The Bible can be described as God’s work in history, recorded by men, for your sake. That description can then be divided into three ways of approaching the Bible, which should be held together:
- God’s work in history
- Recorded by men
- For your sake
I came up with this description by comparing three Gospels as they told one story. The Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The story is about a conversation Jesus had in Jerusalem with the Sadducees.
The Sadducees had challenged Jesus on his belief in the resurrection of the dead, which he defended based on a verse in Exodus.
God’s Work in History
The verse Jesus quoted that day was part of a conversation between God and Moses at the burning bush. This was a historical event.
The conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees was also historical. It took place just days before Jesus died and rose again. We could almost pinpoint the exact day it happened, but we wouldn’t all agree about that.
The point is that God has spoken into history, by words and by events. The Bible is a record of this.
In Mark’s version of the conversation with the Sadducees, Jesus simply says that God spoke to Moses:
“But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” (Mark 12:26-27, NKJV, emphasis added)
Recorded by Men
God’s historical words and deeds were written down by men. These men were moved by the Holy Spirit, the very breathe of God. But at the same time, they didn’t cease to be men with a nature like ours, with their own concerns, and with minds that were fully engaged in what they were doing.
When we compare Matthew, Mark, and Luke, for example, we see their personalities. We see what they were concerned to emphasize. I think it’s fair to say we can see their theological agendas.
When it comes to the sayings of Jesus, we know we don’t have a word-for-word account. The Gospels were written in Greek. Jesus didn’t teach in Greek. The Gospel-writers each related things a little differently.
In Luke’s account of the same conversation, he emphasizes the human agency in the transmission of the truth:
“But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” (Luke 20:37-38, NKJV, emphasis added)
For Your Sake
Finally, in Matthew’s version, Jesus tells the Sadducees that God was speaking to them when he spoke to Moses:
“But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31-32, NKJV, emphasis added)
Keep these three perspectives in mind when you study the Bible. For example, don’t let anyone play the historical context against the personal application, as if they were in tension. This will lead us to emphasize one at the expense of the other.
Sometimes, the historical context is the personal application. God has spoken to you by speaking to Moses. His voice has come to you through the ages of time. Jesus’ words that day may have been wasted on the Sadducees, but they won’t be wasted on you. They have been passed on to you by the power of the Holy Spirit.