14.5.17 – What is The Bible? – Peter Cheyne

What is the Bible? That is such an easy question I am not going to answer it. Instead, I have 18 questions for you. Is that OK?

The word “Bible” comes from the Latin “biblia” (Greek “biblos”) meaning book but it is not a book. It is a collection of books.

  1. How many books are there in the Bible?
  2. How many authors wrote it?
  3. What period was it written over?
  4. How many languages were used to write it?
  5. On what continent, or continents, was it written?

It is a collection of books that contain many different types of literature e.g. history, law, letters.

6. What other types of literature can you think of?

Despite that diversity and the length of time it took to write, it has a coherent message. You might expect it to be a hodgepodge of different and conflicting teachings and ideas but it is actually consistent from the beginning to the end. Hmmm, really? Because people talk about the Bible containing contradictions. There are tricky bits but, actually, most of those who say there are contradictions cannot tell you what they are.

7.  What is that message? Is the Bible primarily

a. A guide to living?
b. A comfort for hurting people?
c. A revelation of God?
d. A description of God’s plan of salvation?
e. A collection of snippets of wisdom?
f. Great literature?

It is all of those things but it is primarily a description of God’s plan of salvation

  • The need for salvation – beginning with Adam and Eve’s sin
  • The character of God
  • The character of human beings
  • The inability of human beings to be perfect
  • The provision of a Saviour
  • The future promised to those who are saved (and the future prospects for those who are not)

The whole of the Bible has one central character.

8. Who is that central character?

The whole of the Bible is about Jesus. Even the 2/3 of the Bible written before Jesus was born are about Jesus.

Luke 24:27          And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning Himself.

All of the scriptures, from the very beginning – Moses and the prophets – are about Jesus.

John 5:39-40       39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

9. What would be the first reference to Jesus in the Bible?

The rest of the Old Testament (the first 2/3 of the Bible, written before Jesus was born) contains many prophecies of Jesus and many types of Jesus. Types are people or events that reveal something about Jesus because of similarities between the two. For example, the whole sacrifice system in the Temple points forward to Jesus being the sacrificial lamb. Jonah is a type. Jesus likened His three days in the grave to Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish. God organised Old Testament things to reveal what would happen. Jesus’ Aramaic name was Yehu’a, or Joshua, and the Old Testament Joshua is a type of Jesus in that he delivered the people into the Promised Land – into their God-promised inheritance – just as Jesus leads His people into heaven. And there are dozens more examples.

10. Can you think of other “types”?

That should raise a question in our minds – or a series of questions. How can the Bible be written by so many different people over such a long period and still tell a consistent story? How could people hundreds of years before Jesus, prophesy details that could not be verified until centuries later? How could such a diverse collection of people who would never meet each other, organise all of these parallels between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

They all point to the fact that the Bible is inspired by God. There was one mind behind it all coordinating the whole project. There might have been dozens of people involved but they were all inspired by God. They wrote what God inspired them to write. Their different personalities shine through but what they wrote and even how they wrote it was inspired by God.

2 Peter 2:21        For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Timothy 3:16-17      16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The significance of that is that the Bible is not a human book filled with human wisdom – fallible human wisdom. It is a God-inspired truth. The Bible is absolutely trustworthy. It is not just opinion; it is truth.

Of course, some people will disagree with that. The Bible comes in for quite a lot of criticism. It is common these days for people to describe it as an iron-age book, the implication being that it is merely human and written by ignorant, unsophisticated humans. I guess all I can say is that we need to test it for ourselves. We need to read it and discern if it is simply an ancient, and now outdated, human book or if it is The word of God.

Last week we talked about examples of God speaking powerfully through the Bible; about it being alive and active. That is one indication that it is more than just a human book. Again, the fulfilled prophecies and the consistency of the Bible indicate that it is not a human product. It has been shown to be true time after time after time. No one has disproved the Bible. Archaeological finds continue to authenticate the history recorded in the Bible. Often when people have declared something to be wrong, subsequent archaeological research has confirmed the biblical account.

There are many books written about ‘can we trust the Bible’? It is a huge subject – too big to deal with now. There are always doubters but it is also important to realise that there are also very intelligent and informed people who are not embarrassed to state that the Bible is indeed God-inspired truth.

If it is the word of God, then we would expect it to reflect the character of God. God is not a liar; therefore, His word does not lie. God is not inconsistent; therefore, His word is not inconsistent. God loves us; therefore, His word conveys His love. God is holy and His word is holy.

The Bible refers to itself using a number of images that tell us more about its character. We have already used one: The word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword. That passage says that it penetrates right into our hearts judging our thoughts and attitudes. It is sharper than a sword; it cuts right into our inner self.

11. Can you think of other images the Bible uses of itself?

It is said to be a light.

Psalm 119:105    Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.

In other words, the Bible gives guidance and shows the way. It helps us to see what would otherwise be hidden. It reveals.

Jesus likened it to seeds. When explaining the parable of the sower, He said, “the sower sows the word” (Mk 4:14). There the image is of something that is spread widely but will it take root and bear fruit?

James likens the Bible to a mirror.

James 1:22-25     22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

Looking into the Bible and not doing what it says is like looking into a mirror and then doing nothing about your appearance.

Listen again to v.25. whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

There is a comment there about the quality of the Bible, two comments about the impact of the Bible and three conditions.

12. How does James describe the Bible in terms of it quality?
13. What two things does he say the Bible does?
14. What are the three conditions?

Last question:
15. How would you answer the question “What is the Bible”?

We are going to read Ps 19:7-11. I think you will hear echoes of the things we have been saying. As we read it, ask yourself:

16. What images are used of the Bible?
17. What does the Bible do?
18. What is required of us if the Bible is to do its work?



  1. 66
  2. About 40
  3. 1500-1600 years
  4. Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek
  5. Europe, Asia, Africa
  6. History, law, letters/epistles, stories/narrative, poetry, wisdom literature (proverbs etc), apocalyptic, prophecy, gospels, parables…
  7. A description of God’s plan of salvation
  8. Jesus
    1. Gen 1:1 – God created the heavens and the earth. Jesus is God.
    2. Gen 1:26 – “let us make mankind in our image”. God is plural.
    3. Gen 3:15 – “I will put enmity between you [the snake] and the woman, between your offspring and her; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal.”
  9. Many. Some are mentioned in the text above.
  10. Light, seed, mirror, honey, gold, rock, food, hammer, fire…
  11. The perfect law
  12. Gives freedom; brings blessing
  13. Look intently; do not forget; do it
  14. More precious than gold; sweeter than honey
  15. Various
    1. Refresh the soul
    2. Make the simple wise
    3. Give joy to the heart
    4. Give light to the eyes
    5. Warn
    6. Bring great reward
  16. Keep them
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