'That word above all earthly powers...'
Ultimate Realities 4: God and His Word
- Bob Horn (1933-2005) was General Secretary of UCCF. View all resources by Bob Horn
We can now apply this pattern of helps to the core truths set out in the successive clauses of the Basis. The first two sections are about God. They highlight two great truths. First, God is personal: he is one, the only God, one God in three persons.
(a) There is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Secondly God is infinite: he is supreme, sovereign over everyone and everything.
(b) God is sovereign in creation, revelation, redemption and final judgment.
This God is never interested merely in giving abstract definitions. He is a God who acts, and in his actions he always reveals himself so that he may touch us and affect our lives. We will therefore look first at the ways in which these truths touch us, and then unpack what they highlight for us.
They explain the realities of life to us. They tell us what God is like — the God with whom we have to mean business. He is personal, not just a force or a power. He acts and speaks and relates. He chose to reveal himself to men and won. He has all authority and so can come to us in any time of need. Nothing is too big for him. Nothing is beyond his knowledge. Nothing, not all the dark forces of hell, can defeat him.
The Bible often explains to us the sheer power of God. Isaiah records the time in history when God had a work of judgment to do against Mount Zion and Jerusalem — his disobedient people. He did this work by using a foreign power, the king of Assyria. That king had no intention of serving God’s purposes; he had in mind to ‘destroy and put an end to many nations’. But God called him ‘the rod of my anger and the club of my wrath’; God’s power was such that all things and everyone served his designs (Isaiah 10:5—12).
A New Testament example, the example above all others, is the crucifixion of Jesus. That deed was perpetrated ‘with the help of wicked people’, by the Jews whom Peter challenged at Pentecost: ‘you... put him to death by nailing him to the cross’. How does the Bible account for this event? By explaining who was in control ‘This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge’ and ‘God raised him’ (Acts 2:23— 24).
God takes sin and evil seriously, but shows his redeeming love to those who trust him. Life often seems out of control, in the hands of unjust forces or blind fate, but that is not true. Things are not what they seem in the newspapers, on TV or in our reflections. There is only one God.
The bondage of our own thinking
This liberates our minds and lives. Without these truths about God we would be restricted to conjuring up the best ideas we could about him. Many people do this: ‘I can’t believe in a God who does that, but I can accept a God who does this.’ That is a fearful bondage, to be bound to my own thoughts and concepts. Because I am finite, that is a hopeless course. Much better to know the freedom of what the infinite one has revealed. We can never be free when we are at odds with God, but we certainly can when our minds and wills are in accord with his.
Thus this protects us from error. It stops us making God as we want him to be, for that would be kio1atr It holds us back from the mistaken idea that other ways or gods may be valid. It stops us from having ideas of God that come more from our current self-centred society than from God himself. God is not the ultimate therapist, just there to massage our egos and make us feel good. He is God; it is for us to adapt and alter to fit into his will, not to try to adjust God to what we want. ‘Let God be true, and every person a liar’ (Romans 3:4).
So all this sends us out for him. There is only one God, so the whole world needs to hear of him. There is only one God, so our whole lives need to be lived for him, wherever we are and whatever we do. There will be a day of judgment, so people need to know of the only one able to rescue them.
This God is all in all, so believers naturally respond by praise and love service and witness. We can’t keep him to ourselves. These clauses highlight two truths about God.
God is one God in three persons
The far-reaching and glorious truth about the Trinity is beyond our full grasp, but what God has revealed of himself leads us to accept it humbly and praise him. Three strands run through what the Bible teaches about this.
First is the assertion that there is only one God. The Old Testament says: ‘Hear, O Israel the LORD our God, the LORD is one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4).
That is why one God is to have all our love. The New Testament confirms this: ‘For there is one God’ (1 Timothy 23).
Second, the one God exists in three distinct persons. God said in creation: ‘Let us make human beings in our image’ (Genesis 1:26). Jesus’ missionary mandate commands baptism ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 2819). The typical Christian ‘blessing’ has the same thrust: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 13:14). Ananias found that a lie to the Holy Spirit was a lie to God (Acts 5:3—4). Other obvious references are 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2 and Jude 20—21. The three persons of the Godhead are distinguished, but exist eternally in perfect harmony.
Third each person is fully God. It is not that there are three Gods; nor that one person operates in three different modes; nor that the Father is God, with the Son a lesser created being nor that Jesus was an ordinary man whom the Father adopted as his Son at his baptism. All three are fully God and each has a distinct role in the divine plans.
