Revive Our Hearts Podcast

People of the Book

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss asks, "How well do you know the Bible?"

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Sadly, today knowledge of the Bible may be at an all-time low for the past 400 years. So not only does that represent the loss of an important part of our heritage, but, much more importantly, it represents the loss of knowing God and knowing the way of salvation.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, May 2.

We’re observing a significant birthday this year. Nancy will explain it today. First, let’s listen to one of the most recognized pieces of text in the English language:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteouness for his name sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anoinest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” (Ps. 23).

Nancy: For centuries now, those familiar words from Psalm 23 have brought comfort and hope to millions of hearts. You probably recognize that rendition as being from the King James Version of the Bible.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the completion of the King James Bible, which is the most widely published book in the history of the English language, and undoubtedly has been the most influential English language book ever published.

People are commemorating this anniversary in a variety of ways. I’ve been reading about some of that on the Internet. There’s been a lot of books written on how we got the King James Bible.

Inspired by scribes who labored to make hand-written copies of the Bible in the Middle Ages, Methodists in England are celebrating the 400th anniversary by copying out the entire King James Bible by hand, assigning one chapter to each church.

Then I read about another church that recently had an eight-day Bible reading marathon to read out loud through the entire Bible.

The first edition of the King James Bible was published in 1611. It has had an incredibly rich and enduring legacy.

One Bible publisher had this to say about the influence of the King James Bible. It said:

For over three centuries, the King James Version served as the standard English Bible and has, as such, exerted unparalleled influence on English and American culture in nearly every sphere—including education, law, literature, government, art, science, and religion.1

Now, the English language was still in flux, still being developed in 1611, and the King James Bible had a huge influence on the development and the standardization of the English language. At that time the Bible became the text from which people learned to read, and that was true throughout the 17th century.

The Bible was everywhere—it’s hard for us to imagine that today in our much more pluralistic culture—but the Bible was everywhere. It was the theme of popular songs. It was even written out on the walls of pubs. Everywhere you turned, you would see Scripture written.

Everyone, from peasants to the King, shared the common language that was found in the King James Bible. In fact, much of the English language as we know it today has its source in the King James Bible and in the translations that led up to the King James Version.

By far, the greatest influence of the English Bible is the way that God has used it to bring the knowledge of the gospel of Christ to millions who could not otherwise have read or known it for themselves as we’re privileged to do today.

Sadly, though, today knowledge of the Bible may be at an all-time low for the past 400 years. So not only does that represent the loss of an important part of our heritage, but, much more importantly, it represents the loss of knowing God and knowing the way of salvation.

Scripture is God’s Word to man, and what an incredible gift it is that we hold this Book, the Bible in our hands, on our laps, that we can read it. It’s a gift from God.

Scripture says in Romans 10 that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (v. 17). 

Were it not for this Book, for the fact that God has revealed Himself through His Word, we could not know God. We could not have heard who He is and what He has done through Christ. We could not have believed in Christ if we did not have the Word of God.

Psalm chapter 12 puts it this way:

The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O Lord, will keep them (vv. 6-7).

That passage speaks of both the inspiration of Scripture and the preservation of Scripture. It speaks of how God sovereignly inspired the Scripture. It is His pure Word, without error, without taint of error, with no wrong in it. The words of the Lord are pure words. He sovereignly inspired it to be His pure word.

But He has also protected and preserved it as it's been transmitted from one generation to the next and one language to the next. “You, O LORD, will keep Your Words.” In both inspiration and preservation of God’s Word, we see the role of the Holy Spirit throughout the centuries.

First, the role of the Spirit in inspiration. Inspiration of the Scripture speaks to the question of how the Bible came into existence. How did it come to be?

Second Timothy tells us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (3:16). That’s the phrase that tells us the Scripture was inspired by God, it was God-breathed. God inspired the Scripture—all of Scripture.

Second Peter, chapter 1, puts it this way,

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (vv. 20-21).

So over the course of 1500 years, 40 authors—human writers—were inspired by God to record accurately exactly what God wanted to preserve for us—inspiration.

Now, inspiration doesn’t mean that those 40 authors were simply taking dictation. God worked through their human personalities, and that’s why you see the differences of those personalities and their language that comes through the different books of the Bible.

When we speak of the inspiration of Scripture, we’re speaking of the inspiration of the original manuscripts. But the problem is that we don’t have any of those manuscripts today. None of those are available today. None of those are still in existence.

So the question is: If it were the original manuscripts that were preserved, but we don’t have any of those manuscripts, how can we be sure that the Bible we’re holding in our hands today is really the Word of God?

Well, we said that not only did God inspire His Word, but He has preserved His Word. That’s where I just want to quickly introduce you to a couple of theological concepts here—things you’ll read about in systematic theologies.

