The Bible is God's Story told through the stories of people who found God was part of their story.
The Bible is an open invitation to each of us, that what was true for them, can be true for us; i.e. God can be part of our story and we can be part of God's Story.
When we read the Bible, we are reading a story that is unfinished, which can only be finished from our perspective when we become part of it. Then, and only then, is it truly authoritative, for we not only know the Author, He is revealing the full meaning of His Story to us through our own life and living.
The Bible was written for a specific purpose,
'But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name' (John 20:31).
So, the Bible is about salvation (what God is doing for us) and not all aspects of our lives! It is revelation, explaining about God (as Trinity), Humanity and Creation, which could not be achieved by human effort and endeavour, for it is not from our own perspective (our own science and philosophy).
It is not an answer book to all questions, nor is it magical, nor does it reveal all the mysteries of the universe. We should not expect it to answer some of the 21st Century questions we might pose of it, for it was't written just for us.
So, we need to learn:
- to read it properly
- to ask appropriate questions
- to discern its true meaning
- to apply it into our lifestyles
What do Christians believe about the Bible?
There are many terms bandied about when we discuss the Bible and which term we use affect how we respond to each other. So, let's look at them:
Inspired - The Bible is the Word of God for us it comes from Him and is what HE wants to say to us.
'All scripture is God-Breathed useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training in Righteousness' (2 Tim 3:16)
This does not mean the writers were Dictaphones, but rather through the operation of the Holy Spirit and the humanity of the writers (and editors!?) the words are what God intended. And the Bible is about how to live right, not about everything.
Authority - The Word of God holds authority over our choices working alongside Reason, Experience, and the Church it will help us to live well
Infallible - The Bible is always right. However, we must ask ourselves when we say something is from the Bible, are we correct in our understanding or have we misunderstood what the Bible is saying. e.g. Slavery was previously justified from the Bible and the people who opposed it worked from the Bible too!
Inerrant - The Bible holds no mistakes. When we say this, we have to ask 'what is the truth being taught?' Grammatically the writings break some of the rules of the languages being used. Is this an error or a greater truth?
As Christians, we might hold differing views on these terms when we call the Bible 'The Word of God', but we all believe it is the source for our knowledge and understanding of God, Jesus and Salvation. And this is non-negotiable.
Discussion and debate is healthy for it forces us to reconsider what we believe and may lead us into new truths (without necessarily changing the truths we already hold!). However, being absolutely certain we are right is dangerous, for the Pharisees and Sadducees both thought they understood the scriptures, and were mistaken.
How well would we do if Jesus discussed with us the understandings we have? And let's remember, that too much certainty only leads to entrenched arguments that are not healthy.
All of these points lead to one important conclusion: Interpretation is critical
To interpret we need to consider:
- Translation - use of language and words
- Understanding - language, words, culture values
- The Cultural and Social Setting, and the purpose of the writer and reader to which it is addressed
- The Values of both Writer and Reader, then and now
- Context - in the immediate setting and the larger framework of the whole scripture.
So for Christians the Bible is firstly to be read and then to be studied (alone and together) for increasing understanding.
Some books to help.
- The Bible (Instant Expert). By Nick Page
- The Bible Book. A users Guide. By Nick Page
- Lion's Handbook to the Bible