We don't need the Bible to know God and grow in God... Or do we?

Within modern Christianity you will hear some claim that they don't really need the Bible to know God or experience Jesus because the Holy Spirit is all they really need.  I'm sure believers throughout history who have struggled to get and keep copies of God's word are rolling over in their graves at this thought.  Why is it that a generation that has unprecedented access to Scriptures and incredible ease of owning a personal copy is now so casually dismissing it?

In defense of their idea, a claim is often proffered that sounds like this: "Throughout much of history believers didn't have access to all of the Bible, let alone personal copies of it, and God worked in and through them."  In fact, many point to the early centuries of the church, before all the books of the New Testament were fully circulated in all parts of the church and the canon recognized as being complete.

While I truly believe a primary motivation behind many of these claims is a modern desire to base Christianity on feelings ("I feel the Holy Spirit teaching me that this is what I should do") versus actually reading, knowing, and obeying what God has clearly instructed, I do want to address their "proof" regarding a lack of Scriptures for earlier believers.

The church has always had all the Scriptures it needed.  As God's progressive revelation even the Jews did not have all of it through much of their history, but more was given (by God) as they needed it and what they had was expounded upon and augmented by authenticated prophets (sent by God), sometimes with messages only specific to their time (not to become part of Scriptures for all history). 

Moving to Christianity, the earliest believers had the direct and immediate words of Jesus and the divinely guided instruction of the apostles who repeated the words of Jesus.  But these authenticated apostles did not do this in a vacuum.  Evidence shows that the early New Testament church had widespread access to Scriptures, especially the Old Testament. The Jewish believers heard it regularly in their synagogues and at the temple.  Further, this practice had providentially already been carried throughout the Roman world into synagogues scattered throughout major Roman centers.  It should be no surprise that it was these scattered Jews and Gentile adherents to Judaism that were the first to embrace the message of the apostles (see the book of Acts).  Significant figures such as Apollos and Timothy where specifically identified as those who knew Scriptures from a young age or were well versed in it (2 Timothy 3:15; Acts 18:24) and continued to use it to teach (Acts 18:28; 2 Timothy 4:2-4).

The churches who received the first portions of the New Testament, as given them by the Apostles, were quick to recognize and embrace these additions to God's word, sharing and copying them.  Nowhere do you have evidence of believers saying, "We don't need more, we were okay with only the books we had before," let alone "we don't need Scriptures at all - the Holy Spirit will teach us."  Repeatedly evidence shows that they were eager to hear more of God's word and to copy it and circulate it so others could too.

Jesus, himself, appealed to God's written word, repeatedly claiming people were in error because they did not know Scriptures (Matthew 21:42; 22:29; 26:54; Mark 12:24; 14:49) and showing that it was by Scriptures people would know that He was the Christ (Luke 24:27, 32, 45; John 5:39).

It's misleading to think that the Bible just popped on the scene in the third or fourth centuries A.D.  True it took a while for every book to be circulated, authenticated, and accepted by all regions of the church, but these churches had, and used, scriptures all along.  This is why Peter could refer to Paul's writings as scriptures at such an early time (2 Peter 3:16).  Even the Book of Revelation, which was one of the last to be recognized by the Eastern Church, had been dispersed widely throughout the western church where it was first circulated.

While cost may have severely limited how much of Scriptures a private individual might have personally possessed - through many lands and timeframes - this cannot be construed as saying they didn't have scriptures or that scriptures were unimportant to them.  In fact, this made meeting together all the more important and having elders faithfully teaching the word (see 1 Timothy 4:13) - often utilizing the single copy the church possessed - and, as necessary, translating it into their local language for better understanding. Obviously the need for understanding scriptures led to very early written translation into languages such as Syriac, Coptic, and Old Latin by as early as the second century, even as the Old Testament had been translated into Greek prior to the time of Christ, already preparing for the widespread distribution of it that the early church would build on.  This need of written Scriptures still drives the church today, to make it available in all the remaining languages on earth.

Likewise, a lack of personally available of written Scriptures fueled a desire to memorize it - all so the believer would live a life that was pleasing to God (Psalms 119:11).  This led to incorporating sections of Scriptures into easily memorable songs, including fully singing Psalms and other key passages (Colossians 3:16). 

History bears witness that the Holy Spirit does not teach a believer to avoid Scriptures but to hunger for it!  The hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) that brings us to Christ, continues to drive us to know all we can about Him and what God wants for us - not in subjective way but in the objectiveness that is found in God's complete, sufficient, and revealed word.  That God made sure that all of it is available to His church today and so readily available to each of us personally, testifies how more this "adulterous (James 4:4; Matthew 16:4)" generation needs it to stay focused on Him.

While the Holy Spirit is said to guide us into all truth (John 16:13), the means by which God does this is clearly established: God uses Scriptures to correct and teach us, even as He uses it to sanctify us (make us holy).  Trying to do it any other way is to reject the truth of what God has established (and proves that the Holy Spirit is not behind it).

2 Timothy 3:16-17   All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (NIV)

John 17:17   Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  (NIV)


By Brent MacDonald/LTM 2014