First is the term canonization. That’s really the question of: How did we end up with 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books? Who said which books were supposed to go in there? Well, canonization is the God-directed process over a period of years by which the church determined which books were inspired and to be included in what is called the canon of Scripture, and which ones were not inspired and were not to be included.

So when you read about the discovery of the gospel of this or the book of that, and it says, “Oh, there’s this new thing, and it refutes what’s in the Bible, and it was long lost, but now it’s been found.” I can just tell you that that book was not inspired by the Holy Spirit to be a part of our Scripture. It may have some things in it that are true—as a lot of books do—but it’s not inspired as part of the holy canon of Scripture.

Not only in preservation do we have canonization, but we also have the process of transmission and translation of God’s Word—how it is transmitted and how it is translated from one language to another, from one generation to the next, throughout history.

Now, we know that God inspired the writing of His Word in two primary languages—the Old Testament primarily in the language of Hebrew, and the New Testament primarily in which language? Greek. Good! You guys already know all of this.

What we know from history is that the Word of God, beginning with these two original languages, was carefully copied and transmitted over the past 3500 years. When the Hebrew scribes would copy the Old Testament Scriptures, they meticulously cross-checked to make sure that the copies had absolutely zero errors.

Here’s how they did this: Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet was assigned a numerical value. When they would finish copying one line of text, the scribes would add up the numerical value of all the Hebrew letters used on that line. If the total value for a line of text was different than the original, or if any other mistake was made, they would throw the entire manuscript away and start another copy from scratch. The Scripture was carefully transmitted.

Now, over these next few days, I want to give you some snapshots and scenes from the story of how we got our English Bible in general, and the King James Bible in particular, as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Version. I’ll just tell you at the outset that this is a fascinating story, but it’s also a messy story. It’s complicated. There’s a lot of political and religious intrigue involved.

In order to get into that story, we have to go back more than a thousand years before 1611 when the King James Bible was first published. For those of you who are history buffs, I’m going to throw in some dates along the way here, but let me say here that remembering the dates is not as crucial as trying to follow the progression and the chronology of events that lead up to the publication of the King James Bible in 1611.

As I tell this story and show you snapshots from it over these next few days, I want you to be tuned and alert to see the providential oversight and hand of God throughout this process so that today we hold in our hands multiple translations of the Bible in English—which for most of us is our mother tongue. And aren’t you thankful that today we can read the Bible for ourselves in English? How did that come to be? That’s what we’re going to talk about over these next few days.

As I said, first we’ve got to go back more than a thousand years before 1611. Let me give you this date—382 AD. This is less than 400 years after the life and death and resurrection of Christ.

There was an early church father whose name was Jerome. Jerome is famous for this: He translated the New Testament from its original Greek into Latin. Subsequently, he translated the Old Testament from the Hebrew into Latin. His Bible, that Latin translation, was known as the Latin Vulgate.

That word Vulgate comes from a word that means "vulgar or common." It was the common language of the day. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate proved to be a hugely influential translation. For the next thousand years, the Latin Vulgate was the official Bible in Western Europe.

In those days the clergy, the ministers, were required to learn Latin, but no one knew Greek or Hebrew. Those were lost languages for all those years. Greek and Hebrew were not even taught in any school until the mid-1400s. So the Latin Vulgate was the basis for all Bible translation until the Reformation, around the 1500s.

By 500 AD, the Bible had been translated from Latin into over 500 different languages, but by 600 AD, the only organized and recognized church in existence at that time determined that the Scripture would only be available in Latin, and that anyone who was found in possession of non-Latin Scriptures would be executed.

In those days only the priests understood Latin. So what did that do? It gave the church control over the people. No one could question their teaching because no one could read the Bible for themselves. Only the priests could read it, and they would tell you what you were supposed to think it said, what you were supposed to understand.

So for a thousand year period, roughly, that we know today as the Dark or Middle Ages, people did not have the Bible to read for themselves. The result was political, moral, and spiritual corruption. People were misled; they were confused. It was literally the dark ages because people did not have the Scripture for themselves.

Now, fast forward to the 1500s, and we come to one of the Popes whose name was Leo the 10th—Pope Leo X. He is the man who established the practice of selling “indulgences.” Perhaps you’ve heard that phrase. These indulgences were means by which the church offered forgiveness of sins if you would make a small contribution to the church. If you made a bigger contribution, you could indulge in habitual sin, such as having a mistress. That could be forgiven as long as you made a sizeable contribution to the church. If you gave a little bit more money, you could purchase the salvation of your deceased loved-one’s souls.

Pope Leo summed it up this way. He said, “The fable of Christ has been quite profitable to us”—the fable of Christ! This is coming from the church leader at the time.

This teaching on indulgences and other sorts of doctrines were proclaimed in the churches as “truth” and because the people couldn’t read the Bible for themselves, and they never heard it read in their own language, they didn’t know any better. They had no idea that the things they were being taught were contrary to the Word of God. They thought it was the truth, so they kept giving the money, paying for those indulgences.

