What is the Bible?
February 1st, 1971 @ 7:30 PM
WHAT IS THE BIBLE?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-01-71 7:30 p.m.
Our compatriot and yokefellow has asked me to do an impossible thing. I do not know how I can do it without maybe raising more questions than finding answers. But, in our Bible Institute I made a talk to that group over there on “What Is the Bible”; and ever since then Dr. Bryant has insisted that I come here at this teachers and officers meeting and that I tell you some of the things that I sought to impress upon those young students in that institute. Now, I do not see how in the earth such a thing can be done in so brief a time. So you listen, and we will go just as rapidly as we can.
When I hold in my hand this King James Version of the Bible, there are some things in this text that are manifestly uninspired and nothing but sheer unadulterated superstition. For example, in the sixteenth chapter of Mark and the eighteenth verse, Jesus is quoted as saying, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them” [Mark 16:18]. There is no syllable of truth in that; that is plain superstition.
All right, let us take another verse. In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John, in explaining the miracle of the healing at the pool of Bethesda, is this fourth verse: “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had” [John 5:4]. That is another instance of plain superstition. No thing like that ever happened in the history of the world. Things like that, these two examples that I have read to you, are not in keeping with the Word of God: it is not the Word of God. Well then, what is the Word of God?
First of all, an explanation of these two passages that I have read: Mark’s Gospel, the ending of Mark’s Gospel was lost from the beginning. Not even Matthew and not even Luke knew what was the ending of Mark’s Gospel. It was lost from the beginning; no man has ever known or seen to make a record of the ending of Mark’s Gospel. Consequently, there were many, many attempts to end it, one of which is written here in the King James Version of the Bible. If you will draw a line after the eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter of Mark, that ends it. The rest of that is some unknown, superstitious secularist, uninspired, who tried to write an ending to the Gospel of Mark. This is one out of many; there are many attempts to end the Gospel of Mark, written by different men.
This passage here in the fifth chapter of John, the fourth verse, was written by a scribe, a superstitious scribe, on the edge of the margin of a manuscript [John 5:4]. And another scribe, recopying, transcribing the gospel— it’s the only way they had, they didn’t have printing—he thought the former scribe had left it out, so when he transcribed his manuscript he put it in. And that’s where that came from.
All right, now that original question: what is the Bible? The answer is very simple, and it is very plain. This is the Word of God as God inspired it, syllable by syllable, line upon line, verse by verse, word by word [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. This is the Word of God. This is a copy of my Hebrew Old Testament. Every copy of that Word of God is exactly as every other copy. No matter where in the world there is a copy of the Hebrew Old Testament, every syllable, every dot, every jot, every tittle is on the same spot on the same page, all through the centuries and all through the world. Can you see this from where you are? Can you see that, how that Book is written? Can you see it? Every copy of every Old Testament in the world is exactly like that on that page. Can you see it on that page? Every copy of every Old Testament in the world is exactly like that on that page. Can you see it here on that page? Every copy of the Old Testament in the world has the same spot, the same jot, the same word, in the same place on the identical page. Can you see it there? Can you see it here? These are just some of the instances that I have picked out in the Hebrew Old Testament.
One of the most meaningful of all of the discoveries of human history was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948. The earliest manuscript we have of this Hebrew Old Testament is about 1000 AD. This is the Masoretic text that I hold in my hand. The Masoretes, the Masoretes were Jewish rabbis who kept the transcription of this Hebrew text pure. But how do you know, over so many centuries? The latest manuscript we had of this Hebrew text was about 1000 AD, a thousand years after Christ. What the Dead Sea Scroll discovery did was to put back that manuscript to 150 BC, over a thousand years earlier. So, by comparing the manuscript, Isaiah for example, by comparing Isaiah written, transcribed 150 BC and the manuscript that we have in the Masoretic text 1000 AD, by comparing those two you can see whether the scribe made mistakes or not, as he transcribed it century after century after century. And the tremendous elucidation that came to us, a confirmation of the Word of God, was this: that in the transcription, those scribes transcribed it exactly! There is no difference through the centuries and the centuries; that scribe transcribed that Word of God beautifully and accurately.
And here in this Masoretic text you’ll find all kinds of little notations. In the back of the Bible—you’d say the front of the Bible—in the back of the Bible, page after page are these notations. How many alephs, how many beths, how many gimels, how many daleths, how many all of these letters, so that they could see to it that the transcription was exactly correct. This is the Word of God, the Old Testament.
This is the Word of God, the New Testament; page after page. Now, how do you know that that is the Word of God? Because God saw to it that there are thousands and thousands of Greek manuscripts, and you can compare those manuscripts, and you can see where a copyist made an error, or an emendation, or an interpolation. I gave you one just a moment ago. There was a copyist, a scribe, who, when he came to the miracle in the fifth chapter of John, and he was trying to explain the troubling of the water at the pool of Bethesda, all that is is a scientific fact about the gathering of the water up into a higher elevation, and then when the thing spilled over, why, it came down; but he had to write a superstitious explanation for it: that an angel came down and troubled the water [John 5:4]. Well, he wrote that on the side of the margin; and the next scribe put it in the text. You can see that. And by the comparison of the thousands of Greek manuscripts, you can know exactly what that original manuscript was.
Now look how God did that. You have one manuscript of the history of Herodotus, which is written one thousand five hundred years after Herodotus. You have maybe one or two manuscripts of Euripides, of Sophocles, of Thucydides; you have one manuscript written a thousand years after Plato wrote his book on philosophy. You have over four thousand Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. You have something like between twenty and thirty thousand Latin versions of this New Testament. You have uncounted hundreds of other versions, like Syriac and Coptic, and oh, I don’t know how many languages. These, when you compare them, bring to light exactly what that original text was.
A version—and I hold the Septuagint—this is the most famous and the greatest version, translation, that was ever made of the Bible. This is the Christian’s Bible; this is the Bible the apostles used when they preached the gospel of Christ. It was the Septuagint Version, the Septuagint translation. There are just uncounted numbers of these versions and translations. So when you put them all together and when you compare them and study them, then you have of a certainty what God inspired!
This is the Word of God in the New Testament. This is the Word of God in the Old Testament. This is a man’s attempt to translate it into English language. And the manuscripts they used in 1611 were fine, but they were somewhat faulty. That does not bother us at all—and I don’t have time to go into why I use this King James Version of the Bible; to me, it is a truer translation and a finer doctrinal expounding of the Word of God, in the English language, than any other in the world, it is to me—but this is not the inspired Word of God. This is the inspired Word of God in Hebrew; and this is the inspired Word of God in Greek. And all you need is just a pastor who loves the Word. And if there’s anything that needs to be said in the text, when he preaches, he will say it. But you can know for a surety, that the Book you hold in your hand is as fine a reproduction and translation of the Word of God as you could ever want for in your doctrinal life, in your devotional life, in preaching, in teaching. But just remember that this is a translation, it is a version. This is a translation, a version. This is the Word of God, and this is the Word of God. And when we speak of the inspired Word, we are speaking of that Hebrew Bible and of that Greek Bible.