October 2022

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TruthTalks: The Nature of the Bible

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The nature of the bible is an important subject because it is so little understood by many of today’s Christians.

This is how Dr Christopher Peppler starts off this TruthTalks podcast He then goes on to explain to us:

  • What the bible is not
  • What the bible is, and
  •  What we can do with this knowledge (practical applications).

For further information on this topic go to  www.truthistheword.com where the link will take you to all relevant articles, or consider buying the books Truth is the Word and Prayer, Power, and Proclamation on Kindle or paperback.

TruthIsTheWord.com is non-profit and we rely on YOU to help us spread the word, so please like, comment, subscribe and interact with us.

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The Nature of the Bible

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Prayer Power and Proclamation BookTITW BookI haven’t written an article on the nature of the bible for over a decade, although I have included sections on this subject in two of my books (Truth is the Word and Prayer, Power, and Proclamation). This is not because it is not a very important subject, because it is; it is just that I have been preoccupied with the other two of my three doctrinal foundations – the centrality of Jesus, and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

The nature of the bible is an important subject because it is so little understood by many of today’s Christians.

My third doctrinal foundation is the authority of the bible, but its authority can only be properly understood and appreciated if its nature is not misunderstood. So, let me start with what the bible isn’t.

What the Bible is Not

You have probably noticed that when I use the word bible, I do not usually capitalize the ‘B’. This is contradictory to convention, but I currently do this after considerable thought over a long period. To me, capitals signify personal names, places, types or category names, or they are used for special emphasis. There is a quaint English word ‘Capitonym’ which means ‘a word that changes its meaning when it is capitalized’: a lighthearted and contrived  example is, ‘A turkey may march in Turkey in May or March!’  understand the word ‘bible’ as a Capitonym. The word itself simply means ‘book’ from the Greek ‘biblos’, but the Christian sacred scriptures are really a collection of books bound together in one cover. I believe that the scriptures are inspired, authoritative, and trustworthy and so my use of a lower-case b in bible does not indicate that I hold it in anything but the highest esteem. However, the bible is not a person, let alone God. Most of us, myself included, use expressions like ‘the bible says…’ but we know full well that the bible does not speak, hear, or have any degree of ‘self’. What we mean by such expressions is that the Holy Spirit illuminates passages of the bible in a way that communicate with us and often ‘speak’ to our current situations. There are numerous uses of the phrase ‘word of God’ in the bible, but these were penned way before the bible, as we know it, was formed, and so they cannot be referring to ‘The Bible’. Hebrews 4:12 states that ‘the word of God is living and active’, but the context makes it clear that the author is referring to God’s directly spoken word and not a collection of books that would in the distant future be called the bible. The bible is also not the source of truth, Jesus is, and it is not revelation, but the means that God uses to reveal truth and indeed himself to us. These are the reasons that I use a lowercase b for bible.

 

Bearing in mind what I have written above, the bible itself is not, and may not be, treated as an object of veneration. It is not a holy relic to be carried into a church service on a satin cushion, and it is not to be kissed, coddled, or protected from highlight pens and written notes.

The bible is also not inerrant (free of all error), and it does not claim this of itself. However, many Reformed and Evangelical theologians have made inerrancy the litmus test of true faith – this is just wrong! Inerrancy is a word used to describe the concept of the error-free nature of the bible, and if by ‘error’ we mean that God made a mistake in allowing the human authors to present certain things in irregular ways, then clearly, the bible is without error. If it were in error in this sense, then we could hardly regard it as inspired in all its parts. However, if we concede that the bible contains elements that are factually inconsistent, historically disprovable, or scientifically untenable, this does not mean that we hold parts of the bible to be uninspired. It simply means that God purposed, or at least allowed, it to be recorded in this way. We might not fully understand why he did, but the concepts of inaccuracy or inconsistency do not necessarily contradict a belief in divine inspiration. Seen in this light, we could legitimately say that God chose to allow the authors to express their humanity in the scriptural record.

The bible is a record of the perfect Word of God in the imperfect words of human beings.

Moreover, people who lived in a particular age and who thought in terms of prevailing world-views recorded these imperfect words. It should be no surprise then, that the authors used pre-scientific concepts and flawed referencing and reporting methods. Scholars refer to this as cultural conditioning, but it goes beyond that to human frailty and limitation. This would constitute a real problem for those who believe that God dictated the scriptures, or directly impressed the thought on the minds of the scribes. These anomalies and apparent contradictions could, if admitted to, constitute a crisis of faith for those who hold such a narrow view of biblical inerrancy. By ‘narrow’  I mean a definition of inerrancy requiring absolute factual accuracy, numeric or chronological precision, and rigorous theological consistency.

