On the New Testament
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by Mark Driscoll
Description: Clear, biblical answers to some of the most common questions about the New Testament--all in one concise book you'll actually read!
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: June 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [131 KB]
Reading time: 66-92 min.
Life of Jesus (roughly 0-AD 33)
* Four hundred silent years end with John the Baptizer and Jesus (Matt. 3:1-17; 17:9-13; Luke 1:8-17). New Testament (AD 45-95)
* Jesus spoke of Old Testament history as existing from Abel (Genesis) to Zechariah (the time of Malachi) (Matt.23:35; Luke 11:51).
* Jesus described the Old Testament as Law, Prophets, and Psalms (Luke 24:44).
* Jesus quoted the Old Testament freely for teaching.
* Jesus and the New Testament writers never quote any apocryphal books. They accepted the Old Testament as we have it.
* Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would inspire his disciples (John 14:26; 16:13).
* New Testament writers were nearly all eyewitnesses (e.g., 1 John 1:1-3).
* New Testament books claim to be Scripture (1 Cor.14:37; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:15; Col 4:16; Rev. 1:3).
* New Testament authors claim works of other disciples were Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
* After all eyewitnesses died, some pseudepigraphal (pen named) books were written by people pretending to be apostles.
* Almost all New Testament books were accepted by the second century, and all were finalized by the fourth century.
* No apocryphal books were accepted until the Catholic Council of Trent in 1546. Pseudepigrapha
* Authors under pen names pretend to be eyewitnesses to Jesus and write various false
gospels (e.g., the Gospel of Thomas).
5. Why Should I Trust the Transmitted Manuscripts of the New Testament?
Some people struggle with believing that the early copies of the original books of the Bible are trustworthy. To help bolster your confidence in the early copies, I would like to simply compare the New Testament books with various other books that are widely read and accepted in Western literature. This will show how trustworthy the earliest copies of the Bible were and how close to the original writings of the New Testament they were.
Three general tests exist for determining the historicity of any ancient text: the bibliographical test (number and quality of manuscripts), the internal test (the consistency of the text to not contradict itself), and the external test (the accuracy of the text in relation to other works of history from that period).
1. The Bibliographical Test
The bibliographical test seeks to determine the historicity of an ancient text by analyzing the quantity and quality of copied manuscripts, as well as how far removed they are from the time of the originals. The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature. There are more than five thousand Greek manuscripts, about eight thousand Latin manuscripts, and another one thousand manuscripts in other languages (Syriac, Coptic, etc.). As chart 1.3 illustrates, both the number of transmitted manuscripts we possess of Scripture and their proximity in date to the autographa are astounding and unparalleled in the canon of Western literature.
[Footnote 49: Taken from I'm Glad You Asked by Kenneth Boa and Larry Moody (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1995), 78. Copyright 1995 Cook Communications Ministries. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.]
Chart 1.3 Extant Manuscripts of Ancient Classics
ca. 850 BC
ca. 450 BC
ca. 440 BC
ca. 420 BC
ca. 380 BC
ca. 350 BC
ca. 60 BC
ca. 50 BC
ca. 10 BC
ca. AD 100
ca. AD 60
Earliest Copy * * * *
ca. AD 900
ca. AD 1100
ca. AD 900
ca. AD 900
ca. AD 1100
ca. AD 900
ca. AD 1500 * * * *
ca. AD 1100
ca. AD 130
About 1,350 years
About 1,500 years
About 1,300 years
About 1,300 years
About 1,400 years
About 950 years
About 1,600 years--
About 1,000 years
About 100 years
Not enough copies to reconstruct the original
The age of the manuscripts is also excellent. Possibly the oldest manuscript is a scrap of papyrus containing John 18:31-33 and 37-38, dating from AD 125-, no more than forty years after John's Gospel was likely written. Bible scholar and papyrologist Carsten Peter Thiede even claims that he has dated a fragment of Mat-thew to about AD 60. By comparing the ancient manuscripts, we find that the vast majority of variations are minor elements of spelling, grammar, and style, or accidental omissions or duplications of words or phrases. Only about four hundred (less than one page of an English translation) have any significant bearing on the meaning of a passage, and most are footnoted in modern English translations. Overall, 97 to 99 percent of the New Testament can be reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and no Christian doctrine is founded solely or even primarily on textually disputed passages.
[Footnote 50: Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew D'Ancona, Eyewitness to Jesus: Amazing New Manuscript Evidence about the Origin of the Gospels (New York: Doubleday, 1996).]
Moreover, the Scriptures quoted in the works of the early Christian writers (most AD 95-150) are so extensive that virtually the entire New Testament can be reconstructed, except for eleven verses, mostly from 2 and 3 John.
