The Bible as Divine Revelation

The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting (Psa 119:160).

Bible     The Bible is a self-disclosure of God to mankind. It is true in all it affirms and it stands as the absolute authority over our thoughts, values, and actions. It gives insights into realities we could never know, except that God has chosen to reveal certain things to us.[1] Certainly, there are many who approach the Bible with suspicion and doubt, believing they have sound judgment independent of any absolutes beyond themselves. Some even hate the thought of recognizing the Bible as God’s Word. The implication is obvious, for if the Bible is God’s Word, and He judges some things right and other things wrong, then we are beholden to Him in all we think and do. Rather than prejudge the Bible, we should approach it openly, letting it speak for itself. In this way, we may suspend judgment until we’ve heard its message.

     The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word βίβλος biblos which means scroll or book. The Bible is a library of sixty-six books, composed by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly fifteen hundred years. “The purpose of God in providing the Bible is that man, to whom the Bible is addressed, may be possessed of dependable information regarding things tangible and intangible, temporal and eternal, visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly.”[2]

     The Bible is God’s special revelation to mankind. God has provided both general and special revelation about Himself. General revelation refers to what God has revealed about Himself through nature, as “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psa 19:1-2). And God’s attributes are revealed, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom 1:20). General revelation tells us that God exists, but does not reveal specifics about His mind or character. That’s where special revelation is given. God has provided special revelation about Himself both directly and indirectly (Ex 19:9; 1 Sam 3:1-14; Isa 6:9-10). Direct revelation means God spoke directly to people (Gen 8:15; Ex 6:2; 20:1-17; Matt 3:17; 2 Pet 1:17-18). For example, when God spoke to the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1), His voice was audibly heard in such a way that had we been there with a recording device, we could have captured those words and replayed them for others to hear.  God also spoke directly by means of dreams (Gen 28:12; 31:11; Dan 7:1; 12:8-9), and visions (Num 12:6; Isa 6:1; 1 Ki 22:19). However, God also spoke through angels (Dan 10:10-21), prophets (2 Sam 23:2; Luke 1:70), apostles (Eph 2:20; 3:5; 2 Pet 3:2), and most clearly through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 18; Heb 1:1-3; cf. Acts 10:9-16; 27:21-26). The writer of Hebrews states:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb 1:1-3a)

Bible scroll     Lastly, God has revealed Himself in writing; that is, in the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21). God, on several occasions, commanded His prophets to record what He had revealed to them. He told Moses, “Write this in a book” (Ex 17:14), and “Write down these words” (Ex 34:27). To Isaiah He said, “Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll” (Isa 30:8), and to Jeremiah He commanded, “Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book” (Jer 30:2). The divine revelation that was given came by means of God the Holy Spirit. On three occasions Luke makes this very claim, saying, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:16; cf. Psa 109:8), and “the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people devise futile things’” (Acts 4:24-25; cf. Psa 2:1), and “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers” (Acts 28:25; cf. Isa 6:9). In each of these examples, the prophets were the mouthpiece of God, reveling His thoughts and expectations to people.

     When writing to his friend, Timothy, Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The word Scripture (γραφή graphe) refers to the written word and not the spoken word. The word inspired (θεόπνευστος theopneustos) literally means God-breathed, and refers to that which originated with God and was breathed into existence by Him; namely, the Scriptures. To be near Scripture, studying and learning it, is to be near to God, close His breath. Paul’s writings originated with God, for his message was “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:13). And, when writing to the Church at Thessalonica, Paul said, we “thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Th 2:13). Paul also equated the writings of Moses and Luke as Scripture, uniting Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7, saying, “For the Scripture says, ‘you shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim 5:18).

     The apostle Peter expressed similar ideas about Scripture, saying, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture [γραφή graphe] is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Pet 1:20-21). Here, Scripture refers again to the written word, which is not the product of human invention. Rather, Peter tells us that Scripture was made by men who were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21b). The word “moved” translates the Greek word φέρω phero, which means to be pulled along by another. Luke uses the same Greek word elsewhere for ships that were carried along by wind and not by their own power (Acts 27:15, 17). Peter also regarded the writings of Paul as Scripture (2 Pet 3:15-16).

     Though the Bible was written by fallible men, each was superintended by God the Holy Spirit, who guided them in such a way that what they wrote, without compromising their personal choices of words and literary styles, penned God’s inerrant Word (verbal plenary inspiration). Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, and symbolism.

     There is a parallel between the written Word and Jesus, the Living Word. Just as God took a sinful woman, Mary, and supernaturally produced a sinless and perfect Person, Jesus; so God took sinful men and used them to produce a perfect book that accurately reflects His thoughts and will for mankind. The human authors wrote under the direction and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (Ex 17:14; 34:27; Isa 30:8; Jer 30:2; Luke 1:3; 1 Cor 14:37; Rev 1:11), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess 2:13; cf. Psa 12:6-7; Rom 15:4; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20). In this way, the Bible is a dual authorship.

