But scholarly study must go hand in hand with its devotional use.

In one way or another all of us are teachers and students. For better or worse, fathers and mothers are teachers, and the home is still the greatest educational force. No one can effectively practice a profession without in some way engaging in teaching. So also with other occupations. As for Christian ministers, they too are teachers. In listing the gifts of the ascended Christ to the church (Eph. 4:11), Paul said, “It was he who gave … some to be pastors and teachers” (NIV)—in other words, to shepherd and educate Christ’s flock.

Likewise with learning. It too has its universal aspect. To be a Christian is to be a disciple, and discipleship entails obedience to the teaching of a master. For everyone, Christian or otherwise, when learning stops, living may sink into mere existence.

In The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman said: “Religious truth is not only a portion but a condition of general knowledge”—a statement that for the purpose of this article may be adapted like this: “Biblical truth is not only a portion but a condition of all Christian education and the whole of life as well.”

All who learn and all who teach must, as best they can, seek the truth. For no teachers is this responsibility greater than for those who out of their study and research deal with the Scriptures.

Truth! What a great word it is! Next to the words for Deity, there is no more spacious word. Not only is God love, he is also truth. In the Old Testament, truth usually connotes faithfulness and points to the God who is faithful to himself and to his promises. So truth extends to the written word of God. In the New Testament also, truth connotes faithfulness and relates to the written word and particularly to the gospel. In Christ, truth is fully incarnate. Moreover, especially in John’s Gospel and Epistles, we find the word “truth” used in the Greek sense of showing forth the reality and essence of a thing. Indeed, one of the nuances of the New Testament word alētheia (truth) is that of manifesting or revealing what has been concealed. Biblically speaking, God is the God of truth; truth is incarnate in his Son, who said of himself, “I am … the truth”; the Holy Spirit is by Christ’s own definition “the Spirit of truth”; and the Scriptures are by their copious self-affirmation the written word of truth. And both Testaments also present truth in its objective sense—that is, truth as revealed in history and in doctrine.

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Here, then, is an axiom: All truth is God’s truth. Whatever is true must accord with reality, and God is the fullness and perfection of all reality. As Augustine said, “Every good and true Christian should understand that, wherever he may find truth, it is his Lord’s.” Therefore, to look at truth biblically can never be restrictive. If God is the God of truth and if all truth is his, then the horizons of truth are not only cosmic; they are infinite. Consequently, in biblical scholarship the search for truth as God has revealed it and the search for its clear expression must go on.

A distinguished literary critic once characterized Tolstoi as the most truth-telling author in Russian literature—a great tribute, but a small one indeed compared with what can be said of the Bible, and of the Bible only: that it is the most truth-telling book in world literature. It gives us the essential truth about God, about humanity, truth about the past, present, and future; truth about everything it deals with.

Now to think about truth compels us to face our relation to it. To affirm the complete trustworthiness of Scripture—namely, its inerrancy—is to affirm that it always speaks the truth. But this also involves recognizing how Scripture speaks the truth. Just as truth has many facets, so Scripture speaks the truth in various ways—in poetry as well as in prose, in the strange symbolism of the apocalyptic as well as in the sober records of history, in the imaginative use of story, in epistles that of all letters are incomparably the most important, and in the unique literary works we know as Gospels. In all these, Scripture uses a wealth of imagery, from metaphor and simile to irony and hyperbole, in its telling of the truth.

Thus to know the languages of the Bible, the results of lower and higher criticism, the insights of biblical theology, and the methods of the latest critical research is not enough. Unless one also knows the Bible as literature, he will be crippled in understanding the truth it presents.

But does the affirmation of the complete truthfulness of Scripture mean that the search for the truth revealed within its pages is over? Perish the thought! As John Robinson of Leyden said in his charge to the Pilgrims when they sailed from Holland for New England: “God has yet more truth to break forth from his Holy Word.… Be ready to receive whatever truth shall be known to you from the written work of God.” Magnificent advice, as timely today as in 1620.

What makes the study of the Bible such an exciting pursuit is the ever-present possibility of having some new insight into truth suddenly reach out from its pages and seize one’s mind and heart. For truth is more than a philosophical abstraction. When in our search for it we find it, lo and behold, it is because it has first found us.

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In one sense truth can be “a happening,” and this not only in religion. The history of science is studded with examples of truth suddenly laying hold of searchers for it—from Archimedes, to whom the truth of the hydrostatic principle “happened” when his bath water ran over, to Henri Poincaré, to whom came one of his greatest mathematical insights as he was stepping into an omnibus in Paris. And truth goes on “happening” to many others, not only in science and mathematics but also in biblical studies, in literature and the arts, and in every realm of knowledge. Yet whenever truth “happens” to what Pasteur called “the prepared mind,” as it does time and again, it becomes evident that truth has been here all the time. It may come in a flash of insight, or we may find it through patient research.

But there is one thing we must never say about truth. We must never say that all by ourselves we have originated or made it up. We can make up untruths but never the truth itself. For any man or woman to claim to originate the truth is a great impiety, because truth is always and everywhere God’s truth, and he is its sole Revealer.

The words “always and everywhere” remind us that the Scriptures tell about God’s truth in creation, his covenant relation to his people, his work in redemption, and his sovereign control over all things and all humanity. They deal with every part of human life. Throughout their pages, they testify to our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Augustine so beautifully said, “Although he is our native country, he made himself also the Way to that country.”

