Without doubt, there is a great deal of disagreement over what the Bible actually is. And I suppose, beyond a collection of 66 documents written a good long time ago, we can’t really know the answer with any kind of absolute certainty. But it’s important to understand what the Bible is to those who believe in it.
Well, that’s great, but what does it mean to “believe in the Bible”? I’d say it boils down to believing that what the Bible says is true. Now, a lot of the Bible’s more vehement opponents scoff at the idea—they see apparent contradictions between different parts of the Bible, so they stop right there and claim to have won. They think they’ve disproven what Christians believe, but all they’ve really done is shown that they don’t understand what Christians believe.
To believe in the Bible (as Christians are frequently known for doing) is to believe that it is objectively and universally True, that it is the holy, inspired, and inerrant word of the God who created literally everything. To believe that the Bible is True in this way is to believe that it is unique (i.e. no other text contains such Truth), complete (i.e. it’s not still being written), sufficient (i.e. it hasn’t left out anything we need), authoritative, (i.e. it is the final and ultimate authority for Truth), and consistent in all its parts. Dozens of treatises could be written (and probably have been written) on any one of these points, but I’d like to focus for now on its sufficiency and its consistency.
Now, clearly the Bible does not lay out everything plainly. It’s not simply 66 books of “Do this. Don’t do that. God is good. Satan is bad,” etc. We have to interpret the words in some way or another. This process—the process of interpreting Scripture—is called exegesis. Because the Bible is understood to be sufficient in and of itself, proper Biblical exegesis doesn’t subject the Bible to an external authority. It doesn’t require further explanation to be properly understood: if one passage seems unclear, that passage can be understood and clarified by reading the rest of the Bible. That’s why in the New Testament, both Jesus and the Apostles frequently refer back to the Old Testament to expound on what they’re saying. Nothing’s left out. It’s all there for those willing to look.
Inseparably tied to the Bible’s sufficiency is its consistency. If there are two passages that seem to contradict each other, they need to be thoroughly examined in the light of the rest of Scripture to better understand what they’re saying. This is solid Biblical exegesis. Poor exegesis would give preference to one passage and claim that it utterly negates the other passage—such as saying that passages about God’s love are true, and thus passages about His wrath are false. Good exegesis would see both passages about God’s love and passages about His wrath, and understand that God must be both loving and wrathful.
To those who believe in it, the Bible isn’t just a collection of discrete writings; rather, it is one whole, complete document. If one part is false, the whole can’t be True. So if you’re a Christian, and you ever come across a passage in the Bible that you don’t quite understand, keep it in mind as you continue to read the rest of the Bible. I think you’ll find that the answer is in your hands already.