How is it that the Bible arrives in the form we have it?
The Apostle Paul, along with Timothy, writing to the church in Thessalonica said:
‘we thank God continually because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
The word received, was handled down by God through those who had first heard it and their job was to tell others.
Of course that begs the question – how can the Bible be from men but really from God? How can we be sure that humans who spoke and wrote actually have the spoken and written word that God wanted them to express?
2 Peter 1 is helpful. Peter, speaking as one who received scripture and recorded it, says this:
‘We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the powers and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.’ (2 Peter 1:16)
How was it that they were eyewitnesses of this? Read on:
[Jesus] ‘received honour and glory from God the Father when he announced from the heavens ‘this is my son whom I love, with him I am well pleased’ (2 Peter 1:17)
How amazing would that be? From the heavens a voice comes down and announces something to the world. And there is Peter watching on. If you were standing there and suddenly a voice like that spoke and it spoke about a person – you would look to see who it was. That would be amazing.
Twice during Jesus’ time on earth he was identified by a voice from heaven booming out this confirmation. The first was at his baptism. In Matthew 3, Jesus comes with the crowds into the Jordan river to John the Baptist. As soon as he is baptised, the heavens open and the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove and rested on Jesus, and with that a voice from heaven rang out ‘This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17 c.f. Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).
The second was at what was called the transfiguration – and it was this event that Peter was probably talking about in 2 Peter 1. It is recorded in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9. Peter and James and John, disciples who all went on to record scripture, went up with Jesus onto a mountain and before them Jesus suddenly transfigured and shone like the sun. With him appeared Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament and then from the heavens a voice called out ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him’ (Matthew 17:5 c.f. Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35)
Peter (along with James and John) is standing as one of the eyewitnesses to this amazing event. As Jesus’ constant companions, Peter, James and John also witnessed the many words, actions and miracles of Jesus. And it is this Jesus that Peter is testifying about.
‘we have the word of the prophets made more certain and you will do well to pay attention to it…above all, you must understand that no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’
(2 Peter 1:19-20)
He is saying that the Holy Spirit of God, who lives in all believer’s, did a special work in taking the eyewitnesses accounts and producing Scripture. It is God’s way of using human writers to record his words for the benefit of those who pay attention to it.
It helps us to understand why the individual books of the Bible are so different and yet so united in its overall message. Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Matthew, John, Peter, Luke, Paul, James and others wrote – and God used their individual style to communicate exactly what he wanted recorded so that the generations that would follow would have his words to read.
The fact that, the Bible from Old to New Testament, has approximately 40 human writers, in three different languages, over a 2000 year period of history, all telling God’s story of redemption in a way that connects the dots from creation to salvation through to a new creation is in itself a marker of God’s hand.
With the Bible, we have the most historically attested ancient document in all history (see the excursus regarding the reliability of the Bible).
Because the Bible is what it is (God’s own Word), it can do what it does (in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training its readers). And so we should not be surprised that because the Bible is what it is (God’s own Word) it is enabled to do what it does (to grow us in the way God wants us to grow).
Essential for a Christian should be a willingness to listen and obey God’s voice over that of the world.
For more in this Series:
Listening to the Word
Grounded in the Word
God makes himself known – look around!
God makes himself known – look at ourselves!
God makes himself known – look his Word!
How can the Bible be from men but also from God?
What does a Christian do with the Bible?
How can I trust that what was written down in the Bible is reliable?