THE BIBLE IS DIFFERENT FROM EVERY OTHER BOOK
There are three things about the Bible that make it different from any other book. In theological terms, these unique differences are called revelation, inspiration and illumination. As shown in the diagram below, God revealed himself and his plan to specially chosen writers; they recorded his message for all mankind.
To be more precise, the spirit of God (Holy Spirit, see Topics 39 and 44) communicated with the spirit of the writers (human spirit, see Topics 7 and 8) and guided their minds and hands to compose God’s message into human words. For convenience, these words have been collected into a single volume called the Bible. The Bible is a spiritual book – a primary resource God uses to get his thoughts and purposes into us – and it needs to be read not only with the mind but also with the spirit. If a person’s spirit is closed, most of the meaning of the Bible will not get through.
REVELATION – This term means that the Bible reveals truth about God, by God. It’s a revelation of himself (what kind of God he is) and a revelation of his plan and purpose for us (the reason for our existence). The Bible provides a reliable record of important events that have already taken place and important events that lie ahead, and it gives an authoritative interpretation of those events. (For example, if we’d been present at the crucifixion of Jesus, we’d have thought it was just another public execution of a failed revolutionary. We probably wouldn’t have recognized, as stated in II Corinthians 5:19, ‘that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.’)
INSPIRATION – Unlike all other books, the Bible didn’t originate in the mind of man but rather in the mind of God. But God had to simplify his thoughts for us and reduce them to words we can understand. So he selected some writers – over 30 of them, from three different continents, writing in three different languages, over a period of more than 1,500 years – and he directed them to write exactly what he wants us to know. (See Topic 29 for names of the Bible writers.)
ILLUMINATION – A person must be in an intimate relationship with God before he can expect to understand much of what he reads in the Bible. The same Holy Spirit who revealed God to the writers and supernaturally inspired their writings in the Bible also illuminates (makes understandable, ‘turns on the light’) the Bible to us today when our spirit is opened to God’s spirit.
GOD’S MESSAGE COMES TO US IN HUMAN WORDS
Through the centuries, Christians have held that the Bible is the one and only book authored by God himself. The theological expression ‘inspired word of God’ is used to denote how God worked in a supernatural way to make the written words of the Bible writers become God’s own verbal expression.
The Bible word for this communication – ‘theopneustos’ (Greek) – literally means ‘God-breathed.’ The Bible says of itself (II Timothy 3:16-17):
‘All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’
The Bible is, at the same time, words of man and words of God. Each part of the Bible was written by a special person chosen by God, using his human mind, personality and pen. But the message came from God, and the transmission was superintended by God, so that what we read are the words of God in the language of men. The Bible is both human and divine, like Jesus was both human and divine.
Some people question how God could use fallible people to write an infallible book. It’s true that human beings make mistakes, but they don’t have to make mistakes. It’s not impossible for a person to perform a mistake-free act, such as a writer who quotes a speaker precisely and spells every word correctly. It wouldn’t be difficult for God to dictate to certain people of his choice exactly what he wanted to be said at that time and then arrange for their writings to be collected for use by later generations. Even from our human perspective, this seems like the best way to document truth.
THE ENTIRE BIBLE IS THE TRUE WORD OF GOD
Some people say it’s too simplistic to believe that the Bible is the word of God. Instead, they say, the Bible contains the word of God. With that view, however, we’d be left in uncertainty to pick and choose the portions that please us. If we believe only what we like, and reject what we don’t like, it wouldn’t be the Bible we trust, but ourselves. In effect, we’d be setting ourselves up as God. A partially reliable Bible is inconsistent with the character of God portrayed in the Bible. An inspired Bible, by definition, is a completely reliable Bible.
Some people say there may be error in the Bible. But it’s nonsense to say that the Bible – in original manuscript – is inspired by God but has substantive error. That would be just another way of saying that he gave us God-inspired error, to deliberately mislead us.
However, there’s the possibility of either real error or apparent error arising from poor translation between languages; from cultural misunderstanding and from wrong interpretation. For example, many problems arise through failing to distinguish between the many literary styles in the Bible – such as poetry, proverbs and warnings which make appeal directly to the imagination, heart and conscience – because the content and impact of those kinds of writings is quite different from matter-of-fact reporting. Also, many problems arise through failing to understand cultural differences and failing to see principles rather than just words or events.
God’s truth is conveyed by what the Bible writers set down, in the meaning they originally intended, and in the way their readers understood it. Our understanding of that meaning may be faulty, especially without help from Bible scholars and historians. Therefore, error sometimes attributed to the Bible really lies with us.