thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured
of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child
thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee
wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All
scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto
all good works. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
easy to take for granted that everybody in the Church understands
the basics of the Faith. This assumption is dangerous. Without
the basics, we cannot move ahead in our task to strengthen the
Church, evangelize the world, and Christianize our culture. The
basics are truly basic — we cannot live without
them. From time to time, we need to refresh our understanding
of them. Paul once wrote, “To write the same things to you,
to me is indeed not grievous [“irksome,” we would
say], but for you it is safe” (Phil. 3:1). Don’t be
annoyed that you hear the truth a little too much. It’s
“safe” to hear it.
Bible is certainly a basic of the Christian Faith. It’s
conceivable that God could have accomplished His purposes with
the human race without a written revelation1, but He
chose not to do this. The first thing about the Bible you should
understand, therefore, is that it is God’s written revelation.
God has revealed Himself preeminently in Jesus Christ (Heb.1:1-2)
and also in His creation (Ps. 19:1-6). The Bible, along with our
Lord Himself and creation, constitutes God’s three-fold
revelation in history. Unlike the other two forms, the Bible is
written. It is written in and for history.
Interpretation of History
is preeminently God’s written interpretation of His revelation
in history. The Bible tells us virtually nothing about what
God was doing in eternity “past.” (Somebody once asked
Augustine what God was doing before creation, and he replied with
something like, “Creating Hell for people who spend too
much time in idle speculation.”) The Bible tells us very
little about what we’ll be doing in eternity future. The
Bible starts with God’s creation of the world and it ends
with the conclusion of His redemptive work in history. The Bible’s
not interested in telling us if angels have wings, or what color
they are; whether the anti-Christ (whoever he is) will fly around
in a rocket ship; or how old everybody will be in Heaven. The
Bible tells us what God has done, what He is doing, and what He
will do by means of His Son Jesus Christ and His covenant people
in human history. It tells how that in Christ He’s bringing
all things under His authority (Phil. 2:5-11). If you’re
looking for something else in the Bible, you’re not likely
to find it.
Bible is God’s inspired Word. This language is used in 2
Timothy. Inspired means “God-breathed,” or, more accurately,
breathed out by God. This refers specifically to the books of
what we call the “Old Testament,” but we know that
the New Testament is Scripture, too.
The fact that
Scripture is breathed out by God is most significant. It means
that God is the source of the Bible. We learn elsewhere a little
more about this. Peter writes that the Old Testament prophets
(many of whose words we find in Scripture) were “moved,”
or carried along, by the Holy Ghost (2 Pet. 1:21). God “breathed
out” the Scripture and He “carried along” the
prophets of the Old Testament in having them communicate His revelation.
In fact, we find some strange language in the New Testament about
this. We read in Acts that “the Holy Spirit [spake] by the
mouth of David” (Ac. 1:16). That is, these words were David’s
words, but they were the words of the Holy Spirit as well. In
other words, God used human language to convey His revelation.
There is a
great mystery here. We see the marks of humanity all over the
Bible. These words are men’s words. The Bible doesn’t
come unto us in some “heavenly” language. It came
originally in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and it comes to us in
our own language today. The writers in the Bible had different
writing styles. John does not write like Peter, and Moses does
not write like Joel. The prophecies of Isaiah are often highly
polished literary pieces, but Amos was a shepherd, and his words
are simple, not especially beautiful. In the New Testament, Paul
was something of an intellectual, and he wrote quite differently
from Mark. Yet all of these men spoke or wrote the very Word of
God. How? Well, we don’t know. God didn’t dictate
most of the Bible. He worked with the writers’ minds and
personalities in such a way that what they spoke and what was
eventually recorded was what He wanted written. This is the confluence
of the divine and human in the Scriptures. It is the Word of God
in — and as — human words.
Bible is infallible2. This word is not used in the
Bible, but it is a very good deduction. We read that God cannot
lie (Tit. 1:2). We read that the Bible is His revelation (2 Tim.
