The Bible is a book like no other. Graeme Loftus takes a look inside to see what its point is.
Bruce of Bruce Almighty had a terrible job trying to be God in a world of human beings, all of whom wanted conflicting things. He was, of course, a facetious portrayal of the dilemma in which God finds Himself, with a moviemaker’s profit in mind. From our human perspective, however, all of us struggle to understand God’s values and motives and actions. They always seem so different to ours.
For example, if I were God and wanted to come to earth as a human in order to let people know who I was and why I was here, I think I’d do it in style. If I’d lived in ivory palaces for eternity, and constantly received the worship of all beings in the universe as their Creator, then I’d come in a manner in accord with the lifestyle to which I’d become accustomed.
Instead, Jesus bypassed the paparazzi and palaces, and intentionally came to the most obscure village in Palestine to be born as a baby into the poorest family He could find. The first people He revealed Himself to were shepherds, the lowest rung on society’s ladder. He avoided the ranks of kings, the nobility and the educated, who had won their wealth at the expense of the poor, to seek the company of the oppressed and give them hope in a difficult world.
In Old Testament times, God hid the overpowering presence of His Shekinah glory in a tent covered outwardly with the brown hides of sea cows. The New Testament makes the analogy of Jesus’ glory and divinity covered in a similar manner with a garb of humble humanity (see John 1:14).
Similarly, as He came to the climax of His mission on earth following His death and resurrection, He didn’t reveal His identity through an exhibition of power. Instead, He chose a method as unassuming as His birth. He sought out only those who had responded to the holiness of His character in His public ministry.
Alongside two followers on a slow, disillusioned walk back to their home following the devastating events of the crucifixion of the person they hoped was the Messiah, Jesus kept Himself from being recognised. He drew them out as to their reasons for dejection. In a picture of depression, the two disciples stood still with downcast faces and recounted the terrible events that had taken place in Jerusalem and their resulting crisis of faith.
Jesus chose not to overwhelm them by a revelation of His glorified presence, but patiently and systematically went through all the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the death and resurrection of the Messiah. He did the same thing shortly afterwards to the 11 disciples, and said to them, “‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day‘” (Luke 24:44-46).
How I wish I had been there to hear those divinely inspired Bible studies. But I am left to search them out for myself. And in that, I see the wisdom of God, for I wasn’t privileged to be an eyewitness to the life and ministry Jesus at that time. He chooses to reveal Himself to me in the same way that He did to them—through reading and reflecting on the Holy Scriptures.
Even if I had been alive back then and followed Jesus wherever He went, listening to every teaching and watching every miracle, I would still have had to know my Bible, because wannabe messiahs were everywhere. Speaking of Jesus, Matthew says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet” (reference?) He says this repeatedly through his Gospel story, because Jesus did not fit the Jewish political expectations of who they wanted their Messiah to be, an expectation that could have been corrected through comprehensive knowledge of the Holy Writings.
It becomes evident, however, that studying the Scriptures was not enough by itself to convince a person that Jesus was who He said He was. It needed a searching heart, hungry for God’s guidance and responsive to His revelation (see Jeremiah 29:13; John 7:17). Many religious and self-sufficient people of the day missed the most important moment of history because, even though they studied the Bible thoroughly, they lacked these spiritual essentials. “You diligently study the Scriptures,” said Jesus, “because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39, 40).
The same Holy Spirit that originally inspired the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:16-21) was needed to illumine the minds of its readers (John 16:13).
The Bible is an amazing book.
It is not like any other book that has ever been written. It has an intangible quality of life inherent in its pages. When the same Jesus spoke creative words at the beginning of Planet Earth’s history, things that were previously not in existence suddenly came into being (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9ff; John 1:1-3).
Similarly, when He stood at the tomb of Lazarus and called out in a loud voice “Lazarus, come out,” this man’s dead body, which had been decomposing for four days, suddenly came to life again, pulsing with health and energy (see John 11:43). In the same way, when we hear the words of God spoken, their life-giving qualities stand at the tomb of our dead human spirit and call it to life.
If we respond acceptingly, a new life surges into our innermost being as the presence of the Holy Spirit takes up an internal transforming residence within us. Up until that moment, He only had an external role, wooing us and drawing us to this time (see Ephesians 2:1-5; 1 Peter 1:23; John 14:17).
And so the Bible is in one way similar to Jesus Himself. Within the covers of its fully human pages and fully human ink there is a fully Divine Word. Each one of its 66 books, a mini “library” compliled over some 1500 years, contains the imprint of their human author, but remains equally as divine as the Holy Spirit who inspired them.
But note, the Bible is not equal to or the same thing as Jesus. We must never be guilty of “bibliolatry”—worshipping the Bible. The Bible doesn’t save us—only Jesus can do that—but it is the authority that we test the experiential dynamics of our journey toward and with Jesus, and the orthodoxy of objective truth. It is a love letter to us from the One who brought each one of us into existence and died for each one of us personally to win our hearts and give us eternal life.
God doesn’t seek to seduce us with the spectacular. Rather, He desires us to be drawn to Him by the enduring qualities of character, the reversal of human expectations. It is the weak who are really strong, the poor who are really rich, and the humble who are really effective. As we pick up the Sacred Writings, they themselves are actually a tableau to lead us into that eternal truth, seen supremely in the Lord of all who became our servant, and who is revealed in its pages.