What is the Bible?
“Well, that’s obvious, Joel,” you might say, “the Bible is the Word of God.”
Yes, that is the obvious answer, but it is not enough. It is true that the Bible is the Word of God, but it also needs some explanation that we don’t normally think about. As we saw in part 1 of this series fact-checking our beliefs about the Bible, there is another Word of God more ancient than the Bible. So how is the Bible also the Word of God?
Let me illustrate by asking another question: Where did the Bible come from? Did it just drop out of sky, like a miraculous gift from God?
We Christians do not believe anything like that. We have a very different belief about the Bible. What is the Bible?
The Bible is actually not one book. It is a library of books, written over a long period of time by many different people, all inspired by God.
We Protestants believe that there are 66 books in the library we call the Bible, and those books were written by about 40 different people, over a period of what might be 1400 years.
That’s quite a different image than a book just dropping out of the sky. We do, however, believe God was very much involved. Those human authors were inspired by God. So what does it mean that they were inspired by God?
Let’s look at some passages from the Bible that talk about this.
In 2 Peter 1:19-21, we read “Men spoke from God, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So the writing of the Bible was not a human-only thing. And it was also not a God-only creation. In the original language the word “carried along” is another one of those word pictures: the biblical writers were moved just like wind filling a sail.
This concept is very much reflected in 2 Timothy 3:16 where the Apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is God-breathed.”
These two verses describe the miraculous and mysterious process of inspiration. It is a process where we believe that God was at work, communicating along with the unique perspectives, skills, experiences, languages and customs of the human writers. This is very different from saying that a writer of songs was inspired. Right now, for example, my favorite song is “No Longer Slaves.” I find it to be powerful, and I want to listen to it every day, multiple times each day. I would say the writers of the song are inspired! But they are not inspired like the Bible is inspired. We Christians believe that the Bible is unique in that God was involved in helping the human writers as they wrote. He didn’t overpower them to the point where they became robots, shutting off their minds. He worked with them. It was a wonderful combination of creator and created working together to create something new.
What we see, then, is that the Bible is a library of books, written by many different people over a period over a period of many years, inspired by God. So when we say that the Bible is the Word of God, that’s what we mean, that God inspired human authors to write the various books. In other words it is also very appropriate to say that the Bible is also the word of people. Real people.
We should never say that the Bible is only written by people, and we should never say that it is only written by God. That’s why we fact-check the statement, “the Bible is the Word of God,” because there is more to the story…people were involved. And one of the most important ways that the human writers included their own personalities and interests was something called genre. We’ll look at how important genre is next in part 3.