2 Timothy 4:13
While in prison on account of his gospel ministry, the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to “bring…the books, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). While it is impossible to know exactly which writings Paul was referring to, the general assessment is that he was asking Timothy to bring him a Bible. Of course, it was not the Bible in its present form. In Paul’s day, there was no codified New Testament and the Old Testament was contained in separate scrolls. Paul’s request could have been referring to portions of the Old Testament, but his request for parchments leads many to conclude that he was asking for some of his own writing. This might be an early statement on the canonicity of Paul’s own letters. Even Paul needed the Bible. The truth is, every Christian needs God’s Word. It is the guidebook for Christian living.
While the Christian walk is hard, it is not without a steady and capable guide. The Bible is the “go-to” resource for living the Christian life. This is true because the Bible where the first step in the Christian life takes place, in receiving the gospel. The Word of God is like a spiritual seed that is implanted in the human heart by the gospel. It is the “incorruptible seed” that bears the fruit of eternal life in all those who receive it (1 Peter 1:23-25). Moreover, the Word of God is the basis by which a believer grows spiritually. Christians are to crave the Word of God like a newborn baby craves his mother’s milk. This causes spiritual growth—sanctification (1 Peter 2:2). This is how Jesus put it. He told those who were following Him that they were like a wise man who built his house upon a rock. When trouble came, the literal “storms” of life, their house (life) stood firm because it was built upon the rock. The winds blew upon the house. The rains fell upon it and the flood waters rose from beneath, but the house on the rock stood firm because it was built on the rock. The “rock” in Jesus story is hearing and doing what He said (Matthew 7:24). The “rock” is Jesus’ own words. From a broader perspective, following Jesus means listening to God’s Word. It is not just hearing but also doing (James 1:22).1 Those who follow Jesus down the rough road to eternal life are those who follow His words. Consequently, the doctrine of the Bible is really the beginning of every other doctrine. While we know God through His creation and through our own conscience (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:21), this knowledge is only complete through His Word. It is His Word which is perfect and converts the soul. It is His Word which transforms the fool into the wise. It is God’s Word which gives illumination in spiritual darkness. It is the only guaranteed source of truth. It provides warning for God’s people and reward for those who keep it. This is why God’s Word is more valuable than gold and sweeter than a honeycomb (Psalm 19:7-11). The Bible is like the keystone in an arch. Take it away and every other doctrine falls to the ground. It is the fundamental truth. It is where truth is recorded, disclosed, understood, validated, and authorized.2 It is through God’s Word that we come to know God.3 It is through God’s Word that we gain cleansing (through the gospel that is in the Bible) from sin (Psalm 119:9). It is also through God’s Word that we gain wisdom that is greater than any other. Wisdom from God is greater than the wisdom of those who oppose God; greater than “the teachers;” greater than the ancients (Psalm 119:98-100). It is compared to a lamp whose sole purpose is to light up the path ahead (Psalm 119:105). Through God’s Word, His people learn to discern between evil and good and thus turn away from the evil in order to embrace the good (Psalm 119:130-133). It is through God’s Word that peace comes to the human heart (Psalm 119:165). It truly is a “solid rock.”
Seven Important Concepts About the Bible
There are seven important concepts that the Bible teaches about itself. The first important concept is revelation. The Bible is where God is revealed. Like everything God has created, its purpose is to glorify God (Ephesians 1:3-14). Just as creation reveals the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), so the Bible reveals His glory. While there is not a singular verse that communicates this truth, it is obvious that this is its purpose because through the Bible man is brought to salvation (Romans 10:17) and those who are saved are brought to God-honoring spiritual maturity (2 Timothy 3:16). Furthermore, there are three sub-themes of Scripture: (1) The kingdom of Jesus Christ, (2) the redemption of man, (3) the spiritual battle between God and Satan. In each of these themes, the glory of God is revealed (Philippians 2:11, Ephesians 1:3, Revelation 20:10).
