What Does the Bible Say about Itself and Why Is That So Important?
Either he speaks, or we guess.
There are only two options when it comes to knowledge of a divine Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess.
And he has spoken. The God of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to reveal himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.
By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it, whether in favor or against.
In my recent book Before You Open Your Bible I discussed various heart postures for approaching God’s Word. But what claims does it make about itself? Here are eight.
1. The Bible Is Inspired
When Christians claim Scripture is “inspired,” what do they mean? Inspiration is about the relationship between God and the Bible’s authors. These men weren’t inspired in the way we typically use the word today—it’s not as if the apostle Paul saw a gorgeous sunset and then wrote Galatians. Nor does it mean he would enter some catatonic state, recite a bunch of words to a friend, then pick up the parchment and say, “Let’s see what God wrote!”
First and foremost, inspiration has to do with the fact that the Bible’s ultimate author is God.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16–17)
The entirety of the Bible is “God-breathed”—exhaled from God. No wonder it’s commonly referred to as God’s Word.
If God authored it, though, then what were Moses and David and Paul and John and all the rest doing? Weren’t they writing Holy Scripture, too? Exactly. The Bible was written by God and humans—or, more precisely, by God through humans. The apostle Peter explains it this way:
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:20–21)
In other words, God made sure the human authors wrote exactly what he wanted them to write—no more, no less.
These authors weren’t passive robots, however. God didn’t erase their personalities or commandeer their minds. They wrote as thinking, feeling human beings. God worked through their unique personalities and educations and backgrounds and experiences to enable—to inspire—them to write divine truth.
2. The Bible Is True
God’s Word is true because God’s character is true. He is not a liar; the God of truth cannot speak false words. To doubt the truthfulness of God’s Word is to doubt the truthfulness of God himself.
Some people think that while the Bible’s “spiritual” concepts are true enough, much of the other content (say, historical or geographical details) probably isn’t. But this assumption is false, for Scripture doesn’t make “any restriction on the kinds of subjects to which it speaks truthfully.” Besides, if the Bible isn’t fully reliable at every point, how can we be certain it’s fully reliable at any point?
Looking to Scripture itself, we find numerous claims to pervasive truthfulness (e.g., Pss. 12:6; 19:7–9; 119:160; Prov. 30:5–6; John 10:35; 17:17). Every word is described as flawless (Ps. 12:6; Prov. 30:5), eternal (Ps. 119:89; Isa. 40:8; Matt. 24:35), unbreakable (John 10:35), boundless in perfection (Ps. 119:96), and completely reliable (2 Pet. 1:19). Jesus affirmed it concisely: “[God’s] word is truth” (John 17:17). Scripture’s truthfulness is so comprehensively assumed, in fact, that entire arguments can hinge on appeals to a single word (Matt. 22:45), the number of a noun (Gal. 3:16), even the tense of a verb (Matt. 22:32).
When properly interpreted, the Bible will never mislead you. What it says, God says.
3. The Bible Is Authoritative
God owns the universe he verbalized into existence. And his loving authority, intended for our good, is exercised through his Word. In fact, God has so identified himself with Scripture that to disbelieve or disobey it is to disbelieve or disobey him.
True, the Bible isn’t the only authority. There are other rightful authorities, such as parents (Eph. 6:1–2), pastors (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:5), and government officials (Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–14). None, however, is above God’s Word. The Bible is the supreme court. This means the correctness of every belief, value, opinion, statement, and sermon is finally settled by the question: what does the Bible say? Jesus himself appealed “to each part of Scripture, and to each element of Scripture, as to an unimpeachable authority.”
Kings don’t give advice; they give orders. Obedience to the Word of God, therefore, is not optional. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves,” the apostle James writes. “Do what it says” (James 1:22).
As countercultural and counterintuitive as it may feel, submission to God’s Word is where true life and freedom are found.
As J. C. Ryle remarked, “Happy is the man who possesses Bible! Happier still is he who reads it! Happiest of all is he who not only reads it but obeys it.” As countercultural and counterintuitive as it may feel, submission to God’s Word is where true life and freedom are found.
4. The Bible Is Clear
The Bible is an ancient document. It can feel foreign. Some parts are confusing (2 Pet. 3:16). Nevertheless, the Bible is clear enough. As the psalmist says, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:130). God commands parents to teach the Bible to their children (Deut. 6:6–7).
