and it is condemned by God because it is either a fraud or a misuse of natural mental resources possessed by some. The question has to be asked: If we can contact and be guided by those who have passed on, why has their presumed wisdom and experience not been used to benefit the living world? Why are the “messages” received by mediums generally so trivial and useless? Why are the “dead” unable to tell us about life in the spirit world; why do they confine their conversation largely to things they know about and would have experienced in their lifetime? We can rest assured that the dead are in no state to communicate with us and all such attempts are a waste of time and effort, and, more importantly, made in defiance of God’s teaching, His clear prohibition, and are an insult to Him.
It depends what you mean by ghosts. Following on from the idea that all men and women have “immortal souls” that continue to live after death, we have the variant idea of “ghosts”. The disciples of Jesus, when they saw him walking on the water thought they had seen a “spirit” or ghost. Ghosts are said to be the spirits or souls of the dead who have been unable to leave the earth. Sometimes they are thought to be permanently in this state, and sometimes they are ghosts only until the departed spirit is reconciled to his new life in the after world.
According to the tradition, it is sometimes necessary for humans to intervene and right some wrong or fulfil an obligation for the ghost to enable them to go gently on their way. Some churches believe that “ghosts” can be “exorcised” or laid to rest by clergymen performing certain rituals. We can be certain that if the Bible is reliable, then there are no such thing as ghosts as the manifestations of departed spirits.
Some physic researchers, who do not necessarily accept that this kind of ghost exists, nevertheless believe that some kind of dramatic happening or emotional event, such as a violent death, can leave an impression in the surroundings in which the event happened, thus we get “haunted houses.” Some people are thought to be sensitive to these impressions and, given an equally emotional situation, can be instrumental in releasing the impression, causing a re-enactment of the event to be seen, and so the “ghost” walks. It sometimes happens that small articles move about a room apparently of their own volition, and this is attributed to “poltergeists” or mischievous spirits. It would be foolish to dismiss as impossible what we do not understand, but if these things happen, then they have no relevance to our Christian life or Christian hopes, and can be dismissed as no more than a curiosity.
In addition to the belief that we continue to exist after death in a spirit world some people also believe that our ancestors, in this future state, can influence our lives and need to be shown respect by the living. Many communities live in a constant state of anxiety because they fear that their ancestors will be angry if they are not shown proper respect, and that anger will be demonstrated by the ancestor interfering in their lives. It is easy to attribute misfortune to the activity of slighted ancestors, but it is impossible to prove.
In the Western World respect for the dead is shown by having a funeral, followed by burial or cremation, and then sometimes a memorial stone is erected by the grave recording who they were, how they were appreciated in this life, and their hopes for the life to come. Although the graves are frequently cared for by close relatives for some time after the death out of respect for the memory of the one who has died, this is the end of any relationship between the living and the dead until the resurrection.
There is no general belief in the Christian world that our lives are influenced by the dead. In the East respect for the departed is taken further, because it is believed that the dead ancestor is able to influence the lives of his children and perhaps bring misfortune on them if they do not remember him by bringing him offerings and showing him respect. The Bible teaches us that only Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead, can and will influence our lives. All other people who have once lived cease to exist when they die. Their bodies will remain in the grave until they dissolve into the dust. Those who understand and believe the promise of the Bible similarly die and are laid to rest to await their resurrection at the return of Jesus Christ.
There is a strong belief in many parts of the world that when we die our “soul” passes into the body of another living creature, and continues its life on earth in a new form. This belief goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks before the time of Christ. It is called “reincarnation”. The choice of the new body which the soul is supposed to enter depends on the life it has lived in its old body. For example, a wicked man might be degraded to continue his eternal life in the form of a dog, or a worm, whereas a good man with a modest life-style might find himself promoted into the newly born body of a man or woman who would have a prosperous life, or become a ruler. Others believe that the choice of the body they will enter in the next life depends on what experiences the person needs to improve him. This process of change from one life to another is supposed to be a continuous process affecting all living creatures.
This idea has found its way into the West and is enjoying current interest because some hypnotists claim to be able to release the minds of their patients to reveal things that happened in a former existence while they are under the influence of hypnosis. Again, this is capable of fraud, but some researchers put forward the possibility that we have “genetic memories” capable of being passed on from one generation to the next. This is only a theory, but however unlikely, it is unwise to reject what we do not understand unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.
