08 March 2023

The bible as a source of revelation.

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, the’s bible most definitely one of them. Certainly a primary source. But in the scriptures themselves, God first reveals himself to humans with a God-appearance: He hangs out with Adam and Eve. Ge 3.8 The humans ruined those original regular visitations—but no, their sin didn’t drive God away; sin doesn’t do that. God still appeared to people from time to time in the scriptures, and of course he became Jesus.

And there’s the other forms of revelation—all of which we see 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 claim it’s a legit form of revelation, and point to it often.

The bible is the product of all these sources of revelation. People saw God, or heard him when he spoke, or saw the miracles he empowered. 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 repeatedly confirmed as reliable. In its day, and many times since. Yes, even Revelation—even though the visions talk about the very end of history, plenty of it is about its present day, and that stuff came to pass. It’s why ancient Christians kept it. 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.

The fact the bible’s been confirmed is why we kept its books: 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. If you want to fact-check it again, go right ahead; it can stand up to scrutiny, which is why we Christians have historically trusted it. Archaeologists still keep digging up stuff which confirms it—sometimes in ways they never expected, ’cause their discoveries put a whole new spin on the scriptures.

Now, with every other source of revelation, we still have to confirm 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. But 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.

Our only source of revelation? No.

Christians do exist who don’t believe in miracles. Which sounds kinda ridiculous because God does so very many of them! But these guys are pretty sure they’ve never witnessed a miracle, and arrogantly presume their experiences define how the whole of existence works. So if they don’t see any miracles, they’re pretty sure there are no miracles.

And no other acts of God; no other forms of revelation. No prophecies. No special appearances by Jesus, though they expect they might see him when they die, and if they believe in his second coming, they might see him then. Nothing but revelation from nature… and bible.

For them, they believe sola scriptura. That’s a doctrine of the Protestant reformers, which states only the bible is an infallible authority. The Roman Catholics claimed the church was an infallible authority, but these particular Catholics certainly weren’t acting infallible… and so much for that doctrine. Protestants wanted a more solid ground to stand on, so they chose bible instead of church.

Meh; the bible’s certainly a solid thing, but I would say only Jesus is our infallible authority. Mt 28.18 If you wanna point at the bible, go right ahead—but if Jesus isn’t the lens we use to best understand bible, we’re gonna interpret it wrong. As we so often do.

The bible doesn’t have any authority within itself. It only reflects Jesus’s authority. He’s valid, so the bible’s valid. If Jesus weren’t valid—if he was just some con man who claimed he’d rise from the dead and never did—the bible wouldn’t be any more authoritative than the Aeneid. Used to be that every Roman child would read the Aeneid because it was a foundational myth of Rome; now, nobody but historians and mythology nerds read it, and they don’t believe in Aeneas and Jupiter either. Without Jesus, the bible’s just nice mythology. With Jesus, the bible’s a must-read.

This may seem like minor theological nitpicking to you. But I insist it’s a very big deal. There are so many people who get Christianity wrong because it’s not Jesus-centered. They claim the bible’s foundational, but they forget Jesus! They quote Old Testament commands far more than they read the gospels. Everything has to revolve around Jesus. Everything. Has to. Without him, the bible’s just a record of stuff the ancient Hebrews and Christians believed and did, and we can easily misinterpret it, and regularly do.

Those who put bible at the center of Christianity, have replaced Jesus with an idol. They’re destined to go wrong; it’s inevitable. So don’t go there!

But 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 this 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’m 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 definitely 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 used 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 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.