What is the Bible this book that has far and away been the bestseller of all history and has been translated into more languages than any other book?
Bible means "book." But what kind of book is the Bible? Some suggest it is a record of man's religious striving toward and encounters with God—an essentially human book. Traditionally, the historic Christian church has seen the Bible as far more than this—namely, as the written Word of God. The first words of the book show that God is the leading character of this divine auto biography: "In the beginning God . . ." Its pages show us God taking the initiative, giving us information about Himself, and showing His purposes for us—His creation.
How we view the Bible is crucial because it holds the key to knowing for certain that God exists. And how can we know about Him, if He does exist? Clearly, our finite minds cannot penetrate God's infinity. Job's friend asked him, "Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?" (Job 11:7) The answers come with a resounding "yes"—through God's self-revelation, the Bible.
In the Bible, His chosen instrument, God unfolds for us His true character. Through everyday human histories He tells us where we came from, what our ultimate destiny is, and the purpose of our lives. He gives practical instructions, heart-thumping encouragements, warnings, and divine wisdom. All from our Creator. Here God's unrivaled power and integrity are also unveiled.
The people God used to record His words were themselves uncommonly moved by them. They said the Word of God is:
Unlike these reactions, a student once told me, "When I read the Bible, I fall asleep." Perhaps he overlooked the fact that it was the God of the universe who spoke these words. When this gets into the marrow of our bones, the words fly off the pages to us and are nothing short of life-changing.
Today, our need for the Bible, God's Word, is more important than ever. Our
world is bombarded with ideas, however well-intentioned, that challenge the
time-honored concepts of the God of the Bible. Ideas such as "All roads
By contrast, God, the Creator, has revealed Himself, unmasked Himself, as we would to a friend. He has done this in several ways.
1. Nature and the entire cosmos blare the message of a powerful Designer. Our natural world, from the most minute atom, to the complexities of molecular DNA and RNA, to the innumerable galaxies—all shout the Designer's intelligence. "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made" (Rom. 1:20). "The heavens declare the glory of God ... There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard" (Ps. 19:1, 3).
2. Through history God has revealed Himself, particularly in His
pictures God's persistent reaching out to
3. The words of the prophets were also instruments of God's revelation as they interpreted their circumstances and sought God's will. "The word of the Lord came to me" and "This is what the Lord says . . ." are recurring phrases throughout the Old Testament (Ezek. 6:1, 7:1, 12:1; Zech. 8:1; Ex. 4:22; 1 Sam. 2:27), called propositional revelation.
God's Special Revelation
Jesus Christ was God's fullest and clearest revelation. He was God incarnate. "The image of the invisible God," "The Word became flesh," and "We beheld His glory" are but a few descriptions of Jesus Christ. The writers in Hebrews and Acts explained it this way: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb 1:12). "All the prophets testify about him [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).
THE BIBLE'S TWO SECTIONS
Number of books
Law, Historical Books, Poetry, Wisdom, Prophets
Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Revelation
Years to Write
Written Record Needed
But what about people who were not present and so did not see God's involvement in history or the events surrounding Christ's incarnation, life, death, and resurrection? To reach all generations, obviously, a written record was needed, one that would touch all people everywhere. And the Bible was God's chosen vehicle.
The Bible consists of two sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. (See the chart for details.) The Old Testament was written over 1,100 years; the New Testament was written within the span of a century.
Testament means "covenant," an alliance between two
partners, an "agreement," a "promise," The Old Testament
covenant was brought to fulfillment in the New Testament. Through
God's covenant was first specifically enunciated to Abraham (then Abram). It
covered three aspects: a land for
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. A gradual infiltration of the Greek
language came with the expansion of the Greek empire under Alexander the Great
Jesus was born into a Hebrew culture in which the spoken language was a "common" form of Hebrew called Aramaic and a "common" form of Greek called Koine. Hence the New Testament was written by Jewish people, largely in common Greek.
A Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, called the Septuagint (meaning seventy), was made by a group of seventy-two Jewish scholars about 250 b.c. for the Israelites. It was necessary because of the impact of Hellenism on Judaism. The books were arranged according to similarity of subject matter, and this is the order of our Protestant Bible today.
With the spread of Christianity to
There were no chapter and verse divisions until around the year a.d. 1214, when the books were divided into chapters. Over 300 years later, verses were given numbers.
How was a book of history covering over 2,000 years written? And how could it have a single theme? Two clear statements from the New Testament answer this question: "Understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21). "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).
