One of my friends recently became interested in studying the Bible. She is as smart as a whip, and frequently approaches me with lists of questions. Deep questions.
Many of the questions that she asks are questions that I've wrestled with in the past. In my studies, I've only found answers to a fraction of them. However, often when she asks me a question about the Bible that I don't know the answer to, God often connects the dots in my mind as I explain them. My friend asked what that was like, and the crazy thing is that God once again helped me connect the dots as I was explaining how God helps connect the dots. Here is a rough outline of how I described it in the moment.
In Matthew 10:16-20, Jesus gives instructions to His disciples. He warns them about difficult times the will face in their ministry, particularly when they will be asked challenging questions. But Jesus gives them wonderful words of encouragement. In Matthew 10:19-20, Jesus promises, "But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you."
Jesus' first miracle occurred at the wedding of Cana, and is recorded in John 2:1-12. Here, the supply of wine ran out. Wine is often used in scripture to represent doctrine (true or false). See Deuteronomy 32:33, Isaiah 29:9-11, Luke 5:37, 1 Cor 11:25-26. In this parable, we can see an allegory of how Christ supplies the want of true doctrine in the world. Here, we find a profound lesson in how God partners with human agency to share the gospel with the world.
In John 2:6-7, Christ instructs the servants to fill their vessels with water. Of course, the servants can do nothing else. They do not have access to wine themselves. All they can do is draw water from the well. They are then commanded to carry that which they have themselves drawn, and bear it to the master of the feast, where the wine is most wanted.
But as they carry the water to the master, Jesus works the miracle that He promises in Matthew 10:19-20. As they deliver that which was water when they drew it up, the water is turned into wine. This wine is not fermented (a symbol of tainted or false doctrine, Matthew 16:6,12). Rather, it is a refreshing drink the reinvigorates he who drinks it (Isaiah 65:8, Psalms 104:15, Judges 9:13).
In a similar way, God calls His gospel workers today to draw daily from the well of Scripture. Although we are incapable of producing any wine of ourselves, we are told that if we remain connected to the vine, we will bear much fruit. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5)
I'm not sure what wonder the servants had when they realized that the water they were carrying had turned into wine. But I am sure it was a sublime realization to realize that God had done a miracle through them that they could not do themselves. How miraculous it is to realize that God partners with humanity to preach the gospel, even today!
Thoughts on various questions
My friend and I discussed several other questions in addition to the conversation above. What follows are an overview on assorted questions that were raised earlier today.
How do we know that everything that the Holy Spirit wanted to say got written down?
This is a big question that ended up having a lot of nuances. This question wasn't about "how do we know that the Word of God is true." Instead, it was made up of three subquestions
- Who wrote the Bible
- How do we know that these are God's words or man's words?
- How do we know that nothing is missing?
To the first question, we are told in 2 Peter 1:21 that prophets were inspired by the Holy Ghost to write down those things that they had experienced concerning God. Therefore, the authorship of the Bible is two-fold. The thoughts and experiences come from God, but they are translated into the languages of our world by human agents. We could compare this to how we might write a review about a movie, or a Yelp review about an experience at a restaurant. The experience cannot be captured fully by paper, but the human agent writes his experience in his own words.
To the second question, we have to first clarify two schools of thought. Verbal dictation inspiration suggests that the Holy Spirit dictated the words to man, and the prophets were merely instruments in transcribing God's voice to paper. Verbal plenary inspiration says that God provided the thoughts, but the biblical authors transcribed the thoughts into written words. I believe the second to be true. One reason for this view is seen in the similarities and differences in each of the four gospels. Had God dictated the gospels, there would only be need for one gospel, not four. Had God dictated the gospel we would also expect, for example, the sign above Jesus at the crucifixion to read the exact same text in each account, yet they are different (Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, Matthew 27:37, John 19:19-20). Yet, while the description text is different, the meaning is the same, and they agree with each other. Each gospel gives another harmonious angle through which we see Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
To this third question, there are two texts that come to mind. In 2 Timothy 3:10-17, Paul nearing the end of his life gives counsel to a young pastor named Timothy on how to deal with the challenges Timothy will face. Paul states that the scriptures which Timothy was brought up on (which at the time included only the Old Testament) were to be used for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. Paul concludes by saying that the teachings of Scripture could make a man "perfect" (or complete), and "thoroughly furnished" unto every good work. Paul, however, doesn't claim that Scriptures themselves are a complete description of God, only a "swiss army knife" for gospel work that lacks nothing essential. On the other hand, we know that we are missing lots of information about God Himself. John concludes his 21-chapter gospel by writing "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen." (John 21:25)
Why didn't God write the entire Bible with His own finger
We know that God was able to write some things down with His finger. He wrote the Ten Commandments with His finger (Exodus 20:1-17; 24:12-13, Deuteronomy 9:10). He also wrote on the wall of Belshazzar's palace (Daniel 5:5,25). If God is able to write the Ten Commandments, and words of warning, why can't God write everything Himself. Why does God have to rely on fallen humanity.
First, let's realize that when God wrote using His own finger, it didn't effect any special repentance, or bring about a closer relationship with God that He desires. In the case of Israel, immediately after God gives the law to Moses, Israel becomes afraid, and asks that Moses serve as a mediator between them and God (Exodus 20:18-19). Belshazzar brushes off the interpretation that Daniel provides in Daniel 5:25. In Daniel 5:26, Belshazzar promotes the prophet to third in the kingdom. Daniel 5:27 explains that this office that Belshazzar promoted Daniel to lasted only a few hours. Even in the New Testament, Christ writes with His own finger to rebuke the self-righteousness of the Pharisees (John 8:6-8). These Pharisees crucify Jesus 11 chapters later.
Second, Jesus Himself did come down to serve be the Word (John 1:1). Jesus was more than a "finger": He became an entire person. Hebrews 1:1-3 says that while God spoke through the prophets in ancient times, God has now spoken through Christ, who is the "express image" of His person. Additionally, while Jesus was on earth, He felt no need to correct any instances where the Old Testament had been mis-transcribed, but affirmed that He came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17).
Third, let's recognize that God is in the business of partnering with fallen humanity to spread the gospel work, as I stated earlier in this article. I believe that God could have dictated His word to a prophet and could have written it all down verbatim. By the way, this is what Muslims believe about the Quran. While God had this option, I think He chose something even greater. The problem with a book is that it can't talk. You can't ask a book questions, and have a conversation with it the way you can have a conversation with a witness. So God used witnesses of His salvation to share their story. It started with Adam, and continued to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the apostles.
God isn't done writing! Paul writes to the Corinthians in 2 Cor 3:2-3
Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
So, why didn't God write the entire Bible with His own finger? Because he is writing His testimony on my heart and on yours. And he wants us to be known and read of all men. They can't have a conversation with a book the same way they can talk to us.
So next time somebody asks you about the faith that is within you, be ready to give an answer. Sanctify the Lord God in your heart (1 Peter 3:15). And if you feel like you only have water to present to those who need wine, remember, the same Jesus that ministered in Cana will hold true with his Matthew 10:19-20 promise today.