How Should We View the Bible?
© 2021 C. O. Bishop
2nd Peter 1:16-2:3
Over a month ago, we began to study through the second epistle of Peter, but were diverted by easter and some other needful things. Peter had spoken of the gifts of God and the goals he sets before us in the first 15 verses. so we are now returning, beginning at chapter 1, verse 16.
Revelation is not of Human Origin
16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.
First, Peter reminds the readers that there were no “fables” involved in the Gospel; every single point of the gospels had multiple witnesses, and not always the same few “yes-men.” Jesus had enemies, and they confirmed the miracles. (John 12:9-11) Peter then points out that he, James, and John were eyewitnesses of the Majesty of the revealed Christ on the “Mount of Transfiguration:” they saw His glory personally, and up close, and heard the voice of God the Father, calling them to hear Jesus, the only begotten Son. That is pretty amazing stuff!
But what does Peter do with that vision? Does he say, “I was one of the few chosen to see Jesus in His Glory, so you need to pay close attention to what I say!”? Nope: his next sentence (verse 19) is to point out that the Word of Prophecy (God’s Written Word) is more sure. It is more reliable than any special vision Peter had… more reliable than his experience.
A fellow pastor once told me of a woman with whom he had attempted to share the Lord. She did nothing but argue, and when he attempted to show what the Bible had to say, she blurted, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” That is precisely the opposite of what Peter is teaching us. We are to trust God’s written Word above all experience, even if it seems to be supernatural experience. It is interesting to me that the false prophets who were contemporaries of Jeremiah all had visions and dreams, etc. and God says that they “caused the dreams themselves.” (Jeremiah 29:8)
How did they cause them? I have no idea: perhaps simply by their own desires, since they all desperately wanted Nebuchadnezzar to go away. Possibly it was caused through hallucinogens of some sort. (The Oracle at Delphi was apparently under the influence of volcanic gases inhaled from a crack in the ground under the shrine to Apollos. The Mescalero “seers” in the American southwest used Peyote cactus buds to enter a drug-induced state from which to give prophecies or spirit-messages of some sort. Drug-use to attempt spiritual enlightenment is common all around the world. But so is simple self-deception. Jeremiah 17:9.)
How Should We View The Bible?
What does Peter say about how we should see the Written Word of God?
19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
He says that we are to pay attention to it! “Take Heed!” Notice also the time-clause in verse 19: How long are we to “take heed” to the written word? “Until the day dawn and the daystar arise in your hearts!” (This is in reference to the Return of Christ!) God’s written Word is to be our central, primary, and, essentially our only reliable source for truth until Jesus comes back!
And how are we to give heed to it? “As unto a light that shineth in a dark place!” Think about this one: When you need to venture into a dark place (perhaps because the power is out) and you take a flashlight with you, where do you look? You always turn your eyes toward the place you have turned the light! You allow that light, however feeble, to guide your steps. Why? Because the character of light is to dispel darkness. And we can only see what is revealed by reflected light. So, how should we use God’s written Word? Treat it as if it were your only source of light in an otherwise dark world. Use it to make your path visible, and your footing secure.
Many Writers, but One Author
20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
And here is the reason we should feel that way, and respond in that way: it is because, though humans were used by God to transmit His Word, they were no more the “authors” than the “bullhorn” is the authority when police speak to a crowd. Anyone can get a bullhorn; Anyone can hire a scribe to write down words. The Author is the key ingredient in this mix: Peter said that the scriptures are not something subject to private interpretation: They are God’s Word! The Prophecies did not come as a result of human will, but the Holy Spirit, starting out with a godly, submitted individual, moved those men (and sometimes women) to speak his Word. The result is really quite amazing, in my opinion:
Here are 66 separate documents (some, like the Psalms and the Proverbs, a compilation by more than one writer) written over a period of about 1,600 years, through approximately 40 different writers…or a few more. And they agree remarkably well, when one considers that in all but a very few cases, the different writers didn’t even know one another, and had utterly different backgrounds. In fact, as one who studies the Bible pretty consistently, I am constantly thrilled with just how completely it agrees with itself.
