Previous installments of this series have summarized some principles of “natural theology,” which considers what can be known about the universe and God simply by looking around with attention. The universe is governed by physical laws, and it appears to be governed by moral principles as well. Both of these are puzzling. How do the planets “know” just where to go in order to comply with Kepler’s laws (as modified by Einstein)? How do we “know” that it is good to comfort those in distress? The physical and moral laws appear to exist as part of the universe that we do not invent but rather discover. If the universe came to be (we saw evidence that it did), then there is reason to believe that it was created by something or someone not bound by space and time, something or someone concerned with moral right and wrong.
The idea that the universe was made by an all-powerful, good God runs into an immediate problem. We know that, morally speaking, something is seriously wrong. We teach our children about right and wrong, we resolve to improve ourselves, and we try to help others, but the universe remains afflicted with sin, evil, and death. One would think that a good God would want to do something about this situation.
This blog series now leaves the realm of natural theology and enters that of “revealed theology,” which is the record of God’s (alleged) communications with mankind. The word “alleged” is used because these posts will not assume that God has communicated, but will rather provide evidence that God has done so. Let the reader make up his or her own mind. The primary evidence to be considered is the events recorded in the Bible. It therefore makes sense to begin by talking about what the Bible is. The word “bible” is from the Greek word for “book,” and has its roots in the word for papyrus, a wetland plant used to make a kind of paper for over four thousand years. We will first consider what is commonly called the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible. This is a collection of books written at various times over several centuries. The first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are also called the Pentateuch (which means “five scrolls” in Greek). The books of the Old Testament were originally written in Hebrew, but have been translated into other languages since ancient times. Many different versions exist, some more “word for word” and some more in the nature of paraphrases. A good reliable version in English is the New Revised Standard Version. This is a modern (1989) revision of the 1952 Revised Standard Version, which in turn was a revision of the 1901 American Standard Version, which in turn was a revision of the 1611 Authorized Version (also called the King James Bible). Another reliable, modern translation in the R.S.V. line of translation, is the English Standard Verson (E.S.V.). There are many formats and editions readily available. Study note versions of a trusted translation, also provide additional teaching notes, such as maps, tables, and essay related to the study of Scripture. At each stage of translation, starting in 1611, teams of eminent scholars with expertise in Hebrew and history were involved to examine old manuscripts and determine the best translation. So your homework for next time is to get a Bible.