WHAT ARE THE SCRIPTURES?
Written by Doug Ponder on July 7, 2013
This article is a recap of the sermon What Are the Scriptures? in the Gospel Basics series.
We Worship a Speaking God
At the heart of the Christian faith is the belief that God has spoken. If he had not spoken, we would know nothing about him, nor would we know anything accurate about the purpose of our lives.
But to say that God has spoken raises two important questions: (1) Why would God speak to us? and (2) How has God spoken?
Why Would God Speak to Us?
God speaks to us because he wants us to know him. It’s not like God is trying to get more followers on Twitter so that he can feel good about himself. Rather, God knows that the only thing that can satisfy us is him; therefore, he speaks so that we might know him and be satisfied in him. In fact, Jesus said that eternal life is found in knowing God (John 17:3). In other words, Jesus said that God is so great that knowing him is the greatest joy and treasure imaginable.
We can also say that God speaks to us because he loves us. He doesn’t have to speak. Nothing forces God to speak to us. He doesn’t owe us anything. But because he loves us, he speaks to us. In love he created us to live with him, both for his glory and for our good. In love he chose to rescue us, for his glory and for our good (Eph. 1:3-6). In love, he speaks us to reveal that both realities are true.
How Has God Spoken?
God speaks to us in many ways, including the works of his creation (Ps. 19:1-2), which continue to show their beauty beyond the bleak veneer of a world that we have stained with sin. But God’s fullest act of speech comes through the life of his Son, Jesus. As the author of Hebrews explains, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in many ways, but at the end of these days he has spoken to us by his Son. He appointed this Son to be heir of all things, and through him he created the universe. He is the shining reflection of God’s own glory, the precise expression of his very own being” (Heb. 1:1-3).
Because of his ability to reveal God to us, Jesus is called the “Word of God” (John 1:1, 14). God “spoke” through Jesus in all that he did and said. But we can’t “go back to the past” to witness the life of Jesus. And even if we could do that, we should remember that there were many people who looked on the face of God in Jesus Christ without understanding who he was. That is why God inspired men to write about the life and work of Jesus, so that we could understand who he was and what he did for us.
We call this collection of writings inspired by God is “the Scriptures,” which means the “writings.” The Scriptures are sometimes called “the written Word of God,” because they point us to Jesus. In other words, God speaks to us in Jesus and through the Scriptures that tell us about him.
Are the Scriptures Really from God?
If humans wrote the Bible, then how can we say that it is from God?
That question fails to realize God’s ability to work through human beings. For example, when we say that we sent a letter to a friend, we don’t mean that we personally delivered it. It was delivered through the post office workers. Yet, in an important sense, they weren’t really the ones who sent the letter. It was our letter, but they delivered it. In the same way, God spoke through human authors, whom he used to deliver the words that he wanted us to hear.
So who wrote the Bible, humans or God? That’s like asking the question, “Who drives the ship, the captain or the wind?” In each case, the answer is both. The Scriptures are the product of human authors who wrote at God’s prompting under his divine oversight. Thus God is the “Author” beneath every other author, supporting them, sustaining them, and directing as they wrote.
We see evidence of God’s authorship in all sorts of places, from its hundreds of prophecies that accurately foretold the future, to the Bible’s remarkable internal consistency, despite having nearly forty different human authors over a span of more than 1,000 years! The Bible’s ability to transform the lives of millions and millions of people gives is also deeply significant. For not only has it changed the lives of individuals who come to believe its message, it has consistently led to things like: an increase in hospitals, schools, and orphanages; an increase in humanitarian relief for the poor; an increase in the work equality of men and women; an increase in the literacy rate the country, and so forth. What other book has a résumé this impressive?
The best reason to trust the Scriptures, however, is found in Jesus himself. Jesus trusted the Scriptures (which, at the time when he was living would have been what we call the “Old Testament”). Jesus loved the Scriptures. Jesus obeyed the Scriptures. For Jesus, the story of the Scriptures was the central and defining story for the whole world. Therefore, if Jesus was who he claimed to be, then we’d be fools not to trust, love, and obey the same book that he trusted, loved, and obeyed.
Why Does This Matter?
Jesus is how we know God (John 1:1,14; 14:6; Heb. 1:1-3), and the Scriptures are how we know Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15; Luke 24:27). Therefore, we can’t truly know God apart from the Scriptures. Our thoughts and our experiences are of no help in knowing God unless they are sharpened and corrected by the Scriptures. This means when someone says, “I feel like God. . .”, then we can know that whatever they say on the other side of that sentence is unhelpful, even dangerous, if it doesn’t line up with what God has said about himself in the Scriptures. If we want to know God, we must look to his written Word, which points us to Jesus. Any other attempt to know him will only end in confusion, error, and futility.
Practically speaking, this means that Christians should be people who read the Scriptures on a regular basis. If you are having trouble knowing where to start, try beginning the second “half” of the Scriptures, with the section that is called the “New Testament.” This will introduce you to Jesus, whom the Scriptures are all about. Also, it helps to start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you ought not think that a deep understanding of God can be acquired in a day either. Read the Scriptures frequently and thoroughly. If you can’t understand something that you’re reading, ask a friend or a pastor in your church. (Who said that you have to figure everything out on your own?) God wants you to know him. Reading the Scriptures is how you begin that journey.
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.