What is the Bible?
Ponder a strange question, maybe one you’ve never thought to ask:
What is the Bible?
To us, it is one of the most ordinary features of our homes. Go into a typical Christian household, and you’ll find a Bible, or more likely, several Bibles.
To us the Bible is so common that we sometimes have a dozen or more copies around the place.
There could be a Bible by our bed, a few near the kitchen table, one that is slowly discolouring on the backseat of our car, plus a collection of older Bibles on a shelf in the basement…
The Bible is so common that we might use it to decorate our home, and so common that we might throw out our old copies—which somehow always feels wrong, even if it is a duct-taped and dog-eared RSV.
Or, as I saw once, we might use the Bible’s pages for a guest book at a wedding.
So what is this book called the Bible?
In truth, it is many things.
The Bible is a collection of books—sixty-six books, to be precise, written by some thirty or more different authors, composed originally in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek)—yet it is one book. The name “Bible” actually means “books” (plural), yet it is one book.
The word “Bible” has become synonymous with truth, or authority. You can go to BookDepository.com, and find The Skincare Bible, Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, The New Optimum Nutrition Bible, and who could forget The Yoga Bible? But of course, there is no Bible but one, the Scriptures about which Jesus once said, “Your Word, O God, is truth.”
What is the Bible? The Bible is literature—words written in beautiful poetry and prose, containing stories that are known all around this world (think Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Jonah and the Fish), and containing words that have had immeasurable influence on whole worlds of art, and music, and culture, and architecture—the Bible is literature, yet it is also more: it is holy Scripture.
What is the Bible? It is really old. We sometimes forget just how ancient it is, that the first chapters of the Bible were written some 3,500 years ago! What else do we read that is so old? For comparison, of a similar age to the Bible are books called the Code of Hammurabi or the Epic of Gilgamesh. But have you read these lately? Have they turned these old books into devotional apps and put them on your phone? No, but they have for the Bible. The Bible is ancient, yet somehow it is always new.
What is the Bible? The Bible is the most printed book in the world, the most thoroughly studied, the most commonly stolen (!), the most widely translated, and the most vigorously debated book in the world. In the last forty years alone, eight new major Bible versions have been published in English and have sold well in excess of 100 million copies. The Bible is currently available in 2100 different languages.
Thousands of people have given their lives to preserve and promote the Bible. Not long ago I read a biography of William Tyndale, a man who translated the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament into English. It was a moving account of how this one man was a fugitive for years, trying to stay ahead of people who (almost unbelievably) saw an English Bible as a threat to the church. Ultimately, his persecutors captured Tyndale, and strangled and then burned him for what he had done. But by then it was too late: his translation had spread far and wide. It provided sure momentum for the coming Reformation when the Word of God transformed hundreds of millions of lives.
Opening the Bible and flipping through its pages might feel natural to us, yet we forget just how explosive this book really is. Listen to what the LORD says about his Word in Jeremiah 23:29,
Is not my word like fire…and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
God’s Word is like a fire, like a hammer—it has a mighty power of its own. There is a reason that it has been at the heart of so much controversy, so much worship, so much delight, and so many changed lives. This ancient book is God’s living Word. He uses this Word to accomplish his work among his people.
Yes, what is this book that we call the Bible?
The Bible contains the very mind of God, the true state of mankind, the way of salvation, and the happiness of believers.
It is food to nurture and comfort to cheer. It is the traveller’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter.
The Bible is a storehouse of treasure and a river of life. It is a lamp to our feet and it is a light on our path.
Its doctrines are holy, its precepts binding, its histories true, its wisdom unchangeable.
This book should rule the heart, fill the mind, and guide the feet.
The take-home is that for Christians, the Bible is enough, it is understandable, it is powerful, and it is essential.
Which leaves you and me with a crucial question: Do we still read the Bible, so that we might hear the living Word of God?