The Pony Express was created in 1860 to move mail across the United States from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California (2,000 miles away). The Express was designed to be completed in 10-mile legs, because it was understood that that was as far as a horse could gallop; at full gallop, a horse could go no further than 10 miles. So a rider would ride his horse for 10 miles and at the next stop would dismount and get on another horse, ride another 10 miles, dismount, and so on. A rider would complete seven to ten of those legs before a different rider would take over the work. In that fashion, the mail could get across country, 2,000 miles, in about 10-14 days. This was the mail delivery system. And in order to conserve weight and make the Pony Express system efficient, the riders had to be less than 125 pounds. Saddles had to be very small, kind of economical saddles. The horses' hooves were shod with very lightweight shoes or no shoes at all. The mail that was sent had to be very, very thin, and people were charged exorbitant mailing rates. Riders were allowed to carry only a few small provisions with them. Yet for all of the concern that the Pony Express had for weight conservation, every single one of the riders were sent out with a full-sized Bible. The Pony Express valued and viewed the Word of God as absolutely essential for journey on the trail. How do you value the Word of God?
We are starting a new series entitled "Txt Msg: What We Believe About the Bible." My prayer is that you would experience the most unbelievable life change through the living God as you apply the Bible to your life.
A light shining in a dark place
To start a study of the Bible, you really have to begin where the Bible begins. You have to ask the question, Where did the Bible come from and how did it come to us? Let's look at 2 Peter 1:16-21 together. Peter writes:
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but rather we were eyewitnesses of his majesty …. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it as a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation, for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
You'll notice that Peter uses this phrase, "The words of the prophets" or "prophecy of Scripture." Peter is talking about the Old Testament Scriptures. If he were writing today, he would be talking about our Old and New Testaments, the Scriptures that we hold in our hands. It is these Scriptures about which he says, "You would do well to pay attention to them." You would do well. Because the Scriptures, the Word of God, he says, is a light shining in a dark place. That's what the Bible is. The Bible is a light that shines in the darkness.
The power at our house is out right now. When you walk into my house, it is black as pitch—even the little digital clock on the stove is black. It's easy to forget how much we rely on even the smallest lights in darkness. This darkness is kind of scary. So we take our flashlight, we light our candles, and we walk around our house. The light becomes our security. The light is so valuable for us because it is our guardian and our guide. That's what light does. It shows the way and shines on danger, and that's what the Word of God is to us. It is a light to our life that guides and guards us. In fact, the Psalmist says that the Word of God "is a lamp unto our feet, it is a light unto our path" (Psalm 119).
It's not surprising that the Word of God is light to us, because the Word of God, the Bible, the Scriptures come from the One in whom the Scripture says is light and in whom there is no darkness at all. The Bible comes from God. I want to explore with you this idea that the Bible comes to us from God.
The origin of Scripture
To understand this, there are two concepts I want to explore. Peter really helps us to understand these two concepts when he speaks about the Word of God. The first concept is the Bible's origin—where the Bible came from. If I write a book, I am that book's author, and that book contains my intellectual property. It contains my stuff. The stuff that used to be up in my head is now put inside of that book. That book represents something of who I am, right? But when I come to the Bible and look on the spine of my Bible or on the front cover, guess what? There is no authorship. It doesn't say, "The Holy Bible, written by God." When I open up the back flap of my Bible, there's not an Olan Mills biographical picture of God and information about where he likes to vacation or other books he's written. None of that information is given.
And yet Peter tells us in this passage, without apology, that the Bible—this book that you hold in your hand today—is God's intellectual property. It comes from him. And, in fact, three times Peter makes mention of this in this passage. In verse 16, he says, "When we came to you and we began to preach to you the Scriptures and talk to you about truth, we did not follow cleverly invented stories." What we brought to you was not men's fables, men's ideas. We didn't craft myths in order to teach you spiritual truth. That's not what Scripture is. In verse 20, he says that Scripture never came about by the prophet's or the writer's own interpretation, by their own ideas. Men throughout history were not trying to promote their own agendas. They were not motivated by their own internal source. And then he says in verse 21 that "prophecy or Scripture never had its origin in the will of men." The Bible did not begin with human beings, he says. David wasn't walking along out in the hillside and thinking to himself, You know, I probably ought to write some things down—some things that will motivate my children and my children's children. So let's see here … what would sound good: The Lord is my Chef. No, let's use shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd, that's good. That's not how the Scriptures began. The Scriptures began in the heart of God.
