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What is the purpose of the Bible?
March 14, 2023
The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God’s entire plan to reconcile human beings in relationship to himself and to renew the whole world through Jesus.
The British pastor John Stott once observed that you never commit to reading a book until you understand why the author wrote it. And you won’t read it rightly, unless you know what kind of book it is. You want to know up front: Is this a science textbook intended to inform or a novel meant to entertain? Is it a serious work of poetry or a comical piece of satire? Does the author have some expertise in this area or is the book nothing more than the reflection of personal opinions? In a similar way, we will never understand the Scriptures unless we stop and ask: What kind of a book is the Bible?
It is, of course, true that the Bible is not merely A book, but a collection of 66 books with a wide diversity of authors and themes. And yet, standing behind this variety, there lies a single purpose. In order to grasp what the purpose of the Bible is, it might be helpful to contrast it with what it is not.
First, the purpose of the Bible is not scientific. That is not to say that the Bible is incompatible with modern science. Despite what many people say, faith and science are not locked in eternal conflict with one another. It may be helpful to realize—especially when it comes to the origins of the universe—that science and Scripture simply seek to answer different questions. Science can tell us WHAT the world is like, WHEN it came into being, and HOW it has developed. But only the Scriptures can tell us WHO made the natural world and WHY. So the Bible can shed light on the sciences, but the purpose of the Bible is not scientific.
Second, the purpose of the Bible is not literary. The Bible contains a variety of different genres: including narrative, history, letters, poetry, and song. Much of the language and style of the writing is artistic and beautiful. It is no wonder that so many words and phrases from the Bible have found their way into vocabulary. But even though it may be popular to approach the Bible as simply a great work of ancient literature, that is not its purpose either.
Finally, the purpose of the Bible is not philosophical. Without a doubt, the Bible contains a considerable amount of wisdom about how to live life well. But the Scriptures do not address many of the speculative questions that are the essence of philosophy. For example, the Bible is primarily focused on showing us how to bear suffering and overcome evil than to philosophize about the nature and origin of evil. The Bible is a much more practical book than a theoretical book.
So what is the Bible’s practical purpose? Here’s one way to put it. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God’s entire plan to reconcile human beings in relationship to himself and to renew the whole world through Jesus.
So what is God’s plan? Here again, clarity is essential. Many people think of Jesus as primarily a religious leader offering a new path of spirituality. Others think of him as a great moral teacher presenting new ethical instruction. Still others see him as a social activist proposing a new way to structure human society. Of course, it is true that Jesus has something to say about spirituality, ethics, and the social order. But that is not the heart of who he is or what he came to do.
Here’s the problem with all those misconceptions of Jesus. If Jesus is merely a religious leader, or a moral teacher, or a social activist, then YOU have to believe the right things or do the right things—in effect—to save yourself or to save the world. It places the emphasis on what you must do for God rather than what God has done for you. But the primary purpose of the Bible is to show you that Jesus is not a leader, or a teacher, or an activist, he is a savior—who has already done everything that is necessary to reconcile you in relationship to God and to renew the whole world by living, dying, and rising again—for you.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus engages in a debate with people who had dedicated their entire lives to studying the Scriptures. He explains that all that study won’t do them any good because they have missed the whole point. The problem is that they have treated the Bible as an end in itself, rather than realizing that the purpose of the Bible is to point you to Jesus so that you might find life in him. Real life, true life, the kind of life we long for and dream of—the kind of life that begins now and lasts forever—comes from knowing Jesus and relying on him rather than ourselves to rescue us and our world.
That’s what the Bible is all about. It’s not a book of self-help; it’s a book of salvation.
Written by Jason Harris
Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee
Filmed and edited by Andrew Walker