Chapter One The Authority of the Bible
THE UNIQUENESS OF THE BIBLE
The Bible is unique! It is not enough to say that it is a unique Book, for it is a collection of sixty-six ancient Books. Moreover, this unique collection of Books is bound together by a central theme and a unity of purpose which makes the books into One Book.
This Book tells of the ways in which God revealed Himself to mankind over a period of several thousand years. This account of the ways in which God has intervened in human history provides us with a description of the nature and the attributes of God completely different from the concept of God found anywhere else in the entire world of literature. The Bible is history, but history strikingly different from ordinary history. Secular history tells of the rise and fall of nations, of great wars and battles, and of the ways in which men and nations have affected the peoples of surrounding territories. But the Bible goes further than that. The Bible is an interpretation of history, showing how men (as individuals and as nations) have either been blessed or punished by God for their attitude to Him and His holy laws. It is this unique explanation of the moral and spiritual factors behind the historical narrative, which makes the Bible so relevant to us today.
The Bible enables us to discover the will of God for our lives because this divine will is made plain in hundreds of real-life illustrations in the Bible. This is why we invite you to commence this study with us. We sincerely hope you will discover for yourself the truth about God Almighty, as Creator, Provider and Savior of men.
First, we must answer some of the questions many people have in their minds as they begin to read the Bible. Some say, for example, “Why should I read a book which is merely Jewish mythology?” Jewish mythology is quite different from what we find in the Bible. In fact the truth of the Bible will be quite evident to us as we continue our study. Others ask, “How could such an ancient Book still be relevant?” True, people today are much better educated than ever before; yet the Bible (in part or the whole) ranks as the “world’s best-seller.” Every year more than one hundred million copies are sold! So, when you read the Bible you are in good company, for millions of modern people are reading it! Moreover, it is not being read only by people in Western lands! The Bible (either in part or the whole) is being read today in more than twelve hundred languages. The Bible is being sold today in the languages of 97% of the world’s population and is being read in almost every country and island on earth. For this reason alone, no person is really educated if he has not studied the most widely read Book in the literature of the world.
You will find a copy of the Bible helpful as a textbook for use with this course. Have you got a Bible beside you now? The first thing that impresses most beginners is the size of the Bible—it contains more than 800,000 words. Most people hardly know where to begin! Well, let us begin at the very beginning! Open your Bible at the title page and you will find an index listing the names of the sixty-six Books of the Bible. Notice there are two major divisions, one called the Old Testament and the other called the New Testament; both sections are divided into many subsections. In a later lesson we shall explain in detail what these two “Testaments” are and how they relate to each other. The Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language (except for a few small sections written in Chaldee) and the New Testament was written in the Greek language, which had become at that period the international language just as English is today.
The Old Testament begins with a concise account of the creation of the world. This unique narrative begins in the undated past, and records how God the Almighty Creator prepared the world, stage-by-stage, to be a home for mankind. When all was ready, God created man. From this logical beginning, the story continues for thousands of years until we reach the end of the Old Testament in the days of Malachi about 400 B.C. The New Testament covers a relatively short period from the birth of Jesus to the death of the Apostles. It was completed about 100 A.D.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE
People must have a true and authoritative basis for their faith. Many popular religions are based entirely on human ideas and thus are merely theories or philosophies. Christianity is based on the Bible which Christians accept as their final authority because they believe it to be inspired by God. Thus, our first topic for study is the basis for this belief. Why do Christians believe the Bible to be a Book inspired by God? Our answer is found in the Bible itself.
1. The Bible Claims To Be A Revelation Of God.
This claim is found in a large number of places in the Bible. It is summed up in two short readings as follows:
Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21).
These two short paragraphs give a definition of the Christian concept of the inspiration of Scripture. All Scripture is given by God. It was given in two main ways, first by direct revelation (by which the actual words of God are recorded by the prophets): second by inspiration (by which the Holy Spirit guided the prophets as they wrote and thus the prophets wrote Divine Truth). Let us examine these two aspects of the Divine origin of the Bible.
The Bible was given by means of direct revelation. Nearly four thousand times in the Bible we find words or expressions such as: And God said... or The Lord spoke to Moses, or The Word of the Lord came to Isaiah. You could look up the following references by way of example:
God spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:4), about 1500 B.C.
God spoke to Samuel (1 Samuel 3:11), about 1000 B.C.
God spoke to Elijah (1 Kings 21:17), about 900 B.C.
God spoke to Isaiah (2 Kings 20:1), about 700 B.C.
God spoke to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:2), about 600 B.C.
God spoke to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3), about 600 B.C.
God spoke to Malachi (Malachi 1:1-2), about 400 B.C.
The above dates are given in round numbers to convey the sense of historical continuity. Thus, God spoke directly to His prophets from time to time throughout the entire period of Israel’s national existence commencing with Moses and ending with Malachi. These holy prophets received direct revelations from God and recorded them at His command. Thus, we have here the actual spoken Word of God.
The Bible was also given by means of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There are large sections of the Bible which contain history and poetry. Are these sections nothing more than Jewish literature? Certainly they are classified as Jewish literature, but even the Jewish people were able to distinguish between ordinary literature and Divinely inspired literature. “Direct revelation” from God was not necessary when the prophets were recording actual historical facts, but to be authoritative history it had to be inspired by God.
Because they were inspired by God, the prophets were divinely guided in the selection of facts to be written; they were divinely guided in the choice of words to describe the facts; and they were divinely guided in recording not merely human comment on the facts, but the attitude of God toward the behavior of the persons referred to. Thus by Divine inspiration, the prophets were protected from errors in historical fact, from errors in doctrine and from mistakes made through ignorance. In this way the Bible was kept from becoming a mixture of truth and legend which is what we find in most ancient books (for instance, the Greek classics). Modern research and archaeology have demonstrated the astonishing accuracy of Bible history and supports the claim that the Bible is inspired by God.
This briefly is what the Bible claims for itself! It is a Book (which, in some parts, is thousands of years old) which claims to be a record of the actual words of God to men, and of the ways in which He has dealt with men in history. Can such a claim be tested? Yes! In fact, God requires that we test this claim sincerely. About 2500 years ago, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and challenged unbelievers to apply a very practical test. It is found in the following verses. Please read them carefully:
“Present your argument,” says the Lord. “Produce your evidence,” says Jacob’s king. “Let them produce evidence! Let them tell us what will happen! Tell us about your earlier predictive oracles, so we may examine them and see how they were fulfilled. Or decree for us some future events! Predict how future events will turn out, so we might know you are gods. Yes, do something good or bad, so we might be frightened and in awe. Look, you are nothing, and your accomplishments are nonexistent; the one who chooses to worship you is disgusting.” (Isaiah 41:21-24).
“I am the Lord! That is my name! I will not share my glory with anyone else, or the praise due me with idols. Look, my earlier predictive oracles have come to pass; now I announce new events. Before they begin to occur, I reveal them to you.” (Isaiah 42:8-9).
This is what the Lord, Israel’s king, says, their protector, the Lord who leads armies: “I am the first and I am the last, there is no God but me. Who is like me? Let him make his claim! Let him announce it and explain it to me—since I established an ancient people—let them announce future events! Don’t panic! Don’t be afraid! Did I not tell you beforehand and decree it? You are my witnesses. Is there any God but me? There is no other protector; I know of none.” (Isaiah 44:6-8).
“Remember what I accomplished in antiquity! Truly I am God, I have no peer; I am God, and there is none like me, who announces the end from the beginning and reveals beforehand what has not yet occurred, who says, ‘My plan will be realized, I will accomplish what I desire,’ who summons an eagle from the east, from a distant land, one who carries out my plan. Yes, I have decreed, yes, I will bring it to pass; I have formulated a plan, yes, I will carry it out” (Isaiah 46:9-11).
These verses clearly teach that the fact of inspiration and the facts of history when taken together will prove whether or not a prophet had written the words of God. One unique feature of the Bible is the vast amount of prophecy or prediction concerning future events it contains. God challenges men to examine these, prophecies to see whether or not they have been fulfilled! For a prediction to be fulfilled in the way and in the time foretold by the prophet is proof that God spoke through the prophet. We will study this in detail in later lessons. This test can be applied to thousands of predictions in the Bible leading to the conclusion that God has spoken. The Bible’s claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit is the only possible answer to the amazing mystery of the foretelling of the future in accurate detail.
2. The Authority Of The Bible Does Not Depend On Our Ability To Understand It.
Read the following verses:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory (1 Peter 1:10-11).
And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him (2 Peter 3:15).
You will notice that even the prophets themselves did not fully understand the words that God spoke through them or revealed to them. They were simply God’s messengers, and often the great truths they wrote down were too profound for them to understand. No human mind can fully understand Divine truths. A Muslim leader once asked, “Would God punish a man for failing to understand Bible doctrines?” The answer is, “No, we are not punished because we cannot understand the mysteries of the Bible, but for unbelief—for refusing to believe what God has said.” The prophets themselves were unable to understand the great truths they taught, so obviously many aspects of Divine revelation are beyond the limitations of our minds. This problem is partly explained by our next point.
3. Divine Truth Cannot Be Compressed Into The Life Span Of Any Human Being.
Study this verse:
They [the Prophets] were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things angels long to catch a glimpse of. Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:12-13).
God is eternal, and we are mortal. For this reason Divine revelation is progressive. God’s promises and revelations began in the first era of human life on earth, and continued through the centuries with new aspects of truth being added from time to time. Predictions were fulfilled in some cases hundreds of years after they were made, and so the prophets did not live long enough to see the fulfillment of their own words. Some of the prophecies in the Bible will not be fulfilled until the coming day of judgment. It is foolish for a man to reject a revelation because it does not fit in with the local circumstances of his short life span. Faith in God compels us to believe that God’s revelations embrace the entire period of His dealings with the human race. This is why we continually stress the vital need for clear historical perspective in our study of the Bible.
4. The Authority Of The Bible Is Unchanging As The Source Of Moral Conduct.
We see this in the verse we began with, 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Because the Bible is given by inspiration of God it is profitable. It teaches us the truth about God and states the kind of moral conduct God requires of us. It is profitable for doctrine, for instruction and for correction. For this reason, our study of the Bible cannot be treated simply as an academic exercise! Unless we are willing to obey God’s Word with a sincere heart, we will never learn the deepest truths it contains about eternal life. When we read the Bible seriously and ask God to speak to our hearts through its inspired teachings, we begin to realize that God does indeed speak to men with Divine authority through His Word, the Bible.
Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)