The Father spoke creation into being, the Son carried out those decrees and the Spirit was active, ‘hovering over the waters’ (Genesis 1:3; John 1:1—4; Genesis 1:2). The Father planned redemption and sent his Son; the Son came and achieved our salvation; and the Spirit of truth gave us new life and power (John 3:16; Ephesians 1:9—10; John 6:38; Hebrews 10:5—7; John 15:26; 3:5—8). There is eternal equality in their essential being, but subordination in role in their perfect teamwork
The Trinity in our lives
The Trinity is a staggering and utterly unique truth. It sounds complex, but that is no surprise, for we are in the awesome presence of the infinite and holy one. It profoundly affects our whole lives, in ways such as these:
1. It is essential to our salvation. If Jesus were not the Son of God, he could not save us; a mere human being could not turn away God’s wrath from us. But if God was in Christ reconciling us to himself then God (and not a third party) was bearing the penalty for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:19). Moreover, it is because Jesus is both human and divine that he is able to represent us before his Father.
2. It utterly transforms our view of the world. God, as the source and centre of life, is both personal and relational. He is no impersonal force or power, and he did not create us because he needed to relate to somebody. He relates within himself. He is a community within himself. He is a unity in diversity. It is this one God in Trinity who has given us one world with infinite variety distinction and colour. One theme, one team, leading to many variations. One God, three persons, leading to many relationships. This is why all the different aspects of creation hold together in God; life is not a random collage of disjointed parts, but a unity under God. When many peoples worlds are falling apart, Christians are thankful that theirs hangs together in the three-in-one.
3. This deeply affects our devotion. There is infinite food for thought, meditation, reflection, praise and prayer in this doctrine. This God is our God, pledged to us in the promise or ‘covenant’ that he made with us by his sheer grace. If we set our minds to absorb the truths of even the few verses quoted here, our hearts will be stirred to wonder, love and praise.
God is supreme
‘Sovereign’ is a title that has lost its force in any democratic society, with ruling monarchies a thing of the past. Kings and queens today are long on pomp and short on power, so we need to rehabilitate the term when we use it of God. It means that he alone has absolute power, that he is in sole charge that he ‘does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth’ (Daniel 4:35). If being able always to do exactly what you want has anything to do with happiness and freedom, God must be the happiest and freest of all beings, since he alone is able to do just that.
God is God. He is not sitting around in heaven, simply reacting to what we do. He is not waiting for our permission or our prayers before he can act. He does not so much intervene in human affairs as operate in them all the time. It is he who calls the shots, not we. He is Lord of all. He ‘works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will’ (Ephesians 1:11); he sustains ‘all things by his powerful word’ (Hebrews 1:3); ‘in him all things hold together’ (Colossians 1:17) - without him, they would fall apart.
The Basis points to four of the areas in which God did what he decided to do.
God is the Creator. The world is not explicable in purely materialistic or naturalistic terms. God is its designer. He brought a world into being out of nothing merely by his say-so. The myths of other religions in Old Testament times often viewed the world as coming into being by procreation, as the gods had sex with other gods or humans. The God of the Bible is totally different. The created world is not divine or part of the divine, but is his artefact. ft is to be respected as coming from the Creator, but not to be confused with him. He created the universe and the sexes, and he did it by his worth God said, “Let there be ...“, and there was’ (Genesis 1:3). The fact of creation by God is clearly affirmed and is fundamental to all the teaching of the Bible, whereas the method of creation is less to the fore.
He is the first and final source of all that is (Romans 1 :36). The fact of God as Creator is the ultimate reason for caring for the world he made. It is his, not ours.
In revealing himself
We will take a closer look at how God has revealed himself when we come to look at the Bible, but for the moment we need to note that God has revealed himself in two ways. First, in the universe he created he has shown his eternal power and Godness’, to make people aware that he exists and that they are accountable to him. It is because they have knowledge of him, but reject him, that they are without excuse (Romans 1:19-20). And, second, in his Word he has revealed more than enough of himself for human beings to know how they may be saved and live in relationship with him (2 Timothy 3:16—17).
In redeeming us
We will see more of this later too, but being ‘sovereign in redeeming’ means that our salvation comes totally from him, not in the least from us. It is he who has rescued us, paid the price of our deliverance and made us free men and women through his Son. If he had not acted, we would be lost. He alone is able to save (Hebrews 7:25).
