What is the Bible?

The Bible is the story of God’s action in the world. It tells of his plan and purpose for his creation.

The Bible was written over sixteen centuries by about forty authors. It’s an amazing collection of 66 books, written in different styles and voices but all containing God’s consistent and unchanging message to the world.

The Bible is divided into two section —the Old and New Testaments — and is comprised of a wide variety of literary styles. It’s made up of narratives and dialogues, proverbs and parables, songs and allegories, history and prophecy.

While some of the books were written by eyewitnesses, others were handed down orally and were later put to paper. But there is a remarkable consistency in the story the Bible tells. While the style is diverse, the message is unified.

What the Bible Says About the Bible

That’s, practically speaking, what the Bible is. But let’s look more closely at what the Bible says about itself. And to do that, there’s no better place to go than Psalm 19. It says,


7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
   refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
   making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
   giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
   giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
   enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
   and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
   than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
   than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
   in keeping them there is great reward.

– Psalm 19:7-11 (NIV)

We learn several things about what the Bible is from these few verses.

  • First, “The law of the Lord” means the law belongs to the Lord and comes from the Lord. The Bible is the Word of God — the very words God would have us know that tell us who he is and what he’s like and what he wants from us and how we are to live and how we can live with him forever. This is why you’ll hear the Bible referred to as the Word of God so often.
  • Next we see that the Word is perfect. That means it’s not incomplete, it doesn’t lack anything. It’s perfect.
  • The Bible is trustworthy. We can bet our lives on its truth and trust what it says.
  • The Bible is clear. It makes wise the simple. Its meaning can be plainly understood and applied to our lives.
  • The precepts of the Lord are right, which means the Bible is true. It’s not a book of simple platitudes or fables, it is the one source of Truth in this world, given to us by God himself.
  • God’s words in the Bible are eternal. The Word of the Lord stands forever; its claims are timeless, unending, and unchanging.
  • And God’s words in the Bible are sweet. They are sweeter than honey, refreshing us and calling us to savor them.

Living and Active

There’s one more thing you need to understand about the words contained in the Bible that makes it different than any other book out there. The words in this book are alive.

Hebrews 4:12 says,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

As you work to interpret God’s Word, God’s Word interprets you — your thoughts and heart and motives and actions. You read the Bible and the Bible reads you.

For Reflection:

  • Spend a couple minutes scheduling your Bible reading. Put it in your phone’s calendar or jot it down.
  • What’s your biggest barrier to reading the Bible regularly?
  • How does delight drive our behavior? Do you delight in reading the Bible? Why or why not?
  • What might help you dig into the Bible more frequently?
  • Look at Psalm 19. What do these verses tell you about the Bible?
  • Re-read Hebrews 4:12. What does this verse tell you about the unique nature of the Bible?

This is part 2 in the Appreciating the Bible series.  Read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible? | Part 5: Bible Study Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore

Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert?

Imagine yourself sitting down to a table with fresh white linens draped over top. Several pristine utensils sit before you. The napkin is neatly folded. It sits just above a clean, white plate. And on that plate is a big, black leather Bible.

As you look down at that Bible, does it look like the dessert you can’t wait to dig into, or does it look more like the brussels sprouts you shove aside so you can get to the good stuff?

The answer to that question means everything.

Too many of us look down and see a strange, foreign book we want to love, but we don’t know quite what to do with it. It’s just never tasted good, so we move it around on the plate and pretend to enjoy it.

That is not what God intends.

The Epidemic of Biblical Illiteracy

Instead, God means for his Word to satisfy our deepest cravings and to whet our appetites for more.

Psalm 19 says that God’s words are to be desired more than the finest gold and that they are sweeter than the drippings of the honeycomb.

Is that how you feel about the Bible? If you’re like most people, probably not.

Bible engagement is, to put it bluntly, abysmal, even within the church. You might even call it an epidemic. After their recent study of Bible reading, LifeWay Research concluded that Americans are fond of the Bible but don’t actually read it. More than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible, they found.

Only 45% of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. 40% percent of the people attending are reading their Bibles occasionally—maybe once or twice a month, if at all. There are some who read their Bible every day (19%), but for every one of them (19%), someone isn’t reading it at all (18%).

And it’s not as if the Bible is hard to come by in America. The English language Bible continues to be the most popular book in our world. Every year, about 25 million Bibles are sold in the United States. Among those homes that have a Bible, they own an average of three, not to mention the Bible apps on smartphones.

Most of us know this isn’t good, especially those of us in the church. We experience some low to medium level of guilt because we haven’t read the Bible much lately. The church often doesn’t help us feel any better. Over and over again, we hear that reading the Bible is crucial for spiritual growth and we should be in it every day. Yet most people aren’t doing it.

Why is that?

Why We Don’t Read the Bible

Maybe you’ve tried to read the Bible but got frustrated and gave up. Maybe you assume it’s the pastor’s job. Or maybe you don’t have the time or you’re not sure if it’s true. Maybe you just think it’s boring.

Overall, you might think the problem is a lack of discipline. That we’re just not getting up early enough or taking the time to sit down and read a few chapters of the Bible each day. And to some degree, that’s true. But the real issue is deeper.

We don’t have a discipline problem as much as we have a delight problem.

We don’t study the Bible because we don’t delight in the Bible. Think about it. You do what you delight in. You do the things you enjoy. Some of us enjoy kicking back and watching some Netflix or football. Maybe you enjoy exercising or woodworking or riding your motorcycle.

Why do we do these things? Because we enjoy them, we delight in them. When you delight in something, it doesn’t really feel like you have to make time for them; you just do them because you love them.

But so many in the church don’t delight in God’s Word. They don’t enjoy their time with him. And for many of them, I believe that’s because they were never shown how to delight in the Word.

If that’s you, then don’t worry — you’re in good company. In fact, I was just like this not that long ago.

How I Learned to Love the Bible

I’ve only been delighting in the Bible for the last 5 years. Before that, it was a chore at best that I rarely got around to. Reading the Bible for me was like that last item on your to-do list that you keep carrying over to the next one because you don’t want to do it.

To make a long story short, I wound up in seminary and one of my first classes was something called Hermeneutics, which I had to look up before registering. Hermeneutics, I found out, is a fancy word for the study of how to interpret the Bible.

The semester was full of grammar lessons and interpretation methods and practicing outlining the text and learning about the different genres featured in the Bible. Some of it was dry. Much of it was boring.

But it changed my life.

By the end of that course, I felt for the first time like I had a toolbox for the Bible and I knew how to use it. The tools I acquired in that class opened the Bible to me like never before, allowing me to see things I’d never seen and understand things I never imagined.

And it made me mad.

The Greatest Gift I Can Give

Why did it make me mad? Because I had to go outside the church to learn how to read the Bible. I had to pay money to do an online course with people I didn’t know to learn how to read the book the church was telling me to read.

I remember thinking, Why did I have to go to seminary to learn this? Why didn’t someone in the church teach me this?

From then on, I’ve been taking every opportunity I can get to teach what I learned to people in the church.

Aside from the gospel itself, there’s no greater gift to give to people than an understanding of how to read the Bible. It’s the difference in catching fish for someone versus teaching them how to fish. Catching fish for them will feed them for a day. But if you teach them how to fish, you’ll feed them for a lifetime.

So let’s learn to fish. Let’s learn to mine the depths of God’s Word and feast on the riches it contains.

To do that, we’ll first need to understand what the Bible is, which will be the topic of my next post.


This is part 1 in the Appreciating the Bible series.  Read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible? | Part 5: Bible Study Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore

Deep Communion vs. Digital Communication

This is an excerpt of an article by Drew Hunter over at Crossway.


Modern technology is a great tool for keeping up certain aspects of our relationships. Writing emails, sending texts, scanning posts—all of these helpfully complement true companionship. But they cannot fully replace it. These are the shallow ends of relationships. We find these tools convenient, but then we’re tempted to neglect the deeper waters of shared experiences and face-to-face conversation. Very often the way we use technology leads away from, rather than in to, stronger friendships. We often trade deep communion for digital communication.

Technology can hinder friendship in four ways. First, it often depersonalizes communication. We use it to connect, but over time, we feel less, not more, connected. We use it to move closer, but we end up farther away. We trade conversations and experiences for details and updates. We’re more connected to more people more often than ever before, but many of our relationships become more superficial and less satisfying.

