THE BIBLE DID NOT FALL FROM HEAVEN
Written by Doug Ponder on January 24, 2013
If you want to understand the Bible it helps to have some idea of what it is, where it came from, and what it’s all about. This is the first article in a four-part series devoted to giving you just that.
What Is the Bible? And Where Did It Come From?
The Bible didn’t fall from heaven, leather-bound and complete with maps, atlases, and a page to record your family history. Rather, it grew as a collection of books written over many centuries by authors with vastly differing backgrounds and cultural perspectives. Since its completion, it has gone on to be the biggest-selling, most-frequently read, and most widely-translated book in history.
The Bible gets its “name” from a Greek word that means book. But it would get pretty confusing to go around talking about “the book” as if everyone knew whichbook you were referring to, so we call it “the Bible” instead. People sometimes call the Bible “the Word of God” or “the Scriptures” to highlight what kind of book it is.
The Bible is called “the Word of God” because it is a word (or message) about God. It tells us who God is, how he accomplishes his plans, and why he does what he does. The Bible is also called the “Word of God” because it’s a word from God. It is God’s primary way of “talking” (or communicating) with us.
To call the Bible “the Scriptures” draws attention to the fact that it is God’s written word. That’s what the word “scripture” means: a “writing” (or “sacred writing”). There were lots of writings then as now, but the Scriptures are the specific writings that God wants his people to trust, treasure, and obey.
Who Wrote the Bible?
Since we know that the Bible did not fall from heaven, a question naturally arises at this point: If humans wrote the Bible then how can it really be God’s Word?
There are lots of ways of getting at this question (like demonstrating the Bible’s remarkable power to change lives, its inexplicable ability to predict future events, and so forth). But perhaps the fairest way to answer it is to pay attention to what the Bible’s authors said about their own work. They didn’t take credit for what they wrote, as if to brag about some great masterpiece. Instead, they insisted that the Spirit of God had worked in them and upon them to help them write.
It kind of worked like this: the biblical authors were “carried” by the Holy Spirit just as the wind carries a ship on the sea. The captain has a degree of freedom in charting the ship’s course, but it is the wind that has the ultimate power to direct the ship. If the wind stops blowing, the ship stands still. (And you can forget about trying to sail against the wind.) So it was with the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit carried the writers along as they wrote, moving them in the direction that he wanted them to go and ensuring that they would arrive at conclusions that accurately reflected God and the world he had made (cf. 1 Peter 1:20-21).
So who wrote the Bible, humans or God? Who drives the ship, the captain or the wind? In each case, the answer is both. The Bible is the product of human authors who wrote at God’s prompting under his divine oversight. Thus God was the “Author” beneath every other author, supporting them, sustaining them, and directing them along the way.
Why Does Any of This Matter?
Since God himself is the ultimate Author of the Bible, we should approach it with reverence and with a desire to do what it says—just as you would the edicts of a king. Indeed God is the King of the Universe; he has authority over all that he has made. To speak of “authority” means that God has the right to act and the power to act. Authority can be a bad thing, as it is whenever a tyrant or a despot uses his authority to crush the people. But the amazing message of the Bible—the “good news” of the gospel—is that God uses his authority, his sovereign power, to accomplish the redemption and renewal of his creation.
Yet the Bible does not merely tell us about God’s authority to save, it also plays an active part within God’s redemptive plan. That’s because God didn’t just direct the authors as they wrote the Bible; he continues to direct the readers of the Bible today. God does this by working throughthe Bible to accomplish his mission in the world.
First, God speaks to us through the Bible. He is not an absentee landlord. He loves us and communicates to us in words that we can understand. To read the Bible, therefore, is to listen to God himself. (Do you read the Bible as if God were speaking to you?)
Second, God works through the Bible to “transform” us by “renewing our minds” (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). This happens when people recognize their need for God, submit to what he has said, and reorder their lives according to his wise and loving instruction. (Are you challenged, confronted, and convicted about your sin when you read the Bible?)
Third, God uses the Bible to energize, equip, and empower his people to fulfill his mission (cf. Eph. 1:15-23). God does this by reminding us that his world-renewing power, as seen in the resurrection of Jesus, is at work in us to enable us to live for him (Phil. 3:10-11). God unleashes this power in our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit as we follow Jesus by trusting him and listening to what he said. (Is reading the Bible a stale ritual for you? Or do you expect God to use his Word to empower you for his mission?)
So, the Bible didn’t fall from heaven. But it is from God, about God, and used for God’s purposes. For these reasons, God’s people throughout history have trusted God’s Word, treasured God’s Word, and obeyed God’s Word. When’s the last time you read it?
Continue to the second article, “Can We Trust the Bible?”
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.