In final judgment
Because he is supreme to the end, none of us can escape facing him to hear his final verdict. Every human being will have to stand before him; all will be silent, knowing their guilt (Romans 3:19). Some standing before him will be those who confessed him and bowed the knee to him in this life;f rom them judgment has already been lifted, since they are forgiven because of the sacrificial death of his Son. Others will only then bow the knee (Philippians 2:10),having refused to do so in this life. God alone, not human opinions, will judge everyone in justice.
This is God. ‘To him be glory for ever!’ (Romans 11:36). But how has he made known to us his nature and the other truths we need to know to live aright?
God has spoken
The third clause of the Basis gives a straightforward answer to that question:
(c) The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.
As the letter to the Hebrews says, ‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways’ (1:1). That ‘speaking’ he preserved for us in the Old Testament ‘In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son’ (1:2), and that ‘speaking’ is preserved for us in the New Testament.
God has revealed himself in and through the Bible. If he had not done so, everyone would be left to his or her own opinion of what God is like, or of good and evil. It is not through the Bible as opposed to his Son or his Spirit, but as the only source which gives us the authoritative revelation of his Son. Christ came as the living Word of God, Scripture as the written Word of God. Christ endorsed the Bible of his day (the Old Testament) and validated the New Testament in advance, as he promised his Holy Spirit to remind the apostles of everything he had said (John 14:26).
Christ himself said that he was in all the Scriptures of the Old Testament (Luke 24:27), and obviously he was also the central figure in the New God’s self-disclosure in Christ is inextricably embedded in his self-revelation in the Bible; we cannot separate the two or put one against the other. There is no Christ apart from the Christ revealed in the Bible. Other concepts of Christ arise when people make themselves judge and jury as to what to believe.
Origin in God
The truth this clause highlights for us is that the Bible had its origin in God. He breathed it out through the distinctive personalities of the men who wrote it, so that it comes with God’s lifetime guarantee of its truth and reliability (2 Timothy 3:16). It thus carries his personal authority for what we are to believe and how we are to behave.
It explains how we may know God. We get to know other people by being with them, doing things with them, watching them at work or leisure — and listening to them. If we don’t listen, we can misinterpret them completely. It is precisely the same with God and the Bible. We talk to God in prayer, but true prayer rests on knowing God; to know God we must give full attention to what he has revealed of himself in the Bible.
This is a simple but crucial point. When we read the Bible, we are reading a set of ancient writings; that is one reason we sometimes find parts of the Bible hard to grasp. At the same time, however, we are listening to the vibrant, contemporary personal ‘now’ Word of God The Spirit who ‘carried along’ the writers hundreds of years ago (2 Peter 1:2 1) today still brings the words alive so that the Bible is always the living and abiding word of God. The Bible is there not merely so that we can check our views (as we might check our journey against a train timetable); it is the living voice of God by which he actively guides us.
New vistas open
This liberates our minds and hearts. Clearly it can be misunderstood and needs to be properly understood. As Peter acknowledged about Paul, some things in his letters (and other parts of the Bible) ‘are hard to understand’ and need to be rightly interpreted (2 Peter 3:16). And the devil is in business to blind people’s minds to what is obvious to those with eyes to see (2 Corinthians 4:4). But the essence of the Bible is clear beyond dispute and its core truths stand out brightly, leading us to the opposite of small or narrow minds. How can God’s own thoughts do other than prompt and enlarge our own? Those who truly get into the Bible have their minds stretched and opened as never before. The Bible is like a set of Windows, through each of which new vistas open up to delight, challenge and stimulate us The Bible speaks about the whole of Life and therefore gives us the freedom to investigate and enjoy all the riches of God’s world.
The Bible protects us from error. This is evident from what we have seen already If we deny or slip adrift from any of the basic markers of God’s truth, we slip away from him. Peter knew that spiritually ‘ignorant and unstable people’ can take and use the Scriptures, but actually ‘distort them to their own destruction’ (2 Peter 3:16). People can twist isolated verses of the Bible to say almost anything, so it is crucial to understand it rightly. The value of a statement like this is that it holds us to the central truths, leads us away from aberrations; and focuses on the core truths which may be clearly discerned.
And the Bible sends us out. This God is a sending, missionary, good-news God, the God who sent out his Son. Through the pages of Israel’s history runs the theme of Israel as a ‘light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6). All through the New Testament runs the call of the Great Commission, Christ’s call to take the gospel to all the world (Matthew 28:19—20). This is why Christians have such a conviction about the urgency of translating the Bible into every language. Here is truth that every human being should know. The Bible is a book for others, to turn disciples into messengers, to make witness instinctive in the Christian — as happened when the early disciples in Jerusalem were scattered by persecution. Instead of crawling into their shells as a frightened minority, they went everywhere engaging people in conversation with ‘the word’ about Jesus (Acts 8:1—4).
