I recently had an interesting conversation about the foundation of Christianity. It began with a response to a pastor’s statement that the foundation of Christianity is not the Bible but is Jesus. Some people were deeply concerned about this statement.
What is the foundation of Christianity? Jesus or the Bible?
In terms of the Bible, we must acknowledge its extreme importance. What we know about Jesus comes primarily from the Bible. When we want to know Jesus better, we dig into our Bibles. I would never deny that.
But does that make the Bible the foundation of Christianity?
I am concerned by how some people seem to raise the Bible above Jesus. I have had conversations with Christians about inerrancy and I was surprised by the results. They admitted that they could see how Jesus could make (non-theological) errors but could not see how the Bible could make (non-theological) errors. They were willing to give the Bible a higher degree of inerrancy than Jesus!
Here are some of my thoughts of why the Bible is not the foundation for Christianity.
The earliest Christians did not have access to the Bible as we know it. What would they have in the first century? Those who had the money may have had access to the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). We do not know exactly when the Gospels were written, but even with the early dates, not enough copies would have been made for most Christians in the first century to have access. Paul’s letters? We see from 2 Peter that they were being collected in the first century. But you still have the problem of copying them and distributing them to the various cities where churches existed.
What did the early church have? They had oral traditions and creeds. First Corinthians 15 3:7 would be an example of this. But you can’t equate oral traditions with the Bible. Some oral traditions made it into the Bible, some did not. The Bible contains some of these creeds but includes other original material as well.
What about Christians today? Is it possible for a person to become a Christian without access to the Bible? There are people who become Christians by hearing the simplest form of what Jesus did without any actual quotes. There are others that have become Christians through dreams and visions and who do not encounter the Bible until later.
What if the Bible was not inspired (don’t worry I believe it is inspired)? What if the Gospels were simply accurate traditions about who Jesus is and what he did? Even without the inspiration, people could put their faith in Jesus and become Christians.
I am not dismissing the importance of the Bible. But the Bible is important because it points us to Jesus, the true foundation of the Christian faith. The earliest creeds of the Church were not about the importance of the Bible, but that Jesus is Lord.
I am reminded of this passage:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40 ESV)
Jesus’ opponents thought life was to be found in the Scriptures but in reality, life is to be found in the one the Scriptures point to.
Paul also teaches, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11 ESV)
The Bible is important but it is not the foundation of the Christian faith. The Bible points to and teaches about the true foundation, that of Jesus Christ.