All of this set the stage for what we know today as the Protestant Reformation which brought to light teaching over the centuries in the established church that did not line up with Scripture, and it also brought to light the truth of the gospel as found in the Scripture—the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through the work of Christ alone.

The means by which this Reformation took place was getting the Scripture into the hands and the language of the people. In fact, this became a key contribution of the Reformation, which was built on the foundational belief that the ultimate authority for doctrine, for belief, and for practice was not tradition. It was not the church, so-called. It was not experience. It was not the clergy. The ultimate authority was the Scripture; it was the Word of God.

The Reformation also pointed people to the biblical teaching on what they called the priesthood of the believer, which said that every Christian has access to God and is accountable to Him. That means that every Christian has the responsibility and the privilege to know God and to know His will as He has revealed it in the Scriptures. In fact, we cannot know Him, we cannot know His salvation apart from knowing God’s Word.

So the reminder back in the 1500s was that it was not just up to the priests and pastors, the theologians, and teachers to tell us what the Bible says. We need to know it for ourselves. Therefore, the Reformation said that every Christian needs to have access to the Scriptures in his or her own language.

So those early Protestants became known as “people of the Book.” They led the way in the translation of the Scripture. They believed that making the Scripture available to the people was not a luxury, but an absolute necessity, that their eternal destiny depended on being able to read it, to understand it, and to believe it.

So we see, as we look back in history, and moving all the way to our day, what the Scripture says in Psalm 119, verse 130: “The unfolding [the entrance] of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”

Oh, Lord, how we thank You for the treasure—the priceless treasure—of Your Word and how the entrance of Your Words does give us light and through Your Word. You do impart understanding to the simple. Thank You, Lord, for Your Word. Thank You for inspiring it. Thank You for preserving it through all these centuries, that we might have it and hold it and read it and love it and know it and believe it today.

We give You thanks, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been reminding you that God’s Word is a true gift. When you open it up, you can know that it was inspired and preserved. It’s something to be treasured.

In this series we’re looking at periods in history in which it was illegal to own a copy of the Bible. I hope and pray that none of us will be in that situation, but, sadly, some Revive Our Hearts listeners around the world do face that kind of persecution in 2011. So, Nancy, I appreciate how you’re showing us that we can’t take for granted our freedom to own a copy of Scripture.

Nancy: Yes, Leslie. As I prepared for this series, I was just reminded over and over again what an incredible privilege it is for us to hold in our hands our own copies of God’s Word, written in our own language. That makes me want to be even more intentional and diligent about developing a lifestyle of reading and studying God’s Word and hiding it in my heart.

Not long ago I came across a wonderful new resource that will help you internalize and meditate on God’s Word. It’s a CD full of Scripture that’s been adapted and set to music. The title of the CD is Hidden In My Heart: A Lullaby Journey Through Scripture.

If you have little ones, you will definitely enjoy this collection of lullabies, but don’t let that word lullaby scare you off. This CD is actually for everyone. Whether or not you have children, this music will help you fill your mind with God’s Word.

I have to tell you that over and over again, over these past months since I first discovered this CD, God has used this music and the words, based on Scripture, to help calm my heart in many different situations.

Let me play you a sample: (music and singing)

Rest quietly;
Rest in His loving arms
For He is watching over you,
Ever faithful, ever true.
So be still, my soul,
Be still and know that He is God.

Every time I listen to that song, based on Psalm 46:10, my heart is so encouraged. When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size this month, we’ll send you that CD, Hidden In My Heart.

Your gift at this time will help us continue bringing Revive Our Hearts to you and to hundreds of thousands of other listeners across North America, and your contribution will be especially helpful this month. That’s because May 31 marks the end of our fiscal year. That’s when we wrap up the books for another 12-month period, and we make plans for the months ahead.

Now this is an exciting time at Revive Our Hearts. When you support the ministry this month, you’ll be helping our terrific production team get out of the make-shift offices they’ve been using and into much-needed new studio space. We’re also very encouraged about some opportunities that God is raising up to do Spanish language broadcasting. Your gift at this time could help us expand in that area.

So during this month, we’re asking God to provide $350,000. If you’ve never given to Revive Our Hearts before, we especially need to hear from you. Some dear friends of this ministry are doubling the gift of each new supporter up to a matching challenge amount of $60,000. So whether you’ve previously sent a contribution to Revive Our Hearts, or this is your first time, I’d encourage you to ask the Lord what He would have you give toward this month’s goal of $350,000.

Remember, when you give any amount, ask for the CD, Hidden in My Heart. Just call us at 1-800-569-5959 or make a contribution at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Did you know that at one point in history, if you owned an English Bible in Britain, you could be jailed or killed? We’ll explore that period in history tomorrow. It will remind you how precious God’s Word really is. So please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1Leland Ryken. The Legacy of the King James Bible.

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