The Bible makes amazing claims for itself that few other books have ever dared to make. It claims to be the Word of God Himself, inspired and preserved by Him, and powerful to give understanding about God and His plan to those who read it with an open mind. This page explores some of those claims recorded within the Bible itself: what the Bible is, and also what it can do in the life of someone who reads it.
The Bible claims to report the words of God Himself. More than 800 times throughout its pages you’ll find expressions like ‘Thus says the Lord’ or ‘The word of the Lord came unto someone, saying’ or ‘And God said’. As such, the Bible doesn’t need any defending from anyone; it speaks for itself!
But more than merely reporting the words of God, the Bible claims to be the word of God, living and powerful, and able to save people. It’s not that the Bible merely contains the word of God (as though some parts are optional or sub-standard); it is the word of God – in all its parts.
Here’s a verse from one of the New Testament books, the letter to the Hebrews, for example:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 3v12) (ESV)
But how can it be written by men, and yet at the same time be the word of God? It’s here that we get into the subject of inspiration. Notice that the English word ‘inspiration’ has the word ‘spirit’ in the middle of it, and that can be a helpful concept. By God’s spirit or power humans were moved to write down and record the word that God wanted to be preserved for posterity as His message to us.
Here’s a Bible passage that talks about this. The apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ most famous disciples, said:
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1v21) (ESV)
Peter means that the prophets didn’t simply ‘make up’ their sayings, prophesying whatever-they-felt-like. The Holy Spirit or power of God compelled them to write what they wrote, albeit in their own language and style.
What is it good for?
Here’s another passage, this time from the apostle Paul, one of the most prolific New Testament writers:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God (= ‘God-breathed’ or ‘inspired’) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3v16-17) (ESV)
Paul says that the Scriptures are profitable, and then he gives a list which seems to be in the form of a progression. Just what is the Bible profitable for?
- For teaching – it tells us the facts we need about God, ourselves, and God’s plan
- For reproof – it tells us where we’ve gone wrong
- For correction – it shows us how to do things better
- For training in righteousness – it takes us to a higher level of living, more in tune with God and His ways
And it does this to make people ‘competent’ (some translations use the idea of ‘perfect’ in the sense of ‘whole, full or complete’), thoroughly equipped with what we need to live lives which are pleasing to God.
Now that’s a pretty impressive set of qualities. Paul is explaining that the Bible is a kind of toolkit for life. It contains what people need to know if they want to live life to the full in tune with God’s purpose. It contains the record of God’s amazing promises which date right back to the times of our earliest ancestors, and which He is still in the process of bringing to pass.
In another place Paul shows how a real faith and personal conviction in God and His plan grows as part of a process of interaction with the Word of God
“So faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17) (AV)
Faith, then, in Paul’s view, should be Bible-based. It doesn’t just ‘happen’. It comes from hearing God’s words – words which can be found in the Bible.
What Moses had to say
There are many interesting ideas from the Old Testament also which add to the theme of the benefits of the Scriptures. The Bible is not backwards in coming forwards when it speaks about the significance of God’s words. Moses, one of the most (if not the most) influential Old Testament figure, describes God’s words as being ‘our life’ (Deuteronomy 32v47). They are the source for finding out about life and its big issues, and they keep us alive by teaching us how to re-establish a relationship with God and how to remain in step with Him.
Moses echoed the same idea when he said that ‘man does not live by bread alone'. No one would deliberately starve their physical bodies in the normal course of daily life (if we exclude the practice of fasting for a moment!). The health of our spiritual selves is just as important. This metaphor of God’s words as daily bread tells us that we ought to be just as dependent on them as we are on our food or drink.
Sometimes in the modern world people can experience an emptiness of the soul – a gnawing lack of something which the materialistic and mechanistically-construed modern world doesn’t provide, a sense of a ‘something else’ that seems to be missing, a feeling that ‘there must be more to life than this’. The concept of God’s words, now recorded in the Bible, as ‘food for the soul’, so to speak, might help explain how this emptiness might be filled.
Jesus too appreciated this point, for he quoted Moses’ words about man not living by bread (i.e. 'food') alone at a crucial turning point in his ministry. Instead, humans need a diet of the Word of God, just as Jesus himself did (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).
If all this wasn’t plain enough, Moses made things even more explicit when he passed on some of God’s words to the Israelites shortly before his death. He emphasized the massive significance of the choice of deciding whether or not to pay attention to God’s words:
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil….I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,” (Deuteronomy 30:15,19) (ESV)
Finally, it’s worth mentioning Psalm 119. One of its claims to fame is that it is the longest chapter in the Bible with an incredible 176 verses! It’s divided into 22 sections, corresponding to each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Every one of the eight verses of those 22 sections begins with the appropriate letter of the Hebrew alphabet (so for instance the first 8 verses begin with the Hebrew equivalent of the letter ‘A’, the next 8 with the letter ‘B’ and so on). It's quite a remarkable pattern!
But the most remarkable thing about this notable chapter is not its form but the fact that every single one of the 176 verses is about the word of God and its power! Here are just a couple of samples:
“Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.
I have seen a limit to all perfection,
but your commandment is exceedingly broad.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.”
(Psalm 119:89,93,96,99,103-105) (ESV)
Notice some of the points that are made here:
- God’s word is unchanging and eternal (v89)
- It is life-giving (v93)
- While all other experience has limitations, God’s word brings freedom (96)
- It gives wisdom (v99)
- It brings joy and satisfaction (v103)
- It provides moral guidance (v104)
- It provides direction and illumination (v105)
God’s words are described as being ‘a light to our feet and a lamp to our path’ (Psalm 119v105). It’s pretty dark out there – the world is a confusing place with all kinds of challenges, but the Bible can be a guide, a source of direction, a light to show us the way to go. The word of God is both illuminating and life-giving.