Why Read Your Bible Pt. 1
From the beginning of the history of man Satan has worked feverishly to turn people away from listening to what the Creator has to say to His creatures. In the Garden of Eden he sought to fill Eve’s mind with doubt by simply asking the question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’” (Gen. 31). Once she entertained his question and entered into a discussion of it on an intellectual level, she all but sealed her own fate, as well as that of Adam and all of their descendants to this day.
In ever new forms the devil has continued throughout the centuries to turn people away from reading and much less making a serious study of the pages of the Bible. The intent of these articles is to alert the reader to what he is doing and to provide assurances that the Word of God is worth reading, and now more than ever. After all, the apostle Paul declared that we must not be ignorant of the devices of the devil (2 Cor. 211).
The focus here is on the trustworthiness of Scripture. As such the center of attention is the miracle of inspiration in the production of the Bible. Though that phenomenon may not be easy to explain, its existence remains certain. As Warfield says, we can “. . . be assured that the Scriptures are as trustworthy witnesses to truth when they declare a doctrine of Inspiration as when they declare a doctrine of Incarnation or of Redemption, even though in the one case as in the other difficulties may remain, the full explanation of which is not yet clear to us.”
Many things about the Bible argue for its trustworthiness. They include its amazing unity. It has 66 books by 40 authors from various walks of life, including priests, poets, prophets, warriors, shepherds, statesmen, sages, and fishermen; and from different parts of the world, including Arabia, Judea, and Babylon; writing law, history, psalms, proverbs, prophecies, biographies, and letters over a 1500 to 1600 year period, and yet it is one book with the single theme JESUS!
Commenting on the remarkable unity of Scripture, in their classic work on the inspiration of the Bible Hodge and Warfield observe, “Although composed by different human authors on various subjects and occasions, under all possible varieties of providential conditions, in two languages, through sixteen centuries of time, yet they evidently constitute one system, all their parts minutely correlated, the whole unfolding a single purpose, and thus giving indubitable evidence of controlling presence of a divine intelligence from first to last.”
Regrettably, not all hold such a high view of Scripture. According to Van Til, Karl Barth, a noted Swiss theologian, declared that the Bible is full of “fallible human words, historical and scientific blunders, and theological contradictions.” How sad that ministers in virtually every city in the world preach from that theological base every Sunday. Thank God, many do not have to listen to a pastor coming from that position.
The study of the series concerns the doctrine of Scripture, bibliology (not bibliolatry). Two terms are important when referring to the inspiration of the Bible. Inerrancy is one. It refers to the fact that the Bible is without error in the original manuscripts. Infallibility is another. Its claim is that Scripture is without error regarding matters of faith and practice, but not in its historical accounts or in its scientific inferences. However, many people use the two terms interchangeably, as these articles do, but with no thought of associating this last definition to either term.
When someone speaks or writes of the Word of God most take him as referring to the Bible. However, Stamps lists the “Word of God” as including (1) direct speech spoken by God Himself; (2) messages communicated by Him through the prophets of the Old Testament; (3) truth expressed by the apostles of the New Testament; (4) the gospel which flowed from the mouth of Jesus; and, of course, (5) the written record of what the prophets, apostles, and Jesus declared. He also takes note of fact that what preachers and “prophets” proclaim in meetings of a church is the Word of God, though not in the category of infallible Scripture since the Bible itself teaches that what they say must be “judged” by the people of the Lord (1 Cor. 1429). More generally, though, scholars reserve the title “Word of God” for the written record of what He has revealed of Himself to man. These articles abide by that definition.
In these articles, then, I will share with you what I have gleaned through the years both by study and experience on the question, “Why read the Bible” In this first of the series below I will present logical reasons for selecting it as among the most profitable material in the world with which to spend one’s time. Later I will discuss the broad subject of revelation. Following that I will devote space to the more limited concept of inspiration, considering some erroneous views as well as the truth about it. Along the way I intend to focus on what the Bible has to say about itself. I will look further at the way the Bible was formed and how its various books were selected to form the canon. Finally, I will present a discussion of helpful tools for use in reading Scripture to gain the most profit from the exercise.
Making Choices of Reading Material
There may have been a time when some would have considered the question, “Why read the Bible” as being irreverent. However, at this point in the progress of history it is a valid question to consider. As an introduction to this series of articles I want to now present logical reasons for selecting it as among the most profitable material on earth to spend time with.
During several sessions over a period of time I once met with two other writers as a committee on an important assignment. We were to prepare a paper on an issue of the times. In our first meeting we discussed the research phase of our project. While sitting together a noted scholar among us declared, “There is so much material available on this subject. I don’t have time to read it all. I need someone to dig through its pages and summarize for me what is there.” He likely lived the busiest life of the three of us. I ended up with the task of digesting what authors before us had contributed on the topic and reporting on it to the group. Just to provide a pamphlet for our readers consumed several months of work.