Critics of the accuracy of the Bible routinely claim that it is in fact a series of fables and legends that have developed over hundreds of years because there are not enough copies of ancient manuscripts to alleviate their skepticism. However, a simple shepherd boy dealt a death blow to their criticisms in 1947. He wandered into a cave in the Middle East and discovered large pottery jars filled with leather scrolls that had been wrapped in linen cloth. Amazingly, the ancient copies of the books of the Bible were in good condition despite their age and the harsh climate because they had been well sealed for nearly nineteen hundred years. What are now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls are made up of some forty thousand inscribed ancient fragments. From these fragments, more than five hundred books have been reconstructed, including some Old Testament books, such as a complete copy of Isaiah.
Simply, if someone seeks to eliminate the trustworthiness of the New Testament, then to be consistent they would also have to dismiss virtually the entire canon of Western literature and pull everything from Homer to Plato to Aristotle off of book-store shelves and out of classroom discussions.
2. The Internal Test
This test of the Bible's accuracy is indeed important because each book is a witness to a body of truth and, much like a legal case in our day, if a witness were to contradict himself, then his testimony should not be deemed trustworthy. While there is not sufficient time in a brief booklet to thoroughly defend the internal consistency of the Bible, I will provide a few simple examples that illustrate the amazing internal unity of the Bible.
Neither Islam nor any other world religion or cult can present any specific prophecies concerning the coming of their prophets. In the Bible, however, we see hundreds of fulfilled prophecies extending hundreds and sometimes more than a thousand years into the future. At the time of its writing, upwards of one-quarter of Scripture was prophetic in nature. Consider the following prophecies and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ:
+ Seven hundred years before Jesus' birth, Isaiah promised that Jesus' mother would be a virgin who would conceive by a miracle.
[Footnote 51: Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-23.]
+ Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Micah promised that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.
[Footnote 52: Mic. 5:2; Luke 2:1-7.]
+ Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Hosea promised that Jesus'family would flee as refugees to Egypt to save his young life.
[Footnote 53: Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:13-15.]
+ Four hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Malachi promised that Jesus would enter the temple. Since the temple was destroyed in AD 70, this prophecy could not be fulfilled anytime after AD 70.
[Footnote 54: Mal. 3:1; Luke 2:25-27.]
+ Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Zechariah promised that Jesus would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.
[Footnote 55: Zech. 11:12-13; Matt. 26:14-15.]
+ One thousand years before the birth of Jesus, David promised that lots would be cast for Jesus' clothing.
[Footnote 56: Ps. 22:18; John 19:23-24.]
+ One thousand years before the birth of Jesus (and hundreds of years before the invention of crucifixion), David promised that Jesus would be crucified.
[Footnote 57: Ps. 22:16; Luke 23:33.]
+ Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah promised that Jesus would die and be buried in a rich man's tomb.
[Footnote 58: Isa. 53:8-9; Matt. 27:57-60; Luke 23:46.]
+ One thousand years before the birth of Jesus, David promised that Jesus would resurrect from death; seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah also promised that Jesus would resurrect from death.
[Footnote 59: Ps. 16:10.]
[Footnote 60: Isa. 53:10-12; Acts 2:25-32.]
The fulfillment of these prophetic promises shows the divine inspiration of Scripture and proves that there is a sovereign God who rules over human history and brings events to pass just as he ordains them. Because of these facts, we can trust the internal consistency of the Bible to be a chorus of faithful witnesses who sing together in harmony about the glory of Jesus Christ.
3. The External Test
The historicity of Jesus and events surrounding the time of his life has been well established by early Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources. Such ancient sources include Flavius Josephus, Mara BarSerapion, Cornelius Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Lucian, and the Jewish Talmud. Simply, when the New Testament mentions historical facts such as rulers, nations, people groups, political events, and the existence of Jesus, non-Christian historical sources confirm the accuracy of the New Testament accounts. The following are three examples of ancient non-Christian historians confirming the New Testament teaching about Jesus' living, dying, and rising:
1. Josephus (AD 37-100). Josephus was a Jewish historian born just a few years after Jesus died. His most celebrated passage, called the "Testimonium Flavianum," says:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with plea-sure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
[Footnote 61: Flavius Josephus, "Jewish Antiquities" in The New Complete Works of Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 18.63-64 (emphasis added).]
2. Suetonius (AD 70-160). Suetonius was a Roman historian and annalist of the Imperial House. In his biography of Nero (Nero ruled AD 54-68), Suetonius mentions the persecution of Christians by indirectly referring to the resurrection: "Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition [the resurrection]."
[Footnote 62: Suetonius, "Vita Nero" in The Lives of the Caesars, trans. J. C. Rolfe (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004), 16.11-13 (emphasis added).]
3. Pliny the Younger (AD 61 or 62-113). Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan around 111 describing early Christian worship gatherings that met early on Sunday mornings in memory of Jesus' resurrection day:
I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature of the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds for starting an investigation and how far it should be pressed.... They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day [Sunday in remembrance of Jesus' resurrection] to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god.... 
