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The incomparable Book

December 2002 | by Timothy Cross

The Bible? Isn’t it full of myths, miracles and mistakes? And drearily old-fashioned at that? Who needs the Bible? The answers are: ‘No’, ‘No’, and ‘Everyone’. Why is that? Because the Bible is God’s own message to mankind.

Claiming to have a book that contains a personal message from the Creator of the universe might stagger belief. Yet this is what we do claim.

If we are right, this book demands attention like no other. As a message from the God of heaven, woe betide those who ignore or belittle it.

If we are right, also, the Bible brings all that people need for a happy life, a happy death, and a happy eternity.

Authority

Where does final authority reside? The question is more important than many realise.

We are all under authority to a greater or lesser degree. Wherever we live, we are subject to laws of the land, carefully framed and written down.

On my first day at work with the railways, I was handed a copy of the British Rail ‘Rule Book’. Safety is paramount in the railway industry. Its employees cannot do as they please, or anarchy would result. As far as our work is concerned, this rule book is our final authority.

But what is our final authority when it comes to our eternal well-being? Where can we go to find light on such a subject?

For many, sadly, their own desires and opinions are the final authority. They do what they like – and have to live with the personal and social consequences.

Arguments

The ultimate authority for Christians, however, must be the Bible. Why? Because it comes from God himself, who is the supreme authority and cannot be wrong.

If this is true, it follows that the Bible is the only infallible source of guidance for our lives – both on earth and eternally. The Westminster Confession puts it this way (I have modernised the language):

‘The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, who is its author (and who is truth itself). Therefore, it is to be received because it is the Word of God…

‘The heavenly nature of its contents; the efficacy of its teaching; the majesty of its style; the consistency of all its parts; the scope of the whole (which is to give glory to God); the full disclosure it makes of the only way of salvation for man; its many other incomparable excellencies, and its entire perfection – are arguments by which it abundantly demonstrates itself to be the Word of God.’

Inspired

The Bible, then, is nothing less than the inspired Word of God. But what does inspiration mean? It is vital that we understand this, because the authority and infallibility of the Scriptures depend on it.

To put it bluntly, if the Bible were not divinely inspired, it would have no more authority than millions of other books.

The Bible explains itself. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we read ‘all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’.

The expression ‘inspired by God’ here is actually a single word in the original Greek. It means ‘God-breathed’. The Scriptures are God’s ‘out-breathings’. Just as our words are the vocalised expression of our inner thoughts, so the Bible (says the apostle Paul) is the written expression of the thoughts of God.

This applies, of course, to the original languages in which it was written. Translations into English (or other languages) are not infallible – except in so far as they correctly convey the full meaning of the original (which good translations usually do).

Trustworthy

God so moved the human authors of Scripture – like Moses, Jeremiah, Paul and Peter – that he enabled them to communicate his message without error.

The Holy Spirit so moved the human penmen of the Bible, that they wrote down the exact words God intended – for the blessing and enlightenment of all who read them.

‘No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man’, declares Peter, ‘but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God’ (2 Peter 1:21).

B. B. Warfield defines biblical inspiration as: ‘A supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Spirit of God, by virtue of which their writings are given divine trustworthiness’.

That applies to all sixty-six books of the Bible – it is ‘God-breathed’ from Genesis to Revelation.

Key doctrine

The divine inspiration of Scripture is the key doctrine of authentic Christianity. All else flows from this. We take our stand on the infallible Book of God. ‘The grass withers, the flower fades; but the Word of our God will stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40:8).

Consider a beautiful piece of classical music, played by a full symphony orchestra. The music was once in the mind of a composer, who then committed it to paper.

Each instrumentalist plays the music in perfect harmony with others – strings, brass, woodwind and percussion play what is written, exactly as the composer intended it.

Each player contributes to the harmonious whole. And, paradoxically, while they make the music, it remains the work of the composer.

It is similar with the Bible. God used many human authors, with differing personalities and gifts, living in different eras of time. Yet each was part of his overall plan to give the world his Word. Each played a part in communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ for our eternal blessing.

Just as Christ’s deity was not diminished by his taking a human form, so God’s Word is not diminished by its communication through human authors.

Gospel

The sixty-six books of the divinely inspired volume may seem daunting. The Bible certainly is a big book, containing many different types of literature – history, prophecy, poetry, letters, etc.

But it has only one main message – the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of ‘the sacred writings … which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ’ (2 Timothy 3:15).

John 3:16 puts the message of the whole Bible in a nutshell: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’.

The Bible is a life-giving book. Peter testified: ‘You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God’ (1 Peter 1:24).

No other book tells us how we can be delivered from the penalty and power of sin. No other book tells us how we can enjoy fellowship with God (for which we were designed).

But the Bible does! It proclaims ‘salvation through faith in Jesus Christ’.

The Lord Jesus Christ and the Bible are inextricably bound together in the believer’s personal experience. We can only know Christ through the teaching of the Bible. And when we read or hear the Bible, we come face to face with Christ.

Implications

If the Bible is, indeed, the inspired Word of God, and if it proclaims salvation through Jesus Christ alone, then certain implications follow.

The first is this: We must read it and heed it! Get to know what the Bible says. Submit to it as the final authority for what you believe and how you behave.

God’s command to Joshua is a command to us too: ‘This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then shall you make your way prosperous and then you shall have good success’ (Joshua 1:8).

Are you a true Christian? Do you give the Bible your daily careful and prayerful consideration?

Do you seek the help of God’s Spirit – who caused the Bible to be written – to help you understand and apply the Bible’s contents to yourself?

Is the Bible your daily joy and spiritual food? Sola Scriptura – the Bible alone – was the rallying cry of our fathers. May it be ours today!

How precious is the book divine
By inspiration given,
Bright as a lamp its doctrines shine
To guide our souls to heaven.

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Evangelistic