What is the Bible?

[This article was written by Tim Haile.]

Though this fact is ignored by some and denied by others, the Bible is the word of God. Being such, it is Truth (John 17:17). Those who are honest cannot deny the indisputable evidence in favor of the Bible’s claim of divine authorship. The Bible is the only book known to mankind that was written by forty different men while having only one author: The Bible claims to be authored by God. Proof of this single authorship is seen in the fact that the Bible really contains only one purpose and plan, and is the development of one scheme of redemption. We are redeemed by the blood of Christ (Revelation 5:9), but the Lamb of God is also identified as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “Root of David” (Revelation 5:5). Thus, traces of the scheme of redemption can be found throughout the Bible. In fact, Revelation 13:8 identifies Jesus as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

The word “Bible” is from the Greek word that means “book,” but the Bible is actually a book of books. It is comprised of 66 different books that join together as one. The first 39 books of the Bible comprise the Old Testament and the last 27 comprise the New Testament. These books form somewhat of a library. The Bible contains every kind of literature and every style of writing known to man. We see letters, law, logic, biography, poetry, parables, history, songs and hymns. At least 36 different writers wrote in 3 different languages on three different continents in many countries. These writers came from very diverse backgrounds. Some were rich; some were poor. Some were known; some were unknown. Some were raised in the city; some were raised in the country. There were kings, farmers, builders, lawyers, generals, fishermen, priests, scribes, prophets, a tax collector and a doctor. The Bible was written from every possible human standpoint, over a span of 1500 years, and yet it contains perfect harmony and unity. It does not contradict itself. Unaided humans are simply incapable of this kind of consistency and agreement. Without even considering any other proofs of biblical inspiration, this fact alone implies that the Bible is of divine origin. It suggests that the Bible was divinely conceived, miraculously revealed, and providentially preserved. There is simply no other viable explanation for its existence. And if the Bible is from God, it is then infallible. It cannot be wrong.

The Bible is God’s Special Revelation

Throughout all ages God has made Himself known to mankind. Regardless of the time or place in which one lives, he is able to see evidence for the existence of a divine creator. The apostle Paul said, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). King David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament show His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1-2). This revelation of God in creation is sometimes called natural or general revelation. Natural revelation is designed to cause men to believe in the existence of a higher, more intelligent, and more powerful being. But natural revelation is not designed to inform men of the will of that divine being. This requires a special and direct revelation involving specific communication from God. This type of revelation contains facts that must be believed, commands that must be obeyed, and instructions that must be followed.

Over time, God has employed various methods of communication. He spoke to Moses “mouth to mouth,” and to others using visions and dreams (Numbers 12: 6-8). God once spoke to Moses from a burning bush (Exodus 3:4). The Ten Commandments that were recorded by Moses were originally written “by the finger of God, on two tablets of stone” (Exodus 31:18). On one occasion, God spoke to a prophet through the mouth of a donkey (Numbers 22:28-30). This diversity in methods of divine communication is mentioned in Hebrews 1:1-2:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.

The NASB version uses the expression “in many portions and in many ways” to describe how God has revealed Himself in the past.

Patriarchal Age

In the period of time that extended from the beginning until the giving of the Law of Moses, God directly revealed His will to the heads of families. We sometimes call this the “Patriarchal dispensation.” God told Adam what his responsibility was in the garden, and what foods he should eat versus those he should not eat (Genesis 2:15-17). From what we see in Genesis 3:2-3, these instructions had been given to Eve as well. We know also that Abel had knowledge of God’s will, for Hebrews 11:4 speaks of him acting “by faith” in his service to God. Since “faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17), we must conclude that Abel was taught of God, either directly or indirectly, what his responsibility was regarding service and sacrifice to God. The Bible also tells us of a man named Enoch who “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22). The expression “walked with God” suggests fellowship with God, and fellowship with God necessitates knowledge of God.

