Who was Jesus?
No legitimate scholar denies that a Jewish man named Jesus walked on this earth about 2,000 years ago. Born in Bethlehem in the Middle East, he grew up in a small town called Nazareth. When he was about thirty years old, he began traveling to other towns and cities in Israel to teach. He gathered a band of twelve close friends along with many other women and men who left work and homes to follow him. Most reputable historians agree that three years later, Jesus was executed on a Roman cross just outside Jerusalem. These, then, are the historical facts about Jesus. The crucial questions center on whether he was God incarnate, the Messiah who rose from the dead three days after His crucifixion.
Was he God? Jesus himself thought so. He told his friends, “I and the Father are one heart and mind.” (John 10:30, MSG). This leaves us with three possibilities (as C.S. Lewis so aptly pointed out): Either he was lying, crazy, or telling the truth. A “good man” doesn’t go around telling others that he’s God if he’s not. The teachings of this Jewish man have inspired leaders like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi—could he be as articulate and wise if he were lying or not mentally sound?
Did he rise from the dead? After Jesus died, his close friends were terrified. They stayed in hiding, believing that their lives were in danger. Something significant must have taken place three days later. These cowering, uneducated common folk began teaching boldly that Jesus was the risen Messiah, in spite of immense persecution and condemnation. They claimed the Spirit of Jesus was alive and with them still, teaching and leading his followers.
Was it a conspiracy? It couldn’t have been. All of them—every one of his eleven closest friends and others—affirmed the resurrection of Jesus even when enduring their own executions. Conspiracies don’t have that strong a hold on so many marginalized people at once—only truth can survive such a determined plan of extinction by powerful, educated opponents.
Was he the Messiah? When asked this question, Jesus said, “I who am speaking to you am He.” He fulfilled over 300 messianic prophecies written in the Old Testament scriptures (learn more on BibleProbe.com). With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the reliability of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, both of which have been proven to exist prior to the time Jesus walked on the earth, these prophecies were not “invented” after-the-fact. (See Why the Bible?) They were fulfilled by life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
Once again, Jesus didn’t mince words about his identity: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Most people agree that Jesus was a “good man” of sound mind (read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to see why). How then could a good man make such an outrageous claim about himself? Ask yourself what the only logically consistent alternative must be.
Why the Bible?
As Christians, we believe that Bible is the word of God with the power to change lives:
God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. (Hebrews 4:12, MSG)
But our faith is not about having a relationship with a book. It’s about a relationship between living, breathing beings—God and human beings. The Bible’s purpose is to lead us into this intimate relationship with God.
In the Old Testament, the book of Song of Songs paints a picture of God as a bridegroom full of romantic ardor for his bride. Jesus uses the metaphor of a broken-hearted Father longing for his son’s return, pursuing reconciliation and love between his two sons. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible portrays the God of the Universe seeking an intimate relationship with us and longing for peace in our relationships with one another. That’s exactly why “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14, MSG).
Christians, therefore, can’t approach Scripture outside the context of relationships—we must read and interpret the Bible in communion with God through the Spirit and in communion with each other through the church. Verses from the Bible can and have been used for evil purposes, even during Jesus’ life as he fasted and prayed in the desert. We seek the illumination and “breath” of God’s Spirit as we read and meditate on the Bible.
Ultimately, because of God’s relational requirements, Christians trust the Holy Spirit’s power to work perfectly through an imperfect church. In submitting to the authority of the Bible, we place our faith in the apostles’ teaching, recorded and canonized through the excellent scholarship of a praying Christian community. Then, as now, no individual Christian may claim to grasp and interpret all biblical truth single-handedly.
Even as we meditate on Scripture ourselves, we also listen to the Word of God taught by thoughtful Christians, see the Word of God obeyed by faithful Christians, and discover more about biblical truth every day—all within the context of right relationships.
What the Bible Says About Itself
Quoting the book of Deuteronomy during his battle against temptation, Jesus said, “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.” (Matthew 4:4, MSG)
St. Paul writes that “every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17, MSG).
How Our Bible Came to Be
During the last half of the fourth century, church leaders gathered to decide through prayer and study which of the collected books and letters had the stamp of divine authority. Presbyterians believe that the end product, the canonized Bible, is the final and complete Word of God:
We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures. (Second Helvetic Confession, 5.001)
The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA) affirms that “… the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments…[are]…, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to [them]” (Book of Order G-14.0405b.2).
A collection of 66 individual books, our Bible is divided into the Old Testament, with 39 books originally written primarily in Hebrew, and the New Testament, with 27 books originally written mainly in Greek.
More than you want to know?
What’s the difference between the Jewish Bible, the Catholic Old Testament, and the Presbyterian, or Protestant, Old Testament?
The Hebrew Bible has 24 books. This list, or “canon,” was affirmed at the Councils of Jamnia in A.D. 90 and 118. The Protestant Old Testament includes exactly the same information, but it is organized into 39 books. For example, the Hebrew Bible has one book of Samuel, while the Protestant Bible divides the same text into I and II Samuel. In addition to these 39 books, the Catholic Old Testament includes Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch (includes the Letters of Jeremiah), I and II Maccabees, and additions to Daniel and Esther. These books were included in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of a different Hebrew canon. Early church fathers, who relied on the Septuagint (they could read Greek, but not Hebrew), sometimes quoted these books as Scripture.
The status of the books continued to be debated throughout the Middle Ages. At the time of the Reformation, Protestants decided that, because the additional books weren’t in the Hebrew Bible, they shouldn’t be in the Christian Bible, either (though they were included in early editions of the King James Bible). Catholics, at the Council of Trent (1546), decided to keep the “deutero-canonical” books. Protestants and Catholics use the same New Testament, the content of which was defined by Athanasius in 367. The Councils of Hippo (AD 393) and Carthage (AD 397) accepted the 27 books that now appear in the New Testament.