You Can Know God’s Purpose
1-4. How can we know what is the truth?
WE OFTEN hear the question, ‘What is truth?’ or, ‘How can a person know that he has the truth?’ Is it possible to know with certainty the purpose of God toward humankind?—John 18:38.
2 Jesus answered these questions when he said: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:31, 32.
3 Jesus knew without any doubt that he had the truth, because he had been with Jehovah God before coming to the earth. (John 3:13; 17:5) The apostles, in turn, knew that they had the truth, because they learned it from Jesus, and from the Hebrew Scriptures, which Jesus acknowledged as the truth from God. Furthermore, what Jesus said and did fulfilled many of the Hebrew Scripture prophecies. These Scriptures, commonly called the “Old Testament,” had been given to the nation of Israel by God through inspiration of his servants.
4 We now have the entire Bible. It contains both the Hebrew Scriptures (often called the “Old Testament”) and the Greek Scriptures (the so-called “New Testament”)—the writings of the apostles and their close associates.
WRITTEN RECORD MORE HELPFUL
5-7. How did God communicate with man at first, but why is it good that God’s communications have been written down?
5 But, why a book? Why not a direct communication by God’s voice, or through angels sent by him?
6 It is true that God at first did communicate by word of mouth to Adam, instructing him. But he has since used other means just as effective, and, for imperfect persons, even more appropriate. Really, because of the defective memories of all humans, it is good that God has had his communications written down since the time of Adam.
7 Consider the wisdom of God in causing his communication to mankind to be available in written form. Certainly this is a more reliable record than a mere spoken word would be. Passing on information by word of mouth from person to person would be a very inaccurate method. God would need to repeat all his instructions to every generation. And if God had a message for all mankind, he would have to speak to certain men as his representatives or prophets, who would then transmit it to others. Otherwise he would have to speak to all people in fearful, thundering tones from heaven. Though very impressive, this could have undesirable effects, as Exodus 20:18, 19 shows.
8. Does the Bible contain all of God’s counsel for us today? How?
8 However, in the Bible we have “all the counsel of God” for everyone to read. (Acts 20:27) Nothing needs to be added or subtracted. (Proverbs 30:5, 6) The principles governing mankind are the same at all times and places. And, having all of God’s communication to us provided in a book, any part of it can conveniently be referred to at will for consultation on any human problem.
9. What benefit do we get from the historical record in the Bible?
9 Also, we must keep in mind that the Bible contains, not only God’s counsel, but also history and accounts of individual lives of those serving God and those not serving him. We see the outcome of their lives. The Bible gives us an account of God’s dealings with humankind, so that we know how he feels about certain matters. (Romans 15:4) Out of the thousands of events of history, God chose certain events to be recorded, to illustrate principles. Some events were prophetic. (Galatians 4:24) Some were examples taken from real life that serve for our guidance today.—1 Corinthians 10:11.
10. How does the fact that men were used to write the Bible help us to understand and to be moved to act in faith?
10 Since we have and need these accounts for proper guidance, is it not good that they were written by real people, about real people, often themselves? And they were very honest and candid, not hiding their mistakes and sins. Does it not reach the heart to read about the experiences, hardships, joys, courage and faith of real people? Such things appeal to the heart and to the conscience far better than would a book of rules. You can picture in your mind the events recorded in the Bible as occurring; in fact, you can even identify yourself personally with them. When we read the real-life experiences of Moses, David, Jeremiah and Paul, do we not have a warm feeling? And these accounts have the ring of truth. Are you not moved because of the reality and forcefulness of these written accounts?—Compare Jeremiah 20:8-11; Acts 23:12-24.
AUTHENTIC, THOUGH WRITTEN BY MEN
11, 12. Though the Bible was written by imperfect men, how can we be assured that it is authentic and correct?
11 True, God transmitted his message to us by the hand of imperfect men. But there is no reason to think that the Bible is any less authentic than would be a message from God by word of mouth, through angels, or through a book written in heaven and dropped to earth. And it has far more human appeal. The proof of the Bible’s appeal is that it is by far the most widely distributed book, translated into many more languages than any other book. It is the most enduring, and has given guidance to men and women of all ages and in all places.
12 God is not a liar. (Numbers 23:19) In getting a message to the human race he would certainly see that it contained no lie. The vision of the “transfiguration” is an instance where a vision from God, along with God’s words, corroborated the authenticity of “Old Testament” events and characters.—Matthew 17:1-9.
