The reason why the Bible is so important for the Christian life is because it is a primary means that the Spirit of Christ uses to make Christ present in us—to make his life dwell richly in us so that we become new creatures in Christ.
Evangelicals assume the Bible is good. It is God’s word, we reason. And we would be right to make this claim. But if we interrogate further, we may not have any more ready answers to the question, Why is the Bible important for the Christian life?
Scripture is God’s word. Certainly. But why does that matter? What does that mean for us? These questions are not abstract. If we simply read the Bible due to some deontological push, then I fear we might miss the wonderful and graceful means by which we grow in the Christian life.
Here I will argue for the necessity of the Bible for the Christian life in real and substantial ways. I claim that apart from the Bible we miss out on the key way that the Spirit of Jesus makes Jesus personally present in us so that we become lost in the identity of Jesus.
To make this argument, I sadly can only assert a number of claims without fully proving them and then conclude from these claims the conclusion. The limitations of online writing and time prevent what should require a 20–50 page explanation.
I do not think you will mind, however, to read a short online article, however!
As a snapshot, here is the argument that I will make:
- First, Scripture is entirely about Jesus from Genesis to Revelation
- Second, Scripture reveals the heart of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation
- Third, the Spirit makes Jesus Present to us through Scripture
- Fourth, the only way to live the Christian life is to live Christ’s life
I should note that I am here influenced greatly by the work of Grant Macaskill, although not completely, as I have been trying to work out similar ideas for some time. With that overly detailed introduction out of the way, let me begin.
First, Scripture is Entirely about Jesus from Genesis to Revelation
Todd Hains recently claimed, “If Jesus isn’t in the Old Testament, Christianity is false.” The Puritan divine John Owen likewise argued, “We shall not benefit from reading the Old Testament unless we look for and meditate on the glory of Christ in its pages” (Glory of Christ, ch. 8). What should we say to such claims?
We might ask some questions. Where is Jesus in the Old Testament? He was born sometimes around 4 B.C. in Bethlehem. That happened after the Old Testament was written. The second question we might ask is: how is Christ in the Old Testament? Like, Jesus is not David in a direct way; he also is not Isaiah. They are real people who are not Jesus.
To the first question, I answer that Jesus is present throughout the entire Old Testament. Moses spoke of him (John 5:46). The prophets and psalms did too (Luke 24:27, 44). Some would like to specify that these texts refer to the place in which Jesus is specifically prophesied about. Hence, Jesus is not present thoroughly but here and there. The promises in Genesis 3:16 and Deuteronomy 18:15–18 provides examples of such prophetic material.
I concur that both passages do speak about Jesus. But I deny the implication that Jesus appears in the Old Testament only through futuristic prophecy. Claiming that typological connections also exist does not go far enough. And even here, some want to restrict typology to connections that the New Testament explicitly make, while others broaden out and allow for all sorts of typologies.
Moving in the latter direction is better. But I am still ready to affirm that Jesus is personally present throughout the whole Bible. I affirm that futuristic prophecy and typology provide two valid ways in which he becomes present to us.
But both avenues to see Christ in the Old Testament still push towards a prospective view of Jesus. I am claiming that Jesus is truly and really present in the Old Testament. I take Paul’s words straightforwardly that “the Rock was Christ” who followed Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4).
Hebrews opens by claiming that God spoke partially and in many ways in the past (Heb 1:1) but now speaks exclusively in the Son (Heb 1:2). How? In and through the Old Testament. Hebrews 1 and 2 cite the Old Testament showing how it is about Jesus. These texts show the Father speaking to the Son through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This personal reading of the Old Testament is called Prosopology (see here).
These show a more immediate and direct way to see Jesus in the Old Testament. And if we take the arguments of Origen and Irenaeus seriously (and we should), then we need to affirm that Christ sojourned with the fathers in the Old Testament. He spoke to Abraham, wrestled Jacob, led Israel out of Egypt, appeared to Moses, and so on.
Rather than being hidden in futuristic prophecies, Christ is everywhere present in the Old Testament. Granted, we saw him there in shadow until the light of the cross came. Now, we can see him much more clearly: he is the treasure hidden in the field of the Old Testament.
Second, Scripture Reveals the Heart of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation
The temptation towards Marcionism—seeing the God of the Old Testament as different from the God of the New Testament—remains a constant danger for us. Yet we do not have to fall prey to such thinking as long as we can affirm what Scripture affirms.
The Bible says this about Jesus: what we can know of God’s character in finite creation Jesus communicates.
Whatever you think about God, if you do not start with Jesus, then you do not start with the best and clearest manifestation of God in creation.
Sometimes we think we should start in Genesis 1. Then we move chronologically up until the four Gospel accounts. That is not a bad option. It has one potential flaw, however. Jesus reveals God to us and the meaning of the Scripture. So while we can start in Genesis 1, we cannot read that chapter as anything other than the Father creating by his Word (“let there be light”) by the Holy Spirit who hovers over the waters (Gen 1:2).
So we read Genesis 1 and every part of Scripture theologically—with God as he is revealed in Jesus at the centre.
The implications for reading Scripture (the Old Testament) are wide and deep. We know that Jesus sojourned with saints in the Old Testament. We know that God as Father, Son, and Spirit speaks throughout the Old Testament. We know that shadows, types, and prophecies concern Jesus.
We also know that various institutions teach us about Jesus and lead us to life in him. For example, Hebrews 10:20 affirms that the curtain of the tabernacle is the flesh of Christ: “the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” In other words, the structure of the tabernacle represents something true about Jesus—his flesh is the doorway to God’s presence. Many other passages could be cited here, but this example suffices to clarify the point.
Jesus sojourns in the past in various ways—in real ways. It is worth noting that Jesus did not enter corporal existence until 4 B.C. or so. But the single person, the Word, the Son—Jesus always existed. His singular personality has no beginning. The Jesus we know in the four Gospel accounts is the Word who is God.
That is why the Jesus we know in the four Gospel accounts is the same as the God of the Old Testament. How Jesus lives shows us who God is. Jesus is the clearest and brightest manifestation of the living God in finite creation.