The Bible -- A Divine Library
The Bible is the most widely circulated book in the world, but it is also a neglected book even in countries which are nominally Christian. There are reasons for this into which we do not now enquire beyond suggesting that one of them is a general failure to understand or appreciate its message. The object of this book is to consider the Bible's own claims, and to unfold its teaching: in short, to let the Bible speak for itself.
We call it The Bible, or The Book -- a title which suggests that the writings of which it is composed constitute a unity. This is a unique feature of the Bible; for it is made up of many books, forming two collections called the Old Testament, and the New Testament. The Old Testament consists of thirty-nine books which form the sacred writings of the Jewish nation, and were "the Scriptures" read and quoted by Jesus Christ. The New Testament consists of twenty-seven books which were written in the first century of the Christian era by leaders of the Christian communities, and added to "the other scriptures" to form the complete Bible for followers of Christ.
The first seventeen books of the Old Testament are devoted to man's history -- covering a period from the creation to about 450 years before Christ was born: but it is history written for a particular purpose. After the first eleven chapters of Genesis, which sketch the history of mankind to the call of Abraham, the remainder of Genesis is concerned with the history of the patriarchs of the Israelitish nation. The rest of Old Testament history concerns the nation of Israel.
The following five books are poetical in form: the book of Job, probably belonging in history to the time of the patriarchs; the Psalms, composed by several writers, many by David, produced throughout the period covered by the Bible history of Israel; Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. The other seventeen books of the Old Testament are the writings of prophets, most of them produced during the days of the decline of the Kingdom, the period of the Exile, and the early days of the restoration from the captivity in Babylon.
The New Testament opens with four books which narrate the events concerning the life and mission of Jesus Christ. The fifth book (Acts of the Apostles) relates the spread of Christianity in the Roman world by the labours of the apostles, especially of Peter and Paul; and the rest of the New Testament, with the exception of the last book of all, are letters by the apostles and their associates to the Christian churches or to individuals; the last book is the "Revelation" of Jesus Christ which he communicated to the apostle John.
Christ's Attitude to the Old Testament
Particular value attaches to the witness of Jesus Christ, his words receiving confirmation from the fact that God raised him from the dead.
He referred to the Old Testament in a way which leaves no doubt concerning his attitude towards it. He spoke of the whole of the Old Testament as "The Scriptures", saying: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). His assertion that they testily of himself was at once a claim that his corning and work had been long foretold, and that the writings which contained those predictions were therefore not merely human writings. He referred to a Psalm (82) as "The Word of God" (John 10:35), and built an argument upon a single word therein, at the same time insisting that "the scripture cannot be broken". The Psalm was "scripture" and therefore could not be annulled. He referred to the "writings" of Moses and made them of equal authority with his own "words" (John 5:45, 47); "Moses", he said, "wrote of me". He regarded the revelation in the Old Testament as having particular reference to himself and to his work, and that the predictions of the prophets concerning himself had therefore to him the authority of a divine command. "The son of man goeth as it is written of him" (Matt. 26:24); he said with reference to his betrayal, on the last night he spent with the apostles before his death; but he had said before, "It is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought" (Mark 9:12). Early in his ministry he told a ruler of the Jews that "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14, 15). Thus an episode in the history of Israel recorded centuries earlier was a prediction of what must be fulfilled in his own life, and he associated it with the very centre of his redemptive work, for he continues, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
After his resurrection he made most emphatic reference to the Old Testament, thus endorsing it as divine. Meeting two of his disciples, discouraged and sad at the recent events which they thought had for ever destroyed the hopes they had based on Jesus, he said: "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:25-27). "All that the prophets have spoken" -- there is neither doubt nor discrimination, and Jesus confirmed his words by an exposition of Old Testament prophecy and its fulifiment in himself; "and beginning at Moses, and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (verse 27). We cannot, then, understand all God's purpose with Jesus unless we know the witness to what God would accomplish in him, which the Old Testament gave before he was born. Shortly after this, he met the apostles, to whom he said: "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44). His attitude to the Scriptures was the same after his resurrection as before his death: and his endorsement of them is full, and free from ambiguity. Referring to the Old Testament in the terms of the three-fold division then current, the resurrected Jesus places his seal upon what was written in the law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms: all must be fulfilled. "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day" (verse 46).
