If someone comes to us claiming to speak for God, how could we ever know whether they’re telling the truth? Today, Barry Cooper shows why God’s written Word is absolutely necessary if we are to know the life-giving truth of His Son.
At the risk of sounding ungrateful, is Scripture really necessary?
I think if we’re honest, some of us are a bit embarrassed by it. Isn’t it silly to claim that something as commonplace as a book actually contains God’s words? If God really is God, couldn’t He just communicate with human beings in a less run-of-the-mill way?
He certainly could. The Bible itself gives plenty of examples: God speaks to people by means of dreams, visions, angels—even, on one significant occasion, from a burning bush. He also “speaks” to individuals by means of their consciences (Rom. 2:15), by hardwiring us with a deep inner hunger for Him (Eccl. 3:11), even by determining where and when in history we live (Acts 17:26–27). He “speaks” through all creation, as Psalm 19 and Romans 1 make clear. He constantly “speaks” to us of His goodness by providing for us, regardless of whether we love Him or not (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17). And He still guides His people by means of His Holy Spirit.
But if we were to hear a voice speaking directly to us, a voice claiming to be God Himself, how would we know it was God speaking and not just indigestion, our own desires, or something worse?
The Apostle John addresses this in 1 John 4 verse 1:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.
The way we “test the spirits” is to measure everything against God’s written Word. If any voice chafes against Scripture at any point, then according to Scripture it shouldn’t be treated as being “from God.”
That’s the first reason why Scripture is necessary. It gives us a supreme court in which to weigh up every human claim to be speaking or acting with God’s authority.
But there’s a second reason Scripture is necessary. Writing is the natural way to preserve God’s words for present and future generations. The Ten Commandments are described as having been “inscribed by the finger of God,” and when the stone tablets were smashed by Moses—in a fit of anger at Israel’s idolatry—God immediately took steps to replace them. Why? Because writing was the way God carefully protected His words so that in future they would not be lost, changed, distorted, or forgotten. As He says to Moses at one point: “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered” (Ex. 17:14).
Similarly, there’s a wonderful moment in Psalm 102 where the psalmist says: “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” (v. 18). If you’re a follower of Jesus, or you’re soon to become one, that’s why Scripture is necessary—that you would know of all the Lord has done and enjoy praising Him for it.
Scripture is necessary for us. And there’s no reason to be embarrassed or suspicious of that fact. After all, words don’t become less authoritative because they’re written rather than spoken. In fact, when you think about it, the reverse is true. The most important statements human beings make—whether they be legally binding contracts or lyrical expressions of love—are most often written down, at least when we intend them to be powerful and lasting.
Thirdly, God ensured that His words were preserved in writing because they are a matter of life and death. Eternal life and eternal death.
At one point in Jesus’ life, many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. Looking at the twelve disciples who were closest to Him, He asked: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” And Peter, so often the spokesman for the group, said this:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68)
Jesus has the words of eternal life. Now, that’s wonderful for those living in Palestine two thousand years ago—those who could listen to him speaking in the flesh—but what about us? How can we know what His words were? Is eternal life eternally lost to us because we were born too late to hear them?
Thank God that isn’t the case. These “words of eternal life” have been preserved for us. The Bible itself is explicit about this:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31)
That’s the necessity of Scripture. God has preserved His Word so that we ourselves might be preserved. He wants us to have life, as we meet the source of all life—Jesus Himself—in Scripture.