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Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Bible is Better than Being There

From Desiring God by Tyler Kenney.

When it comes to knowing and believing the truth, are we worse off today than the Israelites who heard God speak from heaven or the apostles who physically sat at Jesus’ feet when he taught?

Or could having the Bible be better than actually being there when its events took place?

Here are 3 reasons we’re better off with our Bibles.

1. Scripture interprets the biblical events for us.

First-hand exposure to the historical acts of God isn’t always the best path to understanding. When Jesus foretold his death and resurrection to the disciples—even giving details about how he would be flogged, spit upon, killed, and raised on the third day—Luke states clearly that “they understood none of these things” (18:34). The disciples were unable to grasp what he said, though they heard the very words of Jesus.

We, on the other hand, the readers of Luke’s Gospel, know exactly what Jesus meant. We have the event interpreted for us in Scripture, clearly shown to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies and an accurate prediction of the events that would soon take place.

That’s not to say that Scripture is better just because it contains more facts. Even after witnessing Christ’s death and resurrection, and having him stand in their midst and show them his scars, the disciples still doubted. They didn’t understand what was going on even though all the historical facts were right in front of them.

What they needed was help to process and place those facts within the framework of God’s revelation. Thus Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” and showed them from the Old Testament the significance of what they were witnessing (see Luke 24:36-48).

Like the disciples, we need an interpretation of history in order to grasp God’s meaning in it. We need someone with understanding to take the data, select the significant things said or done, and portray them in an understandable way.

This is precisely what Scripture is: a selective (John 21:25) yet entirely sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:3-4) depiction of what God has done.

2. Scripture’s interpretation is inspired.

No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

We need an interpretation of the past, but we don’t want just any interpretation. We want the Holy Spirit’s. We want an explanation by God himself that accurately conveys the true significance of what he has done and then penetrates our stubborn hearts with it.

Because the Holy Spirit inspired it, Scripture has the precision and power to teach people in a way that supersedes what they could ever learn on their own through direct exposure to the events. As Jesus says,

It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:7, 13)

3. Scripture appeals to our inner being.

One danger of having front row seats to God’s actions in history is that we could confuse our response to the mode of revelation with our response to the meaning of it.

We would certainly marvel to hear the Father speak through a thundercloud or to see Jesus walk on water. But we could easily come away from such events with only a natural thrill, rather than any spiritual apprehension of what they meant.

Scripture guards us from this danger simply by being a book. It wasn’t written to wow our physical senses, but, rather, as an appeal to our spiritual sense.

Wouldn’t God know the best way to reveal himself in order to build an authentic body of believers?

Yes. So he inspired men to write, “that [we] may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

What Difference Does Believing This Make?

There are at least two effects of realizing that we are better off with our Bibles than with a time machine to the past.

1. More appreciation for having the Bible.

Rather than using Scripture as a tool for conducting our own analysis of historical events, we can read it as already being its own perfect analysis. The investigation has been done (Luke 1:1-4). We don’t have to “wish we’d been there.” We have what we need in the text.

2. More encouragement to share the Word.

In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man is in hell pleading with Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to convince his still-living brothers to repent.

But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’ (Luke 16:29-31).

We don’t need supernatural signs to have an effective witness. We just need to present the Word of God. It is supernatural in itself and more powerful to convince hard-hearted sinners than anything else.