The Bible originated in the mind of God, not in the mind of man. It was given to man by inspiration. The Bible is not inspired as we say the writings of Shakespeare were inspired or the music of Bach was inspired. The biblical sense of inspiration means: God so superintended the writers of Scripture that they wrote what He wanted them to write, disclosing the exact truth He wanted conveyed.
The word inspired literally means "God-breathed" (from the mouth of God). Timothy is not ambiguous; the words did not come from the writers themselves! Inspiration applies to the end result—the Scripture itself—a faulty script would be useless.
Every Word Inspired
Assent to the fact of the inspiration of the Bible can be a superficial nod of the head or a heartfelt awe over God's intentional reaching out to each of us. Three terms help us understand the truth of inspiration.
1. "Plenary inspiration" means all of Scripture is inspired—not merely some parts. (Plenary means "full.") Implicit in God's act of "plenary inspiration" is His disclosure of exactly what we need to know about Him, no more, no less. He communicated His basic plans and promises for all of His creation.
2. "Verbal inspiration" indicates that inspiration extends to the words of the Bible themselves, not only to the ideas. God did not dictate the Scripture mechanically, but guided and superintended the writers within the framework of their own personalities and backgrounds. This guidance would of necessity include their choice of words, since thoughts are composed of words, much as a theme of music consists of individual notes. Altering the notes alters the song.
3. "Plenary, verbal inspiration" stresses the authenticity and reliability of the very words that were written, without depriving the writers of their individuality. A Christian who has such a high view of inspiration examines prayerfully the meaning of each word and remains sincerely interested in using modern tools of textual study to understand the original meaning.
God Guarded Each Copy
The inspiration of the Scripture applies only to the text as originally produced by the writers. Those original writings were without error.
Through the centuries (before typewriters or computers), copyists did meticulous work. These copyists worked with such precision and reverence that they wiped their pens clean each time before writing the name of God. We now have thousands of miraculously preserved copies, differing from each other in only minute ways. One scholar likened the differences to the English spellings of honor and honour both considered correct.
God sovereignly guarded and protected the copies (those we have now).
The Writers Not Automatons
God chose writers whose hearts were receptive to Him, yet each one was uniquely different. They were not human typewriters, used by God. He wants no automatons.
First of all, the full personalities of the writers entered into their writings. Secondly, the individual writing styles of the authors are evident, some obviously reflecting more education than others. The writers of the Psalms were diverse, some poets, some singers, etc. Though their human capacities came into play, all of these writers were superintended and borne along in a unique way by the Holy Spirit as they each wrote from a different perspective.
However the words came to be recorded, all Scripture is viewed by the writers themselves as words from God, not from their own minds, The Apostle Paul speaks of Scripture as "the very words of God" (Rom. 3:2).
Jesus Himself quoted the Old Testament as the counsel of God given through the writers. The early believers prayed in Acts, "Sovereign Lord ... You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David," then they quoted Psalm 2:1-2 (Acts 4:24-25).
Benjamin Warfield pointed out that such instances of equating Scriptures as if they were God resulted from the writer's habitual identification of Scripture with God. It became natural to use the terms "Scripture says" and "God says" synonymously.
Some Words Are From Evil People
To say all Scripture is inspired does not mean all the attitudes and ideas are God's truth. Some are the words of evil and foolish people, even of Satan himself. Such parts are recorded as accurate information, true pictures of the people's words and the circumstances.
In the Book ofJob we are told the words ofJehovah, the words of Satan, the speeches of Job's three friends, and the words of Job himself. Not all are equally God's truth and authoritative, but inspiration guarantees that what each speaker said was accurately recorded. A good rule for any passage is to check the participants and their belief systems.
A few scholars have implied that the Bible "contains" the Word of God rather than "is" the Word of God in its entirety. If this were true, how would we know which parts are trustworthy and which are not? Often salvation and history are inextricably intertwined. For example, if the Cross and the Resurrection were not historical events, of what value are they in salvation? Personal subjective judgment is a shaky foundation on which to base our faith.
Which Books Are Inspired?
The Bible, as we know it today, is called the "canon" of Scripture, that is, those books recognized as inspired. In Jesus' time, the Old Testament was viewed as a completed collection. He and the apostles referred to this collection as "the Scripture." Most of the books of the Old Testament are quoted in the New and always as authoritative. According to careful calculation, approximately 32 percent—nearly one-third—of the New Testament is composed of Old Testament quotations and allusions.