[Footnote 63: Pliny the Younger, The Letters of Pliny the Younger, trans. Betty Radice (New York: Penguin, 1969), 10.96.1-7, 293-94 (emphasis added).]
In conclusion, there is more than sufficient reason to believe in the trustworthiness of the New Testament manuscripts. The bibliographical, internal, and historical evidences confirm that the New Testament we have today is what was originally written. Furthermore, not only was God the Holy Spirit involved in inspiring the New Testament, but because of his providential hand, we can rest assured that he was also involved in the preservation of his Word.
6. What Is the Central Point of the New Testament?
The word gospel simply means "good news." The central message of the New Testament is the gospel, or good news, about the person and work of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul provides the most succinct summary of the gospel: the man Jesus is also God, or Christ, and died on a cross in our place, paying the penalty for our sins; three days later he rose to conquer sin and death and give the gift of salvation to all who believe in him alone for eternal life.
As sinners, we are prone to pursue a relationship with God in one of two ways. The first is religion/spirituality and the second is the gospel. The two are antithetical in every way.
[Footnote 64: I owe a special thanks to Tim Keller for his conversations with me over the years regarding the distinctions between religion and the gospel. For more on this topic, listen to or watch his session from Reform and Resurge 2006 called "Preaching the Gospel" (theresurgence.com/reform_resurge_ conference_2006) and read "Keller on Preaching in a Post-Modern City" (www.redeemer2. com/themovement/issues/2004/june/postmoderncity_1_p1.html).]
Religion says that if we obey God, he will love us. The gospel says that it is because God has loved us through Jesus that we can obey. Religion says that the world is filled with good people and bad people. The gospel says that the world is filled with bad people who are either repentant or unrepentant. Religion says that you should trust in what you do as a good moral person. The gospel says that you should trust in the perfectly sinless life of Jesus because he alone is the only good and truly moral person who will ever live. The goal of religion is to get from God such things as health, wealth, insight, power, and control. The goal of the gospel is not the gifts God gives, but rather God as the gift given to us by grace. Religion is about what I have to do. The gospel is about what I get to do. Religion sees hardship in life as punishment from God. The gospel sees hardship in life as sanctifying affliction that reminds us of Jesus' sufferings and is used by God in love to make us more like Jesus. Religion is about me. The gospel is about Jesus. Religion leads to an uncertainty about my standing before God because I never know if I have done enough to please God. The gospel leads to a certainty about my standing before God because of the finished work of Jesus on my behalf on the cross. Religion ends in either pride (because I think I am better than other people) or despair (because I continually fall short of God's commands). The gospel ends in humble and confident joy because of the power of Jesus at work for me, in me, through me, and sometimes in spite of me.
In summary, the central point of the New Testament is that we are more wicked than we ever feared, yet more loved than we ever dreamed.
7. What Principles Can Help Me Interpret the New Testament?
In this section I will not delve into the finer points of hermeneutical and exegetical arguments. Such discussions are profitable and have been aptly dealt with in more lengthy and scholarly books. Rather, my hope is to provide practical answers to important questions along the lines of what I tell the people I have the privilege of serving as their pastor. The following helpful steps for interpreting the New Testament are not so much taken from the stacks of books I have read on the issue, but rather are taken from my ongoing life with Jesus in Scripture.
[Footnote 65: For example, see Is There A Meaning in This Text? by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).]
First, place yourself under Scripture to be interpreted by it, not over Scripture to interpret it. We are to come to the Scriptures accepting them as our highest authority and allowing them to be a means by which God examines our hearts and lives to find sin, folly, rebellion, hurt, damage, stain, and longing. There are ultimately only two ways to view the Bible. The first is illustrated by placing the Bible on the ground and standing on it to show my rule over it; the second is by picking it up and holding it over my head to show its rule over me. It is this second approach to Scripture that I long for you to embrace and live under, as it is utterly transforming in every way. On this point, Hebrews 4:12-13 speaks of Scripture like a scalpel held by God to cut evil and its effects from our souls: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
Second, trust your English translations of the Bible. The original copies of the New Testament (called the autographa) were carefully hand-copied by trained scribes so that other copies could be made available for people to read. This process was painstaking and was the only means by which any ancient document could be reproduced until the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century AD.
While the handwritten copies had the occasional minor error (e.g., spelling or punctuation), the existence of multiple copies allowed the scribes to determine which scrolls had mistakes. Thus, the copied scrolls were accepted as accurate and authoritative by God's people in the Old Testament. Also, the apostles, who were the senior leaders in the early church, taught from copies of the Old Testament books of the Bible. The early church tested all teachings against the existing Old Testament scrolls. Furthermore, Jesus himself taught from copies of the Old Testament books, not the autographa, and treated them as authoritative. In conclusion, God's people have always relied on manuscripts, and these writings have proven to be accurate and trustworthy. Jesus' own perfect example assures us of their trustworthiness. In addition, we trust this same process when reading every other ancient document because we do not usually have access to their original copies either, but have depended on copies for our modern translations.
