God is shown as the source or sender of biblical information.
The five aspects of information—statistics, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and apobetics—were discussed in chapter 4, and it was stated that all five are indispensable for both the sender and the recipient. It is highly instructive to view the Bible in this way.
Sender: In Figure 27, God is shown as the source or sender of biblical information. His Word is available to us today in completed (Revelation 22:) and written form (e.g., Exodus 17:14; Ezekiel 37:16; 1 Corinthians 9:10; and Revelation 1:11), after He has spoken to us in many different ways (Hebrews 1:1–2). The following list indicates the wide spectrum of methods God used to speak to us:
God mostly used and uses people as bearers of information, but He was and is the actual sender, while we fulfill the function of recipient. All views about the origin of the Bible based on purely human sources miss the real point, even if these are couched in highly theological terms. This question about who the sender is becomes the touchstone for belief and unbelief, and thus for life and death. For Spurgeon, the question of who the sender is also asserts itself in its power [S10]: “Our own words are mere paper darts compared to the heavy artillery of God’s Word.” Although the Bible speaks about heavenly, spiritual, and divine matters, it is encoded in reasonable words (Acts 26:25) in human language, and not in inexpressible heavenly terms (2 Corinthians 12:4). We will now consider the various aspects of information with respect to the Bible.
1. Statistics: The only value of statistical analyses of the Bible is for storage purposes (see appendix A1.2.1 and Figure 35). In addition, word counts may be of use in certain investigations.
2. Syntax: God’s thoughts are available to us, encoded in human language, originally mostly in Hebrew and Greek. This message can in principle be translated into any other natural language. All over the world, many missionaries perform the blessed service of translation, so that the gospel can be proclaimed in all living languages. They thus fulfill Christ’s prophetic promise that all nations will have heard the gospel message before His second coming (Matthew 24:14).
The contents of the Bible make it a unique book which cannot be compared with any other book.
3. Semantics: The contents of the Bible make it a unique book which cannot be compared with any other book. The Bible provides answers to all vital questions on earth, and it is also the only sure compass able to guide us to eternity. In thousands of books, philosophers, founders of religions, and all kinds of scientists have tried to solve the great puzzles like: What is the origin of the earth and of life? What is man? Who is God? Is there life after death? Nobody is able to make final and true statements about these questions; only the Bible can do this on the authority and by the truth of the living God. For the purpose of understanding the semantics of the Bible, some fundamental differences which distinguish it from other books are now considered:
Scientific results: It is useful to employ linguistic findings as well as historical background information for a better understanding of the text. Even with the best erudition it might still happen that the essence of the message remains hidden. We wish to emphasize that the so-called “historical-critical method” is not a suitable approach for understanding the Bible.
Spiritual understanding: The Bible is a spiritual book which was formulated under the supervision of the Holy Spirit. In the same way, its understanding is also a spiritual process requiring the collaboration of the Holy Spirit.
Personal attitude: The Lord opens the Scriptures for those who seek (Matthew 7:7; Luke 24:25) and who obey (2 Corinthians 10:5). Access isdenied to those who regard themselves as wise; those who are haughty and hard of heart exclude themselves (Exodus 4:21; Isaiah 6:9–10; Ezekiel 2:4; Matthew 13:15; John 7:17).
Biblical concepts: The overall conception of the Bible is that it is easy to understand (2 Corinthians 1:13). Jesus used many parables1 to illustrate difficult spiritual relationships.
When one reads philosophical treatises, legal expositions, or political declarations, one too often gains the impression that more things are obscured than are explained. The Bible is composed in such a way that a child can understand the fundamental assertions and be blessed through the Word. The only condition is that the heart must be open, then the following is applicable: “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13:16).
There are also difficult passages in the Bible. When God said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . . . As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9), then this also applies to His Word. Many passages cannot be understood now, but their meaning will be revealed when, for example, the prophetically designated time has arrived.
