It’s crucial that we ask and answer the third question, “What is the purpose of the Bible?” By understanding the purpose of something, we are better able to use it and enjoy it. If I don’t understand the purpose of an iPhone, then it’s more of a hindrance than a benefit. It just takes up space in my pocket, costs me a lot of money every month, and consumes my time and resources when I charge its batteries, take care of it, etc. But if I understand what an iPhone is, how it functions, how it works, how to use it, its benefits, and so forth, then I may find that the pros outweigh the cons. It’s no longer a burden, but a blessing.
How does the Bible function? Have you ever thought about that? Up to now, maybe you felt that it only took up space on your shelf, was a burden to carry around, had little to do with your life, was archaic, took too long to read, wasn’t practical, was condemning, etc. But remember, once you understand the purpose of something, it opens up to you and you’re able to enjoy it—and it could become more of a blessing than a burden.
Scripture functions in three ways. Over and over again, it constantly does the same three things. First, it shows us the human problem. We learn why the world is the way it is. We understand what our deepest need is, where we fall short, and what is at stake. Second, we learn about God’s solution to the human problem. We read about God’s mighty acts on behalf of humans; we read again and again about how God rescues his people. The greater our need, the greater his loving and powerful acts are on our behalf. Third, we learn about how humans are to respond, once they see the mighty, saving acts of God.
The Bible, therefore, is a book of hope. The overall purpose of the Bible is to show us how sinful humans can be in a personal relationship with a holy God, through the means that he has provided. The warp and woof of the Bible is the same: our problem, God’s solution, our response. This pattern repeats over and over, climaxing at the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s ultimate solution, given for our deepest problem of sin, to which we are called to respond in faith.
The purpose of the Bible is not to give us scientific explanations. It’s not to comfort us. It’s not to confirm our thoughts and feelings. It’s not meant to be easy. Though it may contain each of these things. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal to us God’s mighty acts on our behalf in the person of Jesus Christ.
The entry point of this is the resurrection of Jesus. If you’re struggling to believe the Bible or are not sure of its claims, this is where you and I need to begin. Perhaps you don’t like the Bible’s position on certain ethical matters, such as abortion, sexuality, generosity, etc. Please don’t get hung up on these, for they are not the main thing of the Bible, the purpose. In a sense, they don’t matter—at least not at first.
The thing that most matters is the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is the hinges on which the door of the Bible swings. Without it, nothing else matters. The first followers of Jesus knew this; that is why they first proclaimed his resurrection, starting with this pivotal event. After all, if the resurrection didn’t happen, then the rest of the Bible’s claims don’t matter. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then the whole thing is a hoax and you don’t have to place yourself under the authority of the Bible’s moral commands. Why should you? Suppose a mad man decided to call himself king one day? He issues a bunch of commands for your city. People must not use electricity on even-numbered days; they must give 40 percent of their income to the king; all children must be regularly spanked, and on it goes. Nobody in their right mind would ever consider obeying these commands if the king is a false king, if he has no power, etc. They only way they would obey is if he actually is who he said he is: the authority over their lives.
So why get all bent out of shape about the Bible’s standards if you don’t accept Jesus as King? In other words, stop worrying about what the Bible says about lesser things, until you come to grips with what it says about the major thing: Jesus Christ. Was Jesus really the Son of God? Did he really rise from the dead? If he did rise from the dead, then all of his claims are vindicated. And if he is who he said he is, and his claims are backed up by the resurrection, then we can begin to wrestle with his teachings.
Here’s what I’m trying to say. First, the Bible is a book of hope, pointing us to Jesus Christ. Second, the event that supports our claim (that Jesus is the Son of God) is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Third, come to grips with the resurrection before the Bible’s other claims. The resurrection is the gateway to the Bible, the on ramp, where we merge into the rest of its teachings.
Don’t get caught up on matters that are not crucial to being a Christian, in other words. This takes us back to the purpose of the Bible and the importance of understanding how to use it. To be a Christian, does not mean you need to be a certain political party, have a certain sexual orientation, hold to certain moral standards, don’t have tattoos, don’t smoke, don’t swear, don’t believe in evolution, etc., etc. These are not the core of our faith. Please don’t let them keep you from Jesus. To be a Christian means that we embrace the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, believing that Jesus died for our sins out of love, and rose for our justification. That’s it. To be a Christian is to receive free grace from God, allowing him to provide the solution to our greatest problem, and then responding to him in faith and submission. Our problem, God’s solution, our response.
To see if you should take the Bible seriously, start with the resurrection of Jesus. Read the Bible’s accounts of the life and death of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Wrestle with the facts for yourself. Don’t get caught up in the peripheral issues before you consider the central issue.
Take the resurrection seriously first, to see if you should take the rest of the Bible seriously afterward.
Once you read the Bible’s accounts of the resurrection, let me recommend three other books, which will also help you think through it. First, I recommend Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. Second, I recommend chapter 8 of Reason to Believe by William Lane Craig. Third, I recommend (very humbly!) my book, Hope Stands.
Thank you for reading and in future posts I will answer the last two questions in our series about the Bible (“Are you sure you’re interpreting it correctly?” and “Are you sure you know how to evaluate the reliability of ancient books?”).
© Samuel Kee, 2013