Holding such a view of the Old Testament, Jesus naturally turned to it for his own guidance in every crisis of his life. "It is written" was the basis of his every response during the Temptation (Matt. 4:4,7,10), and the guidance that sprang to his lips came from the book of Deuteronomy. This to him was the Word of God. In conversation and in dispute he turned attention to the authoritative Scriptures by saying "It is written" or "What is written?" (Matt. 11:10; 21:13; Mark 7:6; 9:12; John 6:45, etc.); and since his hearers, for the most part, claimed to accept the same scriptures as God's word, there is reproof in his frequent questions "Have ye not read?" (Matt. 11:13; 19:4; 21:16,42; 22:31), and there is strong rebuke in the command,"Go, learn what that meaneth", followed by a citation from the prophecy of Hosea (Matt. 9:13).
This short summary of the evidence concerning the attitude of Jesus to the Scriptures of the Old Testament shows that to follow the example of Jesus requires a reverent, studious attitude to those writings, and a willingness to receive them as God's word, written for our instruction. We will now look a little more closely at the Old Testament writings themselves.
The Old Testament: A Divine Revelation
The books which bear the names of prophets (Isaiah to Malachi) make explicit claims to be God's word. "The Lord hath spoken" "Thus saith the Lord" "Hear the word of the Lord"; "The word of the Lord came" are typical phrases by which the messages given through the prophets were introduced. No such explicit claim is made in connection with the historical books of the Old Testament, but a careful reading will show that such a claim is implicit in the record itself. Thus Bible history purports to be a record of God's dealings with men, by communication and by action; of a revelation of God's thoughts concerning men and their ways; and of actions done by God.
The first statement of the Bible says: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"; and then follows an account of the successive steps of creation that were taken preparatory to the formation of man. Such a record must be either a divine revelation or is merely human speculation, for no man could have witnessed what is recorded. If the former, it demands our acceptance; if the latter it might or might not be true, but it has no higher authority than that which belongs to a human theory.
We have seen that there are references in the New Testament which show that Jesus accepted the record as divine; the Old Testament record itself implies that it is God's revelation. Another striking illustration of this fact, of particular value because of the New Testament we of the passage, is to be found in Genesis 15:6. God had made a communication to Abraham about his future, and we are then told, "Abraham believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness". There is no particular emphasis in the record of what, after all, must be of vital importance to man -- that God rewarded Abraham's faith by counting it to him for righteousness. How could anyone know of God's reaction to a man's faith excepting God, who has revealed it? In an almost casual way the writer of Genesis records that a man's relationship to the Almighty was changed as the result of a man's faith in what God had said. The statement is the basis of New Testament doctrine in Galatians and Hebrews, and the subject of sustained argument in Romans 4, at the end of which the apostle makes the astonishing statement that these words in Genesis 15:6 were "not written for Abraham's sake alone, but for us, to whom it (righteousness) shall be imputed if we believe" on God (Rom. 4:23,24). In other words, Paul says that what is divinely recorded of God's attitude to Abraham is true also of all those who manifest faith like Abraham's. Such a view gives great importance to what is written in the Old Testament.
Paul's statement in fact involves (1) God's knowledge of generations to come, (2) that the writing of the history was directed by God, and (3) that God had overruled the preservation of what was written for the benefit of succeeding generations. The whole attitude of the New Testament writers to the Old Testament, is in keeping with this one example. An attentive reading of the Old Testament history will show that throughout it is history written from God's point of view.
Evidence of Divine Origin
A divine revelation might be expected to have proofs. If God has made known His will and man has an obligation to obey that will, it is reasonable that there should be evidence that the claims of the message to be divine are true. The Bible invites a test which it is within the power of any reader to apply. The test is that of fulfilled prophecy. God forbad Israel to go to soothsayers and mediums for knowledge of the future; He would reveal His purpose through prophets whom He would raise up among them. "I will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him". God required that men should obey His message thus given: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him" (Deut. 18: 18) Such an arrangement made it imperative that men should be able to recognize the true prophet in order that his message might be obeyed, and that the false prophet should be exposed. God told them for what credentials they should look. "When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously thou shalt not be afraid of him" (verse 22). The whole section, Deuteronomy 18:9-22, should be read.
In keeping with this declaration, Isaiah, speaking God's word, said "Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare before they spring forth I tell you of them" (42:9). God "frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad . . . He confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers" (44:25,26). Again "Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his maker, Ask of me things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me" (45:11).
Any revelation from God concerning His purpose with man must, in the nature of the case, include a prediction of things to come. The gospel is good news of the future there could be no gospel if there were not a revelation of things to be. The objection to prophecy as such is inconsistent with any profession of faith in a revealed purpose.
The test of fulfilled prophecy is very extensive and can only be briefly touched upon. The Old Testament contains many prophecies concerning the coming of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of which can be seen in the life of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. A comparison is easily possible to anyone by the use of the marginal references, only patience and application being necessary. There is also a great number of prophecies concerning the rise and fall of nations and cities, a knowledge of history being necessary to an extensive check upon the detailed fulfillment.
