- All the streams of Christianity tracing their origins back to the Protestant Reformation (Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic) affirm the Bible as the primary source of authority given to us by God for all matters of faith and conduct. It is more foundational than personal experience, human reason or church tradition. In practice however such affirmations are frequently contradicted by how Christians live.
- The Bible Society records that only 20% of Australian Christians regularly read their Bibles. This neglect of Scripture is another symptom of the discipleship crisis in the contemporary Church.
- There are a range of possible reasons for the decline in the place of the Bible in the life of the average Western Christian.
- There has been a movement away from written texts to images.
- There is a quest for immediate experiences of the Spirit.
- Revelation tends to be pursued in the context of personal vision rather than insight into the text or testimony of God’s plan in scripture. My story is paramount.
- There seem to be more sure-fire methods of reaching happiness and prosperity (such as business principles) than the difficult task of understanding scripture,
- Professionalization of ministry means that others are implicitly employed to read/teach scripture on our behalf i.e. pastors become mediators of scriptural truth, rather than “equipping the saints” to read the Bible (Eph 4:12).
- We are “too busy” to spend much time reading the Bible; in practice this means other things have a higher priority.
- A younger generation reacts to the fundamentalist world view associated with a literal approach to Scripture that is seen to be dogmatic, legalistic and militant.
- There is the lack of genuine prophetic preaching and teaching in the Church i.e. Bible-based proclamation that carries the stamp and authority of immediate inspiration in a specific context. The common state of the people of God bears witness to this truth, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Prov 29:18). Many Christians live as if God was not directly interested in their lives.
- Finally however we must come back to the relationship between the discipleship of Jesus and our personal discipleship mediated through Scripture. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”(John 15:10 ESV). Jesus defined discipleship making as “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19); such commands are only recorded in the Bible.
- Obedience requires submission of the will; Jesus remarked, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” (John 7:17 ESV)
- Our greatest difficulty in understanding the Bible is not its unfamiliar cultural, linguistic and spiritual world, but that it is God’s story with a place for us and not our story with a place for God.
- We cannot control this book’s message because God speaks sovereignly and concretely by his Spirit through its pages by means of his history with humanity. Pre-eminently he speaks in the life story of “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:4), and in such a way that the story judges who we are and calls us to repentance.
- It is a story that challenges all other stories, exposing the idolatries at the heart of all ideologies, races, nations, families and individual narratives. Avoidance of the Bible is a clear sign of an attempt to maintain the worship of false gods; whatever these may be e.g. materialism.
- This is not to affirm that the Bible is some sort of self –contained power or authority; this is the error of bibliolatry, or “Bible-worship.
- If the Bible is an exposition of God’s ways of grace and judgement with man, climactically revealed in the life of Christ, then only disciples who follow Jesus as Lord in the way of the cross can expect to understand the scripture as a living reality (Luke 9:23; 14:27; Acts 7:38; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Heb 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23).
- We must understand scripture as the medium of “the word of life” (Acts 5:20; Phil 2:16; 1 John 1:1). The divine purpose of Scripture is to impart to us a Jesus shaped life, this involves daily death to self and rising again in the power of the resurrection (2 Corinthians 4:10; Phil 3:10).
- We read the Bible because through it Jesus shares himself – his own love, joy, sorrow, peace, and so on with the Father in the power of the Spirit, through which we are included in the purposes of the coming of the kingdom of God.
- Only in this way is the whole Bible experienced today as the living story of Jesus: past, present and future.
Towards the end of my first year of a science degree something begun to happen that I never anticipated, I lost all motivation to relate seriously with my friends and was no longer interested in girls, parties and drinking. Gradually I found myself slipping into a depression of meaninglessness. Around this time I started to develop some physical symptoms indicating something was wrong inside. There was a skin condition that kept breaking out over an extended period, this was diagnosed by a dermatologist as stress related. Then there were chest pains – the university GP referred me to a cardiologist who did an ECG that showed up normal. This was good news in the sense that my dad had a chronic heart condition, but not so encouraging for me when I was told the problem was psychosomatic. No further help was offered in either of these situations and I certainly felt both my parents would be bereft of understanding if I had tried to share with them in any meaningful way.
