2 Timothy 3:15-17 How to understand the Bible

Notes from sermon preached on 9th October 2011: Biblical meditation 4


This coming week, as we follow through together Selwyn Hughes’ book, “Getting the Best from the Bible,” we will be looking at understanding what biblical meditation is.  Selwyn Hughes talks about meditation being like rumination – chewing the cud.  He says, “When a Christian takes a thought from the Scriptures and begins to meditate on it they actually pass that thought from their mind into their spirit, backwards and forwards, over and over again, until it is absorbed into the spiritual bloodstream and translated into spiritual faith and energy.”  So there is a lot to chew over this week.

Hughes begins the week by saying: “The Bible is unlike any other book … time spent in Scripture changes us to be more like the Author: God Himself.”

Today I want to unpack this statement; the rest of the week’s teaching you can read for yourselves.  “The Bible is unlike any other book?”  Why is the Bible unlike any other book?  “Time spent in Scripture changes us to be more like the Author: God himself!”  How come we can call God the Author?   The Bible looks just like any other book … though we know it is 66 rather ancient books, so what relevance has it for today?

These days’ people have different views of the Bible.  Some are very negative.  Some are very ignorant.  Some people are beginning to think about it for the first time in their lives.  However I guess the average fair-minded person would regard the Bible as an impressive collection of ancient books, with good teachings.  It is part of our cultural heritage and educated people ought to know something about it.  But the Bible as the Word of God?  That’s hard to swallow.

In fact the idea of the Bible having a divine origin seems fantastical to the intellectuals of our age. The synagogue and the Church have always called the Bible the Word of God, but today the idea can even be troubling for us as Christians, or embarrassing.    Whatever we mean by the Word of God, we see from this week’s memory verse in Psalm 119:9, it’s important:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your Word.”

The summer riots; the hacking scandal; MP’s expenses; the greed of the bankers; family breakdown; all this has prompted a lot of talk today about morality.  How is it possible to live a moral life?  This verse tells us, “By living according to your Word.”  Ah, you say, I’m not a young man!  But it applies to everyone.  I’m sure the reason the Psalmist says ‘young man’ is because he is a young man.  He is really asking, “How can I keep my way pure?”

But what is this Word?  In what way is the Bible ‘the Word’?  2Timothy Paul answers this question in a way which helps us.  It describes all Scripture as God-breathed, i.e. inspired.  I want to ask 4 questions about the inspiration of Scripture:

  1. What do we mean by inspiration of Scripture?
  2. Why did God inspire the Scripture?
  3. How did God inspire this Scripture?
  4. How should we view Scripture?

 1.       What do we mean by inspiration of Scripture?

When we talk about the Scriptures as inspired we mean that somehow God has breathed his breath into them.  This is the claim in 2Timothy 3:15-17

“And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” [2Ti 3:15]

In Genesis 2:7 God’s breath-spirit is breathed into Adam’s nostrils, and Adam became a living being.  God’s life and His vitality were breathed into Adam.  Paul, who was one of the brightest minds of his day, uses the same language and claims that somehow this same life and vitality of God has been breathed into the sacred writings.

But it’s not just Paul.  Jesus had a very high view of the Scriptures.  Jesus frequently answered questions by referring to the authority of Scripture, for example by saying, “What did Moses write about?  He said “the Scripture cannot be broken” [John 10:35].  He understood God’s purposes as fulfilling the Scriptures.

Jesus understood, Paul understood and Christians down through the centuries have understood that in some way God has breathed his Spirit into the Scriptures which has directed their formation, and this is why when we meditate on them it is so beneficial.

2.       Why did God inspire the Scriptures?

2 Timothy it tells us the purpose of God’s inspiration: first, to lead us to salvation through Jesus Christ: they are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” [2Timothy 3:15b]. Secondly, they are to educate Christians, especially leaders; they equip us to serve God [2Timothy 3:16].

Their purpose is not just to satisfy an intellectual curiosity about God, or about the world, or even ourselves, though it does help us in those areas. Their purpose is not to instruct us in poetry, history, science, or even knowledge, though knowledge of the Bible can help.  The primary purpose of the inspiration of the Bible is to establish us in a relationship with God and to equip us to serve Him in our daily lives.

