This series, “Bible Cliffnotes: An Easy Practical Guide to Biblical Doctrine,” was conceived several years back when I saw people struggling with understanding the various biblical doctrines vital to the Christian faith.
“Bible Cliffnotes” does not represent complete treatises on these various doctrines; I will leave that to those theologians and professors more qualified than myself. Further, each of these doctrines can be found in greater detail in books on Christian Theology, Bible Encyclopedias, and specific books dealing these each of these topics.
Instead these booklets are designed to give a working knowledge of these various doctrines in a way and method where both Christians and those seeking after the truth can readily understand and begin to apply to their lives.
Throughout my years as a pastor I have read, studied, and presented hundreds of sermons and teachings. Much of the material in this booklet isn’t new but is based on what I have learned over 40 years of being seminary trained, a senior pastor and teacher, and living as a Christian.
The material in this booklet can be used by anyone without worry of any infringement. My prayer is that this material can be used to help Christians, churches, and those who are seeking to move closer to all that God has called for them to be.
Not Just Another Book
Part of every Protestant church’s statement of faith says, “We believe the Bible is inspired by God.”
This comes from what the Apostle Paul said in his second letter to Timothy.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The Bible, both Old and New Testament, is fully inspired by God and is without error in its original manuscript. It is the infallible rule of Christian faith and practice. It is incapable of being wrong or mistaken.
The Bible equips everyone with everything they need to live an effective life. It is transformational and transformative. It is God’s answers and directions for life in a hostile world filled with sin.
The reason is because the Bible is God’s Word; it has been breathed out by the Lord Himself, and therefore it isn’t just another religious book. It is practical, beneficial, and relevant; teaching what is true and reproving what isn’t, along with correcting and instructing us on how to get and stay right with God.
The writer of Hebrews provides an analogy revealing just how useful and powerful God’s word is when it comes to keeping us on the straight and narrow path leading to eternal life.
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
God’s word is living and powerful. Like a scalpel in the hands of a surgeon, it cuts through the philosophies and thoughts of man that are filled with contradictions and lies. It gets to the heart and the spirit of God’s thoughts, will, and ways.
The Bible pierces our hearts and touches our souls to change the direction and course of our lives.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a renowned Baptist preacher and author in the 1800’s said, “I would recommend you either believe God up to the hilt, or else not to believe at all. Believe this book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing place between the two. Be satisfied with nothing less than a faith that swims in the deeps of divine revelation; a faith that paddles about the edge of the water is poor faith at best. It is little better than a dry-land faith, and is not good for much.”
Since the Bible is God’s word to humanity, it is far better to invest a couple of dollars in purchasing one now, rather than spend thousands of dollars in psychiatrist fees later on.
The Bible also isn’t just another religious book like the Koran is to Islam, or the Bhagavad-Gita is to Hindus. Nor is it like the Book of Mormon, or the individual writings of Sun Myung Moon (Moonies), Joseph Rutherford or Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah Witnesses), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), or L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology).
Nor is the Bible just a great work of literature like Homer’s Odyssey, or Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, as many people would like to believe.
The Bible is none of those, nor can it be thought of as an old book that is unrelated to our lives in this age of science and technology.
Instead, the Bible is God’s word for our lives, and without it our lives would be without meaning and purpose, especially seeing how it is God’s roadmap to salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Psalmist proclaimed, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
“What makes the Bible different and how can we trust it for our lives?”
There are both external and internal evidence to show the Bible is indeed God’s word and not man’s, and is a reliable guide to live our lives by.
The Bible Is Unique
The Bible is unique and its uniqueness is in its reliability as it addresses hundreds of controversial subjects, even hot topics of our day like marriage, homosexuality, greed, ecology, and labor relations to name a few.
Yet, even though it speaks to matters of our day, it was written over a 1,500-year time span beginning with Moses. It contains 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament, in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), and by a wide diversity of writers including kings and shepherds, soldiers and politicians, fishermen, priests, prophets, an IRS agent, and a physician.
It was written on three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe) and in places like deserts, dungeons, prisons, palaces, in various cities, and on a remote island.
It was also written in a variety of literary styles including historical, legal, wisdom, poetry, parables, proverbs, allegorical, prophetical, and apocalyptic. It was also written in times of joy and despair.
What makes the Bible completely and totally unique? Over all these years, by all these different authors, and in these various locations and conditions, there remains complete and total harmony in all of its topics.
The Bible is God’s unfolding story of His salvation and redemption of the human race. It speaks of humanity’s lost condition, being morally depraved and sinful, but then it reveals God’s plan to save humanity through Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice so that whoever believes in Him will be saved (John 3:16).
