Is Studying The Bible Necessary?
If testing God is desirable and possible, it’s imperative that one undertake a study of God to learn who He is and what His desires, purposes, and promises are. In the first post in this series, I wrote that God is testable and talked about the positive and negative aspects of testing God. Then I discussed the Hall of Faith and how it encourages us to put God to the test. Since we are among such a great cloud of witnesses, I share with you my own testimony of coming to Christ.
I’d like pause right here and say the reason we want to test God is to prove His faithfulness and to prove that His promises are true. We’ll come to what those promises are later, but for now, let’s just say that putting God to the test is a great way to strengthen our faith in Christ.
After sharing my own testimony, I laid the groundwork for this post and the next few to come by discussing why it’s important to study God where He is and where He has been. In today’s post, we’ll discuss how the Bible leads us to a better understanding of God and His desire for us.
What Is The Bible?
It’s common to refer to the Bible as “the word of God,” which it is, but that simple descriptor doesn’t really do justice to what it really is. Some people have called it a love letter from God. This one could get some people riled up. Certainly, the Bible talks about God’s love, but is it really a love letter? In a sense, there are parts of the Bible that read like a love letter, and if one sees the entire Bible that way one likely views it in one of two ways:
- As God’s love letter to every individual believer; or
- As God’s love letter to His entire church.
I think seeing the Bible as God’s love letter misses something very important. It fails to take into consideration what the purpose of the scriptures are.
It would be truer to say that the Bible is a biography of God. It is a narrative that tells the story of how God crafted all of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) and interjected Himself into history to redeem that creation after His chief adversary spoiled it. The story tells how God has used human instruments to fulfill His purposes, and it tells precisely what His eternal purpose is. In other words, it’s a story. The story of God.
God is the primary subject matter of the Bible, and He is its principle character. He is also its author.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “The Bible was written by men.”
Yes, it was. Men were the instruments of God in the writing of the Bible. But they were guided by the Holy Spirit. I know that sounds strange, but if we are take seriously the claims of the Bible, then we must understand that the way the Bible came together could only have occurred under the guiding hand of a very intelligent mind. Consider that over 40 human authors over the course of 1,600 years writing in three different languages across three different continents penned a collection of 66 different books in a variety of different writing styles that includes histories, genealogies, poetry, parables, prophecies, epistles, and allegories that make up a collection of work we call the Bible. Yet, there is amazing cohesion in the fullness of the story line.
Much of the content of the Bible is absurd by humans standards. The best explanation for what the Bible is and how it came together is to say it had to have come from a mind beyond the imaginations of mere mortals.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 says
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work.
The word “God-breathed” in its original language (Greek) is theopneustos. “God-breathed” is its literal translation. Note the root word, “theo,” which means God followed by “pneustos,” a form of the word “pneuma,” which literally means breath. Classic theologians interpret that to mean that God Himself breathed the words and expressions into the text’s human authors without violating their own wills. That would be a remarkable feat, if true, and one that only a divine being could accomplish.
The reason the Bible is excellent source material for studying God is because it details God’s eternal purpose, and attached to that purpose are certain promises that, if kept, make God worthy of our worship. Testing God allows us to discover that God’s promises are true and that there are good reasons to believe His story.
An Overview of the Bible
The Bible is an incredible story with incredible content. Despite the rich diversity of human authors, as mentioned above, it tells a very interesting story of a divine Mind with superlative creativity and a wild imagination, not to mention a logistical intelligence beyond anything offered by mere mortals, individually or collectively. Its 66 books are divided into two testaments — an old and a new. The Old Testament contains 39 books and the New Testament contains 27. In a word, it’s the most unique piece of literature the world has ever seen.
Human authors ranging from kings to shepherds and from super-wealthy to dirt poor made contributions. Most were men, but one book could have been written by a woman. Its author is unknown. Several of the Psalms were also penned by unknowns.
Each narrative in the Bible has its own story arc, unique set of characters, plot, theme, and literary value. Despite much that is human throughout the Bible, its principle character and subject is God Himself. The forms of literature employed include history, drama, poetry, song lyrics, legislative codes, proverbs, wisdom literature, stories, fables, letters, prayers, prophecies, parables, biographies, apocalyptic literature, genealogies, lamentations, sermons, speeches, proclamations, epic tales, treatises, heroic literature, and chronicles of war. Just to name a few.