We know that God also revealed His will to Noah, for he also feared and walked with God (Genesis 6:8-9). The New Testament says Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). This means that God revealed a standard of conduct to Noah, which he in turn preached to others. Abraham serves as a classic example of the Patriarchal style of revelation. In Genesis 18:19 God said of Abraham, “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD in doing righteousness and justice; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” God gave instructions to Abraham and He expected Abraham to pass these instructions along to his children and other descendants.

Mosaic Age

This Patriarchal method of communication continued with the Gentiles, but through Moses, God gave the Jews their own written law (Deuteronomy 5:1-3). Beginning at Sinai, and continuing to the cross of Jesus, God had special dealings and a special relationship with the Jewish people. This era is known as the “Mosaic dispensation.” Stephen had reference to the “Law of Moses” when he spoke of the “lively oracles” that were given to the Jews at Sinai (Acts 7:38), and Paul said these written “oracles of God” were an advantage to the Jewish people (Romans 3:1-2). This body of teaching known as the Law of Moses begins with the Ten Commandments and ends with the prophet Malachi. Jesus subdivided the Law of Moses as “the law, the prophets, and the psalms” (Luke 24:44). Elsewhere, this entire body of written law is simply referred to as “the Old Testament” (2 Corinthians 3:14), “the first covenant” (Hebrews 8:7), and “the first testament” (Hebrews 9:15). The Old Testament contains the revelation of God’s will for other people of other times. It does not constitute law for people today.

The Christian Age

This brings us back to Hebrews 1:2, which states that God has “in these last days, spoken to us by His Son.” For the sake of proper distinction, we sometimes call “these last days” the “Christian dispensation.” The revelation of Jesus is that part of the Bible known as the “New Testament” (Hebrews 9:15). John referred to this revelation when he said, “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The expression “grace and truth” refers to the gospel or “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). It is that part of the Bible that begins with “Matthew” and continues through “Revelation.” Every accountable human being on the earth today is answerable to God on the basis of this law. All accountable humans are “under law to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21).

It is extremely important that we respect the revelation of Christ, for all people of this dispensation of time will be judged by His words (John 12:48), and those words are found in the New Testament.

The Bible is Inspired

“Inspiration” is what makes the Bible different than all other books that are known to mankind. By “inspired” I do not mean merely that the writers were highly motivated or stimulated. “Inspired” is from the compound Greek word theopneustos. The word means divinely breathed. The Bible says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The expression “inspired of God” emphasizes the divine origin of the scriptures. This inspiration is so perfect that Jesus built an entire argument upon the verb tense of “I AM” (Matthew 22:32). When one reads the Bible he reads the very words of God. Humans wrote the Bible, but its source and origin was God. The apostle Peter said, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). He went on to explain this process whereby God’s will is expressed to mankind in human language. He said,

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

This passage teaches us that God used human instrumentality to convey His thoughts, wishes, and will to mankind. Those who spoke for God did not merely presume to speak and write on His behalf: they spoke and wrote at His command. The mark of a true prophet was whether or not he had the words of God in his mouth. Those who spoke presumptuously were to be put to death (Deuteronomy 18:18-20). True prophets and apostles spoke and wrote as they were carried along and directed by the Spirit of God. The end result was God’s words in human language. First century inspired men did not have to worry about what they would say when faced with opposition because “the Spirit of the Father” would give them the information they needed. The Spirit would speak through the Apostles (Matthew 10:19-20). Regardless of how He chose to do it, whether by dreams, revelations, visions (Acts 2:17; 2 Corinthians 12:1; Galatians 1:12) or other methods, the words were from God. Two Old Testament passages clearly state the method that God used to communicate His thoughts to mankind. Zechariah 7:12 says,

Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.

Here we see the entire process of revelation. Information was received from God by the Holy Spirit, who used the mouths and pens of the prophets. The end result was that the written law and the spoken word were from God. The second passage is Nehemiah 9:30 which says,

Yet many years you did forbear them, and testified against them by your spirit in your prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore you gave them into the hand of the people of the lands.