13. How did God oversee the writing of the Bible?
13 The methods used in transmitting the written information that we have in the Bible were varied. But God was always directly involved. He himself wrote the basic laws of the covenant with Israel, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 10:1-4) God spoke “mouth to mouth” with Moses, who wrote down word for word much of what he heard. (Numbers 12:8) The tabernacle pattern was shown to Moses in a vision. (Exodus 25:9; Numbers 8:4) Then, angels at times brought direct messages from God. (Genesis 19:1; Judges 6:12, 21; Luke 1:26-28) Prophets had visions and God-directed dreams. (Genesis 46:2; Daniel 1:17) Other writers were guided in their expression by God’s invisible active force, his spirit.—2 Samuel 23:2; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:20, 21.
14. What further strong evidence do we have that we really can know Jehovah’s ways?
14 Furthermore, we have the recorded words and acts of Jesus Christ, who came forth as a direct representative of Jehovah God. He revealed Jehovah perfectly. (John 16:27, 28) So well did he portray the thinking and ways of his Father in every respect that he could say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.” (John 14:9) The account of Jesus’ life is in the Bible so that we can see how he spoke and acted. Could we have any better communication than this?—Hebrews 1:1, 2.
COMPILATION OF THE BIBLE GUARDED
15, 16. What evidence do we have that the present-day Bible contains the whole counsel of God for his people?
15 It is easy for God to accomplish his full objective in the way that he sees fit. (Isaiah 46:10) Since he inspired the writing of the Scriptures it is logical that he would cause faithful men to gather together the Hebrew Scriptures as being authentically from God. These are the books that the Jewish nation recognized for centuries as God’s communication to them. And our confidence that their selection was divinely guided, and not the result of human preference, is fortified when we realize that these very books frequently condemned the nation for its disobedient ways.
16 Then the early Christians, guided by the same spirit of God, selected and catalogued the inspired writings of the apostles and their associates. These writings have been significant for the instruction of Christians throughout the past nineteen centuries.
17. What credentials does the Bible have as God’s book?
17 So we do not need to wait for a voice out of the heavens, or for even another book in order to know God’s purpose. The Bible gives the only reliable history of mankind from the beginning. Search the religious books of the world and you will not find all these things that are found in the Bible, namely: A realistic and reasonable account of creation, why mankind dies, a genealogical and chronological account of mankind from Adam onward, the way of deliverance from sin and death, the purpose of God toward man and the earth, and the principles to live by to attain eternal life. Added to this are the prophecies, those that have been fulfilled and those yet to be fulfilled with the happy conclusion of an everlasting reign of peace on earth.
18-22. Since many copies of the original writings have been made, are there not many errors, making the present-day Bible unreliable? Explain.
18 Thousands of years have passed since Bible writing began. What, then, about the Bible as we have it today? Of course, the original autographed manuscripts by the Bible writers are not available. But there are many copies in the original languages. The original Bible languages are, Hebrew and Greek, with some Aramaic sections and words. We can have faith that the God who inspired the Bible would guard its being copied, so that a person reading the Bible would not be misled because of serious errors in it. What do scholars say, those who have studied the hundreds of original-language manuscripts available?
19 Sir Frederic Kenyon, Bible scholar and former director of the British Museum, stated, in the introduction to his seven volumes on the “Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri” (which were very ancient Greek manuscripts of portions of the “New Testament”):
20 “The first and most important conclusion derived from the examination of [the Papyri] is the satisfactory one that they confirm the essential soundness of the existing texts. No striking or fundamental variation is shown either in the Old or the New Testament. There are no important omissions or additions of passages, and no variations which affect vital facts or doctrines. The variations of text affect minor matters, such as the order of words or the precise words used . . . But their essential importance is their confirmation, by evidence of an earlier date than was hitherto available, of the integrity of our existing texts. In this respect they are an acquisition of epoch-making value.”
21 This scholar also said concerning the “New Testament”:
22 “The last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”
23. Of what advantage are the various Bible translations that are available today?
23 Today, in translations of the Bible into modern-day languages, we have the products of much careful study of the Scripture writings by scholars who have devoted their lives to this study. Most translations are the result of comparisons of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and are carefully edited. They can provide a good understanding of God’s purposes. If the meaning of a certain text is not quite clear to you, you can compare several translations in your own language, which usually vary slightly in a few places, mainly in word choice. In this way you can get the flavor of the original Hebrew and Greek expressions, and may come to an even more precise understanding.
THE BIBLE, A COMPLETE GUIDE
24, 25. (a) Why does the Bible not give every detail of the things that took place? (b) So how is the Bible “perfect”?
24 There are some people who read Bible accounts and complain, ‘If this is God’s Word and a guide for us, why are there so few details in some of the accounts?’ They point to the brevity of the creation account, among others. The Bible itself answers that God has put into the Bible what is sufficient, all we really need. It says: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) So the Bible is ample to “make you wise for salvation.” (2 Timothy 3:15) It is “perfect” in this sense.
