devotional

07JAN
2013

A Question about Which Book of the Bible Is Most Important

On 5 Jan 13 Domingos B. asked:

“What is the most important book in the Holy Bible?”

 

Response:

 

That question’s not as easy to answer as I first thought it would be when I read it. It’s a very tough question. I’d like to try to answer it in two ways.

 

     My first thought was that they’re all equally important because all 66 books are inspired, 2 Timothy 3:16. Then I thought otherwise. While it’s definitely true that they’re all equally inspired and that none should be marginalized, surely 3 John has less material applicable to the church universal than a book like Romans or Hebrews does. 1 John is rich with texts that show us what salvation looks like in us (1 John 5:13) but what is that without the clear treatises of places like Romans four that describe the very mechanics of that salvation? But then again what is Romans four without the self-disclosure of Jesus that we read in the gospels?

 

     In the end there are really two crucial baseline things: 1- knowing Jesus. 2- Knowing why I personally need to know/should want to know Jesus.

 

     So here begins my answer. There are two distinctions of literature in the New Testament (NT). One is the historical narratives (Matthew – Acts). These five books tell us what happened in Jesus’ ministry and just after He departed with His Apostles. These are descriptive texts. Then there are the epistles (Romans – Revelation). These are the prescriptive texts. These 22 books teach us, in subjection to Christ’s teaching, how we should now all then live, Ephesians 2:19-20. Of course there’s some overlap here, but the distinction is wise to make.

 

     The Gospels (Matthew – John) are the recorded earthly words and works of Jesus. Note: Acts 1:1-9 does record Jesus’ last post-Resurrection words and physical ascension. Christ’s life and ministry is obviously what led to everything else NT including the other recorded words of Christ spoken in Revelation. My next thought when I read your question was if perhaps John or Matthew’s Gospel should then be considered most important. They are, after all, the recorded teachings of Christ. Matthew is the most robust on the parables and John is the “Spiritual gospel” that clearly reveals Jesus’ Deity in remarkable ways. The gospels, I think, therefore reveal Christ the clearest. After all, who better to tell us about God than God Himself, right?

 

     If I didn’t believe that the whole canon of Scripture was God’s plan from the start then I’d have to pick John’s Gospel as the most important. If that was it then I’d stop writing. I answer as I will next because I believe that your question is best answered in light of the gospel Jesus proclaimed. Since the world has heard of Christ’s work on Calvary, what book is the most important?

 

     God delighted to designate a sinful, human, church-birthed, apostolically written body of literature for us all in His church after the days of the Apostles themselves. It’s all God-breathed. It’s all God’s word, but He wanted mere men involved. The church became born again on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. It’s apparent then that God made it so that all the letters that would come after that day (which included the gospels) would be the prime revelation to Christians in every generation since then. Jesus had already ascended so that this new birth could take place, John 16:7. This is just how He did it.

 

     I read a book by Ray Comfort called, “How to Know God Exists.” In it he reminds us of the reality that salvation doesn’t depend upon one’s knowledge of the Scripture. Now wait! He’s not being heretical. He’s read the Bible every day for 35 years without fail. He says that he knows such a statement may sound bad, but all he’s trying to say is that salvation is dependent upon hearing the gospel preached. That’s how God has always saved. It’s not that a person necessarily needs to read even a single verse themself to be delivered. If that were so then no one would have been saved in Acts when there was no Bible, or throughout the ages when most didn’t have one. They had the Apostle’s doctrine in Acts 2:42 and they were saved. If a person today has that, even from you or me, then God will save. The Bible then, post salvation, is that which is able to make us all wise unto salvation. The reason I bring this up is that I think one epistle in particular explains the whole of what’s needed for us. If God has saved us, “Through the message preached” (1 Corinthians 1:21) then I think this epistle is the most exhaustive doctrinal application of Christ’s teaching. It answers the second crucial thing, which is why I should now want to know about Jesus.

 

     I have the Bible as a whole. Surely, to not be ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16) and not know who Jesus actually is would profit me nothing, but I know of the gospel because of Jesus. God the Holy Spirit has come to me and given me life. I’ve read the whole book which tells me the hows and whys of the grace He’s given me. Because I’ve heard of Jesus, I’d have to pick Romans as the most important.

 

     Martin Luther said the following about Romans. I remember reading it somewhere near the start of a Romans class I did years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. Ask yourself if the same could rightly be said about every book in the Bible?

 

We find in this letter, then, the richest possible teaching about what a Christian should know: the meaning of law, Gospel, sin, punishment, grace, faith, justice, Christ, God, good works, love, hope and the cross. We learn how we are to act toward everyone, toward the virtuous and sinful, toward the strong and the weak, friend and foe, and toward ourselves. Paul bases everything firmly on Scripture and proves his points with examples from his own experience and from the Prophets, so that nothing more could be desired. Therefore it seems that St. Paul, in writing this letter, wanted to compose a summary of the whole of Christian and evangelical teaching which would also be an introduction to the whole Old Testament. Without doubt, whoever takes this letter to heart possesses the light and power of the Old Testament. Therefore each and every Christian should make this letter the habitual and constant object of his study. (CCEL Citation).

 

     I would say that while all the books in the Bible are equally inspired and don’t individually paint the sufficiency of God’s revelation without the others that some books are still more weighty or important than others.

 

     I’m cautious but willing to make a distinction between even the Old Testament (OT) and NT as a whole. The NT is more important than the OT. It’s all God’s word. You don’t have “The Bible” without the OT, but how can I say that the NT is more important then? In this way: If all I had today was the OT, could I know Christ? The answer is no.

 

     So here’s my two part answer:

1. Attempting objectivity: to the church universal (All Christians everywhere) I’d have to say that Romans is the most important. See Luther’s citation above for my reasoning why. That’s my opinion. If I can take only one translated book into a nation then this is the one I’d want. There is more material in Romans, by volume, that applies to us all than I find anywhere else. It describes who Jesus is and what He came to do very clearly.

2. Subjectively: Whichever book reveals Christ to you more clearly in complement to the whole. I was converted while listening to a sermon that centered on Isaiah 40. It was the things that Isaiah said about God, coupled with what I already knew about the law and the gospel that God used to save me. Each of us may have a similar testimony from virtually every book in the Bible. It’s certain that people have been saved while reading Leviticus. In fact, I hear that foreign missionaries in Afghanistan often begin their personal evangelism with Leviticus because of its similarity to the Islamic law code. To many of them then perhaps Leviticus would be most profitable, at least for a time.

 

     In any case let’s thank God that we have His word in its entirety and that we don’t have to choose. Great question! In the end I personally would have to go with Romans.   

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