The Bible: Unlike Any Other Book | Wimber

Source:  Equipping The Saints, Vol. 3, No. 1/Winter 1989

By John Wimber

Founder of the Vineyard Movement & AVC; Founding Pastor, VCF Anaheim, CA

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The Bible is like a love letter from God, the words of a loving Father telling us about our relationship with him.

Recently I read in the newspaper about an American soldier who became separated from a daughter he fathered in the Vietnam war. The mother, a Vietnamese woman, had died, and the father fled the country as the Viet Cong overtook Saigon.

He had lost all hope of ever seeing his daughter again when, much to his surprise, he saw her in a photograph, along with other Vietnamese Eurasian children, in a national magazine. The girl, now a teenager, looked just like him. So he wrote to her and, after two years of diplomatic negotiating, they were reunited.

When I heard this story I thought about what it must have been like the first time the girl received a letter from her father. Imagine the love, affection, and reassurance he must have poured into it and the many letters that followed. And think of what went through her mind. She had known about his existence for years, but now she began learning about the kind of person he was.

With each new letter from the United States she learned more about her father. I’m sure he also included photographs. I doubt she codified every letter, memorizing facts about her father (“he’s six feet tall, blue eyes, an engineer…”)-though if asked she could rattle off every fact that one could glean from the letters. No, loving relationships don’t work like legal contracts. I imagine she experienced his love and concern for her through his words, and in doing so in a small way she came to know him. She also learned about her father’s purpose for her: to bring her to America so they could be together.

Love letters

The Bible is analogous to that father’s letters. It isn’t merely a collection of “facts” about God, a celestial computer manual. It is the words of a loving Father, telling us about our relationship with him and his purpose for us.

Of course, for the girl to experience her father’s love personally she had actually to meet him. The letters sustained her until she came to America, but what she got from the letters could never be compared to her later personal acquaintance with her father.

Scripture functions in a similar manner to the father’s letters. The Bible is a series of letters from our heavenly Father to his children, telling us how much he loves us and how his goal is that we know him personally through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Revelation

Think of our situation this way: we’re like orphans living in a faroff land, rejected by all and without hope, except for the slim possibility of being contacted by our father and rescued from captivity. But there is nothing we can do to contact him; he must find us, communicate with us, and save us. We are totally dependent on him.

Now do you understand why Christianity is called a revealed religion? The term “revelation” refers to God’s selfdisclosure to men and women. It is translated from a Greek noun that means the drawing back of a veil to reveal hidden things. That’s what the God of the Bible does: he reveals himself to us so that we may know him and be redeemed by him, and so that we may love and serve him.

The Bible scholar Leon Morris offers this helpful definition of revelation: it “is knowledge that comes to us from outside ourselves and [that is] beyond our own ability to discover.”

How can finite minds penetrate the nature of an infinite God? How can the pot of clay understand the mind of its Potter? Clearly the only way we know anything about God is because he first graciously chooses to reveal himself to us.

Divine carrot

The Bible says that all men and women receive “general” revelation, and it is sufficient to make us aware that there is a God (Ps. 19:12; Rom. 1:1820). Nature itself and something in every human being cried out, “There is a God.”

But there is a problem with general revelation, for while it is a powerful witness of God’s presence, it fails to reveal enough of God for us to know him personally. In other words, it is a limited selfdisclosure of God, a sort of divine carrot that draws us along a path toward Jesus Christ. There’s just enough awareness of him to assure us that there is a God, but there isn’t enough knowledge of him to know who he is.

General revelation prepares us for a fuller revelation, one that is rooted in the Bible and communicated through the Holy Spirit in which God reveals who he is and how we may have communion with him. Theologians call this latter type of revelation “special revelation.” It’s humbling for me to realize that I can know God only if he chooses to make himself known to me! The fact that he chooses me, reveals himself, and initiates relationship continues to astound me.

The Person of Jesus Christ is the heart and apex of God’s revelation (John 1:1,14,18). He is the “Word” who has come in the flesh, and only those who acknowledge him as such can be saved (1 John 4:2).

