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3rd Compass -> Group News and Articles -> Errors of Truth - Can I trust the Bible? Can I trust church doctrine?

Errors of Truth - Can I trust the Bible? Can I trust church doctrine? (Article) 2/14/2010 5:21 PM
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Minister Ty Alexander
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Can I Trust the Bible?
The Holy Bible is the foundation for church doctrine and Christian beliefs. It is God's Word - His instruction and revelation to us for understanding our history, roles, and reality as a whole. Accurate and untainted Scripture is critical for our journeys in this life, as well as into the next, so it is important to trust its content.

But how can we trust it completely when there are many unexplainable discrepancies in Scripture? How can we trust it when it was recorded by men - fallible and corruptible creatures? How can we trust it when it has been modified by centuries upon centuries of manual copying by scribes and translation into different versions and languages?

Scripture is the spiritual fuel we need to run our lives on. If this fuel is not pure, our engines will falter and sputter, never able to fully realize the potential God envisioned for our hearts and lives. Will we ever be able to open full throttle with the Scripture we have today?

The answer is, "Yes," but we must be able to discern the good fuel from the bad. But even more important, we need the Mind of God (His Spirit; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16) so the true meaning of God's Words come forward. This means we must have God's Spirit and belong to Him, because we do not belong to His Kingdom or to Him if we are not reborn with His Spirit by confessing our belief in Jesus to someone (Romans 8:9; Matthew 10:32; 1 John 4:15; 1 John 2:23; Romans 10:9-10). That is how we are actually saved into God's Kingdom.

Discerning good fuel from bad also requires us to understand universal truths God laid down in the original Scripture He gave to His servants since the time of Moses. This means we must have the manuscripts from the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and compare their content to the Scripture we use today.

Do we have those ancient manuscripts? Yes, we do, as Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, a distinguished scholar of ancient documents, notes that we possess over 5,600 ancient manuscripts in Greek alone and that there are some 24,000 manuscripts in other ancient languages. Furthermore, the earliest manuscripts have been dated to within decades of the writings by the original authors and the content of the manuscripts agree among each other to a very high percentage of 98%.

Dr. Metzger also notes that the errors among the manuscripts are largely superficial, such as misspellings, and that there are no doctrines in danger of being rejected simply because of these errors. In contrast, the ancient document that comes closest to that of Biblical content and accepted as authentic by scholars today is the Illiad, which we know from less than 650 manuscripts in the original language that are dated about a thousand years after the original composition in 800 B.C.

One thousand years as opposed to decades for the New Testament! Other ancient documents considered authentic and reliable today, such as works by the Roman historians, Tacitus and Josephus, survive today through only a handful of manuscripts (less than ten) dated hundreds of years after the original compositions.

The contrast is obvious. Are we willing to discredit original Scripture when we so readily accept the validity of other ancient documents that have survived through copies in far less quantity and are much further removed in time from the original compositions? Common sense and reason tells us that we have more than enough ancient manuscripts to trust that God's Word has survived intact to this day.

That fact also makes unfounded any claims that Scripture in general was changed for political or other corrupt reasons. Our ancient manuscripts are proof for the validity of our current Bibles, however, this does not mean that every modern Bible is pure in content or was not altered for less credible reasons. Every Bible that has been translated from the original Biblical languages will have content that differs from the original writings, but the level of which they defer is the key to whether we can trust a Bible or not.

To evaluate them, we must understand the difference between translation and modification. Translation tries to preserve the intended meaning of original Scripture, while modification involves the changing of words to fit a particular perspective. A proper translation may have discrepancies from original Scripture, but these are not modification problems. They are the inherent differences produced by translating text because the meaning and context of words can change dramatically from one language or culture to the next. These differences are unavoidable and expected, but they do not cause concern for undermining Biblical validity.

Every Bible today from the oldest, like the King James Version (KJV), to the newest, like the New International Version (NIV), have content that differs slightly from the Scripture of the original languages. These differences, though, are not errors of modification so long as the literal and intended meanings of the words concur to a high degree with the original language version of Scripture.

Of course, most of us cannot read the original Biblical languages or understand the culture and historical context of Biblical times, so we cannot readily compare our current Bibles to the original Scripture. Fortunately, this job was done for us by many scholars already, and through the fruits of their work we have many good Bibles today, such as the NIV, which concurs with original Scripture to a high degree by the meaning of the words, but not as much by the letter of the word. This is because the translators for the NIV strived to get the proper meaning of Scripture conveyed rather than preserve it literally, word-for-word.

The KJV is also a good translation of original Scripture even though it is centuries old. It concurs with original Scripture by the letter of the word more faithfully than the NIV, but it is also not a perfect translation. The main flaw of the KJV is that its language is archaic Old English and difficult to understand today. However, it has an advantage over more modern translations because of its closeness to the times of the original language manuscripts. This advantage is important because the scholars of that time had a more accurate familiarity with the context of Biblical times, so many things in the KJV were correctly translated from the original languages that many modern translations have gotten wrong.

