If I were to ask several different Christians the question, “What is the Bible,” I am likely to receive several different answers. One particular answer I have heard often of late and has gotten me thinking is that the Bible is God’s instruction book for us. On the face of it, I cannot totally disagree. Scripture certainly does contain a wealth of knowledge and wisdom pertaining to our lives and happiness. 2Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Teaching, reproof, correction, and training certainly fit into the idea of an instruction book. However, I am convinced this simplified explanation sells short, misses the mark, and grossly distorts what the Bible is.
As 2 Timothy 3:16 states, the Bible, or scripture is “breathed out by God.” It is first and foremost the word of God. Far from an instruction manual, the “word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), while an instruction manual seems dead and lifeless. No, the Bible is far more than an instruction manual for Christians. The Bible is a story. It is the story of God’s redemptive plan for His called out people, His remnant. It is the story of God working out His plan of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, through the course of history beginning with creation and Adam to the birth of Jesus in first-century Israel, His atoning death on the cross, and resurrection through the building of His church in this generation and up to Christ’s marvelous return at the consummation of history when the Lord establishes His eternal Kingdom. It is the most wonderful story ever told. More than that, the Bible is first about God and who He is and what He has done for us.
In my personal study of Galatians over the past several months, I have been struck by Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:8, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’” Here Paul ascribes the abilities of foresight and preaching to Scripture, tying in God’s promise of Genesis 12:3 to the gospel of Christ, which is the common thread weaving through the entire Bible. The Gospel is present in Genesis!
My challenge to all of us is not to over-simplify our understanding of Scripture. It is not just an instruction manual, though I understand the desire behind this explanation. I have my daily to-do list. In our Sunday school class this past week, our elder, Justin, commented that our temptation, or desire, as Christians is for a checklist that we can carry around to make sure we are doing the right things. But Scripture rarely makes it that easy because it is so much more than an instruction manual. Don’t get me wrong, there is much clear instruction in the Bible as to how we are to live for God. But, when the Bible is understood as the story of God’s working out throughout history His plan of redemption for a people to Himself, the genealogies, prophetic literature, Leviticus, and the Psalms will all make more sense to us in our daily living and application of Scripture to our lives. As children of God, we have the most remarkable privilege and joy to enter into this great story for the Lord’s glory and His purposes.