Is the Bible Still Relevant Today?

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. . . .

Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; . . .

Philippians 2:19,25 (NRSV)

Have you ever read verses like these and wondered just what it has to do with us? Um, we should not expect Timothy to show up anytime soon, nor is Epaphroditus on his way. So what does it have to do with us then? Is the Bible stuck in a specific time and place? From verses like these, it sure looks like it is speaking to a time and place far from us! Does this mean the Bible is irrelevant to us? How does the Bible work anyway?

Through verses like these we learn what the Bible is not. Many Christians assume that what we have in the Bible is God speaking directly to the writers saying “write this” and they do so obediently. It is as if we expect God just took control of the hands of the writers to jot down what we all need to know without the writer’s mind being involved in the process. That is not what the Bible is. Nor is it what the Bible says about itself:

. . . you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 (NIV emphasis added)

The Bible itself confirms what the Bible is not. It is not God dictated. It is, however, God-breathed.

From verses like those that mention Timothy and Epaphroditus we learn what the Bible is. It is evidence of people responding to real events. It is the evidence of God’s relationship with humanity, and how it works out in the lives of real people. It is evidence of the reality of that relationship. It includes all the twists and turns in that relationship. It includes all the joyful moments, and tragic moments in that relationship. It includes all the drama you will find in any relationship.

The clue is in the words “testament,” as in Old Testament, and New Testament. The Bible is the testament, the testimony as to what our relationship with God has looked like over many centuries. It is the testament of how God related to a specific people he called in order to bless all peoples. It is the testament of how God revealed himself supremely through Jesus and how that revelation of himself played out in the lives of real people.

A key part of that testimony is that God created humanity for a love relationship, a relationship he was committed to despite our rebellion. This was all done out of love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV). Because God so loved the world that he would come to it in Jesus, it is reasonable to expect that he also so loves the world that he is not going to let the record of his love be false or lost.

Therefore it makes sense that the Scriptures are “God-breathed.” They were written by people responding to various and specific events and circumstances, but God is in it, ensuring the testimony not be wrong. What is written passes through the minds of the writers, yes, but it also comes from the heart of God.

This means that we can trust that God was involved in the creation of the Bible, from the situations that inspired the various writers, to the actual writing, to the editing that may have happened in some of the writings, to the collecting together of some writings together in volumes (like the Book of Psalms), to the collecting together of all the Scriptures into one collection known as the Bible. This all took a very long time. We can expect that God was in it for the long haul.

To summarise, the Scriptures were not written to us, but they were written, collected and kept for us. The Bible is an accurate testament to God’s relationship with us over many centuries, a relationship that continues on to this day.

Knowing what the Bible isn’t and what it is, how do we read it today?

  • We read the Bible as deep and deepening people. We read it prayerfully and expectantly. We read with a desire to grow deeper in our relationship with God. We read with a desire that the Holy Spirit would be as involved in our reading, as the Holy Spirit was involved in the writing.
  • We read the Bible with a thoughtful reading, with a deep dive. There are things that we instinctively know as we read. For example, as we read the verses from Philippians quoted above, we don’t expect Timothy and Epaphroditus to show up. There are things, however, that we don’t instinctively know. For example, we may not know how slavery worked in ancient times. Indeed some have used the Bible in an awful promotion of slavery because they have not read deeply and understood the context. We also may not know how apocalyptic literature worked in New Testament times, and I could go on.
  • We read the Bible with humility. Because we don’t always have the background knowledge of specific situations, customs, and ways of thinking of the ancient peoples, we may not have the best interpretation of what we read. There are words used in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek that even scholars are unsure of what they mean. It is perfectly normal and appropriate for us to sometimes say “I may not be understanding this correctly.”
  • We read the Bible with confidence. Looking at the Bible from a “secular” perspective, we have the testimony of many people over many years, in various times and places, which all comes together in a remarkably unified testimony to the reality of God. From the perspective of faith, when we trust that God loves us, we can trust that the Scriptures are worthy of our trust. God would not go to great lengths in loving us, namely though Jesus and the cross, and then allow the testimony to be full of error.
  • We read the Bible with an eye open for “training in righteousness” (1st Timothy 3:16 NIV). Since we are in a series on Philippians, I could have preached a sermon on how there are people, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, who are good examples of those who have the mind of Christ. Though there are many lessons to learn we don’t want to always be looking in the Bible only for the “moral of the story,” for lessons on how to live. The Bible is much bigger than that, so . . .
  • We read the Bible with both eyes on the full story, the true story, the love story between God and humanity, the love story which we are invited to live into and become part of.

That Paul intended to send Epaphroditus, and later Timothy, to Philippi might not seem that relevant to us right now. That is a very specific situation that already happened nearly two thousand years ago. The fact, however, that people are separated from God through sin has not changed. The fact that Jesus is Lord and Saviour has not changed. The fact that we are invited into relationship with the Creator of the universe has not changed. The Scriptures are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2nd Timothy 3:15 NIV). That also has not changed. Therefore the Bible could not be more relevant to us today!

