What is the Bible?

In the last post, we began by asking if there is credible evidence for the existence for a personal, creator God. We discovered that the evidence is overwhelming.

That evidence is what we call in theology, General Revelation, how God has revealed himself as the Creator through the material universe.

Now, we turn to what is called Special Revelation, where God has revealed himself not only as the Creator and Judge, but as a Savior, Redeemer and Reconciler.

Our key passage for discussing Special Revelation is 2 Timothy 3:14-17, where Paul is talking to his younger disciple Timothy, encouraging him in his ministry as a pastor.

“14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

_________________________

At 3:00 a.m. Bagdad time on January 16, 1991, the United States began an extensive aerial bombing campaign to launch the first Iraq War, an operation called Dessert Storm.

On the first night of the war, Lt. Col. Jeff Patton flew as an F-15 pilot escorting a large formation of bombers to destroy a chemical weapons plant in northern Iraq.

The date for the bombing campaign was chosen because of the absence of moonlight and the high clouds that helped the allied planes from being detected by enemy defenses.  Flying in total darkness, the pilots became completely dependent upon their instruments.

Shortly after crossing into Iraq, an Iraqi surface-to-air missile radar locked on to Col. Patton’s F-15.  He violently maneuvered the aircraft to break the radar’s lock.  His maneuver was successful, but created a new problem.  Such violent movements in the dark threw off the fluid balance in his inner ear, causing him to become severely disoriented.

Although it felt as if the plane was in a steep climb, his instruments indicated he was in a 60-degree nose dive towards the ground. He was physiologically convinced that he was in a climb and his emotions demanded that he lower the nose of his aircraft to halt the climb.  But his instruments instructed him to do just the opposite.  Because he was flying in total darkness, he had to decide quickly whether to trust his emotions or trust his instruments.  His life depended on making the correct choice. He had three seconds to decide.

Even though it took everything within him to overcome what he was feeling, he decided to trust his instruments.  He pulled the F-15 upward and the plane leveled out.  Trusting his instruments saved his life![1]

God has given us instruments, too. Not the dash of an F-15, but what Paul called the Holy Scriptures, or what we more commonly call, the Bible.

However, just like the instrument panel on an F-15 may look overwhelming, so can the contents of the Bible.

So, my aim in this post is to help you understand the basics of the Bible so that you can live by the instruments of God’s wisdom. Like Col. Patton, trusting the instruments just might save your life.

Before we dig into our primary Bible text, let me give you a little background in the Bible, itself.

The English word Bible comes from a Greek word, biblos, which originally referred to a collection of written documents, usually inscribed on papyrus and contained in a scroll.

Today, when we think of a book, we don’t think of a scroll as much as a collection of pages bound together within a cover. Yet, with the advent of the internet and e-books, scrolls, or at least digital scrolls, are making a comeback.

The word bible simply means book. To distinguish the book we call THE Bible from other books, we refer to the Bible as the “holy” Bible to signify that we are talking about a special book, a unique and even sacred book. This is why Paul called the Scriptures the Holy Scriptures.

Of course, the Bible as a book actually is a collection of sixty-six books which are divided between the two major sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Old Testament, which was written over a thousand-year period from 1,400 BC to around 400 BC, contains 39 individual books that include genres ranging from history, to poetry, to wisdom literature, to prophetic writings.

The New Testament, which was written entirely in the first century AD (mid-40s to mid-90s) contains 27 individual books that include historical narratives of the life of Jesus and the early church, personal letters to churches and individuals from apostles such as Paul, Peter, James, and John, and John’s apocalyptic vision called Revelation.

Let me pause to address an obvious question you may be asking. Can such an old collection of writings that describe life in ancient cultures have any real application for people living in the 21st century? Of course, an obvious answer is that while cultures change, the human condition has not changed.

Nevertheless, should we really allow the Bible to be out authoritative guide in what to believe, how to think and what to do?  Should we really ascribe to the Bible the status of “holy” and “sacred?”

Can we really trust the Bible, or is it just an interesting, old religious text

A STAGGERING CLAIM

In verse 16, Paul makes a staggering claim, saying, “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

The Greek word for “all” is pas, which can be translated as “each, every, any, or all,” meaning that each and every word inscribed into the Bible is exactly what God wanted written from him to us.

Paul is teaching what is called in theology the “verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible,” which affirms that every single word in Scripture is “breathed out” from God.

