The bible as a source of revelation.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 September

Many Christians firmly believe the only way God reveals himself to humanity is through the bible.

Which contradicts what we find in the bible. When I talk about our sources of revelation, I list the bible as one of them, and certainly a primary source. But in the scriptures, God first reveals himself through actually appearing to and hanging out with Adam and Eve. Elsewhere in Genesis we get miracles. We get God speaking back to people in prayer. We get dreams and prophets. And while Genesis doesn’t really talk about revelation from nature (despite what young-earth creationists claim) plenty of people add it to the sources and point to it often.

The bible is the product of these sources of revelation. People saw God, or heard him when he spoke and saw the miracles he empowered, and if they didn’t see any of that they at least heard his prophets speak for him. They recorded these things—and that’s our scriptures. That’s bible.

The difference between bible and other forms of revelation, is the bible’s been confirmed. Repeatedly. The fact it’s been confirmed is why we kept the books of the bible: Why keep supposed “revelations from God” which haven’t been proven? And since they have been, we Christians consider the scriptures faithful and reliable revelations of God. Everything else: Gotta double-check it.

(I know what you’re gonna say—“It’s all been confirmed? What about the book of Revelation?” Well, I’m preterist, so I would argue most of Revelation has already happened, so it largely has been confirmed. Ancient Christians knew this, which is why they kept the book. I can’t help it that “prophecy scholars” make tons of wild claims that everything has yet to happen—and y’all believe them. Don’t. They know not what they do.)

So yeah: With other sources of revelation, we gotta fact-check them. We gotta watch miracles to see whether they produce the sort of good fruit we should see in God’s handiwork. We gotta confirm prophecy, prayer messages, and dreams, lest people were mistaken, or were tricked, or are lying.

With bible, not so much. From the time the very first books were written, all the way to today, God’s followers have confirmed and re-confirmed and re-re-confirmed the scriptures are valid. Solid. Trustworthy. Relevant. Consistent with who God is.

But because the bible’s been pre-confirmed, that’s why certain Christians consider it the only revelation we have. They don’t trust anything else. They wouldn’t even trust it if Jesus himself appears to them—which he might, and he certainly will when they die, and of course at his second coming. They’ve been taught sola scripturathe doctrine of the Protestant reformers, which states only the bible is an infallible authority. I would rebut that only Jesus is our infallible authority, Mt 28.18 and if he’s not the lens we use to understand bible, we’re gonna interpret it wrong. As we so often have.

The bible only reflects Jesus’s authority. It doesn’t have any authority within itself. It’s not valid unless Jesus is valid—which he is.

This may seem like minor theological nitpicking to you. But I insist it’s a very big deal. Jesus is central to Christianity and Christian thought and practice. Those who put bible at the center have replaced Jesus with an idol, and are destined to go wrong. Destined—it’s inevitable. So don’t go there!

But the bible’s still mighty important.

While I gotta insist Jesus, not bible, holds the top spot in our loyalty, minds, faith, and behavior, I certainly don’t wanna dismiss bible—it’s profoundly useful! It has five main purposes, which Paul listed to Timothy here:

1 Timothy 3.15-17 KJV
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

People tend to only quote verse 16, and in so doing totally miss the first thing in Paul’s list:

MAKE US KNOW ABOUT SALVATION. And man alive is it important. You wanna know what we need to be saved from, how God’s gonna save us, and learn to trust him to do it? Details are in the bible. And yeah, they’re in every bible-based gospel tract since, but too many of these tracts are about getting saved from hell, not saved from sin and death—which is why way too many Christians nowadays won’t stop sinning, and are way too okay with other people dying.

It’s in the bible we learn about God’s plan to save the world. God’s focus on Abraham, his descendants the Israelis, and his establishment of his kingdom. It’s where we read Jesus’s teachings, his self-sacrifice, his resurrection and rapture and exaltation and return, his plan to rule and fix the world. It’s where we read how we, as a saved people, oughta develop good fruit, do good works, and win over the world for Jesus—instead of trying to conquer it through politics and enforce it through laws. Jesus is just gonna overthrow all that stuff anyway.

PROFITABLE FOR DOCTRINE. What’re the things we Christians definitely oughta believe about God? What does Jesus actually expect of the people who claim to follow him? How are Christians required to think and live? People have tons of theories, ranging from cultish, legalistic micromanagement, to a fully irreligious lifestyle where pretty much anything goes ’cause, supposedly, grace.

I would point you towards the creeds, and of course the Sermon on the Mount. Other Christians, other things—their catechisms, their faith statements, or they might even tell you to just follow your conscience. But if you want hard data, read that bible.