Second, technology can disengage us from real communion. Sometimes when we connect with people through technology, we disconnect from those who are sitting right around us. Friends sit across the table at a coffee shop and enjoy friendship, but not with each other—with the friends on the other end of their phones. Once when I visited a workplace, I stepped into a break room and saw six coworkers sitting around a lunch table. The room was silent. Five of them stared at their phones while the sixth looked at her food. She sat at the table with them, but she ate her lunch alone. Surrounded by peers, she had no one to talk to.

Third, technology disembodies conversation. When we engage in person, we experience our friends in unrepeatable and holistic ways. We notice her expressions, intuit her moods, and learn her quirks. Embodied friendship is full of dynamic, realtime, give-and-take interaction. In contrast, digital communication doesn’t demand much more than fingers to flit around a keyboard. This has a place of course, but it doesn’t match experiencing a person’s real presence. For me to see Dane’s head roll back and hear his laugh, to talk through personal challenges across the table with Taylor, to see the romance in Christina’s eyes, to sense the sincerity in Bill’s encouragement, or to pick up the witty humor in Trent’s tone—there is simply no digital equivalent.

Finally, technology creates dependence on less personal ways of addressing personal issues. Confessing sin and admitting failure, or on the other hand, addressing sin and confronting failure—each of these is challenging, and digital communication seems easier. We take time to craft a statement, and we don’t need to worry about immediate reactions. But then we soon prefer to replace a personal meeting with a phone call; a phone call with a voicemail; a voicemail with an email; and an email with a text. Each step smooths the path for the next. Soon we can hardly muster the courage to say anything difficult in person. And without the reassuring eye contact, gentle tone, and responsive clarifications, we often end up adding complications rather than clearing things up.

The Believer’s Hope in Death

Losing someone can be devastating. The hole left by a loved one’s physical absence from this world is deep; so deep, it feels like you may never be whole again.

For believers, death is not the last word, however. And knowing this can bring great hope to those nearing death and those they leave behind.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica to show them the hope believers have in death and the encouragement that follows:

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NIV)

The hardest part about death is that it means separation. When a loved one dies, we are physically separated from them. But Paul tells us that one day there will be a place where that kind of separation does not exist.

Hopeful, Not Hopeless

Believers are to be hopeful about death, not hopeless. Paul says that believers shouldn’t grieve like the rest of mankind who have no hope.

If you believe this world is all there is, then death brings you nothing but sorrow. But if you believe this world is just the beginning of greater things to come, then that sorrow quickly turns to joy when you grasp the full reality the death is a coming home, a reunion with the God who made us.

Knowing this reality, believers should be hopeful, not hopeless, in the face of death. If we are to be hopeful, then what is it that we are to put our hope in?

The Coming Resurrection

Well, the second thing Paul tells us is that we will be resurrected just as Christ was resurrected. And this is where our hope rests.

The Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth in the form of a man. He spent 33 years here, was crucified, and buried. Then, three days later, that man Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death in the process.

Friends, we believe in a resurrected, living Jesus. Death did not have the final word for Him, and it will not have the final word for us.

It will not have the final word for us because, as Scripture tells us, we will be resurrected on the Day of the Lord just as Christ was resurrected after three days in the tomb. This will be a physical, bodily resurrection.

The Hope of Eternity

In the end, the decay and death we all face can do no eternal harm to the believer who will be brought back to life to live with Christ.

Paul tells us that we will be in that place with the Lord forever. Forever. 

Just think about that. Cities will rise and fall and nations will come and go, but believers will reign with Christ forever.

A resurrected person cannot die, so there is no death in sight. Christ was resurrected to life and we will be along with him, enjoying the eternal communion with Him that we were created for.

A Framework for Assessing and Applying Technology

In his landmark book, Technology and the Contemporary Life, Albert Borgmann suggests that instead of living our lives according to the values of new technology, people should determine their values first and attempt to use their tools in service of those values.

This should be what Christians are after.

But how do we do that? How do we determine our values and then attempt to use technological tools in light of those values?

