Let's first consider how Christians view the Bible. As I mentioned yesterday, the Bible is God's Word to us. God Himself, who is sovereign over all, has given us a message in the form of the Bible. Most Christians see the Bible as “inerrant”, which essentially means that it is completely trustworthy... it doesn't distort the true message that God wants to express to us. If the Bible says that Christ is both God and man, and that He has the power to save us from eternal judgment, then we can trust and believe that the Bible is true on these matters. The form in which God's written message is expressed to us can differ, but it is always in a form we can understand. For example, the Bible contains historical narrative, poetry, logical arguments, and so forth. We have to understand the message God is giving to us as they are expressed in those forms. Poetry, for example, uses imagery which we don't take literally, but figuratively. Historical narrative describes events which we can accept as having actually taken place. Or there’s rhetoric; where sometimes the Bible builds a false argument in order to refute it with the truth, and we need to be careful to consider the whole context of the things we read so that we don't get half the picture. But all of these means of expression allow us to understand God. Some people are able to read academic journals easily, but others can't get their heads around the formal and technical terminology. It is good that the whole of the Bible isn't written like that; but there are areas where it is a bit like that, and some people just “get” that kind of writing. Some people love poetry, and the imagery it creates expresses far more to them than dull descriptions of things. But others can't get their head around poetry, and can be frustrated that the writer can't just describe things plainly. Well, all kinds of expression can be found in the Bible so that all kinds of people can understand God's message.
In God's great wisdom, we find that He has spread His message throughout the entire Bible. As we study theology, we usually build our understanding by considering passages from various places in the Bible. Unlike the way we might write a text book, you won't find a chapter on this topic, and then a chapter on that one. The things that the Bible teaches us are spread throughout the Bible so that all of God's truth is expressed in some way to all kinds of people at all times in history. This also means that when one part of the Bible fails to catch our attention, we won't entirely miss the truths of the Bible; we can pick them up in other parts as well.
As we consider how the Bible is written in this way, we begin to see the wisdom of God behind it. It is very difficult, for example, for anyone to pull out or make unavailable all of the Scriptures which establish a particular doctrine. They're spread throughout the whole Bible, appearing as parts of history, parts of rhetoric, or parts of poetry. The Bible was written by many different authors over many hundreds of years, and yet the message of the Bible is spread out this way with no possibility of the various authors collaborating on the truths about God which are expressed. God was wise in sending His message to us in this way; over hundreds of years, through many authors, so that we might believe it is genuine as we study it for ourselves and come to the conclusion that such consistency in the things taught is not humanly possible. Theologians engage in a discipline called “Systematic Theology” in which they try to arrange all of the truths of the Bible into a logical order; so that we do have a chapter on “this”, and a chapter on “that”. So by and large, through this discipline called “Systematic Theology”, theologians have shown time and again that such a logical ordering is possible, and can be done without finding any significant contradictions. True, we often find things that appear contradictory at first, but as we study further we often resolve such contradictions.
Now, as a Christian, I know that the things I write about God ought never to be taken as inerrant. What makes my thoughts about God prone to error, but the thoughts of the Apostle Paul, for example, inerrant? The Bible says:
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 1:21)
The important thing to read here is that the people who wrote the Bible were expressing the message which the Holy Spirit wanted to express. The message was not “produced by the will of man” - the thoughts and ideas expressed about God did not come from within the mind of the author. We might say that the form of expression the author used was his own (whether poetry or history or rhetoric), and the manner in which he expressed it was his own, but the message itself was from God.
Now, anyone could say “I have a message from God”, and even genuinely think that they did, yet not truly be speaking by the Holy Spirit. Even in the time of Moses, God's people were warned to be discerning about anyone who claimed to be speaking by the Holy Spirit as a prophet. In Deuteronomy 13, for example, Moses warns the people to consider the words of a supposed prophet – if they tell people to worship other gods, then that prophet is not a true prophet. God will not contradict prior revelation, encourage His people to sin, or deny His own character. In the New Testament we are told to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). The Books of the Bible which we consider the true Word of God have survived such testing by the Church. But we all, personally, must decide for ourselves. Even some notable Christians, such as Martin Luther, had their doubts about certain books of the Bible. It's not wrong to have such doubts; we ought to be fully convinced in our own minds. As we read yesterday, however, “we [born again Christians] have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12) Part of being convinced that the Bible is true is having the Holy Spirit within us who confirms for us the truth of His Word.
They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:5-6)