The second important concept is inspiration. The Bible was given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16). That is, God worked supernaturally through the Holy Spirit upon men who were chosen by God to write His Word. God’s Word has a divine and human element. God superintended the writers to ensure the accuracy of the writing while the human writers wrote in their own distinctive styles infusing in their writing their own personalities. Jesus Himself gave credence to the Old Testament. He accepted the events of the Old Testament to be true such as Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-5), Cain and Abel (Luke 11:51), Noah’s flood (Matthew 24:37-39), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15), David’s taking of the showbread (Luke 6:3-4), Elijah and widow (Luke 4:25-26), the story of Jonah (Luke 11:29-32). He also upheld the prophecies of the Old Testament to be true (Matthew 4:13-16 and Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 11:10 and Malachi 3:1, Matthew 12:17-21 and Isaiah 42:1-4 as examples). He accepted its authority (Jesus uses Exodus 3:6 to confirm the resurrection in Matthew 22:29-32 and the abomination of desolation in Daniel 9:27 in Matthew 24:15). Luke writes that God spoke through David by the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:25-26). Stephen gives an account of Jewish history according to Old Testament events (Acts 7). Paul states that Scripture comes from God (Romans 3:2). While men wrote the actual words of the Bible, they were guided and directed by God (1 Corinthians 2:13). Thus, the Bible is considered to be God’s Word not man’s (Galatians 3:16). It is, literally, “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Peter writes that Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-20). Inspiration is extended to the words of the Bible (verbal) and to the entire Bible (plenary).
The third important concept(s) is infallibility/inerrancy. Infallibility means the Bible cannot teach error. It is perfect as it was given by God. Those who wrote the Bible were not able to make mistakes because they were being carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). Inerrancy means that because God superintended the writing of His Word, the information given in the sentences of the original autographs (original books themselves) is true. The Bible is without error. Because it was written in the pre-scientific world, the Bible is not intended to explain scientific theories. Rather, it communicates perfectly exactly what God intended to communicate to mankind.
The fourth important concept is canonicity. The word is derived from the Semitic kaneh which in Hebrew has it idea of a reed. The English word “cane” comes from this word. The reed or stalk was used for measurement. It was the idea of a “rule” (Galatians 6:16). In the Early Church, the canon was connected to “the rule of faith” (Regula Fidea). Athenasius first used it in reference to the Bible in 367 A.D. In that sense, the canon of the Bible referred to a list of books determined to be God’s Word. The Early Church struggled at times to make this determination because there were literally hundreds of books that claimed to be from God. There were even, most likely, collections of the sayings of Jesus (Acts 20:35). The sixty-six (66) books in the Bible are those that survived a lengthy process of review, were considered authoritative by their recipients, and accepted by the Church community. The Old Testament contains thirty-nine (39) books. The New Testament contains twenty-seven (27) books. Since the closing of the canon with John’s writings in the late first century, there has been no new special revelation from God.4
The fifth important concept is illumination. Illumination is God’s imparting divine knowledge through His Word. There are non-believers who read the truth but cannot understand it. The apostle Paul explains that without God’s Spirit, man is incapable of understanding the Bible. These things are actually considered to be foolish. The reason for his inability to understand is that the Bible can only be discerned spiritually, that is, by God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). While the Bible does not illumine itself, illumination is an important aspect of the doctrine of the Bible. Sin blinds man from naturally understanding the truth. Illumination is the means by which God opens blind eyes to see what is true.
The sixth important concept is interpretation. The study of interpretation is called hermeneutics. This quantifies the rules by which interpretation is made of Scripture. The traditional hermeneutic used by God’s people has been literal, grammatical, historical interpretation. From the first use of biblical hermeneutics (Nehemiah 8:8), the purpose has been on determining authorial intent. There is no value in interpretation that comes to a conclusion God did not intend for there is no divine power in empty meaning. The emphasis should be on reading the text normally using language in a typical fashion taking consideration of the context in which the words are given. A priority should also be given to compare Scripture with Scripture. Because God does not contradict himself, any seeming contradiction can be explained giving greater weight to the simpler portions of the Bible instead of the more difficult.