This is what Selwyn Hughes is talking about when he says that “God wants us to go into his Word expecting Him to speak to us and obeying what he says to us.  This is the purpose of Biblical meditation.”

3.       How did God inspire the Scriptures?

If the Scriptures are inspired, if somehow God breathed into them with His breath, how can we imagine this actually happened?  How could it have happened?  In Exodus we know God wrote supernaturally the 10 commandments on tablets of stone; but obviously the Bible wasn’t written like that.  The Bible was written by people.

  • Some Christians have believed that God dictated the very words to human writers which they wrote down;
  • Others Christians have believed that the biblical authors wrote freely, and only later did the Holy Spirit and the Church approve the writings as inspired;
  • Others believe God gave special inspired thoughts and insights to the human writers, but left them free to choose their own words and style.

In whatever way it happened, two things we can know for sure:

  1. God did not suspend the personalities, or even the fallibilities of the human writers;
  2. Israel and then the Church lived out the Scriptures before it was all written down.

We see in the Bible again and again God’s self-disclosure, God revealing himself to people:  at Mount Sinai the law is given through Moses; through the angel of the Lord many times in the OT and in the NT; through visions such as Daniels’ visions; through nature; through a direct voice; through the prophets as they interpreted God’s contemporary word for the nation; through personal experiences and down to earth stories of ordinary people.  For example, Hosea had a tragic marriage, but God used it to lead Hosea into a profound understanding of God’s love for Israel who had forsaken Him.

God used the personalities and experiences of the biblical writers and their communities to give us the Bible – God-breathed, and useful for teaching.

4.       How should we view the Bible?

We might read a book and say, “That was really inspiring!”  For example the Narnia stories by C.S. Lewis are very inspiring.  We might even read a book and believe that God has spoken to us through the book.  But this isn’t what we mean when we say the Bible is inspired.  The Narnia stories are very inspiring, but we don’t call them the word of God.  The Bible is uniquely inspired, uniquely God-breathed.

However,  we can go too far. It has been said that there are two incarnations of the word of God: Jesus is the Word who became flesh. The Bible is the Word in human language. This is an attractive view, but in my view misleading.  The Word who became flesh was a real enfleshment of the Word of God.   But the written record of this isn’t an enfleshment; it’s a witness to the reality of the Word become flesh; it’s the explanation, a description and a revelation.

This may sound surprising, but for the early Christians their inspiration wasn’t the Scriptures – they didn’t even have the New Testament.  Their inspiration, their revelation, the new life they had discovered wasn’t something they found in the Scriptures.  What they discovered was Jesus Christ and his resurrection power.  They had an encounter with God through Jesus.  They realised that the Scriptures bore witness to Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures explained who Jesus was.

This was the way Jesus read the Scriptures as well.  On one occasion in his ministry, Jesus said to the religious leaders, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” [John 5:39-40]

It’s not the Scriptures in themselves that give life ; they only give life to the extent they point us to Jesus Christ, who is the living Word of God.

After his resurrection, Jesus was walking along the road to Emmaus with two disciples. At the time they didn’t know who he was.  In Luke 24:27 it says,

“And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Jesus uses the Scriptures to give them an insight and revelation of his glory, and their hearts burned within them.

So the Church learned to read the Scriptures as pointing to Jesus.  How does our memory verse point to Jesus?

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your Word.”

Does this verse say we have to live according to every rule in the Bible?  When we begin to meditate on this verse, and chew it over, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin to realise it’s talking about Jesus, the living Word.   The Christian life isn’t living according to a rule book; it’s living according to his Word. The Bible, which is uniquely soaked and drenched and dripping with the breath and inspiration and revelation of God, witnesses to the living Word.  It “is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.   This is why we should meditate on it every day.


2 Responses to 2 Timothy 3:15-17 How to understand the Bible

  1. Pingback: Resources for 2 Timothy 3:15 - 17

  2. Pingback: correct interpretation of “to the pure, all things are pure” (Titus 1:15) « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

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