The Bible knows nothing of reincarnation, and offers us an entirely different and better hope of life beyond the grave at the resurrection in God’s kingdom; therefore we can dismiss it altogether as an invention of the human mind.
Many people from the beginning of man’s existence have claimed the ability to reveal the future of individual persons, or tell the fate of nations, or reveal specific future events. Since the Bible tells us of many instances where this has happened, we accept that it is possible. In Bible times there were many ways in which this is done. The most obvious is for the “seer” or prophet to receive a message in his mind, or have a dream, a vision, or a trance in which he sees something happening in the future. These messages concerning the future could only be given by God to those who were His trusted servants or people for whom He had a particular message.
The pagan peoples in old times attempted to do the same and they had their magicians and soothsayers, but their wisdom and ability to predict the future was limited to that of the human mind. This is well illustrated by an event recorded in Daniel chapter 3 in which the incompetence of the Chaldean magicians is compared to the way in which God communicates His will to His faithful servants. A popular method among the pagans was to examine the entrails of birds or animals and in some way which we do not now understand, the investigator claimed to be able to tell whether a particular course of action was advisable. There were so called wise men and women who would give answers to specific questions, usually worded in such a way that whatever happened it could be said to have been foretold.
In these days telling the future is seen by most people as a game, but many take it seriously. They will have their palms read, look into the crystal ball, see what the cards turn up, or consult their horoscopes. The absurdity is apparent. Most popular newspapers and magazines print regular horoscopes by which people can learn what the future is supposed to hold for them. They tell their readers to select the sign of the Zodiac relative to their birthday, and see what is written about people born under that sign. Presumably if they consult enough newspapers on any given day they will have enough contradictory or complementary forecasts to encourage them to do, or not do, anything. But it is all good for the newspaper industry.
We believe that God alone controls the future of the nations of the world, and is also responsible for the paths we as individuals take in life, although it must appear to us that we make decisions for ourselves. Nothing is pointless or haphazard. Everything in life is working together to achieve God’s purpose. God has in the past instructed His servants with regard to His arrangements for the future, and these are revealed to us in the Bible. (See section “Does the Bible contain Prophecies for the Future?”)
The simple answer is “Yes” – the whole of the Bible is in a sense a prophecy because it is full of information about what God plans to do in the future. Take an example: we read in Genesis chapter 17 that God would establish a covenant with Abraham; that Abraham would be the father of many nations; that it would be an everlasting covenant; and that God would give to Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan (present day Israel) for an everlasting possession. That was four thousand years ago. In the years between then and now we have seen Abraham’s descendants grow into a large nation, the nation of Israel, who have lived in and out of the Promised Land. We see them now struggling for total possession of that land. The covenant – the prophecy – said it would be “for an everlasting possession”. So we have a prophecy partly fulfilled, but with the complete prophecy still awaiting fulfilment. The Apostle Paul refers to this covenant in his letters to the Romans and the Galatians as a prophecy still to be fulfilled, and explains how it will include both Jews and Gentiles in its final fulfilment.
Take another example. The religious celebration of Christmas every year directs Christians to the words of the Prophet Isaiah. In chapter 7 the Prophet tells Ahaz the king of Judah that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.” The prophecy continues in chapter 9:6–7 where the prophet tells the people that the child spoken of “shall be great, and rule over the House of David for ever”. Chapter 11 describes the peaceful reign of this future king, and this theme is continued throughout the book. There is no doubt that this wonderful promise concerns the Lord Jesus Christ, because the Gospel writers in the New Testament say so (Matthew 1:20–23; Luke 1:27), but it was addressed in the first place to Ahaz, the king of Judah around 742 BCE. There is a primary fulfilment of this prophecy in the birth of Hezekiah, the firstborn son of Ahaz, who encouraged the people to return to the worship of Israel’s God, and who, with God’s intervention, defeated the threat of Assyrian invasion and conquest and brought peace and prosperity to the land of Israel for his lifetime. The major fulfilment of the prophecy started with the birth of Jesus Christ. He brought salvation to all mankind, and will complete the fulfilment of the prophecy when he returns to set up God’s kingdom on earth. This secondary fulfilment will be parallel to the first fulfilment in Hezekiah’s days but even more glorious. The primary fulfilment, brought about by God in otherwise incredible circumstances gives the guarantee that God will also complete the prophecy through Jesus Christ when He is ready.
