8: Centering on Scripture
IN THIS CHAPTER
Enduring ministry flows from work that is anchored in the Scriptures. The Bible is a trustworthy, reliable text inspired by God that is useful for all of life. As such, it is the authoritative source for knowing God, His work and promises, and His commandments, and for aligning our lives in obedience to His revelation. Consider buying a well-bound and reliable translation that you expect to use for the rest of your life.
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A KEY PILLAR
Which OCF Pillar would you describe as pivotal for our ministry to accomplish its mission and work? Most point to either “Centering on Scripture,” or “Engaging in Prayer.” There can be no enduring and significant work of OCF without both a study of the Scriptures (for an understanding of God, repentance, belief in Jesus, comfort in sorrows, and confidence in eternal life) and a body of Christians who pray together.
The Bible and prayer nourish us day by day as we grow into what we cannot be apart from the grace-filled work of the Holy Spirit to apply all of Jesus’ work to us as adopted children. We grow and are strengthened in faith as we study the Scriptures because they bear witness about God’s eternal purposes and all that is revealed in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:4-12).
INERRANT AND INFALLIBLE
The Bible, without error in its original manuscripts, is God’s authoritative Word for all of faith and life. OCF’s Statement of Faith (Appendix A) declares what we believe “according to the Scriptures.” That explains that our faith in Jesus Christ is anchored in the Scriptures, so we must consider whether the Bible is reliable, true, and inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).
The text of the Bible claims to be God’s Word to us, revealing the mysteries He wants us to know. It is a compiled book written by many authors over hundreds of years in three different languages and handed down generation by generation, giving us a reliable historical text that has been preserved with amazing accuracy. The internal consistency of the Bible supports the supernatural authorship it claims for itself. It is not a book full of errors as if it were passed down through the centuries by one person telling another person telling another person and so on. Rather, manuscript scholars compare thousands of copies of whole and partial ancient manuscripts. These comparisons yield better than a 99% confidence that they have faithfully reconstructed the words of the original manuscripts. The reconstructed text has then been translated into English for our reading and study.
In addition to being able to compare actual manuscripts and fragments, there are extensive quotations of New Testament Scripture in other documents (extrabiblical—not the Bible) dating from the first century onward. These extrabiblical quotations help validate the majority of the New Testament. We conclude, then, that the Bible is historically authoritative, accurate, and trustworthy, regardless of a person’s belief or unbelief in the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God.
Christian fellowship hinges on the person of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. Without Him there is no “Christian” disciple. If God did not take on flesh, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, if He is not sitting now at the right hand of God, then there exists no reason for faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and we can consider ourselves free to seek hope in some other religion. The Christian, then, necessarily has confidence that the Bible is God’s Word, was written by human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit, and remains fully trustworthy.
It is trustworthy regarding its historical reliability and its message about how to draw near to God in order to live the Christian life. The church has always studied the Scriptures to know God, to hear from God, to learn what we ought to believe as true, and for hope regarding God’s unfolding plans. In fact, Peter writes that even though he and the apostles heard the voice of God when they were on the mountain, the written Word of God is surer than even that supernatural event (2 Peter 1:19-21). God does not change. The God who revealed Himself to Adam and Moses is the same God who appeared to the apostles. The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (1978) provides a helpful articulation of this confidence in the Bible.
THE WHOLE OF SCRIPTURE
When studying the Bible, it is necessary for Scripture to interpret Scripture, meaning that one part of Scripture is made clearer by seeing the passage in both an immediate context as well as within the entirety of the Bible. Bible apps and computer software are helpful for word and phrase searches. There are also Bible commentaries to assist in your study. Print and digital resources give insight into both the Bible and the historical creeds and doctrines of the Christian faith. Be discerning when confronted with something that seems new or innovative.