Beginning in Genesis there is paradise lost, but at the end, in the book of Revelation, paradise is regained.
No other book contains such harmony of thought or purpose.
The uniqueness of the Bible is also seen in it being translated into over 2,000 languages, which amounts to over one-third of the world’s known languages, or over 90 percent of the world’s population.
No other book even comes close to those figures.
No other book has been translated, retranslated, and paraphrased more than the Bible, and it still remains over 95 percent pure or true to the oldest manuscripts available. Further, the Bible has had to be continually copied because of the perishable materials it was written upon, and yet it has never diminished in style or correctness.
The reason is because the Jews took great care in copying each manuscript of the Bible. They kept a table on every letter, syllable, word, and paragraph for each book, and for each section of the manuscript. They also employed men whose sole responsibility was to properly write down the Scriptures.
People throughout the ages have tried to ban it, burn it, vilify it, and even outlaw it, saying that it would never last, yet it is still the best-selling book of all time. And while people continue to scrutinize the Bible trying to find some fault within it, the Bible has stood the test of time. It is an anvil that has worn out critics’ hammers.
Jesus said it best.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mark 13:31).
Prophecy Proves the Bible’s Accuracy
One evening in Las Vegas a Jewish man came into the church and started a conversation. He didn’t believe the Bible was God’s word. Instead he believed it was written by men, and that it has changed over the years.
After sharing about the Bible’s uniqueness, I realized I had to show him beyond a shadow of a doubt the Bible was indeed God’s word, and so I took him to fulfilled prophecy.
If man wrote the Bible there would be no way that it could accurately predict what would happen hundreds, if not thousands, of years later. These are not vague word pictures, but literal fulfillment.
Fulfilled prophecy reveals that the Bible is God’s word; that it was and is divinely inspired.
After our conversation, the man promised he would find his Bible and look up the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah I gave him.
It’s important to understand that biblical prophecy about events up to our present day have been fulfilled as outlined in the Bible.
Take for instance the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
These are just a few of the prophecies Jesus fulfilled.
In his book, “Science Speaks,” Peter Stoner looked at the mathematical probability of one person fulfilling eight specific prophecies concerning the coming the Messiah. These prophecies were the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem, preceded by a messenger; entered Jerusalem on a donkey, betrayed by a friend, sold for 30 pieces of silver along with it being thrown down in God’s house and used as a “Potter’s Field,” silent before accusers, having hands and feet pierced, and crucified with thieves.
Stoner gave the mathematical probability of one man fulfilling these eight prophecies at 1 in 10 to the 17th power.
To illustrate this number, Stoner likened it to silver dollars two feet deep throughout the state of Texas with one of them marked. The probability of one person fulfilling these eight prophecies was the same as a blindfolded man finding that one silver dollar on the first try.
But Jesus didn’t fulfill just eight, He fulfilled over 60 prophecies directly, and there were over 300 prophecies fulfilled at the time of Jesus and the first church.
Prophecy, therefore, is a reliable measure on the Bible’s accuracy. And since only God could know these events in advance, this makes the Bible divinely inspired.
We say the Bible is without error in its original manuscript. This is saying the writers got it right on the first take. It didn’t need nor did it receive editing of any kind.
But many find this hard to believe because we don’t possess the original copies to compare our recent translations too. Rather we have copies of copies.
The reason that the Bible had to be copied so often is because the material it was written on was perishable, which mandated it be rewritten constantly on newer material.
But are the copies we use in our current translations reliable?
The Old Testament
The Old Testament was transmitted with the utmost care. Old Testament scholars kept tables on every letter, syllable, word, and paragraph for each book and for each section of the manuscript. If a copy didn’t match up exactly, it was destroyed.
They also appointed certain men to monitor these writings and transcribe them. Beginning with the Scribes, there were a secession of scholars tasked with the manuscript’s preservation.
Between 300 to 200 B.C., the Septuagint was written, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Seventy-two Hebrew scholars went to Alexandria, Egypt to translate the Hebrew text for inclusion into its library.
It is believed each scholar was put into a separate room and told to translate the Torah into Greek. Each translated as they had been taught, and each copy was identical.
The last set of scholars who took over this task of coping the Hebrew text were known as the Masoretes. They continued this practice from around the fifth century A.D. through the ninth century A.D. The Masoretic text of 980 A.D. is the oldest complete copy we have of the Old Testament.
So how reliable is this text copied from its predecessors 1500 years earlier?
Although we only have around 730 complete copies of the Old Testament from this time period, along with various individual manuscripts, their accuracy has been without much controversy.
