Wednesday night we continued our series covering questions asked by the teenagers. The first set of questions answered were in regards to knowing God's will. A summary of that discussion can be found on the Crosswalk blog page. This week we turned our attention to the Bible. We discussed two questions: "Who compiled the Bible as we know it today?" and "How many different Bible's of Christianity would this church accept?"
The answer to the first question is largely academic, while the second is more practical. The Bible (specifically the New Testament) was compiled by the early church around the second century. There were a large number of writings being circulated and the church wanted to determine which letters should hold the weight of biblical authority and which should not. There were three primary requirements for inclusion in the canon:
- It had to adhere to the “rule of faith”, meaning it could not contradict theological beliefs held by the church. Therefore, any writing that contained content known to be false or against the teaching of Jesus, the Old Testament Scriptures, or the apostles was left out.
- It had to have been written by an apostle (one who was put into ministry by Jesus Himself) or someone who was closely related to an apostle (for instance, Luke was not an apostle, but he travelled with Paul for a long time.) This further provided credibility because the authors were known to have been close to the events that had taken place and been put into ministry by Jesus Himself.
- It had to be accepted by Christians across geographical lines. This kept a church in one particular region from controlling the content. Churches throughout the area were charged with contributing and limiting the content of the canon.
When these main issues were considered, the church adopted the 27 book New Testament as we know it today. This is a simplified explanation, as none of these criteria were completely clear cut. However, the modern believer can be confident that God not only directed the writing of these works, but He also directed the early church leaders as they were compiling them.
The second question covers which Bible versions our church would endorse and be comfortable using. First of all, based upon the above discussion, our church would limit the Bible to the original 66 books as determined by the early church. For example, some 1,400 years after the canon was closed, the Catholic church decided to include books that were not included by the early church. First Baptist would not support the inclusion of these writings in the Word of God.
From there the discussion turns to which translations are the most reliable. There are generally three philosophies found in English translations:
Word for word translation: This attempts to stick as closely as possible to the Greek and Hebrew texts so as to preserve accuracy. This style of translating gives the closest rendition of each word used in the original, and it is therefore very reliable. The downsides to this kind of translation are that the language can tend to be a little choppy and it can be hard to make sense of idioms and common phrases used at the time of the original writing.
Thought for thought translation: Instead of trying to translate each word, this style attempts to convey the intent of the author without sticking as closely with word order or even specific word choice. This can make the message of the passages more clear to a modern reader, but it can also strip some of the original tone and structure from the text.
Paraphrase: This style of translation moves further down the spectrum and attempts to make the text easy to understand rather than rigidly sticking to the original words and thoughts. Some accuracy is sacrificed, but the main ideas of the passages are easier to understand.
My thoughts: It is important to remember that every time something is translated there is interpretation done. Greek and English often do not have words that can be easily equated. Therefore everyone who has done translating has had to make decisions about what the author meant to convey and how it should be put into English. Because of this I recommend using more than one translation when studying in order to get a broader perspective. I advised the teens to find one word-for-word translation and one thought-for-thought translation and use them together. This will give a broader understanding of the authors intent and the English ideas found in the passages. Along with this a paraphrase can be used to supplement ones understanding while keeping in mind that it may stray from the original writings on some points (I liken paraphrases to commentaries). Below is a chart from http://www.christianuniversitiesonline.org that places popular English translations into the categories listed above. It can be helpful to see where on the spectrum they are. Personally, I use the ESV, NASB and NIV most often, though I do refer to various other translations from time to time.