The Greek word we translate “God breathed” is theopneustos, which is a compound word made up of two Greek words Theos, the Greek word for God, and pneustos, meaning breath, wind or spirit. In fact, when we read of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, the original Greek word is pneuma, a form of pneustos.  He is the Holy pneuma–the Holy breath or wind or spirit of God.

Paul is saying that the Bible contains the very words of God that he breathed out from his own mouth by his Spirit through human authors.

The concept of human agency in authorship is described by the apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 1:21, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

When Peter says, “carried along,” he does not mean the authors wrote in a trance, but that they were internally and supernaturally influenced and led to write what they wrote, using their own personalities and vocabularies and writing from within their own cultural contexts. This is why the original Greek text of the apostle John is so different from Paul’s Greek. Paul was a brilliant, educated scholar. John had been a fisherman. Therefore, we would expect John’s use of vocabulary and grammar to be simpler than Paul’s.

While the Scriptures of which Paul speaks to Timothy refer to the writings of the Old Testament, in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter speaks of Paul’s writing as on par with the Old Testament prophets, saying, “[Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

The original Greek word Peter uses that we translate Scriptures is graphe, which is the same word Paul used to speak of the writings which were “God-breathed.”

Therefore, both the Old and New Testament writings claim God-breathed status.

It is encouraging to note that, not only do the writings which span 1,000 years prove remarkably consistent and cohesive in their theological and prophetic symmetry, the authors of Scripture in both testaments were attested by God to validate their role as a mouthpiece for God.

In Hebrews 2:4, the author says, “God also testified to it (to the message of the gospel preached and written by the apostles) by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

The prophets and apostles were known as authenticated spokesmen for God by being given the ability to perform a variety of supernatural acts, including miracles.

So, the Bible makes a claim to be the very words of God, breathed out from God by the Spirit through human agents.

THE BIBLE TELLS A STORY

As a collection of God-breathed documents, the Bible tells a beautiful story.

In verses 14-15, Paul says, “”14 Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it (referring to his mother, Eunice and grandmother, Lois — see 2 Tim. 1:5), 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

These matriarchal influences in Timothy’s life had taught him the true story of redemption contained in the Scriptures, which centers on a person, the main character of the story, Jesus.

How encouraging this must be for mothers and grandmothers! The most influential person in Timothy’s life wasn’t Paul. It was his mother and grandmother.

Anyway, the story in the Bible can be told in four major acts or scenes.

(1) The first scene is creation, where God designs a beautiful world and fills it with a myriad of creatures, giving mankind the privilege and responsibility to cultivate and manage this world, at the center of which was a lush garden filled with a delectable and satisfying array of fruits and vegetables.

The only commands God gave the humans were (i) to be fruitful and multiply, (ii) to rule over creation, cultivating and caring for it, and (iii) to avoid eating the fruit from only one tree among the thousands.

(2) This leads to the second scene, which is the rebellion in the garden. Theologians call it “the fall,” which does not refer to a season, but to a condition.

The first two human beings, distinctively created as image bearers of God, had that image shattered when they “fell” into unbelief and disobedience by eating from the one tree that had been forbidden.

They were like Humpty Dumpty, whose broken condition was so severe that none of the Kings horses or men could put Humpty back together again.

We are like Adam and Eve. We are like Humpty. Fallen. Broken. Sinful and under the just sentence of condemnation for the cosmic treason we have committed against the creator King.

In literary analysis, we would call this “fallen condition” the conflict that will need to be resolved.

Creation. Rebellion. And now…

(3) In the third scene, we witness redemption. What human kings, horses, intellect, and strength couldn’t do, God did, by sending his son, Jesus, to rescue the fallen by taking the fall for them.

This is what the cross is all about, with the crucifixion of Jesus standing as the central event in the story.

In fact, the entire Old Testament foreshadows and foretells of the cross. The New Testament describes and explains it as a substitution, where Jesus, the obedient, faithful, righteous One takes the blame… takes the fall… serves the sentence the disobedient, the unfaithful, and unrighteousness deserved so that the unrighteous may be fully absolved of their crimes and even declared righteous in the sight of God.

At this point, the cross looms as the highpoint of the story, casting its shadow over the whole, fulfilling the promises of the Old Testament and paving the way for the evangelistic mission of the church in the New Testament.

Yet three days after his crucifixion, the resurrection of Jesus signaled that the story doesn’t end in death.

(4) For the final scene is the glorious consummation, where believers themselves are resurrected unto eternal joy in the presence of God on a new earth where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain– only joy.

