By Jonathan Rice

What Is the Bible?

What is Christian doctrine? And do words such as eschatology, sanctification, and atonement really have anything to do with our everyday, going-to-class, working, hanging-out-with-friends lives?

Christian doctrines begin as interpretations of the Bible. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have preserved what they believe the Bible teaches. They form doctrines so that they may remember what other Christians have historically believed about God, humanity, and God’s mission in this world.

These days it’s no less important than in ages past for us to understand Christian doctrine. So, beginning with the following blog post about biblical revelation, we’ll offer you brief monthly posts about what Christians have historically believed are the core teachings of the Bible. We hope you find that these historic teachings not only broaden your understanding of Christianity but also deepen your love of God.

The Christian Bible is unique among all books ever produced. Between the covers of a Bible is a library of literary genres (such as narrative, poetry, letters, and parables, to name a few) that all together contain comfort for the emotionally wounded, guidance for the spiritually lost, encouragement for the religious pilgrim, and the promise of eternal life for everyone who follows Jesus Christ.

The Bible inspires our imaginations to produce the highest art and convicts our minds to confess the lowest sins. The Bible also records God’s acts in this world—including events yet to come—and helps our forgetful minds remember God’s original purpose for our fallen lives.

The Bible is God’s special revelation.

Many Christian theologians divide God’s acts throughout the universe into general and special revelations. General revelation is God’s disclosure of truth through perceptible creation, natural history, and human nature, particularly our conscience. What we may know about God through general revelation is considered “natural”—within our natural reasoning abilities. Our scientific observations of the world, for example, can lead us to general understandings about God. But knowledge derived from such observations alone is not sufficient for us to understand how to receive salvation from the consequences of sin.

For that degree of understanding we need a revelation that is more specific. Special revelation is God’s disclosure of truth through the Bible, the person of Jesus Christ, and God-initiated miraculous events. What we can know of God through special revelation is “supernatural”—beyond our natural reasoning abilities. We receive special revelations through faith.   

Through our faith in Jesus Christ as the one and only incarnate God, through our faith in this historical Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and rose from his grave to grant us eternal life, through our trust in this ascended Jesus who now resides in heaven, we can receive the remedy for our sin and the gift of eternal life. He is the special revelation of the triune God who offers us relationship and transforms our lives. And we first meet this God/man Jesus through the record of his life in the Bible. For this reason, the Bible is essential not only for our truly knowing about God but also for our knowing God truly. 

The Bible is complete in itself.

The Protestant church’s doctrine about the “completeness” of Scripture means that the Bible contains all the revelations that God intended for humanity, without need for additions or subtractions. Such a completeness does not mean that the Bible is the source of all scientific knowledge about the natural world, but it does mean that all the truths essential for the practice of Christian faith can be found in the Bible. And though the Bible is neither a textbook of science (though it includes scientific truth) nor a narrative of metaphysics (though it includes stories of spiritual mystery), the Bible does contain all the presuppositions needed for us to attain a reasonable, scientific worldview and an intelligent belief in God. 

The Bible is intelligible.

The Protestant church’s doctrine about the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture means that the essential truths of the Bible are intelligible. Such clarity does not mean that every biblical passage is equally clear or that a particular biblical doctrine is stated everywhere with equal clarity. But it does mean that the essential teachings in the Bible are clear enough for anyone to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

The Bible instructs us to know, defend, and apply sound doctrine. The Protestant church’s teaching about the clarity of the Bible is foundational for our finding God’s revelations and the purpose of our lives. Without God’s revelations in the Bible, we would be a people forever lost. 

Jonathan Rice is a Senior Editor/Writer with InterVarsity. He has a BA degree in Religious Studies, an MA in Creative Writing/English, an MDiv in Theology/Pastoral Studies, and a DMin in Homiletic and Narrative Theology. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and served as a pastor for nine years. Currently he works part time with InterVarsity and is writing a novel.

Dig deeper into the authority of Scripture with this Bible study.

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