The triune God of Christianity is absolutely unique. Except for offshoots of Christianity, other religions have no god, one god, many gods or everything as god. The Trinity is one God existing in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Bible adequately shows the truth of God in three persons and in one being. This mystery was revealed most fully in the person of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament. Jesus had authority to teach us about this because he was one of the persons. Thus, he was able to tell his disciples what they could understand about the Trinity and promised them another person, the Holy Spirit, would help them by providing further knowledge.
This knowledge of the Trinity has not given us the answer to “How can this be?” I believe it is meant to be this way so that we who believe can stand in awe and unbelievers will simply sound foolish when they claim the Trinity is a human invention. As written above, the only person once on earth who might lay claim to the invention of the reality of the Trinity was one of them.
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). I interpret these verses as providing a basis for our interpretation of Scripture although there are other meanings in them and other verses that guide interpretation. I believe the interpretation of biblical passages must enhance our understanding of the reality of spiritual things and bring us closer to a fuller knowledge of God’s revelation.
This does not mean we should not use such wisdom as has been provided us by others who have worked at interpreting Scripture. Interpretation is such a complex subject it has its own name—hermeneutics. The article in my Bible dictionary says interpretation is both an art and a science. Science begins with accurate observation and in interpretation this would mean, as far as possible, correctly reading the passage. From there we go on to context, comparison with other Scripture, other people’s interpretations and whatever we have learned from interpreting other passages.
There are rules for interpretation. These serve the same purpose as what are called the laws of nature do in the physical sciences. They put bounds on what are legitimate interpretations.
The art of interpretation is the work of the Holy Spirit as we pray for guidance and meditate on the possible meanings to see as much as God would have us see in a particular passage. Art is not static so what we may not understand originally may become clear as we continue to seek understanding.
Even verses, even short passages, even chapters, even individual books are sufficient to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, as was the Ethiopian. (I once met a man who said he came to faith in Jesus Christ by reading the book of Job.) I am sure some people have come to faith through less than perfect translations into indigenous languages. The inspired Word and the work of the Holy Spirit make whatever we may have of the written revelation of God sufficient for our needs.
You might ask why if a little bit of Scripture is sufficient for redemption there is so much of it in the Bible. Here I think we need to go back to the idea of Scripture being a creation of the Holy Spirit. Like physical creation the Bible has depth beyond the understanding of any single human mind and in its total richness is deeper than the collective mind of humanity is able to understand.
This is the other side of sufficiency. You may have noticed that serious Bible commentaries take up a good part of a bookshelf or even more. This is because the immense content of the Bible is sufficient to provide material for endless study for even the most diligent Bible scholar. The Scriptures are, I believe, a well of wisdom that never goes dry.
Clarity, to me, involves more than reading the words as we read ordinary passages. Let me illustrate what I mean by using the account of Philip and the Ethiopian as found in Acts 8:26-40. It took a long string of providences to bring the Ethiopian to where he was and doing what he was doing. It took a special revelation to bring Philip up to his chariot just as he was complaining about not being able to understand Isaiah 53:7-8.
Clarifying the passage for the Ethiopian meant taking him on a long psychological, intellectual and spiritual trip until he came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, was baptized, and went home rejoicing. Philip then moved on to Azotus having done Christ’s work with the Ethiopian and continued his preaching.
Clarity in our understanding of Scripture, I believe, can come to us in various, though less dramatic, ways. Examples are reading the Bible, listening to teaching and preaching, going to Bible studies, using study Bibles and commentaries to see what other people think of a passage, talking to fellow Christians, and meditating on God’s Word. I believe when these things are superintended by the Holy Spirit we will receive the level of understanding of Scripture that Christ intends us to have.
The written word of God is, I believe, a dynamic creation of the Holy Spirit and not a holy artifact, somehow set in stone. This does not mean it should be changed by cultural trends but that it can be put into translations so that most of the people in the world can read it in their mother tongue.
The Old and New Testaments in their original languages have separate histories of their preservation. It would require a book, or several, to do these subjects justice. It was early in Christianity that translations began. St. Jerome (about AD 347 to 419/420) translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Latin during the years AD 391 to 406. When combined with his translation of the New Testament into Latin his version became known as the Vulgate.
The Vulgate for a long time preserved the Bible for Western Christianity. For English readers the King James Version (1611) served to preserve and spread the Word of God to much of the world.
The translations of the Bible have not ended the study of the texts we have in the original languages. The number of texts to be studied has been continually expanding. For example, the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament that is now in its twenty-eighth edition reflects the expansion of and preserves the textual evidence presently available
We who do not use Nestle-Aland as our New Testament are dependent on the translation by others of the text into our own languages. I believe that any of these translations can be used by the Holy Spirit to provide God’s written revelation to believers. Of course, we should seek to find one that does speak to our mind and soul.
A typical statement concerning the inerrancy of the Bible reads “The Scriptures are without error in the original autographs.” The problem with this statement arises in Scripture itself. We read about what happened to one original autograph in Jeremiah 36:23 (ESV) “As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.” (The complete story of this event is contained in Jeremiah 36:15-30). Fortunately for us and others, that manuscript was rewritten and we have many other prophecies and stories from the life of Jeremiah.
We do not know what happened to the other original autographs but we do know that none of them are now available to scholars. We do know that Jesus and the apostles had confidence in the reliability of the copies of Scriptures they knew, whether in Hebrew or in the Greek translation known as the Septuagint.
What would we do if we had an inerrant Bible? I think we might concentrate too much on the content of the Bible and too little on developing the proper relationships we should have with each Person of the Trinity. My own tendency would be to (figuratively) beat up my fellow Christians with the certainty of my own interpretations. An inerrant Bible would be no easier to understand in all its passages than the one we have.
We need to be helped in our spiritual growth and I am not sure an inerrant Bible would not just make our love of physical religion, all the things we do, even stronger and make meditation and contemplation even less a part of our lives. I believe God knew what he was doing when he made even the tablets of the Ten Commandments unavailable for our worship.
I believe that it is not the content and form of the original manuscripts that should be of major concern to us but that we have the living word of God in the documents we do have. Thus, we can celebrate the revelation that has been preserved for us.