“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1: 1-3 NASB)
During World War II, the Netherlands were occupied by the Nazis who hunted down and transported thousands of Dutch Jews to concentration camps in the East. As was documented by the late Corrie ten Boom in her stirring book, The Hiding Place, many Dutch Christians risked their lives and freedom to rescue their Jewish friends. Many were caught and thrown in prison for defying their Nazi rulers. The story is told that one such prisoner was released and returned to his church with a message from those believers still incarcerated.
The message he took read as follows: “Please try to understand that what has happened to us has actually worked out for the advancement of the Gospel, since the prison guards, and all the rest here, are coming to know Christ. In fact, we hear many of you on the outside have gained courage because of our imprisonment and are speaking the truth more boldly than ever before. We hope that we shall not need to be ashamed because of our witness, but that we may be bold enough so that Christ’s influence will be spread by us, whether we live or whether we die.”
Does it have a familiar ring? It should, it was actually written in the first century by the Apostle Paul as he languished in a Roman jail. You can read it in Philippians chapter one, verses 12 – 20. The Dutch Christians could find no more appropriate word to describe their feelings in the 20th century.
The point is that the Bible has been a book of strength for Christians for more than 1900 years, and has proven relevant in each new generation. The Bible is still the best-selling book in the world. It is the most read, most studied, most loved, and, yes, the most attacked book of all time.
As Christians, we boldly state that the Bible is the Word of God. But people ask, what exactly does that mean? On what basis do we make that claim? They also ask, what is the purpose of the Bible? Does it have any real meaning for modern life? What makes the Bible more important than other so-called holy books such as the Quran or the Book of Mormon?
In this article and the next installment we will examine two major questions about the Bible’s place in our Christian life. In today’s article we will examine the purpose of the Bible. In the next, we will look at why the Bible has meaning for today.
Part 1 – What is the Purpose of the Bible?
To answer that question we must start with the Bible itself. The Bible provides two essential answers to that issue. One is God centered and the other man centered.
The Bible’s Purpose Number One: To bear witness of God’s special revelation of Himself.
The author of the book of Hebrews opened his work with a profound statement. He stated: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” (Hebrews 1: 1-2, NASB)
The writer says that God “spoke” by prophets. That is, the Lord had communicated His will and word to specially chosen individuals in specific times and places. Those Hebrew prophets and their followers then recorded what God said on scrolls which later became Scripture. This is the process of what we call God’s “revelation.” The great Baptist theologian W.T. Conner defined “revelation” as “God’s self-disclosure of Himself.” Since God is infinite by definition, as finite creatures we are incapable knowing Him through our own abilities. God must reveal information about Himself to us. Theologians recognize, however, that there are two grades of God’s revelation to man: (1) “General Revelation” and (2) “Special Revelation.”
General revelation is what testifies about God through the witness of nature and beauty in the world and universe and is available to all people. As Paul indicated…”because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19, 20, NASB)
Have you ever been out on a beach or on top of a mountain in the evening? As the sun goes down and the sky grows darker you can watch as the stars come out one by one until you see a vast display tiny lights spread across the vista. It is an awe inspiring scene and a testimony to the majesty and power of God.
Forty years ago, Robert Jastrow was one of America’s most prominent astronomers, physicists and cosmologists. Though he was a religious agnostic, Jastrow was amazed by the complexity and balance in nature. He was compelled to admit that the universe was too complex to be the result of random chance. In 1978 he wrote a best-selling book titled God and the Astronomers. In it he makes this profound statement about modern science, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” In the nearly four decades since that small book was published the scientific evidence for a Designer has increased exponentially.
Canadian astronomer Hugh Ross has calculated at least 154 factors necessary for the existence of advanced life on this, or any other planet in the universe (as of 2004 – see: http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-on-earth-june-2004). He and other advocates of the Intelligent design use this and the thousands of other complex details of space and life to argue for the existence of God.
This kind of evidence is all part of what we call “General Revelation.” It tells us in strong terms that a god exists. Paul even says it is so powerful that those who reject it are “without excuse.”
