Over the last couple of days I have had number of conversations about the Bible. In part, because of my post from a couple of days ago. Some have wondered if I was saying that people don’t need the Bible at all. Others have pointed out, and rightly so, that we need the Bible in order to know Jesus. Sure, we can know about Jesus through various historical documents outside of the Bible, but if we really want to know how Jesus lived, what he said, and what he calls us to we need the Bible.
Others have said that I should not be so cavalier in dismissing the word of God. Which, if I was, was not my intent at all. I believe the Bible is the word of God, written by people divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit so that, through them, God might reveal himself to humanity. The Bible is very much the words God wants to speak to people so that he might be known.
And yet, I will still say, “People do not need the Bible. They need Jesus.”
Because the Bible doesn’t save people. Jesus does.
Because the Bible doesn’t mediate on behalf of people. Jesus does.
Because the Bible doesn’t heal people. Jesus does.
Because the Bible doesn’t intercede for people. Jesus does.
Because the Bible isn’t the way to the Father. Jesus is.
This is a very tricky conversation. Because the only way I can say any of the above is by referencing what the Bible says and using the authority of the Bible. In writing this, I put on full display my need for the Bible. I could not say that Jesus prays for us without my knowledge of the Bible. Knowing the Bible increases my knowledge of, and love for, Jesus.
One of the conversations I had was with an old high school friend. He was pushing back on, what could be, the implications of what I had said. As we conversed he shared with me that he and his wife currently attend a church that was wary of people having too much Bible knowledge for they would misuse it. While the Bible can be misused, I would never advocate for less Bible knowledge. Personally, as a preacher, I refuse to put scripture on the screens in worship because I want people to open their Bibles and be in the text. I believe it is that important
The Bible is indispensable in the life of the Christian.
But for what purpose? Why is the Bible so necessary in the life of the believer?
It isn’t a complex answer. But it is often answered in ways that are not always clear. The Bible isn’t neccesarry so that we live moral lives, although that’s part of it. It isn’t so that we know what God wants from us, although that’s part of it. It isn’t because the words of the Bible are timeless truths, although that’s part of it.
No, the reason the Bible is necessary is because the Bible witnesses to Jesus.
It is as simple as that.
This could be my youthful angst showing, but I get very wary of people trying to prove the authority of the Bible by pointing to what the Bible says about itself. Granted, the Bible does say some things about the Bible, but it actually isn’t as much as one might think. And yes, Jesus does say some things about the Bible. But the major thrust of the Bible is not to witness to itself. The Bible is not trying to prove that it is the word of God. “All scripture is God-breathed” for the purpose of making us “wise for salvation through Jesus Christ.” (2 Timothy 3:15-16)
The Bible is indispensable because it points us to Jesus.
It is important for us to talk about it the Bible pointing to Jesus because it reframes how we read the Bible. So often we hear people say, “I simply read the Bible and do what it says.” I remember a t-shirt floating around evangelical circles when I was in late high school and college that said, “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it.” For many people, that is perfect doctrine on how the Bible should be read. They see all this debate over the Bible and its origins and inspiration and authority as an attempt to get out from under its authority. My contention is the exact opposite. That wrestling with the text in light of Jesus places us more squarely under its authority since “all authority on heaven and earth” has been given to Jesus.
Besides, as much as we may try, no one is able to free themselves from their presuppositions, worldviews, or already existing beliefs when they read the Bible. If I may, let me borrow an example from J. Todd Billings book “The Word of God for the People of God.” Consider these words from the story of Noah, just before the flood.
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. –Genesis 6:5-8
Think for a moment about the phrase “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” How should we interpret that? What does it mean? Some might say that this phrase is analogy of grief, given to us by God, so that we might see both, the deep love God has for humanity and his compassion in rescuing some. Others might say this passage reveals a God who risks, who has limits, and who may even make mistakes. Still others might say that this isn’t about God at all; it is simply a human author putting human emotions on God to show that God favors good over evil. All of these conclusions are arrived at by simply reading the text. What we all must ask ourselves is, “Which interpretation do I favor?”
And then most importantly, “Why?”
Chances are, our primary reason for liking one interpretation over another goes far beyond simply what the text says. More than likely it is deeply connected to who we believe God is.
Rightly interpreting scripture is based on having a right view of God. And the most clear picture of who God is and how God operates and what God is like is found in Jesus. Jesus is the “visible image of the invisible God” and the “exact representation of his being.” If we want to know what God is like, we need look no further than Jesus.
Because that’s who the Bible is pointing us to. The Bible does not terminate on itself. It is not a witness of its own divine authority, but it is divinely authoritative because it witnesses to the Word made flesh.
This is why we come to the text. This is why we submit to the text. This is why we study and know the text.
Because the Bible is indispensable to knowing Jesus.