The Foundations of Scripture
Homeowners do not often think about the foundation of their house. They are much more worried about the upkeep of their yards, updating their kitchen, or how to rearrange the living room to accommodate the new TV they bought. It is not until something goes wrong, often massively wrong, that the foundation becomes important to them.
This analogy isn’t far from the Church today. While the dangers have always been present, Christians and churches have often neglected to pay attention to the very foundations of our faith. And it is only when cracks begin to appear that we begin to notice that our foundation isn’t what we always assumed it to be. Scripture is attacked constantly, whether concerning its abiding authority in our lives, its truthfulness, or its historical consistency. We have opinions regarding how it is to be interpreted and what is the best version to use, but have we really thought through the basis of these opinions?
This spring at Crossway, we are taking a detailed look at these foundational issues. In this study, we will be looking at God’s Word through various lenses:
- The Nature of God’s Word (Scripture’s Doctrine)
- The Makeup of God’s Word (Scripture’s Canon)
- The Preservation of God’s Word (Scripture’s Text)
- The Transmission of God’s Word (Scripture’s Translation)
- The Interpretation of God’s Word (Scripture’s Meaning)
- The Foundations of God’s Word (Summary)
Each week, links will be provided to the handouts used in the class, along with any references that might be of use. If you have any questions, please let us know on our Facebook page!
During the first week, we studied through the Nature of God’s Word. You can find a PDF of the lesson here. The emphasis of this study was to provide balance between the importance of both the human and divine author of Scripture. By correctly balancing these two authors, we avoid pitfalls of thinking that we have an inhuman, unempathetic, dictated Bible, or that we have simply human words, devoid of God’s wisdom, revelation, and power.
In week 2, we look briefly at the Makeup of God’s Word. A PDF of the slide show can be found above, and also here. This study focused on the process and end result of canonization. We can be sure of the Bible that we have; sure that it is the Word of God and not the product of simple human whims. The early church was quite careful in collecting and recognizing Scripture. Therefore, we can be quite sure that what we have is indeed precisely the Word God wanted us to have.
In the third week of our study, we reviewed the Preservation of God’s Word (PDF found above and here). This study focused on the art of text criticism, or attempts of scholars to determine the original text from the variants that have arisen over the millennia. While there are many people who argue for the essential unreliability of the NT because of text criticism, this study affirms that God’s word has indeed been faithfully preserved for us, that it accurately communicates God’s desired will to us, and therefore we can be confident we indeed possess the word of God!
During the fourth week of our study, we started our overview of the difficult task of translation. In the first of three lessons on translation, we reviewed the history of translation, focusing especially on the English bible. Further, we looked to Scripture to attempt to provide a biblical basis for the efficacy and necessity of translation. A PDF of the slides can be found here.
On the fifth Sunday of our study, we began to review the theory of translation, as well as some of the things that make translations inherently difficult. The PDF of this presentation can be found both above and here.
In the last installment of the Transmission of God’s Word, our focus was on the difficult and often misunderstood nature of translating gender in language. This particular issue is made more difficult in English, which by its nature strongly aligns both sexual and grammatical gender in a way that Hebrew and Greek do not. The main point of our study was to understand the need and present use of inclusive language in Bible translation (even the “literal” ESV), and to argue that the issue is over how individual verses are translated, not if Bibles should be inclusive (hint: they already are!). Finally, we talked about how to choose a bible for your own personal study. A PDF of this presentation can be found above, and here.
During the seventh week, we transitioned into the interpretation of God’s word, or the study of hermeneutics. In this study, we paid close attention to some goals that people generally follow when interpreting the Bible, which we noted as true in a sense, but ultimately will lead you astray when they become the ultimate center of your interpretation. Instead, we looked at the goals that Scripture has laid out for itself, which ultimately finds its final goal and end in the proclamation of the gospel, centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. We also spoke on the three basic tools of interpretation: common sense, the Holy Spirit, and the Community of believers. A PDF of the slideshow is available above, and here.
Our eighth week was spent thinking through the implications of the fact that Scripture uses a number of different genres, or types, of literature. Many mistakes in interpretation happen because people do not recognize the different ways in which genres present truth. In this class, we look specifically at the nature of Historical Narrative, and some important keys to understand this important genre of Scripture. A PDF of the slideshow is available above, and here.
