Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
What the Bible is All About
For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. Psalm 138:2bNAU
Question 5 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What do the Scriptures principally teach?” It gives the answer, “The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” This question and answer from the Catechism is one of my favorites. It is eminently profound and yet so simple. It is highly doctrinal and yet exceptionally useful. It addresses the big picture of what the Bible teaches and what I am supposed to do with that teaching.
We have already seen that the Scriptures are the Word of God (question 3), and that they are proven to be the word of God (question 4). As God’s Word all of Scripture is inerrant and infallible. Furthermore, in the 66 books of the Bible we have the full and final revelation from God to man until Christ returns. The Scriptures are therefore, complete and sufficient. We need nothing beyond the Scriptures to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Of course the big question at this point is, “What is it that the Scriptures teach?” Question 5 from the Catechism gives us the answer. It addresses what the Scriptures “principally,” that is, mainly teach. Here we see that the Catechism acknowledges that there are many things you can learn from the Bible. We can learn much about ancient peoples and cultures. Lessons of history, geography, even farming and shepherding facts can be gleaned from the Bible. But the Bible was not given principally for lessons in these subjects. According to the Catechism, God gave us His Word for something far more important. The Bible deals with two main subjects: What we are to believe concerning (that is, “about”) God, and what duty God requires of us. Or to say it another way, the Scriptures mainly tell us who God is, and how He wants us to live.
What an incredibly important lesson this question and answer teaches us! You can use this information every time you open the Bible. The next time you do your devotions, after reading a few verses, stop and ask yourself, “OK, what do these verses teach me concerning God and what duty does God here require of me?” So for example we have the well-known verse, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This verse teaches me that God loves the world. While this could refer to God’s benevolent love for all of His creation, its larger context appears to more specifically indicate God’s saving love that he was revealing to Nicodemus includes more than just people who were born Jewish. And His love for the world was the reason why God gave His only-begotten Son: to fulfill His intended purpose that everyone regardless of race or nationality who believes in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life. This is what this verse explicitly teaches.
It also teaches us some things by necessary implication. Thus, we learn that God has an only-begotten Son, and that unless a person believes in this Son he will not receive this gift of everlasting life. Whether or not there are other ways to have this life this verse does not tell us. Nor does it speak to the issue of who can believe; who has the ability to believe. What it says is what will definitely happen to everyone who does believe. Believing in this Son plus nothing else will give me everlasting life. Understanding this teaching concerning God’s promise of everlasting life reveals the duty He requires of me if I am to have what the promise offers. For me to have God’s gift of everlasting life furnished ultimately by His love, I must believe in the only-begotten Son. If I believe in Him I will never perish. This verse assures me of that truth. I must read more to learn about who He is, how I believe in Him, and in what that faith consists.
Thus, by asking the simple questions “What does this verse teach me concerning God?” and “What duty does God here require of me?” we open up for ourselves a world of knowledge from the Bible. It is like having your own personal Bible study every time you read! I practice this and I hope you will too.