We want something bigger and better. We are afraid of settling for less than. This is true in our walk of faith; we are afraid we are missing out on greater and better spirituality, and we don’t want to miss out on the possibility of having a closer relationship with God. If it truly is possible to move mountains, we want to do it.
In such striving, we don’t want to accept the “old and tired methods of the past” for spiritual growth. We want contemporary and exciting methods that give us great promises. We want new and creative ways to see those miraculous results. But here’s the truth: Those ground-breaking, never-seen-before models of change for spiritual growth are not what you need. Why? Because they are giving you empty promises. They promise a better and higher Christian life, yet they cannot come close to delivering that. My dear friend and sister, you do not need new, cutting-edge models of change. You need what God has already given you: The Bible, the church, prayer, fellow saints, and the Holy Spirit.
In this series, I want to focus in on the life-giving Word of God. Before we begin learning how to study the Bible though, we need to set our foundations. It is critical that we understand the purpose and characteristics of the Bible if we want to study it well. If we are to rightly delight in the Word of God, we must begin with a knowledge of it.
And ultimately, if we want to delight in the triune God, we must begin with Scripture. “In Scripture, the person of God and the Word of God are everywhere interrelated, so much so that whatever is true about the character of God is true about the nature of God’s Word. God is true, impeccable, and reliable; therefore, so is his Word. What a person thinks about God’s Word in reality reflects what person thinks about God.”¹
To begin, let’s look at some of the basic characteristics of the Bible: It is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient.
The Bible Is Inspired
According to the doctrine of inspiration, the Bible was written by God through man. The idea here is not that God dictated every exact word He wanted the writers to write, but rather that the Holy Spirit inspired them to write. 2 Peter 1:20-21 explains: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (NASB). Zechariah explains it similarly: “They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts” (7:12 NASB, emphasis mine).
God did not dictate every word of Scripture, but influenced the writer’s thoughts. This does not means the Bible was subject to man’s fallible mistakes. Instead, God sovereignly allowed each writer’s personality and circumstances to come through. “Behind the composition of the sixty-six books of the Bible was a divine superintendence that providentially orchestrated every aspect of its creation. This encompassed everything from the occasion of the writing to the unique personal makeup and experiences of the individual authors themselves.”² We can trust that though man played an important part in the writing of Scripture, it still remains God’s Words, not man’s.
The Bible Is Inerrant
The word inerrant literally means, “without error,” therefore the doctrine of inerrancy claims that the Bible is without error. This doctrine applies directly to the original manuscripts written by the original human author; since then, people have transcribed the manuscripts thousands of times in order to persevere them. Not only that, they have translated the Bible from its original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) to today’s languages. Though this is an amazing thing (it is the only reason we have Bibles today) this left the original manuscripts open to human error. So how does this doctrine still apply today?
It can be trusted that God has preserved His Word to keep it without error (Psalm 119:89, 152; Isaiah 40:8), which is evident through the collection and discoveries of many manuscripts. Researchers have found countless manuscripts of the books of the Bible from different places and times, and are then able to compare them for accuracy when writing today’s manuscripts. Through this process, translators today are able to create Bibles that accurately convey the original words and message of the Bible.
In spite of these facts, the ultimate truth is that the Bible is written by the perfect God of all creation through inspiration, leaving it to be nothing but completely true and errorless. God never lies (Titus 1:2) so His inspired Word is truth.
The Bible Is Authoritative
Scripture is authoritative. Scripture carries the same authority as God because it is literally the Word of God. Though the Bible was written through man by inspiration, God’s authority still remains because it is not man’s words but God’s, as Scripture itself claims (1 Thessalonians 2:13; Psalm 19:7).
Due to this authority, Scripture must not only have a high standing among Christians, but we must submit to and honour it. Our responsibility is not to prove it wrong, question it, or try to make it sound “better.” The authority of the Bible should not and cannot be challenged in any way, because God’s authority is both permanent, unchanging, and above all other. Scripture does not have authority because it was declared authoritative by God, but it is authoritative by origin since it comes from God.
The Bible Is Sufficient
Scripture is sufficient for the believer. Everything we need to live a godly life is available to us in the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 declares this: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB).
Moreover, consider what Scripture declares about itself in Psalm 19:
“The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.” (vv. 7-11 ESV)
Scripture revives our souls, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, and warns believers. It encourages us when we are down and exhorts us when we are in sin. It gives us discernment in making choices and warns us of error.
Because Scripture is sufficient, we do not need to add to it. In fact, we are commanded to add nothing to God’s Word (Revelation 22:18; Deuteronomy 12:32; Proverbs 30:6).
Read: Hope for the Indecisive in the Sufficiency of Scripture for a deeper look on this issue.
The Foundation for a Proper Posture
All of this theology may seem unnecessary for studying the Bible, but it is foundational. How can you respect something you do not know? How you can humbly submit to something you do not recognize as authoritative? How can you accept and believe something you do not know to be 100% true? Our sinful hearts are prone to wander and doubt, therefore without knowing and believing such truths our foundation will easily be rocked.
Not only that, the truths above are basic and foundational to the Christian life. Our faith and beliefs stand alone on the declarations and truths of Scripture; if we are not convinced that they are inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient, how will our faith stand the test? How will you confidently defend what you believe?
These are the building blocks to studying God’s Word. Without them, our faith may become like a newborn babe trying stand: wobbly and easily swayed.
QUESTIONS FOR HEART CHANGE
Now knowing that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient, how should my attitude change when studying my Bible? How should I regard the Bible now that I know these things?
How have I disregarded any of these attributes of God’s Word in my life? What effect did that have on me?
How does the inerrancy of the Bible deepen my trust in God’s promises? Are there any promises in God’s Word that I have found difficult to trust? How can I reassure myself of God’s faithfulness?
When I am come across commands in the Bible that are tempting to skip over or forget, how should the authority of the Bible change my attitude towards that command?
When I am trying to discern the answer to a problem in my life, or make a difficult decision, how does knowing that Scripture is sufficient change my decision-making process?
What do each of these attributes of Scripture remind me or teach me about God’s character?
I would love to hear how growing in the knowledge of God’s Word has changed your week! Feel free to send me an email or comment below.
John MacArthur, Dr. and Richard Mayhue, Dr., eds., Biblical Doctrine (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2017), 70.