What is the Bible?
The word “Bible” is from a Greek word that means “book”. What is this “good book”? That question has a two-part answer.
First, the Bible is actually a collection of books 66 of them to be exact-from the first book, Genesis, to the last, Revelation. These books cover thousands of years and were written in either Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. There are many different kinds of writings in the Bible: historical narrative, prophecy, poetry, speeches, letters and so on. From a merely human perspective, there is no question that the Bibles is a masterpiece of literature.
Second, the much more important answer to the question, “What is the Bible?” is this: The Bible is the Word of God. The Bible is the collection of the thoughts—even the very words –that God gave to the authors of the Biblical books. The Bible is a gift God has given to His church. It is not a collection of ancient fables and myths. The Bible is the sure and certain means that God the Holy Spirit uses to communicate God’s Word to us today.
How did we receive the Bible?
The Bible itself explains how we received it. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”(2 Tim.3:16). We read elsewhere that, “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21)
Because people knew that the Bible was the actual Word of God, it was copied and re-copied with painstaking care and attention to detail, letter by letter, word by word. Though today we no longer possess the actual, original text of the Bible, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit has preserved the Word of God for us. Careful study of the many thousands of copies of the New Testament reveals that though there are minor differences between the various copies, there is no place where any key teaching of the Bible is contradicted.
Our English Bibles are translations from the original languages. When we use reliable translations, we can be sure that we have the true Word of God. Whatever the Word of God is in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, it is also the Word of God in English, or in any other language, as long as the translation is faithful to the original languages. Reliable translations include the King James Version, the New King James Version, the Old Revised Standard Version, the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible.
Why is the Bible so Important?
Someone may say, “The Bible is important to me because it tells me what to do” and another person might say, “The old stories remind me of my childhood.” or “The Bible is a guide-book for daily living.” These answers all have a grain of truth, but they miss the real reason why the Bible is so important; It is the sure and certain source for knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us.
Jesus said “The Scriptures testify about me” (John 5:39). The main message of the Bible is the good news of God’s work to reconcile the world to Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Throughout Old and New Testaments, the central message of the Scripture is the account of how God was in the world preparing it to receive His Son and then what His Son did when He was here. It also tells how the church received this glorious message of salvation, and how it grew and spread throughout the known world. Luther once compared the Bible to the swaddling clothes the baby Jesus was wrapped in. Thus the Bible is Christ-centered.
Our Lord Jesus said, “If you remain in my Word, truly you are my disciples” (John 8:31). The divine authority and reliability of the Bible does not rest on the persons God used to write the Bible, nor on the endorsement of the Bible by the church, but rests en rely on the fact that it is the Word of the Lord. How do we know this? This confession of the Bible’s complete authority is part of the certainty of the faith God gives to us as a gift.
Real human beings were given real words from God to write down. As our Lord Jesus Christ was both true God and true man, so the Bible is truly the Word of God and also the writing of human beings. Even as our Lord Jesus took on human flesh free from sin and error, so God used human beings to provide a written revelation of Himself that is free from error. Thus, we believe that the Bible is both incapable of error (infallible) and free from error (inerrant).
The Bible has a very important distinction on one needs to keep in mind in order to understand the Bible correctly; the difference between Law and Gospel. The Bible reveals God’s perfect holiness and righteousness, and His expectation of perfection. His Law, summarized best in the Ten Commandments, reveals our sinful rebellion and our inability to save ourselves. The Gospel is the joyful news that our Lord Jesus Christ has given us complete forgiveness from our sins through His life, death and resurrection for us. The proper distinction on between Law and Gospel is the key to understanding the Bible correctly.
The most important message of the Bible is not the Law of God. The Bible is not merely a collection of principles for daily living. The Bible is not a textbook that answers every possible question we have. Nor for that matter is the Bible a book that predicts every last detail about the future. The central and most important teaching in the Bible is the Gospel, the good news of God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the message that predominates through out the Bible, from Old Testament to New Testament. Thus the Bible is Gospel-centered.
We know that the Bible was not given merely for the sake of itself. We are not saved because we own a Bible. We are saved by our Lord Jesus Christ, who is revealed in the Bible. We believe the Bible because it is the Lord’s Word. We believe in Him, thus we believe His Word to be true. We receive what He has given. He has given us the Scriptures. Thus, the Bible is the foundation and touchstone for everything that the church believes, teaches, confesses and practices. Why? Because the Bible is the inspired, Christ-centered Word of the Lord.
