What should we do with the Bible?

Ruth Jacob

How necessary is the Bible for knowing the Good News of Jesus?

Let's get practical. To have proper access to the scriptures a person must be educated to a certain standard of functional literacy.

Literacy is at a higher level now than at any time in history. It is only within living memory that even basic education for all has been regarded as practicable and desirable. In vast swathes of the world, schooling for children is still a luxury. Even now:-

"(Worldwide) …illiteracy is still common. In the less developed regions, as of 2000, about half of all persons 60 or older were literate. Only about one third of older women and about three fifths of older men could read and write at a basic level of competence. In the more developed regions, literacy approached universality in all but a few countries."
(Source: World Population Ageing 1950-2050, Executive Summary, UN)

In some sections of the world's population, literacy is as low as 7%.

If the scriptures were essential for knowing and understanding the Good News of Jesus Christ, the overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived would be completely excluded from true hope.

The Gospel, and the spreading of it, are not - cannot be - dependent on literacy, on printing technology (before which, books were not available for ownership by ordinary people). The Good News of Jesus must be something that can be passed on to, and grasped, accepted and meditated on by ALL people, no matter their level of education, intelligence or resources.

And the message of YHWH becoming a man in the flesh, accepting and having compassion on the helpless and those in the gutter, putting Himself through an unpleasant life and horrific death of the most shameful the occupying forces could think up, truly dying and then returning to life as the spearhead of the new creation where death, decay, entropy have no power. That, surely, is a message that is accessible to everyone.

It is truly good news, it is good news for everyone, it is understandable by everyone - everyone knows that their lives are currently dominated by death, the fear of death and the need to stave off death for oneself and one's genes/lineage. The Gospel is the real answer to death, the ultimate certainty at the moment: not a denial of its reality and finality, not a pretence that it's not that bad, but a head-on confrontation with death and total victory OVER death - in other words the death of Death! The new possibility of life having its basis and motivation in the love of God and in His life poured out to us all.

By its very nature, the Gospel cannot be limited to those very few with the luxuries of education, of money for books, of time to study.

The scriptures do have their place. Their function is not to teach what man is to believe or to do. They are there to tell us about God's action, God's initiatives, God's love, God's faithfulness to his one-sided covenants, God's giving of Himself, God's taking human flesh, God's fulfilment Himself of all that is necessary to overcome all death and evil.

"Gospel" means literally "good NEWS". That is, an announcement of something that has already happened, something that has already been achieved.

The following are NOT the Great Commission:

Go into all the world and teach everyone their duty to God
Go into all the world and issue a challenge
Go into all the world and warn people (that's the Islamic commission, by the way)
Go into all the world and give the bad news before you give them the good news
Go into all the world and teach the scriptures
Go into all the world and invite them to church
Go into all the world and convince them of endless torture
Go into all the world and scare them out of hell
Go into all the world and save them from hell
Go into all the world and be their moral guardian
Go into all the world and teach the Ten Commandments
I could go on, but I hope the point is made.

The Gospel is NEWS: the good news of what God as Jesus has done, has achieved, Once For all.

The Gospel is GOOD: it is good news for everyone - including those who cannot study the Bible: the illiterate, the destitute, the poor, the isolated, the mentally disabled, the unconscious, those distracted by intense fear or pain.

The scriptures should be treasured and heeded in a manner appropriate to what they are - messages, not meaningless mantras. To me, it's intriguing and a source of continuing astonishment that those people who claim to believe in the inerrancy of scripture are invariably those who also tend to read it extremely carelessly, not even paying attention to what the sentences they read are actually saying, and so often despise any suggestion of finding out what the all-important message on the page actually means.

For example, and this is by no means isolated example: On a television programme last night about afterlife beliefs, Bible verses were quoted from time to time. Many of the verses would be about everyone being resurrected, after which the commentator would say that the verse in question taught a heaven-or-hell afterlife (i.e. when the body was dead). This is an almost universal distortion which occurs not because of anything written in the Bible, but because of the profound cultural brainwashing about "afterlife" existence, the concept of which is deeply embedded, you could say culturally hardwired, into even those who don't actually believe in it, and don't believe in God. (To read more on this subject, click here.)

Another example - an even more important one:
You CANNOT truly believe that the Bible is both inerrant and the Word of God.
The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Word of God.
It nowhere states that it is the Word of God itself.
Therefore, anyone who says that the Bible is the Word of God is implicitly stating that the Bible teaches error; they are stating that the Bible is mistaken or even deceptive about the identity of the Word of God.

I could continue with such examples until I was blue in the face, they are so many and so common.

But instead I'll finish with this: if you really, truly believe that nothing is more important than what the scriptures teach, then clear your mind of everything you have ever been taught, or ever thought, about what they say. Then, avoiding all other influences, actually READ WHAT THEY SAY.

Important: DON'T dot about, don't leave anything out, don't try to think or react reverently. Be open to being shocked, horrified, disgusted, repelled, amazed, puzzled. Be prepared to shout and yell at God, to shake your fist and hate Him. Face the facts of the threats, the brutality, the terror.

Watch and don't turn away as you see God's attitudes and relationships changing.

Feel the first glimmerings of hope as you read the prophecies of the Messiah as if for the first time.

Gasp as you see with Simeon God's salvation come in flesh at last. Be moved as you see YHWH in Jesus reaching out to the lowest of the low. Cry your heart out four times as you read each account of His death; cheer aloud when He is resurrected.

Then read what Paul makes of it - the all-embracing result of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the complete and utter transformation of the whole universe, the coming resurrection of us all following the resurrection of Jesus.

Read through John's letters, with his dual emphasis on love and the truth of the Gospel and Jesus's identity, until you get to the finale where, despite any and every evil that the world and the evil spirits can throw at God and His people, He declares an end to all pain, all suffering, all mourning, all death, and says,

Behold, I make all things new!!

Then you'll know who is the Word of God, and you'll know the value and place of the scriptures as a collection of many witnesses


the one living Word of God - Jesus.