Bringing Home the Faith (tenth installment)

Bringing Home the Faith: a Pastor writes to her teenage son about Christian belief is a series of ten letters I wrote for my son addressing his doubts about Christian faith and answering his questions about what Christians believe and why.  Each letter is preceded by an Introduction which introduces its particular topic.

Please share these weekly installments of Bringing Home the Faith with someone in your life, whether young or old, who wants uncomplicated and honest answers to their questions and concerns about Christian faith.

Last week in letter No. 3: What God Says to Us in the Bible, I wrote about how the Old and New Testaments are related to one another.  This week I conclude the letter by writing about interpreting and translating Scripture.

In the Bible you’ll find the truth you need to hear at every step in your journey through life.  For instance, I turn to Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians when I need to be reminded about God’s free gift of forgiveness through faith in Jesus.  I turn to the stories about King David in 1 and 2 Samuel when I need to be reminded that God loves sinners.  In Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians I hear again about the responsibilities I have to fellow Christians.  The books of Daniel, Ezekiel and the Revelation to John remind me God is much larger than my imagination and deserves my awe and respect.

The Song of Songs speaks to husbands and wives about how to love and cherish each other.  Hebrews and 1 and 2 Peter tell us how to stand up to persecution.  When life is hard, the books of Job, Isaiah and Jeremiah offer comfort and hope.  Genesis can help us understand the tensions that arise within families — and how God can take the mistakes we make and turn them into something good.   If you come to the Bible ready to listen to God, it will give you what you need to hear.

You may ask, “Can God speak to us in other ways, through other writings, besides the Bible?”  Yes, He can, but wise members of the church decided within about two hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection that everything must be tested against what God says to us in the Bible.  If something written or spoken doesn’t agree with His word in Scripture then it is not to be trusted.  The church also decided that there is nothing in the Bible that needs to be deleted, added to or amended.

Although there is no original version of any part of the Bible in existence today, there are, in some instances, hundreds upon hundreds of copies of the originals.  Biblical scholars, over a period of 500 years, examined all the known copies of the Old and New Testaments.  They compiled an accurate version of each book in each Testament, based largely upon what all the copies share in common.  Our modern Bibles are the result of their work.

Each section of the Old Testament was written originally in Hebrew and the New Testament was written originally in the Greek language.  Back then, everyone wrote on a papyrus scroll.   Book binding, the process by which a hard outer cover is bound together with leaves of paper, was not invented until about 1400 years later.  If you want to see what these ancient manuscripts look like you can view some of them on the internet.  They are fascinating to see.

A photo of Psalm 119:59-64 from the Dead Sea Scrolls; each line begins (on the right) with the Hebrew letter "Heth"

You will notice that Hebrew words are written from right to left, as they are to this day.

Matthew 11:8b-10a; Codex Vaticanus

The writers of the New Testament wrote  using capital letters and they did not leave space between each word.

Also, they did not use punctuation, nor did they divide the letters and gospels they wrote into verses and chapters. In fact, the entire Bible wasn’t divided into chapters and verses until about 500 years ago.

The Bible we read today in English has been translated from the original languages in which it was composed.  I know of at least twenty-five different translations of the Bible into English.  Some of them are accurate, word for word, to the point of being wooden, or even in a few instances, misleading.  That is because in every language figures of speech are used (such as the phrase in English, “skating on thin ice,”  which we use for saying that someone is on the verge of getting in trouble) and these are not meant to be taken literally.

And some translations of the Bible are done so that the flow of each sentence and thought are easy to read and remember.  However, these translations might not always be exact.   So my advice is to read the introduction to the Bible you are using so that you know the intention of the team who did the translation. I find it helpful to keep several translations of the Bible on hand and to consult more than one when I am studying a particular passage.

However, in addition to reading and studying the Bible on your own, it is also important to belong to a church which teaches that the Bible is God’s word to us; a church where the pastors always preach on a passage from the Bible and offer classes so you can study it more thoroughly.  This is what pastors are trained to do in seminary.

Studying under someone who has been authorized to teach by the Christian church is important because you will learn how to interpret Scripture correctly.  You will be able to bring your own understanding in line with what the church has believed and taught for over two thousand years.  It is never a good thing to rely solely on your own judgment or on that of someone who is not accountable to a recognized Christian organization.  If you regularly attend a church where the Bible is taught faithfully and accurately and the members seek to live out what God says to us in it, your faith will grow and you will thrive.

In all of my letters to you I will make reference to the Bible.  It is never far from my side.  In fact, I even keep one in the car.  I read from a Bible several times a day.  And when I do, I try to take my time and not hurry through the reading.  I remind myself it’s not like other books I pick up to read.  I turn to it in order to hear God speaking to me, to be encouraged and steadied in my journey through life, and to learn how faithful people in the Bible lived their lives so I can pattern mine after theirs.

As I draw this letter to a close, here are the points to remember from it:

  • In the Bible God tells us the truth we need to hear about ourselves and the world around us.
  • The Bible helps us discover our need for God.
  • It doesn’t worry about what we think concerning this chapter or that, whether it makes sense or not, or whether its point of view is considered out of date.
  • In the Bible there’s something for you at every step in your journey through life.
  • In addition to reading the Bible, study it under someone who is authorized to teach by the Christian church.

The following verse from one of the psalms sums up what the Bible means to me:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

I hope the Bible will always be the book to which you turn in order to hear the truth you need to know.

Love,

Mom

Next week: Why Jesus Was Born on Earth. 

Discussion Questions for Tenth Installment: What God Says to Us in the Bible

1)      How would you sum up the story that’s told to us in the Bible?

2)      Why is the Bible trustworthy?

3)      What would you say to someone who thinks God speaks to us through other writings?

4)      Why is it important to read from it often and study it thoroughly?

5)      Why is it important to belong to a church which teaches that the Bible is God’s word to us?


About Claudia Dickson Greggs

I am an Anglican priest, author, wife and mother. Writing and teaching about Christian life and faith are passions of mine.
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