The Origin and Nature of the Bible
The way we see and understand the origin and nature of Scripture greatly impacts the role that the Bible plays in our lives and in the church at large. How we interpret the Bible is significantly shaped and influenced by our understanding of the process of revelation and inspiration. When we want to understand Scripture correctly, we first of all need to allow the Bible to determine the basic parameters of how it should be treated. We cannot study mathematics with the empirical methods employed in biology or sociology. We cannot study physics with the same tools used to study history. In a similar manner, the spiritual truths of the Bible will not be known and understood correctly by atheistic methods that approach the Bible as if God did not exist. Instead, our interpretation of Scripture needs to take seriously the divine-human dimension of God’s Word. Hence what is needed for a proper interpretation of Scripture is that we approach the Bible in faith rather than with methodological skepticism or doubt.
This week we will look at some foundational aspects of the origin and nature of the Bible that should impact our interpretation and understanding of it.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 11.
The Bible is not like any other book. According to the apostle Peter, the prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit in such a way that the content of their message came from God. They did not invent it themselves.
Rather than being “cunningly devised fables” (2 Pet. 1:16), the prophetic message of the Bible is of divine origin, and thus it is truthful and trustworthy. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21, NKJV). God was at work in the process of revelation, where He made known His will to selected human beings.
Direct verbal communication between God and particular human beings is an inescapable fact of the Scriptures. This is why the Bible has special, divine authority, and we need to take the divine element into consideration in our interpretation of the Scriptures. Having our holy God as their ultimate author, the biblical books are aptly called “holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2, 2 Tim. 3:15).
They were given for practical purposes, too. They are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17, TNIV).
We also need the help of the Holy Spirit to apply to our lives what God has revealed in His Word. According to the apostle Peter, the interpretation of the divinely revealed Word of God is not a matter of our own opinions. We need God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to rightly understand its meaning.
Scripture also says, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7, NKJV). The biblical words for “revelation” (in its various forms) express the idea that something previously hidden has now been disclosed or unveiled and thus becomes known and made manifest. As human beings, we need such an uncovering, or revelation, for we are sinful beings, separated from God because of our sin, and therefore dependent upon Him to know His will.
Because God uses the medium of language to reveal His will to humankind, divine revelation is capable of being written down. Yet, as we already have seen, the Bible is the result of God’s revealing truth to us through the work of the Holy Spirit, who transmits and safeguards His message through human instruments. This is the reason why we can expect the fundamental unity that is seen in all of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation (for example, compare Gen. 3:14, 15 to Rev. 12:17).
All of Scripture is divinely inspired, even if not all parts are equally inspiring to read or even necessarily applicable to us today (for example, the sections about the Hebrew feasts were inspired even though we’re not required to keep them today). Yet, we need to learn from all of Scripture, even from those parts that are not so easy to read and understand or that are not specifically applicable to us now.
Also, not everything in the Bible was directly or supernaturally revealed. Sometimes God used biblical writers who carefully investigated things or used other existing documents (see Josh. 10:13, Luke 1:1–3) to communicate His message.
Even then, all Scripture is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16). This is the reason why Paul states that “whatever” was written, was written for our instruction, so that through “the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4, NASB).
“The Bible points to God as its author; yet it was written by human hands; and in the varied style of its different books it presents the characteristics of the several writers. The truths revealed are all ‘given by inspiration of God’ (2 Tim. 3:16); yet they are expressed in the words of men.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 7.
Today there are biblical scholars who deny divine authorship of many parts of the Bible, even to the point where many crucial teachings—Creation, the Exodus, the Resurrection—are denied.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel’ ” (Exod. 34:27, NKJV). Why would the Lord have Moses write down these words as opposed to having Moses recite them to the people only? What is the obvious advantage of the Written Word?
The God who speaks and who created human language enables chosen people to communicate the divinely revealed truths and divinely inspired thoughts in a trustworthy and reliable manner. Hence, it is no surprise to find that God commanded biblical writers early on to commit His instruction and revelation in writing.
