Jesus said this to His disciples: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63). The Bible was never meant to be read as a textbook, or really even as a history book. At least, not in any modern sense. This is one point some Christian apologists and most skeptics seem to miss.
This is also why theologian Walter Wink astutely concluded, “Historical biblical criticism is bankrupt.” You can read more about that in my post, “Truth:why we need more than just the facts.”
But, before I continue, let me emphasize that I believe the Bible is very much inspired. But the salient question is, while the Bible may be inspired, am I inspired when I read it? And that, my dear reader, makes all the difference. I wrote about that in “The nature of biblical inspiration.”
The Word of God is to be encountered; it’s meant to study us (Heb.4:12). The problem is not with the text; it’s with our perception. Perhaps, our paradigm. You see, in this world, you won’t believe unless you see, but in the Kingdom of God, you won’t see until you believe. We understand nothing important about the Word of God until we open our heart to His Spirit who reveals it to us (John 16:13-15; 1 Cor.2:9-16).
Notice what John says about the Word who was God come to us…
4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4-5 NKJV*)
Isn’t it interesting that it’s possible for light to shine in the darkness and yet not be comprehended. It’s possible to be given truth…yet not hear the truth. This is why Jesus would say, “For him who has ears to hear….” Some hear, some don’t, even though the message reached everyone’s ears. Of course, we’re not talking about physical deafness here.
I would like to return to John 6 from a wider scope. This time in the Message paraphrase:
61-65 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”
66-67 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”
68-69 Peter replied, “Master,to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:61-69 MSG *)
First, Jesus’ followers were confused by Jesus’ words because they had no spiritual understanding. And most were only following Him for their physical needs (John 6:26-27). All of those people walked away from the Word of life.
Second, many did not believe because they didn’t receive the free gift of grace given by His heavenly Father (vs.65). The same is true today, even though the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh (Acts 2:16-17). The light shines in the darkness but the darkness does not comprehend it. The words of life are given freely by God’s grace, but we must be willing to receive the gift because human intellect won’t give us this understanding. Our heart is the gatekeeper that either leads us to or keeps us from this free gift that bring life.
Finally, the only people left are those who not only heard Jesus’ words but took them to heart. For these few, even though they were just as clueless as the rest (like we often are), they stayed because they had personally encountered the God of the Word and could no longer “unhear” His words of life. For this reason, they would follow Him to the very end.
Here’s my point. If we don’t encounter the living Jesus in the pages of the Bible, we’ll never understand the Bible. We’ll just become religious, legalistic, Pharisaical, or even worse, a skeptic. The Word of God is spiritual, to be spiritually discerned. Human understanding will not lead us into its truth. The letter without the Spirit produces death, for it’s the Spirit that gives it life (2 Cor.3:6).
12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Cor.2:12-14 NIV *)
As it’s been said, the Bible is the only book ever written that requires the Author to be present when it’s read.