Jesus used his Bible
By ‘the Bible’ the Basis means simply the sixty-six books that the church has received as the ‘canon’ (the rule or standard) down the years. Some sections of Christendom have accepted some other writings, such as the Apocrypha, but those were never accepted on the same universal basis as the sixty-six, not least because they did not carry the same self-authenticating marks as the others. Jesus himself accepted and worked from the Old Testament as the Word of God, making clear that he took what was written there to be ‘what God said’. When he was in the wilderness being tempted, he took ‘what is written’ in the Old Testament as the voice of God; there was no higher authority with which to reject the devil’s words (Matthew 4:1— 11). When he was disputing with the Pharisees, he made plain that a verse from Genesis (2:24) was what the Creator said (Matthew 19:4—5). To him what Scripture said, God said. And, as we have mentioned, he authorized those who would write the New Testament after he had gone.
God spoke in the past through the prophets and has now spoken in these last days by his Son (Hebrews 1:1—2), Christ being his final Word. We cannot improve on or add to that revelation. Christ is his definitive Word, conclusive for all generations. There will be no more new truth to be revealed or believed this side of g1ory What God has given is more than sufficient for all we need to know until we see him face to face.
Breathed out by God
‘Inspired’ refers to the origin of the Bible. Each book had its origin, in an obvious sense, from its human author. David wrote psalms and Paul wrote letters. Nothing must obscure the fact that all the parts of the Bible came from human writers and they all bear the marks of their individual personalities and backgrounds. Peter says matter-of-factly: ‘Our dear brother Paul wrote to you ...’ (2 Peter 3:15), and then puts these writings alongside the Old Testament as ‘Scriptures’.
At the same time, the words of the Bible were ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16). It is a case of ‘both... and’. Both human pens and God’s Spirit were at work. Not humans imposing limits on God through their language, ignorance or prejudice, but God so supervising the whole venture that he prepared these human writers, ordered their backgrounds and experiences, and set them at their particular junctures of history, so that they were able to write exactly what he wanted. No trampling on their personalities, no restrictions on his revelation, no hint of treating them like machines or robots. Some clearly state that they ‘carefully investigated everything’ and did their research (e.g. Luke l:1—4). Some used obvious literary devices, such as acrostics. All used terms from their distinctive cultures and background. So we have fully human books from their authors, which come from the mouth of God. Maybe it is in some respects parallel to the one person, Jesus Christ fully human, fully divine.
This is the ‘inspiration’ of the Bible. It does not mean ‘inspired’ in the everyday sense in which we use it as in ‘That music inspired me,’ or, ‘He scored an inspired goal at football.’ It simply means ‘God-breathed’. What Scripture says, God says.
So this seems to be quoting the Bible to prove the Bible.. Is that not cheating? Surely any circular argument is a spoof proof. If I were accused of dishonest financial dealings, it would be no defence for me to stand up in court and try to prove my honesty from the letters I had written about my own character. That would be a circular or same-level argument and would be inadmissible. The only evidence that might count would be letters from my chief from some higher or independent witness.
No higher court of appeal
But who is going to be the higher authority to corroborate God’s testimony? God, by definition, is unique. None is his equal, never mind his superior. WE can find that his testimony about himself is consistent with life and reality (that’s only what we should expect). But a circular or same-level argument, totally out of court at my level, is totally fitting in respect of God. Only he can reveal himsel1 we can only receive gratefully what he reveals — as in the case of Jesus on earth. Jesus did not depend on others’ testimony about him; they, like the Pharisees, were quite capable of letting their prejudices blind them. He simply presented himself as he was. That was self-authenticating to those who had eyes to see.
Words and meaning
What God breathed was words. Not isolated words, but words forming phrases, sentences, paragraphs, narratives, arguments, books. Words in contexts, in the flow of an explanation or a parable. These words are his personal revelation to us. Words are overwhelmingly important. Think how crucial they are to you when you fall in love. At that point you scour your mind for the right things to say, the right ‘propositions’ to convey your feelings. The urge to speak, to express your mind and heart, is irresistible. You dare not risk being misunderstood, because you want to get to the proposal. Without clear verbal statements, you could show your love in action, but that could still leave your exact desires and intentions unclear. You have to declare love in words. A wordless, inarticulate love affair is more at the level of animals than of humans.
