The Bible Interprets Itself
One of the striking things about the Bible, and especially striking to people who are familiar with the writings of non-Christian religions, is that the Bible is full of narrative. It doesn’t only contain a list of sayings of the various prophets, it contains histories and narrative about the incidents in which the words of the prophets were delivered.
There is a reason for this. The narrative and the histories in the Bible give a context to the teachings of Jesus and of the prophets. This makes it possible to understand those teachings without the need for any book outside the Bible.
Thus, in the case of a saying of Jesus we know not only what Jesus said, but what situation brought forth that saying; we know the questions he answered, who he was talking to, at what time the encounter took place and so on. This means that we aren’t short of information when it comes to understanding the saying, and we don’t need to find a history or a commentary from a non-scriptural source to help us understand the Bible.
The Bible also has threads of teaching which go through from one part to another. This means that one part of the Bible is able to explain difficult sayings in other parts of the Bible.
For example, consider the statement of Jesus in John 4:
"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24)
This initially seems to be enigmatic; there is the problem of what is meant by the phrase “in spirit and in truth”.
This is helped by the context of the passage in the same chapter: verse 5 tells us that the incident happened at Jacob’s well, near Sychar in Samaria, and verse 7 tells us that the woman to whom Jesus was speaking was a Samaritan. Samaritans were generally at loggerheads with the Jews; they had their centre of worship on Mount Gerizim while the Jews were centred on the Temple in Jerusalem (this is mentioned in verse 20).
The location of the event is significant. Sychar is the New Testament name for the ancient town of Shechem. This is where Joshua gave his final speech to the leaders of Israel in the Old Testament, shortly before his death. The speech is summarised in Joshua 24.
Joshua 24:1 provides the context; the speech is given at Shechem, close to the place where Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman. The climax of the speech is found a little later:
"Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness." Joshua 24:14)
The words “in sincerity and in faithfulness” are effectively the same as Jesus’ words “in spirit and in truth”; faithfulness is equivalent to truth, and sincerity is seen to be equivalent to spirit. Jesus is telling his followers that they must follow him wholeheartedly and honestly.
The interesting point is that the Samaritan woman would know about the event in the book of Joshua, even though it was in a portion of the Old Testament not accepted by Samaritans. When Joshua had finished his speech he arranged for a monument to be raised to remind the people of what they had undertaken to do (Joshua 24:26). This monument was still there at the time of Jesus; the Samaritan woman at the well would have seen it and would therefore have known about the account. Jesus makes use of the knowledge of the woman to make a point which was important for her and which continues to be important up to the present day.
This kind of analysis shows the strength of the evidence for the reliability of the Bible. There is detail of place and time which indicates the background to the narrative. There is a correspondence between what Jesus says to the woman in John 4 and what Joshua says to the elders of Israel in Joshua 24. The two are linked by place and by the existence of a monument set up by Joshua which would have been seen by the woman but which isn’t mentioned in the text of John’s account.
It would be virtually impossible for this to be made up by a writer. It would be even more difficult for it to have arisen in the case of a poorly remembered account, or in the case of an account which was altered over time. The existence of this kind of correspondence, and many others like it, shows that the Bible is genuine to its core.
Equally important, the Bible is a book which explains itself. No outside authority is needed to explain what the Bible means. It is complete and entire.