Learning Activity 54

Bible Transmission & Inspiration

We can see that the Bible is a truly remarkable document when a comprehensive study is made of how it was written and transmitted down through the ages to us today.

The early writing material that was most instrumental in facilitating the transmission of the Bible to us was papyrus. Papyrus was made by pressing and gluing two layers of split papyrus reeds together in order to form a sheet. When a series of sheets were joined together they formed a roll which was referred to as a scroll. Since we do not today possess an original of the Bible, the question that is sometimes debated is how adequately and accurately does our present day Bible reproduce the original writings which have come to be known as “autographs?” An authentic apostolic writing produced under the direction or authorization of a prophet or apostle is called an autograph.

Since we do not have any original autographs in our possession today, the Bible must be reconstructed from early manuscripts and fragments. The quotations of the Early Church Fathers (theologians and teachers of the first seven centuries of the Christian church) include almost every verse of the New Testament thereby providing a valuable reference for checking the accuracy of documents.

Early New Testament manuscript copies in Greek extend back to the first century in fragmentary form and to the third century in complete copies. The ancient manuscripts are the most important witnesses to the autographs and by the method of textual criticism (the scholarly discipline dealing with the authenticity of the biblical text seeking to discover the original words of the autographs) form the basis for modern versions and translations of the Bible. The end result of this scholarly work has produced what is known as the Nestle text of the New Testament which is most likely over ninety percent accurate in reproducing the exact words of the autographs.

Insofar as the Old Testament is concerned, prior to 1947, the Hebrew text was based upon three partial and one complete manuscript of the Masoretic Text dating from about AD 1000. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 have made an immense contribution to the critical study of the Old Testament and in moving its source documents back in time to the century before Christ! Because of the Dead Sea Scrolls we now have complete books of the Old Testament available from one thousand years prior to the time of the Masoretic manuscripts. This coupled with thousands of Old Testament fragments give us a comprehensive collection of the Old Testament writings.

The most basic question about the Bible centers on its claim to be the “inspired” word of God. This claim originates in the Bible text itself where it makes the claim that “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim.3:16). It is supported by an additional passage that reads “No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).

From the above internal statements, we understand that inspiration is the process by which God’s Spirit moved writers to record God breathed writings resulting in our Bible text which is a divinely authoritative book. God spoke to the writers and through their writings, the cause of the inspiration being God Himself, the means were the men (writers) of God, and the end result was the word of God in the language of men. This description can be summarized in the following technical definition of inspiration: Inspiration is the process by which God worked through human writers without destroying their individual personalities and writing styles to produce divinely authoritative writings. It is the process by which God revealed truth to men who received it and recorded it.

Based upon the forgoing explanation of inspiration, we can conclude that the Bible IS the word of God. All of the words that appear in the autographs were God-breathed (2 Tim.3:16). By this we understand that God completely expressed what it is He wanted to express in the words of the biblical record.

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