[Footnote 66: Deut. 17:18 cf. 1 Kings 2:3; Ezra 7:14; Neh. 8:8.]
[Footnote 67: Acts 17:2; 18:8.]
[Footnote 68: Acts 17:11.]
[Footnote 69: Matt. 12:3-5; 21:16, 42; Luke 4:16-42; 10:26.]
In translating the Bible into English, including the New Testament, four general categories of translation are most common: word-for-word translations, thought-for-thought translations, paraphrases, and corruptions. The same four options are also used in the translation of other ancient books into English.
Word-for-word translations (also known as literal translations) make a special effort to carefully interpret each word from the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic into English. Word-for-word translations emphasize God, the divine author of Scripture, over the human reader of Scripture. The result is a striving for the precision of what the Bible says, much like one would expect in other important communications, such as legal documents, marriage vows, or contracts.
Word-for-word translations tend to be the best for studying because of their ac-curacy, though they sometimes lose the poetic nuances of the original languages. The best-known word-for-word translation is the King James Version (KJV). However, because of its use of archaic English, it is very difficult for some people to read. Prob-ably the best word-for-word translations are the English Standard Version (ESV), which I preach from, the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the New King James Version (NKJV).
The philosophy of word-for-word translation guided virtually every English Bible translation until the middle of the twentieth century. At that time, thought-for-thought translation became popular.
Thought-for-thought translations (also known as dynamic equivalence or functional equivalence translations) attempt to convey the full nuance of each passage by interpreting the Scripture's entire meaning and not just the individual words. Thought-for-thought translations may include words that were not included in the original text in an effort to give the same meaning that the reader of the original languages would have had.
The best and most widely read thought-for-thought English translation is the New International Version (NIV). Other thought-for-thought translations include Today's New International Version (TNIV), New Living Translation (NLT), Contemporary English Version (CEV), and the Good News Bible (GNB). The benefit of thought-for-thought translations in general, and the NIV--my favorite thought-for-thought translation--in particular, is that they are easy to understand and make the Bible accessible to a wide number of people.
Going one step further than thought-for-thought translations are paraphrases, which combine both Scripture and interpretive commentary into the translation method.
Paraphrased translations pay even less attention to specific word meanings than thought-for-thought translations in an attempt to capture the poetic or narrative essence of a passage. For this reason, many paraphrased translations do not even have verse divisions in them. Examples of paraphrased translations include The Message (TM), The Living Bible (TLB), and The Amplified Bible (AMP).
Corruptions are "translations" of Scripture that clearly seek to undermine the very teaching of Scripture. These "translations" are very poor and should not be used as credible translations for study. These include the Jehovah's Witness translation called the New World Translation, which was written in large part to eliminate the deity of Jesus Christ. This is in no way a translation but rather a terrible corruption of Scripture.
While some translations are better than others, it is important to note that various translations have various strengths and weaknesses and that the student of Scripture benefits from enjoying multiple translations. Furthermore, rather than fighting over translations, Christians should praise God for every good English translation and trust God the Holy Spirit to use them to transform our lives. However, I would en-courage you to use the English Standard Version or another good word-for-word translation as your primary study tool while using other translations as secondary resources for your studies.
Third, do not read into the Scriptures but read from the Scriptures. Each text of the Bible has only one true interpretation and so we must be careful to read the truth out of the Bible (exegesis) rather than reading our beliefs and desires into it (eisegesis). Tragically, too many people come to the Bible not to learn what it says, but rather to make it say what they want it to say by ripping statements from their original contexts and wrongly using them to support untruth, which is grievous to God. Imagine how frustrated you would be if someone went through your various e-mails pulling words and phrases out of context and then compiled them to say something you did not say and impugned your character in the process?
Fourth, interpret the Bible literally. While some people will stress that we should not take the Bible literally, they will themselves become quite insulted if we do not take their command literally. The fact is that people speak and books are written because someone is trying to say something that is important enough for them to go through the trouble of communicating. The Bible is no different. For example, Jesus died because he kept claiming to be God, and had he not meant to have been taken literally, it seems silly that he would die a brutal death rather than explain that he was only kidding, or at least misunderstood. The Bible should be received like all other forms of communication wherein we assume that what we are reading, seeing, or hearing is to be taken literally, unless to do so is nonsense. In those cases, we assume that a literal truth is being communicated in a figurative way that requires our imagination to appreciate. For example, when Paul writes that some men are "dogs," he does not mean that they have a tail and can catch a Frisbee in their mouth. Indeed, Paul is speaking literally but in a figurative way. In this way, the Bible, like other forms of communication, continually speaks literally in either a plain-literal or a figurative-literal fashion. When the Bible speaks in a figurative-literal fashion, it often tips us off with the words "like" or "as" that indicate figurative speech.
