Steve and Rob are friends who are discussing the meaning of life. Steve is convinced the purpose is to simply do good, be happy, and leave the world a better place than it was before you were born. Rob generally agrees with his friend, and he prods Steve for clarity over what it means to be good, what happiness is, and what the world “should” look like.
In the end, they agree their disagreements flow from a big difference in their epistemology (ep-iss-ta-maw-lo-gee), or, “how you know what you know.” Steve believes that we each determine our own truths, so long as they don’t do harm to others around us. Rob is a Christian who believes the Bible is the final authority and measure of truth. In his frustration about Rob’s continual mention of the Bible, Steve expresses, “What even IS the Bible? It’s just a book, and it’s not even trustworthy. People made it up and threw it together, stop talking about the Bible!”
According to a joint-study of Barna Group and American Bible Society’s on The State of the Bible,
- 80% of Americans consider the Bible sacred literature.
- 1/3 of Americans claim to read the Bible at least once a week.
- 62% have a desire to read the Bible more frequently.
- 50% of American Christian Millennials believe it is the Word of God and has no errors (some verses were meant to be taken figuratively, and not every verse is literal)
- 27% of American Millennials who are not Christians believe the Bible is a dangerous book which promotes oppression.
- 19% of American Millennials who are not Christians believe the Bible is completely outdated and has no relevance to life today.
The impact of the Bible on history cannot be disputed. But what is the Bible? Is it any different from other books? And is the Bible trustworthy?
The purpose here is not to persuade anyone new that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but to clarify historic Christian teaching about what the Bible is.
Inspiration: The Bible is the Word of God
From the very beginning, Christians have always believed the Bible is more than just a book of wisdom. The clearest message the Bible gives about itself is this:
“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 complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 3:16-17, ESV)
The word inspiration literally means, “God-breathed.” Genesis 2:7 says, “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” In the same way that God breathed life into humanity, he breathed life into the Holy Scriptures.
One of my favorite quotes about the Bible is this one by Martin Luther,
“Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scriptures.”
Authority: The Bible is our Measure of Truth
Because the Bible is the inspired by God, it carries the authority of God’s Word.
Remember our friends Steve and Rob who are discussing the meaning of life? Steve denied the inspiration and authority of Scripture, so he made his own descriptions of the good life and what it means to be happy. Rob draws his explanations from the Bible because it is the inspired Word of God, and it speaks with God-given authority.
As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 encourages, “it is useful for rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so the man of God might be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It is God’s Word, meant to show us who God is, what he’s done for our salvation, and what he wants for us and from us.
God has not left himself to be a complete mystery to us. Instead, he chose to make himself known. If God is true, and if God has instructed us how to live, then we should pay attention.
This is why Christians continue to read and study and even memorize the Bible. God has spoken. We should listen.
Canonicity: The Bible is Reliable
One of the reasons why Steve rejects the Bible is because he believes it’s simply untrustworthy. Well… that’s what he’s learned. But is it true?
I’ve written an article for the Rooted Ministry about how the Bible was put together. Here’s a brief excerpt, the link to the full article is included.
The word canon comes from the rods people in the Ancient Near East (Egypt, Israel, etc.) constructed from papyrus, which were then cut and marked at standard lengths to ensure consistent measurements. Essentially, a canon was a modern-day mathematic ruler, but instead of being made out of plastic it was cut from papyrus reeds.
The biblical canon, then, is the set of books which “measure up,” according to the inspiration and authority you would expect from the Word of God. The church’s task was not to grant authority and inspiration, but to discern which books already measured up.
… The Bible we read today is a translation of the Bible read by Christians throughout the ages. There is great power in reflecting on the legacy we hold in our hands. It was not contrived and slapped together by a bunch of men who thought to themselves, “Oh man, I hope we got this right!” Neither were they grasping for power in an effort to gain dominance over another faction within the Church. Instead, they affirmed those books which God had inspired for the benefit of the Church.
Our Bible measures up to the authority and inspiration Christians have always recognized, since the days of the Apostles. God’s Word is a precious gift. We may read it with confidence.
God Speaks Through His Word
Who among us would refuse the opportunity to receive a message from God? And yet how many of us read the Holy Bible with regularity and humility?
Christians are men and women who recognize they stand under the authority of God. We have confessed our need for salvation, and we place our trust in God’s gracious provision. Life and hope and peace are gifts of faith in God, who has revealed himself through the Holy Scriptures.
There are many Christians who desire to read the Bible more regularly (see the State of the Bible report mentioned above). If that describes you, but you don’t always know what to do when you open your Bible, another article I’ve written may help you, How to Read Your Bible.
If there are other questions or comments you’d like to be addressed further, please either leave a comment below or ask a question for consideration as a future blog topic.