Is the Bible binding upon me as a modern reader? Is it really that relevant? Do I have to do what it says, as if it is authoritative; or, are there some parts I can pick and choose to accept as a rule for my faith and lifestyle? That is a huge set of questions. As a matter of fact, the questions really get down to the whole reason for studying the Bible: “what am I to do with it?” Admittedly, though, there are a few assumptions that I bring to the table when beginning this discussion.
One – I assume you view the Bible as Divine Revelation. If that is not the case, there is little common ground for discussion. While the Bible is a text to be scientifically studied as any other book, it is also not to be taken as just any other book. In other words, you have to take it as it presents itself – a supernatural, divine revelation. Any other work of literature would assume the same courtesy. The serious student who wants to get the “Big Picture” message of the Bible has to have some sort of sympathy to its message.
Two – I assume you know the Bible records God’s interacting with individuals, groups, and nations of the past as well as those who have placed trust in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer. This fact does not negate accurate record of what happened then, but it also must be taken as an accurate representation AND interpretation of those events. In other words, the Bible, while telling you past accounts, is also providing a paradigm through which to view those persons and events. This must be accepted and actually become a pursuit of discovery, when coming to a Biblical passage. You should say, “Ok, what is the message of the Bible here?” And realize there are proper methods to arriving at the answer to that question.
Third – one must realize that though events and discussions and mandates are given to peoples in times past, the records are preserved for you to read. That means it is as much for you as it was for them… maybe not in the performing of every ceremonial rite or cultural tradition that you find presented there. However, you should at least find relevance and authority in the principles and maxims discovered there. If you knew that God interacted with mankind before, came down to earth, talked to them, guided them, declared things to them, helped them in certain situations, then wouldn’t you want to know what He said? Wouldn’t His words be important? Wouldn’t His words be exclusive from all other theories, voices, religious philosophies? Chances are you’d take whatever was said seriously; and, even if the situation wasn’t exactly what you presently experience, you’d try to take it and see what you could glean. So many people say, “If God would show up, then I’d listen.” Well, He did in varying ways in times past, and most predominately through Jesus Christ.
But, that brings us to our question. Is the Bible binding upon the modern reader? Well, ask yourself this. Is history normative? Is what you read in the history books relevant to your life? I affirm that history is normative in that it opens the mind to what was (and who were) before my time – how the world of man came to be the way it stands presently. Sometimes history answers the why questions of life. The same is true to a greater extent when it comes to the Bible. God is providing answers to life, and those are binding and authoritative, because they come from Him via the Bible.
God obviously wrote His History to include only those facts which are determinate upon every human’s life and destiny [both individually and as a collective whole or race]. It is a piecework of how we came to this present state, what our state was before, and what it can be hereafter. Being God, He has an obligation to inform not only the individual but the whole of every generation of all the ages past, present, and future. And, His message is written as such.
Relevance was not a forgotten issue when the Bible was being penned over those 1500 years. Rather, it was God’s aim to write as One who stands outside of time and for those who dwell inside of it. It is a text which has always transcended the immediate generation, so that that generation realizes it is not the center and culmination of all time – that the individual and the rest of his contemporaries are a part of a greater context, a bigger picture of “God and Creation.” He wrote down the histories, prophecies, poetry, perspectives, and maxims which are timelessly binding upon human life in accordance to human life’s intended design and function. He wrote them as the life age of humanity was beginning and developing and as He knew it was best to reveal Himself and the human condition, along with His proposed remedy.
Anyone with an slightly observant mind will ask himself (especially in his youth) things like, “why is the world and mankind so messed up? Why is it all so wrong? Why is there suffering, hunger, disease, corruption, hate, etc.? Why am I conflicted with the desire to be good but cannot be that all the time? What is wrong with me?”
The Biblical message provides answers to those questions. It declares the wonderful and relieving remedy made by God Who is near to everyone, especially in suffering; and Who, despite the soul’s repulsing and rebellious state, reaches down in relentless graciousness and self-sacrifice to provide reconciliation of all things. Yes, bad things happen, but that is resultant to evil entering the world through man’s choices, not God’s. God is actually the one renewing all things. He reveals Himself as such, and He provides an invitation to join Him.
Biblical history and prophecy stand as a warning to all humanity to learn from the past and future, to not go the way of predecessors or of future failures but to deliver one’s self from a destructive, ignoble, and lawless way. That means it is binding. It brings reason and nobility back to the human purpose. It presents redemption as something provided, not earned… because there is no redeeming quality in us that compares with God’s perfection, Whose image we are supposed to reflect.
Yes, the Bible is God’s Word, and is therefore binding upon the modern reader.