What is the Holy Bible, anyway? On the surface, it almost sounds like a kindergarten question, but I think it’s critical that traditional Christians ask it of each other, particularly in this season of Lent.
I am convinced that a lot of the problems we have been experiencing in Methodism and in American Christianity in general stem from a breakdown in the traditional understanding of what the Bible is and how it should be used by the faithful. If we are to participate in any Christian awakening that may be developing, I believe we have to get this definition of Scripture right.
After all, the Holy Bible is the primary record of how God has spoken to humanity for nearly 4,000 years. If we as believers stop a moment and let that sink in, we should feel at least a slight shiver of astonishment, followed by a deep sense of reverence. God guides us today through writings set down by prophets, apostles and other Holy Spirit-inspired writers going back as far as the Bronze Age.
Problems arise now because people think the Bible needs to somehow be “modernized,” that is, reinterpreted or even pared to fit competing worldviews. There is nothing new about these worldviews, however; they simply are ideas that get recycled every so many years, sometimes lying dormant for decades or even centuries.
They seem new because a generation has become unfamiliar with them. As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.” For example, what are considered innovations in human sexuality today are really nothing more than a return to the sexual mores that were prevalent in the Greek-Roman culture, where Judaism managed to survive and Christianity flourished while opposing what God called unholy.
Bowing to accommodate these competing worldviews amounts to idolatry. When we do so, we place worldly ideas on a pedestal above God’s revelations.
Christians, we were warned such trying moments would happen: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3.)
So, back to the original question. What is the Holy Bible if you believe Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior? Here’s my attempt at an extended answer:
It is timeless. With its authors guided by the Holy Spirit, grand truths that apply to any moment in human history are revealed, and all that is within the Bible must be interpreted in light of those universal revelations.
Its core, critical truth is that God has redeemed sinful humanity through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. As Paul was prone to say, “We preach Christ crucified.” The Old Testament points to this event; the New Testament details and explains its importance.
The Holy Bible is God’s library, filled with a rich variety of literary devices. There is narration, of course, storytelling at its finest. We also find within it poetry, allegory, discourse, basic record keeping, apocalyptic visions, and other genres. We have to understand how each genre works if we are to interpret what we find there. It is not all to be read literally, but again, it all does reveal truth.
God’s word reveals these truths so that they may change us. We are fools if we try to change them.
The Holy Bible is the birthright of the born-again Christian. It belongs to us, not the world, even as it calls us to invite the world to faith in Jesus Christ.
I also will add what the Bible is not. It is not, as some people say, a document that can be made to say whatever we want it to say. People who make that remark lack a basic understanding of how to read the Bible as a whole. In particular, they do not know how to interpret the details in light of the great themes.
As we continue into Lent, I encourage us as believers to throw ourselves into this gift from God wholeheartedly. Find a guide if you need one. And if you seek truth but don’t yet believe—well, beware. Genuine, prayerful, open-minded study of what’s in there may change your life.