According to the recent National Church Life Survey, 47 per cent of Sydney Anglicans say they read their Bible every day and 75 per cent of them a few times a week. This is a very encouraging statistic!
During the pandemic, newspapers reported something of a revival in personal “spiritual practices”, including reading “holy texts”, prayer and meditation. No doubt many Christians also found that being forced to stay at home lent itself to reviving personal Bible reading and time with God in a more disciplined way.
The Scriptures emphasise both the importance and also the sheer joy and privilege of meeting God in his word:
The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart…
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
They are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
(Psalm 19:7-8, 10)
When we say that the Bible is inspired we don’t mean that it is brilliant – although it is brilliant! When we say the Bible is inspired we don’t mean it is inspiring, although it is inspiring! The words of Scripture lift our spirits, calm our fears, fuel our endeavours, embody our hopes and most importantly, convey the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in whom alone is our salvation.
Throughout history, the Bible has not only dramatically changed people’s lives, it has inspired art, music, literature, social reform, empowerment, world mission – and we could go on. But when we say that the Bible is inspired we don’t mean any of those things, true though they may be.
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
When we talk about the inspiration of Scripture we mean that it has its origin in God: “prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”.
We have to work hard to grasp the biblical shape of this process of Scripture being written by humans as the Spirit of God carried them along – “no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation”, and “prophecy never had its origin in the human will”. Scripture didn’t come from human contemplation and ideas. It didn’t come from the mind or the will of humans.
But neither did it come down from heaven, delivered by angels, like the Book of Mormon. Nor did it come by God possessing the human authors and taking over their minds and wills, the way the Archangel Gabriel took over the mind and will of Mohammad to scribe the Koran, according to the teaching of Islam.
No, “prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”. The phrase “carried along” suggests “blown”, as the wind blows the sails of a boat. The authors of Scripture were directed to their destination by the breath of God, but they did the sailing.
Scripture reflects its humanity. Its writings are by different people, they emphasise different themes, they tell the same story in slightly different ways, drawing attention to the features that serve their purpose. They spoke. Scripture is a human document.
But they spoke from God carried along by his Spirit. They wrote the things that God wanted them to write. They preserved God’s interpretation of God’s acts. They communicated to their hearers and readers the truth that God wanted to impart.
The authors of Scripture were not robots controlled by God; they were not secretaries taking dictation from God. They were humans who spoke from God carried along by the Holy Spirit. Scripture has a double nature: it is God’s word in the words of humans. Because it is the words of humans we don’t worship it – the Bible isn’t God. Because it is the word of God we do obey it – it isn’t just ancient history. Because Scripture has its origin in God it is true, trustworthy, sovereign and eternal.
Deep, broad and sustained engagement with God’s word is vital for patterns of Christian life and service that are shaped by the Spirit. The same Spirit who breathes out the words of God in Scripture applies them in convicting power to our hearts, producing repentance and faith.
As we hear and respond to God’s word, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, so God conforms us to the likeness of the One who is the subject of the whole Bible, the One who loved us and gave himself for us, the world’s only Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ.