W. H. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924) – How We Got Our Bible


Born in 1861, W. H. Griffith Thomas died on this date in 1924. His greatest and most sophisticated work is his book The Principles of Theology, a commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. But one short and reader-friendly book that should interest students of Christian apologetics is How We Got Our Bible. (Note: The full text of this book is available online here.) Here are some themes discussed in this fine little book:W. H. Griffith Thomas The Canonicity of the Bible On the question of which books are to be recognized as divinely inspired and constitutive of God’s written revelation, Thomas writes:

The answer is that it is quite easy to prove that our Bible is the same as the church has had through the centuries. We start with the printed Bibles of today and it is obviously easy to show that they correspond with the printed Bibles of the sixteenth century, or the time when printing was invented. From these we can go back through the English and Latin versions until we reach to the great manuscripts of the fourth century as represented by the three outstanding codices known as the Codex Sinaiticus (in Petrograd), the Codex Vaticanus (in Rome), and the Codex Alexandrinus (in the British Museum). Then we can go back still farther and compare the use of Scripture in the writings of the Fathers of the third century, and from these work back to the second century when versions in several languages are found. From this it is but a short step to the time of the apostles and the actual composition of the New Testament writings. There is no reasonable doubt that we possess today what has always been regarded as the Scriptures of the Christian church. (15-16)

As to the Old Testament,

The proof . . . can be shown along similar lines. Our Old Testament is identical with the Bible of the Jews at the present time. This is the translation of Hebrew manuscripts dating from several centuries past, and the fact of the Jews always having used the same Bible as they do today is a proof that all through the ages the Christian Church has not been mistaken in its inclusion of the Old Testament in its Bible. An additional evidence of great value is the fact that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek about two centuries before Christ, and this translation is essentially the same as the Hebrew text from which we get our Old Testament. (16)

Details of this proposal are elaborated in chapter 2, where Thomas states that “the basis of our acceptance of the New Testament is what is called in technical language ‘Apostolicity’; because the books came either from Apostolic authors, or through Apostolic sanction. Our view of the Old Testament corresponds to this” (23). The Inspiration of the Bible Thomas first approaches questions about the grounds for belief in the inspiration of Scripture in a natural but often neglected way. He reasons that the fundamental question is whether the Bible has divine authority. If there is good reason to think so, then we can ask how its authority was ensured. And the answer to that is given in the doctrine of inspiration. So his discussion begins with an argument for the need for a religious authority in the conduct of our lives and for the authority of the Bible as the answer to this need. He then expounds on the doctrine of biblical inspiration in chapters 9 and 10. But his stress is on the first point.

At the outset, two things should be said: (1) If we accept the Authority of Scripture we really need not trouble about any particular theory of Inspiration, but (2) if we seek to know as fully as we can what Inspiration means we should confine ourselves strictly to facts, since Inspiration when properly understood is not a theory, but a fact. It is something we accept, whether we can explain it or not. (86)

The facts considered in the development of a theory of inspiration are those that are presented in the Scriptures themselves, as these witness to their own nature and production. Thomas rehearses the familiar data of specific passages on this question. Judaism and the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity

In the Old Testament emphasis is rightly placed on the unity of the Godhead as against the ‘gods many’ of heathenism. But in the New Testament there is the additional revelation of the Trinity, which is not only not contradictory of the Unity, but is based on it and developed out of it. Every one knows that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity never had the slightest connection with polytheism, but grew out of Jewish monotheism. It is significant that with all the Jewish objections to Christianity in Paul’s time, no trace can be found of any opposition to his doctrine of a distinction between the Deity of the Father and the Deity of the Son, which was the germ of the fully-developed doctrine of the Trinity. (79-80)

He then adds:

The explanation of this was that the Jewish believers, having been led by experience into an acceptance of Christ as a divine Redeemer (and thereby to a distinction in the Deity) found in their Old Testament anticipatory hints of the Trinity. They realized that the unity of the Godhead was compound not simple, as the Hebrew words for ‘one’ clearly indicate (Deut. 6:4; Exod. 26:6-11; Ezek. 37:16-19). (80)

Here we see sensitivity to a problem that would later arise with contact between Christianity and Islam. Whereas the Hebrew doctrine of God propounded in the Old Testament is not explicitly revealed as a Trinity, what is said of God there is (1) compatible with the Christian doctrine, and (2) revealed in anticipation of more to come. Faith and Reason For all of his emphasis on the requirement of faith and the authority of the Bible, Thomas is no fideist.

