As the nature of this series deals with general Christian theology, it is best to say where such conclusions are drawn from. Two posts (here and here) have dealt with the nature of God, but how do we know about the nature and person of this God? It comes through revelation, and the record of that revelation is found in what is called “The Bible”. To that end, we must speak of the process of revelation, known as inspiration, and the recognition of revelation, known as canonization.
I have a fuller treatment on the nature of this concept, but to briefly state the point here, inspiration is the act of God moving a man to write, then providentially carrying what he has approved as the vehicle he intends to use to reveal himself and speak to his people through time. Inspiration, therefore, is two-fold in that God uses man as his scribe to record his words, then he uses the text to speak out of.
This concept is not something that I have written much on, but what it refers to is a passive recognition of those texts which speaks with authority in regards to what God has made known. This is interesting simply because there are a variety of Christian traditions that recognize different canons, yet all recognize a core text of 66 books. The fact that there are traditions that recognize more books may or may not be problematic because such conclusions are depending upon how those texts are used and understood. The focus of this discourse, is on what is known as the Protestant canon of 39 books of the Hebrew canon and 27 of the Christian canon. Any argument, from this position, is a passive argument based upon historical usage and recognition of texts, it does not deny that those other texts that other traditions recognize may or may not be useful in shedding light on matters, but notes that they have no consistent recognized authority in the history of the church catholic to its most ancient traditions.
Note: I use the term catholic, in its most historic and general sense, that it was used to refer to the universal church, and it is not meant to be understood that I am referring to the Roman Catholic Church.
The Bible Itself
What then can we say, theologically, when we, as Christians, speak about the Bible. Six points, and a conclusion:
- It is divine in origin. John begins his gospel considering logos which is translated word. To the Greeks logos was the principle of reason, and their philosophy was literally built around that concept. In the mind of a Jew though it referred to God’s active power: when God speaks, things happen (creation, laws, blessing and judgment). When God speaks there is no choice but to respond. Jesus was the Word made flesh, come to speak the words of redemption and reconciliation to a lost and dying world. By words being the expression of thought, Jesus is the expression of God’s thoughts and is therefore God of very God. While Jesus is the Word of God, and the Bible is the Word of God, they are not equal; the Bible is the record, not the resting place, so there is power behind it, not in it. The proof of the Bible’s divine origin is in it (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21), its heroes weaknesses are on display holding to us a mirror where we can see ourselves and our need on full display.
- It is the breath of God. The writer of Hebrews points out that the Bible is “living and active”. The KJV says “quick”, which is a translation of the Greek word zon, which means life. 2 Timothy says that Scripture is “God-breathed”; the phrase there is theopneustos: theo being God; pneustos being breathed. Genesis 2:7 says that after God formed man he “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” That same breath is perpetuated in the inspired, breathed-into, Word of God. Upon reading it, one is changed, made truly alive, made aware of greater things. Laying on a table it is a seed waiting to be planted; when taken into the heart it springs forth and grows (1 Peter 1:23).
- God’s word is indestructible. (Matt. 5:18, 24:35; 1 Pet. 1:25) People have been trying to destroy the Bible for as long as it has been written, but it has been preserved by nothing less than the providential hand of God. Heb. 4: 12 calls it “sharper than any double-edged sword”, it cuts on the way in and on the way out, that is why it is often so painful when it is properly used; that is why the crowd shouted at the end of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, “Brother’s, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37)” It cuts through layers of callused hide that we have wrapped around our hearts and minds convicting us to what is right and wrong and awakening us to what God has for us to be. Look at Revelation 19:13, what is the victorious Jesus called there: the Word of God.
- It has convicting power. Heb. 4:12 continues saying that God’s Word “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Greek word there is kritikos which is where we get our word for critic; so it critically analyzes our lives, forcing us to examine ourselves with that same lens. When the time of God’s judgment comes, there will be nothing that we can say or do to defend ourselves from the righteous, critical judgement laid out in His Word.
- It has a clear message. Ethics are not complicated, the Gospel is not complicated; discipleship is not complicated. The message is only muddled when the heart and mind are muddled. Peter cautions us in the 1st chapter and 19th verse of his first letter that Scripture is “a light shining in a dark place.” Its light shines bright and intensely on the darkest deepest corners of our lives, revealing how much we need its message. As to those confusing claims of contradictions and inconsistencies, one must see the Bible, from start to finish, as an unfolding story. Paul instructed Timothy and us to “[do] your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)” We are also warned in 2nd Peter 1:20 to be careful of private interpretations, which are those slip-shod, cut-and-pasted, self-glorifying things that butcher the Bible, constructed to suit a fancy and not further the Kingdom.
- Finally, it is the believer’s authority. As Christians we believe that, and some have given their lives for this, every person has the right to go to God’s word for himself or herself. We believe that we need no mediator, be that a priest or someone with a great education, to teach us/them the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is what makes the Word come to life. To that end, we tend to deplore creeds which seem to state that the Bible is not clear enough. John Leland, a Baptist pastor who influenced the writing of religious freedom into the Constitution, advised the minute we develop a creed we develop a cult that stands between us and God; therefore there should be one creed in Christian life: the Word of God and no other. John Wesley, the father of Methodism, wrote: “I want to know one thing, the way to heaven—how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book].”
When a Christian picks up his or her Bible, they have to recognize that what it contains has power, and because it has power, it must be handled rightly and consistently. Christians will be held responsible for what they have been given in the form of revelation. It is a great treasure and a wonderful inheritance from our Father in Heaven who has adopted us in Christ and is bringing us to himself.