When you hold a Bible in your hand, what do you really have? We know it is now printed, sold and read by people around the world, taught in churches and appealed to as an authority. But what is it?
It is really a library of books written over a number of centuries—including history, teaching, songs, promises, encouragements and warnings. It concludes with reports of Jesus’ coming and the apostle’s announcing of his message.
What makes the Bible one book is that each part got written because God spoke to someone. There is no way to prove this but it is what the various writers say happened. ‘In many and various ways God spoke in times past by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2).
The fact is, God has always been speaking. He made the world by speaking: ‘Let there be light, and it was so’ (Genesis 1:3). When he made us in his own image and likeness, something like himself—to be his family, he spoke to us so we would know how to understand and to live in the world and what to expect.
The world was never meant to make sense without some information from outside the creation. We can discover much and use it to good purpose of course, and should do so, but nothing we find out through enquiry will tell us all we need to know.
For example, God told Adam in the Garden of Eden to enjoy every part of the Garden except the tree that would give them independent knowledge of good and evil. They decided otherwise, and the Bible recounts the outcome.
We see this at work when we say about someone that ‘they are trying to be God’. They are exaggerating what they know and can do, and they may be trying to force this onto others. But we know that there isn’t anyone who knows everything about good and evil. There needs to be a voice greater than all our varying opinions—someone who actually isGod.
The Bible story continues, and God speaks to Abraham. We have no idea what this looked or sounded like. Abraham simply reports God saying that he would bless him and his family, and the narrative tells us how this works out.
But something very interesting is happening. Abraham knows his genealogy. He knows what has been said to his ancestors. They have been keeping a record—either oral or written—because they needed to remember what God said. It is their hope.
Then God speaks to Moses, and this time, he addresses a whole people—the descendants of Abraham. He wants to show the world that he is able to establish them as a nation no matter what other nations do to stop it.
God establishes this nation of Israel to show the world his power, and especially, what it is like for a people to hear his word and to be loved by him. He sends them prophets—people who are raised up to bring his word to his people.
For much of the time this is happening, God’s people don’t heed what he says. This is not surprising. None of us really want to listen to the word that comes from God—from outside the world of things we can examine or choose for ourselves.
But God goes right on telling Israel the next part of the plan—through his prophets. And from quite early in the piece, it becomes clear that there is going to be one person, a Messiah, who will bring the whole story together and accomplish God’s purpose in the creation. It will be his Son. He is also called ‘the Word’ because God speaks to the world fully through his Son. He will not only make God known but also bring about what God wants to do.
So, the Son of God enters the world—as a baby. ‘The Word was made flesh and lived among us’ (John 1:14). This is the apex of all that God has been saying to our world.
When Jesus begins his teaching and healing, he is displaying God’s love and wisdom and power and he becomes popular. But he has a bigger agenda. God’s Son, his Word, is among us to ‘bear away the sins of the world’.
When it becomes clear that his word is different from the word we want to hear, his own people kill him. Here is the truth about us. We don’t want God to speak to us.
Here is the greatest surprise in what God says. This killing of Jesus is precisely the way he takes away the sin of the world. Ignoring God’s word is a capital offence, but Jesus dies instead of us. Then God raises him from the dead and the first words he says are, ‘Peace be with you!’
This is the word we need to hear. Only God can truly say ‘Peace!’ because it is with him that we’ve been fighting. Peace with God is one way of describing what the Bible is all about.
When Jesus is about to leave this world, he says the Holy Spirit will enable the chosen apostles (‘sent ones’) to remember and understand all that he has said and done. So the Spirit comes and the apostles announce to the world what God has said through his Son.
They, or their fellow workers, write down what Jesus has done, how his good news spreads and what this Word of God means for our lives, now and into the age to come.
Jesus and the apostles call this coming and all that follows it ‘the last days’. The final revelation has been made so nothing needs to be added to what we have.
Think about what it means that God has spoken to our world.
There is no way we can discover the origins or purpose of our world unless God speaks to us. There is no way we can fathom out why the world is the shape it is unless God tells us he is our Father. We can try to act like a family and make out we are all here for others, but it doesn’t work—not for long anyway.
There is no way we can fathom the falseness of our own life unless we hear God telling us what is normal and what he is doing to mend us and our world. Without the sound of this ‘voice’, we begin to act like orphans and the big driver of our human enterprise becomes trying to appear good. We call it ‘virtue signalling’ these days. And this is not making us a better people or a better world. What brings us together is not our ‘virtues’ but our need, and God speaks to us in our need.
And there is no way we will trust him unless he sends his Son—the big Word—to save us.
And now, we have a Bible, and the same Holy Spirit who brought it together, is given to every person who hears and believes the message of Christ. God’s Spirit brings what is written to life so that we know that God is speaking to us.
Bible books were first written to other people living in another time and God spoke to them in a way they could understand. But we need to understand what theyheard, and to ‘hear’ it again. This is not such a strange thing to have to do. When we read the Bible or hear it explained, we are listening to our family story. We are listening to our Father God, and his Son Jesus Christ. The Bible is not just what God said. It is what he is saying.