I have spent most of my life reading the Bible, quoting the Bible, preaching from the Bible, and highlighting the foundational importance of the Bible to all sincere Christians. But I don’t worship the Bible; nor do I treat the Bible carelessly. I don’t suggest the Bible is something it was never meant to be. I respect the limits of the Bible and the dangers which come when it is mishandled or abused.
Most Christians I know refer to the Bible as ‘the Word of God.’ Let me say up front; the Bible is not the Word of God. With that one statement, I may have just lost a lot of readers! I hope not. I pray that you will stick with me and allow me to explain why I would say something so shocking, and yet so obvious and so important.
In the familiar opening words of the Gospel of John, the identification of Jesus as the Word of God is very clearly laid out. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” There is no way those words apply to a book, or a collection of books written by humans.
Later, John adds, “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Then he describes how John, the evangelist baptizing people in the wilderness, made it clear that Jesus Christ is the Word of God. So, quite simply put: Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Nothing could be more clear or more important.
When you read the Bible with that truth in mind, you will find that it makes so much more sense, and you will avoid the many pitfalls which come our way when reading and interpreting this ancient text. Every time you come across the phrase “Word of God” or “God’s Word,” substitute Jesus.
Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God (Jesus) 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.”
Psalm 119:105 “Your word (Jesus) is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
Luke 11:28 “He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God (Jesus) and obey …”
Psalm 33:4 “For the word of the Lord (Jesus) is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.”
James 1:21 “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word (Jesus) planted in you, which can save you.”
That raises the obvious question: If the Bible is not the Word of God, then what is the Bible?
The Bible makes Christianity (and Judaism) different from all other major religions of the world. Buddhism and Hinduism do not have sacred texts that guide their belief and actions. Islam has the Koran, but it is significantly different from the Bible. It was written by one man over a short period of time (20 years) in the seventh century.
Mormonism uses the Bible along with the sacred Book of Mormon written by one man in the 19th century (although he claims the book was written much earlier and given to him).
Judaism and Christianity are similar when it comes to sacred writings. In fact, Christianity incorporates the writings of Judaism into its Bible as the Old Testament, to go along with the New Testament. However, the composition of both the Old and New Testaments is similar. They are both collections of material composed over a long period of time, written by a plethora of authors.
I don’t think any of the biblical writers thought they were writing God’s word. Instead, they were writing what they knew, what they heard, what they experienced about God. The Bible is a collection of words about God, not a collection of God’s actual words to us. Although there are many times when the actual words of God as heard by men and women are included in the Biblical text, the bulk of the text are the words of the various human authors.
This is especially important to understand today when we have so many different translations of the Bible. What most of us are reading in the main translations like (KJV, NIB, NASB, RSV etc.) are not even the words of the original writers. They are a translation done by a group of men (not women) who had to determine the best possible English words and phrases to use to match the original languages of the Bible which are radically different to our own.
We don’t really know who wrote most of the original words of Scripture. Historically, names have been ascribed to various books and portions, some of which may be true, but we know already that some of those are inaccurate. For example, most people believe Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is hard for that to be true since a description of Moses’ death is contained in those writings. A few books of the Bible claim to have been written by a specific individual, others were named after a likely individual, and others are simply unknown.
The Bible was written by humans who took the time to put down on paper (or parchment or whatever they used at the time) their experiences with God. Their experiences were varied for many reasons. They happened at different times to people with different personalities and interests. Often they are consistent with one another, but sometimes they are in conflict. Many of the books were also dictated by someone and a scribe wrote down what they thought that person was saying.
The early chapters of Genesis contain two versions of the creation stories. At different times, God instructs people to destroy all the enemies, and other times God tells them not to. It seems God wanted Saul to be the king, but elsewhere it says God didn’t want the nation to have a king. The list of inconsistencies found throughout the Bible is long. You find them even in the New Testament. After being baptized, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, yet another passage places Jesus at a wedding in Cana only three days after His baptism.
Now in their attempt to keep the Bible from contradicting itself, scholars have written thousands more books full of very creative reasoning which explains how these are not really inconsistencies at all. They feel compelled to do this because if you believe the Bible is God’s Word, then it must not contradict itself. God would never say one thing and then later say something else. Scholars have even arrived at the point of arguing that the Bible is without error in the original documents, which, of course, we don’t actually have and never will and so how can they determine that?