As I began to feel worse about life I decided to cut myself off from all sensitivity and enjoyments. I reckoned life without feeling had to be better than a life in pain. I deliberately withdrew from all social engagements with other human beings. I also stopped eating all sweet things and persuaded myself that behaviouristic models of human behaviour – we are no more than complex conditioned animals – were true. By this stage my whole life was nothing more than driving from home to university and back. Irrational fears started to creep in until I was too frightened to walk down a public street or visit the local shops. The more I tried to live devoid of feeling the more my moods became dark, today I think I would be diagnosed as clinically depressed. There was no hope or joy in my life – just ever better results at study.
One day as I was sitting in the basement of the university library and feeling particularly bad, a line of thought started to form in my head (I prided myself in being logical and scientific). It went something like this: “If there is meaning in life there must be life after death, for if there is no life after death then it doesn’t matter what happens in our lives now – whether we are rich or poor, healthy or sick, if it all comes to nothing in the end then when we die it’s all meaningless. If there is life after death this will require a miracle. (As a biology student I was convinced of this as a fact.) If there is a miracle this requires a God, no God no miracles. You need to read the Bible as the Bible is meant to be about God.” This is where the internal dialogue ended for the day and I thought nothing more of it.
The next day when I returned home I discovered a box full of books sitting on our kitchen table. These had been sent down from a neighbour and were ours to have or discard. Sorting through the books, most of which were cheap novels, I discovered a modern translation of the New Testament. Immediately I snuck it off to my room, not wanting anyone, especially my father, to know that I intended to read the Bible. Over the next nine months or so I read the scripture in secret, and having obtained a full Bible from the university library ended up going through the whole of the book twice. This was a powerful experience.
I became deeply persuaded of two things, first, that God had always loved me but that I had never loved him. I began to call this “sin”. Second, accompanying this was a terrible fear; inside I knew that if I happened to die in this state I would be outside of the experience of the love of God forever. I could only call this a most dreadful fear of hell and I would never want anyone to feel as I then felt. Almost all of this was happening as a private experience. Finally I was utterly desperate to do something about my estranged state – it was so horrible. Subsequently I made contact with a Christian group at the university, prayed the “sinner’s pray”, started to go to church and so on.
The Bible continued to occupy a foundational role in my life. I remember being able to quote large portions by heart, I made my own hand written summary of the whole of scripture summarising its contents paragraph by paragraph, I had file cards with Bible verses on them to memorise, I taped myself reading sections of scripture that I could listen to whilst I was driving in the car and so on. This amount of energy proved unsustainable, and as my general spiritual devotion lessened so did the amount of time spent reading the Bible. By the time I entered theological college 6 years after my conversion my approach to scripture was primarily intellectual.
This emphasis lasted quite a long time, including the years when I was pastoring in the Anglican Church. The renewal in my approach to scripture came mainly through encounters with God in prayer; this led to a greater devotion to the person of Jesus and seeking to hear his Spirit speak prophetically through the words of the Bible, about himself and the issues of his kingdom.
The Bible is the Story of Jesus
- Though scripture contains various forms e.g. laws, it is primarily God’s own story with a place for us. This story falls into 4 chapters: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation.
- God made all things by and for his Word, who is his Son; “all things were made through him and for him” (Col 1:16; cf. John 1:3; 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:2). Creation through the Word opened up the possibility not only of verbal but also written communication from God to humanity.
- God’s purpose was that that through the creation of humanity in his image the divine likeness and glory might fill all things (Hab 2:14; Isa 11:9).
- The full revelation of the sonship with which Adam was created (Luke 3:38) required a maturation in wisdom and knowledge. This was to come through submission to the express Word of God; to obey God’s Word would have brought divine revelation of good and evil (Gen 2:17).
- The Fall of humanity into sin meant the loss of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) and entry into a state of darkness where the revelation of God mediated through nature, humanity and conscience was corrupted, darkened and distorted by evil and idolatry (Rom 1:18-22). This witness, though real, lacked the power to redeem; ““Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.””(Acts 14:15-17 ESV) ().
