We are continuing the series on the five foundational stones God has shown me that have been essential to my life and ministry. This one concerns “The Bible – The Word of God.” Let me tell you the story of my journey regarding the Bible.
When Dorothy and I got married, we moved to live in Padstow Heights, a suburb of Sydney, where we began to worship at the nearby Methodist church. The first year there, we had a liberal pastor. However, in the second year, a new minister was appointed to the circuit (which included three churches). This new pastor was an evangelical. He had been a missionary in Northern Queensland for 20 years or more and had now returned to Sydney. He was not an academic, but he loved the Lord, and he was a Bible believing minister. Sensing my doubts, he gave me a book to read that changed my beliefs.
A BOOK BY J. I. PACKER ON “SOME EVANGELICAL PRINCIPLES”
The book this pastor gave me was “Fundamentalism and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles” by J. I. Packer, author of “Knowing God.” In it, Packer explained the evangelical view of scripture. He wrote, “To learn the mind of God, one must consult His written Word. What scripture says, God says. The Bible is inspired in the sense of being word-for-word God-given. It is a record and explanation of divine revelation which is both complete (sufficient) and comprehensible (perspicuous); that is to say, it contains all that the Church needs to know in this world for its guidance in the way of salvation and service, and it contains the principles for its own interpretation within itself. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit, who caused it to be written, has been given to the Church to cause believers to recognize it for the divine Word that it is, and to enable them to interpret it rightly and understand its meaning. He who was its Author is also its Witness and its Expositor” (Packer, J. I., 1958).
Then, it was the section on “The Teaching of Christ” and “His Attitude to the Old Testament” that really made an impact on me. Packer wrote, “Jesus Christ, so far from rejecting this principle of biblical authority, accepted and built on it, endorsing it with the greatest emphasis and the full weight of His authority. And the authority to which He laid claim was absolute and unqualified. He appealed to no human authority, but put His teaching forward as divine in origin, and therefore eternally valid in its own right.” Packer continued, quoting, “‘. . . I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.’ Therefore ‘heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.’ But He never opposed His personal authority to that of the Old Testament. He never qualified the Jewish belief in its absolute authority in the slightest degree. The fact we have to face is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, who claimed divine authority for all that He did and taught, both confirmed the absolute authority of the Old Testament for others and submitted to it unreservedly Himself… (‘Verily [amen] I say unto you’) the following assurance; ’till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law’ … He treats arguments from Scripture as having clinching force. When He says ‘it is written’, that is final. There is no appeal against Scripture, for ‘the scripture cannot be broken’; God’s Word holds good for ever. He constantly upbraids the Jewish theologians for their ignorance and neglect of Scripture; ‘Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures?'” (Packer, J. I., 1958).
I never got past page 55 of this book, the section that dealt with Christ’s acceptance of the authority of the Old Testament. I thought and consequently believed, that if it was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for me.If Jesus accepted the Scriptures as true and authoritative, so would I. This settled my attitude towards Scripture once and for all. The acceptance of the Word of God as being trustworthy and true, of it being the inspired Word of God, which carries authority with it, became a foundation stone to my life and ministry.
I heard a speaker recently outline the four dimensions of accepting the Bible as the Word of God:
- Inspiration – Totally inspired by God.
- Infallible – Completly true and trustworthy.
- Sufficient – Contains all we need for this life.
- Authoritative – The authority for what to believe and teach.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
The decision to accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God was only the beginning of a journey of discovery. There were a number of things I had to discover about the Word of God. Things that I needed to learn.
I Needed to Learn… Correct Interpretation. This has many aspects. Someone once said, concerning understanding scripture, “If the plain sense makes sense, you need no other sense.” While this is an excellent place to start, there are more thoughts to consider when interpreting the Bible.
I Needed to Learn… Context is King. The need to study a particular verse in its context to properly understand it.
I Needed to Learn… View the Whole Bible. The need to avoid building a doctrine or teaching on just one verse or passage of scripture. We should interpret scripture in view of the whole Bible. Scripture interprets scripture.
I Needed to Learn… God Has Given Us Teachers. God has placed “teachers” in the Church to assist us in understanding scripture, especially passages that require some historical knowledge regarding the times when scripture was written.
I Needed to Learn… The Place of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired the Word of God to be written, so we need the Holy Spirit to best understand and interpret it. Jesus himself made that clear when He told His disciples, “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13, NIV).
I Needed to Learn that… The Word of God is Alive. Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) tells us that “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” The Bible is not just a historical book of stories from the past, but it is the very Word of God that speaks to us and empowers us today. It is alive.
I Needed to Learn about… Rhema Words from Scripture. In this context, I am referring to the times the Holy Spirit guides a particular word(s) of scripture to us for a particular need or a situation. It really becomes alive and empowers us.
I Needed to Learn… To Obey the Word of God. To realize we are not meant to be hearers but doers. God gives us His Word not just for information but for us to obey (James 1:22).
DO I UNDERSTAND IT ALL?
After all these years, I still do not understand all of what God has given us in His Word. That’s why it is a journey that never ends in this world. Besides, I do not know anyone who does. There is always more truth to be discovered from His Word. Thus, we keep searching.
How about you? Have you laid the foundation stone of the Bible being the Word of God in your life and ministry? For me, this was another foundation stone that was critical to my life and ministry.
Packer, J. I. (1958). “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God. United Kingdom: Eerdmans Publishing Company.