The Purpose of the Bible

Nicely summarized by Dr. Robert Plummer of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible (Kregel Academic, 2010)

The Bible itself is evidence of one of its main claims—that is, that the God who made the heavens, earth, and sea, and everything in them is a communicator who delights to reveal himself to wayward humans.  We read in Hebrews 1:1-2, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

These verses in Hebrews point to the culmination of biblical revelation in the eternal Son of God.  This Son became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, forever uniting God and man in one person—100 percent God and 100 percent man (John 1:14).  The prophecies, promises, longings, and anticipations under the old covenant find their fulfillment, meaning, and culmination in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”

The purpose of the Bible, then, is “to make [a person] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).  The Bible is not an end in itself.  As Jesus said to the religious experts in his day, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).  So, under divine superintendence, the goal of the Bible is to bring its readers to receive the forgiveness of God in Christ and thus to possession of eternal life in relationship with the triune God (John 17:3).

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Misunderstanding Faith

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A mistake made by some Christians and most skeptics is believing that religious faith, or faith in God, is blind faith.  But biblical faith is not a leap into the dark, but a leap toward the light.  As Greg Koukl nicely summarizes:

“Faith [on this mistaken view] is religious wishful thinking, a desperate lunge in the dark when all evidence is against you.  Take the leap of faith and hope for luck.  Curiously, none of the biblical writers understood faith this way.  Jesus tells his naysayers, ‘Though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me’ (John 10:38 NASB, emphasis added).  Peter reminds the crowd on Pentecost that Jesus was ‘a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs’ (Acts 2:22 NASB).

“Paul writes that the evidences from the natural world for God’s eternal power and divine nature ‘have been clearly seen,’ so much so that those who deny Him ‘are without excuse’ (Rom. 1:20).  Later he says that if we believe in a resurrection that didn’t really happen, we have hoped in vain and ‘are of all men most to be pitied’ (1 Cor. 15:19 NASB).  No religious wishful thinking here.

“So let’s set the record straight.  Faith is not the opposite of reason.  The opposite of faith is unbelief.  And reason is not the opposite of faith.  The opposite of reason is irrationality.  Do some Christians have irrational faith?  Sure.  Do some skeptics have unreasonable unbelief?  You bet.  It works both ways.”

Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Kregel, 2010, p. 30 (Kindle edition)

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Book Review — God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom

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  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press (December 30, 2009)
  • Amazon
  • Christianbook.com (CBD)
  • InterVarsity Press
  • Graham Cole’s Faculty Page
  • God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham A. Cole is not the book you might expect. The main purpose of the book is not to introduce the various theories of atonement and evaluate them in order to determine which theory best explains what happened on the cross. Rather, Cole’s main purpose is to explore how God the peacemaker brings shalom to man and creation through atonement. Cole observes, “Atonement brings shalom by defeating the enemies of peace, overcoming the barriers both to reconciliation and to the restoration of creation” (229). In the process Cole does discuss the various theories of atonement (the death and vindication of the faithful Son), but also develops the overarching story of God’s plan of salvation. In so doing, he rightly places Christ at the center of the story. He thus presents a strong argument for the absolute necessity of atonement for man because of our sin, and rightly puts the emphasis on the fact that this atonement was brought by God alone who is the peacemaker.

    Cole begins with God, who is holy and righteousness, to show that divine action flows from God’s character. He is love, holy, and light. The cross is where the character of God was revealed (Ch. 1). He then discusses the problems and effects of sin upon creation, including man (Ch. 2 and 3). As a result of sin, God’s creation became tainted and man is desperately in need of reconciliation with God. But God, who is compassionate, gave the foundational promise (the protoevangelium) that the offspring of Adam would crush the head of the serpent. And as He promised, He provided His faithful Son, Jesus, to atone for our sin (Ch. 4, 5, and 6). Through this atonement, God brought peace over man and creation. Man is now able to be reconciled with God and consequently with one other and creation (Ch. 7). In the next chapter, Cole shifts the focus from the benefits that Christians receive as a result of atonement (e.g., forgiveness of sins) to the responsibilities that come to beings who are caught up in Gods atonement project (Ch 8). In the final chapter, he concludes that the grand purpose of all of this is to bring glory to God who is worthy of all praise and glory (Ch. 8).

