PreCon 02: The Word of God

What do you believe?

When you make public profession of faith, you say: “I believe!” But what do you believe? Faith is not a fuzzy feeling or a vague idea, but it has a specific content. You believe something. Or rather, you believe in someone. In church we confess our faith together using the Apostles’ Creed. It begins with the words: “I believe in God …”

True and false beliefs

If someone says he knows you, but has many ideas about you that are wrong, then obviously he doesn’t really know you. In the same way, people believe many different things about God. But if they are not actually true, these beliefs are false. And if you have many false beliefs about God, you really believe in someone else, a made-up God.

It is important that we know God as he really is. We want to make sure that our faith is based on truth. But how do we know the truth about God? How can we decide what are true and false beliefs? The answer is: God reveals himself.


God’s revelation tells us who he is, how we are to live, and how we can be saved. It is useful to distinguish two kinds of revelation.

  • General revelation. Look around at the beauty of nature, and you see God’s powerful design. God has his fingerprints all over the universe! “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1) The Bible even says: “God’s invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Rom. 1:20)
  • Special revelation. The world alone is not enough to know God sufficiently. Sinful people are blind to general revelation. And there are important truths that are not visible in creation; for instance, the design of the world does not show that we must be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Thankfully, God has spoken his Word, which explains the truth about him and about our salvation.

Read Article 2 in the Belgic Confession. How does it describe general revelation? How does it describe special revelation?

The gospel

God’s Word contains one key message: the good news of salvation. We call this good news the gospel. One of the best summaries of the gospel is found in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish
but have eternal life.

God did not reveal the gospel all at once, but step by step, as he prepared the world for the coming of the Saviour, and finally brought Jesus Christ into the world. The history of ancient Israel in the Old Testament is important for us because it shows the gospel in its various stages.

But eventually it is all about Jesus Christ. The Bible puts it in perspective for us when it says: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son …” (Heb. 1:1-2) You might say that God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the ultimate Word of God. That is why the Bible famously speaks of “the Word of God” as a person and says: “The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)

Read q&a 19 of the Heidelberg Catechism. What stages of the gospel revelation does it list?

The Bible

The gospel came over a period of thousands of years, in visions and prophecies, in miracles, and eventually in Jesus Christ. Thankfully, all of this was written down for us. The Holy Spirit of God made sure that we have an accurate record of the Word of God. This written record is called the Holy Scriptures, or the Bible.

What is the Bible?

The word “Bible” literally means “books”. The Bible is indeed a collection of 66 books, written over a vast amount of time. The Bible consists of two parts.

The Old Testament was written between 1700 BC and 400 BC. Most of it is in the old Hebrew language (with a few chapters in Aramaic). The Old Testament consists of four main sections. In general, the Old Testament proclaims the gospel about Jesus in promises, pictures, and prophecies.

Law of Moses, Pentateuch, Torah1700 BC by MosesThe origin of God’s covenant people, the law of God.Gen., Ex., Lev., Num., Deut.
(Other) historical books1500 – 400 BCThe history of God’s covenant people in the Promised land, until after the exile.Jos., Jdg., Ruth, 1/2 Sam., 1/2 Kings, 1/2 Chron., Ezra, Neh., Esther.
Writings, poetic and wisdom books1000 – 400 BC by David, Solomon, othersSongs of praise, wise sayings, other wisdom.Job, Ps., Prov., Eccl., Song
Prophets (major and minor)700 – 400 BC by various prophetsProphecies warning of judgment and promising deliverance.Major: Is., Jer. (Lam.), Ezek., Dan.
Minor: Hos., Joel, Amos, Ob., Jon., Mic., Nah., Hab., Zeph., Hag., Zech., Mal.

The New Testament was written between 50 and 90 AD, in the Greek language. Again, there are four main sections.

Gospels60 – 90 AD by “evangelists”The words and works of Jesus.Mat., Mark, Luke, John
Acts70 AD by LukeThe history of the early church and Paul’s mission.Acts
Epistles50 – 75 AD by Paul and other church leadersExplanation and application of Jesus’ words and works to the churches.Rom., 1/2 Cor., Gal., Eph., Phil., Col., 1/2 Thess., 1/2 Tim., Titus, Philemon, Heb., James, 1/2 Pet., 1/2/3 John, Jude
Revelation90 AD by JohnA symbolic vision about the church age and its end.Rev.


The list of books that are received by the churches as the Word of God is called the canon of Scripture. Throughout the ages, the church has recognized that these books are truly the Word of God. There has been some debate about a few books. In particular, a number of books written between the Old and New Testament period are used in some churches (e.g. the Roman Catholic churches); these so-called apocrypha do not have the same authority as the 66 books of the canon.

