In How We Got the Bible, Timothy Paul Jones defends the Scriptures against skeptics’ arguments and describes the transmission of the Old and New Testaments from manuscript to canon. Aimed at young believers, particularly high schoolers, the book attempts to equip Christians with sound reasons for the Bible’s authenticity.
The book is a unique contribution to the familiar area of Christian apologetics, featuring extensive pictures, graphs, tables, and the use of helpful pop culture illustrations from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings.
“This God-inspired book wasn’t an afterthought or an accident!” writes Jones, C. Edwin Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry at SBTS. “Eternal eons before God created darkness and light, God had already decided that he would reveal his kingdom not only through spoken words but also through written words. The Bible that you possess today is the perfect product of this eternal plan.”
Starting with a full doctrine of Scripture, Jones lays out a theological foundation for his defense of the Bible — fully inspired, inerrant, and sufficient for godliness and Christian living. Although critics of inerrancy have argued the idea is a modern one, Jones convincingly demonstrates the early church also believed in an error-free Bible, even if they did not use the term “inerrancy.”
Jones addresses key issues related to the transmission of the Old Testament and the New Testament, including the various arrangements of the OT books, the Septuagint, and how every book in the NT is closely associated with an eyewitness of Jesus Christ.
One of the strongest features of the book is Jones’ counterargument for the popular Bart Ehrman “Telephone Game” illustration of the oral transmission of the Jesus tradition. If a spoken message can so disintegrate in a children’s game, Ehrman’s argument goes, how could the Jesus tradition remain uncorrupted as it spread across the entire Roman Empire?
On the contrary, Jones points out none of the evidence suggests the oral tradition was nearly so unstable. So, on one hand, the transmission of the Jesus tradition from oral stories to the written Gospels couldn’t be more different from the Telephone Game. The Bible was relayed with much greater care and seriousness than laughing children exhibit, and this was done in an overwhelmingly oral culture that recalled stories through the spoken word.
In another sense, however, the Telephone Game is a helpful illustration for the origin of the New Testament. Just as the message at the end of the game is compared to and corrected by the original message, stories about Jesus were available for correction by the eyewitnesses who were still alive at the time.
Finally, the book traces the transmission of the Bible, from copying of New Testament to the history of the English Bible. Jones provides a helpful and easy-to-understand introduction to textual criticism, noting that the many variants also mean there is much manuscript evidence of the New Testament — far more than any other ancient text. Jones also describes the different philosophies behind Bible translation, such as formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence.
Apart from effectively arguing for the reliability of the Bible, the book is also very accessible and easy to follow. Jones avoids overly technical language while also including extensive footnotes to buttress his arguments. How We Got the Bible offers parents and teachers a useful resource to prepare young Christians to face the hardest questions about the Bible and can be paired with a six-session DVD study in Sunday School classes and youth groups.
(Rose Publishing 2015, $14.99)