The Bible is God's intellectual property. And when we talk about the origin of Scripture, what we're really talking about is the theological idea called inspiration, the inspiration of the Scriptures. Now, in today's world there are a variety of things that inspire us. You could listen to a Mozart opera, look at a Monet painting, or listen to a sermon or speech by Dr. Martin Luther King. You could be inspired. When we talk about inspiration in contemporary culture, we're talking about how we feel when we receive something, right? But when we talk about the inspiration of Scripture, we're not primarily talking about how we feel when we read the Bible; we're talking about where the Bible began and the actual content of the Bible—how the Bible came to us. And we learn is that the Bible was spirited or breathed out. It was inspirited by God to human beings.
There's a very important text that can help us understand this. It goes hand in hand with our passage in 2 Peter. It's found in 2 Timothy chapter three. Listen to what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is God-breathed." I love that visual picture, that the Scriptures I hold in my hand are God-breathed. The Greek word that Paul uses here is a word that means God-spirited. It was breathed out of God. Which means more than simply God authored the word, that he penned the word. God-spirited means that Scripture came from within God. It reflects God's life; it reflects God's language.
A great visual image of this is back in Genesis chapter 1. When God created the world, he created plants and animals; he spoke and they became. He created water; he spoke and water became. He created mountains; he spoke and mountains became. But when he created a human being, which was set apart from all of creation and was a creative work designed to reflect and show the excellencies of God, what did he do? He scooped dirt from the ground, and he breathed. He breathed life into a human being. That life of God from within God is what animated and made human beings so extraordinary. So when we say that the Bible was inspired by God—that God was the author and that the Bible came from God—it doesn't mean that God just thought the thoughts of the Bible. It means that he breathed out his life and his language so that what we have today is not just a great book or a good spiritual source for light. What we have is the Word of God. The living God has spoken and given his life and his light to people.
When we think about the origin of Scripture—of the Bible having divine authorship and coming to me so that I have God's life and his language in my hands—there are two implications for our lives. The first implication is that we will understand the Bible to be truthful. If the Bible comes from God, then the Bible must reflect something of the character of God. And if God is truthful, if God is always right, if God is righteous and without error, then I can trust that the Bible coming from God must be without error as well. In fact, you cannot hold to inspiration without also holding to inerrancy. If the Bible comes from God then it must be without error. To say it in reverse, if the Bible contains errors then it cannot be solely the work of God. Inspiration and inerrancy come together.
You might say, Well, what about those troubling passages that I found yesterday? Well, more often than not, the reality is I often find that the Bible doesn't contradict itself, it contradicts me. The challenge I often have when I come in to Scripture is the limitation of my mind and my diligence to study, and, frankly, some of the presuppositions I hold that make it difficult for me to understand what the Bible's truly saying. It's really difficult for us to come to Scripture with all fairness and allow the Bible to read us as we read the Bible. Psalm 119:138, the writer says, "God, your statutes that you have laid down are righteous and they are fully trustworthy." Why, because they're truthful. God speaks the truth.