Fullness of ideas: The English Bible (KJV) contains 783,173 words, a number which is fairly limited, but the scope of its ideas is unbounded. In exceptional cases one might read a secular book two or three times, and then its contents will be fully known, but the Bible is inexhaustible, and even at a hundredth reading, new ideas and relationships are revealed. After many years of intensive Bible study, Spurgeon testified [S10]: “The copiousness of God’s Word is just as unbounded as its comprehensiveness. During the forty years of my own ministry I have merely touched the hem of the garment of divine truth, but what power flowed out from it! The Word resembles its Originator: boundless, immeasurable and infinite. If it were your task to preach throughout eternity, you would always find a theme on whatever topic may be required.”
Inexhaustible: The semantic wealth of the Bible is so great that no human life is long enough to deplete it. There is, however, a unifying thread which keeps everything together.
4. Pragmatics: If the recipient (man) breaks off the message received from the sender (God) at the semantic level, then the purpose intended by God will be missed. The goal of the information in the Bible is that man should be moved to action. Jesus placed an extremely high premium on this aspect of information: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). When deeds are not forthcoming, the Word becomes a judgment. This aspect is expounded in the parable of the ten “minas” (talents), where Jesus gave the unambiguous command: “Put this money to work . . . until I come back” (Luke 19:13). The obedient servants were amply rewarded; He said to the first one, “Well done, my good servant! . . . Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities” (Luke 19:17). The one who did nothing, was condemned: “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow?” (Luke 19:22). Our deeds are judged by God (Rev. 20:12), and according to Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus will distinguish between two groups of people only: those who acted, and those who did nothing. The first group was invited into heaven: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). The reason is given in verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
The second group is sent into the eternal fire because “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” The message of James 1:22 becomes clear in this regard: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Heinrich Kemner said justly that in the last judgment we will mostly be found guilty for what we did not do. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17). Also in the Old Testament Moses, as instructed by God, identifies the pragmatic requirement on which life depends: “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:46–47).
We now use two illustrative examples to explain a false and a correct pragmatic attitude toward the Bible.
Example 1: There is an East Prussian story2 about a teacher who discussed Matthew 5:39: “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” during a religious instruction class. One farmer was rather indignant when his son told him this, and when he met the teacher in a meadow he put this command to the test. He asked the teacher whether he practiced that which he taught the children. The reply was, “But of course, it stands in the Bible.” The farmer then lashed out and struck the teacher down with a powerful blow to his face. When he struggled to his feet, the farmer quoted, “Turn to him the other also,” and dealt him another heavy blow on his left cheek. Being a Bible student, the teacher countered with, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more” (Mark 4:24), and in his turn struck the farmer. This resulted in an exchange of blows where every blow was accompanied by a biblical quotation. At that moment, the landowner traveled past and saw the fight. He stopped and sent his servant to investigate. The servant ran to the combatants, watched them for a while, and then walked back at a leisurely pace. He reported that nothing much was the matter, they were only explaining Holy Scriptures to each other.
Example 2: A blind septuagenarian African woman had a French Bible which she loved very much. She took it to the local missionary requesting him to highlight John 3:16 in red. This he did, without knowing her purpose. The blind woman then sat at the school gate and asked the emerging pupils whether any of them knew French. Being proud of their knowledge of the language, they answered in the affirmative. The woman then showed them the underlined verse, requesting them to read it for her. They complied eagerly. When she asked them whether they understood these words, the answer was “no.” The woman then explained the meaning of this central biblical assertion: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is known that 24 men became evangelists through the ministry of this woman [J2].
5. Apobetics: From the point of view of the sender, a process of information transfer has only been successful when the purpose intended for the recipient has been achieved. All aspects of information are inextricably interlinked. It is thus insufficient when everything runs smoothly up to a certain level, but the final level—the purpose—is not attained. Strictly speaking, any information level is only a stepping stone to the next higher level: Language is solely a means for achieving the semantics purpose. In its turn, semantics leads to the pragmatics level, and, in the last instance, pragmatics is only a preparatory stage for the apobetics. In chapter 4, this purposefulness of information is described as the most important aspect. This is especially true of God’s message in the Bible. He has certain objectives with the Bible, of which we mention some special ones.