HOW WRITERS WERE INSPIRED
God described directly to the writer
The creation of the universe and human race (Gen. 1-2)
Writers actually witnessed
The Resurrection and Jesus' miracles (John 20:3-9)
Copied from other texts handed down from eyewitnesses
The creation of Luke's gospel (Luke 1:1-4)
God spoke directly to the prophets
"This is what the Lord says" (Jer. 30:1-2)
The canon of the New Testament, as we know it today, became fixed when
Athanasius (a.d. 297-373), considered the father of orthodoxy, listed the books
of the New Testament in his thirty-ninth Paschal Letter (a.d. 367). Our canon
today was also confirmed at a church council held in
Based on answers to these three questions, the orthodox Protestant church today does not receive as canonical the twelve books of the Apocrypha. Also, the Jews never recognized these books as part of their Old Testament.
The Primary Source Of Religious Belief
Can we really trust the Bible as our primary source of religious belief? Generally, scholars have discussed four sources for religious belief.
1. The first possible source for our beliefs is tradition, the authority of a particular church. This is the view of Roman Catholics and other groups.
The Bible is our sole truth source.
2. The second source is human reason, a view often adopted by well-read thinkers. Human reason could include other religions or philosophies as well as unfounded ideas such as those of the Mormon Church's Joseph Smith finding buried tablets or palm readers or psychics telling the future. Such ideas are missing a rational truth source.
3. A third recently popularized source of belief is an existential encounter or an emotional experience of any variety. These can be mistaken for God's revelation.
4. The fourth source of belief is the Bible itself which Christians have recognized as supported and verified by rational investigation and the historicity of Jesus Christ Himself. To take this position does not deny tradition or human reason, but it does demand that all beliefs be submitted to the message of Scripture. Based on repeatedly accredited evidence of modern archaeology, we can trust the Bible with confidence. God's truth remains our reality.
Tips On Interpreting a Biblical Passage
Biblical understanding and interpretation can be oversimplified as either "literal" or "figurative." As when reading anything, including the daily newspaper, some parts of the Bible are to be taken literally and other parts figuratively.
The Bible uses literary forms such as poetry; allegory, narrative, and
parable. Though some passages are more perplexing than others, usually common
sense helps understanding. The statement "Two people were killed in an
“I use Scripture as a lighter to kindle the fire in my heart.”
• Figures of speech can be recognized by considering the intent of the author. Look through his eyes for his meaning. The Bible is replete with metaphors such as, "I am the door" and "I am the vine, you are the branches," Obviously, these sentences are not talking about a literal door or wood or tree branches.
• The context of a chapter or book is an excellent starting point for understanding a biblical passage. Statements lifted out of their context can become entirely distorted, even developing into unbiblical doctrines. A skeptic once triumphantly asserted, "The Bible says, 'There is no God.'" He was considerably deflated when reminded of the context: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Ps. 14:1).
• Who is the writer or speaker; who is addressed? What is the relationship between the two?
• What is the primary teaching of the passage?
• Is there application for us? The importance of this cannot be overemphasized. This is applying God's Word to our own lives, personalizing biblical truth and living by it. Application can be universal, applied to all people, everywhere; or application can be limited, applied to specific situations, present or future.
• Meditate on any truth about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. "Through the sacred pages, I see You, Lord." Munch on these truths, letting them affect your relationship with God. Write these truths in your own words. Pray to Him about these truths.
• The Scripture is its own best commentary. Often a verse or a passage becomes clear when studied in the light of other biblical statements on the same subject. Look up a key word in a concordance. Using a good Bible dictionary or a general dictionary to investigate the full meaning of the words of Scripture will reveal surprising riches. Try it! And consult several translations.
Though the Bible has many human writers, remind yourself constantly that in the final analysis there was only one AuthorGod Himself.
Does The Sun Rise?
Perhaps the most common challenge to the Bible today is this: do scientific facts and statements in the Bible conflict? How should we respond?
• Scientists, and all of us, speak in what is called phenomenological language—that is, we describe things as they appear to be rather than in precise scientific terms. This is common in the Bible. To say the sun rises in the east is a phenomenological statement. Technically, we know the sun does not really "rise," but even the Naval Almanac uses the term sunrise. We would not charge the almanac with error. The Bible has been easily understood in all cultures throughout history because it describes things in a phenomenological way. The Bible does not claim to be a science textbook, but where it touches scientific matters, it does not give misinformation.
• When Bible information is incomplete, it is not necessarily incorrect. Science is always building on previous knowledge, sometimes scraps of knowledge. Advancement on incomplete theories does not mean the theories were incorrect.
• Guard against making the Bible say things that, on closer examination, it really doesn't say.