Words and personal encounter
Now some introduce a distinction between personal encounter and propositional revelation. The one is deemed good, the other bad. The one is what we should seek — to meet God. The other is just words and abstract, more dead than alive. But all personal relationships (and true encounters with God) give the lie to this. A God who does not declare his mind in words (and deeds as well, of course) is hiding, not revealing his person. He would be leaving us to guess and speculate - and that would be cruel to us, not kind. The God of the Bible, by contrast, is gracious and not silent; he is the personal God who cares enough to speak words.
All God’s deeds in history need to be explained in words. Many tribes wandered from place to place at different periods of Old Testament history, so there was nothing unique about the mere wanderings of the Israelites. What turned those events into revelation of God and his ways was that he spoke about them. He gave his divine ‘running commentary’, thus enabling later generations to grasp the significance of what he did. Events without words are like a television drama with the sound turned off. plenty of action, but no plot or sense. It was similar with the cross: that event would have looked like sheer tragedy and victimization if God had not given us so much explanation in words in the Bible.
This all follows from God breathing out the Bible. If that is its origin, what kind of a book is it? One that can only be described by a term such as ‘infallible’. This word has sometimes been disputed, as has every word which has been proposed to convey the same meaning — entirely trustworthy, reliable, unerring, true. The point of trying to find the words to describe the nature of the Bible is, however, just this: if the Bible is God-breathed, then the Bible shares the qualities and characteristics of its author.
Anything I write carries my characteristics — fallible, liable to be mistaken, partially right, partially wrong. Anything God says, by contrast, is totally true, secure, non-misleading, without mistake — infallible. So what all these words are trying to convey is that the Bible has its divine author’s characteristics. ‘Infallible’ may or may not be the best word for God in every context; it has different overtones to different people. The Basis of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, seeking to make exactly the same point, uses ‘entirely trustworthy’. But it is beyond doubt that God is true, does nut mislead, conveys no errors and can be wholly relied on. That is the intent of the term here, to say that the Bible is his book.
This is no recent invention, either. Evangelicals today inherit the term ‘infallible’ from, for example, the famous and widely influential Westminster Confession of Faith of 1644, which talked of ‘the infallible truth and divine authority of the Bible’.
The sixteenth-century reformers like Cranmer, Ridley and Jewel in turn follow on from medieval theologians like John Wycliffe, who called the Bible ‘the infallible rule of truth’. Then the line reaches back to Augustine, bishop in North Africa in the fifth century who wrote that Scripture ‘can neither err nor deceive’ (nescit falli nec fallere). And they all rested their case on our Lord’s view of the Old Testament, at which we glanced earlier in this chapter.
The final say
‘Infallible’ is not an abstract concept, but a way of stating the qualitative difference between Scripture as the Word of God and all other sources of knowledge. It means that, if Scripture comes into conflict with any other writing (or any other claim to have God’s voice), then the other must give way and Scripture must teach us and rule. It is the final arbiter.
This infallible Word needs to be interpreted properly. More or less anything can be ‘proved’ by wresting verses out of context, and many who believe in the Bible are very bad interpreters of it, imposing their personal, denominational or cultural prejudices on it. The. Bible consists of many different types of writing. from historical accounts to poetry from parable to apocalyptic, from prophecy to songs. Each must be taken for what it is, so that the Bible’s mix of divine acts in history and divine explanations of the events is held together. The Doctrinal Basis is a help here in focusing on the main stream of God’s revelation. Obviously, God neither endorses the devil’s words as reconied in the Bible, nor approves the arguments of Job’s comforters. But in the context of the overall narrative, and in a book often. written in idiom for popular understanding. all the components take their place and make sense. The result is a unified whole. it is because there is .a consensus about truth in the Bible that we today, and Christians down the ages, have been able to have clear beliefs and doctrinal statements.
People have tried to belittle the Bible by pointing out that it often uses the language of appearances. It talks of the rising and setting of the sun, but then we still do so in a scientific age. It does not teach an outdated cosmology. When Paul wrote the words ‘in heaven and on earth and under the earth’ (Philippians 2:10), he was quoting a hymn and using a phrase that is a fine poetic way of saying ‘every being’. He was not teaching or believing in a three-decker universe, as some try to assert.
God’s intended sense
Because the Bible is an infallible guide, our concern is always with the intended sense of the passage - what it means; not with what it could be made to say, but what God purposed to say in it.
