Reading Scripture for Its Intended Purpose

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From the earliest days of the faith, believers have understood that knowing who the true God is and what this God has done for our salvation guides us more fully into the love of God. We are not saved by this knowledge; we are only saved by the work of Christ. Yet this knowledge leads us to accept God’s great gift for us. It leads us to trust our lives, both present and eternal, to God. It shows God’s love for us and creates faith within us.

Reading the Bible can lead to knowledge of God, and knowledge of God can lead to salvation. As Paul wrote in Romans 10 :13 –14, “for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” We learn about the good news of God through the message of salvation given over to us in Scripture. True knowledge of God can lead us to salvation, and we should therefore attend carefully to the ways in which the Bible teaches us about God’s saving work in history.

Of course, anyone who can read, can read the Bible, but not everyone will read it according to its intended purpose. We see an extreme example of this in the atheist Richard Dawkins, who wrote, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (The God Delusion, 51)

Dawkins at the very least knew some stories of the Bible well enough to form a caricature of the God of the Old Testament. He used this caricature to argue against belief in the God of Jewish and Christian faith. He was not the first to use the Bible in this way, nor will he be the last. The ways in which people use the Bible and their reasons for doing so are many and varied, and sometimes evil.

The Christian Bible is a gift given by God through the church, to the church. It is the church’s book. Others may use it. Others will surely read it, but only those who will give themselves over to the God revealed in its pages can use the Bible in the way in which it was intended. We have received this gift so that we can know and love God, and enter more deeply into the faith of the church. As Christopher Bryan wrote, “[T]hrough scripture God invites us into God’s heart.” (And God Spoke, 40)

That is why the early followers of Jesus used the Scriptures of Israel. That is why early Christians began to read and revere some specifically Christian writings as having the same status as the Scriptures of Israel. That is why they began to form collections of writings, including some works and laying others aside. We have the Bible to help us know and love God, and no other writing or collection of writings can do this in the same way or to the same degree.

If you enjoyed this entry, you’ll benefit from Scripture and the Life of God by David F. Watson. In these pages you’ll: (1) Gain spiritual appreciation for the Bible (2) Grapple with some of the difficult portions of Scripture (3) Learn to use the Bible as a means of grace an catalyst for personal growth. In Scripture and the Life of God, David Watson takes us on a journey through what it means to enter into the life of God through texts that God has inspired and made authoritative for the teaching of the Church.

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Dr. David F. Watson is the Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary. David is also an ordained elder in the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. He has worked in the local church and in a United Methodist campus ministry. David is married to Harriet. They have two sons: Luke and Sean.

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