March 23, 2011

Jesus and the Word

This year marks a significant anniversary. In 1604 England’s King James I convened the Hampton Court Conference and commissioned 54 scholars (only 47 served) to translate the Bible from the languages in which it was originally written (Hebrew for the Old Testament, Greek for the New Testament). The result was the King James Version of the Bible published 400 years ago this year.
While some stubbornly and mistakenly insist that the King James Version is the most reliable English version, its real genius, and that of all subsequent versions, is that they provide readers with God’s Word in their own languages. No longer do believers have to know Greek, Hebrew, or Latin to read the Bible. Nor do they have to rely on what their priests or pastors think the Bible means. The Bible (or portions of it) is available in almost every language on earth.
And although many people read the Bible as if it were a textbook of names, places, and facts to be memorized, the apostle Paul stated for his young protégé Timothy the primary purpose for knowing the Scriptures: “which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).
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It’s possible to know the Bible yet not know the Savior of the Bible. In one of the most penetrating indictments in the Bible, Jesus told the religious leaders of His time, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39, 40).
Imagine the disappointment of people who spend their lifetimes memorizing useless facts about the Bible, or using the Bible as ammunition to beat up on others, losing salvation because their lives aren’t transformed by knowing Christ as their Savior.
To know Christ as Savior not only means knowing that He takes our sins and gives us His righteousness—it means accepting Him as the model of what it means to be Christlike, or Christian.
This is especially challenging in an age when Christianity’s detractors have so much historical and contemporary evidence about how “Christians,” supposedly motivated by their loyalty to Christ, used the Bible to justify violence, oppression, bigotry, greed, and hatred against those who didn’t believe as they did.
And today, when the Bible is seen by many as “just another” holy book, and Christians as “just another” group of devotees to one of the world’s great religious philosophies, more important than just knowing the Bible is living the Bible. And by that I don’t mean bashing everyone who doesn’t believe as we do, or riding some obscure text like a hobbyhorse. We live in an increasingly complex world. And we can’t argue the Bible with people who don’t accept it as authoritative. That begs the question: How, then, can we demonstrate the Bible’s authority?
In Paul’s counsel to Timothy we see two purposes for knowing and living the Bible, involving both those who are believers and those who aren’t. He wrote: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training [believers] in righteousness, so that the [man and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work [on behalf of unbelievers]” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
What is the proof of the Bible’s authority? It makes its followers more like Jesus.
Jesus was love, mercy, grace, and justice personified. He knew no distinctions of class, gender, age, economics, ethnicity, or religion. His teaching and acts of service touched saint and sinner alike. And just as Jesus was God in human form, our fellow creatures have a right to see Christ’s reflection in the lives of His followers.
The proof that the Bible is inspired (God-breathed) is not merely because the Bible says it is; the proof is seen in the lives of Christ’s followers who live as Christ lived—graciously, inclusively, lovingly, sacrificially.
Over the centuries God’s people have risked much to record, preserve, and translate God’s Word into languages that we can all read and understand. And now that we have the Scriptures in every form imaginable, what excuse do we have for not living the way Jesus lived?
Stephen Chavez is managing editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published March 24, 2011.