Exod. 17:14, Exod. 24:4
Rev. 1:11, 19; Rev. 21:5; Rev. 22:18, 19
Why did God command that His revelation and inspired messages be written down? The obvious answer is so that we will not forget them so easily. The written words of the Bible are a constant reference point that directs us to God and His will. A written document usually can be preserved better and be much more reliable than oral messages, which must be told again and again. The Written Word, which can be copied again and again, also can be made accessible to many more people than if it were spoken only. Last, we can speak to a limited number of people at one time in one place, but what is committed to writing can be read by countless readers in many different locations and continents, and even be a blessing numerous generations later. In fact, if people can’t themselves read, others can read a written document aloud to them.
There is a parallel between the Word of God, who became flesh (i.e., Jesus Christ), and the Written Word of God (i.e., Scripture). Just as Jesus was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit yet born of a woman, Holy Scripture also is of supernatural origin yet delivered through human beings.
Jesus Christ became a man in time and space. He lived during a specific time and at a specific place. Yet, this fact did not nullify His divinity, nor did it make Jesus historically relative. He is the only Redeemer for all people, all over the world, throughout all time (see Acts 4:12).
Likewise, God’s Written Word, the Bible, also was given at a specific time and in a particular culture. Just like Jesus Christ, the Bible is not time-conditioned (i.e., limited to a specific time and location); instead, it remains binding for all people, all over the world.
When God revealed Himself, He came down to the human level. Jesus’ human nature showed all the signs of human infirmities and the effects of some 4,000 years of degeneration. Yet, He was without sin. Similarly, the language of Scripture is human language, not some “perfect superhuman” language that no one speaks or is able to understand. While any language has its limitations, the Creator of humankind, who is the Creator of human language, is perfectly capable of communicating His will to human beings in a trustworthy manner without misleading us.
Of course, every comparison has its limits. Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture are not identical. The Bible is not an incarnation of God. God is no book. God in Jesus Christ became human. We love the Bible because we worship the Savior proclaimed in its pages.
The Bible is a unique and inseparable divine-human union. Ellen G. White saw this clearly when she wrote: “The Bible, with its God-given truths expressed in the language of men, presents a union of the divine and the human. Such a union existed in the nature of Christ, who was the Son of God and the Son of man. Thus it is true of the Bible, as it was of Christ, that ‘the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.’ John 1:14.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 8.
All true learning takes place in the context of faith. It is the implicit faith of the child toward his or her parents that enables the child to learn new things. It is a trusting relationship that guides the child to learn the basic and fundamental aspects of life and love. Knowledge and understanding, therefore, grow out of a loving and trusting relationship.
In the same vein, a good musician plays a piece of music well when he or she not only masters the technical skills that help one to play an instrument but also when he or she exhibits a love for the music, the composer, and the instrument. In a similar way, we do not understand the Bible correctly when we approach it with an attitude of skepticism or methodological doubt, but in a spirit of love and faith. The apostle Paul wrote, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6, NIV). Thus, it is indispensable to approach the Bible in faith, acknowledging its supernatural origin, rather than seeing the Bible just as a human book.
Seventh-day Adventists clearly have expressed this insight into the supernatural origin of Scripture in the first fundamental belief of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which states: “The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration. The inspired authors spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to humanity the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the supreme, authoritative, and the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the definitive revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history. (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Heb. 4:12; 2 Peter 1:20, 21.)”
What are people missing in their understanding of the Bible when they do not approach Scripture from an attitude of faith?
Further Thought: Read the following pages from the document “Methods of Bible Study”: “2. Presuppositions Arising From the Claims of Scripture,” part a “Origin” and part b “Authority.” (“Methods of Bible Study” can be found at www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/bible-interpretation-hermeneutics/methods-bible-study.)
As essential as the Bible is to our faith, it alone would be of no real spiritual value to us were it not for the influence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds as we read and study it.
“In His word, God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of experience. . . . Yet the fact that God has revealed His will to men through His word, has not rendered needless the continued presence and guiding of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, the Spirit was promised by our Saviour, to open the word to His servants, to illuminate and apply its teachings. And since it was the Spirit of God that inspired the Bible, it is impossible that the teaching of the Spirit should ever be contrary to that of the word.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 9.