- Humanity’s enslavement to evil powers meant that God needed to detail his saving will for for human life through inspired writings. In his grace, the Lord inspired a reliable written record of his redemptive dealings with humanity. “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-21 ESV); “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). The scripture in mind here is what we call the Old Testament; but the Hebrew Scriptures in themselves lacked the power to transform human nature.
- The fullness of divine revelation could not come in a book, but only in a life completely obedient to the divine will, in Jesus himself, the essential Word of God in human form (John 1:1, 14; 19:13). The image in which humanity was created is only completely present in its fullness in him; “he is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15; cf. Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 4:4; Heb 1:1 – 3). All the divine attributes originally intended to be found in man as his glory are embodied uniquely in Christ (Col 1:19; 2:3, 9 etc.).
- Jesus took on the likeness of our fallen humanity and completely submitted to God’s Law (Rom 8:4; 10:4) triumphing over all the powers of evil. In this way he summed up the history of all humanity and Israel, consummating God’s plan of redemption by his death, resurrection and glorification.
- The whole Bible finds its centre and circumference in its testimony to the person of Christ.
The Old Testament
- The part of the Bible preceding the Incarnation of Jesus is a great puzzle to many Christians, the proper way to resolve this confusion is to consider how Jesus and the New Testament writers viewed our Old Testament.
- Jesus saw himself as the fulfilment of the earlier scriptures. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. (John 5:39, 46); “ And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25 -27).
- That the Hebrew Scriptures were a mirror of Christ is also the apostolic teaching, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” (1Pet 1:10- 11)
- In the OT however Jesus and his salvation are not presented directly, but under various types, ceremonies, figures of speech and visual images which are a shadow (Heb 8:5; 10:1) or ‘foretaste’ of the direct reality which the NT unveils e.g. “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”(1 Corinthians 10:1-4 ESV)
- The OT could not contain the depth of revelation which was possible when Christ, the Word of God, came in person. For example, that the heavenly inheritance of the people of God is only symbolised by the gift of the Promised Land and material prosperity is not clearly discerned under the old covenant. This is because the OT has no real eschatology, the “last things” of God’s final purposes could only be revealed when the “last One” came (Rev 1:7; 2:8; 22:13). Thus the temporary nature of the Promised Land and material prosperity is clearly manifest in the light of Christ’s first and promised second coming, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:17-21 ESV)
- This is not to suggest that the Old Testament contains error, but its teaching is partial and veiled. “The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted: the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or not at all perceived before. The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view. Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but is only perfected, extended and enlarged.” (B.B. Warfield)
- In terms of scripture reading, Augustine famously said, “The New Testament in the Old lies concealed. The Old in the New is revealed”. The bridge between the two testaments is found in the numerous types that connect them, all of which in some way revolve around Jesus (see Appendix 1.). For example, in the Old Testament Israel is the “son of God” (Ex 4:22 -23; Isa 43:6; Hos 11:1), a reality fulfilled in Jesus (Matt 2:15; Mark 1:1; John 1:18; Luke 3:22 -38); covenant is at the heart of Old Testament religion (Gen 15:17; Ex 19:5 -6; 2 Sam 7:14; Isa 42:6; 49:8; Jer 31:31 -34), the new and eternal covenant is in Jesus himself (Matt 26:26- 28; Heb 12:24; 13:20); the Mosaic law guides the old covenant people (Ex 20; Lev ; Deut 5; Ps 1; 19), Jesus himself is the fulfilment of the law (Matt 5:17 -18; Rom 10:4) etc.
- There are great differences between the scope of the Old and New Testament stories. The former focuses around one people, Israel, the latter reaches out to all nations. The prophets do possess such a vision, recognising that nothing less than a transformation of human nature through the Spirit and a new covenant offering unconditional forgiveness (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:26-27) can bring God’s planned redemption to consummation on a global scale. Even when their perspective involves the conversion of the nations through the triumph of Messiah, it is to Zion (Jerusalem) that they are gathered (Ps 2; Isa 9:6-7; 40:1-11; 49:1-6; 55:4-7; 60:22; 61:1 f; Jer 12:14-16; Zech 2:11). Only the coming of the Word in flesh could break the boundaries of national and religious consciousness.