Jesus was a real, historic figure who performed many signs and wonders that authenticated his claims, among them that he came from the Father, which was an implicit claim to deity (John 20:3031; Matt. 11:26). Do you want to know the heavenly Father? Then look at his Son, Jesus Christ, because he came to reveal his Father’s nature to us (John 14:9).

Written record

Most Christians automatically associate the Word of God with the Bible, the Old and New Testaments. Well they should, for the written record reveals the incarnate Word of God. To reach all men and women, God provided a written record of his Son.

How else could succeeding generations know about Jesus Christ? He wanted to ensure an accurate historical record and authentic interpretation of his acts, so there could be no misunderstanding about his nature and how to know him. God did this in the Bible, and through it all men and women may learn about and benefit from God’s dealing with Israel and also from the life of Christ.

So, if you want to know the heavenly Father, you have to know his Son. And, if you want to know who the Son is and his will, you must know what the Bible says.

I’m making a high claim for the authority of Scripture, so it’s worth asking what makes it such a special book. This raises the question of how we got the Bible.

Inspiration

Theologians say the Bible was given by inspiration, which means it is “Godbreathed.” But the biblical doctrine of inspiration should not be confused with the writer’s inspiration.

The Bible is not merely inspiring, like the writings of Dante or Shakespeare. It is inspired. The very words of the Old and New Testaments are the product of divine activity. The writings of the Bible are of divine origin because the authors were inspired by God; God worked through men who cooperated with him.

Peter says, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:2021). Paul wrote, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13). Both of these passages refer to the prophets and apostles speaking by inspiration, but this also includes the message that they wrote.

The Whole Bible

A common analogy for how inspiration works is a sailboat and the wind. The Holy Spirit, like the wind, filled the sails of the writers. Without the wind, the boat could go nowhere. However, like all analogies, this one breaks down when pushed too far. For example, a sailboat is an impersonal, inanimate object; human beings are intensely personal, flesh and blood agents of revelation.

God didn’t merely dictate the Bible to writersecretaries, as though human authors had no more a part in producing Scripture than the computer on which I write this article. No, the Bible is the Word of God spoken through human writers, and as such it bears the marks of humanity: God’s truth communicated in the authors’ unique language and culture. This dynamic is captured in 2 Samuel 23:2: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.”

Both the Holy Spirit and human beings were involved in writing Scripture. Nevertheless, the critical element was the Holy Spirit; his presence ensured that what was written was wholly true-true in the ways of God’s choosing and not in the ways always acceptable to modern men and women.

Many people find it difficult to accept the whole Bible as the Word of God. Some believe parts of the Bible are in error; they retain the right to pick and choose only those passages that they agree with. Thomas Jefferson removed every verse from his Bible that referred to the supernatural! Others believe the Bible “contains” the Word of God and that it is the Word of God only to the extent that we experience God in reading it.

Characteristics

What are the characteristics of the Bible that set it apart from all other books? For centuries Christian theologians have used several terms to summarize the high view of biblical inspiration. Some of these terms were used to combat false teachers who were undermining the authority of the Bible. Others were drawn directly from Scripture itself. Let’s take a closer look at them:

1.   Infallible. This means Scripture will never deceive us, never lead us astray. It is wholly trustworthy and wholly reliable. It contains no mistakes and is incapable of error. Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), so his Word will not mislead us. Think of it this way: if God cannot lie, how could he lie in his Word?

2.   Inerrant. The Bible is also wholly true. What the Bible says, God says. And he says it through the human writers yet without error. In 1776 John Wesley wrote, “If there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.”

The idea of inerrancy comes from the attitude that Christ had toward Scripture, which was one of total trust, and it comes from Scripture itself: “I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isa. 45:19; also see Prov. 30:56).

This isn’t to say that an error in Scripture would destroy belief in Christ’s deity, the resurrection, or any other cardinal truth of Christianity. However, it would undermine our confidence that the Bible is wholly true, a trustworthy authority and guide in all matters of faith and practice.

