Friday, 4 May 2007

The Bible: A Religious Book, an Enlightening Book, an Historical Book, or a Book with a Message?

For millions of Christians, the Bible is the world’s most treasured, loved, appreciated, and revered book. Thus, they read it, study it, memorize it, preach from it, write songs from it, and defend it. Some have even given their lives to it. To date, Wycliffe Bible Translators boast over some 6,000 members from over 70 countries. Wycliffe workers have helped to complete nearly 600 Bible translations, making God's Word available to over 35 million people. Presently, Wycliffe members are involved in 1,700 translation projects.
[1] This is all because Christians believe the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself.

What has God revealed in the Bible? In the following paragraphs, I suggest that the Bible is a book with a particular message - an enlightening religious message which was progressively revealed in human history.

The Bible consists of sixty-six different books and was written at various periods during the space of about 1600 years in three different languages, by many different writers under dissimilar circumstances. These human writers are of several social ranks.
[2] Nonetheless, Evangelicals maintain that the Bible, in its numberless aspects and relations, is a unit which deals with only one theme: the redemption of Yahweh’s creation[3] through His appointed Messiah – Jesus Christ.

Several questions naturally come to mind one of which is: “How are evangelicals justified in claiming that these human writers, most of whom were unknown to each other, had a solitary theme in mind?” This is a just question and Evangelicals are incapable of proving that all the men who wrote the sacred Scriptures were consciously aware of their writings contributing to an ultimate theme. In fact, it cannot be demonstrated that they had a canon in mind.

Evangelicals are however justified by the Scriptural teaching “inspiration” which upholds the dual authorship of the Scriptures. Biblical inspiration could be defined as the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit on the mind of the human authors of the Bible thus making what they wrote not merely their own words but the very word of God.
[4] We are told that the Old Testament is “God-breathed”[5] and that “ spoke from Yahweh as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[6] By the same Spirit the New Testament authors were lead into “all truth.”[7] Thus it is conclusive that over a long period of 1,600 years, through the combination of various individuals, sources, circumstances, and languages, Yahweh by His Spirit graciously reveals to us the sole message of the Bible: the redemption of His creation through His appointed Messiah – Jesus Christ.

Many Bible passages could be used to prove that the Scriptures point to Christ, the Redeemer of Yahweh’s creation. We shall only note a few:

a. The Testimony of the Old Testament
One of the models of Jesus in the Old Testament is that of a “descendant” of Abraham. Through this seed Yahweh promised to bless all the families of the earth.
[8] Moses also prophesied of a prophet.[9] John Stott refers to “indirect pictures” that also pointed to Jesus and concludes that the Christian’s election, atonement, covenant, redemption et cetera “all began in the Old Testament in relation to God’s grace towards Israel.”[10] These “indirect pictures” include the Exodus, the mannar from heaven, and the sacrificial system, the suffering servant, the son of man, the shepherd, the son of David, and the kinsman redeemer.

b. The Testimony of Jesus
Christ knew that He was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Old Testament. He maintained that the “Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms bore witness pointed to Him.
[11] Elsewhere He said that the Scriptures testify about Him,[12] that He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them,[13] and that His coming was written in the scroll.[14]

c. The Testimony of the New Testament Authors
The gospel authors wrote with the conviction that that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, hopes and expiations:
[15] His life was one of perfect obedience to Yahweh’s Law and by His death and resurrection He accomplished the promised redemption. The Epistles further demonstrates Christ fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies, types, et cetera, unfolds the glory of Christ’s divine-human person and saving work, and relates the life of the Christian and of the Church to Him.[16]


Though I disagree with his theological premise the black theologian James H. Cone, who unlike Barthian mysticism,
[17] rightly maintains that Yahweh makes His divine purpose and will known “through participation in human history.”[18] Garry Williams concurs, “The Bible commits us to be historical creatures. In telling the history of the world, it tells us of our place in it…Divinely revealed message occurred in history. Otherwise we would have some abstract never really incarnate Christ, born nowhere in particular, at a time of no significance.”[19] Consider John Stott’s remark, “Since biblical history is salvation history, history and theology are inseparable.”[20] Hence knowledge of redemptive history is necessary for a full grasp of biblical theme which speaks of something that was planned before time, but achieved and worked out in time.[21] Where does it all start?