The New Testament
- The Gospels hold a preeminent place in Scripture because of the immediacy of their testimony to the person and work of Christ.
- The new revelation that was previously unanticipated was the coming of the Son of God in human form; “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV). Unlike with the prophets, the Word of the Lord never “came” to Jesus, for the history of Jesus is the history of the Word in the world (John 1:9- 10).
- The impact of the life of Jesus on the first disciples moved them to write biographies (Gospels) that are witness documents; “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24 ESV)
- It is the power of the gospel that generates the Gospels; “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1 ESV). The “gospel” is a proclamation of God’s saving purposes revealed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, making a claim that all people should obey and follow him i.e. become his disciples. The whole of the Bible serves the purpose of the gospel e.g. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Gal 3:8). This is most plainly true in the Gospels with their specific “good news” language (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; 26:13; Mark 1:14-15 etc.), but also applies to all of scripture.
- This is true for the rest of the New Testament, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:1-6 ESV). This statement of Paul’s about the purpose of his ministry, which includes his writings, is equivalent to the Great Commission given by Jesus (Matt 28:18-20).
- That scripture exists to testify/witness to Jesus is most explicit in the introduction to the book of Revelation, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Rev 1:1- 2 cf. 1:9)
- The Bible is Holy Scripture, that is, has authority in the Christian Church, because the voice of the living Christ speaks through it in the power of the Holy Spirit, “What does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even though Peter or Paul teach it; again, what preaches Christ is apostolic even though Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod do it.” (Luther)
- In one way or other, the writers of scripture were authorised and inspired by the Spirit to pen these documents because they were taken up into the life of the Word himself. It is the shape and character of the life of Jesus, reflected in scripture, which is the key to its importance and authority.
- The message of scripture, from creation to consummation, is parallel with the story of Christ’s life; “”I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”” (Rev 22:13); “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16 ESV). Jesus is “the heir of all things” (Heb 1:2) of which the scripture speaks, not merely because he is their creator and sustainer (John 1:3; Heb 1:3), but because he is the Word made flesh, a human being, fully obedience to the Father, the substance of that sonship for which humanity was created. Prologue
- The opening of John’s Gospel concludes with a purpose statement, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18 ESV). The expression “he has made him known” comes from a Greek word (ἐξηγεῖσθαι/exegeisthai….exegesis) which has the sense of “draw out/expound the meaning”. The Son/Word expounds the meaning of God as Father through his human life. This is the testimony that is the heart of the Bible.
- Jesus himself showed devotion and obedience to the scriptures because they were a spiritual mirror in which he saw the form of life which was his true identity as Son of God. This means that he saw himself as the fulfilment of the earlier inspired writings; “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. (John 5:39, 46); “And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25 -27).
- The fulfilment of scripture was deeply internalised in Jesus’ life, for example, after reading form the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus said, ““Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”” (Luke 4:21 ESV). The fulfilment of the scriptures was understood by Christ to be something which had to be enacted in the course of his life; ““For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” (Luke 22:27 cf. John 13:18; 17:12). According to Jesus, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
- Similarly, “it is written” had definitive authority in the life of Jesus; when tempted by Satan he constantly replied from scripture introduced by “it is written” (Matt 4:4, 7, 10). The written word must be submitted to. This applied to his suffering and death, “the Son of Man goes as it is written of him” (Mark 14:21) as well as to many other elements of his journey (Matt 11:10; 21:13; 26:24, 31).
- After his resurrection Jesus retrospectively refers his disciples back to this same principle of authority, “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”” (Luke 24:44-47 ESV)
- Jesus’ obedience to scripture must not be understood as submission to an external principle of authority as if his relationship with God was somehow deterministic/legalistic (cf. Islam etc.). Rather, when Jesus heard and read scripture he heard the Spirit of his Father speaking about his own life. The Bible conveyed to him the goodness and wisdom of his Father’s will; ““The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7-11 ESV)
- Christ’s deepest motivation for reading, meditating upon and submitting to scripture was that this was the means by which he was united with his Father. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”(John 15:10 ESV). Jesus is not simply the “Word of life” (1 John 1:1) as the eternal Creator of all living things (John 1:1-3), but as a human being who contains in himself “life in all its fullness” because of his obedience to God’s revealed will (John 10:10; 1 John 5:11).
