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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Why Is the Bible So Special?

Don Stewart :: What Is the Bible?

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Question 1

What Is the Bible?

So, what is the Bible?

The English word Bible simply means “book.” It is derived from the Latin word biblia and the Greek words biblion and biblos meaning, “scroll,” or “book.” While the word Bible may simply mean “book” to Christians, it has a much greater and deeper meaning.

The Bible Is the Sacred Scripture of Christians

Christians use the term Bible to refer to the sixty-six books that they hold to be sacred Scripture. The Bible, however, is not simply a collection of holy books, it is one Book; one continuous unfolding story from beginning to end.

Indeed, it is the account of the living God revealing Himself and His eternal plan to the human race.

It Is the Final Authority on Everything It Deals With

The term Bible also has the idea of preeminence—it is the final authority on all matters of faith and practice. The Bible, therefore, is not merely one of many books that have been written; it is the Book!

Consider the following testimonies to the Bible?

“England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England.” (Victor Hugo)
“I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.” (Abraham Lincoln)
“The New Testament is the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world.” (Charles Dickens)

When the English poet Sir Walter Scott was on his deathbed, he said to his biographer John Lockhart, “Bring me the Book.” Lockhart inquired, “Which book?” Scott replied, “There is but one BOOK.” Sir Walter Scott then passed away with his hand on the Bible.

Thus, the Bible is recognized as being in a class by itself. It is the only Book ever written that reveals God’s Word to humanity.

Five Important Observations about the Bible

This being the case, it is necessary to make a number of observations about the Bible. They include the following:

  • Observation 1: the Bible Is Made up of Two Main Sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament

    The Bible is made up of two testaments, the Old and the New. The Old Testament is about three times larger than the New Testament. There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament, as they are divided in our English translations, and twenty-seven books in the New Testament. This is according to the Protestant division of Scripture.

    • The Old Testament Was Written over a Thousand Year Period

      The Old Testament was composed from about 1,400 to 400 B.C. Thus, it took about one thousand years to complete the various books of the Old Testament. The first book was Genesis or Job; the last book was likely Nehemiah.

    • Before Jesus, There Were Only the Hebrew Scriptures!

      Before the coming of Jesus Christ to the world, there was no such thing as an “Old” Testament—there were only the Hebrew Scriptures. They were the only authoritative collection of sacred writings that existed. The Hebrew Scripture was the “Bible” of Jesus and those living in His day. This is made clear from the following words of Jesus to the religious leaders. He said:

      You search the Scriptures, because you think you will find eternal life in them. The Scriptures tell about me. (John 5:39)

      Note Jesus told them they search the Scriptures! He didn’t define what He meant by the term; He did not have to explain it. They knew what He was talking about.

      Furthermore, though the religious leaders disagreed with Jesus about many different issues, they were in agreement with Him as to the extent of the Scripture. That issue was settled.

    • A New Chapter in God’s Revelation: a New Testament

      Therefore, the extent of the Hebrew Scriptures was known by those living in Jesus’ day. However, with His appearance into the world, a new chapter in the history of God’s personal involvement with humanity was to be written ? the “New” Testament.

    • The Latest Revelation Does Not Contradict the Earlier

      The New Testament is new in the sense that it is the latest revelation from God; it is not new in the sense that it is different or contradictory to the Old Testament. Indeed, it merely continues God’s revelation of Himself and His truth to the human race.

    • God’s Final Revelation of Himself: Jesus Christ

      We also note that the latest revelation, the New Testament, is God’s final revelation to the human race. The Bible says:

      Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

      The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the day when the Messiah, the Deliverer, would come to earth. This was their hope. The New Testament records the fulfillment of that hope. It is the account of God becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. John wrote:

      No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known. (John 1:18)

      Do you want to know what God is like? Then look at Jesus. He explains God to us.

    • The New Testament Was Written During a Short Period of Time

      Let’s look at the composition of the New Testament. To begin with, we find that the New Testament was written during a much shorter period of time than the Old Testament. The various books were composed from approximately A.D. 40 to A.D. 80.

      The earliest New Testament book written is most likely one of four (Matthew, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians or James). We are not certain which was composed first.