a) Perception: Who is God? Without the Bible, we would have known very little about God. We could deduce His existence and His power from His works of creation (Romans 1:20), but nothing would be known about His person and His nature. The Bible thus has the purpose of making God known to us. It is obvious that all polytheistic representations are false: “I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5). God is love (1 John 4:16), life (1 John 5:20), and light (1 John 1:5). He is holy (Isaiah 6:3) and hates sin so much that it carries the death penalty (Romans 6:23). We are abundantly informed about God’s Son and His function as Savior, and also about the Holy Spirit who leads us in all truth. Jesus is the only way to God. In the words of Martin Luther, “If you do not find God through Christ, you will never find Him, even if you search everywhere else.”
b) Perception: Creation was purposeful. When we read the first two chapters of the Bible, it becomes clear that creation was systematically planned and made purposefully. Man is the crowning glory at the pinnacle of creation. Seen in the light of the Bible, Nietzsche’s anti-apobetics is empty and not based on reality: “Man is a thread tied between animal and superman, a thread stretching above an abyss” (Zarathustra). According to the New Testament, however, everything was created by and for Christ (Colossians 1:16).
c) Perception: Who is man? Alexis Carrel, a Nobel laureate, wrote a book with the title Man the Unknown. Apart from the Bible, we cannot fathom who we really are; our true nature would remain a mystery. The well-known German author Manfred Hausmann (1898–1986) testified as follows: “Every time I open the Bible, I am astounded anew by its depth and many-sidedness. The picture drawn of man is found nowhere else. Man is encompassed in his entirety, his greatness and his pitiableness, his tenderness and brutality, his glory and his darkness. No other book reveals such appalling and such splendid things about human nature than does the Bible. The background meanings of the stories told in it are inexhaustible.” We learn from the Bible that we were separated from God through sin and are now on our way to hell. Everybody needs to be saved, and the religions encourage us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps—self-salvation. On the way to judgment, we are met by the One who is the “antidote” to sin: Jesus! If we understand ourselves in this light, then we know who we are.
d) Manual of instructions for life: God has prepared the best purposes and greatest blessings conceivable for our earthly life. He is concerned about our happiness in marriage, in our family, our career, and our nation, and desires to bless us with success in everything, so that the words of the Psalmist are applicable: “Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1:3). God’s will for us is the best, as indicated in uncountable ways. The upright will be prosperous (Proverbs 2:7), those who hope in Him will be strengthened (Isaiah 40:31), and all who are weary and burdened will find rest (Matthew 11:28). There is only one answer to the question why God does this, namely “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).
A machine will not operate properly in the fashion envisaged by the inventor, unless the instruction manual is obeyed. How much more then do our lives become a mess when we disregard the instructions for our life as provided by the Creator? This type of information can be regarded as operational information, as discussed in chapter 7. The Bible is the only instruction manual for a blessed and full life; the condition is briefly and simply formulated: “By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9).
e) Signpost pointing to heaven: The highest purpose ever formulated is that God desires eternal communion with each one of us. Earthly blessings are only a minute foretaste compared to the richness of eternity. We are invited to enter heaven. The suffering and death of Jesus was the price paid for sin, so that we will not be lost. When Jesus rose up from the grave, this sacrifice was honored by God. Now anybody can get into the lifeboat which will reach the other coast, because God does not want sinners to be lost, “but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). God sent the Lord Jesus “as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25). Everyone who calls on His name (Romans 10:13) and who receives Him (John 1:12), has crossed over from the death penalty of sin, to eternal life (John 5:24). The way to heaven is just as simple as it is sure: The Bible is the only compass, and Jesus is the only way. Anybody who turns to Jesus is saved. He then becomes a child of God and at the same time heir to heaven (Titus 3:7). This decision cannot be postponed. Bezzel once said, “The pardoning power of grace is unlimited, but it still depends on the moment.”
Missionary and native: After every sermon, a missionary called on the congregation to choose Jesus. When urged to repent, someone who attended regularly for several years always responded with, “Next year.” One day he became seriously ill, and the missionary brought him the required medicine with the instruction that it should be taken a year later. The native then said that he might be dead before that time and needed the medicine right now. The missionary replied, “You care for your body, but what about your soul?”