- The one great test of the biblical testimony of God’s faithfulness to his covenantal promises was the cross. Jesus tells his disciples of his fate, “it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered’” (Mark 14:27). The struggle to accept “the cup” in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36) is the need to go into a place of darkness where all the promises of God seem to be untrue, where the pledge of the Lord never to forsake the righteous (Deut 31:6, 8; Josh 1:5; 1 Ki 8:57; 1 Chron 28:20; Pss 37:25, 28; 94:14) must be suspended in the outpouring of the wrath of God upon the innocent Christ (Mark 15:34; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24). Jesus’ faith issues in resurrection and as such he becomes the perfected witness to God’s faithfulness (Heb 12:2). The gospel recorded for us in the New Testament is Jesus own testimony to the character of the Father.
- The events recorded in the Bible are not for Jesus ancient and past historical realities, they are part of his story and relationship with humanity, and as such they are living truths mediated through the Holy Scripture.
Abiding in the Word
- “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV). This implies that abiding (remaining in union with) the testimony of Jesus recorded in scripture is a prerequisite to the revelation of its truthfulness.
- In the New Testament itself the expression “word of God” refers pre-eminently to the gospel message (Acts 4:31; 6:27; 8:14; 11:1; 12:24; 13:7, 46; 17:13; 18:11; 1 Cor 14:36; Col 1:25; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 2:9; Heb 13:7; 1 Pet 1:23; Rev 1:2, 9; 6:9; 20:4).
- The gospel as the Word of God is the proclamation of what God has done and revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is an event of God speaking to us demanding a response.
- We read the Bible because the Spirit bears witness through it to Christ’s saving life, not as a past or historical reality but as a testimony of his present ascended and glorified state. The Bible has a single purpose and goal, to encourage us by promise and warning that the way to eternal life is through abiding in the life of Christ. “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”(1 John 2:3-6 ESV).
- In this way the scriptures function in our lives in exactly the same way that they operated in the earthly life of Christ, to perfect the image and glory of God in us. The scriptures “written” about us “must be fulfilled” (Rom 1:17; 8:36; 1 Cor 2:9; Gal 4:27; 1 Pet 1:16), not because of some deterministic/legalistic power and potency, but through our union with the Incarnate Word.
- The Bible is a spiritual mirror in which we see Jesus and our relationship through him with God the Father through him. The Bible is “Christ’s swaddling clothes and the manger” (Luther).
- We abide in Christ and become united to him spiritually through the internalisation of the incarnate Word, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16).
- The current neglect and confusion about the place of the Bible in the Church is indicative of a deep deception. Where the Church is subject to dominant cultural values, for example, pragmatism, it will find that the Holy Scriptures will “not work for it”. As such it will turn to other sources of inspiration and authority e.g. the realm of business.
- God is not a passive observer to the Church’s falling away from the grace offered in scripture. The authority of God’s Word is not subject to our personal preferences but is an expression of his own sovereign rule over all things; ““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”” (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV). The neglect of Scripture is not only a function of sin, but a sign of judgement!
- The only way forward out of this experienced state of dereliction is to refocus on Christ to whom the whole Bible witnesses. The Bible’s sole importance to a Christian is that we are united to Jesus through obedience to the revelation of God in scripture as the Son was united to the Father by his obedience to its testimony. Our passion for Jesus is necessarily mirrored in our passion to read scripture as the medium of his revelatory life.
- This means that our approach to the Bible at both a personal and public level must be Christomorphic, we must read and meditate upon the message of scripture in terms of the “whole Christ” in the context of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This means adhering to the shape and direction of Jesus’ own scripture informed conscience, “And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)
- The conclusion is inescapable, Christians avoid the power of the Word of God because they think it will accuse, condemn or manifest divine anger towards them. The truth is that it is a Word full of grace, but a grace whose fullness cannot be divorced from the suffering and difficulties of discipleship (John 1:14; Acts 14:3; 20:32). Only through embracing this hard journey do we become aware that we are indissolubly united with the incorruptible word that has come to living expression in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Pet 1:23-25). This imparts to the faithful disciple hope and assurance of things to come.