In this time of materialism and secular humanism, every Christian needs to develop the kind of mind that sees the whole of life and culture in the light of biblical truth. Toward meeting this need, biblical scholarship has its obligation. The Scriptures are the primary source for relating faith to the spacious palaces of knowledge. With all its commitment to research, biblical scholarship need never lapse into parochialism; though it deals with particulars, it is obligated to see them all in relation to the seamless garment of learning as a whole.

The close analytical study of the Bible is an absorbing pursuit. But for the Christian scholar and the preacher it must never be allowed to trespass on the devotional use of Scripture. “The word of God is living and active,” as the writer of Hebrews said (Heb. 4:12–13) in a passage that moves from the written to the incarnate Word. “The words of Paul,” said Luther in a vivid figure, “are no dead words; they are living creatures and have hands and feet.” So scholarly study of the Bible must go hand in hand with its devotional use, lest even the best of methodology should lapse into unfeeling dissection of the living words of God.

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In a book entitled The House on College Avenue, James Blackwood says of one of the early presidents of Wooster College, “He belonged to the tough intellectual breed of men who yoked piety with learning.” To use the Bible devotionally helps us yoke piety with learning. This kind of use means that we go to the Bible first as hungry and thirsty souls—hearing God speak to us in its pages, claiming its promises, meditating on its words, resting in its comfort, seeking in it God’s direction for our life and work.

For this there is one chief requisite—the discipline of time, that is, keeping inviolate a daily period of prayer and of Scripture reading for their own sake.

“Unless we love the truth,” said Pascal, “we cannot know it,” a statement akin to his aphorism elsewhere in the Pensées that “the heart has its reasons which reason does not know.” In its Christian context, to love the truth is to love the Lord Jesus, who is the truth, and to love the Bible, the written word of truth. When the risen Lord met the disciples on the Emmaus Road, Luke tells us that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Later, after he had broken bread with the two disciples and their eyes had been opened to recognize who he was, they hurried back to Jerusalem with burning hearts, eager to tell how they had been with the Lord. Then, in a room whose door was locked, he came to them again and said, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” To which Luke adds, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44–45). So we see that discerning Christ in the Scriptures is requisite for understanding their central message. A question every Bible scholar should be asking himself is this, “Is my handling of the Bible in my research and in my teaching and preaching bringing me nearer to Christ?”

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But in still another way the truth relates to our use of the Bible. It tests our integrity. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as … a workman who … correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). In this respect, Calvin set a high standard when he said, “I have not to my knowledge corrupted or twisted a single passage … and when I could have drawn out a far-fetched meaning, if I had studied subtlety, I put it under my feet.” Some clever sermons or articles might wither in the bud if all who expound Scripture were as honest as Calvin was in handling the word of truth.

And what about our receptiveness to the truth, our openness to it, come what may? We must repudiate any kind of what, to coin a word, may be called “aletheiaphobia”—fear of the truth. Sometimes evangelicals tend to be afraid of newly discovered truth. If so, they may have been equating some cherished doctrinal formulation or historical position with final truth. So when some hitherto unrecognized truth, some breakthrough into wide knowledge, faces them, it may seem a threat and they may react in fear or anger. But as Plato said in The Republic: “No man should be angry at what is true.” Why? Because for a Christian to be angry at what is true is to be angry at God.

There is, however, another side of “aletheiaphobia,” and it relates to those of a more liberal persuasion. Prone, perhaps, to accept the new too readily and uncritically as true, they may see in old yet unwelcome truth a threat to their breadth of view. But what if some of the older positions that have been discarded as outmoded or unhistorical should be shown, after all, to be true? Then these too must be accepted, because truth is sovereign.

Truth is never our private possession. It is always to be shared so that others may understand it. To be a biblical scholar or preacher of the Word entails the obligation to express the truth as clearly as one can. Oh, for more scholars and preachers who know the power of plain, simple words and are willing to endure the agony of good writing and speaking in order to make God’s truth clear to others!

One morning in 1953, it was my privilege to have a conversation with C. S. Lewis at Magdalene College, Oxford. While we were discussing the need for clarity in writing and speaking, Dr. Lewis told me about hearing a young parson preach. Very much in earnest, the young man ended his sermon like this, “And now, my friends, if you do not believe these truths, there may be for you grave eschatological consequences.”

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“I went to him afterwards,” said Dr. Lewis, “and asked, ‘Did you mean that they would be in danger of hell?’ ‘Why, yes,’ the parson said. ‘Then why in the world didn’t you say so?’ ” Lewis replied.

Finally, to affirm the authority of Scripture carries with it the obligation of obeying Scripture. To submit to Jesus Christ as the Lord of one’s mind, as every Christian scholar must, requires obedience to his commands, lest we hear him say, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). An integral part of Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28 is this clause, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” He declared himself to be “the way, the truth, and the life.” He said he “came to seek and to save what was lost,” to “give his life as a ransom for many,” so that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” He made it crystal clear that we must believe in him to be saved. But he also said much about justice and compassion and stewardship and our duty to our neighbors. This too is part of his teaching and of his truth, and we must respond to it.

In his book, Paul’s Attitude to Scripture, E. Earle Ellis tells how an admirer once said to Adolph Schlatter, the renowned New Testament scholar, that he had always wanted to meet a theologian like him who stood upon the word of God. Schlatter replied, “Thank you. But I don’t stand on the word of God; I stand under it.” He wasn’t quibbling about prepositions. The distinction he made is a crucial one, and it goes to the heart of our discipleship as servants of the Word.

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