The Bible is not the product of an event or a circumstance, but of time, study and especially of the journey that humanity took on its way to its development. But could it be that all the time that has passed has also eroded its relevance? How much confidence can we still have in the Bible, in the 21st century?
Two things are worthy of being mentioned from the very beginning: from the release of its first book until the present day, inquiry and the campaign to deepen the historical and spiritual truth of the Bible has never ceased and, in all this time, both supporters and critics of the Bible alike have contributed to establishing and consolidating its influence.
What is the Bible?
From a technical point of view, the Bible is a collection of prophetic, poetic, historical, moralizing, revealing books, which have been deeply rooted in human experience during thousands of years. The books which make up what we call the “canon” of the Bible, of the Old and New Testament, are the result of the selection they have been submitted to, for long periods of time, the manuscripts variants and existing translations (there are over 4.000 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament).
The Bible: divine product, or man-made?
Has the Bible “fallen from the skies” as is being claimed for other books? Yes and no. “Yes” when we are talking about the source of its inspiration, which is God’s Holy Spirit, and “no” if we are referring to the people with whom God partnered to create it. According to its own declaration, the Bible is the product of man’s work under God’s inspiration: “…prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
The apostle Paul mentioned that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. What stands out is that the Bible is “breathed”, not “dictated”. So then, considering that the people who contributed to the writing of the Scriptures did not possess any extra-human skills, but, like the prophet Elijah, were feeble human beings, just as we are, just how trustworthy is the Bible? The answer is in the eye of the beholder. Someone may choose to look at the One who inspired the Bible, and he can then have absolute trust, or he may choose to look at the people God partnered with in this process and he may doubt. But give God what is God’s and Caesar (who was a man) what is Caesar’s, said Jesus. In other words, do not ascribe to man the glory that only God is worthy of, and do not ascribe to God what is due to man.
Nevertheless, even if the people God chose to partner with were subject to the same weaknesses as we are, the One who inspired the Bible is subject to none. At the same time, we must not forget that the people who have been called to work together with God were “led by the Holy Spirit” and, in God’s hand, anything can become what it cannot be apart from God. The famous English preacher Charles Spurgeon was convinced that a consecrated man—that is, a man who is in God’s hands—becomes a redoubtable weapon. Indeed, a bunch of fishermen, in Jesus’s hand, came to “fish for people” and, through them, God changed the world.
The power and authority of the Bible do not consist in its miraculous writing, but in the Divine Source of its inspiration. The writers of the Bible fulfilled their mission under the mark of a supreme effort, on the one hand, and under the mark of God’s inspiration, on the other hand. The same is true of Jesus’ incarnation: where divine nature clothed itself with human nature and was named Emmanuel—God with us.
Then how can we distinguish between what is human and what is divine in the Bible? Reading and accepting the Scriptures is not the same thing as reading a novel or a short story (although it can be nothing more than that, if you so choose). It is a profoundly spiritual experience. Despite human limitations, God is the One who is speaking to those listening to Him through and from the pages of the Bible. He is the One making man understand and receive the message behind the words and through them. In this process, Scripture becomes the Living Book precisely because of God’s presence and intervention for its understanding and acceptance.
The remedy for “Bibliophobia”
Are we required to show blind submission to the Bible? While this type of attitude does exist, and in fundamentalist circles it is even recommended, the Bible requires nothing of the sort. It offers a template such as the following: “But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!’”. God has never required an irrational or forced obedience, but He asks us to obey Him if we ourselves consider it “just” to do so. Any obtrusion or constraint, except that of love, is against His character.
The Source of authentic faith and obedience is and must be love, and love only: “If you love me, keep my commands.” What is required of us is but one thing: “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. Then our answer may follow—love or indifference.
A thing is good if it is well used, said Paul to his disciple Timothy. From here the question arises: “What is or what should be the role of the Bible in my life; where and how should I use it?” A good question. It’s a pity we sometimes ask only in the end what we should have asked from the very beginning. Scripture has a very simple and easy-to-understand role. If it is presented in an obscure and complicated manner, this does not come from the Scripture, but it is man-made. If not understood by anyone, then what is presented is not the message of God’s Word, because the Bible declares about the One it presents and to whom it leads: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” It is thus of such nature that, no matter how high or how low someone is on the scale of different values or skills, the true Light of the world will reveal itself to him/her and will make itself comprehensible.
The Bible and its forgotten definition
The True Light is not a set of principles or dogmas, but a Person. He is most able to dissipate the millenary fog born out of and through man’s interaction with the Bible. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” To those who thought they could get eternal life by analysing the Scriptures, Jesus said: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me”. Let us therefore ask Jesus about the clear function of the Scriptures.
The generation living in the period of His incarnation, (as is the case with the generation of today), for the most part used the Bible for pragmatic purposes: predicting the future, to ensure the soul’s salvation (by its repeated reading), motivating ‘holy wars’, justifying hatred towards other nations, for personal elevation, and others. In reality, the whole Bible, the entire spectrum of subjects it speaks to, has one purpose and one destination: to talk about and lead man to his Saviour and to the truth about God, as it was revealed in Jesus. Any doctrine, any prophecy, any teaching is not a purpose or goal in itself, but only an instrument lighting the way and leading man to Christ. To believe, to search or to teach Scripture without ever reaching the destination it declares represents a denial of its message, a tragic deviation from the purpose for which it was given.