[Footnote 70: Phil. 3:2.]
Fifth, distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive texts of Scripture. The difference is that descriptive texts report what happened, whereas prescriptive texts prescribe what should happen. This point is important because the Bible includes many negative examples of human behavior as well as isolated events that may not be repeated often, if ever. For example, the New Testament reports that Judas hung himself, but since that is a descriptive text and not a prescriptive text we should not do the same. In Acts 2 we read that during Pentecost tongues of fire appeared above the people's heads, but we should not expect this to happen all the time because it was a unique event. Conversely, the Bible includes many prescriptive texts that tell us to do something such as love our enemies, which means we should.
Sixth, read and study the Scriptures intentionally. When I study a passage or book of Scripture, I ask some questions that help me to interpret what I am reading. These questions include:
1. Who is the author?
2. Who is the audience that is being spoken to?
3. What was the original cultural context?
3. What was the original cultural 4. Why was the book written?
5. What are the units of thought in the book?
6. What is the biblical context?
a. What are the surrounding verses?
b. How does this verse/passage fit into the overall book?
c. How does this verse/book fit into overall biblical revelation?
7. What is revealed about God (e.g., an attribute such as holiness or love)?
8. How does this connect to Jesus?
9. What sins do I need to repent of?
10. What principles need integration in my life?
Seventh, be careful not to confuse principles and methods. The principles of Scripture are timeless whereas the methods for obeying them are timely. The Bible allows both a closed hand of timeless truth and an open hand of timely methods. However, great error ensues when the two are confused. For example, Colossians 3:16 commands God's people to "[sing] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." That is the timeless biblical principle. To be obedient we must then develop cultural methods by deciding when the church gathers, where it gathers, who leads the singing, what songs are chosen, how many times each song is sung, what instruments (if any) are used, etc. Another example is Paul's admonition to women in 1 Corinthians 11:2-15 to wear a head covering. Apparently women wanted to be spiritual leaders in the church but did not respect godly authority and were being divisive. Paul says that such women were acting shamefully, like the whores and lesbians of that day (for example, Numbers 5:18 speaks of a woman with her hair down as an adulteress; Deuteronomy 21:12-13 relates a woman with a shaved head to humiliation and mourning). In our culture, the method of wearing a head covering is not widely seen as a symbol of submission to godly authority, but the principle that godly women are to respect godly spiritual authority remains. Therefore, in our day the equivalent to the issue in Corinth would be a married woman who takes off her wedding ring, dresses scantily, and expects to stand in front of the church and be respected as a spiritual leader. Simply, principles are timeless and their cultural methods must be timely.
Eighth, come to the Scriptures seeking principles for application. Application means taking what we learn from the principles in the Bible and making changes in our thoughts and actions by God the Holy Spirit's empowering grace so that our life is congruent with the Bible. While there is only one correct interpretation of a portion of Scripture, there are a seemingly infinite number of applications for the same text. For example, when the Bible says that we should help those in need, the applications for that principle are endless. The practice of application is important for two reasons. First, if we do not apply what we learn we are by definition hypocrites. Second, as Christians we are citizens of God's counter-cultural kingdom and are supposed to live in such a way that those who see our lives will see biblical wisdom and be interested in our King, namely Jesus, and the better way of life that he grants through the teachings of Scripture.
Ninth, read the Scriptures realistically. The New Testament does speak a lot about the church, but does so with painful honesty. Oddly, it is not uncommon for people to read the New Testament as if it presents a flawless church filled with flawless people who loved and served Jesus flawlessly. This kind of utopian reading of the New Testament leads to despair with one's church at best, and judgmental arrogance at worst. Admittedly, the New Testament does speak of a few decent churches in generally favorable terms, such as the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica. However, the churches and Christians in the New Testament are anything but the kind of utopian dream that too many Christians somehow see when reading their Bible. For example, the church at Galatia was filled with legalistic false doctrine that was demonic. The church at Ephesus struggled with racism. The notorious Corinthian church was rebuked for everything from a greedy lack of church tithing to drunkenness, feminism, disrespecting spiritual authority, suing one another, getting drunk at communion, having out-of-control worship services, and promoting every conceivable kind of sexual perversion (including prostitution, cross-dressing transvestism, cohabitation, homosexuality, and a guy who slept with his own mother, or stepmother, with the church's approval). In summary, the reason the Bible has so many commands is because so few Christians and Christian churches were obeying, and any accurate reading of the New Testament must include a humble recognition that we and our churches each have a lot of sanctification to experience.
8. How Did Jesus Interact with the Scriptures?
Christians are told to "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." To become skilled at something requires discipline. Consequently, what good musicians, athletes, and Christians share in common is discipline, which curiously shares the same root word as disciple. Therefore, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a person who lives a disciplined lifestyle patterned after the example of Jesus by the enabling of the same Holy Spirit who empowered him. The spiritual disciplines are varying habits in our lives through which God works to mold us to be continually more like Jesus. Examples of these disciplines include study, silence and solitude, fellowship, Scripture memorization, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, journaling, and fasting.
[Footnote 71: 1 Tim. 4:7 (NASB).]
[Footnote 72: If you would like to study the spiritual disciplines in greater detail, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney is a wonderful resource (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997). Also helpful are Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (New York: HarperCollins, 1998) and Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).]
I would like to mention two important points about the spiritual disciplines. First, the spiritual disciplines are not something we have to do to make God love us. Rather, because God already loves us, the spiritual disciplines are something that we get to do as we love him back and enjoy growing in our loving relationship with him. Second, the spiritual disciplines are not intended to enslave us. Rather, they are intended to lead us into growing freedom in the same way that a trained athlete or musician is free to enjoy the task more than a novice.
Because Jesus humbly entered into history as a human being, he had to grow and learn just like we do. In examining the life of Jesus, we see seven ways in which Scripture was closely connected with his habitual practice of certain spiritual disciplines. In examining how Jesus interacted with the Old Testament Scriptures, we learn how we are to likewise interact with both the Old Testament Scriptures, which promised Jesus' coming, and the New Testament Scriptures, which reveal the fulfillment of the Old Testament longings for the coming of Jesus.
[Footnote 73: Luke 2:52]
First, Jesus studied Scripture. Luke 2:46-52 records the amazing biblical insights that Jesus had even as a young boy:
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his under-standing and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
Second, Jesus memorized Scripture. In keeping with the Old Testament commands,  Jesus quoted Scripture often and freely. One amazing example is found in Matthew 4:1-11 where in weariness following forty days of fasting, Jesus fended off Satan by freely quoting memorized portions of Deuteronomy.
[Footnote 74: Ps. 119:11; Prov. 22:17-19.]
Third, Jesus obeyed Scripture. Jesus' life was lived without sin, which means that he completely and continually lived in obedience to Scripture. Furthermore, Jesus taught that anyone who follows in his example of obeying Scripture would be blessed: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" Likewise, in John 13:17 Jesus said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." Indeed, simply hearing God is not sufficient; it must be accompanied with obedience if we hope to be blessed as Jesus was.
[Footnote 75: Heb. 4:15.]
[Footnote 76: Luke 11:28.]
Fourth, to remain intimately connected to God the Father, Jesus often spent time in silence and solitude. Solitude is fasting from people for a prescribed time to connect with God and replenish the soul. Solitude is not punishment like that inflicted on prisoners, and is not intended to be indefinite as practiced by some extremist monks. Instead, solitude is the recognition that, just as we need time with those we love to build our relationships, so too we need time with Jesus to build our relationship with him. Like all relationships, this includes using the special times we get with him to listen to him as we read Scripture and speak to him in prayer. Despite the constant pressures upon his time from family, friends, and fans, Jesus' own life was marked by ongoing times of silence and solitude. Luke 5:16 (NIV) says that "Jesus often with-drew to lonely places and prayed."
Fifth, Jesus lived in community. In addition to regularly taking time for solitude, we also see in Scripture that Jesus spent considerable amounts of time in community with others. In fact, Jesus spent most of his time in community with his disciples and frequently had dinner in the homes of people he was befriending. Jesus seemed to have particularly close fellowship with the youngest disciple, John, the sisters Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Therefore, in Jesus' example we see that both getting alone with God to learn Scripture and enjoying time with people to live Scripture are equally important to cultivating a healthy, biblical life.
[Footnote 77: John 11:5; 13:23.]
Sixth, Jesus taught Scripture. The gospels record people calling Jesus "Rabbi," which simply means Bible teacher, no less than thirteen times. When asked various theological questions, Jesus responded on a dozen occasions by pointing to the Scriptures and asking his critics, "Have you not read?"
Seventh, Jesus shared the truths of Scripture evangelistically with non-Christians. The Scriptures are not meant solely for personal study or discussion with believing friends, but are also vitally important to helping lost people meet the God of the Bible. For example, Jesus spent time with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and ate dinner with Zacchaeus and his crooked friends in Luke 19. Furthermore, in Luke 19:10 Jesus explained his earthly mission in evangelistic terms: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Lastly, one of Jesus' final commands in Scripture was that we also take the truth of the Scriptures to the nations: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
[Footnote 78: Matt. 28:18-20.]