Prophecy Fulfilled in Jesus Christ
Take as an example the broad outline of prophecy concerning Jesus. His birth in Bethlehem is foretold in Micah 5:2. The time of his appearance is revealed in Daniel 9:24,25. He had to be a descendant of David (2 Sam. 7:16; Jer. 23:5,6; Isa. 11:1) The lowliness of his birth, the despising and abhorring by his own people, are all revealed (Isa. 53:2, 3; 49:7). His meekness and humility and b's r,ul,tpousness are distinctly foretold (Zech. 9:9; Isa. 11:5). But the light of prophecy is even more strongly focused upon the events connected with his death. His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, his trial, the scourging, the spitting, the piercing of hands and feet, the parting of garments and casting lots for a vesture, the vinegar and gall, the frame racked, the agony and anguish, the mockery, the burial in a rich man's tomb after his death had been brought about in the company of wicked men -- all are revealed in unmistakable language (Psa. 22:69; Isa. 53). Let these scriptures be carefully examined and the New Testament history compared, and conviction will follow that here is something more than human. The prophets could not of themselves write in such detail centuries beforehand; and no human writer could weave the details into the record of a life stamped by every mark of truth such as the four gospel writers have given us. It is important to note that the actors in the events connected with Christ's death - the Jews, Pilate, Herod, the soldiers, the people, the rulers - were unaware of the parts they played in fulfillment of Scripture. Only Jesus knew and saw how all must be fulfilled. Some events were under his control; there were others that were not, yet all were fulfilled.
But prophecy concerning Jesus goes further than his death it foretells his resurrection from the dead (Psa. 16) and his ascension to God (Psa. 110). The disciples did not expect his death, and therefore never anticipated his resurrection; they were incredulous when first told of it, and were only convinced of the fact of his resurrection by personal contact with the risen Jesus, and they then realized the significance of these prophecies. The Jews found in the preaching of a crucified man as their Messiah an objection difficult to overcome. Such a death seemed to them to disprove all his claims to Messiahship and to establish their belief that he was an impostor. The objection was met by showing that Old Testament prophecy had said that the Messiah would be a resurrected man who had ascended to God, as was fully demonstrated by Peter in Acts 2, and Paul in Acts 13. Such evidence of Messiah-ship existed in the facts connected with Jesus raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven; the evidence was unique in form and character, and to Jews who believed the Old Testament to be God's word proved very convincing.
Most striking of all in the prophecies of the Coming One are those that declare that his life would be given as "an offering for sin", that through his death men would have forgiveness of sins and become reconciled to God; that the Mosaic sacrifices offered by the Jews were only a foreshadowing of his work, which, when accomplished, would put away the typical animal sacrifices (Isa. 53:10, 11; Psa. 40:6). It is utterly inconceivable that any human writer should speak in these terms of himself or of any other man. Yet that is exactly what the prophets foretold concerning Jesus -- and it is in the language of these prophets that the New Testament writers explain the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. The skeptic and the scoffer pass by these significant things, for they dare not face them.
Prophecy and the Jews
The Jews are declared in the Bible to be the people of God -- "You only have I known of all the families of the earth", God said, "therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities". Further reference will be made to these matters in a later chapter concerning God's purpose with the Jewish nation, but they are mentioned here because of the evidence their history provides of the truth of the Bible. They became God's people by covenant at Sinai (Exod. 19), upon the condition that all that God had spoken they would do, and be obedient. At the end of their wilderness journey "blessings" and "curses" were declared to them - blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience. In two long chapters, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, both most interesting and instructive in this connection, Israel were told that if they disobeyed God, He would pluck them from off their land and would scatter them among the nations; and that during this exile their land would be desolate. "If ye walk contrary unto me . . . I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation . . . And I will bring the land into desolation and your enemies which dwell therein shall he astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste" (Lev. 26:31-33). "And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone. And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind" (Deut. 28:64, 65).
Observe the great improbability of these things happening. The land of Palestine was exceedingly fruitful -- in a delightful figure of speech Moses described it as a "land flowing with milk and honey". Yet the land would become desolate. The people would not only be conquered but deported from their land and scattered, and yet they were not to lose their identity, nor be destroyed. The prophecies, with many details not possible to enter into now, have all been fulfilled. The Jews are with us, separate, often disliked and despised a problem to the nations among whom they are sojourners. Over two thousand years of history have established the truth of this prophecy. Jesus confirmed the predictions when he said that they (the Jews) "shall fall by the edge of the sword and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (Luke 21:24). So it has come to pass. Desolation came upon the land: but it was not to last. Jesus said it would continue "until the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled". "Until" marks a limit to both downtreading and desolation, and since, as we shall see in a later chapter, the times of the Gentiles are near their close, a revival of land and people has begun during the last seventy years.