As significant as General revelation is to demonstrate that God exists, we have to say that it is, however, limited in scope. It is simply not enough information to tell us all we need to know about God. To understand His nature and to learn how to know Him in a personal way requires more. We must rely on “Special Revelation.” It is here that the Bible comes in to play.
Special Revelation actually involves three intricately related methods God utilized to communicate just who He is and what He wants from us. We will examine each and show how they are mutually dependent and have coalesced to form the Scriptures.
First, God has revealed His character and power through His mighty acts in history. It began in the Creation story as presented in the book of Genesis, and continued through the miraculous life events of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and others in the history of the people of Israel. Those actions all demonstrated how God worked and His desire to redeem His fallen world. Those great acts were documented, compiled, and preserved in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).
Later, God did even greater miraculous works in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and in the life of the early church. Those acts of history provide even greater understanding of who God is and what He is like. Those events, too, were recorded, written down, and preserved in the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament).
But God’s activity in history is not the only source of our knowledge of God. God also revealed Himself through His spoken word. Many of the ancient Hebrew prophets and the Apostles of the New Testament era claimed to receive direct communication from God. In this way God has revealed to us His will in human language. Again, those verbally inspired revelations were written down by those men or their scribes for preservation and transmission for future generations. Thus, we can say, as Paul told Timothy … “and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17 NASB)
So we have the magnificent great acts of God and His spoken words recorded in our Bible. In an ultimate sense, however, neither of those revelatory methods is, in and of itself, sufficient to give us a complete knowledge of God and salvation. Other religions also claim that their god or gods acted in history and spoke to their prophets. Muslims believe God spoke through Muhammad, Sikhs believe God spoke through Nanak and other of their gurus, Baha’is say that God spoke through nine “manifestations” ending with their founder, Baha’u’llah. They, too, have “holy books” that supposedly document those communications.
That being said, however, Christianity has one source of special revelation that is totally unique in its divine methodology. God was not satisfied only to reveal Himself in nature, history, or even the spoken word. He ultimately revealed Himself by becoming a man. So the final, absolute, and ultimate revelation of God about Himself was in the life, acts, words, and events of the embodiment of the Living Word: Jesus Christ. We can know about God and even know God personally through His incarnation in the person of Jesus. Jesus demonstrated His divinity by His miracles, with the greatest being His resurrection from the dead. This is a unique quality that only Christianity provides.
Once again, it is in the pages of the Bible where we find who Jesus was and what He did. The New Testament Gospels tell us of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Epistles, written by inspired witnesses, interpret the meaning of Christ to us.
This brings us to the second major purpose for the Bible. God has made Himself known to us. This is His side of the process and is what we learn from the Bible. But there is also man’s side. We have to respond! This leads us to the second purpose for the Bible.
The Bible’s Purpose Number Two: To present to mankind the truths needed to find salvation through Christ.
“For this reason, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard” (Hebrews 2:1-3, NASB).
The writer of Hebrews tells his readers that they must pay attention to what they have heard about Christ. He did not want them to miss the main point: salvation is only through Jesus Christ!
In my ministry, I have had numerous opportunities to interact with people from various religious groups. One group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, constantly knock on doors to talk to people about the Bible. There is no doubt that they love the Bible and are convinced it is true. They affirm its inspiration, authority, and historical truthfulness without qualification. Of that there is no doubt. The tragedy is, however, that they completely miss the Scripture’s most important message: that God was, Himself, in Jesus Christ.
In our examination we have demonstrated why the Bible is important as the Word of God. But we must be careful because the Bible is not really an end in itself. Its primary purpose is to point us to Christ. Why? So that we, and other people, might receive Him as Savior and Lord. It is not the Bible that saves us – it is the object of the Bible: Jesus Christ alone. If we don’t find that, then the Bible is merely a book of stories or just wise teaching.
So then, what is the purpose of the Bible? Is it just a history book? Is it a book just to read like a novel? Is it something to carry to church or put on coffee table? No! the Bible’s purpose is to lead people to Christ and to do His will as His disciples. In our next installment we will look at what the Bible’s meaning is for today. That is, we will consider how we should accurately interpret it and how we should apply it to our lives today.
© 2012 Tal Davis