a. The Protoevangelion
When Yahweh created the first human couple, Adam and Eve, He made with them the so-called “covenant of works.”
[22] Adam broke his covenant obligation which resulted in his death. That is, separation from Yahweh his Creator and his progressive physical degeneration.[23] Romans 5:12-21 reads, “… sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.”[24]

In His judgment on the Serpent
[25] Yahweh said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."[26] It is commonly held by theologians that this verse contains the protoevangeliun. Protoevangeliun is derived from the Greek prefix prw/toj "first" and the noun euvagge,lion "gospel" or "good news." Thus Genesis 3:15 is said to record the first Biblical reference to and presentation of the gospel, namely, one of the woman’s descendants would “crush” the Serpent’s head but that he[27] would be damaged in the process. To quote Anthony Hoekma this is the first “promise of a future redeemer.”[28]

The New Testament writers portray Christ as the promised Messiah and the one who through His physical death conquered spiritual and physical death which has plagued humanity since Adam.
[29] But this did not happen immediately after the Protoevangeliun. Eve’s promised Descendant came to redeem “when the time had fully come.”[30] Nonetheless, this Descendant was identified progressively in history.

b. Progressive Revelation
Anthony Hoekma agues that Genesis 3:15 is "the mother promise" which “sets the tone for the entire Old Testament…The further history of redemption will be an unfolding of the elements of this mother promise. From this point on, all the Old Testament revelation looks forward, points forward, and eagerly awaits the promised redeemer."

The author of Hebrews who wrote to persuade believers that Jesus is the fulfillment (and is therefore superior to) of the Old Testament sacrificial system commences his epistle with the statement, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son….”
[32] In this passage we note a difference in time and continuity (“in the past” and “in these last days”), a difference in objects (“to our fathers” and “to us”), a difference in medium (“through the prophets” and “by his Son”). We can notice how the author indicates the superiority and finality of God’s revelation in Christ when we consider the contrast in the time of revelation (in the past and in the present) and the nature of the mediums of communication (mere humans –the prophets, and deity -God’s Son).

The suggestion that God’s revelation in His Son is both final and superior to that of the Old Testament prophets should prove to us that Yahweh saw it fit to reveal His message to humans not at once but over a period of time. Thus revelation is progressive. Yahweh’s revelation through the prophets came “in various” such as angelic revelations and prophetic words. This revelation was also “at many times” that is “the whole vista of Old Testament history.”
[33] The latter is true especially in light of what Robert Reymond calls “blackouts of divine communication.”[34] So between Genesis 49:27 and Exodus 2:1 there is no divine revelation to “the fathers” for over four hundred years. There was also another four hundred year lapse after the passing of the last prophet, Malachi. This “blackout” ended with Gabriel’s appearance to Zachariah and thus the commencement of the New Testament canon.[35] In the New Testament we see Yahweh’s final revelation in Jesus in the teaching of Jesus Himself as well as in the words of the apostolic writers ad hoc epistles – all of which are Christocentric.

Let us look at an example of progressive revelation. Since we have already made mention of the descendant model of Jesus we shall use it as our example. In Genesis 3 Yahweh promises that Eve’s “descendant” would “crush” the Serpent’s head. About 2,000 years later we are told that that Descendant is going to be from the descendants of Abraham.
[36] Later, He is to come from the line of David.[37] Even later that He is to be born in Bethlehem[38] and is to be called Emmanuel,[39] and even later still, we are told that Jesus is this Emmanuel.[40] Paul identifies Him as Abraham’s seed.[41]

Since the Old Testament revelation prepared the way for God’s revelation through His Son
[42] William Lane is correct to conclude that “The revelation of God in the Son can only be understood within the context of God’s revelation to the prophets in the past…Those who are sons of the fathers understood that the word spoken through the Son constituted an extension of a specific history marked by divine revelation.” [43]

This idea of progressive revelation also adds weight to the Evangelical insistence on the unity of the Scriptures.