Having examined how Jesus' life was interwoven with Scripture, we are now pre-pared to examine the final question, addressing how we should come to the Scriptures.
9. How Should I Come to the Scriptures?
I have reserved this question as the last to answer because, practically speaking, it is perhaps the most important. I grew up in a home where copies of the Bible were available, yet, sadly, I do not remember ever picking up a Bible to read until the age of nineteen in college. God made me a Christian while I was sitting on my bed in a college dorm reading the New Testament book of Romans.
Since that day, my entire life has been changed by God the Holy Spirit working through the Bible to reveal to me the person and work of Jesus Christ. My entire family and ministry are built upon the Scriptures. One of my greatest heroes outside of the Bible is the great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). One of his quotes has remained with me for many years. He said, "A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone whose life is not."
One of the first things we learn in the Bible is that God speaks. In Genesis, he speaks creation into existence and speaks to our first parents Adam and Eve. Following their sin in Genesis 3, God again came to speak to them about the coming of Jesus, who would take away their sin.
God always has and always will speak to us. God speaks to everyone through the means of their conscience and creation. God speaks most clearly through the Scriptures. Therefore, because both Jesus and I love you, I want to give a few practical suggestions for interpreting your own heart before coming to the Scriptures.
First, come to Scripture prayerfully. Before reading and studying Scripture, we must pray that the Holy Spirit would teach us his Word. Because the Holy Spirit inspired the writings of the Bible and dwells in Christians, we trust that he will also illuminate our understanding of his Word if we humbly ask him. Furthermore, Paul says that only through the Holy Spirit can we come to a correct interpretation of Scripture.
[Footnote 79: 1 Cor. 2:6-16.]
Second, come to Scripture in community. You need to actively serve and participate in a local church to learn with and from other Christians. The first thing in history that God said was not good was being alone. Our God exists in a Trinitarian community of Father, Son, and Spirit, and he made us in his image and likeness, which means that we too are meant for community. The community he has made for us is his church. Nothing replaces being with God's people in relationships gathered around the Scriptures. The New Testament itself models this. Most of its books are letters written to churches, and those that were written to individuals instruct them how to serve and lead churches. Some simple examples of what Scripture says we are to do with what we learn from the Bible include:
[Footnote 80: Col. 3:16.]
[Footnote 81: Gen. 2:18.]
+ "Live in harmony with one another."
[Footnote 82: Rom. 12:16.]
+ "Love each other.... "
[Footnote 83: Rom. 13:8.]
+ "Welcome one another.... "
[Footnote 84: Rom. 15:7.]
+ "Instruct one another."
[Footnote 85: Rom. 15:14.]
+ "Greet one another.... "
[Footnote 86: Rom. 16:16.]
+ "Serve one another."
[Footnote 87: Gal. 5:13.]
+ "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.... "
[Footnote 88: Eph. 4:32.]
+ "Addressing one another.... "
[Footnote 89: Eph. 5:19.]
+ "Teaching and admonishing one another.... "
[Footnote 90: Col. 3:16.]
+ "Exhort one another.... "
[Footnote 91: Heb. 3:13.]
+ "Stir up one another.... "
[Footnote 92: Heb. 10:24.]
+ "Show hospitality to one another.... "
[Footnote 93: 1 Pet. 4:9.]
Third, come to Scripture attentively. Romans 10:17 stresses the importance of hearing Scripture: "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." Therefore, it is important to listen to Scripture continually. This would include reading Scripture to any children in your life, reading Scripture aloud with your spouse if you are married, and listening to Scripture, such as on your iPod. Additionally, Paul commands church leaders to "preach the word." One of the most significant ways that God's Word can grow your faith is by hearing it preached passionately, truthfully, and clearly in a Bible-believing church every week. Furthermore, downloading good Bible preaching and teaching from the Internet is incredibly helpful supplemental hearing of God's Word. As a practical aside, to come to the Scriptures attentively requires practicing the twenty-first century spiritual discipline of fasting from interrupting technology. This includes occasionally turning off our cell phones and Internet connections to focus on Scripture without interruption.
[Footnote 94: 2 Tim. 4:2.]
Fourth, come to Scripture humbly. In the opening pages of Genesis we see Satan rise up to proudly disagree with what God had said. The best way to come to Scripture is humbly bowing our heads in worship so that our beliefs, desires, and opinions are open to being changed in order to conform to God's Word.
[Footnote 95: Gen. 3:1-5.]
[Footnote 96: Heb. 4:12-13.]
Fifth, come to Scripture devotedly. By continually memorizing Scripture you are giving the Holy Spirit opportunities to bring his Word to mind and help you apply it to the daily events of your life and the lives of those God brings into your life each day who could benefit from loving, biblical counsel.