In recent years much controversy has surrounded the idea of biblical inerrancy. I’m not suggesting here that belief in inerrancy is necessary for salvation. In fact, I am the first to admit that many Christians more mature than I do not believe in an inerrant Bible. Further, inerrancy is not the basis for church membership or fellowship. But biblical inerrancy as I have outlined it here is essential to living a consistent Christian life; it removes all doubt surrounding the reliability and authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice.

3. Plenary. Plenary inspiration means the Bible is full, complete, unqualified. Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” This means all of Scripture is inspired.

4. Verbal. Inspiration extends to the words of Scripture themselves and not only to the ideas. Because inspiration is verbal we know objectively who God is.

5.   Clarity. The Bible is clear enough for us to read and understand it. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”

This doesn’t mean every passage in the Bible is easy to understand (2 Pet. 3:16), but there is enough clarity to live by. Augustine, a fourthcentury bishop and probably the greatest theologian in church history, said, “In the clear passages of Scripture everything is found that pertains to faith and life.”

6.   Sufficient. Clark Pinnock says that “to confess sufficiency and clarity is just to affirm that Scripture contains enough light to save sinners and direct the church.”

In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” This is not to say that the Bible exhausts all possible or even all actual revelation (John 21:25) or that it reveals everything that can be known about God (1 Cor. 13:12). This means that modern revelations from God are not to be placed on a level equal to Scripture in authority; they are not to be used as yardsticks for judging other revelation. In other words, any source of “revelation” that contradicts Scripture is to be rejected.

7.   Efficacy. Finally, Scripture is effective in bringing people to a personal relationship with Christ. The Word of God generates eternal life. Peter says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23).

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, it also creates saving faith. It overcomes unbelief and promotes salvation (Rom. 10:17), judging and penetrating our innermost being. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any doubleedged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). This passage highlights the dynamic Word of God, a living power that judges as an allseeing eye, penetrating a person’s innermost being.

Conservators

At the beginning of this article I compared the Bible with an American GI’s letters to his longlost Vietnamese daughter. For two years she received letters while he tried to get her released from Viet Nam. I imagine that she saved every letter he sent, rereading them daily, wondering about the meaning behind some sentences. They were, without question, the most precious objects she owned. We are called to conserve the Bible in a similar way, for in so doing we guard God’s truth and maintain our relationship with him.

The great leaders of the church have always been conservators of God’s Word. For example, Augustine wrote, “Do not follow my writings as Holy Scripture. When you find in Holy Scripture anything you did not believe before, believe it without doubt; but in my writings, you should hold nothing for certain.”

Luther, the great reformer, said, “We must make a great difference between God’s Word and the word of man. A man’s word is a little sound, that flies into the air, and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea, greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God, and endures everlastingly.”

The most significant aspect of my calling is preaching the Word of God. For, when any activity in the Christian life is separated from God’s truth, it soon loses its power and leads us away from the gospel.

Communicators

Of course, the Vietnamese girl also probably told everyone she came into contact with about her father. Can’t you see her reading sections from the letters to friends and strangers, showing them his picture and describing in detail what she knew about his home and occupation? Nobody could meet her without learning something about her father, because the letters were lifelines to a living relationship.

Again, the analogy to the Christian and the Bible is striking, for we are called to be communicators as well as conservators of God’s Word. I preach the gospel, teach, worship, feed the poor, house the homeless, pray for the sick, prophesy, and so on, because the Bible says that’s what lovers of God do!

To do anything less, to fail to combine the Word of God with the works of the Spirit, is to hold something less than a high view of Scripture. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:2324)

The Bible is unlike any other book. It is a collection of incredible love letters from God, telling us about our relationship with him. Small wonder that we are called to be men and women of The Book, meditating on God’s Word and allowing it to transform our minds, hearts, souls, and actions.

THE WORD OF GOD

By  John Wimber

The Bible, or canon of Scripture, consists of the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament has thirtynine books that Jews divide into three divisions: the Law, the Prophets, and the Holy Writings. Jesus accepted the Old Testament as the Word of God (Matt. 5:1718), said “Scripture cannot be broken,” and taught his disciples from the Old Testament (Luke 24:27). The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the last book (Malachi) was completed about 433 B.C.