When we come across very specific and personal details in the Bible, we are reminded that the writings that make up the Bible were not written to us. But they were written for us. They couldn’t be more relevant to us in our day!

(The full reflection can be seen as part of our “online worship expression” from October 4th.)

Compelling Holy Books. Is the Bible evidence for the existence of God?

Does the existence and nature of the Bible point to the existence and nature of God? Some people just love the Bible. Others find reading it a head-scratching experience. Perhaps, of course, there is some selective reading involved. I suspect that many who love it, and are never driven to question their faith by it, stick to their favourite bits. Likewise, I suspect that those who question Christianity tend stick to their favourite tricky bits. We want to consider the Bible in its entirety as we ask whether it is a compelling aspect of Christianity. Does the existence and nature of the Bible actually point to the reality of God?

Our expectations of the Bible play a big role in how we respond to it and whether we will find it compelling or not. There are two expectations that people often have as they consider the Bible. Either it is written by God, or it is written by men. Let us consider how these expectations pan out.

If the Bible was written by God, and if it was simply downloaded to us as if God sent us an email, then it is not what we would expect. It is convoluted. There are obviously so many authors writing at different times, under different circumstances, writing for different reasons, using different genres which reflect the kinds of writing humans do. It is not simply a “Here are some messages from God with all humans, at all times, and in all situations in mind” kind of book. Indeed what we think of as one book is really many writings written and collected over a very long period of time. That much is obvious.

In addition, the Bible answers questions we are not asking today. Have you ever wondered who the great-great-gandson of Esau was? The Bible gives us the answer.  However, the Bible does not answer questions we are asking. What about the dinosaurs? Who did Cain marry? How do we ethically use all our advances in medicine? If the Bible is simply a direct message from God, would we not expect it to be a simple message that anticipates all the questions of humanity?

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a message written and sent by God.

However, if the Bible is purely written out of the imagination of humans then likewise, it is not what we would expect. There is an amazing consistency in the presentation of God, the nature of humanity, the human dilemma, and the relationship between God and humanity. Despise the number of writings, the differing authors from different centuries living under different conditions, there is an incredible sense of unity in the Bible. There is also an incredible storyline that spans the many, many, many generations that lived while the writings were being written. Each generation would have had trouble making up its own part in that overall story.

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a product of the human mind.

So what is the Bible, then, if the Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, or if we made God up? The writings we find in the Bible are the kinds of writings we would expect, if God created humanity, then humanity rebelled, then God chose and called a specific people for the working out of His purposes, making covenant promises with them, rescuing them from Egypt, giving them the law at Sinai, establishing covenant promises and consequences, bringing them into a promised land where the people kept breaking the covenant, then God appointed leaders and prophets to get them back on track while continuing to reveal more of His purposes, then He came to us as a man, teaching, working miracles, was killed, then rose from the dead, appeared to many, gave the Holy Spirit, then the many people who saw him alive went about as witnesses telling others what they knew to be true, while God gave the Holy Spirit to people who were not from His specifically chosen people so they could be in relationship with Him also, while groups of believers gathered together in assemblies which sometimes needed instructions which was given through letters written by Paul and others, while the stories about, and teachings of, Jesus, were committed to writing by four men in what came to be known as the Gospels. If all these things happened and more, then the Bible is exactly the collection of writings we would expect.

The opposite is true. If these things did not happen, then why do the writings that make up the Bible exist, why do they take the shape they do, and why do they say the things they do?

The writings that make up the Bible are records of the ongoing relationship between God and humanity throughout many centuries in history until God finally revealed Himself most fully through Jesus:

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2 And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. 3 The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NLT)

So are these writings from God, and therefore to be considered “The Word of God,” or are  they simply what humans wrote? They are both. As the Bible says of the sacred writings, what we now call “The Bible,”

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV emphasis added)

The writings that make up the Bible are “God breathed.” That means they are not simply written by God and downloaded to us, nor are they simply written by men without God’s involvement. Both God and humans are involved. They absolutely passed through the minds of people, they were absolutely penned by people, but they absolutely have God’s blessing as expressing well what we need to know. God would not have a long, long history of relationship with humanity, culminating with His very coming to us to enable relationship with Him, without providing for an accurate representation to be written and collected for future generations. So the writings of the Bible are “God breathed,” which means they are neither “God written,” nor “human invented.” Both God and humans are involved. When the writings of the Bible seem to be from another time and place, we are not surprised. They were written by people in another time and place. When the writings of the Bible seem timeless we are not surprised. The creator of time, Who still relates to us in our time, was involved!

This being the nature of the Bible, we want to check our expectations. The Bible is described by Paul as being “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and useful for “training in righteousness.” This means it is not a handbook to answer every question and satisfy our curiosity. Neither is it an idol to be worshipped. It does help us know God in Christ, Whom we do worship. Knowing about reconciliation in Jesus is infinitely better than knowing about the dinosaurs, or where Cain found a wife!

The Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, nor if we made God up. However, it is what we would expect if God has had a long relationship with us, interacting with us throughout history. The Bible itself, in all its convoluted mess, in all its wonderful consistency and amazing storyline, is compelling evidence that God exists and that God loves us.

(This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.)