Question | What is the Bible like?
Answer | The Bible is truth. It is without error as a whole and in every part. It is trustworthy, understandable, sufficient for what we need, and it will never lead us astray.
Scripture | John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Explanation| With this question, we are looking at the Bible’s characteristics. And, as we do, remember, the Bible is a book, but it is a book like no other book. What makes it different? It comes from God, Himself. So, the Bible, as the word of God, is consistent with who God is. What, then, are some of the Bible’s most significant characteristics?
The Bible is truth. Yes, it is true. But it is also the truth. What do I mean? First, what the Bible says is true. That is, it speaks accurately about reality. Interestingly, though most of the Bible presents God’s instructions and perspective on all sorts of matters, which are not only true but also right, it also accurately records what certain people have done or said, which truly happened but may not necessarily be right.1 And, in speaking truthfully, the Bible does so using regular human language and forms of communication. For example, the Bible was originally written in three human languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. It was also written using different genres, which is similar to us reading books classified as mystery, science fiction, western, or fantasy, etc. But, whereas the western book I read may not be true (though I enjoy it), every book of the Bible is true (whether we enjoy what it says or not). Further, the Bible was written using the normal grammar of its time and place, which includes figures of speech. Figures of speech may not be technically accurate (“I’ve got butterflies in my stomach”), but they often convey figuratively how we perceive our experiences in life (“I’m so nervous my stomach feels jittery”). So, for instance, the Bible talks about ‘the rising of the sun’ and ‘its setting.’2 Does the sun actually go up and come down in the sky over the course of a day? We know that it doesn’t, but we still regularly use “sunrise” and “sunset” as figures of speech. And so does the Bible. What the Bible says is true. But, second, the Bible is the truth. Meaning, it doesn’t only speak truthfully, but even more is, itself, the standard of what is true. To put it another way, everything else should be measured against what the Bible says. Every other voice, every other book—anything that seems or claims to be speaking accurately about reality must be measured by what the Bible says. If it doesn’t agree with the Bible, then we should side with the Bible, for the Bible is both true and the truth.
The Bible is without error. This is saying something similar to what we learned above, only putting it negatively. If the Bible speaks truthfully and is itself the truth, then it isn’t—and can’t be—filled with error. What’s error? For starters, an error is a mistake. If I asked you to spell “mistake,” and you spelled it “m-i-s-t-e-a-k,” we would say that you’ve made an error in your spelling. This is an error in construction. And it probably was unintentional, too. But there’s another type of error, as well. Let’s say my daughter came in from outside and handed me a plate and said, “Dad, I’ve made you a steak from the mud in our backyard.” Now, I know that she’s probably pretending, but let’s say she’s not. While we could say that what she’s given meis a mis-steak, in actuality it isn’t a steak at all. Why? Because it’s not made of the same stuff that a real steak is. It’s a fake steak! This is an error in content. And this error is most likely intentional. In a similar way, there are no errors both in how the Bible was constructed, nor in what it teaches in its content. God, in the Bible, hasn’t messed up in what He’s said, and He’s not trying to trick us into believing things that are false. But, let’s take this a step further, though. The Bible is without error in two additional ways. It’s without error as a whole. Meaning, all of the Bible—the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments—is without error.3 So, Genesis is just as true and without error as Matthew. Jonah is just as true and without error as Ephesians. And, none of the books contradict each other. Further, the Bible is also without error in every part. Meaning, the very words of the Bible are without error.4 One of the clearest illustrations of even the words of the Bible being true and without error is fulfilled Scripture. Here’s one example. When Jesus died, the Gospel of John specifically tells us that ‘they did not break his legs’ after He breathed His last breath.5 And John goes on to give us the reason—‘that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.’ Then, he shares a couple of quotes from the Old Testament where this same reality was predicted many years prior.
The Bible is trustworthy. This is the result of the Bible being true and without any error, as a whole and in every part. We can trust the Bible. In fact, we should trust the Bible. It is worthy of our trust, and it is to our advantage for us to trust it. It is God’s word, and God doesn’t lie.6 What other book is like that? The Bible is the only book that can and should be trusted completely, through and through, always and forever. But there are still yet other characteristics related to this. The Bible is also understandable. To be sure, it isn’t always easy to understand the Bible. And, thereis a sense in which no one is able to completely understand the Bible. At the same time, though, God has given us His word so that we can understand it. He’s spoken in our language, and He intends for all of us to hear and understand what He’s said. So, while it does takes hard work to study the Bible, it’s not some code that we have to decipher. And, it’s not written in such a way that only really smart people can understand it. Adults and kids, alike, can and should understand the Bible.7 Further, the Bible is sufficient. It’s enough. It’s what we need, and we need nothing else. This doesn’t mean that you and I, as long as we have the Bible, don’t need to eat, drink, sleep, and work. It means that what we need most of all is found in the Bible. It means that even if we have everything else but not the Bible, we’re lacking what we need most. It means that, for what the Bible provides for us, we don’t need anything else in addition to it.8 And finally, the Bible will never lead us astray. We go astray, and we hear incorrectly. But, when we do, it’s not the Bible’s fault. Why? Because what the Bible says is true. What the Bible says is without error. What the Bible says is trustworthy. The Bible won’t and can’t lead us in ways that are contrary to God. In fact, the Bible is designed to do just the opposite—to help us find, walk, and stay on the right path.9 It is, as the truth, intended by God to sanctify us (John 17:17).
This is what the Bible teaches about…the Bible!
1 2 Chronicles 32: 14 Who among all the gods of those nations that my fathers devoted to destruction was able to deliver his people from my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand? 15 Now, therefore, do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you in this fashion, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you out of my hand!’” (These verses record accurately what Sennacherib, king of Assyria, said against God, but they certainly are not accurate about God. Read the rest of this chapter thirty-two for a fascinating account of Hezekiah’s trust in God and His word.)
2 Psalm 50: 1 The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
3 Psalm 119: 160 The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
4 Matthew 5: 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (See also, Proverbs 30:5)
5 John 19: 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
6 Hebrews 6: 18 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. (See also, Titus 1:2; 1 John 2:21, 27)
7 Psalm 119: 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
8 Matthew 4: 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
9 Psalm 119: 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (See also, Psalm 1:1-6)