      The last book written was probably the Book of Revelation, but it is also possible that one of the other writings of John—Third John or the Gospel of John—was written after the Book of Revelation. There is not enough evidence to be certain.

      To sum up: It took about 1,000 years to compose the Old Testament, but only about 40 years for the entire New Testament.

    • Some New Testament Books Were Not Originally Written for Publication

      Some of the sacred writings that make up the New Testament were not originally written with the idea of publication or public distribution. For example, Philemon is a short private letter to an individual. The writings of 2 and 3 John are also too short to properly be called books.

    • Nevertheless, They Are God’s Word

      Even though the original intent for a few of these works may not have been publication, each of them carried God’s divine authority. These divinely authoritative writings have now been collected and published into one book—the Bible.

  • Observation 2: the Bible Is a Divine and Human Book

    Next we will discover that the two main sections of the Bible, the Old and New Testament become one Book that is both divine and human.

    From a human standpoint, over forty different authors wrote the books of the Bible. While made up of sixty-six separate books, the Bible is, in actuality, one book with one ultimate author behind it; God the Holy Spirit. This is the claim the Bible makes about itself.

    • Scripture Claims to Be God’s Word!

      This brings us to the next point. Scripture testifies to its own divine inspiration. Paul wrote:

      All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable 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)

      Notice all Scripture is breathed out by God; all of it is profitable. This is the claim of Scripture itself.

      Peter wrote something similar. He put it this way:

      Above all, you do well if you recognize this: 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)

      Note that the ultimate source was not the prophets own imagination or any human impulse. No, they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. He was behind all of their writings!

      The Bible therefore is the Word of God written in the words of humans. This is the claim the Bible makes for itself.

    • The Bible Was Written in the Third Person

      We find that this is borne out in the composition of Scripture. Although the Bible claims to be God’s Word, it is written in the third person rather than the first person. For example, the first verse of Scripture reads:

      In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

      We do not find the personal pronoun “I” used.

      Indeed, God did not say, “In the beginning I created.” Instead God used human writers to compose His Word.

      Again, we emphasize that the Scriptures are a divine/human product. It is absolutely essential that this truth be understood.

    • There Is Unity and Diversity in the Bible

      Consequently, the Scripture shows both unity and diversity. It is a unity because one author, God, is behind the books. It is diverse because many human authors were used to compose the various books. Each had their own unique vocabulary and personality. This is reflected in their writings.

    • The Bible Was Written by Human Beings

      What does this mean? Well, it means that God decided to use humans to record His truths to humanity. He did not use angels; God did not personally write the books of the Bible; the Scripture was not found on some hidden golden plates, neither did it drop down from heaven. Instead, God used ordinary people guided by the Holy Spirit to produce His Word.

    • How Can It Be Error-Free?

      But doesn’t this mean that the Bible must contain errors since it was written by humans? Here’s how the argument goes:

      Humans make mistakes;
      The Bible was written by humans;
      Therefore, the Bible contains errors.

      Right? No, wrong! Scripture says God supernaturally watched over the writings to produce a trustworthy account. While humans can and do make mistakes, they do not have to make mistakes. In other words, humans can perform acts that are error free; such as me correctly spelling my own name.

      Therefore, the Bible is the Word of God in the words of humans. The end result is an error free/trustworthy Book from the living God.

    • This Is Not Too Hard for God

      Just a reminder: this is not too hard for God. The Lord has said:

      I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:27)

      What do you think the answer is? Correct. The answer is, “No!”

  • Observation 3: the Bible Was Not Written in Any Systematic Form

    The two main sections of the Bible, the Old and New Testament, have become one Book. This Book is both divine and human; it records God’s revelation of Himself to humanity.

    This revelation is not written in the form of a systematic theology. In other words, there is not a section on God, on who we humans are, on sin, on angels, etc.

    • The Truths Were Progressively Revealed

      Instead, the Bible consists of a number of historical and personal writings that reveal God’s Person and plan to humanity. These truths were not all revealed at once. We will cite again a verse we quoted earlier:

      Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. (Hebrews 1:1,2)

      Note that in many ways and at many times God revealed Himself to humanity. In other words, He revealed His truth progressively.

