“The Bible is unlike any other book. There are thousands of sacred texts used by various religious groups searching for wisdom and life. But the Bible stands out from the rest, not only in terms of the number of ancient copies that have survived throughout history and its popularity around the world, but also in terms of what it is. The Bible is not merely the words of spiritual leaders or a book of instruction. It is the very word of God” (Joe Thorn).
Christianity unashamedly claims to be the custodian of God’s absolute, written authority. Having the word of God is essential to the Christian’s growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and essential to the local church’s maturity in Christ. The standards by which Christians and churches are to govern life in every detail are found in the pages of the Bible. We must therefore understand the role that the Bible plays in the life of the Christian and the church.
I. The Bible’s Authority
“The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Wayne Grudem).
A. Divine authorship
The Bible’s authority derives from its origin: It is the written word of God.
1. The Bible claims this authority for itself when it says that its words were breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Peter claims that the writers of Scripture spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16–21). Many passages in the Bible claim to be words directly from God.
2. God convinces his people of the truth of his word by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The truths of God must be taught by the Spirit because the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:13–14).
3. Because the Bible is the very word of God, we do not seek to prove its claims by outside sources. The words of Scripture are self-attesting.
B. Divine authority
Because it is God-breathed, the Bible claims absolute authority in the life of the Christian and the Christian church.
1. The Bible’s divine authority means that it tells us what to believe and how to behave.
2. Christians recognize the authority of the Bible, and therefore believe what it teaches (see Luke 24:25). This requires study, but once we have studied the text and understand it, we must believe it.
3. As Christians, we also recognize the authority of the Bible to tell us how to live (Joshua 1:8; 23:6; Matthew 5:17–19; 1 Thessalonians 2:13). It is to be both believed and obeyed.
4. The Bible does not claim exclusive authority, but ultimate authority, in the Christian’s and in the church’s life.
II. The Bible’s Clarity
“The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Wayne Grudem).
A. The Bible itself emphasizes that it is a book to be read and understood by every true Christian.
1. Blessings are pronounced upon those who read and understand God’s word (Psalm 1:2; Revelation 1:3).
2. The Bible is able to make wise those who are “simple” (Psalms 19:7; 119:130).
3. Parents are responsible to read, understand, and teach the Bible to their children (Deuteronomy 6:6–7).
4. Jesus held people responsible for not reading and understanding the Scriptures (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:42; 22:19, 31; etc.).
5. This does not mean that every passage of Scripture is equally clear to understand (see 2 Peter 3:15–16), but as the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith states, “the things that must be known, believed, and obeyed for salvation are so clearly set forth and explained in one part of Scripture or another that both the educated and uneducated may achieve a sufficient understanding of them by properly using ordinary measures.”
B. There are some passages of the Bible that must be studied in greater detail to be understood in greater clarity (2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 5:14).
1. The hard work of Bible study must include proper observation (what does the text say?); interpretation (what does the text mean?); correlation (how does the text relate to other parts of the Bible); and application (how does the text apply to the church and the Christian today?).
2. As we study the Scriptures, we must do so prayerfully relying on the Holy Spirit to teach us God’s truth (1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:14–17).
3. God will only reveal truth to the believer to the degree that he or she is willing to obey that truth (John 17:16–17).
C. The clarity of Scripture does not remove the responsibility of a Christian to bring him- or herself under the authority and teaching of a local church, nor does it remove the responsibility of pastors to instruct the churches they lead.
III. The Bible’s Necessity
The Bible is necessary if we will know certain things about God and what he expects of his people. God has given two sources of revelation: general revelation in creation, and special revelation in his written word. Each source of revelation is sufficient for the purpose for which it was given.
A. General revelation is sufficient to:
1. Convince us of God’s existence (Psalm 19:1–7; Acts 14:16–17; Romans 1:19–21).
2. Convince us of God’s character and our accountability to him (Romans 1:32; 2:14–15).
By convincing us of these two things, general revelation is sufficient to condemn us before God, but insufficient to point to the way of salvation.
B. Special revelation (i.e. the Bible) is sufficient—indeed, necessary—to:
1. Know the gospel (Romans 10:13–17).
2. Know how to live before God (Deuteronomy 8:3 [cf. Matthew 4:4]; 32:47; 1 Peter 2:2 [cf. 1:23–25]).
3. Know God’s will (Deuteronomy 29:29; Psalm 1:1–2; 1 John 5:3).
While general revelation may point to God’s existence and the reality that we have sinned against him, Scripture is necessary for us to learn how to get right with God and to live right before him.
IV. The Bible’s Sufficiency
Scripture comprehensively addresses all of our fundamental (non-physical) relational needs (with God, others, the world and oneself). The Bible is enough to teach us about God’s character, God’s commands, and God’s promises.
A. Sufficient to teach God’s character
1. It is impossible for the finite, human mind to grasp the infinite realities about God. But what must be known about God is revealed in the Bible.
2. Those who want to know who God is, and what he is like, must find the answers in the Bible.
B. Sufficient to teach God’s commands
1. God has not left us in the dark as to what he requires—as to what is ethically right and wrong.
2. Second Timothy 3:16–17 tells us that Scripture is sufficient to show us what is right (teaching), what is not right (reproof), how to get right (correction) and how to stay right (training in righteousness).
3. There are three major purposes of God’s law:
– First, God’s law is given as a MIRROR to reflect the character of God and the character that God requires of humanity. In that way, it points us to out need for Christ.
– Second, God’s law is given as a DETERRENT to curb human sinfulness.
– Third, God’s law is given to GUIDE Christians as to what is pleasing and displeasing to the Lord.
C. Sufficient to teach God’s promises
1. Scripture alone points us to the great promises of the gospel that are found in Christ.
2. All the Old Testament promises were fulfilled in Christ (e.g. Genesis 3:15; 2 Samuel 7:12–13; Isaiah 53; Isaiah 43:25; Ezekiel 36:25–27; etc.).
3. Since God was faithful to his Old Testament promises, we can be sure that he will be faithful to his new Testament promises (e.g. John 14:15–17; Hebrews 13:5; etc.).
4. These promises show us how we can be made right with God rather than remaining under judgment for breaking his law.
V. The Bible’s Translation
We are privileged as English speakers to have an array of Bible translations in a language we can understand. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew/Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament), and while not all translations are created equal, we are privileged to have an array of good, reliable translations in English.
The following translations are some of the better ones that we recommend for personal reading and study. They are listed here roughly in order (from most difficult to simplest) of ease of readability for English speakers.
1. The King James Version (KJV) (originally published in 1611; updated last in 1769).
2. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) (originally published in 1971; updated last in 1995).
3. The New King James Version (NKJV) (published in 1982).
4. The English Standard Version (ESV) (first published in 2001; constantly undergoing translation revision).
5. The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) (first published in 2017; constantly undergoing translation revision).
At BBC, the most common translation used for teaching and preaching purposes is the English Standard Version.
VI. Recommended Resources
If you want to learn more about the Bible, we recommend the following resources.
1. Why Trust the Bible? by Greg Gilbert
2. Taking God at His Word by Kevin de Young
3. The Character of the Church: The Marks of God’s Obedient People by Joe Thorn
4. Biblical Theology by Nick Roark and Robert Cline
5. Scripture Alone by R. C. Sproul
6. Knowing Scripture by R. C. Sproul