Doctrine | The Bible
What does the Bible teach about the Bible?
Question | How can we know the Bible is God’s word?
Answer | The Bible testifies for itself that it is God’s word. The quality, unity, and power of its teachings prove that it comes from God, and the Holy Spirit convinces us to agree and submit to it.
Scripture | Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Explanation| This question is a very understandable question. But probably even more, it’s a very challenging question to work through! Some people ignore it, while others can’t seem to get past it. Let me answer it briefly, here, and then we’ll look at a fuller answer, below. We can know that the Bible is God’s word. But our certainty that it is God’s word can’t come from anything outside of God. Our certainty ultimately comes down to taking Him at His word. Now, let’s unpack this a bit further.
The Bible testifies for itself that it is God’s word. Can we know for certain that the Bible—it’s 66 books, no more, no less—is God’s word? What we’re talking about, here, is not just knowing something, but proving something. And when we think about proving something, we will inevitably find that it’s more difficult than we think. For example, can you prove that you are actually real? I know this probably seems like a silly example. And, maybe it is. But if we stop and think about it, if I were to try to prove with certainty that I exist, I would come up against a couple difficulties. First, I wouldn’t be able to prove that I exist without also needing to rely on evidence outside of me. Second, I wouldn’t be able to prove that I exist without at least some measure of trust in the evidence outside of me. Now, think with me about the Bible. Can we prove that it is God’s word? Yes, and no. Yes, the Bible is God’s word, and it consistently testifies that it is. But, no, we don’t have evidenceoutside of the Bible that proves with undeniable certainty that it is God’s word. Notice what I said—undeniable ‘evidence outside of the Bible.’ The Bible, for it to be God’s word, can’t be proven by anything other than itself. The Bible testifies for itself. Why? Because as God’s word, it bears the same characteristics of God, Himself. And, for God to be God He must be the ultimate authority. Or to put it another way, there isn’t anything higher than or outside of God. So, for God to prove He exists, He can’t say, “I am who I say I am, but in order to prove it, let me tell you what the experts say about me…”1 God would be no different than anyone else by using anything other than Himself to prove that He exists. (Did you follow all of that?) The Bible as God’s word is no different. And it can’t be any different for it to be God’s word. We can (and should) conclude from what God has given us (what He has done, what He has said) that the Bible is, in fact, God’s word.2 But when it comes down to it, the Bible can’t be proven to be God’s word by anything other than itself. So, we should read the Bible, and hear how God, in His word, testifies that it is true.
The Bible’s teachings prove that it comes from God. The Bible testifies for itself that it is God’s word. But it doesn’t exhaustively or undeniably prove it. Rather, through and through, the Bible assumes that it is God’s word and then demonstrates that it is. What this means is that anyone who reads the Bible, ready to hear what it has to say, will find that it sufficiently proves for itself that it is God’s word. How? By it’s content, and especially it’s teaching. The Bible, because it is God’s word, is unique among all other books. But a part of it’s uniqueness, too, is in it’s teaching. Keep this in mind—when we summarize the Bible as ‘teaching,’ we are saying that the Bible functions as more than just a story (or, a story of stories). To be sure, the Bible tells a story—the best, truest, and biggest story. But, its purpose is more than simply to tell a good story. It’s purpose even more is to teach, and teach with the highest of authority. Meaning, of all teachings that we could follow, we should follow the teachings of the Bible. How do the Bible’s teachings prove that it comes from God? First, the quality of it’s teachings prove that it comes from God. Meaning, what the Bible teaches addresses the real, significant, and deep things of life. It’s teachings are enduring and relevant to our human experience across time and place.3 Second, the Bible proves that it comes from God by the unityof it’s teachings. Meaning, how the Bible’s many teachings relate to each other is unified. In all 66 books of the Bible—with everything that is said and taught—there is clear and consistent agreement. It’s teachings don’t contradict each other, but work together perfectly.4 Third, the Bible’s teachings are powerful, which proves that it comes from God. Meaning, what the Bible teaches is effective. It’s teachings are transformative–they can actually radically change people’s lives.5
The Holy Spirit convinces us that the Bible is God’s word. In order to know the Bible is God’s word, we need to read it, and read it with hearts ready to receive it as it is.6 But in order to receive it as it really is, we need God Himself to help us. Why? Because we, on our own, naturally ‘suppress the truth’ (Romans 1:18). We doubt that it is His word, or that He’s telling us the truth, or that we really need it in the first place. And because of our natural bent away from God, we can’t understand it apart from His help.7 How does God help us? The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God, has as one of His primary jobs to help us with the Bible. We’ll summarize His job in two ways. First, He convinces us to agree with it. Meaning, as we read (or hear) the Bible, the Spirit is at work to not only help us recognize that it is God’s word, but also to agree that what it says it true.8 Certainly, related to this (as we’ve already seen), the Spirit, in helping us to agree with what it says, helps us to understand what it means. Second, He convinces us to submit to it. Meaning, as we come to understand what the Bible means and agree with what is says, the Spirit is also at work to help us do what it says to do. In other words, the Bible is effective, but it will only be effective in my life and yours as we obey its teachings as they relate to us. And related to this, the Spirit, in helping us to submit to what it says, encourages us by bringing conviction or comfort. In short, His job is to help us understand the Bible, and in understanding the Bible, to help make its truth effective in our lives. But even though God has sent Him to help us, we often refuse His help. Further, His work in and with the Bible in your life and mine will be hindered if we do not receive it by faith.9
This is what the Bible teaches about…the Bible!
1 Hebrews 6: 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. (Though these verses aren’t directly talking about God proving His existence, per se, they do provide a great example of God’s inability to appeal to anything outside of Himself.)
2 John 5: 30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (While these verses do not directly relate to proving the Bible is God’s word, they do, however, help us understand that God provides evidence that supports His word—in this case, Jesus—which we either ‘refuse’ or ‘receive.’)
3 John 6: 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (See also, Psalm 19:7-11; Psalm 119)
4 Luke 24: 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
5 James 1: 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
6 1 Thessalonians 2: 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
7 1 Corinthians 2: 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
8 Matthew 16:17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
9 Hebrews 4: 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.