The Bible is the Word of God
Updated: Aug 23
The Bible is quite an extraordinary book. Strictly speaking, the Bible is not a book at all; it is a compendium or collection of books written over a period of about a thousand years by a large number of different people. It has also been read by many different people, and the influence it has had upon their lives is in itself sufficient justification for taking trouble to understand what it is, why it was written, and what it says.
We say that the Bible is the Word of God. It tells us about God and, we believe, through its words God speaks to us. And yet the Bible is frequently misunderstood at this very point. By calling it the Word of God, Christians do not suggest that it was dropped from heaven ready-made by God. Nor do we believe that every single word in it is absolutely true. We are trying to say that God speaks through the works of these men who wrote it, and through the people about whom they wrote.
God’s words in men’s words.
The Bible is true. Christians hold in common the belief that it is inspired by God and reveals God to man. But we must always bear in mind that God did not stop the authors being men of their time. We cannot and must not expect a writer three thousand years ago to show a knowledge of atomic power, television, natural science, evolution, etc., equivalent to today’s scientific awareness. The writers were not writing books of science (if they had been, the Bible would not have been the best-seller it has been) and so they must not be judged scientifically. The Bible is not trying to teach us about chemistry, physics, biology, or whatever; it is trying to teach us about God and his purpose for mankind.
Another point should be remembered. Writers of the books of the Bible wrote in ways that suited them. The poets wrote poetry, the historians wrote history, the story-tellers wrote stories. Each wrote in the way he found most suitable for telling of God. So, as we read the Bible, we must always bear in mind what kind of book we are reading, for it would be foolhardy to read a poem as if it were history, or vice versa. In the Bible, you will find books of law, poetry, history, science-fiction, preaching, romance, and folklore.
The whole point about the Bible is that it is a religious book. It tells of God and his purpose for mankind. This is why millions of men and women have found it an inspiration. This is why the Church reads it.
The Old Testament.
Beginning with Abraham, who was called to leave his family and found a new race, the Old Testament traces the history of the Jewish people through the centuries and shows how God called and inspired them. He is not a God to be discovered, he reveals himself in great acts in the world. The central act of the Old Testament was the Exodus, when the Jews were brought from slavery in Egypt and given the Promised Land. Here the Jewish people were to be God’s Chosen People – set apart from other nations in order, by their lives and example, to inspire the people of the world to worship and obey the one true God.
The rest of the Old Testament tells how the Jews failed to obey God’s will and, at other times, how they succeeded. We learn that God is holy, good and just and wants us to like him. We learn how we can show our love for him; starting with crude ideas of sacrifice, the Jewish understanding of worship grew until the world was ready to witness and understand the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. We learn about judges, kings, prophets, and priests who in many different ways tried to teach men something of their vision of God.
The New Testament.
The central character here is no longer the Jewish people but Jesus Christ. As we look at this man, from many different viewpoints, we are given further and greater proof of God’s love for us. The Jewish people had not, on the whole, lived up to their calling to be an example to the world (‘the light of the nations’); Jesus in his life, teaching, death, and resurrection fulfilled that vocation perfectly.
In the New Testament God again uses human writers and a “people” to show himself.
The four Gospels.
How the Gospels came to be written is a fascinating story in itself. Many people heard Jesus preach and teach and were inspired by his words. Some of these people were specially chosen by Jesus to receive more detailed teaching and instruction. When Jesus had died and risen again, these followers went all over the world telling people about their Lord, and over the years collections were made of odd sayings, stories, teachings of Jesus and of letters and articles about him. Eventually it was decided to collect them all together. Four such collections remain, giving us a picture of the life and teaching of Jesus as seen by the first Christians of the early Church.
In the Gospels we are given pictures of Jesus which will help us believe in him as Lord and God. Jesus is someone who give life, helps the blind see, and the deaf hear. Jesus fulfils all that the Old Testament writers prophesied about him. Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection brings us, his followers, back into a right and loving relationship with God.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all trying in their different ways not to give us a biography of Jesus, but to give us a view of what Jesus meant to them and to the Church. So the death and resurrection stories are given more space than any others, because they are the most important parts.
The rest of the New Testament.
These books deal more specifically with what happened to and in the Church in the years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We read of what happened to individual Christians and to the Christian communities they founded. We read of how they interpreted the person of Jesus Christ as they looked back on it all and how they viewed his significance to the world.
Through Jesus we see clearly what God is like, what his love means, how he views sin and sinners, what his hopes are for us.
How do we read the Bible?
The most important thing is that as Christians we do read it. But there are three ways of reading the Bible, and we would do well to use all three:
As a story. It is useful sometimes to read through a large amount at a time, perhaps even a whole book. This is especially true of the stories or histories in the Old Testament or the Gospels in the New. Even the Epistles were written to be read sometimes as whole.
For study. We are fortunate that there are so many commentaries available at reasonable prices. Some books are set out in small sections (like the Bible Alive material), but it is of enormous benefit to sit down with a commentary to help explain the meaning and background of what we read.
For prayer. The Bible provides an inexhaustible fund of material for prayer. Meditation means reading the Bible to hear what God has to say to us. It is of great benefit to read a passage, think prayerfully about it and then ask whether God is saying anything through it to us personally. This is what the preacher does, but it is of great help to all Christians – indeed it may be said to be essential to all Christians.
The Bible is the inspired Word of God. In and through it God speaks to men of all ages of his love and of his purpose for the world and for individuals in the world. The Christian whose faith is not founded on the Bible has a faith that will not stand the test.
The Bible is God’s book and expresses the teaching of God. It is also the Church’s book, written to and for the Church, expressing God’s purpose for the Church and for every one of her members.
An We Believe leaflet by Stephen Venner (The Church Literature Association)