Sixth, come to Scripture meditatively. Christian meditation differs greatly from non-Christian forms of meditation. Christian meditation is not passively emptying one's mind, looking inward for guidance, or detaching oneself from the world. Christian meditation is actively filling one's mind with Scripture to hear from God and subsequently be transformed by God to effectively serve him in the world. In short, Christian meditation is prolonged, focused, thoughtful, and prayerful deep thinking on the truths of who God is and what God has said and done according to Scripture. Past church leaders have called this "meditatio Scripturarum," or meditating upon Scripture. The concept of meditation is a fairly common theme in the Old Testament. There we find two words used for the discipline, and they appear some fifty-eight times, including in the lives of such leaders as Isaac and Joshua. In some ways the entire book of Psalms is a book of meditation and includes many references to the discipline. Meditation is also commended in the New Testament in such places as Philippians 4:8, which says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. "Summarily, meditation is not complicated or mysterious. It can be done anywhere at any time by anyone with a heart to know God better and become more like Jesus. The result is that God the Holy Spirit will honor our time and make the written Word become for us a living Word that transforms our hearts, minds, and lives by the truth.
[Footnote 97: Gen. 24:63.]
[Footnote 98: Josh. 1:8.]
[Footnote 99: Pss. 1:1-4; 19:14; 77:11-12; 119:97-99.]
Seventh, come to Scripture for life transformation, not just mental information. The purpose of Scripture is to make us increasingly more like Jesus Christ. He is a living person with whom we are to live in relationship by faith, not just a concept to be mastered at a distance.
[Footnote 100: John 5:39-40.]
Eighth, come to Scripture for relational and not just functional purposes so that you will love Jesus and not just seek to use him. In Scripture we learn that Jesus may not give us health, wealth, or comfort, but that he will give us the greatest gift of all, the gift of himself. Those who come to Scripture seeking to use or even manipulate Jesus do so in a way that is pagan and not Christian. Subsequently, such people are prone to twist the Scriptures or deny them altogether when Jesus does not allow them to rule as their god. If, however, we come to the Scriptures for no other reason than a growing relationship with the living Jesus, we will accept whatever he gives us in life and receive it gladly as a sanctifying opportunity to be both with him and like him.
[Footnote 101: Matt. 7:21-23.]
Ninth, come to Scripture humbly. Invariably, there are Scripture texts that are more difficult to interpret than others. In reading some of Paul's New Testament letters, for example, even Peter found that "there are some things in them that are hard to understand." When trying to interpret such texts, I spend a considerable amount of time examining if the immediate context helps to explain the meaning of that portion of Scripture. I then look at related Scriptures throughout the Bible to see if they help me to understand what is being said. I also give myself permission to not rush to an answer. For example, I studied the book of 1 Corinthians for more than ten years before preaching it because some parts of the book were difficult for me to understand, and it took hundreds if not thousands of hours of study to have any confidence in my interpretation. When all is said and done, sometimes I just accept that I, unlike God, do not know everything and have to live with some mysteries until heaven.
[Footnote 102: 2 Pet. 3:16.]
Tenth, come to Scripture repentantly, willing to change any thoughts or actions that are incongruent with what the Scriptures declare. Mark Twain once quipped, "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand." Indeed, sometimes the cause of poor Bible interpretation has little to do with not understanding what Scripture says, but rather not liking what Scripture says. The cause is, therefore, simply a hard heart that welcomes the truth as easily as a large rock does bullets. Romans 1:18 speaks of our propensity as sinners to "suppress the truth." The only hope of being biblical Christians who listen to God speak through his Word is to be continually aware of our propensity to oppose the truth when it does not support our sinful desires. The specific example in Romans 1 is sexual sin of every sort and kind; Paul is reminding us that our corrupt desires for such things as sinful sex will cause us to suppress the truth of what God says in an effort to act like our own gods and live by our own rules.
[Footnote 103: Alex Ayres, ed., The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 24.]
Eleventh, come to the Scriptures historically. We are not the first Christians to listen to God or interpret his communication to us. Rather, when we pick up the Scriptures we do so as part of the universal church, which includes all of our brothers and sisters in faith who have ever lived or will ever live. We would be foolish to simply come to the Scriptures alone without including them. Therefore, it is wise to double-check our interpretations with trusted Bible teachers and commentators both from the present and the past. By doing so, we are accepting the fact that we are imperfect and so are some of our interpretations, but that God the Holy Spirit has given people to the church who are gifted in teaching and can help correct our misunderstandings. For those wanting to explore the works of Christian Bible teachers throughout the history of the church, www.ccel.org is an amazing free resource, especially the "Study Bible" link. Also, appendix 1 is intended to help you build a theological library of books that will help your studies of Scripture.
Having answered nine of the more common questions about the New Testament, my hope is that you will frequently read and study the New Testament to God's glory, your joy, and the world's good.