Many people, when seeking a goal for their life, are worried that it might be a failure. Our life has attained its highest purpose when we bind it to God; then all searching becomes unnecessary because of this consummation. Spurgeon once uttered the striking words [S9]: “Man’s heart has only enough life to pursue one goal fully. Nobody can serve both God and mammon, because there is not enough life in one’s heart to serve both.”
There is a striking example in the Bible of the way somebody comes to faith; this is depicted in Figure 28. All aspects of information are covered one after the other in such a way that they can easily be followed. This Ethiopian is a good example of someone finding Christ and salvation through Scripture.
The parable of the sower: Another easily understood example of the information levels is found in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3–23). In this parable, Jesus uses a common occurrence of everyday life to illustrate and explain aspects of the kingdom of God. At the semantic level, the information is complete and clear. The effect of God’s words (the seeds) results in four different kinds of conduct (pragmatics on the side of the recipient). The purpose intended by the sender (Jesus) is achieved in only one group of recipients (their apobetics).
The case where God is the sender and man the recipient is illustrated in Figures 26 and 27. The question arises whether these are the recipients of the information transmitted by man. That is exactly the case, as shown in Figure 29; not only is it conceivable, but it is God’s desire and purpose. We may approach God the Father or His Son, Jesus, with various conceptual goals in mind. The message is transmitted through prayer, and this transmission is vastly superior to any technological communications system:
—It is the surest connection possible, because nobody and no process can break this link. It is always and immediately operational.
—This “wireless telegraphy” cannot be blocked or shielded by anything. When the astronauts circled the moon, no radio contact with earth was possible when they were behind the moon on the far side, but we can pray anywhere; distance and separation is no obstacle. It does not matter whether one is 100 feet underground, 1,000 feet under the sea, or behind the moon. The message reaches the recipient with absolute certainty.
—Interference is encountered in all technological transmission systems, so that the original message may be distorted by external influences. Code symbols may be lost or changed, but prayer messages cannot at all be distorted; they reach the recipient unchanged.
The information transmission system from man to God is thus the very best available one. A better communication link is found only in heaven when faith is replaced by direct communion. We now discuss the separate levels from God’s side.
1. Statistics: The matter of statistics does not arise here.
2. Syntax: At this level, there is no restriction of codes, because God understands all languages. No language poses any problems. Every conceivable method of expression may be used, even if it is only a deep sigh. He can even read unformulated thoughts.
3. Semantics: The Psalmist said to God: “You perceive my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:2), so that comprehension is absolutely guaranteed. There can be no misunderstandings. Even if our verbal formulations are off the mark, our actual perceptions do reach God (1 Samuel 16:7: “The Lord looks at the heart”). There is a further positive aspect: The Holy Spirit compensates for the weaknesses and defects of the information sent by us: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).
4. Pragmatics: God is described as a doer in the Bible: “I, the LORD, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). It is clear from the creation account that His words immediately become deeds, and the Bible could have the subtitle “The Great Deeds of God.” Jesus’ life on earth was a unique life of witnessing through deeds. He did not only preach with authority, He also acted at every conceivable opportunity: He healed those who were ill, He raised people from the dead, He forgave sins, He exorcised demons, He fed large crowds, and He controlled the weather. Eyewitnesses cried out in amazement, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41).
His greatest deed was the salvation He wrought on Calvary. This was already prophesied by God through Isaiah: “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Today, the power of forgiveness reaches out to all sinners. Nobody need be lost. We only have to turn to the One who has the required authority, Jesus Christ. He has never ever rejected anybody who prayed to Him in earnest. God always answers our prayers in the way that is best for us, because He knows the correct time much better than we, as well as the action which will benefit us most. There is one prayer which is always answered immediately; there is no delay and no alternative when a sinner prays for salvation. If you call on the name of Jesus for this purpose, you are immediately accepted (Romans 10:13). There is no delay between call and answer, not even one millisecond: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24). When the one criminal on the cross next to the Son of God made the plea, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he was immediately given the unconditional and instantaneously effective promise: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42–43).