From this example we learn an important characteristic of most Bible prophecies. There has been a primary fulfilment at the time the prophecy was given involving the people actually addressed by the prophet, usually the nation of Israel, or one of the surrounding nations, and then a secondary major fulfilment including people out of all nations, and involving some aspect of the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, either fulfilled in his lifetime, or yet to be fulfilled when he returns.
We have also to consider the chronological or time prophecies. We approach this subject with a little more hesitation. There are many time prophecies particularly in the books of Daniel and the Revelation which state that certain events will take place at or within a given time. Until recently the accepted basis of understanding time prophecies was that where the prophet speaks of days, these are in reality years or even longer periods of time, but it is difficult to make this apply to all such prophecies. The Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:8) quotes Psalm 90 to the effect that one day in God’s sight is to Him a thousand years, and a thousand years a day. This may be telling us something with regard to time prophecies, or it may be no more than a statement by Peter that time in God’s experience does not relate to time as we know it.
One particular prophecy in the 9th chapter of the book of Daniel would seem to justify reading days as years. It refers to seventy weeks, which using this time-scale would be 70 x 7 days = 490 days/years. The prophecy relates to the time between Israel’s release from captivity and the coming of the Messiah. If the end-date of the prophecy, the “cutting off” or death of the Messiah – Jesus Christ, comes as Daniel states in the middle of the seventieth week, or 486 years after the release from captivity, then this suggests we look for that release date about the year 450 BCE. According to the Book of Nehemiah, the Persian king Artaxerxes gave permission in the twentieth year of his reign for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, enabling some of the Jews to return from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem. Historians place this at between 446 and 454 BCE. If this date is added to the years of the life of Christ we have 454 + 33 = 487 years, which approximates closely, and maybe precisely, to the time stated by Daniel in his prophecy.
Other prophecies in which time periods are expressed in days have been interpreted by Bible scholars on this “day-for-a-year” principle, and at the time the interpretations were made, their speculations seemed reasonable. But as the years pass and end-dates come and go they have been reluctantly re-appraised or even rejected. Many scholars now favour the interpretation in which the days mentioned are in some cases literal days, and thus have reference to comparatively short periods of time linked closely to events which will happen at the time of Christ’s return.
Since we believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, we do not doubt that the time prophecies are being, and will be fulfilled in some way, but we have not yet been blessed with the correct understanding. Perhaps we are not meant to be. Many who respect the Bible are disappointed about the failure to tie up the time prophecies neatly, but there are comforting thoughts. Most of the calculations made so far now make the return of Christ overdue, which can’t be bad – we are living on borrowed time! And the sequence of events described in other prophecies not related to time have nearly all been fulfilled, which independently indicates the approaching end of the age.
Perhaps the prophecy most relevant to our times is given by Jesus and recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is a direct reply to his disciples’ questions as to what would be the sign of his coming and of the end of the age. Jesus gives us signs to look out for which will indicate the nearness of these events. These signs well describe the times we live in and we may conclude that the return of Christ and the end of the age are at hand. These chapters are worth reading.
The Inspiration of the Bible is the name we give to the belief that all of the Bible is the work of God. Not just that the Bible contains the Word of God, but that it is the Word of God. We base this understanding on the fact that the Lord Jesus and the New Testament writers quoted extensively from the Old Testament to confirm and justify their belief in God, and the Old Testament Scriptures as God’s Word. The early Church believed that the gospel and letter writers of the New Testament were similarly inspired by God, and the New Testament makes this claim for itself. The Apostle Peter sums up this assurance in his second letter:
“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body; because I know that I will soon put it aside, as Our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying “This is My Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 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 1:12–21)
Peter refers to the incident when God gave His approval to His Son Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration, confirming that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Concerning the God-given authenticity of the New Testament, it should help to convince us when we realise that the faithful followers of Jesus gave their lives to preserve what they knew to be the Word of God and to ensure that it was spread throughout the world.
How did the thoughts and messages from God come to be written down? We believe that God through the Holy Spirit put his thoughts and messages into the minds of faithful men, who then committed them to writing. The writing of each individual author carries his own style and personal imprint. The books of the Old Testament were carefully protected by the Jews, and when copies were made they were checked letter by letter against the original. The early churches were similarly the careful custodians of the New Testament Gospels and letters.
