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The Unity of the BibleUnfolding God's Plan for Humanity
By Daniel P. Fuller
ZondervanCopyright © 2000 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEvidence for the Bible's Unity
The goal of this book is to discover and express the basic theme that gives coherence to the Bible's teachings. It seeks to put the Bible together so that people can make better sense out of it as a whole. This understanding is vital, for when Paul urged the Corinthian church to proclaim the biblical message in a way best suited to make people stronger Christians, he argued, "If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? ... Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?" (1 Cor. 14:8-9).
It is obvious from this appeal for a clear presentation of biblical truth that the more coherent an understanding people receive, the more mature they will become as Christians. But just as soldiers in battle would become confused if, after sounding "Advance," the trumpet immediately sounded "Retreat," so Christians will be weakened if their successive exposures to the biblical message leave them contradictory notions about God and his purpose for humankind.
Indeed, searching for the Bible's coherent teaching appears as a formidable task when one considers its content: writings in different literary styles from thirty or more people living in diverse life-situations over a period of more than a thousand years in places extending from Rome to the Euphrates River. A cursory examination, however, soon provides one with several encouragements to carry out this search. First, the Bible proceeds according to a plan. Beginning with the creation of the world, it then relates and interprets a series of historical events that lead to the grand climax and goal of the world's history. One writer has compared the phenomenon of the Bible with the scriptures of other religions as follows:
The Koran, for instance, is a miscellany of disjointed pieces, out of which it is impossible to extract any order, progress, or arrangement. The 114 Suras or chapters of which it is composed are arranged chiefly according to length-the longer in general preceding the shorter. It is not otherwise with the Zoroastrian and Buddhist Scriptures. These are equally destitute of beginning, middle or end. They are, for the most part, collections of heterogeneous materials, loosely placed together. How different everyone must acknowledge it to be with the Bible! From Genesis to Revelation we feel that this book is in a real sense a unity. It is not a collection of fragments, but has, as we say, an organic character. It has one connected story to tell from beginning to end; we see something growing before our eyes; there is plan, purpose, progress; the end folds back on the beginning, and, when the whole is finished, we feel that here again, as in the primal creation, God has finished all his works, and behold, they are very good.
Even stronger encouragement to look for an organic unity in the Bible comes from statements made by its last spokespersons. These authors indicate their conviction that they were speaking in concert with every other biblical spokesperson. Two such statements are Luke's quotation of Paul in Acts and Paul's own testimony.
In Paul's farewell message to the elders of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17-35) he said, "I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole [purpose] of God (v. 27)." The phrase "the whole purpose of God" represented the vast amount of teaching Paul had given at Ephesus during the three years he preached there day and night. Something of the magnitude and nature of this teaching is indicated by other statements: "I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house" (v. 20); "if only I may ... complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace" (v. 24); "I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men [in preaching the kingdom of God]" (v. 26); "remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears" (v. 31).
In such extended preaching Paul must have taught his entire message-summed up by the phrase "the whole purpose of God." Elements of it would naturally reappear in his farewell address: (1) the need to "turn to God in repentance" and to "have faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:21); (2) the responsibility for church elders to guard themselves from evil so they can keep a proper watch and protect God's people from the ravages of sin (vv. 28-31); (3) God's having purchased believers with his own blood (v. 28); (4) his holding in store an inheritance for all those who continue to build themselves up spiritually by heeding the word of God's grace (v. 32); (5) Paul's modeling Christian love in earning money to help the weak (v. 35); and (6) Jesus' teaching that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (v. 35).
Additional elements of this whole purpose of God must also appear in Paul's other speeches recorded in Acts. The message in his sermon at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:16-47) of how Jesus Christ had fulfilled God's Old Testament promises to Abraham and David, so that salvation was now available to Israelites as well as Gentiles who would believe in Jesus, was doubtless part of what was taught at Ephesus. Also the two basic points in Paul's message at Athens (17:22-31)-that God is not served by human hands, and that everyone must repent, since God had guaranteed a future judgment by raising Jesus from the dead-must have been part of the whole purpose of God. And the same would be true for his remaining speeches in Acts 24:10-24 and 25:24-26:29.
Since Paul summarized his message as the whole purpose of God, it is clear that he regarded it as a unity. The Greek word for "purpose" (boule, "will" in the NIV) in this phrase implies the deliberate choice to pursue a certain goal step-by-step, in a methodical way. A statement in Acts 2:23 uses the same Greek word to indicate a deliberate plan of action: "This man [Jesus] was handed over to you [Jews] by God's set purpose and foreknowledge." Since Jesus' crucifixion was not the goal of God's plan but an indispensable step for realizing it, we understand that God's boule implies taking successive steps toward realizing his goal. This same point is also made in Acts 13:36, where Paul spoke about how "David had served God's purpose [boule] in his own generation." There were steps in God's purpose for the world that had to be taken during David's lifetime, and David served God in the way he helped carry out those steps. So the phrase "the whole purpose of God" implies the steps God takes in creation and afterward in bringing world history to his intended goal.
This plan includes not only the many elements of Paul's teaching but also all that was taught in the Old Testament. In making his defense before King Agrippa, Paul declared, "I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen" (Acts 26:22). In Paul's thinking, then, all that the Old Testament taught was included in the phrase "the whole purpose of God." This conviction is found also in his epistles. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul said, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." In the next I argue that the Old Testament canon with its thirty-nine books was closed about 150 years before the Christian era. So in making this statement Paul was saying that the whole Old Testament was verbally inspired by God. In chapters 3 and 4, then, I conclude that the twenty-seven books composing the New Testament canon are also inerrantly and verbally inspired by God.
Excerpted from The Unity of the Bible by Daniel P. Fuller Copyright © 2000 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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