What Is the Bible?

What Is the Bible?  Hero Image What Is the Bible?  Hero Image

You could be reading this article for a bunch of reasons. Maybe you are a Christian and hold a high regard for the Bible, even reading it daily, but you want to learn more about what the Bible is and how it should continue to affect you. Maybe you are not a Christian, and the title made you curious, as you have never heard a Christian talk about their “holy book.” There is a big difference between these audiences, but to both I say this: the Bible is far more than you think it is. Before you read on, ask yourself: “What is the Bible?” Write down or remember your answer. Then, let me try to answer that myself.

What the Bible Is Not:

To start, let’s talk about what the Bible is not before talking about what it is. The Bible is not a divine rule book. It is not merely a code of ethics for people to follow to have eternal life. This would actually miss what Jesus’s point was in John 5:39 when He rebukes the Pharisees for “searching the Scriptures for eternal life” as they missed how the Bible witnessed to Jesus Himself! The Bible is not just a series of laws or a self-help guide to follow; it is a witness to Jesus Christ’s work in God’s mission to save sinners.

Further, the Bible did not “drop out of the sky” from God. Humans were also involved in its creation. 2 Peter 1:21 makes this clear. In Scripture, “…men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The Bible is marked by human personalities in its writing because God divinely inspired men to write exactly what both He wanted and what they wanted.

What the Bible Is:

So, what, then, is the Bible? Every person everywhere could agree that it is a literary masterpiece of the ancient world. It is beautiful. It is complex. It is completely unmatched in scope, grandeur, and unity of message. Consider some basic facts about the Bible:

  • It is one literary collection of 66 works (or “books”), put together in two major movements: the Old and New Testaments.
  • It was written over the span of 1,500 years.
  • Originally, it was written in at least three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
  • It is penned by God’s inspiration of 40+ authors.
  • It holds one unified, redemptive message: God is reconciling sinful mankind to Himself through the work of Jesus Christ.

Now, Christians believe a little more about the Bible than the facts above. Consider this technical definition that we’ve used on our Equipping Podcast before:

Scripture is both a fully divine and fully human book, designed to serve the Living Word’s ongoing ministry of creating, establishing, sustaining, and perfecting covenant fellowship with God the Father through God the Son by God the Holy Spirit. It is the Triune God’s self-revelation through His authorized and commissioned servants, which comes to us progressively in redemptive history that is fulfilled/centered in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2).

That definition is very dense, so let’s simplify it with just three easy words: Scripture is revelation, it is redemptive, and it is readable.

Scripture is Revelation

For many, “revelation” makes people think of the last book of the Bible that has all the crazy imagery. While that’s true, the word “revelation,” is also used theologically about how God reveals Himself to mankind. Scripture is God’s self-revelation. He speaks about Himself with inspired, “God-breathed” words (2 Timothy 3:16) through human authors. God’s breathed-out words are wholly true, and Jesus prays that His disciples would be sanctified in this truth (John 17:17). Thus, Scripture is God revealing Himself—truthfully— so we can know Him rightly by how He describes Himself and His works in the world.

Think about it: It is absolutely incredible that the God who created all things—not limited by time, power, wisdom, or glory—chose to reveal Himself to us minor, created beings! God “condescends,” lowering Himself to even use our human languages in revealing His great majesty and beauty to us. This “condescension” is like when adults speak in “baby talk” to babies. We throw away “proper grammar” to talk in ways that babies handle. God does that with us, meeting us in our frailty. The one who transcends us becomes knowable to us through His Word. We find Him chiefly in Scripture, and He is revealed rightly and truly, though not necessarily fully. We know God by His self-revelation in Scripture.

Scripture is Redemptive

God’s Word is also “redemptive” in that it communicates God’s work of redeeming sinful mankind to Himself despite the curse of sin that has affected us. Four key movements in Scripture outline this “redemptive” arc in history. Genesis 1-2 shows us God's first movement: “Creation.” God creates the universe and everything in it, specifically forming man in His own image. But, the second movement of Genesis 3, called the “Fall,” has implications all the way through the Old Testament and into the Gospels. Man and woman sinned, which alienated them from God and warranted the penalty of eternal death. From the third chapter of the Bible, things look grim for mankind.

However, two sweet words stick out in places like Ephesians 2:4-10: “But, God…” These come close in summing up the Bible’s third movement, “Redemption,” because they cut against the Fall’s effects and tell us God’s solution for sin: Jesus Christ’s incarnation, obedient life, undeserving death, and bodily resurrection on behalf of those who faithfully repent of sin. By the person and work of Christ, God redeems mankind and restores them to Himself. Lastly, the Bible’s fourth movement is “New Creation.” Many places in the Bible allude to this, but Revelation 21-22 ties a bow around Scripture’s redemptive arc and tells us how our story ends. This New Creation is our hope that what is wrong with the world will soon be restored and last for the rest of time. Sin and death will never mark the Christian again once Christ returns. Christians will be with God forever, without the curse of sin and death, and share in unspeakable joy with Him that is beyond all comprehension. The Bible is redemptive because it traces man from creation to sin and then to redemption and even new creation. This is our story in the gospel, for the Bible tells us so.

Scripture is Readable

Lastly, Scripture is “readable.” In a day where we have instant access to Scripture in our homes and on our phones, it seems silly to say that Scripture is “readable.” But this is an important point. Scripture is called “readable” because it is written with such clarity that anyone can understand, believe, and obey it. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says this by calling Scripture “profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Though even the apostle Peter says that Scripture can be difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16), it is abundantly clear in its primary message of redemption, which can be understood even when other parts are complex. One Christian from the 5th Century, Augustine, said this about Scripture’s clarity:

The Holy Spirit, therefore, has generously planned Holy Scripture in such a way that in the easier passages He relieves our hunger; in the more obscure He drives away our pride. Practically nothing is dug out from those obscure texts which is discovered to be said very plainly in another place. (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, II. 6 [8])

I confess, Scripture is very difficult in many places! But, as Augustine reminds us, these complex places humble us as interpreters and point us to the whole counsel of God and teachers in the church to understand the hard parts. Then, in the rest of the Bible, God “relieves our hunger” by giving us beautifully clear passages, like about how Christ has come to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15). Scripture is truly “readable,” and should be read often to know and love God in light of His self-revelation and redemptive purpose.


The Bible is far more than we think it is. It is God’s special revelation of Himself, in His works and words, to redeem sinful man and recount His deeds to many across times and places. It is God’s living and active “Word” (i.e., Scripture; Hebrews 4:12) that rightly confronts mankind in our sinfulness and points us toward life in the “Word” who became flesh (i.e., Jesus Christ; John 1:1, 14). The Bible is God’s gift to men to respond rightly to Him for His glory and man’s good. Let us read it with joy as it points us to our God!

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