What is the Bible?
In a factual sense, the Bible is an ancient library. It consists of 66 books written by roughly 40 authors over a period of about 1,500 years on three different continents (Africa, Asia, Europe) in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic). All those handy chapter and verse numbers were inserted later around 1200 AD so that people could navigate the book better. The fact that it is nicely compiled in leatherbound print in our modern day is a testament to the countless people over the centuries who preserved the ancient manuscripts, which were all handwritten and copied onto animal skins long before parchment and pen (much less the computer!) was ever used. The word “Bible” simply means “book”. So when it is called the Holy Bible, it is being referred to as “the holy book”.
But is the Bible really a holy book? Is it superior to other books, and if so, why? Christians call the Bible the Word of God. It is believed that the Bible is not just written by men, but also by God. Even though human beings physically wrote down the words, the authors were inspired by God – he literally had them write word for word exactly what he wanted them to say. In that sense the Bible would be unique, not simply a man-made thing but a creation of God.
But does the Bible itself claim to be God speaking? Did the authors intend for it to be understood as the divine Word of God? The answer is yes, as evidenced by a few simple facts.
- The authors explicitly say they are writing the very words of God. In the Old Testament, the phrase “Thus says the Lord…” is used about 200 times. Other variations of this phrase, such as “the word of the Lord came to me…” or “God said to me…” show up roughly 3,800 times in total! The authors clearly believed they were writing the words of God.
- Other passages verify this claim. For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is breathed out by God…”. Also, 2 Peter 1:20-21 says “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, the authors believed the words of the Bible were not words from men but from God.
- The authors of the New Testament quote the Old Testament about 300 times, showing that they believed the Old Testament was authoritative. One New Testament author (Peter) quotes another New Testament author (Paul) and refers to his writings as “scripture” (2 Peter 3:16). In fact, the Bible quotes itself as authoritative so many times it’s almost impossible to count.
- Jesus himself quoted from other parts of the Bible all the time and regularly taught from it as if he believed it was authoritative (one example is Luke 4:16-21).
So certainly the Bible claims to be more than just another book. It claims to be holy. If the Bible really is the Word of God, it has some very important implications.
- It means the Bible should not be changed (Deuteronomy 4:2). You can’t edit God!
- It means the Bible is perfect (Psalm 19:7-8). There are no mistakes or flaws, at least in the original manuscripts.
- It means the Bible is true (John 17:17). There are no falsehoods in it.
- It means the Bible is a guide for life (Psalm 119:105). If God invented life, then he knows how it works best.
- It means the Bible is to be obeyed (James 1:22). Not only should we read, study, and memorize it, but we should do what it says.
- It means the Bible is sufficient (Luke 16:27-31). It doesn’t tell us everything, but it does tell us everything we need to know.
- It means the Bible is the highest authority (Acts 17:11). If God is the author then we must conform to it.
As you can see, a lot is hanging in the balance! If the Bible is not the Word of God, then it is just another book that we can appreciate or disregard, whichever we choose. But if it is the Word of God, then we ought to hold it up to the highest level of importance and submit to it’s every word.
I personally do believe the Bible is the Word of God. I don’t believe this simply because it’s what I was taught growing up. I don’t believe it simply because the Bible makes those claims. I don’t believe it because the Bible is popular or because it has stood the test of time or because I’m afraid of being wrong or because I’m naive to why other people reject it. I believe it because, after careful examination of the evidence, I think the most reasonable conclusion to come to is that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.
What evidence, you may ask? That will be the subject of a coming post.
Seen above are images of Bibles that have been “edited” by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson created “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” by literally cutting and pasting sections of the Gospels together to form the biographical sketch of Jesus that he believed in. Not surprisingly, Jefferson left out all of Jesus’ miracles and most mentions of the supernatural, including Jesus’ resurrection. It was on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History from 2011-2012.