The Importance & Nature of the Bible

Well, here I am again. The below text is a slight altered version of a sermon I gave during a recent evening service at my church. Our minister has a number of things happening in his life, and while he’s unavailable I and others are sharing the preaching.

————————————————————————–

2 Timothy 3: 10 – 17

2 Peter 3: 14 – 17

A story I’m sure we’ve all heard before is this…

A certain minister, in a church not unlike this one, is in the habit of standing up each Sunday and while preaching, making comments about certain sections of the Bible not being relevant, or not applying anymore. One day, he visits an elder member of his congregation and at the end of the visit one of them makes the suggestion that they should pray and read the scripture together.

She then brings out a copy of the Bible that has massive chunks missing. Paragraphs have been cut out of pages and in some instances, whole chunks of scripture have been removed.

Of course, the minister is outraged. He thunders at the parishioner. “How dare you deface scripture in this way?” She looks at him and says, “but pastor, these are all the bits you said didn’t matter”…

By the grace of God, our church here is one where scripture is held in high regard. Geoff and the deacons take great care to ensure that everything said from here is scripturally based and scripturally sound.

But, why is this important? Why is a sound knowledge and understanding of scripture so important?

To answer this, let’s look at a number of questions.

  1. Is The Bible the Word of God, or Does it Contain the Word of God?

The answer to this question is the most important one, because without answering this correctly we cannot answer any of those that follow.

At first glance, the difference between the two halves of the question appears to be quite minor. Purely a matter of semantics we might think. But, the difference is actually enormous.

If we understand that the Bible is the Word of God, then all of it is important and relevant to our Christian walk. Every verse from Genesis to Revelation should be studied and chewed over, learned from and applied to our daily lives.

Yet, if the Bible simply contains the Word of God, then there must be sections that don’t contain his word. Sections that we can safely ignore because we don’t think they’re relevant, because they’re two hard and “surely a loving God wouldn’t say that”

The end result of such an attitude is something that looks a little bit like the Jefferson Bible.

This particular bible belonged to Thomas Jefferson, one of the American founding fathers and the second president of the US. He had such a dislike of certain sections of the bible, calling them nonsense; that he carefully cut them out with a razor blade. Jefferson ended up with a Bible that was only 46 pages in length.

Others, while they have not taken quite such drastic action, have suggested that entire sections of scripture can be completely disregarded, as they are either not true or have no application.

Ultimately, I would suggest, this attitude of disregarding or ‘chopping out’ certain sections of scripture can be traced back to a simple cause.

In Hebrews 4:12 it says
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

We humans don’t like to have our thoughts and motivations laid bare, especially the ones that are sinful. Isn’t it easier to simply find a convenient excuse for ignoring the parts of God’s Word that might bring these to light?

So then, do we deal with this?

There are two things to consider.

In 2nd Timothy, 3:16-17 it says
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

So then, if the verse says that All Scripture is breathed out by God, then he had a direct hand in the writing of every single word, in every single book.

Second, throughout the 4 gospels, Jesus frequently quotes from what we know as the Old Testament. He quotes from the books of history, such as Genesis, and also the books of prophecy, such as Isiah.

It would be strange indeed if Jesus quoted from, and gave authority to, something that had been written by men rather than his Father acting through the Holy Spirit.

To answer the question I asked at the beginning, the Bible is the Word of God. Wholly inspired by him through the Holy Spirit.

  1. Is the Bible inerrant?

In this age of textual and scriptural criticism, it has become common for the people who claim authority as scriptural scholars to find fault with one or more elements of scripture. Some of these arguments include.

  • Events such as the Exodus have not or cannot be verified from non-biblical sources
  • Some books, Ezekiel for example, contain differences in syntax and style that would seem to indicate multiple authors were involved in writing the book.
  • Prophecies, such as those in the book of Daniel are far too accurate. How could they have been written except after the fact, by someone looking back over recent history?

Once again, these questions go to the core of the nature of God’s Word. When people ask if the Bible is inerrant, that is, does it contain factual or doctrinal error, the answer comes in two parts.

Firstly, ultimately, who wrote the Bible? As we just saw, it was the Holy Spirit working through men. Men were involved, as they were motivated to put pen to paper, but the Bible is wholly the Word of God.

God, by his very nature, does not make mistakes or errors, and he does not change.

The Bible does not contradict itself. A book or religious text with the number of authors who contributed to the Bible should contain any number of factual and theological contradictions. It would be impossible for a book written by over 60 authors to not contain these. Yet, the Bible has none.

If you examine Scripture from beginning to end, you will not find one single contradiction in any area of importance. From the character and nature of God, his plan for salvation and the work accomplished by Jesus. There are no inconsistencies at any point.

Yes, people can point to the apparent difference between the teaching of Jesus and the system of law in the Old Testament, but this is answered in scripture where it is clearly pointed out that Salvation is by faith, and never by works.