During the ninth week, we looked at three more genres: proverbs, poetry, and epistles. Each of these presents truth in a different way. It is most important that proverbs not be read as absolutes, but as general truths that must be contextualized. Poetry is meant to place truth to our emotions. While epistles (letters) can work on our emotions, they are typically more precise in their use of language, and require a more careful inspection of logic to understand what Scripture is trying to communicate. A PDF of this lesson is available above, and here.
The tenth week had us reviewing some of the guiding principles for reading and understanding prophecy, spotting figurative language, and how to approach the Gospels. Prophecy is not just speaking about the future, but often is simply the application of the Pentateuch directly to the events of Israel at that time. While much of prophecy can be confusing, we were given hints as to ways to see and understand figurative language both in the prophets and in other literature. Finally, we looked at some specific ways in which the Gospels were not just historical narrative, but biography. A PDF of the presentation can be found above, and here.
In the 11th week of our study, the focus of our study was on how to read canonically, and how to better understand how the NT uses the OT. Reading canonically is, in the end, simply recognizing that the Holy Spirit is also an author and compiler of Scripture, so we should also pay attention to the context any writing takes in the whole Bible, not just the context historically in time or literarily within the book. Finally, we also saw some of the ways that the NT reads and uses the OT, focusing on three difficult examples. A PDF of the presentation can be found above, and here.
The last week of study was devoted to simply reviewing the material above. The summary PDF is available here, and above.
Below are some resources for further study. Some of these works are heady, so tread carefully!
Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Vol. 4. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999. (Note: the Amazon link is for the entire 6 volume set).
Michael Kruger, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., has an excellent website dedicated to the study of early Christianity, especially surrounding issues of canon. While his main website can be found here, posts dedicated specifically to the early church and canon can be found here and here.
Often times, for matters concerning a specific book’s canonicity, it is helpful to use a good NT introduction. The following is simply a sampling of those available:
The following are the best resources for the texts of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha:
Text criticism is a very difficult discipline. Anyone who would like to think more about this particular issue should dip their toes in these waters, as the deep end is very deep indeed. The following are good places to start:
David Allen Black. New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994. While somewhat dated, this is a good, basic introduction to the topic. The assumption of text families is debated by a number of scholars today.
Andreas J. Köstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer. Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016. While the majority of the book is devoted to the study of Greek (surprise!) there is an excellent section in the first chapter on text criticism.
Much of my knowledge of text criticism came from two scholarly works, both listed below. These works are a great help, but are quite difficult as well.
Dedicated to the preservation of the manuscripts of the NT that we currently have, Dan Wallace and his colleagues at The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts have done the church an invaluable service. Check out their website, and some early documents, here.
Glen G. Scorgie, Mark L. Strauss and Steven M. Voth, editors. The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God’s Word to the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. This work is of great help when approaching the issue of translation, and is generally accessible by lay people. It is somewhat dated, but does a good job covering the nuts and bolts of the practice and difficulties of translation.
Eugene A. Nida. Toward a Science of Translation with Special References to Principles and Procedures Involved in Bible Translating, 2nd Edition. Leiden: Brill, 2003. While the name is quite unfortunate, as translation might be many things, but a science it isn’t, this is still a fundamental text in any approach to bible translation.
Karen H. Jobes. “Relevance Theory and the Translation of Scripture.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 50, no. 4 (2007): 773-797. This article was the basis of the portion of our study that spoke to the promise and necessity of translation for the accomplishing of the Great Commission during week 4.
During our study on the goals and tools of interpretation, a video clip of Paula White asking for “seed” money was shown in class. That video is available here. The video itself demonstrates the fruit of a wrong-centered goal in interpretation: if your main goals are selfish, you can much more easily distort Scripture to your own ends.
During the 8th week, we looked at the importance of plot progression to understand the direction a narrative is trying to lead readers. The example we used was from the book of Judges, and we were greatly aided by the work done by The Bible Project on youtube. You can find more of their videos here.
Much of the material for these hermeneutic studies was quelled from the excellent hermeneutics class of Dr. Robert Plummer at SBTS. His class, in turn, was aided considerably by Dr. Robert Stein, and his helpful handbook A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.