How Do We Use the Bible?
The Bible is foundational for the church’s ministry. The Bible was never intended to stand alone or apart from the community of faith we call the Christian church. It is sad when some people think that, if they just read the Bible, they can stay away from church. We receive our Lord’s gifts with joy and do not say, “We want this, but not that.” It would be misleading if our high respect for the scriptures was used to drive a wedge between the Bible and the church. The church is the gathering of God’s people around the Lord’s Word and Sacraments. The Scriptures are the sure and certain revelation of God’s Word and thus are to be read, studied and me meditated on by Christians at church and at home.
We Lutherans realize that Scripture must be interpreted according to the central truth of the Bible, the Gospel, not picked apart and made to teach things that actually conflict with the Gospel. Therefore, we pay close attention to the grammar and words of the Bible, seeking out the intended meaning, which is the plain sense of the text. We recognize that God the Holy Spirit works thought the Scriptures to create and sustain the church as it comes together around the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.
Whenever the Word of God is preached, taught, studied, read, learned, or meditated on, the Holy Spirit is actively turning people from their sin and drawing them to Christ for their salvation. Thus, we will want to be in the Word daily. At home we read and mediate on the Word through our private and family devotion. At church, our hymns and liturgy are anchored in the Word of God. Our pastors preach to us on the basis of the Scripture lessons appointed for each Sunday in the church year. Our school teachers lead our children into deeper knowledge of the Word of God. In Sunday school, children learn the biblical accounts and thus have a foundation for their lives. In youth and adult Bible studies, the Scriptures are studied in a variety of ways so they can inform and enlighten us and help us understand how we live out our lives as God’s people.
What a blessed gift the Holy Scriptures are to us and to all people! Everything God wants us to know about Himself is contained in His Word. Through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit reveals the truth about our sinful condition and the joyful news of God’s saving work for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Truly, God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Ps. 119:105). For the reason we pray, “Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word.”
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This pamphlet has been prepared to shop you how much we need the Gospel, why it is such good news, how we receive it and how we respond to it.
Why do we need the Gospel?
We cannot really understand how good the message of the Gospel is until we understand how bad our situation is without it. We are poor miserable sinners. We sin daily and deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.
Without Jesus Christ, our situation would be totally hopeless. The scriptures describe human beings as dead in trespasses and sin. Without the mercy and cleansing of God through the blood of Je-sus Christ, there awaits for us only everlasting punishment in hell. Thus, we need the Gospel desperately!
What is the Gospel?
The word “gospel” is translation of a Greek word that means, “an announcement of good news.” The Gospel is the good news that God the Holy Trinity decided not to abandon humanity when Ad-am and Eve first fell into sin. God decided then and there that sin and death would not have the last word. He promised to send a Savior.
When the time was right, God sent His Son into our world to be born of the Virgin Mary. Our Lord Jesus Christ lived a perfect life for us. On the cross, He received the penalty and punishment for the sins of the whole world, offering Himself as the perfect sacri-fice for sin. Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over our ancient enemies: sin , death and the devil.
Therefore, each Christian is able with great joy and confidence to declare before the whole world; “My Lord Jesus Christ has re-deemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
What glorious good news! The one , true eternal and all powerful God came into our world to live, suffer, die and rise again for us. We, who are unholy and unrighteous, receive the forgiveness of all our sins and thus receive the perfect holiness and righteousness of Christ our Savior—as a free gift –purely because of His love for us. This is good news! That is the Gospel!
How do we receive this great salvation in our lives today?
How do we personally receive the forgiveness Christ won for the entire world? How does what happened on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago flow into our lives today?
Here too there is very good news. God, through His Gospel, offers us forgiveness and help against sin in more than one way. God is surpassingly rich in His grace. He gives His Gospel to us through His Word, through Baptism, through the Sacrament of the Altar, and through confession and absolution. These are the ways God enters our lives today to apply to us personally the great salvation Christ won for the world.