How do we know they are genuine? Because in the early churches there were men filled with the Holy Spirit who would have been sure whether or not the documents they held and circulated were in fact the divinely inspired word of God. There were many letters and other writings circulating among the early churches, but the Christians of those days were clear in their own minds which were the work of God and which of human origin. The Bible as we have it today is as it was put together by the early church.
When considering the Bible as inspired, there are certain difficulties we have to contend with, but they are not insuperable.
1. We do not now have the original documents in our possession. The translators worked from documents which had been copied many times, and contained copying errors. Modern versions frequently have footnotes explaining that certain words or phrases or whole sections are of doubtful authenticity, for example Mark 16:9–20, because they say they are not found in the oldest manuscripts.
2. The translators did not always understand the exact meaning of the Greek, and more particularly of the Hebrew they were translating. An example may be quoted from the book of Proverbs 30:29–31. The writer refers to four things which are “stately in their stride” – A lion, a greyhound, a he-goat, and a king with his army around him (King James Version). Modern versions have changed “greyhound” for “a strutting cock” Young’s Concordance has “a stag, girt in the loins”, and the Revised English Bible says “Meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.” No amount of scholarship now will discover the original meaning, and it is clear that the translators are just guessing. In this case it hardly matters; we get the general idea intended by the writer from the context. Incidentally, the Jews who translated the Old Testament into Greek, the version known as the Septuagint, left out chapter 30 and part of 31 of the Book of Proverbs, presumably on the grounds that they were not the work of King Solomon?
A New Testament example might be taken from a well known passage – John 19:5. Most translators have Pilate presenting Jesus to the Jews with the words “Behold the Man!” But the Greek manuscripts do not attribute these words to “Pilate” They read: “Then came Jesus out, wearing the thorny crown and the purple robe, and HE says to them “Behold the man.” The obvious reading is that Jesus is speaking of and indicating himself, particularly when it is realised that Jesus is quoting from the prophet Zechariah, 6:12, a verse which refers prophetically to him, “BEHOLD THE MAN whose name is THE BRANCH …AND HE SHALL BUILD THE TEMPLE OF THE LORD.” This verse would be familiar to the Jews, and it is linked to the first accusation they made against Jesus. The witnesses who testified against Christ said “We heard him say ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands and in three days I will build another made without hands’” (Mark 14:58.). Jesus quoting Zechariah in this way would have increased the anger of the Jews, and caused them to shout for his crucifixion. The word “Pilate” has been added to the text by the translators without any textual authority because in their opinion the text did not make sense without it. But they were wrong, and in so doing they have destroyed a valuable link with the Old Testament, and broken the real sequence of events at the trial of Jesus.
3. The translators approached their task their minds filled with centuries of corrupted Christianity. They wanted the Bible to confirm their beliefs in immortal souls, rewards in heaven, and eternal punishment in hell fire. For example, older Versions record the death of Rachel (Genesis 35:17–19) with the words “And it came to pass as “her soul was in departing,” (for she died) that she called (her son’s) name Ben-oni, but his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died and was buried in the way to Ephrath.” Modern translators have realised that such a translation is invalid, and have changed the wording to “As she breathed her last – for she was dying” which is an accurate rendering of the Hebrew.
A New Testament example might be quoted. Matthew 5:22 in most versions refers to sinners being in danger of “hell fire.” The original Greek refers to Gehenna, an abbreviation for “the valley of the sons of Hinnom” (Ge = the Greek word for “land”, Henna –Greek = Hinnom –Hebrew). This was the local rubbish incinerator just outside Jerusalem. It was kept burning continuously, and the bodies of criminals were thrown into Gehenna. This deliberate mistranslation is still perpetuated to back up the false idea of everlasting punishment of souls in hell fire.
It will be seen that we cannot always take the wording of the Bible as we have it today at its face value, particularly when verses are quoted out of context. It is sometimes necessary to do a little research to get as near as we can to the true meaning of the inspired original, and the first requirement is to compare any passages which puzzle us with the rest of Scripture. Having said this, these minor inaccuracies and corruptions by human hands are insignificant when taken with the Bible as a whole and do not seriously interfere with the message of the Bible, which is inspired by God and “able to make us wise unto salvation.”
