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What did Jesus think about the Bible?
When we open our Bibles, who is speaking to us through the words that we read? Is it God himself, or do we just have the thoughts of people like us who lived a long time ago? Could it be, as Muslims say, a word that originally came from God but was corrupted by copyists over the centuries? Or should we be even more sophisticated and say that the Bible isn’t God’s word but that it contains God’s word, or that it can become God’s word when he chooses to speak through it?
Well before we go and ask the theologians, let’s pose the question: what did Jesus think about the Bible?
And already I’m going to be in trouble with some people because you can’t ask what Jesus thought about the Bible when the Bible didn’t exist during his lifetime. Obviously the New Testament wasn’t written until after his departure, and in his day there was no book called “the Bible.”
But when I say “the Bible,” I mean Scripture, and you don’t have to spend much time in the gospels to see that Scripture is a big deal to Jesus. What I want to know is, according to Jesus, what is the nature of Scripture? Whether you have five books as Joshua did, thirty-nine books as Jesus did,or sixty-six books like we do today, who is (ultimately) the author of the books that you have? Are these merely the thoughts of men, or are we holding the word of God?
Jesus’ use of the Bible
If there was ever a person who didn’t need to use Scripture in teaching and responding to questions, it would have been Jesus. And while it’s true that he was willing to speak on his own authority, his normal pattern again and again is to refer people to the Bible. A quick search for a few key terms in the gospels brings up over 50 instances where Jesus either cites Scripture or refers to it.For him, the Bible is an unquestioned standard of belief and practice that God’s people are accountable to believe and put into practice. Three examples in particular stand out in terms of clearly defining Jesus’ view of Scripture: John 10:35, Matthew 19:3-4 and Matthew 22:31-32.
Scripture cannot be broken
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
In John 10:35 Jesus adds parenthetically what is assumed in every other place where he cites the Hebrew Scriptures: “Scripture cannot be broken.” The verse he is quoting is a difficult one that some people might be tempted to pass off as an error of some kind. In Psalm 86 wicked individuals (probably men) are called gods - Elohim - the same word used to refer to God himself over 2,300 times in the Old Testament. And yet Jesus insists, “Scripture cannot be broken.” Whatever the solution to the difficulty might be, it is not an option for Jesus that the inspired author might have made a mistake. His confidence in the reliability of the Word is as high as it can be.
He who created them said…
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
The interesting thing about Jesus’ use of Genesis 2:24 that he quotes in Matthew 19 is who he attributes the words to. He introduces the citation with, “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said…” That is, Jesus attributes the words of Genesis 2:24 to God. However in Genesis 2, there is no mention of God speaking the words “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother.” These words are a comment by the narrator who is telling the story.
This means that in Jesus’ view the book of Genesis isn’t limited to being God’s word where it says, “And God said.” The words of the narrator are also God’s speech and can be attributed directly to him. The Old Testament doesn’t just contain God’s word - it is God’s word from beginning to end.
Have you not read what was said to you by God?
But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
If we stop to think about it, we probably would have expected Jesus to say, “Have you not read what was said to Moses by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham…’” But according to Jesus these words were spoken by God “to you,” that is to the Sadducees that he was talking to. For Jesus the words of Exodus were not simply a record of what God said to his people in the past, but a word that God was continuing to speak to people who were living 1,500 years later. And although the Sadducees evidently either didn’t understand or didn’t believe the words that they read, God had spoken to them nonetheless, and Jesus holds them accountable for the message that they had received from their Creator.
We have no reason to think that Jesus will use any other standard with us than the one that he applied to the Sadducees. We too are spoken to by God when we read or hear the words of the Bible, and Jesus’ expectation is that we believe his words and put them into practice.
The words of the LORD are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
Although the Jews counted them as 22 or 24 books putting together, for example, 1 and 2 Samuel, Ezra with Nehemiah, and all twelve minor prophets in one book.