Take the Isaiah manuscript found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls. This manuscript has been dated around 125 B.C. Over 1000 years separated it from the earliest text written by the Masoretes, but the two texts are over 95 percent identical. The remaining five percent difference is found within the fifty-third chapter where the word “light” was changed along with ten spelling variations and four punctuation marks, but these changes never affected the passages’ meaning, and are supported by the Septuagint written less than a 100 years before the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The New Testament
Today we have about 25,000 copies of the New Testament written in various languages, including Latin, Greek, and Ethiopian. No other historical document or book even comes close to this number. Homer’s Iliad has just 643 copies written in the Greek language, and they are only 75 percent similar in wording and construction.
But that’s not the case with the New Testament.
Biblical scholars have concluded that from the sheer volume of manuscripts available it is possible to reconstruct the New Testament with complete accuracy. Further, seeing the small window of time that existed from the original to the earliest copies found, somewhere around 200 years, major errors didn’t have time to creep in, and with the amount of manuscripts being written in the various languages, this would prohibit any changes from occurring.
Through a thorough examination comparing all available manuscripts, it has been found that the New Testament can be reconstructed with a 99 percent accuracy rate to the original. This means the New Testament we read today is taken from a text that is over 99 percent pure or accurate.
Further, the early church fathers quoted so much from the New Testament manuscripts that about the entire New Testament can be reconstructed from their writings.
And while some variations exist, it has been concluded that no fundamental doctrine upon which the Christian faith depends, rests upon any of these variations or disputed texts.
Whenever discrepancies occur, the benefit of the doubt must rest with the document and not those who doubt it authenticity or cite apparent contradictions after the fact, and in our case, thousands of years later.
Christian apologist, author, and speaker, John Montgomery said, “One must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualified himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.”
More is required than merely the appearance of an error or contradiction. Unsolved problems are not necessarily errors. By utilizing all available data and thorough research, many of the past objections have been resolved.
Has the passage been correctly understood? Do we possess all available knowledge and data concerning the matter? Can further light be shed on the topic from research in areas like literature and archaeology?
The Bible’s trustworthiness has also been bolstered and supported by the Bible itself. Every problem or discrepancy has been dealt with within the biblical text, which is to be expected seeing what the Bible asserts, that it is God’s word.
Principles of Interpretation
Most allegations of error or contradictions stem from a failure to recognize the basic principles of interpretation.
Just because the Bible doesn’t explain something doesn’t mean it’s unexplainable. Difficulties and problems within the Bible have been answered using other source material including historical documents, archaeological finds, and linguistics differences.
A fallible interpreter of the Bible doesn’t mean the biblical revelation is fallible. Human beings make mistakes, that’s why pencils have erasers and computers have delete keys. Just because humans make mistakes, however, doesn’t mean God makes mistakes.
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good” (Numbers 23:19).
We should never take a biblical passage or quote out of the context of the passage itself. Someone said, “A text taken out of context is a pretext.” You can prove anything from the Bible when a passage is taken out of the context in which it is written.
We also should never build a doctrine on an obscure passage. Some people baptize for the dead using 1 Corinthians 15:29 stating, “What will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?”
While the meaning isn’t exactly clear, what is clear is that it was written in negation form, which means the practice was consider wrong in the first place.
New Testament citations of the Old Testament don’t have to be exact to the Hebrew text because some of the authors were quoting from the Septuagint or the Aramaic.
Something else to consider is that just because the Bible records wrong actions on the part of God’s people doesn’t mean that God approves of these actions. The Bible accurately records human mistakes and behaviors even from those whom it venerates.
Differences in interpretations also exist based upon the literary style the author is using. If they are writing allegorically, the interpreter shouldn’t try to fit it into historical or legal genre.
Archaeology can never prove the Bible is God’s inspired word, but it can reveal that the events listed in the Bible are historically accurate.
Nelson Glueck, former president of the Jewish Theological Seminary at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, in his investigation of archaeology and the Bible said that he never found one artifact of antiquity that contradicted God’s word.
There exists overwhelming archeological support for the historical accuracy of both the Old and New Testaments. Archeology has proven not only the Bible’s historical accuracy, but also gives the most accurate historical accounting even over other historical accounts written not only by current historians, but those living during the time.
It is said that every time an archaeologist shovel comes up, another critic of the Bible and a biblical discrepancy goes down.
With all the archaeological digs either presently under way or that have already occurred, if the Bible was mistaken then one would think that by now there would have been something dug up or found that would corroborate these accusations. But to date there has been nothing, only more evidence proving the accuracy of the biblical accounts.
