A Book Different From All Others
February 1, 2001 - My friend was puzzled. "You Christians say that your Book was recorded over a span of 1,500 years, partly in Hebrew, partly in Aramaic and partly in Greek," he said. "You have four separate accounts about Jesus that you call Gospels. Which is the real one? Which is the one that God Himself gave? And in the bookstore I have seen a dozen Bibles, all different! Which is the real one? Which one came from God?"
by Peter J. Bradley
The Christian View of Scripture
My friend, being an adherent of another religion, was baffled by the Bible, and I imagine that many Christians may be bewildered as well. It is true that the Christian view of Scripture is unique and often not well understood by people we meet. We Christians believe that the Bible is a Book radically different from all others and that it is crucial to our faith and daily life. Our years are like a journey on which we are constantly guided and corrected by God's Word. Without its direction, we travel without a map along life's perilous road.
Inspired by God
The Bible, God's Book, comes to us divinely inspired and authoritative from Him. Our foundation for this view is found in 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."(1)
Christians further affirm that God's inspiration was not mechanical or simply dictated. We sense that the personality and style of each writer is reflected in the way he wrote, so that the Apostle Paul's thoughts and long and complex sentences differ from the style of the Apostle Peter. In this wonderful way God's Word reflects exactly what He intended but does not erase the human writer's style.
In the same way, the efforts of each of the four Gospel writers are unique and together form a multifaceted record of our Lord Jesus' life, death and resurrection. It is astonishing that although the revelation of the Scriptures encompassed approximately 15 centuries, the same message—God acting in history to draw people to Himself—animates the whole from beginning to end.
A Flawless Record
No other volume in history took so long to complete or is so fully documented. More than 5,000 handwritten manuscripts, partial or complete, attest to the Bible's reliability. We accept it as God's flawless record of all He intended to reveal. It is the repository of the content of our faith and the stimulus for our daily walk. To leave it on a bookshelf to gather dust is an insult to God and results in a shallow Christianity.
Yet our contemporary, secularized society invites us to do just that: to leave the Bible on the bookshelf. Religion is relegated to the weekend, and the notion grows that life consists in the abundance of things we can acquire. The mandate to love God above all and our neighbors as ourselves(2) seems quaint and irrelevant in our alluring and materialistic culture.
• Commit to a daily quiet time for Bible-reading and reflection.
• Focus your mind on God as you begin to receive what He wants to say to you.
• Ponder: What did this passage mean when it was written? What does this passage mean for me right now?
• Seek guidance from the Holy Spirit, who directed the Bible writers long ago.
• Pray that God will make the Scripture passage come alive in your life.
Instructions From Our Maker
It is in this context that our challenge to live for Christ is the challenge to live the message of the Bible in today's world. His message comes to us in nearly every literary form, in narratives and dialogues, in proverbs and parables, in songs and allegories, in reflections on the past and glimpses into the future.
The Bible is more than a casebook of events and people; it is a workbook for living. It is not to be placed on an end table to impress visitors, and it is not a horoscope or a charm to ward off evil spirits. We study the Bible to find in it our Maker's instructions as to how to operate our lives. In the million situations we face during our years, sometimes the Bible's instructions are crystal clear, and sometimes we need to reflect, study, meditate and pray for illumination and courage.
The Need for Lifelong Bible Study
This careful and ongoing study of the Bible is necessary also because sometimes various Scripture passages seem not to agree with one another. This tension should not surprise us in a library of 66 books written over 15 centuries in greatly differing contexts. So, for example, we find that Paul and James describe the relationship between faith and works differently. These views seem to be in conflict, but it becomes apparent that each writer is approaching the subject from a different perspective and is providing a specific emphasis. Attempting to comprehend fully God's Word is a lifelong endeavor.
To many people, including my puzzled friend, this does not seem like good news. It would be so much simpler if the Bible were a listing of commands and prohibitions with everything listed for every conceivable problem. Then, when a problem or question arises, we could just turn to the right spot for the answer.
But this is not the way God intended us to use His Word. He left us a record that is vibrant and demanding. As we steep ourselves in the Bible, we find the way to face tomorrow. We continually sharpen our minds, changing our lifestyles and our conducts, and sharing His riches. And then we live, by the impulse of God's Word, a life of gratitude for His grace.