The doctrine of Scripture is one of the most important doctrines to know in depth since the Bible serves as our foundation for knowing what we know. The Bible is also the target of many attacks on Christianity, so the better we know how it was written, what it says about itself, its historical nature, and place in Christian theology, the better we will be able to defend all of the Christian faith.
What IS the Bible?
There are many ideas about what the Bible is. Some believe it is like many of the rest of sacred religious books from around the world—pious people’s reflections on their experiences of the divine. Others believe the Bible is simply a collection of myths that some people mistakenly take to be divine. The Christian view, however, is that the Bible is the revelation of God about himself and his divine plan to redeem the world. The Bible, then, is the very Word of God to his creatures for the purpose of establishing a relationship with him. Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that the words of Scripture are the very words of God breathed out by God himself. This is what we call the doctrine of Inspiration. God the Holy Spirit moved human authors to write his words so that each word, and the final finished product are exactly what God wanted to be written and without any errors. This is what we call the doctrine of Inerrancy.
Because God is the ultimate author of Scripture, all his power and authority are invested in it. The Bible is not a dead book or an inert substance that has no power. Rather, the words of Scripture, being the very words of God, have incredible power to expose, convict, and transform the human heart (Heb. 4:12). Unbelievers often think that Christians merely follow the instructional teachings of a lifeless 2,000-year-old book of facts and commandments. In reality, Christians follow the living God who has spoken through his Word, which is a living and powerful document. When we defend the Bible, we should do it with this in mind.
Our relationship to the Bible is not like reading instructions on assembling a bicycle, but rather is like reading a personal, handwritten invitation by the President of the United States to dine weekly with him at the White House. Such an invitation would contain some instructions, of course, but its primary intent would be to invite you into a relationship with a kind and powerful ruler who wants to invite you to serve him in a prestigious position.
Sometimes unbelievers will fault Christians for believing in the Bible while missing this very point. Christians don’t believe the Bible because they want to live with as many rules as possible. No, Christians believe the Bible because they have discovered that it lays out the path to a restored relationship to God. And the Bible goes further, clearly teaching how we can participate in God’s great work of redemption in this life, and how we can have peace and joy for all eternity in the next life.
Another detail about the Bible many unbelievers don’t know is that, while it is a single book, it is also a collection of sixty-six books with a unified message. It is a library of books bound by a single theme of redemption. The Bible was written over the course of 1400 years by more than 40 authors, and yet is unified in its message. The Old Testament was written over a 1,000-year span, and the manuscripts were carefully preserved by the Jewish people to ensure accuracy. The New Testament was written over a 50-year span and was carefully preserved by the Christian church. (The reliability of the Bible will be covered in more detail in a later lesson).
In addition, the books of the Bible are comprised of many writing styles, or genres . In the Old Testament these include law books (Genesis-Deuteronomy), history (Joshua-Esther), poetry and wisdom literature (Job-Ecclesiastes), and prophets (Isaiah-Malachi). In the New Testament we have Gospels, or biographies (Matthew-John), history (Acts), epistles (Romans-Jude), and apocalyptic literature (Revelation). Each of these genres serves a different purpose in the unfolding story of redemption.
This is important, because unbelievers often know nothing about how the Bible came to be. They know that the Bible is old, but don’t know much else about it, except that there are miraculous stories written in it. The Bible is actually an amazing piece of literature in its own right, in addition to being the revelation form God so we can be rightly restored to him. One of our goals in apologetics is to get unbelievers to read the Bible for themselves. Countless unbelievers through the ages have been save simply by reading the Bible for themselves.
In the next post we will look at the way we got the Bible and its reliability.