10 January, 2006

Introduction

All human beings who have accepted that there is a God, and that the Bible is His revelation to man, need to seriously apply themselves to finding out its basic message. Many of those calling themselves 'Christians' seem to make a poor job of this - a few verses from the New Testament on Sundays, a Bible somewhere in the home that is never opened, dimly remembering a handful of Bible stories. Little wonder that with such a laid-back attitude to God's mighty Word of truth, there is so much confusion and uncertainty in the lives and minds of so many.

On the other hand, there are those with little Christian background who decide to try to figure out the Bible's message, but find that everyone they approach tries to offer them a package deal of doctrines and human philosophies which do not fundamentally reflect the words of the Bible.

The basic message of Scripture has a beauty and strength that only increases after being viewed, and proven, from many different angles. Grasping the real truth of the Gospel as taught in the Bible's pages will affect every part of our lives, leading men and women the world over to properly give glory to God as He intended, both now and for eternity. Every one who finds the truth finds the "pearl of great price", and will know the feelings of Jeremiah for himself: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart" (Jer.15:16). To achieve this, be sure to pray for God's help in understanding the word before you go through each of these studies.

"And now...I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).

The Bible is the Inspired Word of God


"Spirit" means "breath" or breathing, "Inspiration" means "in-breathing". This means that the words which men wrote while under "inspiration" from God were the words of God's spirit. Paul encouraged Timothy not to let his familiarity with the Bible lead him to forget the wonder of the fact that it is the words of God's spirit, and therefore provides all that we need in order to have a true knowledge of God:-

"From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect (complete), throughly furnished (or 'thoroughly equipped') unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

If the inspired Scriptures can provide such a totality of knowledge, then there is no need for some 'inner light' to show us the truth about God. But how many times do people speak of their personal feelings and experiences as being the source of their knowledge of God! If an acceptance in faith of God's inspired word is enough to completely equip someone in the Christian life, there is no need for any other power of righteousness in our lives. If there is such a need, then God's word has not completely equipped us, as Paul promises it will. To hold the Bible in our hands and believe that it really is the Word of God's spirit takes quite some faith. The Israelites were reasonably interested in what God's word had to say, as are many "Christians" today. We all need to carefully reflect on Heb. 4:2:-

"Unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them (Israel in the wilderness): but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it".

Instead of rising up to a complete faith in the power of God's spirit/word which is received, it is far more attractive to take a spiritual short-cut: to reason that a power of righteousness suddenly comes upon us, which will make us acceptable to God, rather than having to experience the pain of consciously bringing our lives into obedience to God's word, and thereby letting God's spirit truly influence our hearts.

This unwillingness to accept the huge spiritual power which is in God's word has led many "Christians" to question whether all the Scriptures are fully inspired by God. They have suggested that much of what we read in the Bible was just the personal opinions of wise old men. But Peter effectively disposes of such stubborn reasoning:-

"We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it...above all, you must understand (this is vital!) that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:19-21).

We must "above all" believe that the Bible is inspired. This is the foundation clause of the Christadelphian Statement of Faith.

The Writers Of The Bible


A solid belief in the total inspiration of the Scriptures is therefore vital; the men who wrote the Bible were irresistibly carried along by the spirit which inspired them, so that their words were not their own. The Word of God being the truth (Jn. 17:17) and providing rebuke and correction (2 Tim. 3:16,17), it is not surprising that with many people it is unpopular - for truth hurts. The prophet Jeremiah suffered much opposition for speaking forth the words God inspired him with, and so he determined not to record or publicize the words which he was given. But because the writing of God's Word is a result of God's will rather than human desire, he was "carried along by the Holy Spirit" so that he had no choice in the matter. "I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me...Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jer. 20:7,9).

Likewise when Balaam was determined to curse Israel, the spirit of God made him speak out a blessing on them instead (Num. 24:1-13 cp. Deut. 23:5).

A surprising number of the men whom God inspired to speak His word went through periods of reluctance to do so. The list is impressive:-
Moses (Ex. 4:10)
Ezekiel (Ez. 3:14)
Jonah (Jonah 1:2,3)
Paul (Acts 18:9)
Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6-14)
Balaam (Num. 22-24)

This all confirms what we learnt in 2 Pet. 1:19-21 - that God's word is not the personal opinion of men, but the result of men being inspired to write down what was revealed to them. The prophet Amos reflected: "The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophecy?" (Amos 3:8). At times Moses lost the sense of his own personality, so strong was his inspiration by God: "All these commandments, which the Lord hath spoken unto Moses.." (Num. 15:22,23); these words were actually said by Moses (v. 17).

Another strand of evidence for this is that the writers of the Bible realized that they did not fully understand the things which they were writing. They "searched" for the correct interpretation - "unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things" which they wrote (1 Peter 1:9-12). The actual words they recorded were not their own interpretation, seeing it was that which they searched for. The following provide obvious examples: Daniel (Dan. 12:8-10); Zechariah (Zech. 4:4-13); Peter (Acts 10:17).

If these men were only partly inspired, we do not have access to the true Word or spirit of God. If what they wrote really was the Word of God,then it follows that they had to be completely taken over by God's spirit during the period of inspiration - otherwise the product would not have been God's Word in purity. An acceptance that God's Word is completely His, provides us with more motivation to read and obey it. "Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it" (Ps. 119:140).