The need for new translations arises from several sources. Since the Bible was first translated into European languages, more early manuscripts have been discovered which were not available to the translators of the New Testament in the 16th Century CE. Also scholarly understanding of the kind of Greek in use when the New Testament was written, has improved, enabling them to have a more accurate understanding of the New Testament and the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament. At the other end of the timescale the languages we speak today in the 21st century have changed from those of the 17th century which were spoken when the Bible was most widely translated and distributed. It is possible to speak more clearly to the Bible readers of today by using words and expressions and the style of language they are familiar with. We benefit from the great number of translations and versions because they give us the opportunity to compare alternative ways of thinking about the text.
There is now no authorised inspired text to which we can refer. The message from God which was originally committed to writing many years ago by faithful, inspired men, has passed through the hands of many copyists and translators, and it still lives in the words of all responsible versions today. Compared with the vastness and importance of the message itself, the differences between the various versions are minimal, and unimportant. They do not interfere with the message God has given us. The differences themselves serve to draw our attention to God’s Word, and give us cause to consider it more carefully and thoroughly.
In the last two hundred years much research has been devoted to translating the Bible into the languages spoken in the more remote parts of the world. It is now possible for most people of all nationalities to read the Bible in their own language. The American Bible Society reports that it now publishes the Bible in over two thousand languages. We understand this spread of the knowledge of the Bible to be a fulfilment of the words of Jesus “And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14). The peoples of America, Africa, India and Asia now have, with the people of Europe, the Bible in their hands, and we accept this as a guarantee that this age is drawing to its close, and that we can expect the return of the Lord Jesus. The only caution we would give is that some modern versions, just as much as the earlier ones, are biased towards the beliefs of those who have translated them, and this should be understood and allowed for.
The purpose of miracles worked by Jesus and by other faithful men of God is to confirm God’s message. When God had a message for Pharaoh in Egypt, He confirmed it by enabling Moses to show Pharaoh “signs and wonders” which demonstrated the power and ability of God. Many of God’s faithful servants in Old Testament times had this power given to them for this purpose. Jesus and the Apostles also worked miracles as evidence that what God was telling the people through them was true.
Some Christians say today, “If we are preaching God’s message as Christ did, then we too can work miracles, we can speak with tongues, we can heal the people.” They hold meetings at which they give demonstrations of their supposed powers. If God wants men and women to be able to work miracles, then of course He will make it possible for them to do so, but there is no Scriptural or historical evidence that the ability to work miracles in support of the Gospel message continued after the first generation of Christians passed off the scene.
The power of the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles after Jesus had ascended into heaven. It enabled them to speak in foreign languages and do miracles of healing. The Apostles were given the ability to pass on this power at their discretion by the “laying on of hands” , . The Apostle Paul, speaking of “spiritual gifts”, says the time would come when such powers would cease, and we believe this to be the case. On consideration, it would seem that it was necessary for God to offer some convincing confirmation of His amazing message to mankind, in addition to the words of the Apostles themselves, who were by human standards, with the exception of Paul and Luke, ignorant and uneducated men. The added testimony of miracles ensured that the Gospel message would be rapidly accepted, appreciated, and spread abroad. Once the church was established in the world and the Gospel had been committed to writing and was in safe hands, miraculous powers had served their purpose.
There is another good reason to doubt the genuineness of present day miracle workers: those who claim miraculous powers today are not preaching the Gospel of Christ and the Apostles. God would not lend His support by enabling people who are corrupting His message to work miracles.
The miracles worked by Jesus and the Apostles, raising the dead, healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, and having authority over the natural world were also a demonstration of what God’s Kingdom, which they were preaching, would be like. It was a sample of what the future holds for those who trust God – no more death, sickness, or want of the necessary things of life, and the ability to talk to all men and women of the wonderful gifts of God with clarity and conviction. If people in this age could work miracles would it not seriously diminish the purpose and value of God’s Kingdom in the age to come? We think it has already diverted the attention and the expectation of many away from the glorious future which is in God’s hands to a present experience which is no more than the manipulation of human sensitivities by deluded or even unscrupulous promoters.
Having the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” as the Apostles did is not to be confused with the Holy Spirit being with us in our lives. Without our awareness, but with infinite love and wisdom, God, by the Holy Spirit guides and protects those who place their trust in Him.
In the Bible, The Holy Spirit is the name given to the power by which God works. The first two verses of the Bible tell us: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The book of Genesis goes on to tell us that God by His Spirit created the universe.
