The Bible: An Introduction

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Hebrews 4:12-13

At the heart of the Christian faith lies the reality that God is a revealing God. By this it is meant that God has not been content simply to spin the cosmos into being and then remain at a distance from his creatures. Rather, driven by divine love, God chose to reveal Himself, to speak. Before we consider the deeper realities and implications of Scripture, we must first pause and reflect with some depth at this single premise, God has revealed Himself to us. This premise seems mundane or overly simple, something not worthy of a moment’s reflection. But it ought not be so. In creating, God could have chosen any world to create. God was not limited by anything other than His will. The world in which we live out our moments is a world in which the architect and designer of it all has infused with revelation. He who spoke galaxies into being; He who is aware and guides every movement of every subatomic particle in the known and unknown universe, he who holds the very fabric of existence together through his sustaining power, has written our story, the human story, in such a way that we may know His heart, His design, and His purposes.

There is a tension here that ought not be overlooked. When we speak of God, we speak of One who is transcendent, and in a sense incomprehensible. God is not a being like us with limitations and boundaries. God is beyond human comprehension and understanding in his fullest sense. And yet, through his revelation, He has become knowable in a degree. We can glimpse into the infinite. We can peer into the unknown, and by the grace of God’s self-revelation, we can truly know God as He is, on His terms.

When we speak of God’s revealing of himself, it is helpful to recognize that God’s revelation has come in numerous forms. First is what we might refer to as General or Natural Revelation. God has revealed himself through nature in a general sense. We read in Romans 1 that, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made…” (Romans 1:20). In other words, no matter what religion a person ascribes to, even if they proclaim themselves as atheists who believe that no God exists, nature itself reveals God’s existence. One must only open their eyes and see a world teeming with life and beauty to disrupt the foolish notion that God does not exist. Psalm 14:1 famously states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” To deny the necessity of God’s existence, simply on the basis of General Revelation, one must hold to the absurd notion that all that exists with all of its order and beauty and purpose, has somehow spawned itself from absolutely nothing. Far from this absurdity, God has revealed Himself through nature. It is for this reason that Christians are often encouraged to linger in our awe at God’s creative work. The Psalmist writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place” (Psalm 8:3).

Richard Baxter, a famous 17th century Puritan Pastor once described Natural Revelation as a book to be read. He wrote, “When man was made perfect, and placed in a perfect world, where all things were in perfect order, the whole creation was then man’s book, in which he was to read the nature and will of his great Creator. Every creature had the name of God so legibly engraven on it, that man might run and read it.”[1] What a joyful world that must have been in Eden, to see the fingerprints of God on every bit of His creation, and with a mind and heart unstained by sin’s corrupting power, to be led to constant grateful and adoration of the creator Himself. Of course, this Genesis account of the first man and woman does not end in Paradise. The Scriptures reveal the details of their tragic fall into sin from their original state of Edenic purity. It is only by placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ that a true redemption of what was lost can begin, a redemption in which all of life including the way that we engage with the natural world around us, the way we see God’s fingerprints upon every bit of creation, can be restored to its rightful place. God speaks through nature.[2]

Second, God has spoken in history through the prophets. When many think of prophecy in the Bible, they immediately consider the many predictions about the future. Certainly, the prophets often did speak of events that were to happen in their future—what is often our past—yet, the role of a prophet was far more than simply speaking of future events. True prophets spoke the very words of God, serving as the human mouthpiece of the divine guiding, instructing, and often rebuking nations, kings, and peoples. Throughout the pages of the Bible, we are introduced to many men and women who served in this unique and extraordinary role. When prophets spoke authoritatively, they spoke the very words of God on God’s behalf. Therefore, a true prophet’s message was never only partially correct. If a prophet’s words were found to be inaccurate or inconsistent by even a syllable, they would be proven false by the Scriptural standard. Here we might recognize the need, historically speaking, for a written record of the prophetic voice. For while the Hebrews were legendarily known for passing down their oral traditions by memory from one generation to the next; there was always the possibility that an error would be made in translation.

Third, God has spoken through the person of Jesus Christ in an utterly unique way. Unlike the great prophets whom God spoke through, Jesus was Immanuel, ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23). “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God… all things were created through him and for him…” (Colossians 1:15-17). To look on Jesus is to know more of God, for in his divinity he perfectly reveals the character and ways of the Father. Those who lived with Jesus and sat underneath His teachings were those privileged ones in all of history thus far who have sat at the feet of God incarnate and learned from the architect Himself. Through the incarnation God wrote Himself into the human story, more particularly we might say the Father “sent the Son” into the human story.[3] To have communed with Jesus would have been to experience the heart of God being lived out through a human life. In Jesus there was nothing less than a persistent revealing of the heart and mind of the Father. The way Jesus engaged with community, the way he responded to critics, the way he rebuked the proud, the way he healed the hurting, the way he comforted the sorrowful, the way he pursued the lost, all reveals in a direct and physical way the heart of God Himself. God has been revealed through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Fourth, and central to our current study, God has revealed Himself through the Bible. The Bible, all sixty-six books of both the Old and New Testament, as it was written and recorded in the original manuscripts, is the infallible Word of God. While nature reveals the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, nature itself is insufficient to reveal all that man must know and do to receive salvation. One must only look up at a starry night sky to sense within their soul that God exists, but that starry night sky does not speak of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. For that, something more than General Revelation is required. To know, beyond a general sense, what is needed to be in right relation with God, a Special Revelation is required. Certainly, the presence of Christ physically, and the ability to sit at His feet and learn His words directly as they came from his mouth would suffice. But Christ is not here now in the same physical sense that He was during his short life on Earth. Yet though he is not here physically in human form to sit under his teaching, and though we cannot watch the words He speaks come directly from His mouth as if we were in the same room, the very words that did come from his mouth are with us still. In this sense we say that the Bible is God’s Word. It is God’s Special Revelation, written in the form of human characters and words, given to us as a gift of grace. The same God who missionally pursued his beloved when he incarnated Himself into the human story, is the same God who has left us His unchanging Word in order that we might always know His will and His ways.

