What we believe about the Bible (July 2013)

We believe the Bible is the inspired,[i] infallible[ii] authority,[iii] the Word of God, our only rule for following Jesus in every aspect of our life.

There may be God-ordained helps for us to understand the Bible—such as experience (John 9:24-25), Christian community (Acts 17:10-11), reason (Isaiah 1:18), and sacred history (Hebrews 11-12:1), but all of these things are fallible[iv] and none of them is an authority. Only what is clearly taught in the Bible is necessary for salvation[v] and for holy living. The Bible alone can set the standard for general Christian principles and fellowship in our churches.

The New Testament writers make it clear that scripture is the source of spiritual life and strength for the Christian (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12). These and other scriptures make it clear that we need no other authority or creed[vi] than the Bible. It is the final and all-sufficient declaration in belief, morals and activity for the Church and the Christian. We do not object to publishing, for information, what we believe and practice or to studying historic creeds for personal interest, but we do not create any such statement or receive any historic creed as an authority or test of fellowship.

Inspired of God or “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) means the Holy Spirit lifted the understanding of the speakers and writers above human limitations to give the Scriptures divine authority (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).

We believe God spoke, using human words to convey divine truth.

The Bible reflects the culture[vii] and environment of the writers as they studied and wrote. God was guiding in such a way that the written truth was his Word (2 Peter 1:20, 21; Jude 3). It is thus the infallible authority in everything Christians believe and do.

The Bible is made up of 66 separate books written across many centuries. It was written by various individuals who spoke different languages and who came from a variety of economic and social situations. Yet incredibly, these very diverse authors declare the same God, thus revealing the hand of God in both its inspiration and preservation through time.

The Bible is comprised of 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament. Each was inspired by God and all were brought together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to form what is called the canon[viii] of Holy Scripture, the Bible. The Council of Jamnia in 90 A.D. affirmed those 39 books recognized as the sacred Word given first to the Israelites. The Council of Carthage in 419 A.D. affirmed the 27 books of the New Testament. These church leaders studied the books carefully for specific internal evidence of inspiration. They also examined the external evidence for their apostolic[ix] and prophetic authenticity, following specific criteria by which a book claiming to be Scripture either authenticated or disqualified itself.

Consequently these councils did not vote on these books with the majority vote winning, but rather discerned, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit which books already carried the stamp of the Spirit’s inspiration, and which did not. We recognize with the early Church the Bible as genuine and authentic writings with prophetic and apostolic authority, God’s inspired Word. Thus, we believe that these 66 books together are the Word of God.

We believe the central message of the Bible is the creative and redemptive work of God in history.

A great drama unfolds to us in the pages of the Bible as we see the Creation (Genesis 1-2), the Fall (Genesis 3), and the redemption of humanity (John 3:17) parallel with the life (John 1:14), death (Mark 15), and resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28). We see the Creation, despite its original splendor and perfection, now suffering a fallen state[x] because of human sin (Romans 8:19-22). We see God, because of his great love and mercy, sending prophets and establishing a corrective system to call people to him and to reveal his character and purposes (Exodus 34:5-7; Hebrews 1:1). We see God sending Christ, the only begotten[xi] Son (John 3:16), to teach and exemplify[xii] love and truth (Philippians 2:5-7; Acts 10:38), die an atoning[xiii] death (1 John 2:2), be resurrected from the dead, abolish[xiv] death (1 Corinthians 15:3-6), and ascend to Heaven to be glorified (Acts 1:9-11). We see our call to participate in this redemptive process (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Philippians 2:12-13) and recognize that a day has been appointed when he will bodily return and complete the already commenced Kingdom where he will reign as Lord (Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

We believe proper interpretation[xv] of the Bible comes from the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ contained in the Bible is entrusted to the Church to be proclaimed throughout the world (Acts 1:8). The Church is the Body of Christ under his headship and guided by the Holy Spirit. The unity of that body is vital to the effective proclamation of God’s Word. Therefore, we understand that the interpretation of Scripture under the direction of the Holy Spirit is guided by the collective understanding of the body (2 Peter 1:20, 21; 3:1, 2).

The Bible is not to be used as a collection of proof-texts, nor is it designed to instruct us by isolated passages, which, torn from their original context, give us no clear guidance; rather when the Bible is read and interpreted as a whole it gives us a spiritual sensitivity to regulate our thoughts and feelings, and thereby to influence and direct our theology[xvi] and conduct (Acts 2:42; 17:10-11).