Throughout the Old Testament the Spirit of God is mentioned repeatedly as the influence that guided the faithful men and women of Israel. Pharaoh recognised that Joseph’s ability to organise the Egyptians in the face of the coming famine was God-given – “Can we find anyone like this man in whom is the spirit of God?” Similarly the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and his successors recognised that “the Spirit of the Holy Gods” was with Daniel, because he was able to interpret the dreams that they had. An interesting case is that of Elijah and Elisha the prophets. When Elisha succeeded Elijah as God’s representative to Israel, he asked Elijah that “a double portion of thy spirit (the Holy Spirit given by God to Elijah) be upon me.” Although Elijah had been a commanding figure in Israel, Elisha was far more involved with miraculous happenings which demonstrated the power of the God of Israel. Was this the double portion of Elijah’s spirit that became available to Elisha?
The New Testament begins with Jesus being baptised in the river Jordan, and at the same time anointed with the Holy Spirit, an event which all the Gospel writers record. Matthew then tells us that Jesus then began to preach saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, and that as he preached he healed “all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torment and those which were possessed with devils and those which were lunatick and those that had the palsy”. The association of preaching coupled with the demonstration of God’s power to heal continues throughout the life of Jesus and the Apostles.
In the FAQ section “Is God a Trinity?” we have explained that the church in the early centuries saw the Holy Spirit as having a separate living existence, and made it a person co-equal and co-eternal with Jesus and His Father. The Eastern churches were much slower to accept this definition than the Roman Catholic churches of Western Europe. The churches, in support of their claim that the Holy Spirit is an individual person of the Trinity, make reference to the promise of Jesus to send his disciples a “Comforter”. This is found in John’s Gospel. This Comforter was to be a help to them in their work of preaching. He would “teach them all things and bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever Jesus had said to them.” There is no suggestion here that this Comforter was a person. The comforter would be “the spirit of truth”. It would be God at work through the Holy Spirit at the request of Jesus. The Greek word translated here as “comforter” is also translated “advocate” in other versions. In his first epistle the same writer John refers to Jesus as our advocate: “if any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous”. This would make Jesus Christ himself the “Comforter”
The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians:
“Blessed be God, even the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
So ultimately it is God who comforts us, through Jesus, through His Holy Spirit. In the lifetime of the Lord Jesus his presence and daily supply of wisdom and encouragement comforted the disciples. After his death the Apostles had the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them: “When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” In these days our guidance and comfort comes in the first place from the Word of God that He has given us for that very purpose which we understand and retain with our memory, which is also God given. God is ever present by His spirit to minister to our every need.
The Bible as it is today is in two parts, the Old and the New Testament. The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew with a few passages in Aramaic, on papyrus or parchment. It consists of 39 books. The number of writers and the dates that the various books were written is uncertain. Apart from the named books there may have been several scribes who contributed to Books of the Kings and Chronicles and although David composed most of the Psalms, some are attributed to other writers, and it is not known exactly how or when they were collected together into one book. Job was probably the first book to be written, followed by the books of Moses, but Moses may have had access to earlier written records and verbal tradition. He wrote about 1500 BCE. The last writer to contribute was the prophet Malachi who wrote after the return from captivity in Babylon about 400 BCE. Many copies of the Old Testament would have been made during this period, particularly copies of the five books of Moses, known as the “Torah”. From these copies scribes in Alexandria translated the Old Testament into Greek sometime between 270 and 130 BCE. Christ and the Apostles quote from this Greek translation known as the Septuagint in their preaching, but they would also have had access to the original Hebrew scrolls in the local synagogues.
Nearly a thousand years later Hebrew scholars produced what is called the Masoretic text which updated the ancient Hebrew written language which by this time was only imperfectly understood by scholars, and which was no longer in common use.
The 27 books of the New Testament were written in Greek. With one exception the writers are all as stated. The exception is the Letter to the Hebrews which is not named, but the majority view is that it was written by the Apostle Paul.
About the year 400 CE. A scholar named Jerome translated into Latin a complete Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek documents, and this is called the “Vulgate”. It was generally available only to the scholars of the Roman Catholic Church. In the 13th and 14th centuries translations were made into French and secretly circulated, and in England John Wycliffe made a translation into English. In 1516 CE. the Dutch scholar Erasmus revised the New Testament from Greek and Latin documents not previously available, which resulted in a more accurate text. (There was an earlier translation into Latin which was copied and used in parts of Europe and North Africa).
