[Editor’s Note: This guest blogpost is by Stephen J. Nichols, President of Reformation Bible College and Chief Academic Officer of Ligonier Ministries, Sanford, Florida.
Reformation Trust, the publishing ministry of Ligonier, has thoroughly revised the Reformation Study Bible (2015) with more than 20,000 study notes and commentary by 75 scholars under the leadership of Dr. R. C. Sproul, who says, “By presenting a modern restatement of biblical, Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes, the Reformation Study Bible (2015) aims to carry on the legacy of the Geneva Bible in shining forth the light of biblical Christianity, which was recovered in the Reformation.”
The Reformation Study Bible (2015) study notes are available on Bible Gateway by tapping the “STUDY THIS” blue box on the Bible passage search result pages.]
A recent op-ed column in The New York Times attempted to make the point that the Bible is rather obsolete; that the Bible reflects the views of an ancient world, and that we now know better.
There is nothing new, really, in this argument. At the beginnings of the 20th century, similar arguments were made based on science in the wake of Darwin and his views on origins. What we had thought about human origins, based on the Bible, needed to be rethought based on the advances in science, based on what we now know.
We can even go back further still to find challenges to God’s Word. In fact, if we are looking for the first time God’s Word was challenged we have to go all the way back to the beginning, back to the Garden of Eden and the Serpent’s challenge laid before Eve.
There really is nothing new to challenges to God’s Word.
So here we are, in the 21st century and in the wake of developments in the social sciences, being told that again we now know better than what the Bible has to say.
Paul knew of challenges to God’s Word in his own day. He knew his Old Testament quite well enough to know of the challenges to God’s Word in centuries previous to his own. In order to steel his young churches and their congregants he took to reminding them, in his Epistles, of what they were reading when they were reading God’s Word.
Paul opens his first letter to the church at Thessalonica with rather fond reminiscences of his time there, and of how they turned from the gods of their age to the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9). Paul remembers how he poured his life into theirs, and he remembers the message that he gave them. So Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV):
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
There were plenty “words of men” in Paul’s day. These were the Romans with their Greek heritage. They loved novel ideas, new systems of thought. They debated. They shot down the old ideas. They were always looking to the promise of something new.
But what Paul and his fellow Apostles and authors of the New Testament had to offer was not some novel, cleverly crafted scheme. As Paul says, the message he preached, and the message the Thessalonian believers received, was the Word of God. It really was the Word of God.
Because it is the Word of God it is powerful enough to do two things. It is powerful enough to have opened the eyes of those Thessalonian believers to the truth. And it is powerful enough to be “at work” in them.”
To put the matter differently, the Bible is the only book powerful enough to change lives. And it is powerful enough because it really is the Word of God.
We are living in an age where God’s Word is continuously called into question. Where it is seen as not only unhelpful, but where it is also seen as a source of bigotry, intolerance, and narrow-minded, obsolete thinking.
Can we trust the Bible? That is one question. But we are living in an age where the culture around us is asking, “Can we trust those who read the Bible? Aren’t they dangerous?” That is to say, we will continually feel the pressure from our culture to privatize everything we believe, never speaking out for our beliefs and for our biblical convictions. We will also continually feel the pressure to compromise those beliefs and convictions, if not throw them overboard altogether.
We can have our Bible, but we can’t take it seriously.
Of course, that posture simply won’t work. It could work if we adhered to an ideology or some humanly constructed system of thought. In the 1700s, I could have gotten away with bloodletting as a cure. But that’s not what we are talking about here. Systems of thought, ideologies, views—they all come and go. Some are even useful and helpful. But when we open our Bibles we are engaging something different. We are not listening to the words of men. We are reading the very words of God.
And since the Bible is the Word of God we must take it seriously. We must listen to it and follow it. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ from the previous centuries faced persecution for their biblical convictions. Many of our brothers and sisters from points around the globe today face persecution for their biblical convictions. The time may very likely come for us in the American church to face persecution, as well.
May the words that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians serve to steel us as we face these challenges. May we remember that the Bible really is God’s Word. And may we receive it for what it really is.
BIO: Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is President of Reformation Bible College and Chief Academic Officer of Ligonier Ministries in Sanford, Florida. He is an associate editor of the Reformation Study Bible (2015) and the author of many books, including Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God’s Word and The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World.