In reading the Bible, it’s important to understand the type of literature one is reading. Interpretation is tied to the literary form. For instance, prophecies can be understood on two levels:
- The future value as predictive literature; and
- The spiritual value as oracle of divine origin intended to convey an important message to specific intended recipients.
Poetry, by contrast, is simply praise or an expression of sentiment. They may show the author pouring out his anger, sadness, joy, or gladness, or, in some cases, repenting of sin. Other literary forms can be read in other ways. But form is intrinsic to interpretation.
So What Does The Bible Have to Say?
The human tendency is to read the Bible through modern eyes. Some of the expressions are a bit strange to 21st century readers because the original audience were primitive peoples who did not have the benefit of modern science and technology.
That does not mean they were stupid. Far from it. In fact, they were as much Homo sapiens (rational man) as we are. The difference is, the knowledge they possessed was not extensive because they had not yet discovered the scientific method, advanced mathematics, complex language rules, and so forth. Even the people of New Testament times, though more advanced than pre-flood humans, were still not as advanced in their knowledge and understanding of creation as we are.
This is important to remember because we don’t get far into the story line before things seem strange. For instance, in the first chapter of Genesis, God created night and day on the first day but didn’t see fit to create the sun and the moon until the fourth. Some people have read that far and dismissed it for disagreeing with modern science, but the original audience would not have had the benefit of modern science. So the thing we must remember is that it was not intended to be a science lesson. It was simply intended to be a way for its author to convey to a very primitive tribe how everything they see came to be in language and terms that they could understand.
The amazing thing about the Bible is that it tells us everything we need to know about the most important things. You won’t find science lessons, tutorials on analytical calculus, origami, YouTube videos that highlight silly human antics, instructions for assembling a bed frame, or anything else that doesn’t directly relate to the subject matter at hand. What you will find is something in which many people of our era simply have no interest. There is an amazing mystery to the Bible.
In a nutshell, the Bible details:
- The character and nature of God;
- Who we (the human race) are in relation to God;
- How we got here, and why we are here;
- How the world got into its current state of disorder;
- How we (again, the human race) ended up in such a state of cognitive and spiritual disarray;
- God’s plan for getting His creation, including we mortals, back to its original pristine state in which it was created;
- Why, and how, we must align ourselves with that plan, or suffer the consequences if we don’t;
- What happens when we obey the Master, and when we don’t;
- How the story ends.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible contains the very heart of God poured out for the human race to examine. It doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about its subject, but it tells us what we need to know to draw the proper conclusions about the most important things.
What The Bible Isn’t
The Bible is not material to be excavated like some archaeological dig. It is much more than that. The man who thumbs through looking for facts to either discard or hold dear is no different than the man who seeks to obtain a date from the girl next door by digging a hole in her front yard. If you want to impress the beautiful thing that has your eye, you’ve got to knock on her door, express your interest in her, and woo her into sharing her deepest secrets with you. In other words, if you want to get to know her, you’ve got to spend time with her, listen to her talk, observe her in social situations, and learn who she is from the inside out. The same goes for God. If you want to know Him, and you can’t test Him until you do, you have to explore his heart, learn what makes Him tick, discover His greatest concerns, and “get inside Him” so to speak. The Bible helps us do that.
This is a tall order for any book. For God’s book, it’s especially tall because in order to have access to much of the information that would pull all of this together in the first place, you’d have to climb into the mind of God. In order to understand it well enough to communicate to a race of beings as silly and obtuse as we are, you’d have to be God. And that’s why there are only two conclusions you can draw about the Bible: Either it’s the divinely inspired Word of God, a heart-to-heart revelation from the Creator to His creation, or it’s a collection of wild human imaginations and completely insane fiction. There is no middle ground. Its Author didn’t leave us any.
What do you think the Bible is, and why should we read it? Let me know in the comments below.
Allen Taylor has been walking (and wavering) with the Lord for 28 years. He has served local churches as a Sunday school teacher, a small group leader, a worship leader, a prayer group leader, and a minister of the Word. His journey isn’t over yet, and he still needs discipling.
Originally published at https://thecrux.substack.com.