There's a second implication that comes out of the divine authorship of Scripture. As I understand where the Bible came from and understand a little bit more about inspiration and about its truthfulness, I find that the Bible is also helpful. That which is truthful becomes helpful to me, or, conversely, if something isn't truthful it's not very helpful to me. If I have an itinerary that tells me my flight leaves at 5:00, and when I show up to the airport I discover that, in fact, the flight left at 3:00, the untruthfulness of that itinerary makes that document unhelpful to me. Something is only helpful insofar as it is truthful. And because the Bible is truthful in everything to which it speaks, I can count on the Bible to be helpful to me in life. It guides me, it assists me, it challenges me, it shapes my life, and it motivates me. It becomes the most valuable resource for my spiritual living. When Paul says that all Scripture is God-breathed, he goes a step further and says all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, for correcting, for reproof or rebuking, for training in righteousness, so that the people of God can be adequately equipped for every good work. I love that. It's precisely because the Bible comes from God that it's truthful, and because it's truthful, it becomes helpful to teach me, to correct me, to challenge me, to give me the resources I need in order to be the person that God intends for me to be in life.
My wife and I were sitting in Starbucks one day this week since our power was out, and I was reading in Scripture about the Israelites who had been brought out of Egypt into the Sinai planes there by Moses; they'd been rescued by God. And then you know what they started doing? Grumbling. "It would have been better for us to stay in Egypt and die as slaves. It would have been better for us to be under the oppression of the Egyptian pharaoh than to be brought out to this place heading toward the promised land of God," they said. As I read that passage, I was so unbelievably convicted about my struggle to be grateful in the face of our power outage. God said this to me: "You do not live in Haiti." I've got a two-story home, and by next week the electricity will work. I hadn't realized that my own grumbling was so godless. Scripture reminded me of all God has done for me. I'm so grateful for that passage about those grumbling Israelites because it brought me back to what is true. The Bible has that power for us. It is helpful for life.
So the first thing that Peter helps us understand is this idea of origin. Now, you might be thinking, Hold on a minute. You've just explained to us that God is the author of Scripture and that the Bible comes from him. But Moses wrote the first five books of Scripture and most of the Psalms were written by David, and when I look in the New Testament, Paul has 14 books to his name, John has five, and we're reading a letter today written by the Apostle Peter. So how can you say that God is the author of Scripture? And, in fact, it's precisely because I know that fallible men—well-intentioned but fallible—wrote the Bible that I'm not quite sure I can trust that my Bible is free from error. Even with the best of intentions there must be something wrong in there.
The transmission of Scripture
That brings us to the second topic this morning that Peter addresses in this text: the idea of the Bible's transmission. When we look at Scripture, origin tells us the who and the where the Bible came from, but transmission tells us the how—how it was that God used human beings to write the Scriptures.
When I read my Bible, Isaiah sounds different than Amos. He writes with a very eloquent, literary, beautiful style, but Amos is a sheepherder. Amos has a very simple writing style. When I come to my New Testament, the writings of John are romanticized. They're beautiful and they're unlike the writings of the Apostle Paul who was very legal and very carefully well-argued. So the books of the Bible each carry the personality of their writers. There must be some humanity in the writings of Scripture, right? And not only that, but when I look at Luke chapter 1, Luke tells me, "You know what? When I began to write my gospel, I went out and I talked to eyewitnesses and I gathered together archives and I carefully arranged everything."
There is a sense in which human beings really played a part in the assembly of what we call the Word of God. But what part did they play? Inspiration doesn't mean dictation. God didn't say to Paul, "Sit down, I want you to write something. Just copy what I say word for word." So how in the world did these writers who were fallible, imperfect human beings, write Scripture? And the answer is this: God specially protected the writers of Scripture. He specially protected them so that in their own style and in their own setting they were able to record the very words of God. This is what Peter writes in verse 21. He says that "no prophecy of Scripture had its origin in the will of men, but men spoke from God"—that's inspiration—"as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit"—that's transmission. The Holy Spirit specially protected the writers of Scripture so that the end product was exactly what God wanted them to write.