      Thus, what we have is a story; a love story between God and the human race. In particular, it centers upon those humans who love and obey Him.

    • The Great Drama Is All about God and His People

      Have you ever been in a play? I have. I remember my Jr. High teacher, Mr. Smart, telling us actors, “You don’t ever upstage the main characters!” The focus of any drama is always on main participants.

      God and humanity are the main players in this great drama recorded in the Bible. In particular, it is God and those humans who obey him. While the spotlight is on God and His people, there are others which enter the drama; such as angels. However, they are only mentioned insofar as they have something to do with the relationship of God and humanity. Therefore, our knowledge of them is limited; there is no attempt to answer our curiosity about them.

      The same holds true for other nations and individuals mentioned in the Bible. They come and go off the stage, but the focus is never on them. Indeed, it is always on God and those humans who are His chosen people.

      Therefore, we learn certain things about the leaders, customs, political structure, wars, etc. of certain peoples, but this is only in reference to the two main characters in the drama.

      Why this emphasis? Again, it is because God has a special interest in those who serve Him!

    • In the Old Testament, Abraham and His Descendants Are the Main Topic

      We can illustrate this as follows. In the Old Testament it was Abraham and his descendants, the nation of Israel, which are highlighted. The Old Testament chronicles their history and the dealings they had with the Lord.

      • Genesis 1-11: Monumental Events

        For example, let’s take a look at the Book of Genesis. In Genesis 1-11 we have monumental events listed; the creation of the heavens and the earth; the creation of the first humans, the explanation of how the perfect world became imperfect, the Genesis Flood, the Tower of Babel, etc.

      • Genesis 12-50: Family Matters: Abraham and His Descendants

        While Genesis chapters 1-11 cover these monumental events with respect to the earth, its beginning, Fall, Flood, etc. the greater part of the Book of Genesis concentrates on one family; that of Abraham.

        Indeed, chapters 12-50 describe what we can call “family matters.” Therefore the emphasis in the Book of Genesis is on this one family and their relationship with God.

    • New Testament: Jesus the Messiah

      We find a similar emphasis in the New Testament. The New Testament is concerned with God becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. The New Testament also highlights the activities of those who believe in Him. Again, we find that the emphasis is upon God’s relationship with His people.

      Consequently, in Scripture, “bit players” come on and off the stage. The focus, the bright lights, is always on God and His special people; Abraham’s descendants in the Old Testament; Jesus and those who believe in Him in the New Testament.

    This brings us to our next observation?

  • Observation 4: the Bible Is True, but Not Exhaustive

    The Bible, in two testaments, was written by human instruments, who were divinely inspired by God. Scripture was written as an unfolding story which reveals truth about God to us.

    The Bible claims to reveal truth about God and His creation. In addition, it contains everything that God wants us to know about who He is, and who we are.

    • The Writers Were Selective in What They Wrote

      However, Scripture does not tell us everything we would like to know about Him; only the things that we need to know.

      For example, the Apostle John told his readers that he did not record all the acts of Jesus that he witnessed, but rather was selective in what he recorded. He wrote:

      Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so 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 20:30-31)

      We also read the following at the end of John’s gospel:

      Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

      Therefore, everything we need to know about God, or ourselves, is found in Scripture. It contains sufficient truth about who God is, who we are and how we can enter into a right relationship with Him.

      What we need to know; not what we want to know. This is what is contained in Scripture.

    • Truth Is Truth, Whether Religious or Historical

      Something else must be noted. While some people want to make a distinction between “religious” truth and other kinds of truth, there is only one kind of truth. Spiritual or religious truth is just as factual as any other area of truth.

      Thus, the Bible is accurate in all that it says, whether it is of an historical nature, such as Pontius Pilate being the Governor of Judea, or of a spiritual nature, Jesus died for the sins of the world, etc.

    • Context, Context, Context

      The Bible consists of direct statements made by God as well as statements from humans who spoke for Him. The prophets spoke with God’s divine authority. Thus, when we say the Bible is God’s Word, it does not mean that God spoke every word that is contained in the Bible.

    • The Bible Records Lies

      However, there is something else we must emphasize. The Bible also accurately records lies and untrue statements made by individuals. In addition, it also records sinful deeds that were committed. While the Bible does not endorse these false statements and sinful deeds, it accurately records what was said and what took place.

