The 'Word of God'?
Following Joe Boot’s recent visit where he took a brilliant Q&A session giving a great defence of the Christian faith, I am following up on a couple of questions texted in that he didn’t have time to answer.
How is the Bible the ‘Word of God’?
Christians believe that the Bible is not merely a collection of sacred religious writings (although it is that; that is what the word ‘scripture’ means) but that it is actually inspired by God so that the words are not only human writings but in some mysterious way the very words of God himself. In fact, the Bible makes this very claim about itself: “All scripture is God-breathed” (2Tim 3:16) and so the first Christians received the truths of the Bible “… not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” (1Thess 2:13) But how did this happen? Did the Bible descend from heaven in its current form? Did the writers go into a trance and write, or were they simply scribes that wrote down as God dictated?
Firstly, the Bible is a collection of different books by different authors (Moses, King David, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter …) written in a variety of styles (historical accounts, songs and prayers, letters to individuals or churches, visions of the future…). At the time of writing the authors had little knowledge that they were writing scripture although they recognised God’s voice in some of the people they quoted (especially in the OT prophets and the teachings of Jesus). When they wrote they used their own vocabulary and style, recording things as they observed them but this process was overseen by the Holy Spirit so that, as the Westminster Confession puts it “by [God’s] singular care and providence, [the scriptures were] kept pure in all ages, and are therefore authentical.” In the same way these authors recognised God speaking through people, the church came to recognise these writings as inspired by God and collected them together to form the Bible as we have it.
So, when we say that the Bible is ‘inspired’ we are speaking about the actual text as written by the authors, in the Old Testament in the Hebrew language (the language of Israel) and in the New Testament in ‘common’ Greek (the language of the southern part of the Roman Empire. We are not saying that the writings are inspiring (though they may be), nor that the writers were inspired as they wrote (though they may have been given the subject matter), nor that the events they wrote about were inspired by God (both good and evil actions are recorded), but that the text of the Bible was both caused and controlled by God, in order to instruct and encourage his people.
Furthermore, because the Bible is inspired by God, it follows that the Bible is truthful in all that it says, not only in matters concerning faith and salvation but in matters of history and science. That said, we must recognise that the Bible is not written as a scientific text book nor as a comprehensive view of history, but is written by God’s people for God’s people, sometimes using poetic or figurative language to describe God’s dealings with his creation. This does not make it untrue but we must take care to interpret it as it was intended to be understood by the authors and original hearers.
Finally, a note about translation. Of course, few of us read ancient Hebrew or Greek and therefore the way we access the Word of God is through a translation, in our case in the English language. Scholars make every effort to capture the meaning of the original words so as to carry through the authority that the Bible has in its original form. This is not an exact science and translation is never perfect, but Christians still recognise the same voice of God speaking to them through Bibles in their own tongue. Final authority rests with the originals, but what we have in our modern translations is certainly sufficient for communicating the gospel, building the church and living God’s way.
The Bible is the most wonderful book ever written and it is the primary way that God speaks to his people today. Don’t let your Bible gather dust on the shelf but read it and you too will recognise the voice of God in its pages!