The Holy Spirit works through the Word of the Gospel to create and sustain faith in our heart that Christ is the Savior of the world, and thus our Savior too. The Bible is the Word of God, written down for our learning and edification. The Scriptures are filled with the good news of Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us. Through the almighty, Spirit-filled Word, God gathers us into His church, which is truly the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, The Holy Spirit is present, effective and active through the Word when it is proclaimed, heard and meditated upon.
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is water included in God’s com-mand and combined with God’s Word; or as St. Paul says in Holy Scripture, “The washing of water with the word.” Through Bap-tism, we are made partakers of Christ’s death and resurrection. Therefore, we know that Baptism works forgiveness of sins, res-cues from death and the devil, and gives eternal life to all who believe. Since Baptism is connected to the Word and promise of God, it is truly a life-giving water, rich in grace—a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.
Christ has provided a special application of the Gospel through confession and absolution. Confession is admitting our sins to God and receiving His forgiveness from our pastor, as from God Him-self, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiv-en before God in heaven. Thus, by divine ordinance, Christ Him-self has entrusted absolution to his Christian church and com-manded us to absolve one another from sins.
The Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself, for us Christians to eat and to drink. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s body and blood are given to us as our treasure and gift which sus-tains our faith and life in Him.
If you are heavy-laden and feel your weakness, go joyfully to the Sacrament and receive refreshment, comfort and strength.
Those who want to be forgiven by God and who want to enjoy His presence in their lives, hunger and thirst for the Word and Sacra-ments. With the Psalmist we say, “ My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” God has provided the means to receive Him. So, Christians hunger and thirst for God’s Word, absolution, the Sacrament, etc. We have the certain-ty that God meets us and gives us what we need in His means of Grace. The forgiveness Christ won for the world on the cross is applied to us personally by God through His Word and Sacra-ments. What a joy for us to know that where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
Thus, we believe that we cannot, by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ our Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith. In the same way, He calls, gathers , en-lightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all of our sins, and the sins of all believers.
How does God cause us to respond to His Gospel?
We love God because He first loved us. Our Lord is at work in us both to will and to do what is pleasing to Him. Christians look to the Ten Commandments to know what is pleasing to God and wish to serve Him in gratitude for the great salvation that is theirs in Christ.
From the Word of God we learn that God wants us to put Him first, above any other person or thing, to respect His name and not mis-use it, to hear and obey His Word. Children are to honor and obey their parents and others in authority. We are to look out for the welfare of others, doing nothing to hurt or harm our neighbor. We are to live sexually pure and decent lives, with husbands and wives loving and honoring each other. In looking out for our neighbor’s welfare and helping him to improve and protect his property and business, we are also to take care not to lie about our neighbor, but to help, support and defend him in every need, and finally, we are to be content with what we have been given, and not want what is not ours.
What a joyful privilege we have to serve God and others! He gives us the opportunity to bear witness to our faith through both our words and our deeds.
How is the Gospel obscured?
The gospel is obscured by well-intentioned people who want to encourage a life of good works, and end up making Christians think that it is by their works that they are saved. This is a great danger. Through His Word and Sacraments, Jesus is constantly working in our lives to forgive our sins and strengthen our relationship with God. God always receives the credit for our salvation. He is the one working in us. This is not something we can do. Our good works are the result of God’s love in our hearts and lives. Our good works in this life do not save us, only Christ saves us. Works serve our neighbor and show to the world that we are grateful for God’s mercy in our lives.
Another way the Gospel can be obscured is when too much em-phasis is put on an emotional response to the Gospel. Some Chris-tians believe that unless they have some sort of ecstatic, charis-matic experience, or feel some sort of “spiritual high,” they are not really Christians. It is truly sad that some people look into their own hearts for the security that they are children of God, instead of putting their hope and trust in the objective work of Christ for them, and in the means God uses to come to them—His Word and Sacraments.
If we find ourselves beginning to ask “Am I doing enough?” or thinking, “It doesn’t matter what I do, for God will forgive me any-way,” then we are at risk of losing Christ and His forgiveness. We look always to Jesus and put our hope and trust in Him. He is our Savior. And, that’s good news!
All blessings, honor, thanks and praise to Father, Son and Spirit, the God who saved us by His grace. Al glory to His merit! O triune God in heaven above, you have revealed our saving love. Your blessed name we hallow.
Dr. A. L. Barry - President - The Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod