Why did God write a book? By that, I mean why did God inspire authors to write documents which make up a compilation we call The Holy Bible? What were God’s purposes in doing that? Obviously, He had reasons of some sort. All authors write books for reasons. For example, when I sat down to write Inference To The One True God, my purpose was to give arguments for why belief in the Christian God is warranted as opposed to any other so-called deity. In my book A Hellacious Doctrine, my purpose was to establish that God’s love and justice aren’t incompatible with The Bible’s teachings on Hell. My purpose in Inference To The One True God wasn’t to tell my readers about agriculture, or whether abortion is morally permissible, or what the health benefits of a glucose-free diet are or are not. I had a specifically stated purpose: to give reasons to believe that The God of The Bible exists, and by extension, The Bible’s truth, and by even further extension, Christianity’s truth.
Likewise, The Bible’s divine author (God) had a purpose for inspiring the authors of the 66 books and letters which comprise it. It’s important that we know an author’s purpose for writing because if we don’t, we may wrongly accuse him of error, or criticize him for not talking about something or mentioning something in his work. If we don’t know an author’s reason for writing, we may also have unreasonable expectations which, if not met, will cause us to be disappointed or to doubt the author’s credibility.
Through reflection on this subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that God had 3 reasons for inspiring the 66 books and letters which comprise The Holy Bible.
1: To Teach Us Theology
The most obvious reason God inspired The Bible was to reveal to us truths about Himself. Through The Bible, we learn that God is omnipotent (see Genesis 18:14, Job 42:1-2, Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37), omniscient (see Job 34:21, 1 John 3:20, Proverbs 15:3, Psalm 147:5, Psalm 139:1-4), omnipresent (see Psalm 139:7-12, Joshua 1:9, Jeremiah 23:24, Acts 17:27), morally perfect (see Deuteronomy 32:4, 1 John 1:5), all loving 1: John 4:8, John 3:16), and so on.
We learn that God is a Trinity from the inference of 5 biblical facts: 1) There is only one God (see Isaiah 44:8, Isaiah 45:5, Isaiah 43:10, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 Timothy 2:5), that 2) The Father is God (1 Corinthians 4:8), that 3: Jesus is God (see John 1:1-3, 14, John 10:30, Isaiah 9:6, Philippians 2:5-8, Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1), that 4: The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4), and 5: That The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons (as evident from the fact that Jesus often talks to the Father, that John 1 said the Word was with God, that Jesus said He would send The Holy Spirit when He Himself departed in John 14:26, etc.).
We learn that Jesus’ death on the cross was to pay for our sins in passages like Isaiah 53, 1 John 2:2, Romans 4:25, and 1 Peter 3:18. Moreover, Romans 4:25 tells us that not only did Jesus die to bring us justification, but He was resurrected from the dead as well. Jesus’ resurrection was part of His atoning work.
So, theological truths, doctrine, is why God inspired The Bible. The Bible was written so that man would know He is a sinner who has broken God’s laws, and that God became incarnate, took the punishment on his behalf, and will apply that shed blood if he only places his faith in Him. The Bible was written so that we would know what God is like, who God wants to save, who Jesus died for, and much more.
2: To Teach Us History
The Bible was also written to teach us history. Now, not all of The Bible’s books were written for this purpose (e.g Proverbs, Psalms), but undoubtedly many fall into the historical genre. For example, most scholars agree that the 4 gospels fall into the genre known as “Greco-Roman Biographies”, which is to say that they’re written to chronicle the events of a person’s life (in this case, Jesus’). The books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, etc. are also universally agreed by theologians to fall in the historical genre. These are records of events that happened in space and time.
One of God’s purpose in having His chosen authors accurately record history is that much of Christian theology rests on historical events having taken place. For example, if the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus did not actually occur in time and space, the entire Christian faith crumbles (see 1 Corinthians 15:4). If you don’t have a historical death and resurrection, you don’t have an atonement for mankind’s sins (Romans 4:25). Thankfully, the historical evidence is strong that Jesus did die on a cross and did subsequently rise from the dead (see “A Quick Case For Jesus’ Resurrection”).
Moreover, almost anyone would admit that history can be learned from, even secular history. That’s why they say “If people don’t learn history, they will be doomed to repeat it”. We can learn from the lives of Moses, Samuel, David, The Apostles. For example, every time I read about the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness, and how they complained and distrusted God, how they accused Moses on more than one occasion of leading them out there to die, and so on, and how God never fails to provide for them, I am reminded that God is faithful. He will do what He says He will do. He will never leave us nor forsake us. I take a lesson from that. In the wanderings through the wilderness we call “life”, we should trust God to take care of us. Often times, many of us find ourselves in the same position as the complaining Israelites.
Moreover, the historical narratives strung together tell a specific story: the story of God’s mission to rescue the world from Sin. It starts in the garden of Eden and climaxes in the death and resurrection of Jesus. “It is accomplished” (John 19:30) And now history continues, as followers of Christ spread all over the globe to tell others the way to salvation (Matthew 28:19).
3: To Teach Us Morality
Obviously, God wants us to live moral lives. If He didn’t, He would not have given us The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), or told us “Be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16, cf. Leviticus 11:44, Leviticus 20:7), or “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). God wants us to live holy and upright lives. He wants us to produce the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, (Galatians 5:22:23) rather than the fruits of the flesh (i.e sinful nature) which are sexual immorality, drunkneness, outbursts of anger, hatred, idolatry, discord, factions, witchcraft, envy, orgies, etc. (Galatians 5:19-21).
God tells us what is right and wrong in The Bible, and He commands us to choose the right and refrain from the wrong. Now, of course, we can know right from wrong in many areas without scripture, as Romans 2:14-15 tells us that God wrote an awareness of morality on our hearts, but not everything can be read of “The Moral Law”. For example, in Romans 7:7, Paul says that if The Old Testament scriptures hadn’t told him that coveting was wrong, he would have never known it was wrong. I can say the same thing about looking at women with lust. If Jesus hadn’t told me that it was wrong in Matthew 5:28, I would probably do it and think nothing of it. I also probably wouldn’t think to get drunk was a sin had various verses in The Bible said so. I would think it unwise to get drunk, but not morally wrong. Crossing the street without looking both ways is unwise, but it’s not a sin.
4? To Teach Us Science?
The 3 purposes God had for inspiring The Bible’s documents will be uncontroversial for any orthodox Christian believer. I think any Christian reading this would be in full agreement with me that doctrine, history, and morality are reasons that God wrote The Bible. We could probably include wisdom as well, given that that’s the explicitly stated purpose of the book of Proverbs, but one may possibly put that under the morality category. I don’t know, it’s up to you whether you think Wisdom fall under category number 3 or stands as its own category.
Anyway, there is a split in the church today over whether God intended His authors to convey accurate scientific information. By that, I mean that many Christians (in fact, I’d be willing to say most) believe that whenever a Bible passage makes reference to the natural world, the way it talks about it should correspond to the way the world really is. They think that if The Bible taught some scientifically ludicrous idea such as the Earth is flat or that the sky consists of a solid dome, then The Bible is in error and therefore not divinely inspired. The Christians would call themselves “Concordists” as they believe The Bible must be in concord with what science says about the universe.
However, we need to ask two questions: first: what is the definition of biblical inerrancy. Secondly: what would constitute an error.
My definition of inerrancy is this: “The Bible is inerrant in everything that it intends to teach.” If The Bible did not intend to teach something, then if the authors got it wrong when talking about that something, then inerrancy isn’t undermined. So, for me, I would accuse The Bible to be in error if it got it wrong in any of the three categories stated above: Theology, History, and Morality. I would also consider it to be in error if it got it wrong in describing cosmology IF God intended to teach the recipients of His book cosmology. However, if that wasn’t His goal, then no problem.
|Depiction Of Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology and
the biblical passages that correspond to it.
I am not a concordist. I am an accommodationist. I believe God did not intend to teach the Israelites Cosmology. In fact, the more I think about the idea of God conveying absolutely perfect scientific information in scripture, the less sense it actually makes. Here’s why I say it doesn’t make sense. I go back to that one question: “Why did God decide to write a book?” Was God really interested in teaching the ancient Israelites how the cosmos functioned? Was that really on His list of priorities? Did it matter to him whether they believed the Earth is a sphere or is flat? Did it matter to Him whether or not they believed the sky was solid? What was God’s purpose for writing a book? I think 3 reasons given above make perfect sense, but it makes no sense to think teaching them accurate cosmology and physiology was even on His to-do list.
For one thing: God has foreknowledge (Psalm 139:1-4). He knew we would figure out the truth about the universe eventually through the rigorous scientific method. It would have been redundant to tell us in His Word. God may have thought to Himself “There’s no need to correct my Peoples’ faulty cosmology. Humanity will figure it all out on their own in time. Besides, a lot of this would just confuse them anyway, and I already have a tough time getting them to trust what I say. Overturning their entire cosmological system with something foreign to their thinking would just be counterproductive. I’ll just use the cosmology they think is true to get my theological points across. ”
On this view, God accommodated (hence the name) the scientific understanding of his original recipients to teach truths about Himself. I resisted this view for a long time because I thought to affirm that The Bible contained Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology was to affirm that The Bible is not inerrant. But I now see that’s mistaken.
It’s like this: imagine there’s a pastor teaching vacation Bible school, and he wants to teach the children about being charitable. It’s Christmas time and all the kids are talking about Santa’s supposed imminent coming. The pastor talks about Santa Claus and says “Santa Claus travels all over the world delivering lots of toys to good little girls and boys. You know why he does this? Because he’s loving and selfless. He gets nothing out of this global delivery except your joy and happiness. You should strive to be just as charitable and giving as he is”.
Now, the pastor’s point is not that there is actually a person called Santa Claus who delivers presents on Christmas Eve. His point is that the children should be just as charitable as they believe Santa is. In an analogous way, when The Bible says “The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.” (Psalm 93:1, NIV), God’s point is not that the Earth doesn’t move, but that God’s throne (His sovereignty) is as established and unmovable as the ancients believed the Earth was. Just as the pastor could use a false belief of the child’s to teach a moral truth, God used a false scientific belief to teach His initial recipients a theological truth. Neither the pastor nor the Lord could be accused of being in error because the existence of Santa Claus and the immovability of Earth wasn’t what they were trying to teach. Indeed. Neither of them needed to teach such, for the child believed in Santa Claus prior to receiving the teaching. The Israelites believed the Earth was motionless prior to receiving the revelation. The pastor and God simply used false pre-existing beliefs as a springboard to teach something that is true.
Why Did God write a book? To convey the history of his interactions with His people, to convey theological doctrine, and to convey morality. God could have used scripture to teach cosmology, but what motive would He have for doing that? I can’t find any motive. He knew we would figure it out on our own anyway, so why tell us thousands of years in advanced? One can have a spiritually fulfilling life and a strong relationship with God even if they’re the most scientifically ignorant person of all time, so why would correct cosmology be a priority at all? Moreover, one could argue that concepts like evolution, a spherical earth, a non-solid sky, would have just confused them at best, and made them distrustful of this God didn’t know anything about their “correct” science at worst.
Of all the motives I can find for God to write a book, cosmology isn’t one of them. I can’t think of a single reason God would have to want to correct the ancient Israelites cosmology via divine revelation.
So, if God’s book doesn’t describe the world properly (and it doesn’t), I don’t find blame God. Teaching cosmology wasn’t one of Scripture’s purposes. Getting mad at God for not teaching cosmology would be like getting mad at me for not teaching quantum physics in A Hellacious Doctrine. Quantum Physics wasn’t why I wrote the book.
“The Bible shows the way to go to Heaven, not the way the heavens go.” – Galileo Galilei1
“I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption” – Billy Graham 2
1: Galileo Galilei, . (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved August 15, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/galileogal381320.html
2: Source Book: Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man, 1997. p. 72-74