By the term Dual Authorship, two facts are indicated, namely, that, on the divine side, the Scriptures are the Word of God in the sense that they originate with Him and are the expression of His mind alone; and, on the human side, certain men have been chosen of God for the high honor and responsibility of receiving God’s Word and transcribing it into written form.[3]

Thye Word is Truth     The Bible is truth. The writers of Scripture regarded God’s Word as truth, saying, “Now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are truth” (2 Sam 7:28), “You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth” (Psa 119:151), “the sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psa 119:160), and Jesus said of the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17b). The Bible, being the source of God’s absolute truth in all it affirms, communicates information we could never know independently of it. Our ability to reason, aided by the Holy Spirit, allows us to understand what is said. And, once understood, we are called to a faith response. First, by trusting in Christ as our Savior (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3-4), and then by reforming our thinking, values, and behavior to live in conformity with God’s will (Rom 12:1-2; Eph 4:1; Phi 1:27; Col 1:10).

     The Bible provides absolute standards for ethics. The Bible alone provides absolute standards for what is true and right. It does not address every issue in life, but what it does address is what God deems important for us to know. If God does not exist, and there is no revelation concerning moral absolutes, then we’re left adrift on a sea of relativistic thinking with no way to know anything for certain. Furthermore, we’re unfit to declare any behavior right or wrong, as every evaluation would be mere human opinion. To say we affirm or disapprove something, without an absolute standard to back it up, becomes nothing more than a personal psychology report. Francis Schaeffer understood this well, saying:

If there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute we mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values. If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.[4]

     This is deeply felt within American culture, where morals are personal and constantly shifting, which is consistent with a postmodern mindset. It’s also becoming more obvious among political leaders. The problem with many political leaders, whether Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, is they operate by no ultimate standard beyond themselves, so values are manufactured or borrowed as a matter of political expediency. “In their pure forms, both ascribe ultimacy to something other than God. Both lack transcendent norms of their own. And thus, both can lead to a variety of social, cultural, and political ills.”[5] If there are no absolutes, then we must conclude that what is, is right, and the conversation is over. But this would lead to a folding of the hands and eventual despair.

     The Bible is authoritative. Not only is the Bible informative, but it’s also authoritative, rightly commanding belief and behavior. Everyone has an ultimate source of truth and authority. For most people, it’s themselves, their reasonings, experiences, or feelings. For the growing and mature Christian, it’s God and His Word. Paul regarded his writings as authoritative, saying to the Christians at Corinth, “the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor 14:37).

The authority of Scripture means that it is God’s absolute standard of truth in all that it affirms. The Bible’s teachings are his criteria for all judgment and evaluation. The authority of God himself has been mediated to man in the Bible in propositions. Scripture doctrine is binding.[6]

     By faith, we accept Scripture as true, and in humility, we submit ourselves to the God who gave it. In contrast, liberal theologians exalt reason, experience, or feelings above God’s Word. When this happens, authority shifts from God to the individual. In this way, “liberalism has certainly made human reason the judge of truth and often the creator of truth. Reason becomes autonomous, governed by no higher or outside authority, but also severely limited by its finitude and fallibility.”[7] If we turn away from God and His Word as that which informs and guides us, we’re left adrift on a sea of speculation and human opinion. To disregard the Bible’s content is to do great self-harm. To acknowledge the Bible as authoritative means we are willing to submit and obey its Author.

God’s authority is unconditional and absolute (Psa 29:10; Isa 40), making Him supreme over nature and human history alike. From this intrinsic authority comes that of governments (Rom 13:1–7), employers (Eph 6:5–9), parents (Eph 6:1–4), church elders (Heb 13:7, 17), and others in positions of power. Similarly, the angels function under divine authority (Luke 1:19–20), and evil spirits are also subject to God’s power (Eph 6:11–12).[8]

     The Bible is dynamic. The Bible is effective to accomplish what God desires. As Christians, we put forth Scripture, knowing “the Word of God is alive and powerful” and able to accomplish what God intends (Heb 4:12 KJV). The Lord states:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isa 55:10-11)

     Just as rain and snow bring forth vegetation out of parched ground, so God’s Word, when it goes forth, is effective to produce spiritual life and growth in the heart that welcomes it. As Christians, we trust God and His Word will accomplish what He intends. We are to put forth the Word of God, but we do not determine its effect. We’re responsible for the clear output of Scripture, but we do not control the outcome. That’s between God and the person who hears His Word.

The Word of God is active and dynamic. Isaiah declares that it will “accomplish” that which God purposes for it to do (Isa. 55:11), Jeremiah likens the Word of God to fire and to a hammer that breaks in pieces the rock (Jer. 23:29), and in Hebrews 4:12 it is said to be “quick and powerful”—that is, living and active. Happy is he who through knowledge of the Scriptures is able to wield this living power.[9]

     God’s Word is also likened to the rays of the sun which impacts all it touches, for as the saying goes, the same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay. There is nothing wrong with the sun. It accomplishes what God intends with differing effects. Likewise, when God’s Word goes forth, it influences what it touches, and those who are positive to God will be softened by its rays, but those who are negative will be hardened.

