What is the Bible? When people ask me for a definition I usually say the Bible is “the word of God for the people of God,” and that it is “authoritative in all matters of faith and practice.” Sometimes people want to argue with me at that point. They want to say the Bible is inerrant rather than authoritative. They think of inerrant as a stronger word. But I remember that deacon at my first church who would point to the Bible on his coffee table and tell me he believed it was literally true from cover to cover, and yet I couldn’t see much evidence in his life that he had ever read it. He would tell me sometimes, “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” and I would ask, “Where is that in the Bible?” He would tell me sometimes, “There ain’t nothing free,” and I would say, “What about grace?” It’s not hard to make claims for the inerrancy of God’s word. Anybody can do that. What’s hard is reading the Bible, listening for God’s word, and then letting it have authority over you, so that if it tells you to stop doing something—like hating your enemies—you’d better stop, and if it tells you to start doing something—like loving them—you’d better start. You tell me: which of those two ways of thinking about the Bible is more likely to change your life? And tell me this: isn’t changing your life the point?
As I was shaking hands after worship someone asked, “So, are you saying the Bible isn’t inerrant?” “I’m not saying that at all,” I countered. “I just find you can make a lot of claims about Scripture without ever reading it, without ever letting it change your life. I don’t think that’s what God had in mind.” That seemed to satisfy him. He nodded thoughtfully and moved on.
In the sermon I described the Bible as a ladder extending from earth to heaven, and said that the question to ask of such a ladder is not whether it is inerrant or authoritative, but whether its rails are straight enough, it’s rungs sturdy enough, to get us where we’re going. In other words, is the Bible a reliable way to get to God? The church’s answer through the centuries has been an unqualified yes. Time after time God’s people have climbed this ladder and gotten a fresh glimpse of his glory.
At the conclusion of the service I recalled hearing someone say that Baptists like to get together and argue about who believes the Bible more, and I’ve been to those kinds of meetings. Some of them got pretty ugly. But I can’t imagine it pleases God to see us arguing with each other about the ladder. I think what would please him is watching us climb the ladder, word by word, rung by rung, until we peek over the edge of heaven…
…and behold his glory.