Bible versions

Because the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, we need translations. Today many good Bible translations are available. They differ a bit, mostly because of different translation philosophies. Some Bible versions stick more closely to the literal text; others aim at clearer English. Translations like the NIV, ESV, NKJV, and CSB are quite good and can generally be trusted.

Some differences in Bible versions are because we don’t have the original manuscripts of the Bible. We have thousands of copies made over the centuries; they were made by hand, and scribes sometimes changed the text accidentally or on purpose. Bible scholars don’t always agree on what the original text is. Some people insist on using the KJV or NKJV versions because it is based on a specific set of documents. In practice, the differences are small; there is not a single important teaching of the Christian faith that stands or falls with the Bible version we use.

What Bible version do you use? Why?

Why the Bible?

Why would you pledge to believe in the Bible, out of all books in the world?

  • The Bible tells us the truth we need to know. Jesus said about the Scriptures (the Bible): “It is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39)
  • The Bible is a powerful book. Because it contains the Word of God, it comes with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote (Rom. 1:16-17):

For I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,
to the Jews first and also to the Greek.

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,
as it is written: “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Elsewhere, he wrote:

… the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:15-17)

If ever you feel that your faith is weak, or that you are unsure if God is really there for you, the best advice is to continue using the Bible. It is there where you can expect him to speak to you and to strengthen your faith.

  • The Bible is inspired and inspiring. See the quote from 2 Tim. 3 above: the Bible is “breathed out by God”. God’s own Holy Spirit gave the Bible writers the right ideas and the right words. And when we read and study the Bible, the same Holy Spirit attaches his power to the words.
  • The Bible has proven itself over the centuries. Many Christians have lived before us, and they all told the same thing: God spoke to me in the Bible, and in the preaching of its message. The Belgic Confession says in Article 5: “The Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that [these books] are from God.”

The Bible has been a great blessing to the church. But ultimately, we don’t believe the Bible because the church says so; rather, we discover for ourselves its truth and power. The Bible proves its own worth!

The perfections of Scripture

Because the Bible is the Word of God, we have high expectations of it. Theologians have pointed out the following “perfections” or qualities of the Bible:

  • Authority. The Bible has the ultimate say-so in the life of Christians and in the church. There are other important documents, but they all take second place. (We’ll talk about that next time.) Whenever things are unclear in the church, we go back to the Bible to find out what it has to say.
  • Necessity. Every Christian should read the Bible and listen to Biblical preaching. The word of God is one of the “means of grace”, which the Holy Spirit uses to grow faith. It would be foolish to neglect the Bible!
  • Perspicuity (= “transparency”). The Bible’s message is clear. It is not a code book that needs deciphering. Some parts may be hard to understand but what we need to know is clearly told to us. When you use the Bible with a faithful and humble heart, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit gives you the understanding you need.
  • Sufficiency. The Bible is enough. We do not need priests or ministers to explain what it really means; all we need to know is clearly there. Nor do we need extra revelation from the Spirit. Even the highest authorities of the church have no business teaching things that are not clearly based on the Bible.

Have you experienced that the Bible is indeed a powerful book, through which the Holy Spirit has worked in your life?

Are there aspects of the Bible about which you have questions or misgivings?

Your confession

When you make public profession of faith, we will ask you:

Do you wholeheartedly believe the doctrine of the Word of God?

Do you promise by the grace of God steadfastly to continue in this doctrine in life and death?

The word “doctrine” means “teaching”. So the question is: Are you committed to put all your faith in what God’s Word teaches you? Are you willing to dismiss all other ideas about God and the world as false ideas, because God’s Word defines what the truth is?

The world around you will disagree. Many people think that the Bible contains no more than some inspirational stories. But you have learned to see the Bible as the Word of God, powerful and inspired, telling you all you need to know for your salvation. Make sure to get to know this book well. You should make Bible reading and Bible study a part of your daily routine. If you want your faith to remain strong for the rest of your life, you need a lifelong commitment to the Bible.

How do you use the Bible in your everyday life? Do you have healthy practices of Bible reading and Bible study?

Memorization work

Romans 1:16-17

For I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,
to the Jews first and also to the Greek.

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,
as it is written: “The righteous shall live by faith.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable
            for teaching,
            for reproof,
            for correction,
            and for training in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete,
            equipped for every good work.

Heidelberg Catechism, q&a 19

From where do you know this [that Jesus is the Mediator]?

From the holy gospel,
which God himself first revealed in Paradise.

Later, he had it proclaimed
by the patriarchs and prophets,
and foreshadowed
by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law.

Finally, he had it fulfilled
through his only Son.

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