3:16-17). We read that His Word is true (John 17:17). We read
that His testimonies are sure, or certain (Ps.19: 7). We everywhere
get the impression that God speaks the truth in the Bible. So,
the Bible is not filled with mistakes, inaccuracies, or errors.
We can trust what the Bible teaches.
mean that there are not problems in the Bible. Sometimes it seems
as though certain Old Testament genealogies simply do not match
up. Parallel accounts in the Gospels are not identical. These
don’t denote that the Bible isn’t truthful. These
apparent discrepancies are to be expected from a book
written in and about history. Were the Bible nothing more than
a nice, “pretty” Book, with “aesthetic wisdom”
and ethical instruction, we might expect something different.
But the Bible is often “gritty.” If you don’t
believe this, read the book of Judges sometime. In the Old Testament
we read mostly about Israel’s history — and history
it certainly is. In the New Testament, we read first about Jesus’
life and death and resurrection, and then we read about the early
Church, mostly in Paul’s Epistles. This is all anchored
in history. Jesus was a real man who walked on a real earth and
died a real death and came up from the grave in a real resurrection.
Corinth and Sardis and Ephesus and Colosse were real cities that
had real Churches with real problems. We can expect, therefore,
that there are going to be all sorts of shades and variations
as the Biblical writers deal with these real situations3.
Because history is not uniform, and because the Bible is about
history, we can expect that there will be lack of uniformity in
the Bible’s expression — not its message, but its
In most cases,
the Biblical writers weren’t trying to solve all the world’s
problems (only Jesus Christ can do that!). Rather, they are dealing
with intense situations, and episodes that immediately confronted
them. So, the Bible is completely truthful, but it is truthful
for particular situations. The Bible is meant to help us right
down in the “nitty-gritty” of life, not from a “safe
accept the Bible on the ground that it is, in fact, the Word of
God. Theologians would say that the inspiration and authority
of the Bible are “self-attesting.” This means that
you can’t go “outside” the Bible to prove that
it is God’s Word. How could you? To use Cornelius Van Til’s
metaphor, that would be like trying to use a candle to find the
sun. If the Bible is truly God’s Word, and we needed something
apart from the Bible to accredit or verify it, then that factor
would have greater authority than the Bible. Well, the only factor
in the universe greater than the Bible is God Himself, Who wrote
it. Therefore, only God can verify His Word! Science and archaeology
and psychology and philosophy neither prove nor disprove the Bible.
To stand outside
the Bible in order to prove the Bible is to stand in unbelief.
The Bible tells us that without faith, it’s impossible to
please God (Heb.11: 6). Until we come to the Bible with faith,
we will never see it as the Word of God. We do not “prove”
the Bible before we accept it. We accept it by faith, and then
it “proves” itself to us! If the Bible is truly God’s
Word, we can expect that only God can accredit it.
Bible is authoritative. The Scripture summons man to obey (Dt.
11:27-28; 2 Thes. 3:14). The Bible gives us not only God’s
revelation about what He has done, is doing, and what He will
do. It also gives us God’s revelation about what we
are to do. God alone is God, and His Word communicates to man
as His creature made in His image. Man is a rational creature,
capable of understanding God’s language. God is the Creator,
and we are His creatures. He tells us how we are to conduct our
lives. He tells us this in Scripture.
crucial to recognize that the Bible is not authoritative only
on “spiritual” matters — by this I mean responsibilities
like love, prayer, Church attendance, and so on4. The
Bible also tells us how to conduct marriage and train children,
how we’re to deal with property, how we are to care for
the earth and our “environment,” how justice should
be maintained in politics, what should be our standards for art,
how physicians should approach their patients, and so on, extensively.
Now, the Bible does not answer everything about everything, and
its very center is Jesus Christ; but it does give us authoritative
direction on a large number of aspects of our life — not
just the “spiritual” ones. If we limit the Bible’s
authority to the so-called “spiritual” parts, we are
really denying God’s authority in our lives. We are saying,
“God, You can be authoritative in these aspects of my life,
but not in others.” This, of course, is rebellion against
for the Word
Bible is filled with metaphors about itself that convey to us
what its role is.
