It is easy to take our Bibles for granted. Many Christians have more than one–I have over twenty–and ready access to a variety of Bible translations and formats is available for perusal and purchase from online or local bookstores.
Although it is easy to take this abundance of Bibles for granted, I also find it nourishing to my soul to reflect regularly on God’s kindness in revealing himself the way he has. Why did God give us a written word rather than leaving us with an oral tradition? While we may not know all the reasons why God has acted in this way, I think it is possible to land on a few reasonable answers. In his always helpful Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem offers three reasons for why God chose to give his people a written revelation.
To Provide a More Accurate Revelation
By providing a written revelation God ensured that his word would be transmitted with greater accuracy because it would be fixed in a book. Over time, an oral tradition could be corrupted and the original message lost forever. “To depend on memory and the repeating of oral tradition,” Grudem notes, “is a less reliable method of preserving these words throughout history than is their recording in writing (cf. Deut. 31:12-13)” (50).
To Provide the Opportunity for Repeated Inspection and Study
Related to the first point, a written revelation allows God’s people to return again and again to his Word to read, study, and meditate upon it. This will lead to, as Grudem observes, “better understanding and more complete obedience” (50). Furthermore, without recourse to a written standard, disagreements about doctrine could never be finally settled. With a written revelation, our disputes over possible interpretations of the message can be arbitrated by a fixed text, and teaching can be held to stricter scrutiny.
To Make His Revelation Accessible to More People
Providing a written revelation also makes God’s word available to more people than it could have otherwise if oral tradition was the only means of transmission. Grudem comments,
[God’s words] can be inspected at any time by any person an are not limited in accessibility to those who have memorized them or those who are able to be present when they are recited orally. Thus, the reliability, permanence, and accessibility of the form in which God’s words are preserved are all greatly enhanced when they are written down (50).
If oral tradition was the only way by which God’s people could transmit his revelation, the message could only go as wide and as far as those who knew the tradition could travel. But a book can make its way across land and sea and find its way into the hands of many people far more efficiently than one person or even group of people. And with the continual advance of technology, a fixed text also allows us to multiply God’s revelation across the globe, quickly and inexpensively.
The Goodness and Wisdom of God
As we ponder the potential reasons for why God delivered his revelation in a book, we should be drawn to these two basic conclusions: God is good, and God is wise. God loves his people and has seen to it that they have a sure word upon which they could build their lives. In a later discussion on the canon of Scripture, Grudem touches on the relationship between God’s love and the nature of Scripture.
We know that God loves his people, and it is supremely important that God’s people have his own words, for they are our life (Deut. 32:47; Matt. 4:4). They are more precious, more important to us than anything else in the world. We also know that God our Father is in control of all history, and he is not the kind of Father who will trick us or fail to be faithful to us or keep from us something we absolutely need (65).
In other words, it just makes sense that a good and gracious God would put his word in a book. A written revelation is secure and readily available, and its just what his people need.