What the Bible Really Is: The Essence of the Bible, Part 1

15 Apr 2013

We probably don’t usually think of the word essence in relation to the Bible, but the Word of God does have a particular essence. If we want to grow in Christ, it’s critical to know what that essence is—so critical in fact, that we’ll use two posts to delve into this topic.

What does “essence” mean?

The dictionary defines essence as the indispensable quality of something, the most important ingredient or crucial element of that thing. Knowing the essence of something determines how we handle it.

Consider an orange

Let’s say we didn’t know what an orange was. We could see that it is round in shape, orange in color, and fairly smooth-textured. We might play with it because it looks like a toy ball. Or we might put it on display because we admire its beautiful color. While it’s okay to do these things, we wouldn’t get the most benefit from the orange.

But when we cut the orange open—aha!—inside we find soft, edible segments. We discover the essence of the orange is its nourishing fruit and juice. Now that we know this, we treat the orange differently than when we only knew it by its surface appearance. We’re no longer interested in playing with it or in putting it on display. We want to eat or juice it to enjoy its essence. That’s how we get the full benefit of the orange.

Consider the Bible

Looking at the “surface” of the Bible, what do we see? It may appear to be a compilation of interesting stories, a book of good morals and ethics, a manual for religious practices, or a reference for doctrinal teaching. But when we handle the Bible as a book of stories or as some kind of manual, we don’t get the full benefit from it.

Why not?

We miss the essence, the crucial element of the Bible, what it really is.

What is the essence of the Bible?

The answer is found in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

This verse doesn’t say all Scripture is God-mandated or even God-given. It says that all Scripture is God-breathed. Breath, as we know, is related to and necessary for life. So the Scripture being God-breathed has to do with our receiving life from God.

Let’s see what note 2 in the Recovery Version says about the words God-breathed in 2 Timothy 3:16:

“This indicates that the Scripture, the word of God, is the breathing out of God. God’s speaking is God’s breathing out. Hence, His word is Spirit (John 6:63), or breath. Thus the Scripture is the embodiment of God as the Spirit. The Spirit is therefore the very essence, the substance of the Scripture…

Now let’s look at John 6:63: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” Since the Scripture is God-breathed, His Word is Spirit. And it is the Spirit who gives life; therefore, the essence of the Scripture is the Spirit, who gives life.

Life and what gives life

Just like with the orange, it’s not enough to know the Bible only by its surface appearance. When we’re preoccupied with the “surface” of this book, we can mishandle it and miss the life it contains.

Yet God desires that we have His life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). So the most important thing for us to get from the Bible is life. God’s breath, God’s Spirit, gives life. Good teachings can’t give us life. Ethics can’t give us life. Only the Spirit can give us life, and this Spirit is the essence of the Bible.

If we come to the Bible merely looking for ethics or Christian teachings, we’ll miss the essence of the Bible. We’ll miss life.

But if we see that the Spirit is the essence of the Bible, we’ll change our approach. We’ll come to the Spirit in the Word, and the Spirit will give us life. This life, which is God Himself, refreshes us, enlivens us, feed us, and causes us to grow in Christ.

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll discuss how we can come to the Spirit in the Word and get life from the Scriptures.

How do you think knowing the essence, the crucial element, of the Bible affects your Bible reading? How have you received life from the Word of God? Share your experience below!

All verses and quoted footnotes in this Bible study are from the Holy Bible Recovery Version, published by Living Stream Ministry. This post is based on the topic, “The Word of God (Essence),” from the Topical Directory in Using the New Testament Recovery Version: An Illustrated Guide. Bibles for America gives away free copies of the New Testament Recovery Version. You can order yours here.

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