Is the Bible Really Written for YOU?

One of the important tenets of correct biblical interpretation is the understanding that every book of the Bible was written by a human author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to a specific audience, with specific circumstances, at a particular place and time in history. So, to use an extreme example to make the point, when the apostle Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:13, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas,” that is not a command for every reader of their Bible to look for Paul’s cloak he left in Troas at Carpus’ house. It’s easy to know that with verses about brining cloaks left behind. It’s much harder when talking about other things.

So skilled and prudent and truthful biblical interpretation learns to contextualize the Bible. We need to learn to correctly distinguish between (1) the immediate historical context in which a particular book of the Bible was written and (2) the universal, timeless principles of God’s commands and promises to his people today.

That said, we should not allow the contextual, cultural, historical separation between the Bible’s immediate recipients and us to somehow diminish the fact that the Bible—ALL of the Bible—is God’s very word to US. In the infinite wisdom of God, he inspired human authors to write his Holy Spirit inspired word not only to people thousands of years ago, but also he inspired the Bible to be his Spirit-empowered word to us today—not specifically written TO us, but particularly written FOR us (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

This is clear from the teaching of Jesus. When he spoke to people in his day, it was anywhere from 1,400 to 400 years after what we call the Old Testament was written, depending upon which part of the Bible he was quoting. And much of the Bible Jesus quoted was written 1,400 years before the people of his day. That’s some significantly distant separation, not much different than the 1,900 plus years of separation we have today with the time the New Testament was written.

And yet, Jesus believed and taught the people of his day to believe that when God spoke in the Bible, he was speaking particularly and truthfully and purposefully to them—even if in a text written as much as 1,400 years beforehand to different people at a different time in different circumstances. A good example of this is when Jesus was speaking to skeptics in his day who were challenging his teachings about a future resurrection from death for all people. Here’s how Jesus handled that challenge—by rebuking them for not listening to and believing what God had already told them in his written word.

Notice what Jesus said…
“But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32 TNIV). What Jesus was quoting was God speaking specifically to Moses some 1,400 beforehand. In Exodus 3:6, God speaks to Moses from the burning bush, saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” But Jesus said directly to the people of his day, before quoting what God said 1,400 years beforehand to Moses, “Have you not read what God said to you.” So, although historically God was talking to Moses some 1,400 years prior to the lives of these people to whom Jesus was talking, Jesus believed and taught that God was, in fact, also speaking to them.

Jesus had a high view of the Bible being the very words of God to us (the “us” of any day and age and culture). Keep in mind that Jesus was God himself in human flesh, so what Jesus believed and taught is the exact way God himself sees it, and wants us to see it too. I think that’s a very important view of the Bible we must always keep in mind if we want our lives to be lived according to the wisdom and purpose of God.

And notice another thing in this verse, something that Jesus repeats many times in his teaching. Jesus directly confronts them for WHY they do not understand certain truths—they have not read or believed what God has already told them in his word. They had the Bible. They just didn’t read it, or perhaps they didn’t believe what they read. God spoke, but they wouldn’t listen. It’s not that they actively rebelled as much as passively ignored. To Jesus, the results were the same.

He rebuked them by saying, “Have you not read what God said to you?” The Greek (the language our New Testament was originally written in) is even more direct: ουκ ανεγνωτε το ρηθεν υμιν υπο του θεου λεγοντος (literally: “Have you not read what was said to you all by God, saying…”). I think it’s a fascinating way of looking at the Bible—as what was said to us all by God, saying….

In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus said that same phrase five times (see also Matt. 12:3, 5; 19:14; 21:42). It was one of his favorite admonitions to a religious people who still did not really believe what God had already said to them. I wonder if that’s something Jesus would say to us today, …a lot?

By the way, in our upcoming Discovery Class, the very first lesson on January 28th, I’ll talk about why and how we can trust that the Bible really is God’s words to us.

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