David tells us in Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto
my feet, and a light unto my path.” The Word illumines where
we are and where we need to be. To those uncertain of the Lord’s
will for your life, pondering a difficult decision, at the proverbial
fork in the road — immerse yourself in the Word of God,
preferably on your knees in prayer.
23:29 we read the questions, “Is not my word like as a fire?
saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?”
God in that context is warning against false prophets. The Word
of God consumes error and breaks false doctrine. Know this: when
there is false teaching in the Church, the Bible, not human ingenuity,
crushes it like a hammer. When there is evil in society, it is
Word of God that consumes it like a fire would. Therefore, when
meeting cultural sins, we meet them with the Bible, not with mere
human reasoning. In opposing abortion, we do not say, “This
is contrary to the sanctity of life,” though this is true
enough. Why is life sanctified? Because God says so in His Word
(Gen. 9:6). John the Baptist confronted Herod for his immorality
(Mk. 6:18). What did he say? “What you’re doing is
not lawful — it’s contrary to God’s law.”
This is the ground on which we oppose social evil.
But we also
read that God’s Word is like food. In Jeremiah 15:16 the
prophet declares, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them;
and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart:
for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” David
exults in the law, “More to be desired are they than gold,
yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb”
(Ps. 19:10). God’s law is as valuable as gold, but it is
as sweet as honey to the taste. We eat to nourish and sustain
ourselves. We become weak and emaciated if we do not eat. This
is one reason many Christians are so weak in the Faith, why they
fall so easily into temptations. They lack the nourishment of
the Word of God. They don’t “eat” it!
But we don’t
eat only for nourishment. We eat for enjoyment. There are certain
foods we savor. We are to savor the Word of God. Do you delight
to read the Word? If you love the Word, it is not a chore to read
it. Perhaps every day we read a portion of it — perhaps
we sit down and read through an entire book at one sitting, maybe
John or Amos or Revelation. It excites us and satisfies us. It
draws us close to God and inspires us with faith, and induces
in us obedience.
But the Word is more. And this is almost spooky. The Word is alive.
“For the word of God is quick [alive], and powerful, and
sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing
asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and
is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”
(Heb 4:12). The Word is not a book of antiquity that gathers dust
on the shelf. It is active and alive. It creates faith (Rom. 10:17).
It saves souls (1 Pet. 1:23). There is power inherent in the Word.
It doesn’t need some other power to prop it up. Do you want
to see souls saved? Declare the Word. Do you want to experience
victory over sin? Read and obey the Word. Do you want to shake
up a depraved culture? Trumpet the Word. The Word changes things.
It changes people. It changes families. It changes Churches. It
if you want to please God and do great exploits for Him, immerse
yourself in the Bible. Love it, read it, consume it, obey it,
defend it, propagate it, and exalt it.
1 The original verbal revelation
stands behind the Bible. We must not make the mistake of thinking
God’s verbal revelation first appeared in the Bible. It
came to godly saints in history, many of whom later wrote down
that revelation, which became the Scriptures. See Bernard Ramm,
Special Revelation and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
2 Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation
Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, Books, 1993), 318-326.
3 This is why Cullmann writes:
“Anyone who underestimates the necessity and role of philological
and historical exegesis in the first place proves that he has
a false theological conception of the nature of biblical revelation.
In fact, the very essence of the central affirmation of the Bible
has to do with history,” Oscar Cullmann, “The Necessity
and Function of Higher Criticism,” The Early Church (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1956), 7. Cullmann’s stress on historical
revelation does not demand his advocacy of higher criticism.
4 Noel Weeks, The Sufficiency of
Scripture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1988).
Andrew Sandlin, an ordained minister, is president of
the Center for Cultural Leadership, a Christian educational
foundation dedicated to reclaiming contemporary culture
for Jesus Christ. An interdisciplinary scholar, he holds
academic degrees or concentrations in English, English
literature, history, and political science. He has written
several monographs and books, including The Full Gospel:
A Biblical Vocabulary of Salvation and Totalism, and
hundreds of essays and articles, both scholarly and
popular. Andrew and his wife Sharon have five children.