I’ve heard it said that Scripture is shallow enough for a child to wade, but deep enough for an elephant to swim. I think that’s profoundly right.
Sometimes Scripture is difficult to understand because it’s talking about complicated things. Often, however, it’s hard to grasp because we simply don’t like what it says. As Mark Twain famously quipped, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible I can’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I do understand.” Often it’s not that the Bible is unclear, but that we’re unreceptive.
5. The Bible Is Sufficient
Scripture contains all the words from God that we need in order to know him truly, trust him fully, obey him perfectly, and enjoy him abundantly. Peter says God has given us “everything we need for a godly life” through the knowledge available in the Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:3). Likewise, Paul says, the Bible is so complete that through it we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work”—“thoroughly” and “every,” not “partly” and “most” (2 Tim. 3:16). It doesn’t get more comprehensive.
While the Bible may not tell us everything we want to know, it does tell us everything we need to know. Its truth isn’t exhaustive, but it is enough (Deut. 29:29; Prov. 25:2). It contains all we need to know in order to be saved (2 Tim. 3:15; James 1:18, 21; 1 Pet. 1:23) and to obey God in faith (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:3–4). No wonder severe warnings accompany adding to or removing any of its words (Deut. 4:2, 12:32; Prov. 30:5–6).
“The case can be made that every corruption of biblical Christianity begins by compromising the principle of sufficiency,” one author observed. “Every deviation from Christianity established by Christ and the apostles begins by adding to the Bible or by taking away from it. Every deviation is the Bible plus or minus something.”
6. The Bible Is Powerful
Since the Bible’s ultimate author is God, it is a book of unparalleled power. Its words are strong enough to melt hearts (Jer. 23:29) and change lives (John 17:17; cf. Rom. 1:16; 1 Thess 1:4–5). The book of Hebrews states:
The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)
Saying the Bible is powerful is another way of saying it’s effective. The Holy Spirit uses it to accomplish his plans (Isa. 55:10–11). The book is an instrument of action in God’s all-powerful hand.
It is crucial to realize that God intends his Word not simply to engage our minds, but also to change our hearts. As one person put it, “The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life.”
7. The Bible Is Christ-Centered
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not simply a collection of ethical principles, moral platitudes, or abstract life lessons. It is a thrilling story.
And the story is not ultimately about you and me. In Luke 24, the resurrected Savior appears to two followers on the road to Emmaus. Luke recounts what happened:
[Jesus] said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25–27)
Later, after appearing to his 11 disciples, Jesus says to them:
“This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44–45)
It wasn’t just after his resurrection that Jesus spoke this way, however. During his earthly ministry he explained to the “Bible experts” of the day his central place in the great story:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. . . . If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John 5:39–40, 46)
It’s been rightly noted that the Old Testament is “Jesus Christ concealed,” and the New Testament is “Jesus Christ revealed.” From beginning to end—Genesis to Revelation—the plotline of Scripture anticipates, spotlights, and finds its ultimate resolution in God’s redeeming Son. And perhaps the most stunning thing about this story is that the central character loves us back.
8. The Bible Is Precious
The Bible is the most valuable treasure in the universe. It’s our food (Jer. 15:16), our life (Deut. 32:46–47), our comfort (Ps. 119:50), our strength (Ps. 119:28), our guidance (Ps. 119:105), our desire (Ps. 119:20), our hope (Ps. 130:5), our love (Ps. 119:97), our joy (John 15:11), and our treasure (Ps. 119:72).
Did you know that even Leviticus and Chronicles and Obadiah were written to encourage you?
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4)
Everything. Paul is going so far as to claim the entirety of the Old Testament was written for you—to instruct you, to encourage you, to help you endure, and to flood your heart with hope.
And while we must avoid “bibliolatry”—treasuring Scripture more than its Author—it’s striking to note how inseparably connected God’s Word is with God himself (Ps. 56:4; 119:48). Indeed, to abandon it is to abandon him. Until Jesus returns and our faith becomes sight, we must live in the “age of the ear.” “For now,” Augustine said, “treat the Scripture of God as the face of God. Melt in its presence.” Or as one great preacher remarked, “To me the Bible is not God, but it is God’s voice, and I do not hear it without awe.”
The Bible is a bottomless treasure chest of beauty and wonder. It claims to be inspired, true, authoritative, clear, sufficient, powerful, Christ-centered, and precious. May God help us to treat it as such.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.