The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s Word?
This is a question that every person must deal with: Is the Bible the Word of God or is it a book of human origin?
I was brought to this question forcibly as my faith was vigorously attacked when I entered college at Georgia State University. In class after class the Bible was presented as presenting just one human idea about God among many other (at least) equally valid ideas that people have about God.
This is now the question that I challenge YOU to deal with: is the Bible just one point of view that people have developed about what God is like, or is it the very Word of God Himself, to which we must all submit in order to live out the purpose for which we were created and to enjoy everlasting life?
In this context, there are only three possible answers to this question:
1. The Bible is the Word of God.
2. The Bible is the words of mere men only.
3. The Bible is a mixture.
Throughout Church history, until about the 18th century with the rise of so-called “higher criticism,” all who wished to share in the name of Christ by calling themselves “Christians” held that the Bible is the Word of God. Before the rise of “liberal” theology, even groups with radically divergent views– even groups who were eventually condemned as heretics– held that the Bible is the Word of God if they wished to be called Christians (though upon closer scrutiny it is obvious that all truly heretical groups deny the plain teaching of the Bible).
In our present society, the list of people who claim that the Bible is ‘the words of mere men only’ would include adherents to other religions who claim belief in a god other than the God presented in the Bible and atheists who claim that there is no God.
Those that would hold to the last position listed above– that the Bible is a “mixture”– would include deists who claim that there is a God, but that the transcendence of the supernatural God makes it impossible for people to have direct communication with God, and also “liberal” theologians who would not necessarily claim that we are unable to have direct communication with God, but just that God has not chosen to communicate with people directly through the Bible in the way that the Church has historically affirmed. In the view of both the deists and the liberals the Bible is a mixture of writings that correspond in varying degrees with principles that God wishes to communicate. For both of these groups scholarship must sort out the truth in the Bible from the error (you can see why this view may be popular in a university setting).
The Question Raised
There may be someone reading this post who could identify with the following statements:
All of your life you have been handed a set of beliefs by your church, your family, and your friends, and so eventually you came to accept these beliefs on a certain level. But when you began to really think about why you believed what you believed, you could give no satisfactory answer. And so now you have described yourself as searching for what you really can believe in.
My reply to someone in this situation is that this is an excellent place to be at: the place where you can struggle with your personal convictions, develop them, and then begin to live life wholeheartedly following what you know to be true. So many people out there are content to live with the beliefs that they have been given throughout their childhood and so their beliefs remain childish: unexamined by the light of sound reason (and Scripture!). These people are living half-heartedly because they are really trying to live out someone else’s beliefs rather than their own. It is only those who have come to know why what they believe is worth believing (in contrast to other systems of belief) who are empowered to live consistently: in a way that truly glorifies God and benefits others as well as themselves.
I remember when I was an underclassman in college and I came to a crisis of belief in some ways similar to the one described above. I was a philosophy minor and two of the classes I elected to take were ‘Church and State’ and ‘Augustine and Aquinas,’ both of which were taught by Dr. Timothy Renick. Dr. Renick mentioned the canonization of Scripture a few times in these classes, and every time he did, it was with a certain level of contempt. He quoted a bishop named Jerome, who lived, I believe, in the late 300s-early 400s, as saying that the reason we have four Gospels is because there are four cardinal directions and four winds. In short, Dr. Renick was saying that the books chosen to be in the Bible were picked arbitrarily at best and based on political motivations at worst. In relation to the political motivations of the church beginning in the 300s-400s, Dr. Renick often spoke of the influence that Emperor Constantine had on the Counsel of Nicea.
So, in this environment, my beliefs were questioned and I had to find out for myself why I believed what I believed. I’ll not go into the whole process and all the conclusions I came to at this time, but I’ll summarize by saying that through diligent searching of Scripture, through earnest prayer, and through careful study of early Church history (from both Christian and secular sources) I have become convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the collection of books we call the Bible is, in fact, God’s Word. I have also come to conclude that much of what the Bible actually has to say has been obscured by political motivations, that this kind of politically-driven error was dealt with, to a large extent, during the Reformation of the 1500s, but that there are still tendencies within the church to be overly political (rather than Gospel-oriented) as sometimes seen in the religious-rightwing movement.