The question that must rise above all others related to the Bible is: what does this passage, text, doctrine, or teaching say about God? “Sir,” the Greeks said, “we would like to see Jesus.”  This is the image which synthesises the role of the Bible. The parable of the prodigal son is not meant just to present a case of rebellion and restoration. It goes so much further beyond this, to elevate God’s image through the image of the father running to meet, kiss and welcome his son who had come home. This particular parable, and any other part of Scripture, does not have a value in and of itself, but only by accomplishing its mission of revealing God’s character. Only when revealing the truth about God does the parable of the prodigal son become “Scripture”. Without fulfilling this function, the parable remains just a simple, albeit moving story.
The limits of trust in the Bible
The Bible has a similar role to that of John the Baptist: “He must become greater; I must become less.” It does not lift itself up, but it lifts God up. Then, like the moon, it makes room for the sun. To believe in a book, even if it’s called the Holy Scripture, means to believe in something created and to turn such a thing into an idol. The Bible can be turned into an object of worship, just like an icon or a statue can be turned into an object of worship. The sin of worshiping the Bible instead of worshiping the One of whom the Bible speaks is called bibliolatry. “For it is written” Jesus said, “‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.
We are not called to worship the Book, but the One who inspired the Book—that is, God. Our trust must be directed towards the One about whom Jesus said: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” Our trust must also focus on the One the Scriptures talk about and who, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” This is where our trust and faith must be anchored. While we know that “there is no one who does not sin”, about Him it is written: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.”
Based on research, some scholars point to inconsistencies, errors in translation, date differences, changes of meaning, and others, in the Bible, which are more or less justified. Many are alarmed or shaken when they hear such information. However, this should not be the case because all this cannot stop God from talking through Scripture, nor can it affect authentic faith, which is not anchored in something, but in Someone. We must, however, never confuse our limited understanding or our way of expressing ourselves regarding the inspiration of Scripture with the eternal and righteous Inspiring Being. This distinction must be held firm, both insofar as the birth process of the Scriptures goes, and within the process of accepting and teaching them.
User manual for the Bible
Acceptance of the Bible depends as much on the “Guide in truth”, the Holy Spirit, as the writing of it did. With the help of the Holy Spirit Elijah’s host was able to say: “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” What else suggests the expression, “God’s word in your mouth is truth”, other than the fact that the same word of God in someone else’s mouth might not be truth? We often use the phrase: “This is what the Bible says” when we should actually say: “This is how I understand the Bible.” Tragically, too often man’s words were exported under the label: “The Bible says…” The Christians in Berea were looking at Paul not in the light of his name or reputation, but in light of the Scriptures: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
Although he had said, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”, Paul still rejoiced over the “better” spirit of the Christians in Berea, who wished to see with their own eyes, not with Paul’s eyes. We are not called to think with anyone else’s mind, but with the mind God gave us. We cannot have somebody believe for us, just like we cannot have someone eat for us. Martin Luther said that every man must believe and die personally; nobody can do that on his behalf.
The Bible has nothing to lose if subjected to deeper and more thorough research in light of the latest scientific and philosophical discoveries. Considering the cooperation between the divine and the human in the birth process of the Scriptures, Martin Luther said that the foundation of any conviction in this area must be double: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”
Apart from the Bible’s testimony, healthy reason, proof and, Wesley adds, “the lessons of a lifetime’s experience” must stand guard. A faith which ignores healthy reason and life experience is, in fact, a blind faith, which God requires from no one. It was not God who said: “Believe and do not doubt.” The Bible must not be read apologetically, but exegetically. That is, one should not turn it into a weapon for one’s own ideas, but discover it as it really is, namely, a guide to the great Teacher. Ideologically, there is no difference between a suicidal person who wraps himself in explosive materials and the one gathering Scripture texts to defend his position. They shall both perish in the attack and the latter will end up destroying more people than the former. Peter laments over the state of such people and over such a mentality: they “…distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction”. In turn, Paul warned that this “only ruins those who listen”.
I followed a Bible course at one of the prestigious American universities. We hadn’t even gone past the first hour when I realised the direction that things were headed. The course was trying to convince us to replace revelation with reason. Of course, each of them has its due place, both revelation and reason, but none should take the place of the other. On the contrary, it’s an extremely harmful experience. (The same happens when science is viewed as religion and religion as science.) Besides, no effort on my side was even necessary to realise that I had clearly seen the agenda. At the end of the course, the teacher asked me: “How do you look at the Bible now, after this course? What has changed?” I told the eminent professor: “Professor, at the end of this course I find myself loving the Bible even more than before. A lot of things were said about the Bible from a technical, editorial or historical perspective. I, however, see that nothing negative was said about the One who inspired the Bible nor about the One who the Bible reveals. I am anchored in Him and, with God’s help, I feel safe.”
I look at the Bible as being my holy guide to Christ. If someone sees it in another way, he’s free to do so. As far as I am concerned, the Bible has led me to the Saviour, and He has led me to God. It is, for me, the field where I found the hidden Treasure. In its pages I discovered the priceless Pearl and, although I was too poor to be have something to sell, I was still allowed to purchase It. What my life would have been like if I hadn’t met, through the holy pages, the “One from everlasting”, is not difficult to find out. Suffice it to look around me, to those who chose to ignore the Guide!
Since this precious discovery, I have placed the Book in my children’s hands and in the hands of many people I have come across on life’s path, and I will continue to do so, God willing, for as long as I live. I have seen many reborn and transformed lives. In fact, my very existence testifies to this.