      For example, Jesus said the following to the religious leaders of His day:

      Your father is the devil, and you do exactly what he wants. He has always been a murderer and a liar. There is nothing truthful about him. He speaks on his own, and everything he says is a lie. Not only is he a liar himself, but he is also the father of all lies. (John 8:44)

      According to Jesus, the devil is always a liar. Therefore, any statement in Scripture that accurately records his words will always contain lies!

      Thus, not every statement in Scripture is true and not every act recorded was done with God’s blessing. Lies and sinful acts are recorded because they played a part in telling God’s unfolding story of humanity. They are recorded accurately, but this does not mean God endorses the statement or action. This must be understood.

      In sum, the Scriptures are selective in the truth that it records; what is taught is trustworthy in that what is recorded truly happened or was truly said. Yet, we must be careful to read each and every statement in its context.

  • Observation 5: the Bible Was Written for Everyone to Understand

    The Bible in two testaments, written by human beings who were divinely inspired by God, written as an unfolding story, reveals selective truth about God to us; it is everything we need to know about ourselves.

    • We Can Understand It!

      The good news is that Scripture has been written in a way that it can be read and understood by everyone—not just a select few. The message of the Bible is for all people, in all countries and for all time.

      Jesus told His original disciples to go out into the entire world and teach and preach His message. The Gospel according to Matthew ends with Jesus making this command:

      I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth! Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18-20)

      Therefore, all of those who believe in Jesus are instructed to become His disciples. They are to learn about Him as well as teach others the truth. This, of course, assumes that we can understand His truth.

    • Jesus Commanded Believers to Learn from Him

      Jesus gave the following invitation to believers:

      Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry. (Matthew 11:28-30)

      We can learn from Him; all of us. Again we find the Bible assuming that we can do this.

    • Jesus Said the People Should Have Known about His Death

      On the day of His resurrection, we read the following words of Jesus to two disciples walking with Him on the road to Emmaus:

      Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

      They should have known what was going to happen to the Messiah, but they did not. This statement, however, assumes they could have known!

    • The People Refused to Understand the Truth about Jesus

      On another occasion we read Jesus saying:

      But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes!” (Luke 19:41-42)

      The people could have understood, but they chose not to understand. Therefore, we again find that we can understand the truths of Scripture.

    • They Refused to Let Jesus Protect Them

      Finally, Jesus stressed the following to the inhabitants of Jerusalem:

      Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Your people have killed the prophets and have stoned the messengers who were sent to you. I have often wanted to gather your people, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you wouldn’t let me. (Matthew 23:37)

      They would not let Him protect them. Could they have? Yes. But they were not willing.

      Is the message understandable? Yes. Indeed, we are all held responsible for what the Scripture says.

      WE CAN KNOW!

    • Today, the Sacred Writings Are Called the Bible, the Scripture, the Word of God

      While the Greek term for Bible (biblos) in the singular is not found within the pages of the sixty-six sacred books to describe the collection of Holy Scripture, we find terms such as, Books, Scripture, the Scriptures and the Word of God used to refer to God’s authoritative writings.

      Today, the terms Bible, Scripture, Scriptures and Word of God are used interchangeably by Christians to refer to the sacred writings of the Old and New Testament.

Summary - Question 1
What Is the Bible?

The Bible is one large book made up of sixty-six smaller books. It is the divine library—the Word of God to humanity. The Word of God has come to humanity in two testaments—the Old and the New. God revealed His truth in these books over a fifteen hundred year span. The Bible is the Word of God written in the words of human beings. It is a Book that is both human and divine.

As we look at the Bible, we find that it was not written in any systematic form of doctrine or teaching, but rather consists of God’s revelation of Himself throughout history.

Although the Bible does not contain everything we would like to know about God, it does contain everything that is necessary. Scripture was written for everyone to read and understand.

Finally, it is important to recognize that the terms Bible, Scripture, Scriptures and the Word of God can be used interchangeably to refer to this one Book that has collected all of the sacred writings that God has given to humanity.

It Is like No Other Book ← Prior Section
Why Is It Important to Consider the Claims of the Bible? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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