And I would like to add that struggling with beliefs– or even with God Himself– is not condemned, but rather commended by the Bible. This is demonstrated in the life of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel all night to gain God’s blessing (see Genesis 32:22-30). This is seen often in the life of Moses, who continuously brought his fears and doubts before God, refusing to leave his time of prayer until he was sure of an answer (see Exodus 3:1-4:17; 33:12-23). Job, too, struggled with God in prayer, asking for understanding concerning his afflictions and finding satisfaction– though not the answers to all his questions– in the word of God (see Job 30:20-31; 38-42). The struggle with God is writ large in the Psalms, with David offering up prayers such as:
How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
My enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in Your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
For He has been good to me.
(Psalm 13 NIV 1984)
Ultimately, this struggle with God– with knowing and doing His will– is seen in the life of Jesus, who, always perfectly knowing the will of the Father, still had to struggle with the implications of His will as any other man would. This is seen in His prayer on the Mount of Olives, about which the Bible records:
And being in anguish, [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44 NIV)
Jesus’ View of Scripture
In my own struggle over whether the Bible should unequivocally be thought of as the very Word of God, one particular line of evidence struck a particular chord in my heart and mind. This positive reason for trusting the Bible as God’s Word is an examination of Jesus’ view of Scripture and was explained by by James Montgomery Boice in his book Standing on the Rock as follows:
1. If Jesus is who He claimed to be, and if Jesus truly gave the teachings attributed to Him in the Gospel accounts, then we can believe the Bible to be the Word of God because Jesus believed it to be the Word of God.
2. Jesus taught that Scripture is infallible, saying, “Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18 NIV 1984), and, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35 NASB).
3. Jesus taught that each letter of Scripture was inspired by God as seen in Matthew 5:18, quoted above. This is not an isolated example and it is not hyperbole, as demonstrated by Matthew 22:23-32, in which Jesus points to the particular form of the verb “to be” used in a certain verse to prove the doctrine of resurrection.
4. Jesus saw His life as the fulfillment of Scripture, beginning His ministry by quoting Scripture (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19), appealing to Scripture to silence His critics (John 5), and quoting Scripture while dying on the Cross (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46). After He rose from the grave, Jesus explained His work to His disciples using Scripture (Luke 24:25-27). And Jesus prophesied the writing of the New Testament (John 14:26; John 16:12-14).
This is NOT circular reasoning
At this point a skeptic may object that by using Bible passages to demonstrate that the Bible is God’s Word, we are engaging in circular reasoning. But under closer inspection, you will see that this is not the case. For the first stated assumption here is not “the Bible is God’s Word” but rather that “Jesus is presented in the Gospel accounts in an accurate, historical way”. By their own account, these narratives are meant to tell of events that really happened in particular times and particular places (see Luke 1-3; John 20-21). The assumption here is simply that the Christian men who wrote these books are not bald-faced liars.
So, how do these reliable, historical books present Jesus?
1. They present Him as God Incarnate (John 1:1, 14).
2. And God– in order to be God– must speak the Truth (Hebrews 6:18).
So, what does Jesus teach about the Bible?
As examined above, Jesus teaches that the Bible is infallible, perfect in every letter, and that it is fulfilled in Him.
In conclusion, I would like to challenge you with these questions:
1. How carefully have you examined your beliefs? Have you thoroughly contemplated life, death, the afterlife, and the authority on which you base your decisions? Have you come to the point of personal, whole-hearted convictions on these issues or are you lazily depending on the ideas of others without checking the facts?
2. What is your view of the Scriptures? Do your views line up with those of Jesus? If not, do you realize that you are rebelling against your only hope for peace with God and everlasting life? I urge you now to call out to God now for His mercy:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10 NIV 1984)
[Adapted from a post originally published on 7/15/05.]