why we (desperately) need the Bible

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, enduring forever;
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. Psalm 19:7-11

If you are a Christian, you believe in the Bible. Whether or not you have read it yourself, you believe that it is true and that it is authored by God. Christianity has nothing to stand on – no source – if it does not have that.

You may intellectually agree that the Bible is true, but you may not personally and wholeheartedly agree that the Bible is desperately necessary, in your life, in your church. People who desperately depend on the Bible in that way are rare, even in Christian circles.

Part of the reason for this is that the Bible is difficult to understand. Part of the reason is that most people have not been taught either to treasure or understand the Bible properly. The most profound reason, however, is that bent, that perversion, in our humanity which reaches to our core: self-reliance, above relying on God.

Christian doctrine says that the whole world is in a state of brokenness and fallenness. We were whole, and exalted, in Eden. Now we are broken and fallen: our instincts and intuitions are bent towards evil and foolishness and away from good and godliness, towards Self and Satan and away from God. Our intuitive ideas about how to live, think, and relate are distorted versions of the truth. In other words, they are lies.

One thing every Christians learns is, “I cannot trust myself.” Learning to distrust yourself – your own perceptions, inclinations, desires, and opinions – is the flip side of learning to trust God. Fundamentally, you cannot do both.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Trusting God means depending on him. Depending on him means depending on his revelation to inform and define who you are and how you live, comprehensively.

The reality is that as humans beyond Eden, we need to re-learn how to be human, in every part of our humanity. We need to be re-taught, by God, in scripture.

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Psalm 25:8-9

Consider the alternative. The alternative, individually or collectively, is making it up as we go along. It is placing our faith most essentially in our own ability to perceive reality, make choices, think correctly, and define God. If everything we do and are and think about God does not come directly from the truth he has defined, given in the Bible, we are making shots in the dark like the rest of our race, shots in the dark which are inherently inclined away from the truth.

Truth comes to us not only from the doctrinal statements and explicit directives of scripture. It comes from the stories and parables, too. It comes from how things are said, from what is included and left out, from the flow of the narrative, from the repeated cycles of God and man interacting, portrayed in individuals’ lives. Truth comes from all the genres of biblical literature, from the outright statement of James, John, Peter, and Paul, to the subtler presuppositions of the Israelite poets. Truth comes from the framework of thought which undergirds all of scripture.

Absorbing the paradigms of the Bible into our thinking causes us to think in new categories, and ask new, better questions. It guards us from our tendency to take on the roles of both beasts and gods and instead demonstrates to our minds and hearts, in a thousand ways, how to be authentically human.

And that is our goal: to be human, really and truly, participating in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) while maintaining our honored, blessed role as servants and sons of the transcendent God, after the pattern of the Heavenly Man (1 Corinthians 15:49). Only scripture elucidates redeemed humanity and how it behaves.

Even more: scripture tells us about God himself. It is not theology – man making statements about God. It is doctrine – God making statements about himself, for man to believe. God gave us doctrine the way he did intentionally, that is, in the voices of particular cultures and people. The expressed truth itself is absolutely universal, but the phrases themselves are limiting. We are not at liberty to embellish, stretch, or “improve on” the statements of scripture, especially in light of the original point about our inclinations toward falsehood and foolishness.

Credit must be given where credit is due. The power of the Bible to change lives and communities is the Holy Spirit of God, speaking the words through the writers, persuading hardened hearts of the words’ truth, and granting the grace needed for people to convert the words to actions in the human sphere. So the glory is God’s, and the benefit is ours, and the necessity is desperate.

Read it, and keep on with it, without giving up. Let it change your categories of thought as well as how you behave. Discuss it with people who love it. Hear it preached by preachers who preach nothing more or less than the Word in its purity. Feed on it and feast on it, dive into it and absorb it. The Spirit will not leave you untouched. He will pierce you, crush you, build you, change you. He will recreate you.

The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. Psalm 12:6

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… Colossians 3:17

What do you think? I want to know, especially on this one!

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5 thoughts on “why we (desperately) need the Bible

  1. Lyssa, sorry it has taken me so long to get to this post. I’ve had it bookmarked for a long time. I liked what you said a lot! I completely agree with you that the wording and narrative are very important to the message of the Bible and the Holy Spirit. With that in mind, how does one choose which translation or edition to read?

    • Thanks for your input, Eric! That’s an interesting question. Philosophies of Bible translation fall along a spectrum, with “word-for-word” on the one side and “thought-for-thought” (paraphrased translation) on the other side. Here’s a helpful diagram showing where different translations fall along the spectrum. I grew up reading the New International Version, which is right in the middle. As I grew older and better accustomed to the literature of the Bible – ancient idioms, styles of poetry, apocalyptic images, lines of arguments, those kind of things – I moved to the English Standard Version, which is much farther to the “word-for-word” side than the NIV. For me, the ESV has been a great translation for me to use as my normal reading Bible. I love its literalness.

      In my experience, that is a repeated pattern: beginning with a more “thought-for-thought” translation when a person first becomes a Christian or starts studying the Bible, and eventually moving on to a more rigorously literal translation as their understanding of the Bible grows. “Thought-for-thought” can be a helpful place to start, especially for someone not raised in a Bible-studying environment, since the literature of the Bible is often so foreign. I have often seen, however, that people are not satisfied to stay with their New Living Translation or Good News Bible indefinitely, because a taste of the Bible tends to create a greater hunger for what it is really saying, how it is really saying it.

      As is typical in American culture, we have so many options to choose from that it can be paralyzing. Choosing between dozens of editions is a problem faced only by English speakers. Bottom line, my personal recommendations are to start with the New Living Translation or New International Version if the Bible is totally foreign and with the New King James Version or English Standard Version if the Bible is (at least somewhat) familiar. If in-depth Bible study becomes a passion, consider using the New American Standard Bible or Amplified Bible as helpful resources.

      One important note: the issue is choosing an English translation of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek original texts, not choosing which “version” of scripture to heed. The translation philosophy of any given edition is the thing in question.

      Choosing a “study Bible” is another question, and is similarly paralyzing because of the number of choices. The problem is that for a person unacquainted with scripture or doctrine, choosing a study Bible will sometimes mean choosing a theological persuasion they may know little about. That being said, I benefited a great deal from my NIV Student Bible, not because its essays and notes formed my beliefs more than the text itself, but simply because it helped clarify obscure details and expressions, showed me how different parts of the Bible reference each other, and occasionally provided modern analogies that helped me relate the Bible to my own life. Other study Bibles are much more in-depth. The newly published ESV study Bible, for example, has commentary on nearly every verse, detailed diagrams of the tabernacle, temple, etc., extended explanations of the historical context of every book, and various other features which provide for the average Bible reader a wealth of information often accessible only to preachers and academics. It is an amazing resource. When using any study Bible, however, I remind myself of the important fact that the plain sense of the Word of God always trumps anyone’s interpretation, and if any commentator or editor seems to be “explaining away” something the Word clearly says, the Word still wins.

  2. Pingback: This Old House of Prayer | God's Grace ~ God's Glory!

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