The Bible is supreme over reason. It is the light of reason and of human thought. Revelation, because it comes from God, cannot possibly dishonor reason, which also is from God. Reason is the judge of our need of revelation. It examines the claims of revelation; but once those claims are accepted, reason takes a subordinate place, and revelation is supreme. Reason examines, tests, sifts, inquires, but the moment it has become convinced that this or that comes from God, then, like Joshua of old, it says: ‘What saith my Lord unto his servant?’ So, though revelation is supreme over reason, reason examines the credentials of revelation and then submits to them. Since Christ is our Authority, what we need is the rational conviction that the Bible is the best form in which his Word reaches us, and then we submit to it, and it becomes supreme over our reason and life. (38-39)

There is always the theme of practical concern in this book about How We Got Our Bible. is not a technical treatise. It is quite intentionally written for easy accessibility. In his conclusion to chapter 10, on the inspiration of the Bible, W. H. Griffith Thomas warns against an overly-intellectualized approach to the questions he treats.

A great number of our problems are theoretical. They come from places where people spin theories absolutely remote from human life. But if we go out into the world and tell a man of the Lord Jesus Christ, and get that man to ask, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ we shall very soon get verification of the Word of God; and when we have that, we shall not need much, if any, further testimony to its inspiration. (105)

He means that commendation of the faith, when it issues in persuasion on the basis of good evidence, produces confidence in the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God.

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Other posts in this series . . .

Bible.Is App for iPhone and iPad


Nothing can replace reading the Bible from the page, and this iPhone and iPad app—called Bible.Is—is no substitute for that. But audio is an excellent supplement to a Bible reading and study program. This app is convenient to use and makes the Bible available in surprisingly many languages.

  • Use it to “read” whole books of the Bible one at a time.
  • Learn unfamiliar dimensions of Scripture truth from the cadences of the spoken Word (e.g., the Book of Leviticus).
  • Learn and improve your knowledge of a foreign language through audio exposure to biblical truth.
  • Memorize extended passages through repetition.
  • Listen with your Bible open and read along with the audio.

I doubt if any app does as well what this app so effectively does what it’s designed to do. It rivals every audio version of the Bible I know of. I would like to see the New American Standard Version (NASV) in its repertoire, since this is my preference for Scripture memory. But publishers of the NASV have enforced strict proprietary controls on the publication of this valuable translation, and so have, regrettably, limited its dissemination—not the fault of this app designer (though they might be able to obtain permission at a price). The English Standard Version (ESV), available on Bible.Is is an excellent alternative to the NASV.

You can also use Bible.Is from any computer with a browser. Just visit their home page here.
By the way, the Bible.Is app can be downloaded to your iOS device for free. And yes, it is available for Android, as well.

 

Scripture Memory Made Easy


Scripture Memory Made Easy is the title of a little book by Mark Waters. The method resembles the approach I was taught by Garry Friesen as a college student in the late 1970s. The 64-page booklet, dubbed an “easy-to-understand pocket reference guide,” is both a guide to Scripture memorization and “a plan for learning one hundred Bible verses in fifty-two weeks.”

The author stresses the importance of review and has built this crucial element into the method. He also advises the excellent practice of memorizing verses topically. Both of these components of a sound Scripture memory plan were part of the Navigator’s “Topical Memory System” that I used when I was a teenager.

I have always believed in the value of Scripture memorization. It’s never too early to begin. Nor is it ever too late. For all the enthusiasm we see today for new techniques of “spiritual formation,” there is almost no emphasis on the memorization of carefully selected passages from the Bible.

Scripture Memory Made Easy, by Mark Waters, is a useful remedy.

Order at Amazon

Happily, the Topical Memory System, by the Navigators, continues to be published. Today’s kit includes 60 verses cards with passages from several familiar English translations, a workbook, and a verse card holder.