25 Another point worthy of note: As God’s word or message to mankind, the Bible is written in such a way that those who are not truly seeking God—who have no genuine faith in God—are induced to ‘show their true colors.’ For example, it does not give every detail of every account it records. At times it describes God’s action or judgment on a matter without explaining why he so judged. It lets two writers give their own observation of an event from different viewpoints.a It leaves those not wanting to serve God a ‘way out,’ an excuse to find fault, if this is their desire. In this way, too, the Bible is complete or perfect, for it fulfills a purpose of God in causing persons—both haughty ones and humble ones—to reveal what is in their hearts.—Hebrews 4:12; Matthew 13:34, 35; Luke 8:10.
COMMUNICATING WITH GOD
26. Can we, in turn, communicate with God?
26 While bringing us God’s message, the Bible points out for us, in turn, a way to communicate our inmost thoughts and heartfelt desires to God. This is by prayer. You need not fear that God will not listen to you. His only requirement is a sincere heart and acknowledgment that one is a sinner, needing help. (Psalms 119:145; 34:18) One who cries out to him will be shown what to do. Such a person will come to know that prayers addressed to God must be offered through Jesus Christ as God’s appointed High Priest.—John 16:23, 24; Hebrews 4:15.
27. What are proper subjects for prayer? (Matthew 6:9-13)
27 What are proper subjects for prayer? Anything that will affect one’s relationship to God; anything that will affect one spiritually. The apostle John wrote: “No matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.”—1 John 5:14.
28. (a) What is praying ‘according to God’s will’? (b) What are some personal things for which it is proper to pray?
28 “According to his will” would mean that we rightly would not pray for things that promote strictly selfish interests, such as riches, position above our fellowman, revenge, selfish pleasures and like things. But we may, for example, petition God with regard to marriage—for his help in providing a suitable mate. Married couples may pray regarding the bearing of children, or for wisdom in rearing their children. (1 Samuel 1:10, 11, 17, 20; Judges 13:8-14) These things definitely affect our lives and require adjustments in which we need God’s wisdom. God is interested in our personal problems. Even a move to another location or another job may be a subject for prayer, because one’s family may be affected economically and spiritually. Whatever it is, the desire to find and to do God’s will is the primary factor. Each person, of course, has his own circumstances, different from others, and this will affect the subjects of his prayers.
29. How can a person receive the answer to his prayer about a certain matter?
29 The answer from God can be expected in the form of wise guidance in the person’s own individual case. (Psalm 32:8) Of course, he should be consistent and act in harmony with his prayer. He should seek for counsel on the problem from the Bible. He may consult others who can help him to see what the Bible says on the matter. He should persist in praying on the matter until he gets a clear understanding of what is the wise course to take. (Luke 18:2-5) Having done so, no one else can rightly criticize him for decisions conscientiously made, because “to his own master [God] he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand.”—Romans 14:4, 10, 12.
30. (a) To what fine position will prayer bring us? (b) Why should we not be afraid to take any matter or problem to God in prayer?
30 The person who prays and acts with faith in God can be assured that he will be guided so as to take the most beneficial course. (Proverbs 3:5, 6) He will come really to know God, who promises: “The intimacy with Jehovah belongs to those fearful of him.” (Psalm 25:14) This is not a morbid fear, but a wholesome respect for God, because if you love God you will want to take your problems to him, and will have no fear of being rebuffed or rejected. Of such inhibiting fear, the apostle John says: “Perfect love throws fear outside, because fear exercises a restraint.” (1 John 4:18) You should never be fearful or hesitant to take the most intimate matters, whatever they are, to Jehovah—including your sins. He will not view your problem as foolish or laugh at you. “He gives generously to all and without reproaching.”—James 1:5; 1 John 1:9.
31. How can an understanding of the Bible and obedience to its principles help us to live a good and happier life now?
31 Some may complain because they sometimes face very bad or discouraging circumstances. They may say, ‘Why does God let such terrible conditions exist in the earth?’ But should we overlook what God has done in giving the Bible to his earthly creatures? If followed, that inspired Word would enable all humankind to live a very good life even under conditions of imperfection. Think of how different things would be if people would, for example, follow the rule: ‘All things that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.’ (Matthew 7:12) What a change this could bring on earth! And in God’s new system of things all persons will be guided by such principles. That is one reason why this earth will then be such a desirable place in which to live.
32. To those who may have doubts about the Bible, what recommends it as a book to be studied?
32 Jesus said: “Even though you do not believe me, believe the works [that I do], in order that you may come to know and may continue knowing that the Father is in union with me and I am in union with the Father.” (John 10:38) If you have doubts as to the Bible’s worth, you can see its value by observing the results in the lives of thousands of people who are making the Bible their guide. Therefore, we can have confidence that the Bible’s promises of life for those who follow its guidance are sure of fulfillment.
a See Is the Bible Really the Word of God? (Chapter 7), published by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 117 Adams St., Brooklyn, New York 11201.