Theology Network Groups
The Bible According to Jesus
- Jack O'Grady is a former Theology Network Associate Staff Worker at Kings College London, where he is currently completing a PhD in biblical studies. View all resources by Jack O'Grady
'Theology According to Jesus' is a course from Theology Network specifically designed to be used by Theology Network groups over five lunchtime sessions. Read the introductory article. This is session 2.
to encourage us to follow Jesus in believing that the Bible is the word of God
In this talk we’ll see that Jesus believed that the Bible is the word of God. To do so, we’ll explore Jesus’ view of four themes relating to Scripture: the ultimate purpose of Scripture, the inspiration of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, and the New Testament. There’s a lot to cover here, so you may want to choose just a few of these themes to focus on when giving the talk.
Jesus on the ultimate purpose of Scripture:
Evangelicals are sometimes accused of being ‘bibliolaters’. We focus too much on the Bible, to the exclusion of the person of Jesus and end up committing idolatry. Also, we can sometimes talk about the doctrine of Scripture in very impersonal ways which suggest that it is a book of reliable facts about God, dropped to us from heaven so that we can formulate correct doctrines. However, the Bible is God’s self revelation, through which he not only gives us information about himself, but gives us himself. In John 5:39-40 Jesus accuses the Pharisees of missing this central purpose of the Scriptures, despite their devotion to searching for eternal life in them. He claims that the Scriptures bear witness to him so that people might come to know him and therefore find eternal life (v40). After his resurrection, Jesus explained how he is the meaning and fulfilment of the Old Testament to the two disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:25-27 see also v44-49). According to Jesus, the Scriptures don’t exist only to give us information about himself, but so that we might come to know him personally.
Jesus’ view of Biblical inspiration
According to Jesus, where did the Scriptures come from? In Mark 7:1-13, Jesus distinguishes between man-made teachings and the teaching of the Old Testament, which he refers to as ‘the commandment of God’ (v8) and ‘the word of God’ (v13). He recognises that Scripture can be simultaneously the words of human beings, embracing their full intellect and creativity, and the word of God (Mark 12:36 ‘David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared…’). Jesus describes parts of the Old Testament in which God isn’t explicitly speaking as being spoken by God (eg. John 10:35, Matt 19:4-5 where he says that God ‘said’ Genesis 2:24, which in its original context is said by the narrator). In speaking of Scripture being predictive and needing to be fulfilled, Jesus clearly implied that the Old Testament was inspired by God (Luke 24:44 cf. Luke 4:17-20, Matthew 12:17-21, 13:14-15, 13:35, 15:7). Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus attributing the Scriptures to their human authors, whilst at the same time attributing them ultimately to God.
Jesus’ view of Biblical authority
The UCCF doctrinal basis sums up the classic Evangelical belief that the Bible is ‘the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour’. In the gospels, do we see Jesus giving the Bible this same place of authority? When speaking of the ‘Law’ (normally referring to the first 5 books of the Old Testament) Jesus said that heaven and earth would pass away before even the smallest part of a letter would be changed (Matthew 5:17-18, cf. Luke 16:17). In John 10:34-35, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 and says that ‘scripture cannot be broken’. The disputes between Jesus and Satan in the temptation narratives of Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 are based on the assumption that Scripture is authoritative and prescriptive. Likewise, in other disputes, Jesus constantly refers to Scripture, assuming its supreme authority (E.g. Matthew 21:12-13, Luke 10:25-26, Mark 7:1-13, Mark 12:18-27, John 10:34). In Mark 12:26, Jesus bases his entire argument on the use of the word ‘am’, showing his regard for the truthfulness of Scripture in the smallest details.
Jesus and the New Testament
You may be thinking “that’s all well and good for the Old Testament, but surely we can’t know whether he approved of the New Testament?” Granted, Jesus ascended to heaven probably around 20 years before the first New Testament document was written. However, the concept of a New Testament canon that would share the characteristics of the Old Testament canon follows logically from two elements of Jesus’ teaching. Firstly, the concept of a ‘canon’ of Scripture is closely tied to the concept of ‘covenant’; as New Testament scholar Michael Kruger puts it “written texts were the central manner in which God testified to the terms of his covenant relationships with ancient Israel, and thus would be the expected means of communication in the context of the new covenant”. So as Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant (Matt 26:28, Luke 22:20) it would make sense that God would give further Scriptures that would explain his redemptive and covenant making acts, as he had done in the past. Secondly, Jesus’ teaching on Apostleship shows that he designated a unique authority to the apostles (Matthew 10:1,5) entrusted them with a message (Matthew 10:6), promised that God’s spirit would speak through them in certain situations (Mark 10:19-20) and told them that those who accept their message are simultaneously accepting him (Luke 10:16). Before he went to the cross, he promised them that the Holy Spirit would help them remember everything he had taught them and reveal even more to them after he left (John 14:26, 15:26-27, 16:12-15), and before his ascension he sent them out to pass on his teaching (John 20:21, Matthew 28:18-20). It doesn’t take much imagination to see the logical progression from Jesus giving the apostles his teaching, promising them the preserving and revealing work of the Holy Spirit and commissioning them on a mission to the world, to the apostles writing Jesus’ teaching in Scripture through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Questions for discussion:
What does Jesus say the ultimate purpose of Scripture is? How can we be sure to have this more personal and relational view of the Bible as we study it?
Of those presented in the talk, which do you are think the strongest arguments for showing that Jesus believed that the Bible is the word of God?
Does knowing that Jesus believed that the Bible is the word of God give you more confidence in holding that belief yourself? Why?
What are the implications of Jesus’ view of inspiration for the truthfulness of Scripture?
How can we see that Jesus believed that the Bible is both human and divinely inspired? What is the difference between this view and a ‘dictation’ view of Scripture, as held by Muslims about the Quran?
Are you challenged by Jesus’ view of the authority of Scripture? How might this affect the way you study the Bible in an academic context?
What would you say to someone who said “Jesus’ may have revered the Old Testament, but how can you be sure he would have the same attitude towards the New Testament?”
If Jesus said that the purpose of the Bible was to reveal himself, and the New Testament was written as a means to accomplishing the apostolic mission, how should we be using the Bible today as we present Christ to our non-Christian friends?
John Wenham Christ and the Bible (Wipf & Stock Publishers)
J. I. Packer God Has Spoken (Hodder & Stoughton)
Mike Reeves The Doctrine of Revelation
Carl Trueman Scripture’s Authority: An Ancient Doctrine
Peter Williams Evidence the Gospels were Based on Eyewitness Accounts
 Kostenberger, Andreas and Kruger, Michael The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Wheaton 2010) p113