In light of what has just been said, we need to note that the Bible is not a historical book. That is, whilst the biblical message was given in a real historical context, the Bible is selective in its historical data.
[45] Also, we need to realize that whilst the Bible without error, its divine and human authors set out to produce neither a scientific nor a philosophical volume. In the Bible Yahweh gives us “special revelation” which we are unable to obtain either by either the natural science or social sciences. Having considered the message of the Bible we can conclude that the Bible is an enlightening religious book which with both Christians and non-Christians in mind.[46] This is true in three ways.

a. Salvation
We have already seen that the Bible has a single message and that this message as well as its aim are developed progressively in time. This progressive process is known as “redemptive history.” Several Bible passages tell us that knowledge of this Bible’s message is necessary for salvation irrespective of where one is in the stage of redemptive history. Romans 10:13-17: For "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?...Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

b. Knowledge of Yahweh
“Religion is either an illusion or it must be based on belief in the existence, revelation, and knowability of God,” wrote Herman Bavnick.
[48] True, special revelation is not necessary for knowing about Yahweh’s existence, character, and moral law.[49] Nonetheless, in the process of revealing the biblical theme Yahweh tells us about Himself. This revelation enlightens because the knowledge of Him which is gathered by observing the cosmos is clouded, distorted, and made unreliable by sin.[50] Some of the things we learn are that Yahweh is merciful, He is transcendent, and He is Trinity.

c. Growth
Thirdly, the biblical message and its “incidental” teachings inform us of God’s will and foster spiritual maturity.
[51] Paul told Timothy that Scriptures are “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus… is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”[52] We are told elsewhere that believers are nourished daily with God’s word.[53]

Whilst bibliolatry is sinful, the Bible deserves our respect and our time as in it God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Let us allow its message, and all the other themes that come with it to mould our knowledge, inform our consciences, sanctify our wills, and regulate our actions. Let us study the Bible diligently remembering our Lord’s high priestly prayer: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
[54] Finally, let us support those individuals and organizations which are involved Bible translation.


Barth Karl, Church Dogmatics 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975)
Bavnick Herman, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003)
Cone James H. A Black Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis, 1990),
Elwell Walter Evangelical Dictionary of theology (Baker: Grand Rapids, 1984
Geisler Norman L., Nix William E., From God to Us (Chicago: Moody, 1974)
Grudem Wayne, Systematic Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1994)
Guthrie Donald, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Hebrews (Leicester: IVP, 1983)
Hensen G. W., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Galatians (Leicester: IVP, 1993)
Hodge Charles Systematic Theology vol.1 (London: James Clarke, 1960),
Hoekema, Anthony,
The Bible and the Future, (Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979).
Lane, William L., Word Biblical Commentary – Hebrews 1-8 (Dallas: Word Books, 1991)
Reymond Robert L., A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Nelson, 1998)
Sheehan Robert J., The Word of Truth (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 1998)
Stott John Understanding the Bible –rev ed. (Milton Keynes: Scripture Union, 1972)
Edwards David, and Stott John, Essentials (London: Hodder, 1990)
Williams Garry, Audio seminar at Evangelical Alliance.
Young E.J., They Word is Truth (London: Banner of Truth, 1972)

Other Sources

Alexander T.D, From Paradise to the Promised Land -2nd ed (Cumbria: Paternoster, 2002)
Bruce F.F., The Cannon of Scripture (Glasgow: Chapter House, 1988)
Culver Robert D., Systematic Theology (Fearn: Mentor, 2005)
Goldsworthy Graeme, According to Plan (Leicester: IVP, 1991)
Kaiser Walter C. Jr., The Old Testament Documents (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001)
Olyott Stuart, Jesus is Both God and Man (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2000)
Packer J.I., Collected Shorter Writings of J.I. Packer - Honouring the Written Word of God vol.3 (Cumbria: Paternoster, 1999)
Wenham John, Christ and the Bible (London: Tyndale, 1972)