Questions we hear today are nearly the same, or are a variation of, questions answered in previous generations. Remind yourself that others have walked the Christian spiritual journey ahead of you, so pursue answers from pastors and teachers, from older men and women, and from books that have stood the test of time. Remember that Satan is a deceiver, and his lies are simply recycled into modern subtleties and pursuits.
Since the Bible reveals God’s eternal plan for mankind, search it for what the New Testament calls the mystery of Christ, now made clear to heavenly rulers and authorities through God’s work in the church (Ephesians 3:10). God the Son came to earth in the form of man, lived a sinless life, bore the sin of His flock, defeated death in His burial and resurrection, and renders Satan powerless over God’s people. Jesus said to the Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39).
Without the Son of God taking on flesh and satisfying the wrath of God, we would still be enslaved to sin, separated from God, and deserving spiritual death for all eternity. Our eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit so that we are no longer in darkness. Thanks be to God! It is good to weigh our priorities and decisions, as well as our habits and behaviors with the clarity found in the Bible. We earnestly study the Scriptures to test the doctrines we are taught.
Before opening your Bible for daily study, ask God to give you eyes to see, ears to hear, and a mind to understand what He wants you to grasp. The Scriptures are spiritually understood because the Holy Spirit dwells within Christian believers. Without the Spirit’s wisdom, we would not understand spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:14). Study the following passages to help you consider the internal evidence for the Bible’s claim to be Scripture that is believed and obeyed by the church:
- Luke 24:25-32 – What authority did Jesus ascribe to the Old Testament Scriptures?
- John 1:1 – Who is the Word that John refers to?
- 1 Timothy 5:18 – What does Paul imply when he quotes Luke’s gospel as “Scripture”?
- 2 Timothy 3:16 – Notice who Paul claims is the author of all Scripture.
- 2 Peter 3:15-16 – What does Peter imply when he says Paul’s letters are recognized as “Scripture”?
The Bible is useful for all of life (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 John 2:5-6) and for our growth in the faith (John 17:17; 1 Timothy 4:6), and we should not be intimidated by the large number of translations available for use and study. Using the many English language versions of the Bible (ESV, NKJV, NASB, etc.), we can compare the various translations as we wrestle with perplexing passages.
A comparison of translations helps show variations in how the Greek or Hebrew text can be rendered, giving insight into difficult passages. In addition to comparing translations, do not be afraid to consult a reliable Bible commentary or theology text during your Bible study. And remember, your local fellowship is a great starting place to bring up things you are grappling with.
A QUALITY BIBLE AND MEDITATION
Purchase a high-quality Bible that will last for decades, hopefully for your lifetime. Even though it is more expensive up front, it is worth the cost! The paper quality and space on the page should allow you to make notes in the margins, mark it with colored pencils or highlighter (it is OK to write in your Bible), and survive a spill or two of coffee or tea. While digital versions of the Bible are useful for quick searches, comparing translations, and finding theological notes, they may not be available in austere environments, when cell service or the power is out, when a publisher removes the digits, or when you are sitting in a prison.
Think about what you desire to have in a non-permissive environment, either because you are deployed or because the Christian faith is prohibited (officially or practically). Since your personal growth and spiritual survival are at stake, spend the time to stay nourished in daily Biblical intake. Through the Word, we are born again (1 Peter 1:23), convicted of sin (Hebrews 4:12), and made wise (Psalm 19:7ff; 119:105). Memorize it, meditate on its meaning and application, and share with others what you are learning.
Meditating on Scripture has been the habit of Christians throughout the ages to hide God’s Word in our heart (Deuteronomy 6:6; Psalm 119:11). Memorizing the Word has the benefit of causing us to meditate on the specific words and phrases used in each verse as we turn the verse(s) over and over in our mind. You will find verses pop into your consciousness during group study, sermons, conversations, and whenever the Holy Spirit causes them to be useful for the various moments of life.
Memorize to grow in personal faith, for passing on Christian hope to the next generation, for building up of the body of Christ, and for moments when you don’t have the text of Scripture in front of you, whether you are free or in prison.