By Steven Chan
The question is important because it affects what we do with the Bible. Is the Bible merely a recording of some people’s religious experience with a Superior Being they called God – and that therefore the Bible is merely a reflection of their experiences with which we can compare our own religious experiences – in which case it’s only relevance to us is that we should try to compare or authenticate their experience in our own lives. With such a perspective, the Bible is not to be viewed as an authoritative or legal document – the contention being that the Bible was not composed as a legal document but merely a collection of people’s encounters with a supreme being. They grant that there were occasional recordings of “thus saith the Lord” but they contend that these were meant for people who were encountering God at that time; they are not applicable to us living today – many centuries removed from when those conversations occurred. They contend that one should always view the writings of the Bible in their historical context – and few would dispute with that approach – but they follow that up by also contending that these writings should also be restricted to that particular time or occasion and additionally, to be modified or qualified by the culture and social background of the day, such that the writings should be more properly viewed as merely “guiding principles” for one’s personal walk with God today; and not be viewed as “binding laws or commands” to be slavishly copied or followed or patterned thereafter. Sounds persuasive?
1. Let’s consider what the Bible says about itself.
A. 2 Peter 1:19-21: “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
B. 2 Tim 3:15-17: “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The Bible claims that its writings were given by inspiration of God when holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
2. Let’s consider what the Apostles said about the writings of the Old Testament
The apostle Peter explained in Acts 1:16: “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas,” The writings of the Psalmist David was referred to by Peter as “Scripture” (Psa 41:9) and not a mere recording of his own religious experience but that which was spoken by the Holy Spirit by the mouth of David – that’s what is meant by inspiration. Peter appealed to the Scriptures as that which “had to be fulfilled”
In Acts 1:20, the apostle Peter said: “For it is written in the book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’ He quoted from Psa 69:25 and Psa 109:8 and understood from those Scriptures that it was a requirement or necessity or command that another be appointed to replace Judas. Did Peter view the Scriptures (and in particular the Psalms) as not a legal requirement or command?
3. What did Peter say about the writings of the apostle Paul?
In 2 Peter 3:15-17, the apostle Peter referred to the writings of Paul as scriptures: “as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”
4. What did Paul say about his own writings?
1 Cor 14:37: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” 1 Thess 2:13: “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
The writings of Paul are to be viewed as “commandments”; not merely “guiding principles” as they are the very “Word of God” as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
5. What did Jesus say about the Scriptures?
Jesus declared that man must live by EVERY WORD of GOD as revealed by the Holy Spirit and recorded in the Scriptures, and He Himself quoted from the Old Testament Scriptures as the basis of what He must do in response to the temptations from Satan: Matt 4:4: “But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matt 4:7: Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ” Matt 4:10: For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.”
Jesus revealed to us that the Word of God will judge us on the last day: ”He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him–the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.” (John 12:48-50)
One should therefore be careful about using human wisdom and reasoning to interpret or understand God’s Word. Prov 3:5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;” Prov 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Isa 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isa 8:20:”To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
On one occasion, in response to challenging questions posed by the religious leaders of His days, Jesus replied as follows: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.”(Matt 22:29, ASV) These so-called Jewish experts in the Scriptures were charged by Jesus as “erring because they do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God”. Likewise, we should be careful as to our approach to the Scriptures. The Bible, being the inspired Word of God, is to be adhered to carefully and diligently and not to be put aside or added thereto by our own human logic and reasoning. In both the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, God warned that we should not add nor subtract from His Word (Deut 4:2; Rev 22:18-19). They are not merely “guiding principles”; they are the “commandments of the Lord” and will be the basis by which we will be judged. We will do well to pay attention to God’s Word and to live by every word (not follow just the guiding principles) that proceeds from the mouth of God.