What is the Bible and why was it given to the Church?
This post is a chapter from Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book, 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches, especially for catechesis purposes. We’re featuring a chapter each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.
The Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation to his people. In the Scriptures we discover the specifics of who God is, what God is like, what his plan is, how to receive forgiveness, what it means to live a holy life, our responsibility for those who are suffering, and our obligations to a lost world. The Bible is the standard by which all true Christian belief and practice must be judged and evaluated. However, the Bible was not designed to be merely a rule book or a how-to manual. Rather, the Bible gives us God’s self-revelation in the midst of specific situations and contexts, whether in the life of Israel or the challenges of first-century churches.
As we read the Bible, we begin to capture a glimpse of God’s majestic plan. Since God’s character and ways do not change, we are able to see more of who he is. We capture glimpses of his holiness and his majestic purity and righteousness. In fact, whenever we sit down to read the Bible or hear someone reading Scripture in a public service, we should always picture ourselves as reading the Bible in the presence of the Risen Christ. We should never read the Bible in isolation from the presence of the Triune God. The Holy Spirit is present teaching us and applying the work of Christ to our lives. As we read we are brought into the presence of Christ himself in new and remarkable ways.
God declares that the Bible is “God-breathed.” This is much more than the word “inspiration” normally conveys to the human mind. When we think of “inspiration” we think of Bach writing a beautiful musical composition or a painter who is “inspired” to paint a beautiful painting or an architect who is “inspired” to create an amazing new design. The Bible rises above this use of the word “inspiration.” In fact, the phrase “God-breathed” implies more of an ex-spiration than an in-spiration—the Scriptures are the very words of God breathed out of his mouth.
This does not violate the idea that Moses or the apostle Paul or Peter or others actually wrote the words which are now conveyed to us in the Bible. Rather, it means that as they wrote, the Holy Spirit was with them and he restrained them from any errors so that what they actually wrote represented the very words of God himself. This is why we can, on the one hand, speak of Paul’s style or choice of words, and yet, on the other hand, declare that the end result is the very words of God. Scripture represents a beautiful cooperation between God and man.
In fact, the Scriptures themselves reflect the incarnation. Jesus was fully God, yet fully man. He was a man in every sense of the word, fully human except for the presence of sin. Yet, in the mystery of the incarnation, all of the fullness of God was also present in Jesus Christ (Col.2:9). In the same way, the Scriptures truly represent the words of real men writing in real situations. It is the word of man. Yet, because God restrained the writers from error and guided them in their choice of words, the result is the very words of God, breathed forth to the people of God.
Sometimes people speak of several words which together describe the sources of authority in the church—namely, Scripture, experience, reason, and tradition. It is certainly true that our own personal experience with God is very important, that we are called to bring our mind and reason to the reading of Scripture, and that we should listen to the voice of the church through the ages. However, these are not four equal sources of authority. Rather, we should understand that the Bible is the sole source of authority in the life of the church, and the other three should be seen as guides which help us in our understanding and interpretation of Scripture. Our experience, human reasoning, and even church tradition will fail us from time to time. However, Scripture alone is without error and is the only infallible guide to the church’s faith and practice. Whenever the people of God lose their confidence in the Scriptures, the church suffers and the gospel becomes obscured by other agendas. The Bible, as the Word of God, must always be honored by the church of Jesus Christ if we are to be faithful to Christ.
1 Thessalonians 2:13
2 Timothy 3:16–17
2 Peter 1:20–21