We believe that the Holy Spirit remains at work applying the Bible to the life of the believer.

As the Holy Spirit was active in the inspiration, canonicity and preservation of the Bible and remains active in the interpretation of it, so the Spirit also works in applying the Bible to the life of the believer and the Church. Jesus prayed for this (John 17:17) and promised the Holy Spirit to guide his followers with truth and knowledge (John 16:13-15). Consequently we can expect the Holy Spirit to work, not just in our understanding as we read the Bible; but to use it as one of the instruments, in our daily walk, to transform[xvii] us into the likeness of Christ. The apostle says that the Word of God is to dwell richly in us. The believer who studies the Bible in a humble dependence on God will treasure up the doctrines, precepts,[xviii] promises, examples, and exhortations[xix] of the Bible in their minds. They will acquire from the Holy Spirit a spiritual “taste,” which enables them to perceive the right and wrong path in the particular situations of their lives with a sharp degree of precision, much like a trained musical ear can judge good or bad sounds imperceptible[xx] to the untrained ear. As God uses the Bible in our daily walk, we are influenced by the love of Christ, which rules in the heart, and by a concern for the glory of God, which becomes our great passion.

We believe original infallible manuscripts were written in Hebrew, Greek and other biblical languages.

Translations into numerous languages have given many people the opportunity to read the Bible in their dialects. Changes in language and new archeological[xxi] discoveries of manuscripts closer to the originals make the translation of Scriptures a constant, continuing process. Each translation should be evaluated on clarity in communicating the Gospel. Translations from the best available manuscripts, primarily Hebrew and Greek, preserve the infallible authority of the Bible as God’s Word. Translations prepared by a committee offer a system of checks and balances which may not be true in those prepared by an individual.

We believe that it is a sin to divide the Church over minor theoretical[xxii] distinctions regarding how the Bible was inspired by God.

For the purpose of interest we welcome and respect informed theories regarding the way in which God has inspired the prophets and apostles to produce the Holy Scriptures. But we very much regret divisions of the Church in the past caused by human speculation.

Technical distinctions, dogmatically[xxiii] put forward, will not strengthen faith or assist in sanctification. The past has revealed that the only real fruit proceeding from asserting these “distinctions” is disharmony and division in the Body of Christ (Matthew 12:25; Ephesians 4:3; Titus 3:9-11). It may be observed in the case of nearly all of these divisions that authorities on both sides maintained that the Bible was the Christian standard for faith and practice.

Our identity in the Churches of God, General Conference is that of a Bible-only or sola-scripturagroup. Our concern is and has been to know what the Bible says about itself. It is a lamp to our feet (Psalm 119:105) and is God-inspired, profitable and complete (2 Timothy 3:16), working co-extensively with the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26, 17:17) to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us for every good work.

[i] Inspired – literally “God-breathed;’ communicated by divine influence.

[ii] Infallible – completely dependable, incapable of error or mistake.

[iii] Authority – the power or right to command and expect obedience.

[iv] Fallible – capable of error; liable to be mistaken or inaccurate.

[v] Salvation – God’s deliverance from the power and effects of sin through the work of Jesus Christ so that humans can enjoy the fullness of life which He intended.

[vi] Creed – a summary statement of Christian belief.

[vii] Culture – the ideas and values which shape the behavior of a specific group of people.

[viii] Canon – the collection of books that the Church recognized as the written Word of God and thus authoritative for faith and practice in the Church.

[ix] Apostolic – derived from the direct revelation of God through the original twelve disciples (minus Judas Iscariot) and Paul.

[x] Fallen state – the spiritual, physical, and social consequences imposed upon the entire human race as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

[xi] Only begotten – unique; one of a kind.

[xii] Exemplify – to show by example.

[xiii] Atoning – satisfying for wrongdoing; reconciling.

[xiv] Abolish – to bring to an end.

[xv] Interpretation – an explanation of what is not immediately plain in the Bible.

[xvi] Theology – the study of the nature of God and Christian faith based on divine self-revelation.

[xvii] Transform – to radically change.

[xviii] Precepts – commandments meant as rules of conduct.

[xix] Exhortations – strong encouragements; earnest urgings.

[xx] Imperceptible – incapable of being understood or discerned by the senses or intellect.

[xxi] Archeological – pertaining to the scientific study of the life and culture of civilizations by excavating ancient cities, relics, or artifacts.

[xxii] Theoretical – limited to speculation; hypothetical (not based on proven fact).

[xxiii] Dogmatically – stated opinion in a dictatorial or arrogant manner.