• Carefully investigate whether the supposed conflict is between biblical teaching and scientific facts or between interpretation of Scripture and interpretation of scientific facts. At times an interpretation at variance with biblical truth is more philosophic than scientific.
• Our presuppositions inevitably color our conclusions, thus the Christian, the scientist, and the atheist all consider spiritual truth with prior presuppositions. For example, an atheist can a priori eliminate the possibility of miracles while a Christian presupposes there is a mighty God who can and would do miracles. Christians base their presuppositions on God's general revelation, His written revelation, and His special revelation, Jesus Christ.
• Be careful not to "freeze. a point of conflict between science and God's revelation, assuming the Bible to be wrong. The Bible has not changed in 2,000 years, but science admittedly is a moving train. To have reconciled the Bible to scientific views current 100 years ago would have made Scripture obsolete today! Far better to admit an apparent conflict and await the development of additional evidence.
It is interesting to note that modern science was born and developed largely by earnest Christians. Believing in a personal God as Creator, they were convinced that the universe was orderly and uniform in its natural laws and therefore capable of meaningful investigation. The truth of biblical revelation and the truth of science will ultimately agree. All truth is from God.
Dating Problems Explained
In careful reading it may appear the Bible has some "internal" contradictions in parallel accounts of the same event. Some apparent numerical differences may be due to mistakes in copying over many years. Recent archaeological discoveries, however, show the ancients' system of dating explains some numerical problems, If, for example, one king ended his rule and another began ruling in a given calendar year, both were given credit for ruling the entire year. Round numbers like our police estimates are often used—not precise, but not incorrect.
Some explanations for seeming biblical discrepancies may not be currently satisfactory. Yet, it would be unscientific, in light of modern archaeological discoveries, to assume the Bible is wrong until proven right, rather than the reverse.
An ever increasing number of excavations from
To believe in divine, biblical inspiration is not to deny there are problems reconciling some statements of Scripture with the historical data we possess. But the evidence of modern archaeology has, with very few exceptions, confirmed the Bible record, so it would not seem unreasonable to postpone judgment on the questions still in doubt.
We do not "prove" the Bible by archaeology. The Holy Spirit confirms in our hearts the conviction "the Bible is the Word of God."
Holy Spirit Illumination Is Essential
Scripture becomes meaningful to individuals when their hearts are open and illumined by the Holy Spirit. Jesus asked Peter the climactic question, "Who do you say I am?" and Peter's immediate response was, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus then said, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven" (Matt. 16:15-17, italics added).
Again, when Jesus met two disciples on the road to Emmaus following His resurrection, He "explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." As He sat with them, "their eyes were opened and they recognized him" (Luke 24:27, 31). "Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures" (24:45). He also explicitly told His disciples, "When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). God reveals by the Spirit what He has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor. 2:9-10).
The Bible does not become the Word of God; it is already the Word of God. A television set, sitting in the corner but not turned on, is still a television set. I won't get any images or sound until I turn it on, but it is a television set, whether turned on or not. It doesn't become a television set when turned on. What the Holy Spirit illumines is the Word of God, not something less. It doesn't become something it wasn't before.
Furthermore, the Scripture is the Word of God, whether or not anybody even responds to it. We have the choice. We can open our minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit, thus allowing the Scripture to become personal to our lives.
"Never study the Bible for purely academic purposes" was the admonition of scholar Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Beyond its sacred pages, we connect personally to God. Academic understanding does help illumine our thoughts, but then we must turn to speak to the Author, react to His words, probe His will for our lives.
One well-known performer said: "Nothing outside yourself can make you feel whole. Not fame, not sex, not drugs, not money. None of these work. Nothing can fill you up. And believe me, because I've tried them all."
By contrast, the Old Testament's Job, a man in horrendous loss and suffering, gives us a glimpse of how to approach God's Word. In the midst of his suffering, he said in his talk with God: "I have treasured the words of [your] mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:12, nkjv). Just as food gets to the muscles and bloodstream, the words from God can make you feel whole, satisfied, loved, connected—deep inside!
Our faith is rooted in the Bible, but we do not worship it, we trust it. Every new idea and even our emotional experiences are to be tested by its teaching. Are my opinions, my world views, and my actions congruent with God's revelation?
By all means, anticipate joy and exhilaration as you respond to God's words. Blaise Pascal, the renowned French scientist, sought diligently to know God, and the fruit of his search is expressed in very moving lines. Some were written on paper and sewn inside his coat and discovered after he died! One of them was:
O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee,
But I have known Thee. Joy. Joy. Joy. Tears of Joy.
Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Ps. 119:89)
—Know What You Believe