[1] 82% of all translation work currently being done.
[2] Statesmen, kings, priests, educated, Jews, peasants, herdsmen, fishermen, tax-gatherers, tentmakers, and uneducated, and Gentiles.
[3] That is the church and the cosmos.
[4] See Elwell Walter Evangelical Dictionary of theology (Baker: Grand Rapids, 1984), p.145-148 for more detail.
[5] 2Tim.3:16
[6] 2 Peter 1:20 - 2:1. All Scripture quotes are from The Holy Bible, New International Version ®, copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
[7] Jn.16:12-15.
[8] Gen.12:1-3 Cf 15; 49:10.
[9] Deut.18:15,18
[10]Stott John, Understanding the Bible –rev ed. (Milton Keynes: Scripture Union, 1972) p.8,9
[11] Lk.24:44 cf v27. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the Law of Moses refers the Pentateuch; the Prophets refer to the major and minor prophets as well as Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The “Writings” refers to the Poetic books as well as to Lamentations, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. See Geisler Norman, and Nix William E., From God to Us (Moody: Chicago, 1974), p.10
[12] Jn.5:39
[13] Matt.5:17
[14] Hebrews 10:7 cf Ps.40:6-8. See also Matt.13:16,17.
[15] Matt.1:22,23. Matthew speaks of the Old Testament being fulfilled twelve times (here, 2:15, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 15:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14,35; 21:4; 27:9). See also Luke 1:68-75
[16] Stott, p.14. See for example Gal.3:16, 23,24; Hebews; Colossians.
[17] Barth Karl, Church Dogmatics 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975), p.88ff
[18] Cone James H. A Black Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis, 1990), p.46.
[19] Williams Garry, CD recorded by the Evangelical Alliance.
[20] Edwards David, and Stott John, Essentials (London: Hodder, 1990),p.95.
[21] Stott, Understanding the Bible p.6
[22] See Grudem Wayne, Systematic Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1994) p.516. Reymond Robert L., A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Nelson, 1998),p. 404-5, 430-35, 439-40,
[23] Gen.2:17; 3:19, 22-23
[24] cf 1Cor.15:21
[25] The serpent is identified as Satan in Rev.12:9; 20:2
[26] Genesis 3:14-15
[27] That is, the woman’s descendant
[28] Hoekema, Anthony A., The Bible and the Future, (Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), p.4
[29] Heb.2:14-15; Rom.5:17; 1Timothy 1:10; Rev.1:18; 21:4
[30] Galatians 4:4-5
[31] Hoekma, p.5
[32] 1:1-2
[33] Guthrie Donald, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Hebrews (Leicester: IVP, 1983), p. 62
[34] Reymond, p.11-12
[35] Ibid
[36] Gen 12:7; 13:15; 17:7; 24:7.
[37] 2Sam.7:8-17; Ps.32:11 Ps.32:11, cf Is.9:6,7; Mic.4:1-5:15
[38] Mic.5:2 cf 4:8
[39] Is.7:14; 9:6-7
[40] Matt.1:21-23
[41] Gal.3:16. See Hensen G. W., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Galatians (Leicester: IVP, 1993), p.97-98.
[42] Guthrie, p.62
[43] Lane, William L., Word Biblical Commentary – Hebrews 1-8 (Dallas: Word Books, 1991), p.11
[44] See Hodge Charles Systematic Theology vol.1 (London: James Clarke, 1960), p. 446-7
[45] By no means am I suggesting that the biblical authors erred in their documentation of history. What I am saying is that whilst the biblical message was revealed progressively in human history, the human authors of the Bible only gave historical details as far as they contributed to their particular aim(s). Thus, biblical history is not exhaustive.
[46] See Sheehan Robert J., The Word of Truth (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 1998), p.29ff.
[47] Other passages are Jn.3:18; Acts 4:12; 1Tim.2:5-6; Heb.11:13
[48] Bavnick Herman, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), p.285
[49] Ps.19:1-6; Acts.14:16-17; Rom.1:19-21, 32; 2:14-15; 1Cor.8:10; Heb.5:14; 10:22.
[50] Jer.17:9; Rom.2:14-15,
[51] Deut.29:29; Ps.1:2; 119:1, 105; Jn.5:3. Grudem, p.119-121.
[52] 2 Timothy 3:15-17
[53] Matt.4:4 cf Deut.8:3; 32:47; 1Pet.2:2, 23-25.
[54] Jn.17:17 cf Ps.119:142. See Young, p.161ff for a discussion on Jn.17:17.

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