What Is The Bible?

Depending on who you ask, defining what the Bible is can get you answers ranging from “my life source and daily bread” to the “most boring book on the planet, especially by that King James guy.” The Bible can be seen as the only hope this world has at knowing God and his Salvation, to be seen as a collection of myths, folktales and fairy tales dreamed up by unenlightened people. But how should we properly think about the bible? What exactly is the essence of the book millions of Christians hold dear and what others believe is the corruption of humanity and the cause of all mankind’s problems?

First, The Bible is God’s Word.  J.I. Packer writes, “What Scripture says, God says; for, in a manner comparable only to the deeper mystery of the Incarnation, the Bible is both fully human and fully divine. So all its manifold contents—histories, prophecies, poems, songs, wisdom writings, sermons, statistics, letters, and whatever else—should be received as from God, and all that Bible writers teach should be revered as God’s authoritative instruction. Christians should be grateful to God for the gift of his written Word, and conscientious in basing their faith and life entirely and exclusively upon it. Otherwise, we cannot ever honor or please him as he calls us to do.” What Packer is getting at is that through and through, The Bible is God’s Word, every portion and every word is from God and divinely reveals to the universe who God is, what his plan for history is and how we are to live. This is great, because it doesn’t mean we are lost in the world trying to find our way, but have a path laid out for us by the one who not only created the path, but walked it Himself. Because it is God’s word, we can trust it, we can truly believe that God is not out to get us, but is for us. God is not a demonic figure, like Descartes’ thought experiment processed about, trying to trick us; God is a good Father who sent his Son, The Word into the world to breath new life into them through The Spirit’s application of the word of God.

Second, The Bible is a Historical Document. Often times, my students treat the scriptures like they would Hamilton’s or Bulfinch’s Mythology, however, not as if it isn’t true, but that it’s just a story with a lot of weird elements and literary components that seem strange, archaic and hard to understand and not as an actual historical document that records history, like that of the writings of Eusebius or the Venerable Bede. But the Bible is a historical document that records actual history of how events unfolded. That’s why the writers of scripture, particularly Moses and Luke go to such lengths to research family trees and names and places of individuals; to get the meticulous details right, to make sure all the facts are straight, because what they were doing was recording history. So that means Moses did actually part the sea, Jonah was actually swallowed by a fish, Jesus actually rose from the dead.  Because it’s God’s word, this can provide us so much more joy, because these events weren’t just myths, legends or nice stories, but actual events that happened in history.

Third, The Bible is a Redemptive Story. One of the worst ways I have ever heard the bible explained was by a youth pastor who made an acronym out of the word bible and decided that the bible stood for: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. That is not what the Bible is at all. The Bible is not a manual for leaving earth, since ultimately Christ is returning with the New Heavens and The New Earth, and it’s not an instruction pamphlet like you would get with your IKEA furniture; It’s a story. It’s a beautiful, wondrous story filled with strange creatures, exciting adventures, messed up people, truly terrible villains and a divine Rescuer who is coming to bring about His Kingdom. As people who love stories and were created as story-formed people, we live by the telling of stories. So what better than for God to reveal to us through a story of how a beautiful world was created and mankind flourished, than Adam and Eve fell due to the Devil’s trickery and evil came into the world, but God had a plan, a story that would involve a variety of characters and covenants that would culminate into the Coming of The King, who was crucified and raised for our salvation so that one day The King would Return and bring about His Kingdom on the New Heavens and New Earth forever and ever.

The Purpose of Theology

The Reformer and French Theologian John Calvin writes,

 “The whole sum of our wisdom—wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured—broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. The purpose of the first of these is to show not only that there is one God whom all must worship and honor, but also that he is the fount of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness. We must learn, therefore, to expect and ask these things from him, and with praise and thanksgiving to acknowledge that they come from him. The purpose of the second is to show us our weakness, misery, vanity and vileness, to fill us with despair, distrust and hatred of ourselves, and then to kindle in us the desire to seek God, for in him is found all that is good and of which we ourselves are empty and deprived.”

From Calvin’s outlook on the purpose of theology, we can determine three reasons why we should study, learn, grow and pursue Theology:

1. To Know God-The whole sum and purpose of theology is this: that we may know Him, and not just know about him or know facts and data about Him and His scriptures but that we may truly know and be known by God, like the kind of connection, depth and intimacy you would desire from a friend, family member or loved one, but so much greater than you could ever imagine, because in fact this is what you were made for. The study of theology is different than other disciplines in this respect, for the main subject of theology is God and the goal of knowing his name, his nature, his works, his wonders and his love. And in response to this study, it leads us to prayer and praise and a “kindle in us [for] the desire to seek God.”

2. To Know Ourselves– Our culture is fascinated with the idea and journey of trying to find our “true selves.” I have never really known what this meant, but for some reason it often seems that the people who go on these journeys already know who they are and are just looking for a reason to travel the world or try new things. However, whatever self we find, it is often a worldly self that has not thought to look in the most fundamental place where to find oneself, that which is in the presence of the Creator. Looking upon the revelation of who God is, reveals in his light who we truly are, what he has made us for and in a primary sense, how far we have fallen. This is what Calvin is getting at when he writes, “The purpose of the second is to show us our weakness, misery, vanity and vileness, to fill us with despair, distrust and hatred of ourselves.” Calvin seems bleak about our standing, however, when looking upon the perfect, holy, righteous God of the universe and then look down in comparison, how could you not feel that way, especially when you know that your finite evil against an infinite God is an enormous tragedy and crime. Calvin is not advocating self-harm or mental abuse, but a realization or hatred of the indwelling sin within us that we were not made to be a body for sin and that we were created for so much more. It is this purpose in theology that leads us to seek out what it truly means to be human, how to repent and confess and follow God in a world against Him.

3. To Know Salvation-Of course, the logical flow of Calvin’s thought, after looking upon the revelation of the Holy God, and then seeing our rebellious, polluted selves, we can’t help but find a way to be rescued. This is the redemptive purpose of theology, so that we may know salvation, that we may taste and see that God is good and worship Him that despite the fact that we are rebels to His Throne and traitors to His Kingdom, The Son descended from the throne of grace and became man, lived the perfect life and died the most gruesome death, so that his people may know salvation and from rebels, become sons.