 

The bible is also not a magic book, nor only a record of what God deems to be right and true. To lift verses out of their context and then to claim that “God has said and so the matter is settled” is ignorantly presumptuous. To speak out formula words and then claim these ‘promises’ as though they were magical spells is just nonsense. Equally, to treat, say, King David’s misdeeds as warrants for our misbehaviour, or some of Peter’s actions and words as models, is misguided.

These are some descriptions of what the bible is not, but what then is it?

What the bible is

The books of the bible are a holy collaboration between God and the people he chose to work with.

Just as Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, is both man and God, so the scriptures are both a human and divine production, the written Word of God.

The bible is a compendium of many styles and genres, ranging from stories, through poetry, to teachings. Included in the mix are also histories, prophecies, wise sayings, and apocalyptic visions. Some books, like Job and Song of Songs, defy classification. Some of the biblical characters are wicked, others are simply flawed, while yet others are saints. There are both positive and negative examples of character and behaviour and only sometimes does the author explain which aspects can be taken as models and which are warnings.

 

Measurements, times, periods, and so on are not necessarily accurate. For instance the genealogies do not all contain an exact chronological timeline. Sometimes they are arranged into groups for effect, or leave out generations in order to make some point or other. So, we cannot add back through the genealogies and conclude that Adam was created 6,000 years ago.

Some descriptions in the bible are symbolic and not an accurate presentation of physical reality. For example the devil probably does not look like a huge red dragon confined in the end times for exactly 1,000 years (Revelation 20:2-3). My understanding is that an enormous red dragon is an excellent symbolic depiction of the devil and the 1,000 years represent the entire church age, starting when Jesus restrained Satan at the crucifixion and resurrection.

 

It is obvious from the above that the bible cannot be read and understood primarily as a theological dictionary, chronological story, or collection of promises and magical mantras (Lord preserve us).

 

Instead, the bible, in its totality, is a source of divine revelation concerning Jesus and his way of salvation. It is also the source of spiritual knowledge, advice, admonition, and encouragement. It is the written collection of writings that God uses to help us to come to know Jesus, grow to be like him, and help others to do likewise. It is rich and complex, yet relevant and meaningful to all generations over at least the last 1600 years or so. It is an indispensable part of the Christian Faith and can rightly be called The Written Word of God.

It is equally obvious from what I have written that we can only properly understand this marvellous book if we apply the principles of context, exhaustive reference, and ChristocentricityContext involves the interpretation of a biblical passage with reference to the history, geography, and culture of its original time of writing, and also with reference to its literary style and the logical flow of thought contained in the passages that both precede and follow it. Christocentricity means the interpretation of a passage with reference to what Jesus said, did and revealed of the nature and character of the Godhead.

 

Lastly, let me deal with some practical applications.

Practical Applications

Given the importance of the bible to faith and life, and its nature and purpose, we should, at least, consider the way we handle and use it. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Reflect on how you regard the bible. Do you think of it as the source of truth, or the primary means by which God reveals truth, human nature, and himself?
  2. Ask yourself how you approach it. Is it an article to be hallowed and treated physically as if it is divine? Or on the contrary, do you regard it as less than the Written Word of God and as relatively peripheral to your lived reality?
  3. Do you quote isolated texts as if they were little truth capsules in themselves, or speak out what you perceive as promises that apply to yourself and claim them?
  4. Do you believe that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original manuscript form and properly interpreted, will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences?
  5. Do you truly believe that the bible can only be truly understood when viewed through the lens of what Jesus said, did, and revealed of the character and nature of the Godhead?

There are, of course, other questions we could consider, but these five are a good start. The first question concerns the fundamental nature of the bible. The second concerns biblioidolatory or its opposite of biblioagnosticism. (Long words that simply mean idolising the bible on the one hand or treating it with indifference on the other). The third question probes whether you, deep down, treat the bible as a magical sourcebook, which is something that Word of Faith Christians are apt to do. The fourth has to do with the misguided doctrine of biblical inerrancy (I would need another article to explain this adequately). Finally, the fifth question tests your commitment to Jesus-centred bible interpretation.

If you think through this article and the five questions at the end, then you will have an idea of what you need to change in your own life or, if you are an Elder, in the church that you lead. I know that the Holy Spirit will guide you in this process, as he always does for those who ask.

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TruthTalks: Theology is Important

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What we believe, largely determines how we live.

Have you ever wondered:

  • What exactly theology is, and
  • Why it’s so important?

If you have, then you will enjoy this TruthTalks podcast episode where Dr. Christopher Peppler addresses these and many other issues around theology. Based on his article written HERE you may come to appreciate why theology is so important to us all – theologians and non-theologians alike. Press the play button to listen now, or download this episode and please support us on whatever channels you have access to.

TruthIsTheWord.com is non-profit and we rely on YOU to help us spread the word, so please like, comment, subscribe and interact with us.

Until next time, admin

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.