THERE’S ONLY ONE BIBLE, NOT DIFFERENT BIBLES
Some people think there are different Bibles – like a Catholic Bible and a Protestant Bible, or an Old Bible and a Modern Bible – and that this largely explains why there are so many different beliefs among people who call themselves Christians.
That’s a misconception. There’s only ONE Bible (except that Roman Catholics include 15 minor books in the Old Testament, with no conflicting doctrine, which Protestants don’t think should be included – see note in Topic 29.) All Christians universally accept all of the books of the New Testament.
Differing views within Christianity don’t arise from disagreement over what writings God gave to us, but rather over how we should interpret the meaning and application of those writings to our daily lives.
THE BIBLE WAS AFFIRMED, NOT COMMISSIONED
During the first four centuries A.D., there were numerous church councils called in different parts of the Christian world to formally select the books to include in the Bible. These councils didn’t commission the writing of any of the books, neither did they change any of them. They were examination councils to attest to the authenticity of the writings.
When the church decided which books to include, it wasn’t a matter of giving them some new authority. Rather, it was a matter of formally recognizing the inherent authority and acceptance they already possessed and recognizing what was already evident in faith and practice in the church.
It’s absolutely amazing – and strong evidence of God’s direct involvement – that throughout history there’s been essential agreement on the exact content of the Bible.
MODERN TRANSLATIONS MAKE READING EASY
With the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century – at which time there were 33 different hand-written translations of the Bible – it became feasible to translate the Bible into many languages and to give it wide-spread distribution. By 1800, there were 71 translations.
Today, the Bible has been translated, in whole or substantial part, into over 2,000 languages; many languages have multiple translations. For example, there are now more than a dozen excellent translations of the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into English, including modern versions which, with accuracy, read as easily as the daily newspaper.
NO PROBLEM WITH CONTENT, ONLY WITH INTERPRETATION
Virtually all Christians agree on what the Bible is, but not all agree on what the Bible says.
Because people tend to read the Bible through their own pre-conceptions, it’s the interpretation of the material – not the material itself – that causes theological divisions. Fortunately, the text itself (in original Hebrew and Greek) is universally known and accepted, and we can read it ourselves (see Topic 31).
In a desire to shed light on the Bible, theologians and others have written tens of thousands of books to help explain it. The smallest little nuances have been given exhaustive interpretations.
There’s danger when prominent interpreters – because of their church positions or popular writings – are given an authority that, in practice, equals or overshadows the Bible itself. There’s double danger when interpreters, with human tendency to find something ‘new,’ or to gain attention of peers, or to defend tradition, put clever twists on Bible passages to bolster their views.
Over the centuries, because of illiteracy and scarcity of copies, most people have had no choice but to rely on what others told them about the Bible. But now we can read and understand the Bible ourselves. God’s message can now come directly to us without being filtered through someone else. The same Holy Spirit who supernaturally inspired each Bible writer also supernaturally enlightens each Bible reader (see Topic 19).
There’s a heritage of nearly two thousand years of scholarly Bible interpretation and everyone can benefit by learning from the commentators in addition to direct study, but the commentators should never be allowed to become the authority.
DISTINGUISH THE BIBLE MESSAGE FROM CHURCH TRADITION
During the first two centuries of Christianity, the church met only in homes and put emphasis on salvation through personal faith in Jesus Christ and on helping one another. In the third century, permanent church buildings and professional clergy began appearing, and Christianity started to become institutionalized. The church grew rapidly, with impetus from rulers who decreed that their subjects must be ‘Christian.’ By the sixth century, approximately 20% of the world’s population had become Christian, at least in name. In the eighth century, the Holy Roman Empire began evolving, with kings and popes sharing power. In the tenth century, the church split into the Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches.
Over the next five centuries, large sections of the church became corrupted by entanglements with politics and economics. The Protestant reformation began in 1517 and the Western Catholic branch subsequently split into Roman Catholic, Protestant and Anglican parts.
Over the ensuing four and a half centuries, these four major Christian blocks – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Anglican – have proliferated into hundreds of subgroups, each with its own cherished traditions.
Most of the traditions are neither specifically commanded nor prohibited by Jesus or the Bible. They have their value, but they should not be confused with God’s message to mankind and instruction to the church as directly stated in the Bible.
THE BIBLE IS OUR PRIMARY SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY
If it weren’t for the Bible, we wouldn’t know for sure what God is saying to us. People would voice opinions (‘I think...’) and perceptions (‘God told me...’), but words from different people would inevitably conflict with each other and we’d be left in a state of confusion, never knowing for sure what the real truth is.
God was both gracious and practical to give us the Bible because in it we have ultimate truth from him, without any drifting or changing over time or culture. The Bible is our primary authority in spiritual matters and it’s the foundation for what Christians know and believe.
God also speaks to us through our spirit. What he says through our spirit will never be in conflict with what he says in the Bible. Thus, the Bible also serves as a filter and interpreter for what we hear in our spirit and hear from others.
Here's a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.
Bible’s truths never change
II Peter 1:9-21
Bible is truth from God, not opinions of men
Holy Spirit reminds us of what we read in Bible
Use Bible as test for discerning truth in what we hear
For help, see Topic 29.