The Canon of Scripture
The word “canon” comes from the Greek word meaning “rule” or “measuring stick.” When it is applied to the Bible it means those books that have been accepted as accurate and true. These consist of those books presently listed in the Protestant Bible consisting of 39 books of the Old Testament, and 27 book of the New Testament. The church has accepted these as divine revelation.
Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in 367 A.D. affirmed these Old and New Testament books as the canon of Scripture, but it wasn’t until the end of the century that they were formally affirmed at the third Council of Carthage in 397 A.D.
At this time the Old Testament had already been in use, and while there were other books written prior to Jesus Christ, they never made it into the Holy text. These books were known as Pseudepigrapha and are a part of the Apocrypha writings included in both the Septuagint and Roman Catholic Bible.
New Testament inclusions to the canon went through a series of tests. These tests help put a stop to many of the writings that were around during this time. One example would be “The Gospel of Judas.” Historically it is dated around the time of Christ, but that doesn’t make it divinely inspired, as many today are quick to believe. The early church fathers dismissed it as fictional and written by someone other than Judas who is not known nor identified.
Just because something is written and published doesn’t make it true. If we won’t accept what is automatically written on the Internet, then why don’t we apply the same standard to ancient writings?
To become canonized the book had to have been written by a prophet of God whose time sensitive prophecies came true. Those whose prophecies were false were summarily rejected.
Further, it had to be authentic by telling the truth and not contradicting the evidence or what God has revealed through the other books already authenticated. The Bible makes it clear that God cannot contradict Himself (2 Corinthians 1:17-18), nor does He lie (Numbers 23:19), or utter what is false (Hebrews 6:18). The early church’s philosophy was, “When in doubt, toss it out.”
Finally, it had to be accepted by God’s people. Peter accepted Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). These books were also quoted by the early church fathers.
These are books not found in either the Jewish or Protestant Bible, but are included in the Septuagint and Roman Catholic Bible. They are religious writings of uncertain origin and thus rejected.
The word “apocrypha” means “hidden things,” but they are not the lost books of the Bible. No Apocrypha book is directly quoted in the New Testament. Some say that Jude quotes from the Apocrypha book, “The Assumption of Moses.” And while this has some merit, what is interesting is that the quote itself can no longer be found, but it does seem to have its foundation in the biblical book of Zechariah.
Old Testament Apocrypha books include: I and II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, The Letter of Jeremiah, The Prayer of Azariah, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manesseh, I and II Maccabees.
New Testament Apocrypha books include: Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas, epistle to the Corinthians, Second Epistle of Clement, Shepherd of Hermas Didache, Teaching of the Twelve, Apocalypse of Peter, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, Epistle to the Laodiceans, The Gospel according to the Hebrews, Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, the Seven Epistles of Ignatus.
The reason the Apocrypha books are not included in the Canon of Scripture is because they have historical and geographical inaccuracies and errors in chronology. They teach doctrines that are either false or vary with the Scriptures. Jesus or New Testament writers never quote them. Jewish scholars never recognized the Old Testament Apocrypha as a part of the Holy Scriptures, and the council of Trent never recognized them as divine until the fifteenth century.
From what we have studied and previewed, the safe and prudent thing to say is that the Bible is divinely inspired, that is, the Lord God Himself inspired it, making it the infallible rule of Christian faith and practice.
The Bible contains God’s answers and directions that are practical, beneficial, and relevant for our lives. It teaches us what is true and reproves what isn’t, and instructs us on how to get and stay right with God.
The Bible is God’s word not only to generations gone by, but also to our generation and generations to come. It is God’s roadmap to salvation through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).
There is no other book that even comes close, and therefore there is no other book that we need to read and understand more than the Bible.
Spiritual Transformation Series
Spiritual transformation is probably the most important process undertaken by a Christian. The goal is to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ. It’s about actively engaging with God and His Word, the Bible, following its commands in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible tells us not to be conformed to or by any worldly standards, but rather we are to be transformed, that is, a change that happens within through the renewing of our minds and hearts, Romans 12:2, because as a person thinks in their hearts, that is who they will become, Proverbs 23:7.
The Apostle Peter says it’s all about growing in both the grace and knowledge of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 3:18.
Pastor Dennis Lee is writing a series of books and pamphlets dealing with discipleship and doctrine to help the reader grow, not only in their knowledge of God, but also in how to apply biblical reality to everyday life.
You can find out more at https://spiritualtransformationseries.com
Copyright © 2019 by Dennis Lee
Bible Cliffnotes: An Easy Practical Guide to Biblical Doctrine
by Dennis Lee
Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved solely by the author. The author guarantees all contents are original and do not infringe upon the legal rights of any other person or work. No part of this book my be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author. The views expressed in this book are not necessarily those of the publisher.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scriptures quotations are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV). Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.