The Old Testament law was meant to point this out, rather than provide a works-based system of salvation.

Comparison between the various texts found or used at different times in history shows there are very few, if any errors that have crept in during the many hundreds of years of copy, re-copy and translation that lie between us and the time of Jesus, and even longer between us and the Old Testament prophets.

In Matthew 24, Jesus states that
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Are there errors in scripture, or is it the inerrant Word of God? For my part, and I hope for everyone else here as well, I believe it to be the inerrant Word of God.

  1. Is the whole of the Bible relevant to us?

The short answer to this, is Yes, without doubt.

However, we should never accept an answer without proofs. People who teach, as I am right now, are not perfect. We make mistakes, misinterpret passages and get things wrong.

If any preacher or teacher cannot clearly back up his teaching from scripture, then his words are subject to challenge. If what he says doesn’t match scripture at all, then I’ll give you two guesses as to who is incorrect, and it won’t be the Bible.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t parts of the Bible that are hard to understand, or that there are questions unique to this time in history that don’t seem to have a readily apparent answer in scripture.

For example, in an age in which human beings have the ability to directly manipulate the genetic structure of plants and animals, what does the Bible have to say about bio-ethics and genetic modification?

At first glance, absolutely nothing. Yet, there is more to it.

If we accept that God called this world into existence from nothing, as the Bible clearly states, and that every living thing which breaths or grows under the sun or in the sea was created by him, then the Bible actually has a lot to say about the ethics of genetic modification.

How about another issue that dominates the headlines at the moment, that of the so-called ‘gay marriage’. Well, to answer that question I refer you to the various verses that clearly state homosexuality is an abomination, and also to Jesus own words on the subject of marriage in Matthew 19.

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.

There is no mention of two men, or two women being joined together in marriage; in this verse or in any other that deals with the subject.

As human beings, we love to find loopholes. I have heard, and I’m sure everyone else has heard, instances where the relevance of scripture is called into question because of cultural bias, perceived differences between the Old & New Testament, or even simple dislike of a particular passage.

Yet, in scripture itself we find the answer to these objections. I quoted from this passage earlier, but I believe it is worth quoting again.

. In 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, Paul says
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work

So then, how do we answer this question?

Is all of scripture relevant? Yes, absolutely!

  1. Why is knowing and studying the Bible important?

Simply, by knowing the Scriptures we may know God. He is revealed to us through them, clearly and on every page.

Knowing and studying the Bible isn’t just an intellectual pursuit. It is our means of knowing more about our creator and his son, our saviour. If we do not know God the Father or Jesus the Son, how can we worship or believe in them?

In Romans 15:4, Paul writes,
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope

Breaking this down, we see that personal knowledge and study of the Scripture is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is for our instruction. Scripture is there to guide, and instruct us. It is there to provide clear commandments about how we should live and worship. Jesus said that if we love him, we’ll keep his commandments. How can we know his commandments except through study of scripture?

Take one of the shorter books, Jude for example. At first glance, there may not appear to be much substance to a book that is only 24 verses in length. Yet, within Jude we find the following.

  • A sound warning against false teaching
  • A description of the judgement upon those who deliberately lead others astray from truth
  • A call to perseverance

If all of this can be found in only 24 verses, imagine what can be found in the thirty-odd thousand that comprise the Bible as a whole.

Secondly, the Bible is there for our correction. It shows us for what we are. Sinners, in deep and grave need of a saviour. The Holy Spirit works within us, using the truths we learn in scripture as a tool to grow and mould us.

How many of us have read through the judgements pronounced upon sin and shuddered at what would happen had we not seen the truth.

Thirdly, the Bible is there to encourage us. Looking at Jude again, there is a call to persevere in the face of strong resistance and persecution. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but how many of us have taken joy and hope from reading the Psalms in the darker times of our lives. Psalm 23 for instance.

In Psalm 1, verse 2 it says
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

So, it’s not enough to simply read the Bible. We should seek to make it part of our daily lives, our routine. The thing that we think and meditate upon when washing the dishes, driving to work, or sitting at home.

Now it is true that without the Holy Spirit working within us, the Bible is just a collection of words on paper, somewhat strange and very densely written. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that opens scripture to us, and helps us to understand and grow in faith and knowledge through study, prayer and worship. Yet, it is our responsibility to make an effort to put time aside each day to study God’s Word.

Lastly, God’s Word is our greatest tool for evangelism.

In Romans 10:14, it says
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

God gave us his word that we may know him, but also so that by knowing it we can help others to know him. All the flowery words and emotional appeals in the world are hollow, unless they are solidly based in the truth of scripture.

The simple personal conviction and growth that come from reading the Bible is the whole reason that organisations like the Gideons, the Bible League and the Bible Society exist. Taking the time to read the Bible with someone may be the most important thing we can do for them.

Reading the Bible for ourselves and spending time in prayer are certainly the most important things we can do as we seek to grow closer to the Lord.