Please notice that it was GOD who testified against them, but He used Spirit guided prophets to communicate with the people. The Zechariah and Nehemiah passages are greatly complimented by a New Testament passage that makes the same point. In 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Paul shows that man could not know the mind and will of God apart from divine revelation. In fact, verse 9 says man could not see, hear, or even imagine the things of God apart from God’s revelation. The next few verses tell us that God, including the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, used human instrumentality to reveal His will to us. The end result is that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). That is, we have access to the thoughts of Christ, because they have been expressed in human terminology. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 shows that Spirit guided men wrote this divine information down in epistles and letters. By the providence of God these writings have been preserved. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). 1 Peter 1:25 says, “But the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

Why Do Biblical Writings Reflect Human Experiences?

This question is often asked when the topic of verbal inspiration is discussed. Some cite the stylistic and linguistic differences between different biblical writings in an effort to prove that they were of mere human origin. They argue that these differences reflect far too much personal individuality for them to be from God. They use this to suggest either, that the Bible is not inspired at all, or that the Bible is inspired only in a general sense, and not verbally. However, there is another possibility. The truth is that the Holy Spirit used the personal experiences and vocabularies of the writers when communicated divine thought.

  • Paul’s Sailing Terminology – Paul spoke of some as having made shipwreck of the faith (1 Timothy 1:19). Paul’s sea journeys would have taught him certain sailing terminology. The Holy Spirit obviously used those words that had become a part of Paul’s vocabulary. Acts 27 describes a shipwreck that Paul was involved in, and in 2 Corinthians 11:25 he speaks of 3 others.
  • Paul’s Sporting Terminology – We also see a great deal of sporting terminology in Paul’s writings. Paul was a Roman citizen, and no doubt would have been influenced by that culture. Sporting events and the military were very important in first century Rome. Paul compares Christianity to “running a race” and “competing in the games” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). In 2 Timothy 2:5 he said, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” These illustrations fit very well with the time and culture in which Paul lived. Sporting terminology is found in Paul’s writings because the Holy Spirit used Paul’s personal vocabulary, experiences, and cultural background to convey the thoughts of God.
  • Paul’s Fighting Terminology – Since first century Rome held the position of world domination, and since Paul grew up in that society, which strongly emphasized military might, it is only fitting that fighting terminology is found throughout Paul’s writings. It was Paul who said, “Fight the good fight of faith,” and “Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” and “I have fought a good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3; 4:7). Paul used the soldier’s attire to illustrate the Christian’s armor (Ephesians 6:10-17).

Some people question how the Bible could be inspired when it includes Paul’s personal judgment on some matters. 1 Corinthians 7:6, 40 contains Paul’s judgment on marriage in his time and circumstance. This only proves that, as well as including the personal experiences and vocabularies of Bible writers, the Holy Spirit could even incorporate human judgment in addressing certain matters and circumstances. Paul may have given his personal judgment in the matter of marrying during the “present distress” (1 Corinthians 7:26), but his judgment had “the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:40).

The Bible is Complete and Final

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

These two verses combine to make the strong statement that God has told us everything that we need to know to get us from earth to heaven. No more revelation is necessary, and no more revelation is permitted. Paul made this very clear in Galatians 1:8-9 where he said, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Many modern religionists make claims of modern day revelations. Paul told Christians to reject any teaching that was different from New Testament teaching. He said that we are to reject a different teaching even if “an angel” were to give it to us.

James used the expression, “the perfect law of liberty” to describe the gospel (James 1:25). Something that is “perfect” cannot be improved upon. Nothing can be added or subtracted that would make it any better than what it already is. In fact, a curse is pronounced upon those who would either “add to,” or “take from” the things that are written in God’s word (Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19). As Jude said, “the faith has been once [one time for all times] delivered to the saints.” This being true, no addition can be of “the faith.” New revelations would therefore be of human origin and unfit to guide us spiritually (Matthew 15:9; Colossians 2:8, 20-22). The New Testament is Christ’s authoritative guide, and it serves as a complete guide of faith and practice. Let us turn to it exclusively for religious authority in the things that we believe, teach, and practice (Colossians 3:17; 1 Peter 4:11).

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