At the close of the story, paradise lost has become paradise found

THE CHALLENGE TO RESPOND

This is the God-breathed story. It is a true story. And each of us plays a part in it, and each of us is challenged to respond.

In our passage, Paul told Timothy in verse 14, to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

It was through the story of the Bible that he had “become wise for salvation” knowing that he was as broken as Humpty and needed the true King to make him whole again.

He understood that the Bible is not a self-help book, or a book of virtues, or a type of Aesop’s fables that teach us moral lessons on how to be good girls and boys. No, the stories are intended to show us how badly we need a Deliverer to set us free from our bondage to sin’s penalty and power.

This is why Paul, in v. 15 says that salvation is “through faith in Christ Jesus.” We are not saved by our works, but by faith in the works of Jesus on our behalf.

Therefore, the first challenge to us from the Scriptures is to respond with repentance and faith — to confess my sinful condition and receive God’s provision of grace to cover my sin and clothe me with the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

The second challenge is to respond by following Jesus as Lord, by having my heart and mind shaped by his word, the Bible.

Jesus himself said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus didn’t need to be saved, but he still found the Scriptures to be his daily source of spiritual nutrition. The Bible was a lamp to his feet, protecting him in temptation and comforting him in persecution.

After all, in verses 16 and 17, Paul shows us how functionally profitable the Scriptures are for our ongoing discipleship as followers of Jesus, saying, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Based on these verses, we can say that the Bible…

(1) teaches by showing us what to believe about God and ourselves,

(2) rebukes, meaning that it reveals where our lives are out of line with the truth,

(3) it corrects, or exposes the lies we believe, and

(4) it trains in righteousness as it provides the path upon which to walk so that we may be protected from the schemes of the enemy and the deceit of our own sin nature.

By telling Timothy to “continue” in the Scriptures, Paul is saying what he said in Ephesians 4:14, that with Scripture as our True North, “We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”

Paul could have said, being equipped with the Scriptures as True North, you will no longer be tossed back and forth by your emotions. You will no longer have your convictions and opinions shaped by popular, conventional, cultural wisdom, but by God’s wisdom.  Be warned, if your thinking is biblically correct, it will not always be politically correct.

But if your views and actions are being shaped by the Scriptures, you don’t have to fear other people’s opinions or criticisms.

Even Jesus, when he was facing all kinds of criticism, responded in Mt. 22:29, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

This need for understanding the Scriptures led Peter to exhort believers in 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word…”

__________________________________

On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife, Carolyn, and sister-in-law, Lauren, took off after dark in his Piper Saratoga from Essex County Airport in Fairfield, New Jersey to attend a family wedding on Martha’s Vineyard, an island just off of Cape Cod, Mass.

They never made it.

JFK, Jr. was certified to fly under visual flight rules, but did not have an instrument certification. This means that he didn’t know how to fly by the instruments in case of poor visibility conditions.

His previous flights to the Vineyard had been clear skies with the horizon easily identifiable by the lights on the ground.

But on July 16, the sky grew hazy with low lying fog and he couldn’t see the ground. He was forced to fly by his feelings, became disoriented and crashed the Saratoga into the Atlantic, killing all three upon impact.

You know that there are times in our lives when it will feel like we are in the dark. The fog has descended and we can’t see the horizon and we will experience a spiritual form of spatial disorientation, where, because of the emotions associated with fear, guilt or peer pressure, we will turn the plane in the wrong direction.

Which is why we must become instrument certified in the Scriptures, which begins by hearing and believing the pardoning voice of God, where his grace to you in Jesus through the cross is the defining truth of your life.

Then, with Jesus as Savior, we follow him as Lord, where for his glory and our good, we begin living by the instruments – living by faith, trusting in the wisdom of God revealed for us in the Holy Scriptures.

______________________________________

What is the Bible – Review and Discussion Guide

  1. How is living according to Scripture for faith and life like flying by instruments?
  1. Describe how the Bible is not just one book, but a collection of many books.
  1. How does the Greek word theopneustos describe the nature of Scripture as “inspired,” or “God-breathed?”
  1. Describe the four “scenes” that make up the metanarrative story of the Bible.
  1. In what way is the Bible not “not a self-help book, or a book of virtues, or a type of Aesop’s fables that teach us moral lessons on how to be good girls and boys?”
  1. What would it look like for you to become “instrument certified” in the Scriptures?

[1] http://www.kentcrockett.com/cgi-bin/illustrations/index.cgi?topic=Trust

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