The Substance of the Bible

As creatures who have been designed in our inner being, in the very fabric of our soul, to know God and to walk in His ways, it behooves us to know and to cherish His Word. What is the Bible? While we refer to the Bible as one book, it is in reality a collection of sixty-six individual books and letters, thirty-nine in the Old Testament (collected before Christ’s incarnation), and twenty-seven in the New Testament (collected after Christ’s incarnation). Traditionally it is believed that there were thirty-five different authors of the entire collection, who’s lives span thousands of years. Despite this vast chronological and cultural chasm between the various authors of the Bible, and despite the multi colored and multi-layered approaches to its written content, the Bible is staggeringly unified in one over-arching, coherent, and cohesive story of God’s great mercy and ultimate mission as fulfilled in the atoning of Jesus Christ when he suffered underneath the wrath of God on the cross.

For those that are newer to engaging with the Bible, it might come as some surprise that the Bible is full of different sorts of literature. Far from taking some kind of systematic or encyclopedic approach, the Bible offers a compelling blend of literary approaches. Some sections of are written as narrative, telling the stories of men and women of faith and their dealings with God in the past. We read the account of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” These narratives provide not only insight into the actual history of how God has dealt with His people, but they also provide the narratival basis of humanity as a whole, answering some of our greatest questions: Where did we come from, why are we here, what is wrong in the world, how do we fix it, and where are we headed?

Other sections are written as poetry where the focus and the true lessons are not only found in the words themselves but in the beauty and cadence of the writing. We read in Ecclesiastes 1:1-7, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity… All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.” Hebrew poetry like this is full of grammatical structure that intensifies particular phrases and words and through the artistic beauty of written communication paints an image that narrative simply is unable to accomplish in the same way.

Other sections are written as instructional literature, legal codes, or records of sermons guiding God’s people on how to live and behave. Consider the following section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…” One can almost imagine Jesus standing on a hillside, surrounded by thousands of listening ears, speaking these words and shaping the moral convictions of his listeners.

Still other sections of Scripture are Prophetic or Apocalyptic, often telling of events that would happen in the author’s future sometimes through direct and easy to understand visions and other times through symbolic or metaphorical language. We read in Revelation 12:13-15, “And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood.” Here, we clearly have intense metaphorical language that describes real world events in dramatic fashion. The drama and the imagery are all part of the messaging.

One is struck when reading the Scriptures that the various books are full of comedy and tragedy, romance and folly, courage and cowardice, kings and paupers, fools and sages, miraculous and mundane, reckless and responsible, warriors and scribes, beauty and brawn. The men and women we meet in Scripture are surprisingly much like us, complete with moments of faithfulness, as well as an awareness of their many faults and failures. Even the great saints of the Old Testament, men like Abraham, Moses, and David, are presented in such a way that we see them not as some kind of demi-gods, utterly different from the real-world’s errors and frailties that you and I so often succumb to. Rather, the men and women of the Bible are relatable because of their weaknesses and insufficiencies. It is in their weakest moments and in their mistakes that people like us see a glimpse of ourselves, and therefore develop an even greater awareness of the mercies of God towards rebels like us. In fact, we might be so bold as to say that the grand metanarrative of the entire Bible is the story of God’s relentless mercy towards unfaithful rebels like us.

The Ultimate Standard

Ultimately, the Bible is the sole written revelation of God’s heart. While many books claim to offer wisdom and instruction on moral affairs, it is only the Bible that holds the authority to function as the standard upon which all of life can be measured and weighed. It is therefore the skeptic and atheist—the one who denies the revelation of God through the Holy Scriptures—that is in the unfortunate position of attempting to make sense of the world without the fixed standard of God’s revelation. If God does not exist, and if He has not revealed the fixed standard of truth and morality, then put simply there is no such thing as morality. This troubling reality is the skeptic’s daily tension. For no matter how hard the skeptic attempts to distance themselves from God, they are unable to deny the simple reality that we live in a moral universe. The skeptic can neither account for the moral universe they inhabit, nor can they give any reason why one moral opinion is superior to any other opinion. Without a standard to appeal to, a fixed target to measure our thoughts accordingly, every moral opinion is simply an opinion, and no closer or further from the truth than any other conflicting opinion. In other words, it is only by God’s fixed Word that true meaning and morality can be discovered.

Through the very words of Scripture, readers are introduced to God on His terms. Modern man, like the ancient men we meet through the Bible, is prone to invent a variety of methods and rituals they believe will lead them to true spirituality. But when one reads God’s Word, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit sent by God to aid men in their spiritual understanding, they are forced to face themselves as God sees them. We realize that every other form of spirituality only ever produced a house of carnival mirrors that failed to reflect truth to our eyes, but rather bent the truth to appeal to our flawed desires. It is only before the pages of Scripture, the one true and unfailing standard, that our consciences are torn apart as the Master Physician uses the scalpel of His Word to peel back the sinful layer of rebellion that have brought so much destruction into our lives and into the world around us, and in its place to infuse the awesome reality of grace upon grace by the blood of Jesus.

A Prayer

Heavenly Father,

With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promises give me life. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. I am your servant; give me understanding that I may know your testimonies. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law. Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live. —Psalm 119 (selected verses)

[1] Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. Page 33.

[2] Eph. 2:8, John 3:36, Acts 16:31, Titus 3:5, Rom. 6:23

[3] John 6:57, 1 John 4:14,


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