     The Bible is beneficial to those who accept and live in its light. Not only is it truth, but it benefits those who learn and live by it. For “the law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psa 19:7), “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa 119:105), “the unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psa 119:130), and “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). The truth set forth in Scripture provides a metanarrative; that is, an overarching account that coherently explains our world.

     Scripture is beneficial in that it reveals there is one God who exists as three distinct Persons within the Trinity (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2): God the Father (Gal 1:1; Eph 6:23; Phil 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor 2:11-12; 2 Cor 13:14). All three are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service. The Bible also reveals the origins of the universe (Gen 1:1), mankind (Gen 1:26-27), marriage (Gen 2:18-24), sin (Gen 3:1-8), moral absolutes (Ex 20:1-17), the creation of Israel (Isa 43:1), salvation through Jesus (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9), the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 10:32), the existence of Satan (Job 1:6-12), angels and demons (Heb 1:13-14; Rev 16:14), heaven and hell (Rev 4:1-2; 20:14-15), and the future (Rev 21-22). The Bible does not reveal all there is to know about God or His plans and actions, but only what He deems important (Deut 29:29; cf. John 21:25).

How to Read the Bible

     We live our lives on the assumption that language serves as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.[10] Our survival and success depend on the plain use of language whether we’re reading the words on highway signs, food packages, or work documents. A nonliteral reading of the instructions on a medicine bottle could be fatal and we could suffer if we failed to take plainly the words on tax documents, legal papers, or instructions on how to use a chain saw. 

     The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Koine Greek (some chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic). Behind each human author was the divine Author who communicated His thoughts through them and superintended their writings so that what they wrote reveals His mind, His work in creation, His will for mankind, His plan for history, and His provision of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor 2:14-16; 2 Cor 3:14-16; 4:3-4).

To the mind that by saving grace has been rescued from the insanity of sin and is enlightened by the Spirit of God, the Bible becomes what it actually is, the very Word of God to man which imparts treasures of knowledge as marvelous as the realms of light from whence they proceed.[11]

     The Bible is divinely inspired. Though there are different views of inspiration, verbal plenary inspiration best fits what Scripture says about itself. Verbal plenary inspiration teaches that Scripture originates with God (inspired – 1 Cor 2:12-13; 2 Pet 1:21), pertains to the very words themselves (verbal – Matt 5:17-18; cf. Gal 3:16), and extends to all of Scripture (plenary – 2 Tim 3:16).

     Several English translations accurately communicate the original meaning of the biblical author (such as the ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET, NAS), and most people read the Bible plainly as they would any other book, understanding the words and phrases according to their contextual usage. There are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend, but most of it is simple to understand. The Bible consists mostly of historical narrative which reveals how God acted in the lives of people. Other biblical genres include law, prophecy, psalms, proverbs, poetry, parables, and epistles. These literary genres require a literal reading in order to identify how the author is communicating so we can know what he is saying. Many liberal teachers advocate a nonliteral, non-grammatical, non-historical reading of the Bible, which opens the floodgates of speculation and allows the imagination of readers to make the Bible say whatever they want it to say. Ironically, those who advocate a nonliteral reading of the Bible expect their words to be taken literally. A plain reading of Scripture protects the reader from fanciful interpretations.  “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.”[12] David Cooper writes:

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.[13]

     A normal reading of the Bible is commonly called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. The grammatical-historical method of interpretation means the Christian reads the Bible in a plain manner, paying attention to the normal rules of grammar and the meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.[14] A normal reading also considers each word and verse in the light of its immediate context, as well as the larger context of the book, and the whole Bible. 

     In summary, the Bible is God’s special written revelation to mankind, it is true in all it affirms, provides absolute standards for ethics, is authoritative to command, is dynamic in its effect, and beneficial to those who accept and live in its light.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Though I will quote Bible scholars throughout this article, the main focus—and ultimate authority—will be the Bible itself.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel Publication, 1993), 105.

[3] Lewis S. Chafer, “Bibliology” Bibliotheca Sacra, 94 (1937): 398-399.

[4] Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, 50th L’Abri Anniversary Edition. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 145.

[5] Bruce R. Ashford; eds. David S. Dockery and Trevin Wax, Christian Worldview Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2019).

[6] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 15–16.

[7] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 20.

[8] R.K. Harrison, “Authority,” ed. Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[9] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 45.

[10] A portion of this article is taken from my book, The Christian Life: A Study of Biblical Spirituality, pages 32-35.

[11] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol 8, 44.

[12] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1995), 82.

[13] David L. Cooper, The God of Israel (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1945), iii.

[14] For further reading on the subject of hermeneutics, I recommend Basic Biblical Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck, and Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm.