Once a chap was feeling despondent, so he opened the Bible at random seeking inspiration. The first words he read were, “Judas went out and hanged himself.” Quickly he shut the book and opened it again, only to read, “Go and do thou likewise.”
The Bible is not a crystal ball, runes or cards for fortune telling. It is a collection of 66 books by scores of authors with some fragments going back 3000 years and the most recent contributions from about 80 years after Our Lord’s crucifixion.
Here are some of the types of literature it contains: history, myth and legend, hymns, wisdom writings, prophecy, preaching and teaching, letters, erotic poetry and jokes.
It consists of two Testaments: the Old Testament is the history and thought of the ancient Israelites and the New Testament is the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and the writings – “epistles” – of the first Christian theologians, especially Paul, Peter and John.
The Bible is inspired but not in the way imagined by the man who opened and shut it twice – to his great shock and horror. To understand what we mean by inspiration, let us take the example of prophecy. Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah wrote:
He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities…and with his stripes we are healed.
And Psalm 22 says:
They pierced my hands and my feet…they stand staring and looking upon me.
Neither Isaiah nor the Psalmist was making a prediction about the death of Jesus. They were writing about events and religious themes of their own time. But we are right to look at their words through our Christian spectacles. They were prophecies. And the full meaning of prophecies is made clear only after a long period of time. Prophecies gather layer upon layer of meaning over the centuries. This is what we mean when we say the Bible is inspired.
Similarly, events in the Old Testament prefigure events in the life of Jesus. The Jews’ sacrifice of the paschal lamb prefigures the sacrifice of Jesus who is the Lamb of God. The Israelites’ escape from Egypt through the Red Sea looks forward to our redemption by the death and resurrection of Our Lord.
There is factual history in the Bible and we are right to believe that the Bible is true. But this is not always a literal truth. The four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – are differing versions of the life and significance of Jesus. This does not mean that some gospels are true and others untrue. Inspiration means that God uses the words of fallible human beings to tell the miraculous truth of God’s creation and redemption of humankind.
This is why the Bible is reliable and called The Word of God.
It is the Word of Life. We must learn to read it with diligence and understanding. As the Collect says, Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, that by patience and comfort of your Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.