Thus the books of the Bible are the work of God through His spirit, rather than the literature of men. The truth of this is shown by considering how the New Testament refers to the Old Testament writings:

• Matt. 2:5 (R.V. mg.) speaks of how it was "written through the prophets" - God was writing through them. The R.V. margin always uses the word "through" when describing how God wrote by the prophets.

• "The Holy Spirit by the mouth of David spake..." (Acts 1:16.

This is how Peter quoted from the Psalms: cp. Heb. 3:7).

• "Well spake the Holy Spirit by Esaias" (Acts 28:25 - this was how Paul quoted Isaiah). Lk.3:4 speaks of "the book of the words of Esaias" rather than just, 'the book of Isaiah'.

The human authors of the Bible were therefore relatively unimportant to the early Christians; it was the fact that their words had been inspired with the Spirit of God which was important.

The Power Of God's Word


God's spirit referring not only to His mind/disposition but also to the power by which He expresses those thoughts, it is to be expected that His spirit-word is not just a statement of His mind; there is also a dynamic power in that word.

A true appreciation of that power should make us eager to make use of it; any feelings of embarrassment associated with doing so should be overcome by our knowledge that obedience to God's word will give us the power which we need to accelerate out of the small things of this life, towards salvation. Out of much experience of this, Paul wrote:-

"I am not ashamed of the Gospel (the word) of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16).

Bible study and applying it to our lives is therefore a dynamic process. It is quite unrelated to the cold, academic approach of theologians and also to the 'feel-good' Christianity of many churches, whereby a few passages are briefly quoted,but no effort made to understand or apply them. "The word of God is quick (living) and powerful"; "the word of His (God's) power" (Heb. 4:12; 1:3). "The word of God...effectually worketh also in you that believe" (1 Thess. 2:13). Through the Word, God is actively at work in the minds of true believers, every hour of the day.

We are surrounded by those who have a semi-faith in the Bible as God's word, despite their claims of commitment to Christ. Similarly they claim to believe in God, and yet fail to accept that He is a real person. By denying the total inspiration of Scripture and its supremacy over our personal feelings and convictions, they are denying God's power. The words of 2 Tim. 3:5 come to mind: "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof", i.e. the power of the word of the Gospel.

Our fundamentalism is mocked by the world ("You don't believe it like that, do you?!"), and so was that of Paul and his band of preachers: "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).

Bearing all this in mind, can't we each hold the Bible in our hands with an ever greater measure of respect, and read it with ever more eagerness to understand and obey?

The Attitude of God's People to His Word


A sensitive reading of the Biblical record indicates that the Bible writers not only recognized that they were inspired, but they also treated other Bible writers as inspired. The Lord Jesus is preeminent in this. When Jesus quoted from the Psalms of David, he prefaced this with the words, "David in spirit..." (Mt. 22:43), showing his recognition of the fact that David's words were inspired. Jesus also spoke of Moses' "writings" (Jn. 5:45-47), showing that he believed Moses to have literally written the Pentateuch. The so-called 'higher critical' Christians have doubted whether Moses could write, but the attitude of Christ clearly contradicts their approach. He called Moses' writings "the commandment of God" (Mark 7:8,9). The same group of dishonest doubters claims that much of the Old Testament is myth, but never do Jesus or Paul treat them like that. Jesus spoke of the Queen of Sheba as an accepted historical fact (Mt. 12:42); he did not say, 'As the story goes about the Queen of Sheba...'.

The attitude of the Apostles was identical to that of their Lord. It is epitomized by Peter who said that his personal experience of hearing Christ's words with his own ears was eclipsed by the "more sure word of prophecy" (2 Pet. 1:19-21). Peter believed that Paul's letters were "Scripture" as much as the "other Scriptures", a phrase normally used about the Old Testament writings. Thus Peter saw Paul's letters as being as authoritative as the Old Testament.

There are many allusions in Acts, the Epistles and Revelation to the Gospels (e.g. cp. Acts 13:51; Mt. 10:14), indicating not only that they were all inspired by the same Spirit, but that the Gospel records were treated as inspired by the New Testament writers. Paul in 1 Tim. 5:18 quotes both Dt. 25:4 (in the Old Testament) and Lk. 10:7 as "Scripture". Paul hammers home the point that his message was from Christ, not himself (Gal. 1:11,12; 1 Cor. 2:13; 11:23; 15:3). This was recognized by the other apostles; thus James 4:5 quotes Paul's words of Gal. 5:17 as "Scripture".

God "has spoken" to us in Christ; there is therefore no need for any further revelation (Heb. 1:2). It can be observed that the Bible alludes to other inspired writings which are now not available (e.g. the book of Jasher, the writings of Nathan, Elijah, Paul to Corinth, and John's third Epistle implies that John had written an unpreserved letter to the church which Diotrephes had refused to obey). Why have these writings not been preserved for us? Evidently because they were not relevant to us. We can therefore rest assured that God has preserved all that is relevant for us.

It is sometimes claimed that the New Testament books were gradually accepted as being inspired, but the fact that the Apostles treated each other's writings as inspired surely disproves this. There was a miraculous Spirit gift available to test whether letters and words which claimed to be inspired really were so (1 Cor. 14:37; 1Jn. 4:1; Rev. 2:2). This means that the inspired letters were immediately accepted as inspired. If there was any unguided human selection of what went into our Bible, then the book would have no authority.

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