Taking the Bible as trustworthy simply means receiving all that it teaches and affirms. It may be found not to teach some things that we have been told it does; we may find that our backgrounds put blinkers on our eyes and prevent us from seeing its meaning as we should. This is one reason the Bible will go on surprising us all our life long. We will often say: ‘How did I miss that for so long? How come I didn’t see that before?’ We don’t always see what stares us in the face.
This nature of the Bible leaves us with the responsibility rightly to interpret the God-given Word. We can take up that task, assured that God has given us a clear word, and that he wants us to arrive at an understanding of what he has said — especially on such core truths as the Basis enshrines. That assurance also rests on two other facts: one is that God has given us his Holy Spirit to help our understanding and obedience. We obviously want to appeal to the original author to help us see what he meant; and the Spirit willingly gives his help when we ask him - help that may come directly to our minds as we pray and ponder the text, or through preachers or through Bible guides and commentaries.
A community project
The other is that he gave his book to us together. It is the family Bible, the revelation that belongs to the whole people of God. Understanding it is a communal task. This would have been a fact of life in the early church: when one of Paul’s letters arrived, they would all have sat round to hear it read and to interpret it together. Bible study groups are important, alongside personal Bible study.
Transmitting and translation
‘As originally given’ is meant quietly to make the point that when Jesus, Paul and others refer to what is written, they refer to it as it was given — rather than to copies or translations of the original writings. Excellent as many versions are, we do not mistake them for the originals, which came out of situations like this: ‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us’ (1 Corinthians 10:11).
We do not have autograph copies of the original manuscripts, but through biblical scholarship we are more than close enough to them to know that the original meaning is not in doubt. The few textual details that remain unresolved in no way affect the sense. ft is worth pointing out that it is precisely because scholars (of all persuasions) believe that there were originals, that they devote no much painstaking effort to establishing the original wording as the basis for all textual criticism and for accurate modern versions.
‘As originally given’ points to the facts that no copyist or translator has ever been perfect and that the first manuscripts have not survived. It recognizes that the twin processes of transmission and translation are not exempt from human frailty The phrase commits us to being open always to possible improvements in text and translation, in the light of further discoveries. We do not canonize any one translation, as the Catholic Church did for centuries with the Latin Vulgate.
In fact, the Hebrew and Greek texts are amazingly preserved, so that no crucial point of teaching is in any doubt In any case, the scrutiny of Hebrew and Greek texts and the science of Bible translation are highly developed disciplines. And we can be sure that God meant his Word to be translated without distortion; that was what his Spirit was doing on the day of Pentecost, when they each heard in his or her own language (Acts 2:6, 8, 11). We can both believe in the text as originally given, and accept the versions we have as fully reliable in what they teach.
The last word
All this means that the Bible comes to us with God’s stamp of approval. It has authority because it is his voice. He supremely has the right to rule over our lives, and his product, the Bible, carries his supreme authority ‘Supreme’ means that the Bible has the final and decisive say. Church tradition and history can teach us a lot; human reason can have valid insights; spiritual intuition can have an influence onus. But what the Bible says is what settles any matter of what to believe or how to live. Any claim that God is speaking today that conflicts with what the Bible teaches must give way to its supreme authority All other ‘authorities’ can err and mislead; only the Bible is always true in what it means to say. This is why it alone can bring God’s rule into our lives: it has that practical purpose so that we end up preserved from attractive errors, and obey God, rather than just debating about him.
This authority covers ... life. Life is one and indivisible, which is why we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29—31). What we believe in our minds is bound up with how we live, the values we hold, the way we spend our time and the priorities we have. The Bible thus is God’s authority over our whole existence - from the convictions we adopt to the conduct we pursue. We dare not accept the Bible’s worldview and ignore its practical implications; neither may we think we can succeed in the long term in following the Bible’s ethical code while dismissing the framework of belief from which it springs.
The Bible is an amazing book, absolutely unique because God has given it. This is backed up by the evidence, running through all the centuries and all parts of the world, of lives and societies that God has transformed through its teaching. It must be quite a book to produce so much self-sacrifice in self-centred human beings.
1. What are the implications of the belief that there is only one God — as revealed in the Bible?
2. How does the doctrine of the Trinity affect our Christian life? How should it, for example, affect our praise or our praying?
3.In what areas of our lives are we liable to ignore (or reject) the authority of the Bible?
4. What is the connection between the Bible and God speaking today? How should this guide a Christian Union programme?