Statistics show that 92% of Americans and Christians own a bible, but that very few actually read it. As a matter of fact a study from 2000 revealed the following facts:
59% of Americans claim to read the bible occasionally, which is remarkably down from 73% reported in the 1980s
37% of American read the bible at least once a week
I think there are plenty of reasons for why we’ve seen a sharp decline from the 80’s and into the 2000’s in bible literacy. However, I plan to reserve that for another blog post (maybe part 2). In part 2, I’m hoping to mainly cover the studies performed by Gary Burge, who is a professor from Wheaton College that has extensively studied the bible knowledge (via surveys) of incoming freshman evangelical students at Wheaton. Instead, I want to focus on a few scriptures that to me create a blueprint for why God specifically designed the scriptures to form the very foundation of the church. And even more important, why it’s essential to our walk and spiritual health as Christians.
The books of 1st and 2nd Timothy, are letters from the apostle Paul to one of his younger colleagues, Timothy. In the first epistle Paul is mainly speaking as a mentor to Timothy and encouraging him in his personal walk. In the second epistle Paul is encouraging Timothy to be bold in his faith and not timid. Paul, who was in prison, realizes that he may be facing the end of his own life – 2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.” In light of this he gives a passionate plea in the second epistle to Timothy. It’s important to understand the context of the letter, so that we gain a better understanding of why these passages carry so much weight. Paul, for all practical purposes is delivering to Timothy his parting words. Like most people, realizing his death is near, he wants to share with his friend and colleague the most simple and profound truths, or the weightier matters, that will help Timothy to persevere in his ministry. He wanted to share the most essential truths that will anchor him in his walk, and allow him to carry the torch.
In the third chapter Paul proceeds to give Timothy a final charge, after explaining to him how people in the end times will fall away from truth and into a more depraved state. Paul then proceeds to tell Timothy to stand strong against this wave of opposition by adhering to the Word of God. In light of that context, the following verses have become a foundation for the doctrinal position of biblical inerrancy and authority:
“16 All Scripture is God-breathed (theopneustos) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
I feel like there are several key words/phrases in the passage that need to be examined. The first is the claim that ALL SCRIPTURE (keyword) is God-breathed. I often feel as if Christians overlook the gravity of the idea that every word in the bible is the authoritative word of God. The term Word of God is often used synonymously with the bible. While I see the two terms as being one in the same, if we never stop to reflect on the idea that God actually speaks to us through the bible, then the term “Word of God”, takes on a slightly different meaning. Instead of it being a means for God to speak to men, it can becomes a book amongst many other books where men shared their opinions and ideas as they were inspired. I intentionally used the NIV translation above because the phrase that often appears in other bible translations as – “All scripture is inspired by God…” is not the best interpretation of the Greek word theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed”. The term inspiration has so many different connotative meanings (ie – motivated, encouraged, caused by, influenced by) that it does a disservice to the originally intended authority of scripture. There are other scriptures that I could mention here that speak to how God spoke to the Old Testament prophets, but I’ll save that for a future blog post. However, here are two scriptures that I feel speak to how and why scripture was always meant to be the authoritative Word of God to men, and why the teaching of it is essential to Christianity and the health of the church:
Hebrews1:1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
In the past God spoke to men through the prophets, and the words of those prophets were captured and recorded in the Old Testament. In the last days, however, he spoke to us by his Son. The words of his Son were recorded by scribes and those words form a large portion of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). My point is that all of the ways in which God spoke to men were captured in writings and those writings over time became our modern day bible. God, at his discretion chose multiple ways to speak to men throughout history. Each method in which he spoke were written down and we’re now the beneficiaries. Even more important they still are meant to speak to us today. They are literally God’s words to Us.
For that very unique reason the bible alone is USEFUL (keyword) for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness………..
The bible should form the very standard that we use to correct one another, rebuke those for wrongdoing and train the flock on how to live righteously. Other supplemental materials like Christian books, movie clips, topical self-help information, and so on, while important are not reliable substitutes or models that the church should base it’s teachings on. Any other source used for the above mentioned actions (teaching, rebuking, correcting) face the risk of training “believers” in flawed and non God-inspired means.
In the final scripture of 2 Timothy Paul tells Timothy that it’s important to use the bible for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, “so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. “
Teaching and reading the bible THOROUGHLY EQUIPS (keyword) the saints for every good work. That reminds me of a well known scripture from Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
That begs the question, if we aren’t thoroughly equipped by the Word of God and being led by the power of the spirit through his Word, then what type of works are we capable of doing? Especially considering that the bible also teaches about works of the flesh. One of the works of the flesh is selfish ambition (Galatians 5:19). We could set out with good intentions to produce good works, but fall short in reality by doing the good works for selfish reasons. Our own selfish ambitions can cause us to fall short of doing good works. One modern day dilemma that comes to mind is the attention that churches often to give to growth in numbers over substance and spiritual growth. If the preaching of the Word is diluted, sanded down, or delivered in minute doses in order to attract more people to the church then growth in numbers may occur. However, growth in numbers does not equate to spiritual growth.
I chose some scriptures that point us to why a biblical diet is so important to a healthy Christian:
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Is it possible to prosper spiritually, without meditating on the Word of God day and night?
Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
How can we know where we’re going if we don’t know the Word?
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
This is Jesus’ reply to the Saducees, who did not believe in a bodily resurrection, and were attempting to trap him. If we were in error like the Saducees, then how would we know it without reading the bible and studying scripture? That’s not implying that you can know everything by simply studying scripture.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
How can we truly search out our heart’s intention without allowing the Word to shed light on it’s state?
But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
How can we live daily and abide in God when we are not fed from his Word? Notice that Jesus, when tempted by the devil in the wilderness, quotes scripture (Deuteronomy) at every challenge of the enemy. This not at all something novel. Jesus quoted or referred to the Old Testament roughly 180 times.
1 Timothy 4:13
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
Public reading of scripture in the temple (church) was common practice.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
God tells Joshua to take the reigns from Moses after his death and to lead the people. He instructs Joshua to keep the Old Testament Law always on his lips, and to meditate on it day and night.
And the Scriptures were written to teach and encourage us by giving us hope.
It’s a source of hope.
For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
If it was good enough for the early church then why isn’t good enough for us now? Stay tuned for Part 2………..