Libraries contain more books on most subjects of interest in our world today than any one person can ever read. Solomon once exclaimed, “Of making many books there is no end” (Eccles. 1212). Even he was a prolific writer. Of him an ancient author declared, “He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 432-34). If Solomon thought that there were so many books existing in his world that “much study wearies the body” (Eccles. 1212), what would he think today
Besides, by now information exists in many forms other than in books. The ancient means of communication by word of mouth is still with us. Today, though, all kinds of media are ours, both audio and video. One educational philosopher of mine took note of that fact and suggested we might do better in such a world to dispense with reading and writing by moving to faster and more efficient forms of transferring knowledge.
Obviously, then, the situation requires one to be highly selective as to what he reads in pursuing subjects of interest to him in life. No doubt the greatest source of information on matters of life and death available to him is the Bible. Its contents are so valuable that billions of people consult its pages. It has remained right at the top of the world’s best selling books for a long, long time. Many read portions of it every day of their lives. Remarking that the Bible remains the world’s best seller, Stott says, “I am told that the Koran has now been translated into more that 125 languages. But the whole Bible has been translated into 307 languages, the New Testament into 680 more, and at least one book of the Bible into more than 1,360 more. This totals 2,347 languages and dialects into which some major portion of the Bible has been translated.”
Still, an increasing number use their pens and raise their voices in casting doubt on what the Bible has to say. For many years I have considered their pondering. By now, though, I have greater confidence in what Scripture tells me about what matters in my life than ever. I spend an increasing amount of my time on planet earth reading the Bible through annually, plus looking long and hard at its various passages along the way. I can say here again what I have declared to my classes in college through the years, “I stake my very life, physical, spiritual, and eternal, on what I learn from reading the Bible.” I consider it to be the most trustworthy Book in the world. After all, it was written by the Designer and Maker of Man. He certainly knows all about the problems of the one He created and has a solution to every one of them. All others merely speculate on their causes and cures.
One of no less stature than Billy Graham struggled with the objections of the critics of Scripture. He shares that story in his autobiography. The conflict came to a crisis during ministry on the west coast in the earlier days of his ministry. While he waited to begin his first large crusade in Los Angeles, he served as the speaker for a group at a retreat in the mountains of California. One night he took his doubts to God as he walked on a trail through the woods. Suddenly, he dropped to his knees in prayer at the base of a tree stump. Though he, of course, could not read his Bible in the light of the moon, still he opened it and placed it on the stump before him. There he cried out, “O, God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solutions. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions” that some are raising about it. Yet he declared, “Father I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.” Later, he spoke of this as a “pivotal point” in his ministry. “The Bible says . . .” became a trademark of his preaching ever after.
The Existence of Biblical Illiteracy
Some years ago an English teacher surveyed his class in an effort to determine the extent of biblical knowledge possessed by his students. Among interesting things he discovered was that some pupils thought that Moses baptized Jesus, that Eve was created from an apple, and that Sodom and Gomorrah were lovers! Surprised at learning the truth about them, on another occasion one remarked that he had always thought that the epistles were the apostles’ wives. Still another once believed that Paul and Silas were husband and wife. Such ignorance of what appears in Scripture indicates a need for a renewed interest in the reading of the Bible.
Edwards reports the results of a study by Barna which measured the degree of biblical literacy among believers. It indicated that 22% among them thought there was a book of Thomas in the Bible while 13% were not sure. Further, “27% thought Jonah was not a Bible book and another 12% had no idea. 11% believed Isaiah to be in the New Testament and 13% did not know.”
The noted pastor and scholar Stott decries the extent of biblical illiteracy in the world of today and calls for a correction. He writes, “I, for one, deeply disturbed by the cavalier attitude to the Bible adopted by many, long to see it reinstated in the hearts and homes of Christian people, and enthroned in the pulpits of the world. Only then can the church again hear and heed God’s Word. Only then will God’s people learn to integrate their faith and their life, as they seek to apply the teaching of Scripture to their moral standards, economic lifestyle, marriage and family, work and citizenship. Only then can Christians hope to be the world’s salt and light, as Jesus said they were to be, and influence their country’s culture, its institutions and laws, its values and ideals.”
Contributing to the growing biblical illiteracy in our world is the rise of a philosophy which seeks to dethrone all figures of authority in any society. Accordingly, Fretheim and Froehlich observe, “One characteristic of our current context is that people, both within and without the church, are suspicious of authority. This includes the authority claimed by leaders in the church and society or anyone’s claims to have a corner on the truth. Nothing is tied down any more; everything is up for grabs. Everyone, it seems, has a right to his own opinion. Christians may have whatever views about the Bible they like, of course, but they had best not try to impose them on others.”