Around 250 B.C. the Old Testament was translated into Greek for the use of Greek speaking Jews in Alexandria. This translation is called the Septuagint (from the Greek word for ”seventy”), due to the fact that, according to tradition, seventy translators worked on it.

The New Testament consists of twentyseven books and is broken up into four divisions: the four Gospels, Acts, twentyone Letters (Epistles), and Revelation. All of the books of the New Testament were probably written between A.D. 50 and 100, and they were written in Greek.

Beginning in the first century, the books were slowly collected and read in the churches, depending on which books a given church had; later the church leaders examined them closely and compared them with other books that were being circulated, books some were claiming to be divinely inspired.

By the end of the fourth century there developed agreement throughout the church about the canon, which is a list of all the books that belong in the Bible.

It is important to remember that the books of the Bible were authoritative before they were recognized as a formal canon. Placing them on an approved list did not make them more authoritative, for the nature of the books themselves and the authority of the writers were all that was needed.

I have heard it said that the Bible is not an authorized collection of books, but a collection of authorized books. Or, as J. I. Packer says, “The Church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity, by his work of creation, and similarly he gave us the New Testament canon, by inspiring the individual books that make it up.”

While church recognition of the canon is not the basis for the Bible’s authority, it does testify to the Bible’s intrinsic power and authority. For nineteen hundred years there has been a continual stream of people who have been converted to Christ after reading or hearing Scripture.

BAD ATTITUDES

BY JOHN WIMBER

If the Bible is God’s Word and he uses it to point us toward Christ-it is the words of Christ- the most fundamental reason for reading the Bible is to maintain and refresh our relationship with God.

Back in the fourth century a famous church leader named Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” But, let’s face it, many Christians find it difficult to read the Bible.

Two attitudes toward Scripture inhibit many Christians from allowing the Bible to have full authority in their lives. The first is the “leave it to the experts” mentality, where people abdicate personal responsibility for knowing God in Scripture.

Modern theologians and pastors have unwittingly contributed to this problem. Armed with the latest discoveries in linguistics, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and history, they leave most laypeople with the impression that interpreting the Bible is far too complex an operation for the ordinary person.

The second attitude counters the first. It is the “me and the Bible” mentality: a subjective, feelingoriented approach that resists others’ insights.

In many instances Christians use the Bible to shield themselves from authority in their lives, especially from pastors and more mature Christians. But the Bible teaches that we are an interdependent people, and the wisdom and understanding of pastoral leaders are vital elements of the Christian life. This abuse of Scripture by some discourages others from ever starting to read it.

Pastors and theologians have much to offer for understanding Scripture. But they cannot stand in the way of our freely reading and submitting to Scripture. This doesn’t require as much expertise as some people think. We gain much benefit from Scripture without being scholars, especially when we keep in mind the goal of our faith: Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.

How do we resolve the tension between too much reliance on the experts and subjectivism? When I stick to the following principles I usually meet God in Scripture study:

1.   Read to learn from God. This includes both devotional reading and study. I am convinced that most Christians do not spend enough time reading Scripture devotionally. They may study it or study about it, but rarely do they sit down and read through large sections of Scripture.

When Bible reading is neglected in favor of Bible study only, we miss out on the devotional benefits of the Word of God. This kind of reading involves meditating and praying over Scripture. Ponder. Think. Stop and ask God what he’s saying to you. Remember Jesus’ words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Matt. 11:29).

2.   Read to obey. If we only learn about God but never act on what he says and who he is, we risk coming under Jesus’ judgment of the Pharisees. He said, “They do not practice what they preach” (Matt. 23:2). James comes straight to the point for Christians when he writes, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1 :2225)

Scripture is a mirror of reality, revealing masks that cover our faces and telling us how to remove them. How can we know what God expects of us if we do not know his will? And of what benefit is his will if we do not act on it?

3.   Read to share with others. One of the characteristics of the Word of God is that it gives life. If we read only for ourselves, we miss out on the dynamic of the Word of God; he gives us his light so that we may show the way to others. Many times I experience an unexpected blessing when I share from God’s Word with others: my understanding of him deepens, and the Word of God comes alive even more.