In 1526 CE William Tyndale translated into English a complete a New Testament with part of the Old Testament. Ten years later Coverdale completed the Old Testament, and for the first time complete Bibles in English, known as the “Great Bible” were “Appointed to be read in churches” by King Henry VIII. With the return of Catholicism under Queen Mary Tudor, work on revising and improving the translation became impossible in England and was transferred to Geneva in Switzerland, where refugees from Mary’s persecution had settled. In 1560 the “Geneva Bible” was published. The Geneva Bible was a Calvinist publication and it was heavily annotated with anti-clerical comments, and it became the preferred translation in Protestant England. This translation also coincided with improvements in printing which made its production and distribution easier. In 1611 King James I commissioned the “Authorised Version” which was a revision based upon all previously available scholarship and this has remained in common use until the present day. The Geneva Bible continued in use under Cromwell and the Puritans, but when the monarchy was restored the marginal notes made it politically incorrect, and the King James Authorised Version gradually took over as the only Bible in production and in common use in England.
Meanwhile in Europe translations had been made into German, French and other European languages, but the Roman Catholic Church felt that it was not wise to have the Bible in the hands of the common people who would misunderstand it. Its distribution was suppressed, and existing copies seized and burned. Far from the Bible being misunderstood, the real fear of the Church was that reading the Bible would expose the way in which it was being misused and neglected.
In the 19th century the discovery of more ancient Greek texts, particularly the Codex Sinaiticus found in the Convent of St Catherine at the foot of Mt. Sinai in 1844, brought pressure for another revision and in 1885 the Revised Version was produced. This is still reckoned by many to be the most accurate translation available today, but this will always be a matter of opinion. About the same time Christian missionaries realised the need for the Bible to be available in all languages and in every country where they were preaching the gospel.
Gradually and persistently even the most obscure languages came to be understood and translations were made and printed. Now the American Bible Society reports that the Bible is available in over two thousand languages.
Following two world wars and the inevitable changes in the way people talked and used language, there were several attempts to produce Bibles that simplified the language and made the Bible easier to read and understand. This received great impetus in 1947 when a massive horde of very early manuscripts known as “The Dead Sea Scrolls” was found in caves in the Jordan Valley. These date back to pre-Christian times, and are therefore of prime importance. Among the documents are parts of every Old Testament book except Esther. After years of scholarship devoted to these scrolls, scholars have concluded that after making careful comparisons, there are very few errors in our current versions of the Old Testament, and that the few they have found are not significant.
The version of the Bible which has found most favour in recent years is the New International Version which has a readable text suitable for the 21st century. First produced in 1979 it is constantly being revised and with each new printing the text changes slightly as current scholarship comes up with preferred readings. It has copious footnotes giving alternative renderings where translations are disputed, or the manuscript text in doubt. In recent years The New King James Version has come on the market, which is the 1611 Bible with minor corrections, and the language brought up-to-date.
Many other versions, particularly of the New Testament, have been published over the last hundred years or so, most of them aimed either at more accuracy in the text, or making the text more understandable to the modern mind. We must always bear in mind that there is one original inspired text which is the work of God, which we do not have, and that our Bible, whichever version we use, has been copied and translated by man. We must therefore make allowances for the differences we find from version to version. It is also reasonable to believe that God who gave us the Bible in the first place that we might understand and obey Him, would have continued to guide and protect His work through the many copyings, translations and revisions which it has undergone through the ages. The Bible we have in our hands today is as much the Word of God now as it was when it was first written so many years ago.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that at the Breaking of Bread, which they call the “Mass” or the Communion Service, the bread and the wine actually changes into the body and blood of Christ at the request of the priest. This is known as “Transubstantiation.”
The Catholics claim that this doctrine is to be found in the writings of some of the early church fathers, but scholars generally agree that it was first expressed with any clarity by a monk named Paschasius Radbertus in the 9th century CE. It was incorporated into the Creed of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 CE. and defined at the Council of Trent as follows:
“By the consecration of the bread and wine, a conversion (or change) is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ Our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.
“If anyone saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood – the species only of the bread and wine remaining – which conversion the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.”
Although some of the Protestant Reformers, in the 16th Century CE, including Martin Luther, were reluctant to give up this doctrine, most very soon discarded it as mere trickery introduced in the dark ages of Europe to enhance the authority of the priests. Nothing can be found in Scripture that gives any support to this doctrine.
By David Whitehouse