The Bible deals with matters of history, and on many points its accuracy has been challenged. Increasing knowledge has always vindicated the Bible, modern archaeological discovery again and again confirming its statements. Thus the clay deposits in the valley of the Euphrates bear witness to a Flood which Sir Leonard Woofley identified with the Flood of Genesis. Sargon, only once mentioned in the Bible (Isa. 20:1), was unknown to profane history, and much ingenuity has been displayed by writers in efforts to identify him with other kings of Assyria whose history was known. One of the earliest excavations in Assyria, however, brought to light his palace, and more is known of that king today than of many others of that land.
The accuracy of Daniel was similarly questioned in his reference to Belshazzar as king of Babylon. Profane history was silent on the matter, and the critics assumed that here was a Biblical error. Modern discovery has shown the Bible to be accurate, contemporary inscriptions establishing that Belshazzar reigned as de facto sovereign during his father's protracted absences abroad. Discovery has again and again shown the Bible to be accurate.
In the New Testament Luke tells us that the birth of Jesus occurred at Bethlehem because a decree of Caesar Augustus required people to go to their ancestral homes to be enrolled and this, the first enrolment, took place when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. Clerical critics, however, expressed their disbelief in Luke. They said that there was no census at that time; and had there been, men and women would not have had to journey to their family homes for enrolment; and the reference by Luke to the governorship of Cyrenius was a first class historical blunder. Alas, for the critics. The last half century has brought to light in Egypt sufficient evidence of census papers to establish the fact of a fourteen-yearly sequence, the first being at the time when Luke says it took place. As for Cyrenius, a monument discovered in Pisidian Antioch shows that at the time the edict "'as made he was in Syria on a military mission; and Luke is again proven accurate. Ten years later he was again in Syria as governor. Authorities have shown how accurately Luke discriminates in the Acts of the Apostles between the different names given to the ruling authorities in the places mentioned, thus: "the rulers of the Synagogue" and "first men" of Antioch in Pisidia, the "priest of Zeus" at Lystra, the "praetors, lictors" and "jailor" of Philippi, the "politarchs" of Thessalotuca, the "Asiarchs" and "secretary" of Ephesus, the "procurator" of Judaea, the "first man" of Malta, and the "captain of the camp" at Rome, are all accurate descriptions. Luke is always correct in these references, and while accuracy in historical detail in ordinary matters does not necessarily prove the truth of his record in things miraculous, yet had error been discovered where his statements can be tested, such error would certainly cast grave doubts on his reliability where miracle is involved But Luke's truthfulness in matters of historical fact is well established, and it is not possible to discriminate in his story between the miraculous and ordinary events. His story is of one piece.
Jesus and the New Testament Writers
We have already noticed the attitude of Jesus toward the Old Testament - that those writings had for him the authority of a law divinely sealed, and that he added his own witness to their truth. Jesus also bears witness to the accuracy of the writings of his apostles, even before those writings came into existence. On the eve of his betrayal, in his final words to his disciples, he said "The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:24-26). This promise being fulfilled, we have, in the gospels, not the fallible recollections of men who depended upon human memory, but the writings of men guided by inspiration to record the words of the Master. In the same address he also said: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak and he will shew you things to come" (John 16:13). This promise of Christ goes beyond the guarantee of accuracy in the record of his teaching; it extends to the future apostolic writings in which the doctrines revealed to the apostles are set forth as "truth". Jesus promised that they should be the channels of further revelation from God. The words are a confirmation in advance that the writings of the apostles would be a continuation of the revelation given through the prophets. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1,2)
The great salvation "which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, ... was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will " (Heb. 2:3-4). So also the apostle Paul declared that his doctrine and moral teaching were the "commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37). The whole of the New Testament is instinct with the tone of authority appropriate to a divine revelation.
The Test of Personal Experience
There is a line of evidence that can only be tested by each one for himself: it is the test of personal knowledge and experience. By reading the Bible daily over a number of years, with humility and with a willingness to be instructed, the reader reaches a conviction of its truth which cannot be assailed. There are so many marks of truth, so much comfort in distress, such clear guidance in life, such sound roles of living, that only those who have experienced them can realize the cumulative effect. The test in life confirms, as Jesus said: " If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17). The purpose unfolded in the Scriptures reveals God's will, and the reader is invited to examine the evidence of its teaching in the ensuing pages, and finding truth and obeying truth, to reach that personal conviction Jesus promised of the divinity of the Scriptures, "which... are able to make... wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15).