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Greetings, friends. Over the next several weeks, I will be using this platform to help shape and challenge our approach to studying God’s Word. This is a little out of the vein of what I have endeavored to do through these articles in the recent past, but I sense that this will be a helpful effort for all of us. As we grow together as readers and teachers of the Bible, I look forward to having more conversations like these with several of you in the future. May God bless us as we work to know His Word!
As a pastor I am happy to find among Christians the conviction that the Bible ought to be read and studied as a part of our devotional lives and ongoing relationship with our Creator and Redeemer. Yet, the matter of studying the Bible can be regularly complicated by difficult passages that seem far from our current moment in books of the Bible like Leviticus and Numbers and 1 Corinthians and, let us not forget, Revelation! What is it we are to gain from these hard texts? Anything at all? Perhaps we ought to skip over them in favor of more readily applicable sections like the Proverbs or the Gospels. “But,” you protest, “I don’t want to skip over any part, I want to understand the whole thing! I just don’t know how.” Well, friend, I applaud and commend your heart to know and understand all of Scripture, and it is right to want to know how best to go about studying it. But, before we can even begin to ask the question, “How should I study the Bible?” we ought to ask the question, “What is the Bible?” For surely, we cannot know how we ought to seek to understand the Bible if we do not first know what sort of book the Bible is. Such is the aim of this first of a series of articles on studying the Bible. In answering the question at hand, “What is the Bible?” we find that it is primarily two things.
The Bible Is a Book from God
First, the Bible is a book from God. Hundreds of times in Scripture the words that are written and the discourse that is recorded are called the words of the Lord. This is especially clear in places like Exodus and Numbers where God speaks through his servant, Moses, as an intermediary to the people of Israel (i.e. Ex. 4:28, 24:3, 24:4; Num. 11:24, 36:5). God speaks not only through Moses, but also many of his other prophets in the Old Testament. The “word of the Lord” comes to Isaiah (Isa. 38:4), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:1-2), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:3), Joel (Joel 1:1), Jonah (Jon. 1:1), and others. In fact, the majority of the content of the prophetic books is speech either directed or dictated by God himself to his prophets. But this is not the case of just the Old Testament, but all of Scripture.
In the biblical worldview there is no greater, nor truer being and thus no higher authority than God himself. So it follows that if this God has spoken, and that through the Bible, then his words carry weight.
In his second letter to young pastor Timothy, the apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Did you catch that? Paul says, all Scripture is breathed out by God. By this is meant that every word of the Scriptures is God’s word. We understand that by his Holy Spirit, God inspired and superintended every word that was written by his prophets, the psalmists, and the apostles. The apostle Peter indicates the same concept of the Holy Spirit’s work in those who wrote the Scriptures when he says that the “Holy Spirit was indicating” the coming of the Messiah to the prophets of old (1 Pet 1:12), and that all the prophets of the Old Testament “were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21).
Inspired by the Holy Spirit
So we have evidence that the Old Testament is from God, but what about the New? Gratefully, we have much to confirm the Holy Spirit inspiration of the New Testament books also. First, Peter includes Paul’s writings among “the other Scriptures,” putting Paul’s writings on par with the Spirit-superintended work of the Law and the prophets (2 Pet. 3:16). Second, Paul cites Matthew 5:32 when giving instruction to the Corinthians, saying that the Lord Jesus gives authoritative instruction applicable for the Corinthian church—thus indicating that the Gospel of Matthew, and with it the other Gospels as well, are authoritative words from God, that are instructive for the church (1 Cor. 7:10). And yet again in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul says that “the Scripture says. . . ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” What is most interesting about this quote is that it comes from the Gospel of Luke (10:7), and Paul calls Luke’s Gospel Scripture! There is much more we could consider here, but for present purposes we find ample evidence that the Bible as we have it in its sixty-six books and two testaments are a book, from God—it is His Word.
God's Word Carries Authority
Because we can say with confidence that the Bible is a book from God, we can also infer that this book, God’s Word, carries authority. In the biblical worldview there is no greater, nor truer being and thus no higher authority than God himself. So it follows that if this God has spoken, and that through the Bible, then his words carry weight. The word that comes from God demands our attention and ultimately our obedience. This first characteristic of what the Bible is helps us immensely as we endeavor to study it, for we know that when we come to it we are coming face to face with the God who has spoken the world into existence and that also he has condescended to speak to us. We ought to listen to him, heed his words, and obey them.
We said before that there are two things we can know for certain about the Bible. In this installment, we have looked first at the fact that it is a book from God. Next time, we will see that it is a book about God. Until then, may the knowledge that God has spoken to us in his Word humble and excite you as you turn to it each day.