Volume 14 - Issue 3
Follow the guidebook!By David Wenham
‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path’; so said the Psalmist (119:105). In today’s terms he might have spoken of a map or guidebook, because the Bible speaks of life’s destination and of how to get there. People in the modern world typically lack a sense of direction and destination, but ‘the holy Scriptures’, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:15–16, ‘are able to make you wise for salvation’ (our proper destination) and are ‘useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ (i.e. for giving us direction).
Paul explains that the Scriptures are ‘inspired by God’. We might put it this way: our Christian guidebook for life was written by a large number of human authors, but the publisher who commissioned and directed the whole writing process and who guarantees the contents is God himself. Of course some modern scholars have emphasized the human nature of Scripture and questioned its divine authority. But their view is at odds with that of Jesus himself and with that of most Christian tradition, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox; and the human errors they have supposedly detected in the guidebook do not add up to a strong case against its divinely guaranteed truth.
The Bible is not the sort of guidebook which gives step-by-step instructions for every stage of our journey. Life is too complex and people too different for such an approach. Instead the Bible shows us how God led his people in days gone by; and as we see how he dealt with his people in various situations in the past, we can appreciate what the same God wants of us in the present (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:6–12). Many of the lessons are obvious, especially on central issues of faith and conduct (e.g. ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’; ‘You shall do no murder’); but sometimes the interpretation of the guidebook is much less obvious (e.g.on the Christian view of nuclear deterrence or of women’s ministry).
The most important lesson of all in the Bible is what it teaches about the living and loving reality of God. We have (happily) not just been given a guidebook and been told to get on with our journey. We have also been given a guide in the person of Jesus, who has been on the journey before us, and in his Holy Spirit, who helps us understand the guidebook and follow its instructions. Just as some guidebooks contain addresses and phone numbers of people who can help the traveller, so the Bible shows us how to get and keep in touch with our heavenly guide.
If all this is true, we should treasure the Bible, not because it is anything in itself, but because it comes from God and leads us to God. We should treasure it not by putting it on a pedestal or in a glass case, but by paying the closest attention to its teaching and guidance.
This is part of the justification for biblical and theological research. The Christian church needs scholars who will study the guidebook and its implications, avoiding on the one hand the scepticism of those scholars who think they know better than the guidebook and on the other hand the errors of those who use the Bible in a superficial way, taking texts out of context rather than wrestling with the profundities of biblical teaching. Readers of Themelios who are interested in research may like to know of the reissued pamphlet, Serving Christ through biblical and theological research, which is available free of charge from Tyndale House, 36 Selwyn Gardens, Cambridge CB3 9BA. (Please enclose a stamped addressed envelope if writing from within UK.)
But what we have said is important not just for those doing research, but for every Christian student of theology and religious studies. It is all too easy for theological students and others to read books about the Bible and theology rather than the Bible itself, and to base their ideas on a rather vague impression of what they suppose the Bible means instead of on serious study of the Christian guidebook. But to travel through unknown country without paying careful attention to the bcap, though it may sometimes be fun, is dangerous at the best of times (as many of us know to our cost). It is especially dangerous, indeed potentially fatal, in spiritual matters, because there are so many voices to confuse us and our own instincts are not to be trusted (because of sin). It may be fashionable to sit rather lightly to Scripture, but the fashion must be unequivocally rejected. There is nothing more important for ourselves, for the church and the world than that we keep our Bibles open, and that (in the words of the ancient collect) we ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ what God caused to be written for our learning.
New Themelios editor
We are delighted to announce the appointment of the Rev Dr Christopher Wright as the new general editor of Themelios, as from the next issue. Dr Wright has taught at Union Biblical Seminary in India for the past five years, but has recently been appointed tutor and Director of Academic Studies at All Nations Christian College in Britain. He is already known to many readers through his writing in the fields of OT studies, Christian ethics and biblical interpretation. The present editor would like to express his gratitude to all those who have helped and supported him in many ways and to request your ongoing support and prayer for Dr Wright.
Other Articles in this Issue
Did Jesus and his followers preach the right doctrine from the wrong texts? An examination of the presuppositions of Jesus’ and the apostles’ exegetical methodby G. K. Beale