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From the Pastor's Desk

How to Study the Bible: Part 2

Posted by Pastor Stephen Baum on

What is the Bible?: Part 2

The Bible is a Book about God
Last week, as we began to ask how it is we ought to approach the Bible in study, we found it first helpful to note what kind of book the Bible is. There we saw that the Bible is most of all a book from God. Because it has God for its author, the Bible is entirely unlike any other book ever written. In history, there have been scores of books pertaining to god(s) written by men and women who claim to have heard from said god or had some private and specially revealed knowledge of that god to deliver. But the Bible is unique in its claim to be written by the supernatural inspiration and superintendence of the very person of the Holy Spirit of God through and over human authors. Because it is the very Word of God, and God is wholly perfect, good, and true, we conclude then that by its very nature, the Bible itself must be without error and always true (some scholars like the respective terms, inerrant and infallible to describe these realities). This is an important implication for the Word of God, for it tells us that this book that comes from God is trustworthy, true, reliable, unfailing, unchanging, and eternally applicable. I pray this reality finds you as grateful to and awestruck by God for his written word as it does me!

So the Bible is a book from God, but that is not all. The Bible is also—and just as importantly—a book about God. From the first page to the last, the only consistent and unchanging character of Scripture is God. He is the creator of the universe in Genesis, the redeemer of Israel in Exodus. God chooses David to rule as his rightful king in Jerusalem, and he is the one who brings the exiled Israelites back to live in Israel again after being held captive in Babylon. It is God who sends the angel Gabriel to inform Mary that she will be the bearer of the very Son of God, in his incarnation. John in his Gospel tells us that the eternal Word of God, who was with God in the beginning and who is God himself, took on flesh in the man named Jesus. And even in those places, like the book of Esther, where God’s name never appears and he is not mentioned explicitly as a character, it is nearly impossible not to see the many shadows of his quiet grace and provision.

That the Bible is about God primarily, however, is a point often missed by readers. Too often of late many preachers and teachers in churches have used the text of the Bible as supporting material for what amount to little more than self-help lectures. Sermons on responsible budgeting, marital happiness, better parenting, and job satisfaction among countless other topics are far too easily found in far too many pulpits. Using the Bible to ends such as these is to miss the point of the Bible altogether. This gets us to a discussion that has been had by the church for as long as she has existed, a discussion over what it is the Bible is really intending to say. Does the Bible exist to be a “guidebook” for life? A rulebook to follow? A manual for successful living? Or something greater? To answer this question, we need turn to an historic teaching of the church on the nature of the Bible: the doctrine of revelation.

The Doctrine of Revelation

Revelation (the present concept, not the apocalyptic book at the end of the Bible) has to do with how God has spoken about himself to humanity. Theologians have consistently separated God’s revelation into two categories: general and special. General revelation is how God reveals himself to all people in equally accessible ways, yet because it is general (and not specific) this manner of God’s revealing himself is limited in what it says about him. The chief manner in which God reveals himself to all mankind is in nature (thus why some also refer to general revelation as natural revelation). Our friend, the apostle Paul deals with this kind of revelation in his letter to the Roman church when he says:

  • 19 For what can be known about God is plain to [mankind], because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20).

Here we find that God has revealed certain aspects of his nature and character through what has been created. The point is this: simply by looking at the world around us and the complexity of the cosmos we can surmise that there is a God and that he is both powerful and sovereign (in control of all things). These aspects of God, Paul says in verse 20 have been clearly observed even since the beginning of the world, and since this knowledge of God is accessible to all there is no one who has any excuse for not at least recognizing that there is a God. But there is much about God’s person and mind and character that nature does not and cannot reveal to us. For that, we need something more specific.

Special revelation, then, accounts for all the things of God we cannot know from nature, but must know in order to have a clear understanding of God. In contrast to general revelation, which is accessible by all people in all times, “God’s special revelation is available to specific people at specific times in specific places.”
[1] This special revelation is available to us today only by accessing the only book that comes from God, the Bible. That God would seek to communicate himself to human beings by supernaturally inspiring human authors to write his words says much about God.

First, it says to us that God wants to be known. This is not to say that God needs to be known, for there is nothing that God needs because he is perfectly self-sufficient. God’s perfect self-sufficiency, though, sets in better contrast the wonder and the blessing of his wanting to be known by his creatures.

Second, God’s work in special revelation indicates that he desires fellowship with creatures who know him. Certainly this is a truly awesome implication of this doctrine. Fellowship implies not only knowledge of a person or being, but some sort of relational exercise associated with that knowledge. As we find in the pages of Scripture, God wants to be known that he might be loved; being loved that he might be worshipped; being worshipped that he might be glorified; being glorified that he might reveal himself to more of his creatures; and being perpetually and exponentially revealed that there would be among all nations and ethnicities of mankind a people who have entered into this glorious and eternal fellowship of knowing, loving, and worshipping God forever.

God’s special revelation that we have in the sixty-six books of the Bible, however, gets more specific still. While the Scriptures on every page tell us about God through what he says and does and the people he interacts with and works through, he goes further to reveal himself more clearly and more intimately in the person of his Son, Jesus. The writer of Hebrews makes this wonderfully clear for us when he writes:

  • “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:1-3a).

This is to say that Jesus Christ—who is the eternal Son of God adding humanity to his nature at his incarnation—is the very physical manifestation and personal revelation of God to mankind. And as the perfect personal revelation of God, Jesus is the highpoint, climax, and summit of special revelation. Because of this, every other truth of God revealed in the pages of Scripture is then either leading up to and preparing the reader for Jesus or pointing the reader’s attention back to Jesus. The incarnate Son of God—whose sinless life given in sacrifice for spiritually bankrupt sinners and resurrection from the dead provides justification with God—is himself the very center of God’s special revelation to us. Jesus is how God is personally known, and all that is knowable about God can be known in Jesus.

Dear friend, the Bible is most certainly a book about God. It shows us precisely what he is like and what he requires of us. This it does in a most glorious way in the very person of God with us—Jesus Christ—who is in every way the clear, personal and specific revelation of God to man, and who wonderfully fulfills all that God requires of us in our stead. By his perfect life, the law of God is perfectly fulfilled, and in his death for sinners, our debt for sin is paid—the requisite penalty for our treason paid in full—and by his resurrection he proves himself victor over sin and death. There is truly nothing better to know about our God than this!

So we know what the Bible is. It is a book from God and a book about God—and that is helpful information. But knowing what the Bible is does not in itself help us with our motivation for studying the Bible. For that, we must ask the question that evokes our motive for exploring the Scriptures—we must ask, “Why should I study the Bible?” More on this next time.

Until then, God bless your reading of His Word, and your study of the same!