When I sit down daily to read some portion of Scripture I am assuming what many people would consider an extraordinary notion. Namely, that there is a God and that God has chosen to communicate through human authors in writing. This was the conviction of those people in antiquity who collected, edited and put the different books and differing types of writings into the collection we call the Bible. They held that there was, in God’s mysterious interaction with his creatures, a definite thread between truth and Scripture in time.
I remember vividly, when I was in my sophomore year of high school, coming to the realization that I had never critically questioned the basics of what I had been taught about God, who Jesus was and more generally why the Bible was authoritative. Upon reflection, I think that I had never given it much thought because I rather preferred to not think about God. I was far too concerned with following my own wants and generally avoiding tasks essential to maturing into adulthood. Thanks be to God that he intervened and directed me to do my own investigation—all under the pretension of at least being able to tell myself that I had made an effort to search out answers for myself. I thought, regardless of the conclusions I may draw from that study, I would be able to pat myself on the back knowing I had made some effort to think critically about this. What I did not expect to discover was that God has threaded his truth and Scripture in time.
Jewish and Christian people have held for thousands of years that the collected writings in the Bible have a unique and authoritative standing. The Jewish rabbinical authorities made a clear distinction between those books that inherently possessed divine authority (canonical writings) and those useful for reading and edification (those known to us now as Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical). Christians continue to differ about the status of this second group of writings but all agree that the 66 books in all editions of the Bible are “inspired by God” and thus have, in some unique and dynamic sense, authority to speak to us about God, the world and God’s purposes for human life.
To many people the idea of God giving revelation of truth in ancient books is no more convincing than parents telling fairy tales to children. This is not an exaggeration. And this view is not limited to men and women working and teaching in Universities around the world. For many people the very idea of God giving authoritative revelation of specific knowledge about his character, actions and their meaning is dismissed as ridiculous and even impossible. We do live in a post-Christian culture in America and Western countries now. At best, if the Bible is respected at all it is only because of the thoroughgoing influence it has had on Western culture and literature or perhaps as one of many books that gives helpful instruction about God and living a good life.
This fact makes the historic teaching about Scripture that much more important for us Christians to understand. For how many of our friends, co-workers and neighbors have any compelling reason to take the testimony of the Bible seriously? How many of those people we know who would identify as Christians (regardless of denomination or church affiliation) know why the discipline of regular Scripture reading and study is essential for authentic spirituality? How many church going people know how to interpret and understand the content of the Bible let alone make practical applications of it to their lives?
The available research and statistics about self-identified Christians in America demonstrates that far too many self-identified Christians are biblically illiterate. And further that there is much confusion among them not only about the central teachings of Scripture but also great inconsistency regarding whether or not people are willing to consider what they know it teaches to be authoritative for them personally. Some of this is to be expected given that there are so many different Christian churches and even more splinter groups that consciously broke from historic Christian teaching. Perhaps this is one the inevitable consequences of having freedom of religion protected under the United States Constitution.
Regardless, I think the current situation can be a great blessing for those who seek intentionally to hear and follow the teaching of Scripture because it is authoritative. The doctrine we affirm about Scripture and we consciously take from Scripture, in order to practice truth in love, will stand out in stark contrast to much of what is touted as rival options for spirituality (whether within established churches, in Mosques and Synagogues and other religious groups). This time in history is much like that of the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Christian era. Those who identified themselves as Christians were in the minority; virtually none of their neighbors recognized or honored the writings of Scripture as having divine authority. We who affirm that God has given truth and Scripture in time can be powerful witnesses through our lives.
There is a law of human nature which is demonstrated by all people—regardless of what they believe about reality. The content of one’s beliefs reflect one’s sense of identity in the world and in relation to reality. In this way, they give fundamental guidance about how to conduct oneself with others and with the divine. What is profoundly sad is how many people have not given any time or effort to ask themselves what they believe about foundational questions or why they believe what they do!
This law of human nature is one of the reasons why what we believe about the Bible is so important, for Scripture asserts itself as authoritative and our lives will demonstrate the extent to which it is authoritative for us and how it shapes the religious communities which we participate in. Our doctrine of Scripture is fundamental to our personal and shared identity as Christians—and particularly Christians who identify with a distinct church or churches. In fact, are not most of the disagreements between Christians now about moral teachings and it application (for example, regarding ethics, sexual behavior and matters of public policy)? And are not these differences rooted in differences regarding the scope and authority of biblical teaching?
If what we affirm about Scripture being uniquely authoritative and inspired is true then how will this conviction be expressed in our lives? The practice of God’s revealed truth (1 John 3:18) is rooted in a faith-filled response to the revelation given in Scripture. “The way of the LORD is a stronghold for the upright, but destruction for evildoers.” (Proverbs 10:29, NRSV) Truth is given in order for us to live in God every day and every moment of life on earth. To practice the truth necessitates learning to love God and obey God’s voice, and thus be transformed in one’s inner person; the expression of this is loving others from the heart (1 Peter 1:22). This way of life is inherently offensive to those given over to wickedness.
God gave us Scripture so that we would be instructed and become wise regarding his salvation in Christ (see 1 Timothy 4:15-16; 2 Timothy 3:14-17). This is the conclusion I drew once I began to intentionally read Scripture with an open mind. I cannot say that I was particularly pleased by this discovery then but now I am grateful to God the Spirit for unveiling this to me. For now I stand on this truth encouraged and spurred on to continue to read and study Scripture myself and with other disciples of the Lord.
I am also grateful that I have been delivered from the idea that I have to defend Scripture or fight with those who dispute its authority. God gave the Scripture, preserved its text throughout history and has protected ample amounts of evidence which confirms it veracity. The truth is there for those who want to know and are willing to ask those fundamental questions. Now I have the pleasure of bearing witness in my own way to God’s revealed truth and Scripture in time.