Among those who desire to dethrone all persons of authority in our world today are the postmoderns. They hold that everyone is his own authority. His opinions and conclusions are as valid as that of any other. He need not turn to any source except himself for guidance in life. That includes the Bible. Nunnally writes, “This is not only the case with respect to the details; it is also true with respect to the big picture, the “metanarrative” (that is, the story that “makes sense out of it all”). To post- moderns, the metanarrative is merely the view of those in power use to keep those out of power in check.” Obviously, views of this kind turn people away from reading the Scripture.
The Need for Biblical Literacy
The fact is, though, that the one who is biblically illiterate can hardly claim to be an educated person. He cannot well declare to possess a good general education if he has little knowledge of the contents of the Bible. Edwards declares, “No other book has exerted such a widespread influence upon the art, literature, music and films of the Western world than the Bible. Until recent decades, it would be impossible to understand the culture of Western nations without understanding the impact of the Christian Scriptures.”
Purkiser lists six reasons as to why one should study the Bible. Among them is the fact that possessing knowledge of its contents is necessary in obtaining a general education. He writes, “It is difficult to see how anyone can claim a liberal education without at least a passing acquaintance with the greatest masterpiece of the English world.” For example, he declares that scholars have discovered over 500 quotations or allusions to the Bible in the writings of Shakespeare. Lincoln’s short Gettysburg Address contains fifteen words or phrases from Scripture in its three paragraphs.
Further, much of the finest music in our world found its inspiration from themes of Scripture. Handel’s Messiah is among them. Too, biblical content serves as a basis for some of history’s greatest art. These include DeVinci’s The Last Supper and Raphael’s The Transfiguration of Christ. The Book of Ruth provides a classic illustration of a short story for writers. Job contains an unparalleled example of ancient Hebrew poetry. Chapter 27 of the Book of Acts includes an excellent account of a voyage and shipwreck on the high seas during the Roman period of history.
Then, since the literature and art of culture contain so many quotes as well as allusions to the Bible, the person who reads them without knowing their source misses much of their meaning. Of course, more profound reasons for studying Scripture exist than just seeking to be a well-informed individual. The Bible provides the only certain source of information on the basic questions of life. Who is man Where did he come from What purpose in life should he serve What destiny awaits him at the end of his stay on earth Speaking of the value of Scripture, Horton says, “His Word, both in command and promise, was not only to have the last word, but the first word and every word in between, in all matters concerning doctrine and the Christian Life.”
My purpose in the paragraphs above has been to introduce the reader to a consideration of responses to the question, “Why study the Bible” I have presented logical reasons for selecting it as among the most profitable written material in the world (among its billions of pages) with which to spend one’s time. I have offered a discussion of the alarming existence of biblical illiteracy in the world today. More recently this is due, to no small degree, to the influence of a post-modern philosophy. This led logically to the lines above on the need for biblical literacy. Since its imprint appears on so much of the culture of the world, how can one appreciate its music, art, and literature when he knows nothing of the Bible Finally I declared that more profound reasons for studying Scripture exist that just seeking to be a well-informed individual. The Bible provides the only certain source of information on the basic questions of life. Who is man Where did he come from What purpose in life should he serve What destiny awaits him at the end of his stay on earth
Let others do what they may, then, but serious minded people of the world have good reason to spend a portion of their valuable time daily in reading the Bible.
Edwards, Brian H. Nothing But the Truth. New York Evangelical Press, 2006.
Fretheim, Terrence E., and Karlfried Froehlich. The Bible as Word of God in a Postmodern Age. Minneapolis, MN Fortress Press, 1998.
Graham, Billy. Just As I Am The Autobiography of Billy Graham. Grand Rapids, MI Zondervan, 1997.
Hodge, Archibald A., and Benjamin B. Warfield. Inspiration. Grand Rapids, MI Baker Book House, 1881 rpt.
Horton, Michael. “Forward.” In Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible. Ed. Don Kistler. Morgan, PA Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995.
Nunnally, Wave E. “Pentecostal Proclamation in a Liberal, Postmodern World.” In The Bible the Word of God. Ed. James K. Bridges. Springfield, MO Gospel Publishing House, 2003.
Purkiser, W. T. Exploring the Old Testament. Kansas City, MO Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1970.
Stamps, Donald C. “The Word of God.” In The Full Life Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI Zondervan Publishing House, 1992, pp. 1062-1063.
Stott, John R. W. You Can Trust the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI Discovery House Publishers, 1982.
Van Til, Cornelius. The New Modernism. Philadelphia, PN The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947.
Warfield, Benjamin B. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Philadelphia, PA The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948.