What does the Bible teach about its own nature?

The Bible’s teaching about its own nature is constantly under threat. The threat comes from both inside and outside the church. I did not write that sentence to sound ominous or paranoid. I wrote it because I know two facts about human nature: (1) people like to believe they are the center of the universe, and (2) people are sinful.

The Bible is true. It is gloriously true. It is true in such a way that it shows us the inmost thoughts of our hearts. That is glorious, but it is also difficult. Sometimes, the Bible shows us things about ourselves that we try hard to forget. Sometimes it leads us to believe things that are unpopular in the eyes of our friends. That pressure leads some, who otherwise want to believe in the Bible, to try to understand it in ways that make it less meddlesome.

That pressure is why every generation of Christians must intentionally restate our belief in the absolute truth and trustworthiness of the Bible. In order to do so, it is important that we use four words: infallible, inerrant, verbal, and plenary. I believe we must also affirm the literal, grammatical-historical method of interpretation.

  • Infallible means never failing, always effective. In reference to the Scriptures, it means that they always achieve their purpose. Hebrews 4:12 teaches that Scripture is able to pierce through the deepest parts of our lives. The Bible is able to judge our very thoughts and intentions. Romans 1:16 teaches that the Scriptures have the power of God for the Salvation of all who believe. Scripture has the power of God to harden the hearts of those who do not honor the Lord as God (Romans 1:21-23). Since it is the Holy Spirit who applies this power (John 14:24-26), the Bible never fails in accomplishing its work.

  • Inerrant means without error, incapable of being wrong. All scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), from the Old Testament (Hebrews 1:1) to the New Testament (Hebrews 1:2, 2 Peter 3:16). All of the human authors of scripture were so superintended by God that the words they wrote were also given by God (2 Peter 1:21). The Bible is God’s word, and God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2). Therefore, the scripture is incapable of being wrong. Inerrancy of Scripture is not “negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations” (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy).

  • Verbal means word for word. Regarding the inspiration of Scripture, it means that God put every single word into the original documents on purpose (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 2:13; Matthew 5:18). Individual words matter to God and so we should make the effort to understand them.

  • Plenary means without qualification. The Bible is inspired equally in all its parts (1 Corinthians 2:7-14; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16). History is just as inspired and authoritative as law. Poetry is as inspired as history. Letters are as inspired as the Gospels. In other words, we are not able to set the theology of Paul over against the theology of Jesus. We cannot set New Testament theology in opposition to the theology of the Old Testament. The entire Bible is inspired, and therefore important to us. And because God inspires it, the entire Bible points toward a single message: Jesus Christ is Lord, and there is no salvation in any other.

  • Literal simply means that we are to read Scripture plainly, interpreting each part in keeping with the original intent of the passage. We must consider the historical circumstances of the writer and the reader. We must understand the literary form of the passage. When the Bible presents poetry, we are to interpret it poetically. When the Bible presents narrative, we are to understand it plainly in the sense that it is given. Every text will give us the tools we need to understand it, if we read in context with the rest of Scripture.

This is what I understand the Bible to teach about itself. It is infallible, inerrant, inspired word-for-word and in all its parts. We must interpret it plainly in the sense that the authors intended.

The difference between Rob Bell and C. S. Lewis

It is well known that Rob Bell is guilty of teaching several significant doctrinal errors, including that the Bible contains errors (contrary to 2 Tim. 3:16), that all humans are eventually saved (against Jesus' own teaching in Matt. 5:22; 10:28; 23:33; and Mark 9:43), and that Christ was not crushed for our iniquities (contrary to Isaiah 53:5). I just read an article in Relevant Magazine ("6 Heretics Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism") that claims to list several Christians who are giants in evangelical circles who taught one or more of those doctrines. I take issue with the article's assessment of Augustine and Martin Luther, and I believe he has wrongly identified William Barclay as an evangelical. However, he has a point about C. S. Lewis, John Stott, and Billy Graham.

John Stott believed the error of annihilationism (that hell is real, but not eternal). Billy Graham believed the error of inclusivism (that some will be saved by Christ's atonement, but without particular knowledge of Christ). C. S. Lewis was also an inclusivist, and rejected penal substitution.

There is a difference, though, between these three and Rob Bell. What's the difference? It's the difference between Error and Heresy. Error is believing or teaching a particular wrong doctrine. Heresy is maintaining and teaching a fundamental belief that strikes against the core teaching of the Bible.

It can be problematic to cite Lewis, Graham, or Stott without footnoting their error on important doctrines. But the whole of their lives and ministries were consistent with the central teaching of the Bible: that God supernaturally reveals himself through the Prophets and ultimately through his Son; that we are all sinful and under God's wrath and curse; that we have no hope apart from God's own intervention in Jesus Christ; that we can know Jesus Christ in the scriptures; and that we have a responsibility to believe and follow Jesus, or else face damnation.

Bell does not teach one particular error. He denies the premise. He teaches that the Bible is categorically the same as every other book. He teaches that Christianity is about something other than salvation from Sin and Hell through Jesus Christ. He argues for a christianity that is essentially non-supernatural, moralistic, and therapeutic.

Lewis, Graham, and Stott believed in errors, but they bowed in gospel faith before a divine Jesus who stepped into the world to identify with them and save them. And they led people to this Jesus. Rob Bell would have us believe in a Jesus who looks an awful lot like Rob Bell.

Daily Bible Reading

It's already February 2, and it may be too late to make new years' resolutions, but it's never too late to get back into a regular habit of Bible Reading. Here are a few resources that may be helpful.

Bible Reading Plans
  1. M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan. This is an old classic. Four chapters per day. You will read through the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once.
  2. M'Cheyne Two-year Plan. This plan gives you two chapters per day instead of four. It just expands the original M'Cheyne plan across two years.
  3. 52 Week Bible Plan. This plan dedicates each day of the week to a different genre in the Bible: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, and Gospels.
  4. Professor Grant Horner's Bible Reading Plan. This plan is unique. You read ten chapters per day, in ten different sections of the Bible. This plan will help you, over time, get a big-picture overview of the Bible.
  5. 5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan. This plan will take you through the New Testament in a year.
  6. Chronological Bible Reading Plan. This will take you through the Bible in the chronological order the events happened.
  7. Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan. This will take you through the Bible in a year in four readings each day. There are 25 readings each month, allowing for weekends or catch-up days.
  8. ESV Daily Bible Reading Plan. From Crossway. Read through the Bible in a year in four readings each day.
  9. Tabletalk Bible Reading Plan. From Ligonier. Read the Bible in a year with one reading from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
Daily Devotion Resources
  1. Prayer Guide
  2. Journaling Guide