Not Just a Container of Truth

The Bible and Existentialism

by Don Landis
Featured in Answers Magazine

“The Bible contains truth,” we often hear. But what do such words really mean? Behind them is a flawed view of biblical authority, with deadly consequences.

“Wow, the Lord really spoke to me today from this verse!” “Yes, the Bible contains the Word of God.” Have you ever heard either of these statements? Have you ever said them yourself?

Both statements sound good. After all, does not God speak to us by illuminating the biblical text when we are reading? Is not truth found in the Scriptures? Yes, of course.

But behind both statements lies a flawed view of the Bible, or at least a potential misconception about the authority of Scriptures.

If we habitually identify truth by some internal response from our emotions, mind, or heartstrings, we open ourselves to the bad idea that the Bible “becomes the Word of God” when God speaks to us.

Years ago, this belief was promoted by a philosophy known as existentialism. This philosophy made its way into the church through a view called neo-orthodoxy. Theologians in this camp taught that the Bible becomes God’s Word when He uses it to speak to us. (In this view anything can be God’s Word if He chooses to speak to us from it.)

The “existential” part is that we identify God’s Word through our own experience. In essence, we decide what is true by our likes, desires, or biases.

I once spoke to a high school sociology class and found that almost all of the students believed in heaven, but almost no one believed in hell. Strange, isn’t it? Both concepts are taught in the same Book, but these students were choosing not to believe what was distasteful to them. As a result, the authority of those texts on hell was discarded and ignored.

“Your Word Is Truth”

The statement “the Bible contains truth” does not go far enough. The Bible does not just contain truth; the Bible is truth!

“The Bible contains truth” is an insufficient view. To be sure, the Bible does contain truth, but this statement does not go far enough. The Bible is truth!

Jesus Christ said plainly, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). His words echo Psalm 119:160: “The entirety of Your word is truth.” God—not us—determines what is truth. And God has declared what is truth—the Bible. Every word, every thought, is inspired by God. In theology we call this verbal, plenary inspiration. Every word is “inspired” (God-breathed), not just the thoughts behind them (“verbal” inspiration). And all of the words are inspired, not just the ones we like (“plenary” inspiration). As a result of inspiration, the Bible is inerrant (without error) and infallible (incapable of error). It is absolutely true in all that it teaches as true.

Not a Private Hunt for Truth

Think for a moment about the implications for the Christian, as he opens his Bible and approaches the text.

Not Just a Container of Truth

If the Bible “contains” truth and if the truth is identified by some “experiential” criteria, then he will have to search for the truth. He must pick and choose what is the truth. In the process, he must rely on his own ability to discern truth, even though the heart, mind, and emotions of man are corrupt and fallible.

On the other hand, if a person comes to the Bible and presupposes it is all true, he does not ponder “what is true?” He considers it all true and is on a solid footing to hear all the Lord has for him, as God’s Spirit leads him into all truth (John 16:13).

Do you see my point? If we do not come to the Bible with a correct view of verbal, plenary inspiration, then the authority of Scripture is undermined. We have to be the one who discerns, or decides, or chooses what is truth. The rest of the Word lies on the cutting-room floor and is discarded or ignored.

If we do not believe or accept that the entire Bible is God-given, then what is the basis of its authority? If we decide what is true, then God’s Word has no authority at all. We are the authority. A subtle error? Yes. But it is far from a minor problem in the church. I believe that it is widespread and pandemic.

Christians must believe in the authority of Scripture—all the Scriptures: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB).

This approach to understanding Scripture allowed our Lord and Savior to speak with “authority” (Matthew 7:29). We need to adopt this same approach, as we go about our lives sharing the gospel and helping others. Our words will have authority only as we affirm “God’s Word is truth!”

Discussion Questions

  1. What does Jeremiah 17:9 tell you about the reason for man’s careless attitude toward God’s Word and the wisdom of deciding for ourselves which parts are true and which are not?
  2. Look at James 4:6 and Proverbs 1:7. How should the truths in these verses direct our approach to the Bible?
  3. If the Bible merely contains truth, how extensive is its authority to govern our lives?
  4. If truth is relative, or if each of us may have a different truth as postmodern philosophy maintains, do we have any solid basis for claiming that it is better to be a Christian than a Muslim or Buddhist?
  5. Revelation 20:15 says, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Does this verse apply only to people who believe it? That is, if a person decides that this verse is not truth, is he free from its consequences?
  6. Read Romans 3:3–4. What does this passage tell you about the wisdom of accepting every truth found in God’s Word, even if it is unpleasant? What logical support do the next two verses (5–6) give for accepting unpleasant truths in God’s Word?
  7. How has this study affected your view of the Scriptures? In what ways might your approach to Bible study change?

Next in this three-part series: “Jesus Plus—Dangers of the Postmodern Mindset.”

Related Downloads

Biblical Authority Discussion Questions: Not Just a Container

PDF Download

Answers Magazine

January – March 2010

Fossils are filled with mystery. They are commonly used to attack the biblical worldview, but in reality the Bible gives us the keys to help us solve these mysteries. How could recently discovered dinosaur tissue have survived until today? Why is the first fossil layer filled with such an astonishing variety of life (“the Cambrian Explosion”)? Read this issue to understand these and other mysteries of our world!

Browse Issue Subscribe


Get the latest answers emailed to you.

I agree to the current Privacy Policy.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA, and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390