Let me give you an illustration of this, though imperfect. When we began renovating the building across the street, we hired an architect. The architect drew up the plans and ended up with the final design. He knew exactly what the end product was supposed to look like. That architect turned around and hired contractors, and the contractors came in and operated at the bidding of the architect, right? Now, let's suppose for just a minute that this architect hired two plumbing contractors. He set one of those plumbing contractors to work, renovating the bathrooms on the west side of the property, and hired another plumbing contractor to begin renovating the bathrooms on the east side of the property. Now, one of these plumbing contractors, based on his background, methodology, and schooling, likes to install toilets first and then sinks. The other plumbing contractor prefers to install sinks before toilets. You see the point? And so they go about crafting and renovating these bathrooms very differently, but at the end of the day, both bathrooms are exactly as the architect has designed it, because the architect is the master contractor. The architect is the one that stands over the product to make sure that it reflects exactly what he or she has designed.
God is the master architect of Scripture. It comes from his heart, and he specially directed and moved in the lives of these writers and, by his Holy Spirit, protected their words that they scribbled down so that those words were without error. In the end those words reflected exactly what God had designed.
Our response to Scripture today
So what do you do with that today? We talk about this idea of the Bible's inspiration, its origin, its start. What's our response? Let me offer three suggestions. The first one is this: treasure God's Word. Treasure it. The Bible is God's Word. It is absolutely one of the greatest treasures that you can possess. I hope that you own, possess, and treasure your own Bible. Sometimes I wonder what I'd do if I lost my cell phone. It's my connection to people, it's my directions to get places, and it helps keep my life organized. But can I tell you something today, friends? The Bible has more apps than a cell phone. It has better direction than GPS. It is a sure-fire connection to God, and it will keep your life organized. It is to be treasured.
The second thing we need to do is to traverse God's word. If God has spoken in time, then his word is immensely valuable, and it is worth navigating and exploring and seeking out its breadth, depth, and height. It is worth exploring from beginning to end. I love what the great preacher Charles Spurgeon said: "The man whose Bible is falling apart usually isn't himself." The person who has traversed and dug into God's word and reads it and loves it and explores it and studies it and values it and turns its pages and uses it as a tool for life, finds that his life often corresponds and is connected with the life that God intends for him. It's not just enough for us to have a Bible sitting on the bookshelf at home. Read it and study it and meditate on it and memorize Scripture, because it is life for us.
And here's the third thing for us to do: trust God's word. You can trust it. To say the Bible is without error doesn't mean that the Bible isn't challenging. There are sections of Scripture I don't understand. Maybe God will give me understanding one day. There are passages in the Bible that make me scratch my head and go, "God, I don't know what to do with this." But what I hope is that rather than letting those kinds of discoveries drive you to doubt, you'll let those discoveries drive you deep. And as you wrestle and wrangle with the Word of God that you believe to be from him, God will draw you closer to himself.
In a very excellent book titled The Reason for God, Timothy Keller says this about wrangling with the difficult passages of Scripture:
If you don't trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and you reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won't. You'll have a stepford god. You don't want a god like that. You don't want t stepford god—a god essentially of your own making and not a god with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction. Only if your god can say things that outrage you and make you struggle as in a real friendship or marriage will you know that you have gotten ahold of a real god and not a figment of your own imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God, it is the precondition for it.
That means it is good to wrangle, to struggle, to wrestle, to scratch your head and say, "God, I don't know if I believe this. I'm having a hard time with this, God. I don't get this." In fact, John Piper says not only is it normal, but wrestling with the text of Scripture is some of the best work we can do. He says,
If we care about truth, we must relentlessly query the text and form the habit of being humbly bothered by what we read. This is just the opposite of irreverence. It is what we do if we crave the mind of Christ. Nothing sends us deeper into the counsels of God than seeing an apparent theological discrepancy in the Bible and pondering it day and night until they grow into an emerging vision of unified truth.
If I expect the Bible to change me, there's going to come days where it challenges my thinking, my heart, and that's okay. But you can trust it. You can trust God's word.
The Word of God is a treasure trove. It's not a fairy tale or make-believe made my men. Rather, we hold in our hands the Word of the living God to us. And the more that you read it and embrace it and love it and study it and wrestle with it and apply it, the more you discover what unbelievable reward there is in life.
David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.