Cover Story

Loving a love poem, learning about the Bible

"Loving a love poem, learning about the Bible" Continued...

  • we sing the word (v. 172)
  • speak the word (vv. 13, 46, 79)
  • study the word (vv. 15, 48, 97, 148)
  • store up the word (vv. 11, 93, 141)
  • obey the word (vv. 8, 44, 57, 129, 145, 146, 167, 168)
  • praise God for the word (vv. 7, 62, 164, 171)
  • and pray that God would act according to his word (vv. 58, 121–123, 147, 149–152, 153–160)

These actions are no substitute for proper faith and af­fection, but they are the best indicators of what we really believe and feel about the word. Sing, speak, study, store up, obey, praise, and pray—this is how men and women of God handle the Scriptures. Now don’t panic if you seem to fall short in believing, feeling, and doing. Remember, Psalm 119 is a love poem, not a checklist. The reason for starting with Psalm 119 is that this is where we want to end. This is the spiritual reaction the Spirit should produce in us when we fully grasp all that the Bible teaches about itself. My hope and prayer is that in some small way the rest of this book will help you say “Yes!” to what the psalmist believes, “Yes!” to what he feels, and “Yes!” to everything he does with God’s holy and precious word.

A Few Final Clarifications

Before diving into the rest of the book, it might be helpful to know what type of book you are reading. While I hope this volume will motivate you to read the Bible, this is not a book on personal Bible study or principles for interpreta­tion. Nor do I attempt an apologetic defense of Scripture, though I hope you will trust the Bible more for having read these eight chapters. This is not an exhaustive book, cov­ering all the philosophical, theological, and methodological territory you might see in a fat, multivolume textbook. This is not an academic book with lots of footnotes. This is not a “take down” book where I name names and cite “chapter and verse” for current errors. This is not a groundbreaking work in exegetical, biblical, historical, or systematic theology.

“So what is this book?” you ask yourself, wondering how you managed to pick up such a know-nothing volume.

This is a book unpacking what the Bible says about the Bible. My aim is to be simple, uncluttered, straightforward, and manifestly biblical. I make no pretenses about offering you anything other than a doctrine of Scripture derived from Scripture itself. I know this raises questions about canon (how do you know you have the right Scriptures in the first place?) and questions about circular reasoning (how can you reference the Bible to determine the authority of the Bible?). These are reasonable questions, but they need not hold us up here. Both questions have to do with first principles, and a certain form of circularity is unavoidable whenever we try to defend our first principles. You can’t establish the supreme authority of your supreme authority by going to some other lesser authority. Yes, the logic is circular, but no more so than the secularist defending reason by reason or the scien­tist touting the authority of science based on science. This doesn’t mean Christians can be irrational and unreasonable in their views, but it does mean our first principle is neither rationality nor reason. We go the Bible to learn about the Bible because to judge the Bible by any other standard would be to make the Bible less than what it claims to be. As J. I. Packer wrote more than fifty years ago when facing similar challenges, “Scripture itself is alone competent to judge our doctrine of Scripture.”[2]

There are many good books, some accessible and some technical, that thoughtfully explain and defend the canon of Scripture and the reliability of Scripture. I’ve listed several of them in the appendix. If you have doubts about how the books of the Bible proved to be self-authenticating, or doubts about the historical accuracy of the Bible, or doubts about the ancient biblical manuscripts, by all means study the is­sues for yourself. The claims of orthodox Christianity have no reason to avoid hard evidence and nothing to fear from a detailed examination of the facts.

But my conviction, born out of experience and derived from the teaching of Scripture itself, is that the most effec­tive means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is committed to working through the word. God promises to bless the reading and teaching of his word. The sheep will hear their Master’s voice speaking to them in the word (cf. John 10:27). In other words, the word of God is more than enough to accomplish the work of God in the people of God. There is no better way to understand and come to embrace a biblical doctrine of Scripture than to open the cage and let Scripture out.

Notes

1. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible by any definition (if we care to look at chapters, which, we should remember, aren’t inspired divisions). Determining the longest book of the Bible is a little trickier. Psalms is the longest book of the Bible if you count chapters or verses. It also takes up the most pages in our English Bibles. But since chapters, verses, and page numbers are not a part of the original manuscripts, scholars have come up with other ways to determine the length of an individual book. Depending on the means of calculation, Jeremiah, Genesis, and Ezekiel may be longer than Psalms.

2. J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958), 76.

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