5. Apobetics: In the “Our Father” prayer, God gives us goals which correspond to His purposes: “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). It is God’s will to bring everybody to the goal of salvation: He “wants all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). God identifies himself with our desired goals when they correspond to His Word. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) once said that although God does not fulfill all our wishes, He does fulfill all of His countless promises. There are about 1,260 direct promises in the Bible, and thousands of aids for our daily life situations (Psalm 50:15), but His main concern is our eternal life: “His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). He has achieved His purpose for us when Jesus becomes Lord and Master of all areas of our life. Then we “are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19–20). Without Jesus, we will miss the purpose of our life, as the Bible warns emphatically (Colossians 2:18; Hebrews 2:1).
The statistical density of information is discussed in the appendix, chapter A1. It is clear that the highest possible packing density is attained in the DNA molecules of living cells. It also makes sense to determine information density at the other levels of information. Without recourse to actual numerical calculations, we now discuss some estimates for the Bible:
1. The semantic density of information: This can be defined as the plenitude of ideas or the “weight of the meanings” per sentence or per paragraph. The origin of man and of this world has been discussed in many scientific and popular publications. Nobody knows how many books have been written on these topics. However, most publications treat the subject from an evolutionary viewpoint, and nobody can provide genuine answers. Having said this, it is noteworthy that the Bible describes man’s origin completely in one single verse: “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). These few words comprise a remarkable information content, since they provide answers to many questions:
The saying “Truth does not require many words, but a lie cannot use enough words,” now becomes meaningful. In spite of its semantic fullness, the verse quoted above requires amazingly few code symbols. No other description of man’s origin is so true and at the same time formulated so concisely. We may deduce that what we have here represents the highest possible semantic information density. Other passages in the Bible also exhibit superlative semantic densities (e.g., John 3:16 contains all the information necessary for man’s salvation).
2. The pragmatic density of information: This can be measured in terms of the effect E produced by input I prompted by some transmitted information. It usually requires extremely strenuous efforts to be accorded one single line entry in the Guinness Book of Records [G13], for example. This kind of “fame” is very short-lived, since the record for eating fried sausages, for example, 96 pieces in 4 minutes and 29 seconds [G13], may soon be broken. Many human deeds only served selfish honor, and have long since been forgotten and become meaningless. The Bible directs our thoughts in an entirely different direction. Everything we do in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17) is eternally meaningful (Matthew 10:42). Even a cup of cold water given to “a little one” will be rewarded (Matthew 10:42). Where on earth will you get such a stupendous reward for such a simple deed? Such results are only found in the Bible. Paul compares the acts of a Christian working in the name of Jesus, with an athlete. Athletes compete for a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever” (1 Corinthians 9:25). We thus have another superlative, namely the highest possible pragmatic information density.
3. Apobetic information density: This is a measure of the height of the purpose attained after information has been received. The following episode which occurred during the time of the Spartans describes various apobetic information densities.
Example: When there was famine in one of the regions ruled by the Spartans, the local residents dispatched an eloquent messenger to Sparta. He addressed them at length and—in his own opinion—convincingly, to ask for a gift of wheat. The Spartans, however, dismissed him, because they had forgotten his introduction and thus did not understand the conclusion. Another messenger was sent soon afterward. His modus operandi was quite different: He brought an empty bag which he opened for everybody to see, and said concisely: “This bag is empty, please put something in it.” This messenger obtained the required wheat, but the Spartans commented that he was too verbose. It was obvious that the bag was empty and needed to be filled; he should use fewer words when he came again.
This episode illustrates that the first messenger did not attain his purpose in spite of the meaningful contents of his speech, while the second one was immediately successful with his concise but striking information input. We thus have two distinct densities of apobetic information, and the suggestion of the Spartans to the second speaker would have resulted in an even higher value.
When considering ourselves as recipients of the message of the Bible, we can arrive at the highest possible apobetic density of information. We refer to the one verse, namely John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” This concise piece of information with its overwhelming depth of meaning could only appear in the Bible where high semantic information densities are expected. Just as overwhelming is the stated purpose: eternal life! Nothing has a greater value—in the words of Jesus, the whole world is worthless in this respect (Matthew 16:26)—so that anybody who has entrusted himself in faith to Jesus has achieved the highest possible apobetic information density.