The seventh important concept is authority/application. Many churches include the statement “the Bible is our final authority” because it is the revelation of God. While the Bible is not God, we do not worship the Bible in some kind of bibliolatry, the Bible is afforded special consideration because it was given by God, the One we worship. After a careful study of its words is made, the lessons contained therein must be applied to the life. The apostle James observes that the Word must be first heard, then received, and then obeyed (James 1:19-22). When interpreting the Bible, consideration must also be given to understanding the difference between what God says directly, those are called precepts, and what is derived indirectly, those are called principles. Precepts are given as “thus saith the Lord.” That phrase appears more than four hundred (400) times in the Old Testament alone. Precepts are imperative statements which require immediate acceptance and obedience. When God commanded Noah to build an ark (Genesis 6:14) and Abraham to leave Ur for Canaan (Genesis 12:1), it was by a clearly stated command. By faith, these men obeyed God (Hebrews 11:7-8). They understood that the command came from God (revelation); that He spoke to them specifically (inspiration); that His words were true (infallibility/inerrancy); that they were His words (canonicity); they understood them to be as He said (illumination); the meaning was clear as it was literally given (interpretation); and their duties were obvious (authority/application). Principles have the same authority as precepts, but the meaning is less obvious. Principles are derived from Scriptures being joined with other Scriptures. There is no verse in Scripture which says explicitly that God is in three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit). There are verses which greatly imply that truth (Isaiah 42:1, 63:7-14; Luke 1:35, 2 Corinthians 13:14). These are just a sampling of the references in Scripture that teach a Tri-unity of God. While these are principles because they are not explicit statements, they still carry the full force of inspiration and authority. Applications of both precepts and principles is in practices and preferences. Practices are less defined from principles because they are application of truth. When David writes “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes” (Psalm 101:3), he is applying the truth of God’s holiness to his life. His conclusion, that it is wrong to look on wickedness with any affection or appreciation, is an example of a practice. When Christians read David’s conviction and seek to apply this teaching, they are also “practicing” this truth. There may be differences of opinion as to what is wicked. Christians will have different viewpoints on aspects of life. The lowest form of application is the category preferences. Preferences are the means by which practices are performed. Behind true, biblical preferences is God’s authority, but they are applied differently by different believers in different cultures and at different times.
The Guidebook Utilized
It is according to the leading of God’s Spirit through His Word that Christians are to live the Christian life. Those who attempt a “go-it-alone” approach find themselves open to the theological drift because of the influences of the world and one’s own sinful flesh. To be ignorant of God’s Word is dangerous (2 Peter 3:16). On the other hand, those who adopt an arrogant, “I know it all” attitude are in danger of being blinded to the truth by their own pride. What is needed is a humble approach to Scripture. Christians must learn to open their hearts to God’s truth with humility knowing that without it, they are “flying blind.”
One of the best ways a Christian can do this is to develop a habit of consistent, daily Bible reading. There are so many various ways to do this. Foremost, nearly every Christian in the westernized world has access to a Bible. In human history, that is actually kind of rare. Most Christians today in America can pick up a complete Bible in their first language, in various translations no less, and read it for themselves. A habit of daily Bible reading is one of the best ways to utilize the guidebook of the Bible. There are other means available too. There are recordings of people reading the Bible. Those who have difficulty reading because of education level or eyesight problems, or even if one is particularly busy; these can gain the benefit of listening to another read the Bible to them. YouVersion is an app available on iPhone and Andriod phones and tablets that has dozens of reading plans from the longer “read the Bible in three months” plan to the shorter plans that are targeted to a specific theme or audience.
A second way that Christians can use the guidebook of the Bible is to memorize verses. An early emphasis might be on salvation verses such as John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10. There are also Bible memory organizations that help Christians memorize God’s Word. One good resource is scripturememory.com. It has different tools for memorizing the Bible available for different age groups or spiritual acumen.
Finally, the way that Scripture reading and memory work their way into the heart is for the Christian to approach God’s Word with a willing spirit. Before opening the Bible, a short prayer such as “Lord, open my eyes to your truth” is helpful. Acknowledging one’s own submission to God’s guidance is key for hearing, comprehending, and obeying. Perhaps a closing prayer is also helpful. You might end your Bible reading/memorization time with a short prayer “Lord, help me to live out what I’ve read/learned from your Word.”
Personal Application Questions
- In what way do you connect “listening” to “obeying?” How does this influence the filling of the Holy Spirit?
- Of the seven concepts of the Bible, which of them is the most difficult for you? Why is that?
- What hindrances do you have to reading the Bible consistently? What practical steps can you take to change that?
- Read Psalm 119:97-104.
- Three groups are mentioned in vv. 98-110. List them and then try to determine why the Psalmist might be thinking this way. Who are these people? Why does he consider himself to be superior to them?
- In v. 101, what is the connection between knowing God’s Word and doing it? Discuss some practical examples of “refraining” one’s feet from “every evil way.”
- After reading v. 103, why do you think some Christians struggle with “enjoying” reading the Bible?
- What emotion does v. 104 communicate? How does understanding God’s Word cause one to “hate” (reject) a “false way?”
1 The word “listen” in the New Testament means more than just “to hear.” It means to listen with the will to obey. We must have “ears to hear.” That is, we must listen to Jesus and do what He says.
2 Adapted from Bibliology notes by Dr. Larry Oats.
3 We cannot know God in salvation through creation or conscience. These only condemn us.
4 Adapted from unpublished notes by Dr. Paul Hartog.