We can see that because of problems with translation, no single modern Bible is a perfect representation of Scripture from the original languages. To counter this, it is essential to use more than one Bible for serious study. Combining the NIV (or another modern translation, see Choosing A Bible for more help with picking good translations) with the KJV is an excellent solution for understanding Scripture better. Comparing Scripture between the two can give insights that would be missed by reading only one translation. If you can't afford more than one Bible, then it is best to choose a translation that tries to faithfully preserve the meaning of Scripture (see Choosing A Bible for recommendations) because no matter what language we speak or what culture we understand, much of God's truths will come forward as long as the meaning of His Words are kept intact.

Can I Trust Church Doctrine?
The problem we face in measuring our modern Bibles to the standard given in original Scripture is not that of translation, but of modification. These can be deliberate attempts to skew or add to the meaning of Scripture or may come from errors of interpretation. Many interpretive errors result from not taking proper context into account or not understanding Scripture as a whole. These problems are compounded by the tendency for people to put traditions or the patterns of mankind ahead of God's Word.

These problems produce false beliefs and incorrect doctrine that are very difficult to change. However, these issues must be resolved because the wrong understanding of God's Word can have very serious consequences. Missing the smallest details can even cost people eternal salvation (see Marching From Behind The Veil and Refining Wisdom Heals All Wounds).

Change must come, and the first thing we have to understand is that church doctrine is not sacred. God's Word (His words as originally spoken) is sacred, not mankind's interpretation of it. It is only God's intended interpretation of His Word that matters, but the church views Scripture through a prism and skews its content by reading it from varying viewpoints. The only way to correct this is to kill the "sacred cows" (abandon incorrect doctrine) and understand God's Word with the help of His anointed servants who were taught how to view His Word as He intends - in context, in its entirety, and through His wisdom, interpreted by God's Mind, not ours.

There are many doctrines that need correction, but here we will only evaluate our Bibles - the source for much of our spiritual fuel. How do we know which Bibles are faithful to the meaning of God's original Words in Scripture?

To evaluate this and subsequently church doctrine, we must understand the most important universal truths laid out in original Scripture and use them as a rule to test the validity of our Bibles and doctrine. But what is "original" Scripture?

Original Scripture is the Scripture that was established and authenticated by the early Christian church in the time after the age of the apostolic church led directly by the original apostles of Jesus. This Scripture includes the 39 books of the Old Testament, which were already firmly established by the time of Jesus, and the 27 books of the New Testament, which were judged and deemed authentic by three criteria for acceptance: Apostolic authority, Conformity to the common tenets of Christianity, and Adoption by the early church.

The criterion of apostolic authority simply means that the document had to have been written by the original apostles or by immediate followers of the apostles (the first-hand witnesses to Jesus before and after His resurrection). The criterion of conformity means that the writings conform to or are in sync with the already established rules of Christianity, and adoption means that the document must have had wide spread acceptance and usage by the church at the time.

This authenticated original Scripture is the result of the early church's efforts to uphold the authenticity and validity of Holy Scripture. This is the canon of the Christian church - the rule and standard for our belief and faith - and as discussed earlier, we do have the ancient manuscripts to verify and validate its content today, as well as good modern translations for our use.

Authenticated Scripture is the tool and measure we must use to evaluate any other scripture and doctrine, so the truths found in this Scripture are essential to understand correctly. There are many more important truths than I list here, but all the essentials are beyond the scope of this document. I will only point out the most important for our discussion:
  1. Monotheism - There is only one true God in all existence. There were no others previously nor can others be made.
  2. Holy Trinity - The concept that the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) are all the same one true God. They are only different extensions of the One (see 3rd Compass, Chapter Five, "The Big Picture" for more detailed discussion of the Holy Trinity).
  3. Gospel of Jesus - Jesus was God incarnate, "in the flesh," on earth, died on the cross for our sins, and resurrected to fulfill the promise of eternal salvation for all mankind (the New Covenant of Grace). The importance of the New Covenant does not negate much of the law in the Old Testament, though. Much of God's laws that were recorded in the Old Testament are still valid and in force today. This fact and that the entire context of Scripture also needs the Old Testament to understand its meaning are very important, so we cannot exclude the Old Testament from use.
The points listed above are only a starting point, but from these we can identify and reject bad doctrine and flawed scripture. There are faiths, churches, and ministries all over the world that maintain doctrine and scripture that go against one or more of these universal truths. They should be easy to identify.

It is the responsibility of every Christian to know the truths of original Scripture. Use them to evaluate the faith, doctrine and Bibles of every church and belief system you encounter, and reject anything that goes against these truths. Our hearts are wired to run on pure spiritual fuel. Don't let your spiritual engine sputter and seize by persisting in beliefs and doctrine that doesn't preserve the meaning God intended.

"Choosing a Bible." The Church South of Saint Paul - 3rd Compass.

Huynh, Ty Alexander. "Chapter Five: The Big Picture." 3rd Compass: Navigating Reality and the Last Days. Print and online.

"Refining Wisdom Heals All Wounds." The Church South of Saint Paul - 3rd Compass.

"Marching From Behind The Veil". The Church South of Saint Paul - 3rd Compass.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. Print.

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