Appendix 1: Old Testament Types Fulfilled in Christ
|Theme||Old Testament||New Testament|
|election||Gen 12:1- 2; Deut 7:7 -8||Eph 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20|
|covenant||Gen 15:17; Ex 19:5 -6; 2 Sam 7:14; Isa 42:6; 49:8; Jer 31:31 -34||Matt 26:26- 28; Heb 12:24; 13:20|
|descendants||Gen 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 16:10; 18:18||Matt 1:1; Acts 3:25 -26; Gal 3:16; Heb 2:10; Rev 5:9 -10|
|land||Gen 12:7; 13:14 – 15; 15:18- 21; 17 – 8||Heb 11:16; Rev 21:1- 5|
|exodus||Ex 12- 15; Ps 78; Isa 40:3- 4; Jer 16:14- 15||Luke 9:31; 1 Cor 5:7; Col 1:13|
|Israel/sonship||Ex 4:22 -23; Isa 43:6; Hos 11:1||Matt 2:15; Mark 1:1; John 1:18; Luke 3:22 -38|
|law||Ex 20; Lev ; Deut 5; Ps 1; 19||Matt 5:17 -18; Rom 10:4|
|sabbath||Gen 2:2; Ex 20:8 -11; Deut 5:12 -15||Mk 2:28; Rev 1:10|
|temple||Ex 25 -31; 1 Ki 5 -8||John 1:14; 2:19 -21|
|sacrifice||Gen 4:2- 4; Ex 12; 29 -30; Lev 16; 1 Sam 5:22; Ps 50:5||John 1:29; Rom 8:3; 1 Cor 5:7; Heb 9- 10; Rev 5:6- 10|
|prophet||Gen 20:7; Deut 18:15 – 19; Amos 3:7; 7:14 -15||Luke 4:16 -21, 24; 13:33; John 4:19; Acts 3:22 -23|
|priest||Lev 1:7- 17; 13 – 14; Num 1:47 -54||Mark 10:45; John 10:11; Rom 8:34; Heb 2:17; 3:1; 4:14 – 15; 7|
|king||1 Sam 8:4- 18; 2 Sam 7:14 -16; Ps 89; 132; Isa 9:6 -7; Ezek 34:20 – 24||John 1:49; Mark 15:32; Acts 2:29- 33; 13:23, 32 -34 ; 1 Cor 15:24 -28; Rev 19:16|
|kingdom of God||Ps 22:28; 24; Dan 2:44; 4:3; 7:13 -14;||Mark 1:15; Acts 14:22; 28:31; Rom 14:17; Col 1:13|
|Son of David||2 Sam 7:14||Matt 1:17 -20; 20:29 -31; Luke 1:30 -33; Rom 1:3|
|Son of Man||Ezek 2:1; Dan 7:13- 14||Mark 7:38; 8:31; 13:26 -27; 14:62; Acts 7:56|
|Anointed one (Messiah)||Ps 2:2; Isa 61:1; Dan 9:26 -27||Matt 16:16; Mark 1:1; Acts 10:38|
|Shepherd||Ps 23:1; Isa 40:11; Ezek 34:23||John 10:11; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4; Heb 13:20|
|wisdom||1 Ki 3:6- 9; 4:20 – 34; Isa 9:6; 11:2||Luke 2:46- 52; 11:31; 1 Cor 1:20 – 2:16; Col 2:2- 3|
|knowledge||Prov 1:7; Isa 11:2||1 Cor 2:16; Col 2:2- 3|
|captivity/exile||Gen 15:13; Jer 1:15 -16; 20:4 -6; Micah 4:10||John 1:14; Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 8:9|
|restoration||Isa 1:26; 49:6; Jer 30:18; Ezek 36:35; Amos 9:14||Matt 19:28; Acts 3:21|