Currently many views of the Bible clamor for our attention. But we now have good reason to believe Jesus is God and therefore is the authoritative source to consult on this issue. What did Jesus think of the Bible? Does he take a stand? If so, what is his position? And why should anyone think he or she is a greater authority than Jesus on this (or any other) question? In this article, I will begin exploring Jesus’ view of the Bible.
A Contemporary View of the Bible
I want to compare Jesus’ view of the Bible to the view of a well-known pastor who I quoted as I began this series. At a recent conference he spoke on how we should view the Bible. He said that Jesus is the inerrant word of God, not the Bible. The words of the Bible are not identical to the Word of God—God may speak through that text, but His revelation is “bigger” than what is in the Bible, and may even be at odds with some of what is recorded in Scripture. The biblical writers were simply speaking to the issues of their day, interpreting what they perceived God to be doing through their limited, cultural, and sometimes errant viewpoints.
Yet he argued his view was still a “high” view of Scripture, because he reads his Bible every day, and as he does he meets God in its (errant) pages. In his reading it “becomes the Word of God.” How does this compare to Jesus’ view of the Bible?
Jesus’ Authoritative View of the Bible
Jesus’ view of the Bible is very, very different than the view of this pastor (and many others in our culture today). In contrast, Jesus viewed the Bible as God’s inerrant Word.
His View of the “Old” Testament
Let’s begin with Jesus’ view of what we now call the “Old” Testament. These are the 39 books from Genesis to Malachi that comprise the Scriptures of Jesus’ time. What did he think of these books?
He made several direct endorsements of these books being God’s Word and without error. For instance:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17)
The “Law and the Prophets” are the two major divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures. “The Law” refers to the first five books, also known as the “Torah” in Hebrew and the “Pentateuch” in Greek. “The Prophets” refers to the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (see Luke 24:27 and 24:44 for similar references to the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures). Here he claims everything he is doing is to fulfil them, showing their accuracy. This accuracy extends not only to the concepts and words but even the smallest letters and punctuation marks (“the least stroke of a pen”).
In John 10:35 he says, “Scripture cannot be broken.” Nothing written in the 39 Books of the Hebrew Scriptures is to be ignored or destroyed. Such a comment strongly implies Jesus says everything in the text is God’s Word, and therefore is to be followed and obeyed. (For a similar reference see also Luke 16:17, “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”)
As another example, in Mark 12:36 Jesus notes that David was inspired by the Holy Spirit when he wrote the words of Scripture:
David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’”
As discussed last week, it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore if God the Spirit directed David to write this, it must be true—without error.
Beyond his direct statements Jesus continually acted as if he believed every word of Scripture was from God and accurate. This view of Scripture determines his personal choices. When being tempted early in his ministry he responds to Satan by relying on the words of the Old Testament:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "`He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' " Jesus answered him, "It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' " Matt. 4:1-10
This view of Scripture also determined how he engaged others. For example:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? (Matt. 19:3)
This is but one example of Jesus relying on what was written in the biblical text, which he believed they should have also read and understood to be God’s Word.
A similar exchange occurs in Luke 10:25:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
In response to this all-important question Jesus once again pointed the questioner to the text of the Hebrew Scriptures.
There are many more examples of Jesus using the Hebrew Scriptures as conclusive data in refuting his critics—treating it as the last word on the subject, such as John 10:35 (quoting Psalm 82:6) and Matt. 22:32 (quoting Exodus 3:6, 15).
His view of the Old Testament Scriptures never wavered. Near the end of his earthly life, while being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter draws his sword to protect his rabbi. Jesus tells him:
Put your sword back in its place . . . for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way? (Matt. 26:52)
To the very end, Jesus believed what the Scriptures said is true and accurate, and others should believe this as well.
Jesus also refers to the Old Testament by titles that indicate his view of its authority. He uses such titles as, “the Word of God” (Mark 7:13), “Scripture” (Luke 4:21, John 5:39, 10:35), and “the commandment of God” (Mark 7:8). Such language has strong connotations to those who heard him affirm the Scriptures in this way. He was making it very clear that he had the highest view possible of the Hebrew Scriptures—as the very Word of God, without error.
Further reinforcing his commitment to the truth of Scripture, Jesus regularly indicated he accepted as historical the persons and events recorded in the Old Testament, including: Adam and Eve (Matt 19:4,5), Noah and the flood (Matt 24:37-9), Lot, Lot’s wife and Sodom (Luke 17:28-32), and Jonah (Matt 12:38-41). In other words, it was not just the “spiritual” content that was inspired, but all that was written, including historical references.
Objection: Jesus Was Just Accommodating The Beliefs of the Time
Some suggest that Jesus really knew the Old Testament was not fully and completely God’s Word without error. However, in order to “meet the people where they were” and accommodate their current ideas of inerrancy, He was willing to “go along” with their current understanding in the process of correcting their thinking.
This objection runs into several insurmountable problems. First, this would make much of Jesus’ teachings deceptive. If he knew one thing was true (that Scripture was not inerrant), but said and acted as if it were, he would be misleading his followers on a matter of great importance. This is incompatible with his claims to speak what he knew (John 3:11), to bear witness to the truth and to be the truth (John 18:37, 14:6), and is completely at odds with his hatred of hypocrisy and deceit.
Furthermore, to mislead in this way is contrary to the very nature of God as one who can only speak truth (see last week’s post). Finally, he never “corrected” their view of Scripture. To the end, he continued to treat the Scriptures as God’s infallible Word. For these reasons this objection fails.
It is clear that Jesus saw the Hebrew Scriptures (the “Old” Testament) as the inspired and inerrant Word of God. John Stott summarized this well when he observes:
This evidence cannot be [denied]. Jesus endorsed the Old Testament as the Word of God. Both in his view of Scripture and in His use of Scripture, he was entirely and reverently submissive to its authority as to the authority of God's own Word. —John R.W. Stott, The Authority of the Bible, pp. 12-13.
But what about the “New” Testament—the 27 books written after Jesus’ time on earth? Is there good reason to believe these are also part of the inerrant Word of God? I believe there are. I will discuss this next week.
Until then, grace and peace.
For further reading, see John Scott’s The Authority of the Bible