PROFITABLE FOR IDENTIFYING ERROR. Which is what the KJV word reproof means: What have we got wrong? Why do we keep getting stuff wrong? Is there something innately wrong with us, which results in us regularly getting stuff wrong? What’s the antidote?

The reason we study theology is because honestly, there’s a lot of junk out there masquerading as Christianity. Feel-good philosophies, pop psychology, pagan spirituality, partisan politics, misapplication, misinterpretation, misrepresentation, and downright evil distortions of scripture. Some Christians have lived our entire lives with an entirely wrong view of God—a false idea which’d be easily corrected if they only cracked open a bible.

’Cause all the necessary adjustments to our lives are found in the bible. As well as plenty of passages where God strongly objects to sin, and expresses just how distasteful he finds selfish human behavior. He wants us to share his mindset, seek wisdom, and shun sin. But not shun sinners; point them the way to him!

PROFITABLE FOR CORRECTING ERROR. Y’know, I’ve heard a few KJV fans claim when Paul wrote about “correction,” he means punishment. That’s a rather obvious case of applying a 21st-century definition to a 17th-century word: Paul was talking about changing direction to go the right way. Not chastising evildoers. You wanna do that, you too need to learn what “I desire mercy not sacrifice” means. Mt 9.13

’Cause when you’re reading bible, more than once you’re gonna discover, “Wait… I was doing this completely wrong.” Or your church does it wrong, your workplace does it wrong, your party does it wrong, your country does it wrong. So now you gotta decide whether you’re really gonna follow Jesus or not. Hopefully you will!—but that’s gonna take bucking the system, and it won’t make you popular. Especially when (as you’ll quickly find out) certain people in authority, who actually know better but have opted to not follow Jesus, want you to shut up about it and “go with the flow.” That’s never fun.

Just remember: If you’re gonna follow Jesus instead of the system, don’t draw attention to yourself, whether to show off your own “righteousness,” or to warn other people away from sin before God’s wrath falls upon them. Unless God personally instructs you otherwise, simply live by good example. Don’t be a dick, and follow Jesus. Works a lot better than you’d expect.

PROFITABLE FOR DISCIPLING OTHERS. If you ever find yourself with the responsibility of training new Christians—of “instruction in righteousness,” as the KJV has it—you can offer them plenty of good advice, but there’s even better advice in the bible. Point ’em to that. Get ’em to read it.

Fact-check people’s bible quotes!

If you’ve got a decent translation, the bible’s really easy to read. Unfortunately it’s also really easy to distort.

Like I said, we gotta read the bible through the lens of Jesus. We gotta study it in its historical and grammatical context. But plenty of Christians, especially bibliolaters, don’t bother do do either of these things. They figure it’s a magical book, and its words have power. Including the power to mean whatever they need it to mean; they don’t care so much care about God’s original intent.

Now when a fleshly person, a heretic, or a pagan quotes bible, we’re usually bright enough to be on our guard against them; we know they’re probably twisting scripture to make it say whatever they want. We’re less on our guard about people we consider fellow Christians: We casually assume they’re quoting bible properly.

But ’tain’t necessarily so. I’ve caught many a preacher misquoting bible. ’Cause whenever they refer to a proof text, I look that passage up, and read it in context… and find out whether it is in context or not. Yep, I fact-check my preachers. As should we all.

And even when they’re good, devout Christians, they’ll misquote bible.

Usually ’cause they heard that interpretation from someone they trust… and they trusted the wrong person. I had a pastor who’d use a Nave’s Topical Bible to write his sermons. I have one as part of my bible software. I don’t use it. I discovered in seminary how profoundly unreliable it is. Nave’s lists topics in alphabetical order (“Glass, gleaning, glede, glorifying God, glory, gluttony, gnashing of teeth…”) and under each topic lists all the bible verses which touch upon this topic. And more than half of these verses are out of context. I’m not kidding. I wish I were, ’cause tons of Christians use Nave’s all the time; it’s a very common reference book! Shouldn’t it be trustworthy? But it’s not, and Christians use it all the time—including earnest Christians who never wished to mislead anyone. They just didn’t know any better.

Well now you do, so either get rid of that Nave’s, or use it very cautiously: Fact-check every verse it offers you.

And fact-check every verse everyone offers you. Including me!—I’m not infallible, and I might’ve slipped up, or might be misreading a passage. So please make sure I, and every other Christian, am quoting the scriptures accurately. Every time. People make mistakes, and don’t let our mistakes lead you astray.