I have read books in which, though there was only the one (fairly famous) author, a careful reader will find mistakes and contradictions. But when people protest to me that “Oh, you know, the Bible is full of contradictions,” I reply, “Really? Name one!” (I can name a few—very few–and in nearly every case, the error can easily be determined to be a copyist error or translation error. And there are very few even at that level. And we are talking about a change in the age of an individual at a certain time, or the number of soldiers at a given place… not in any way related to doctrine.) But, almost without exception, those individuals don’t know a single one. It is just something they have learned to say, in an attempt to deny, or minimize Biblical Authority.
Over the last 45 years, I have become increasingly convinced that the Bible truly is the Word of God, and as such, it is the only reliable light in our sin-darkened world. The longer I study it, the better satisfied I am that this is the truth.
Let me give you some other examples of the things that have convinced me of its authority:
- A rather “odd” one is simply the fact that God doesn’t “sugar-coat” or “whitewash” anything. He doesn’t claim that all his people, or all his servants or prophets or whatever, are just “wonderful people.” They aren’t, and He tells you about their failures. God does not allow the failures of His servants to affect the long-range outcome of His purpose. He is never “surprised” by human failure. But, He also doesn’t ignore it. The Bible is unique in that it does not “put people on pedestals.”
- There were many prophecies within the scriptures which, if they were really true, and really from God, had to be fulfilled immediately or not at all. And they were not only fulfilled immediately, but to the letter, often in the presence of many hostile witnesses. (Example: 2nd Kings 7:17-20) Read it!
- God uses the foolish schemings of man to achieve His ends, but He does not depend upon them. He is omnipotent, and will accomplish His directive will with or without our cooperation. We see many schemes where people tried to outsmart God. And it turned out to accomplish exactly what He said would happen. (e.g., Joseph the patriarch.)
- The points at which the Bible touches secular history, where it could logically be expected to be confirmed (or disproved) by archeological evidence, are consistently confirmed by the very people who thought they were about to “disprove the Bible.”
- The points at which the Bible touches upon science turn out to be entirely correct, as well.
- The Bible has taught the fact of a primordial mega-continent from the beginning: but it wasn’t “proven” by science until the latter part of the 20th century.
- God mentioned the “paths of the sea,” (Psalm 8:8) centuries before the ocean currents were known to exist, let alone be mapped out.
- God said the world was “suspended upon nothing” (Job 26:7) centuries before science knew it.
So, on the basis of what he shares in chapter one, Peter is preparing to lay out some key things for his readers to remember, in the remaining two chapters. But he prefaces it with the fundamental truth that the Written Word of God, the Bible, is our only dependable source of light in this dark world. And we have already seen that our job is to “hold forth the Word of Truth” and to reflect that light: we are to “shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15, 16)
The whole structure of the Christian life is founded upon the truth of God’s Word. In Paul’s instruction regarding the armor of the Christian warrior (Ephesians 6:14,) the truth of God’s Word is likened unto the belt that held up all the rest of a Roman soldier’s armor. We are to “stand, therefore, having our loins girt about with truth.”
So what happens if we don’t? What happens if we choose to be lackadaisical about Bible Study?
There will be False Teachers
1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
Notice that the false prophets evidently knew that what they were proclaiming was not from God, even though they claimed to be His messengers. The false teachers, in similar manner, knowingly turn people away from the Cross, and replace God’s sacrifice with something else.
This has been the pattern since the beginning. Cain rejected God’s plan, thinking he could bring his own ideas, and his own worship offering. Remember, though, that to bring something other than the offering that God demanded is to set Him aside in favor of one’s own ideas.
2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
This is future tense, showing that God knew from the beginning what would happen: false teachers frequently gain a following. Why is this so? It is because the heart of Man already has a tendency to turn away from God’s light and choose darkness (Jesus said so! John 3:19.) So, when someone comes out with a message that “sounds reasonable,” and also satisfies our natural desire to avoid dealing with the reality of God, then our deceitful hearts gladly receive it.
3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
What could be their motive? Why would someone do such a thing? In some cases, it is simply that people desire the honor of “having a following,” (Acts 20:30) even if it just means being able to say, “I have more Facebook friends than you do!” Some people just desire an audience. They don’t want to teach because of a commitment to feeding the flock, but rather because they seek social approval, or public acclaim, and personal validation.
