The source of Christian belief is the Bible. In fact, the Christian faith finds its very definition in the Bible.
The Bible is written by many writers. It is a human record of the experiences of men and women of faith over many centuries. But Christians also believe that it is God’s word written to them.
The Bible is divided into Old and New Testaments. The word ‘testament’ itself means ‘covenant’, a binding agreement. Ultimately, the Old and New Testaments speak of the covenant between God and his people.
The Old Testament outlines the experience of the Jewish people over many centuries. Christians have always honoured the Old Testament, but recognise that the true interpretation of its meaning and the fulfilment of its promise are found only in Jesus.
The New Testament contains an account of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It also witnesses to his incredible transforming impact upon the lives of those who first followed him.
There is one theme throughout the Bible: the saving grace of God. And there is one story: God’s dealing with his people, which culminates in the saving work of God in Christ.
Like the salvation it testifies to the Bible is God’s gift and not humanity’s achievement. The Bible comes to us through God’s inspiration. The writers of the Bible were directed by the Holy Spirit to produce a trustworthy and enduring witness to God’s saving work for humanity, centred upon the life and person of Jesus Christ.
Inspiration is not the same as dictation. There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that God got rid of the personalities of the authors. Their own styles of writing, habits of thinking and cultural background are clear in the Bible’s pages.
What resulted from their writing cannot be explained only in human terms though. What the authors wrote was not their own work only, but also the work and word of God.
The Bible is the result of a long process of the collection and compilation of many ancient documents testifying to the living God. During the first five centuries, an accepted list (or ‘canon’) of writings was established under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The Canon of the Old Testament was agreed in various stages, concluding in 91 AD at the Council of Jamnia. This gathering of Jewish elders acknowledged 39 books in the Hebrew Scriptures, made up of books of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.
Certain writings known as the Apocrypha are also found in some translations of the Bible. These books were part of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, but were not accepted into the Jewish Canon at Jamnia. The Apocrypha is accepted by most Protestant churches but should not be used alone to validate Christian beliefs.
The first mention of the 27 books included in the Canon of the New Testament was in 367 AD. This was approved by the Council of Carthage in 397 AD. The New Testament consists of the gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the letters and Revelation. The letters of Paul and others are the earliest written testimony to Jesus Christ, and the gospels were written soon afterwards (Note: the present division of our Bible into chapters and verses was adopted later, by the 16th century).
Understanding of the formation of the Canon shows how God revealed himself through the process of history, inspiring the biblical writers with a true vision of his person and purpose.
The basis of the Bible’s authority lies in the witness of the Spirit to men and women of God throughout the ages. This gives the Bible an internal consistency, which reveals the truth of Jesus Christ.
The Bible is the major authority for Christians. However, the Bible itself teaches that there are three main things that provide a foundation for Christian faith and practice: the teaching of Scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the agreement of the Christian community.
So, the Christian has three authorities for understanding God’s word and applying it: Scripture, Spirit and Church. Each authority confirms and sanctions the other two.
In all matters relating to faith in Christ and the life lived by faith – in this world and the next – the Bible is utterly trustworthy and reliable. All that is necessary to knowledge of the saving truth is found within its pages.
The Bible spells hope for the future for all those who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.