    I appreciated this book very much. Perhaps what I most appreciated was Cole’s comprehensiveness and faithfulness to Scripture. His treatment of the reconciliation and restoration of creation (not only the human soul) in light of atonement is evidence of such thoroughness. As noted above, his main purpose is to show how God as the peacemaker brought peace to the world through atonement, rather than simply discussing various theories of the atonement. When one seeks to understand atonement, it is important to consider the background story, namely, God’s salvation project. Without such background knowledge, our understanding of atonement can fall short and we are unable to comprehend what God has truly revealed on the cross.

    Similarly, I appreciated the fact that Cole did not stop at the cross, but continued on to the return of Christ. This again shows his holistic approach to Scripture. In my opinion, chapter eight is the treasure of the book. Here he speaks to contemporary Christians and explores the responsibilities that we have as God’s agents in His atonement project. In other words, Cole’s book is not simply a book that discusses theories, but also contains practical insights for his readers. Cole states regarding the Christian life and our responsibilities,

    “It is an other-person-centered life that expresses itself in self-donation on behalf of others rather than the selfish pursuit of one’s own interests. This is a life prepared to suffer for Christ’s sake and to take its part in spiritual warfare. It is a sacrificial life lived in response to the mercies of God expressed in the gospel. Importantly, it is not a life lived solo. It is lived as part of a great company of salt and light that pursues mercy-showing and shalom-making as agents of peace, and that tells the story both in evangelism and in witness of God’s great reconciling project and Jesus who stands at the heart of it” (217).

    This is a well-put statement of how we should live a life that was bought by the blood of Jesus. Jesus’ ministry did not end at the cross. Rather, His ministry continues through us. We must carry on the cross as agents of peace to advance the reconciliation and restoration of God’s creation.

    One area I would like to see Dr. Cole explore further is the section on union with Christ. I agree with him that Paul’s language indicates an organic rather than simply a moral sense. It would be interesting to see how he could further develop this fascinating topic in light of atonement.

    — Reviewed by Naomi Noguchi Reese.  Naomi is pursuing a PhD in systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  She has also reviewed The Great Theologians and Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal.

    * Thanks to InterVarsity Press for a review copy of this book.

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    Michael Bird on Romans 1:1-4

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    Dr. Michael Bird provides some nice commentary on these opening verses of Romans.

    The Apostolic vocation which Paul carries out has as its centrepiece the gospel. Paul was called to be an apostle and set apart for the sake of the “gospel of God”. When Paul mentions the gospel it is most often in association with Jesus Christ as its foci (see 1 Cor 9:12; 15:1-5; 2 Cor 2:12; 4:4; 9:13; 10:14; Phil 1:17; 1 Thess 3:2; 2 Thess 1:8; 2 Tim 2:8). In fact, Paul will very quickly go on to relate the “gospel of God” to the gospel “concerning his son” in 1:3 and the “gospel of his Son” in 1:9 (see Rom 2:16; 16:25). Yet here it is the “gospel of God” (see Rom 15:16; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:8-9; 1 Tim 1:11). The sense is deliberately open as it might mean a gospel from God or a gospel about God. Most likely, both senses are intended. The gospel is both a revelation from God (Gal 1:12) and is about what God himself has done in the faithfulness, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. To tell the gospel of God is to tell the story of Jesus. And yet the story of Jesus is entirely inexplicable apart from the story of God.

    Paul is the quintessential Jesus-freak, but he is not a mono-Jesus adherent. That is because God, Son, and Spirit all figure prominently in his opening narration of the gospel story in Rom 1:1-4. In fact, Romans is the most theocentric letter of the Pauline corpus with the word theos occurring 153 times! John Webster rightly states: “The matter to which Christian theology is commanded to attend, and by which it is directed in all its operations, is the presence of the perfect God as it is announced in the gospel”. As the Apostle sent and set apart by God, Paul sets out before the Roman Christians the story of how God’s plan to repossess the world for himself have now been executed in his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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