Some blame the scribes who came along throughout history and made copies. Someone made a tiny mistake, and after being copied and recopied countless times, some mistakes became larger. But that’s OK; God’s Word was perfect when given, humans just messed it up.
Even if I accept that reasoning, how does that help me? If the Bible is God’s Word, but we no longer have large portions of that Word, it feels like we might be missing something vitally important. I guess you could say that God made sure we preserved the important parts, but now you’re just guessing; there’s no way to know that.
There must be a better way than trying to make the Bible something it’s not. Rather than being God’s Word to humans, the Bible is human words about God. The Bible is a collection of writings produced over time by men (and probably not women, sadly). They recorded their experiences of God and what that taught them about God.
I’m not saying their writings are not different than any of the millions of books that have been written since. The Biblical writings are vastly different. Paul understood this when he wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
The phrase “inspired by God” is one word in the Greek language and it means “God-breathed.” It means that Scripture is “God’s breath.” As the authors were putting pen to paper, God was breathing on the whole process. It doesn’t say God dictated or spoke the actual words to write down; God breathed. I’m not exactly sure what that means or how much it impacted the final words, but it does make the Bible very special – unique, in fact – unlike anything you and I have ever produced or ever will produce.
A further consideration is that God’s people have agreed that these documents are unique and deserve special consideration over the centuries. History records the arduous task of finding a consensus of which writings were God-breathed and should be included in the Canon of Scripture.
Let me now explain what I believe about the Bible. It is a collection of men’s (again, it’s a shame we have no women authors that we know of) experiences with God and what it meant to them. As they gathered these experiences and the teaching passed down to them from others, it all was lumped together with community legends and folklore and compiled, under the breath of God. In other words, Scripture is not God’s word; it is men’s words about God – inspired, guided by the ‘breath’ of God.
That last statement is really important. We believe that the whole processing of writing, compiling, sorting and affirming what is in the Bible was overseen by the Spirit of God. All this material, woven together under God’s oversight over many centuries, was further edited by the usage of people until Church leaders eventually got together, debated, prayed, voted and declared, “this is the Bible.” If you would like to read more about how the Bible was formed, click HERE.
I acknowledge that there would be many scholars, preachers and lovers of the Bible who would be chomping at the bit reading this blog. I can hear them shouting, “No! No! No! The Bible has to be the Word of God or we can’t trust any of it.” Why? What a strange thing to say. The Bible is full of ‘Thus says the Lord’ statements and so much of the theology in the Bible is backed up and reinforced by other writers in the Bible. The Holy Spirit was overseeing the whole process so there was a consistent message all the way through. That is so obvious.
Jesus Christ is the Word of God, and we learn most of what we know about Jesus from the Bible.
The Holy Spirit who was present when the Bible was written, compiled, and affirmed by the Church is the same Holy Spirit Who must be present when it is read, preached, and applied. That is when the true Word of God, Jesus Christ, is manifest in our midst.
When we really understand what the Bible is and what the Bible is not; when we know the vital role the Holy Spirit has in revealing the true Word of God (Jesus) to us through the Bible; when we give up the need to explain away the many differences, contradictions and inconsistencies in the Biblical text and seek the true Word of God through this ancient, precious, unique, God-breathed book – then the Bible will come alive and finally fulfil its true purpose!
Controversial or not, what I have written here is so vitally important to understand if the Bible is to have the full impact it was meant to have. The fact is, the Bible has turned more people away from God than it has led people to God – because those people were given the wrong impression of what the Bible is and is not.
The Bible may well be the highest selling book on the planet still, but, when misunderstood or mishandled, the Bible is the most dangerous book ever read and it has caused more division and conflict and even wars over the centuries than anything else ever written. God’s Word (Jesus) is revealed on almost every page of the Bible, once we stop thinking the Biblical text itself is God’s Word – then we will see God’s Word (Jesus) more clearly and embrace Him and His mission more completely.
There is one primary reason the Bible exists – that is to point us to Jesus Christ, the Word of God. When we allow the Bible to do that, it is without question the most powerful book ever written in all of history.