If Scripture memorization is new to you, I urge you to begin now. God will reward your efforts with the supply of wisdom for life’s small and major moments.

Note: I welcome your response to this post. Other readers may be encouraged to know of how your own experience with Scripture memory has increased your faith, enabled you to follow God’s will, and fostered greater boldness as a believer living in a secular society.

This website is read by people of differing beliefs. This particular post is primarily for those who believe the Bible is the greatest source for wise living. Anyone who believes this should be especially open to the value of Scripture memorization.

Again, I look forward to hearing from you!

Get a Grip on Greek


In the 1970s and 1980s I took several courses on New Testament Greek, at both grad and undergrad levels. I don’t need reminding how long ago that was! Like so many others, I “let my Greek go.” So my proficiency dropped dramatically. Call it my own personal “Greek tragedy.”

After investing the effort in studying Greek, I hated to see it go to waste. I’ve made good use of my knowledge at times, but I haven’t been very deliberate about sustaining and improving my grip on Greek. Now I’ve come across a little book that addresses this very typical reality—Keep Your Greek: Strategies for Busy People, by Constantine R. Campbell.

Campbell’s book of 90 pages is organized into ten mini-chapters.

  1. Read Every Day
  2. Burn Your Interlinear
  3. Use Software Tools Wisely
  4. Make Vocabulary Your Friend
  5. Practice Your Parsing
  6. Read Fast
  7. Read Slow
  8. Use Your Senses
  9. Get Your Greek Back
  10. Putting It All Together

There’s advice in an appendix on getting it right the first time, for those who are just now beginning to learn NT Greek. The book ends with a list of resources truly useful to the person who would follow the practical advice that Campbell gives.

There are no stunning new revelations here about how to stay on top of a language you’ve learned. It’s mostly common sense—but it’s wise and inspiring common sense.

The author maintains a blog—Read Better, Preach Better—where he offers practical advice on biblical study and Bible-based preaching. The chapters of his book are adapted from a series of blog posts about keeping your Greek skills intact. Each chapter concludes with a few comments or “blog responses” from his readers. It’s a clever idea whose potential, I think, is never fully exploited. The value of including these responses depends, of course, on the value of the responses themselves.

Campbell uses Accordance software in his own regimen of Greek review and New Testament study. I’ve used this tool myself. It is powerful and convenient.

Two resources especially recommended by Campbell are:

I concur with these recommendations.

If you need brushing up, or you have the inclination to teach yourself New Testament Greek, I strongly recommend the published work of my friend Bill Mounce:

Mounce provides a wealth of additional tools, including his FlashWorks vocabulary drilling program, at his Teknia website.

For audio assistance with Greek study and review, these tools will prove useful:

Cover of "Sing and Learn New Testament Gr...

Cover via Amazon

Finally, you must poke around at the Institute of Biblical Greek website.

At least twice monthly, I teach an adult Bible study. Lately I’ve been introducing group members to the benefits of Greek study. We are currently studying 1 John, with an emphasis on Bible study technique. If you happen to live in North Orange County, California, you’re welcome to join us!

Watch for this TV Ad about Barack Obama after the DNC Convention


pH for America will soon be running a TV ad featuring comments by Barack Obama about the proper use of the Bible in American politics. The ad is slated for release shortly after the Democratic National Convention is over. But you can see the complete video of the forthcoming ad now.

If you want to see the video, click here:

Here are a few discussion questions:

  1. What is the primary thesis of this ad?
  2. How is this thesis supported?
  3. What seems to be Obama’s approach to interpreting the Bible?
  4. Do you agree with this approach?
  5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this particular ad?
  6. Will this ad influence voters? Do you think it should?

What say you?

Reviewer Sought at “Obscure Classics”


Here’s an opportunity to review classic films at a site dedicated to Obscure Classics.

“Have you dreamed of having your reviews and essays featured on our site? Have you fantasized about the enormous fame you’d have if only you could be a member of the Obscure Classics team?

“Well, lucky for you, we’re recruiting! I’m currently looking for one or two people to add to the awesomely awesome team here.”

Go here for details:

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