The Bible: A Stumbling Block

The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” (Galatians 3:8)

Here is a most curious case of personification. In the Genesis account, it was God who spoke to Abraham, but in this verse, it is said that the Scripture – that is, the Bible, the book itself – spoke to Abraham. The word “Scripture” refers to something written, but even if what God said was immediately committed to written form, it was not in written form when he said it. Yet here it is said that the Scripture uttered the promise to Abraham.

Two divine characteristics are attributed to Scripture. First, Paul writes that the Scripture “foresaw” something. And notice the apostle makes a distinction between the Scripture and God – the Bible foresaw that God would do something. But was it not God who foresaw what he himself would do? The personification is total. He refers to the Bible as something that is alive, personal, and divine. Second, Paul writes that the Scripture announced, or preached, the gospel to Abraham. The promise came from God himself. This was not a statement related by a servant or messenger, but the initial pronouncement of the promise. God was the one who did it, and only God could do it. But here it says that the Bible did it.

Four inferences are drawn from this. First, one of the essential principles of the Christian faith is that, for many intents and purposes, God and Scripture are interchangeable. For example, God and Scripture should be considered identical in truth and in authority. Second, in many contexts, it is entirely appropriate to refer to Scripture as we would refer to God. In fact, this should be expected, even outright demanded, from all Christians. It should be natural to say, “The Bible commands you…,” “The Bible forbids you…,” or “The Bible predicts that….” We must be suspicious of a person if, from an analysis of his statements, we find a deliberate and consistent distinction between God and Scripture. Third, a formulation or application of the doctrine of Scripture that does not incur the accusation of bibliolatry from some quarters probably falls short of the Bible’s own estimation of itself, and is thus unworthy of affirmation. Fourth, if the Scripture can possess divine foreknowledge and make divine pronouncements, then it can be slandered and blasphemed. Any statement made about the Bible that fails to identify it with God’s very own truth, knowledge, and authority must be regarded as slander and blasphemy. The offender must be treated accordingly – that is, he must be removed from all church offices, interrogated before the church, and without complete retraction and repentance, expelled from all church premises and relations.

We realize that the Bible’s message offends non-Christians. But the very form of its existence is also a stumbling block to them. If they were to believe in God at all, they would not expect him to speak through the Bible, that is, through a book. Naaman said that he thought Elisha would come out to him, call upon his God, and wave his hand over his leprosy and cure him. Of course God could do it this way, although he did not give Naaman what he expected. But a wise servant reasoned with Naaman, so that he submitted to the prophet’s instructions and was healed. Now non-Christians expect God to cause a hand to appear and write a message before them, or to speak from heaven in a thundering voice. Or, they expect Christ to appear in a blinding light, saying, “Fool, Fool, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” What? “I mean it is hard for you to keep hitting your head against the wall.”

God had, indeed, done all these things, and contrary to many theologians, he could still do them if he wants. There is nothing in the Bible to guarantee us that he would always comply with the doctrine of cessationism. Nevertheless, in most cases the truth of Jesus Christ does not reach men by what they regard as spectacular ways. Instead, God hands them a book, and in effect, says, “Read it. Believe it and live. Disbelieve it and burn in hell.” This is very difficult, even impossible, for non-Christians to accept. God designed this hindrance to expose those who are destined for hellfire, and to exclude them from eternal life. It is not that the divinity of the Bible is hidden, but that sinners are blind to it. As Jesus said, if someone refused to believe Moses, then he would refuse to believe even if a person were to return from the dead to speak to him. Men’s refusal to hear the risen Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of this. But God awakens the intelligence of his chosen ones to perceive the Bible’s wisdom and power, and to realize that the book is identical to the voice of God.

The Bible told Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, and that through him all kinds of people would be blessed. The promise was never meant to be fulfilled by the flesh, but by the power of God. It was never meant to come in the way that Ishmael came, but in the way that Isaac came. All nations would be blessed because through Abraham, Christ would be born, and his gospel would spread throughout the whole earth, converting multitudes to the truth, saving them from sin and hell, and ensuring them their place in heaven. They would be united by this one promise that came through Abraham. Whether Jew or non-Jew, male or female, rich or poor, they would be united – blessed by one promise – by their common faith in Jesus Christ.