Another motive, sadly, can be money. Verse 3 states that their motive is covetousness. I first assumed that the Greek root was “philargurion,” which literally means “the love of silver.” But this is actually a different, much broader word, “pleonexia,” which simply means “greediness,” not just a desire for money. In other words, there is something they are seeking to gain for themselves. Perhaps it is fame; some people crave power…who knows?
There are different degrees of this sin, and it is not limited to unbelievers, I have known pastors who I am convinced were genuine believers, who still saw their ministry as “a job,” and were always seeking a larger, wealthier church to serve. To me, that is very sad, as it surely calls into question one’s motives. They actually told me that they considered the small church in which they were currently serving to be a “stepping-stone” to better things. But, when I questioned them about their faith, it was clear that they saw Jesus as God in the flesh, and as their only hope for salvation. I do not think they qualified as a “false teacher,” though their motives certainly seemed to be flawed. This is the error of Balaam…marketing their giftedness for financial gain.
But, at the end of this chapter, we will see that the false prophets and false teachers mentioned here are not born-again believers. Their relationship with the Lord was built upon “knowledge,” to some degree, but evidently not saving faith…there was no transformation begun in their lives.
Are there cases today, where the motive clearly is money and they deny the Lord? Certainly! There are modern cults that were begun specifically as a hedge against taxation. The founder of one such cult was a relatively successful fiction writer, and quite cheerfully wrote the books framing his new “church,” knowing it was all a lie, and that it was only geared to make and keep money. But I am told it is now one of the fastest growing cults in the United States, including many rich, famous actors…which somehow seems fitting.
How to Spot a Cult
But one thing that all the cults have in common is that they either flatly deny the Deity of Christ, or they modify it in some way, to deny His authority and Honor, as God in the flesh.
Those who clearly teach any of the following:
- that Jesus is not God, or
- that Jesus is not the only savior, or
- that His blood does not suffice to take away the guilt of those who trust in Him, or
- that the Bible is not the Word of God, (and thus is not authoritative,)
are clearly crossing the line into “false teaching.”
If a believer has been deceived and teaches false doctrine, believing it is correct, does that make him or her a false teacher? Not the kind mentioned here. Believers do make errors and can teach those errors to others. That is not the focus in this passage but we can still take warning from the verses, as we hope to avoid being like those who deliberately detract from Jesus.
Being mistaken about the intent or meaning of some particular passage is not necessarily “false teaching,” but we are warned to study to show ourselves “approved unto God, workmen who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” So we study and we pray and we earnestly attempt to gain clear understanding of God’s Word, and to teach it accordingly.
We teach the Bible as being literally the Word of God. We believe in the literal facts of the Gospel, that Jesus was literally God in the Flesh, that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. We teach that Jesus is literally the Judge of all the earth, and the Master to whom we owe obedience and worship. We teach that His promises regarding our future are literally true and will be literally fulfilled.
Are there passages in scripture that are less literal: perhaps more symbolic or metaphorical in nature? Surely there are, but they are also easily identifiable as such. Perhaps it begins with “Jesus spoke a parable and said…” In fact, to certain groups of people, He only spoke in parables! And, in certain prophecies of future events, the characters, instead of being named, are only described, often in highly symbolic verbiage. But as a rule: we take the Bible to be meant literally, and to be understood literally, unless there is a specific clue to let us know that in this case, there is a metaphor, a simile, a parable, a symbol, or the like.
Look to God’s Word as the only Light in this dark world. It is completely trustworthy and authoritative. Study it, to clearly understand how to apply it in your life. Feed on it to become strong in your faith, and to be nourished and encouraged by the Lord, in Person. Remember that Jesus himself is identified as being the Living Word of God. As you draw near to the Written Word, be conscious that you are drawing near to Him, and can hear Him speaking.
We will continue to feed the flock here, on the written Word, and seek to obey the Living Word.
Lord Jesus, fill us with a sense of your eternal purpose and allow us to fulfil your heart’s desire and complete the work you have assigned your people. Raise us up as faithful Men and Women of God.