Let me suggest a decision-making framework based on five steps for assessing and applying technology.

When considering the use of any technology, Christians should be LEDERs, meaning they should:

  1. Learn broadly
  2. Evaluate biblically
  3. Discuss communally
  4. Engage skeptically
  5. Revisit regularly

Step 1. Learn Broadly

When beginning to think through any form or application of technology, the first step is to learn broadly. To learn broadly about a subject is to study it generally and widely.

This means Christians should be well-informed about new and old forms of technology.

Too often we make assumptions about technology because of our personal views, which lead us to make uninformed decisions that are either isolationist or overly accepting, neither of which is healthy.

Christians should be learning broadly about the technological trends shaping the world around us, or else the world will shape us without our knowing.

Step 2: Evaluate Biblically

As believers in the God of the Bible, Christians must submit all of their thinking and behavior to that described in the Bible.

This means returning again and again to the Scriptures to see what Christian doctrine teaches us about our identity and values.

The Bible has much to say about who Christians are supposed to be and what is supposed to mark them, from compassion for the poor to those who hold marriage to be sacred, and much, much more.

God is not silent on His values, either. Most notably, he handed down ten values (called “commandments”) written in stone to reflect their never-changing nature (see Exodus 20).

So while the Bible is seemingly silent on virtual reality or artificial intelligence, it is not silent on technology, values, morality, and identity.

As we have seen, technology brings with it morals and values of its own. The Christian’s job is to see where there are areas of overlap or incongruence, and then act accordingly.

John Dyer sums this up well:

“Christians who live God-honoring lives in the digital world are those who can discern the tendencies built into all technology and then decide when those tendencies are in line with godly values, and when those tendencies are damaging to the soul.”

Step 3: Discuss Communally

God’s people were never meant to exist alone. They were always meant to live in loving, sacrificial, and social community.

When it comes to evaluating technology, that community can be a source of wisdom, insight, and discernment that proves invaluable to a Christ-follower seeking to live faithfully in the digital age.

This can take the form of simple conversations with one’s small group or fellow believers, more formal conversations with pastors or denominational leaders, and especially within the context of one’s own family.

Technology is too complicated and its implications are too broad to try and come to conclusions on our own.

God’s people must consult the best of familial, ecclesial, denominational, and historical wisdom to help them navigate technological considerations.

Step 4: Engage Skeptically

Once a Christian has learned broadly about a technology, evaluated it biblically, and discussed it within their community, they should have the information needed to determine how, when, and how often they will engage with it.

Regardless of what conclusion is arrived at, it would be wise to engage with the technology in question skeptically. The reason for skepticism is because technology’s values are usually opposed to Christian values.

While this does not always have to be the case, the reality is that humanity is sinful. John Dyer explains,

“What the Scriptures call our ‘flesh’ is that part of us that is always bent towards self, at the expense of others and the exclusion of God. Our flesh, then, will always gravitate towards technology that favors the individual over the group.”

Just as Jesus did not entrust himself to men because he knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24), Christians should not entrust themselves to, or give themselves over to, technology, because they know its natural bent.

They should engage it skeptically, asking questions along the way about its effects on themselves, their families, their community, and their society.

This does not mean one cannot find true joy in using technology, but that one should be wise about its uses and effects.

Step 5: Revisit Regularly

The last step in applying technology to the life of a Christian is to revisit its use regularly.

If steps one through four above were followed, one would have entered into (or continued) a relationship with a specific technology skeptically, questioning its use along the way.

Such questioning should be revisited regularly. Once you adopt a technology, you have ample experience to reflect on its positive and negative effects.

For example, you can reflect on how it has affected you emotionally, mentally, relationally, physically, and spiritually.

One way to help sort this out is by limiting or abstaining from the use of the technology for a time. Removal of the device or tool will highlight the value assigned to it.

Conclusion

Using some sort of framework, whether the LEDER framework I’m suggesting or some other system, can help us from being blown about by cultural winds. Each technological tool has values that may work against those encouraged in the Bible.

There may be healthy and helpful ways to engage technology without compromising our values, but without thinking through our relationship with these tools, we will find we are compromising our values as a result of unhealthy and unhelpful relationships with the technology of our day.