Two Ways News
Two Ways News
Jesus, God, Bible

Jesus, God, Bible

A conversation with Mark Thompson about Scripture

Hi everyone

With Phillip away this week, I’ve gone to the substitute’s bench and hauled in Mark Thompson for a chat. Good to be able to get the Principal of Moore College as a fill in!

Mark also lectures and writes in theology, and one of his chief recent interests has been the doctrine of Scripture. He’s written a serious defence of the clarity of Scripture (A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture, published in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series by IVP). And just last year, he published a more general book for Christians called The Doctrine of Scripture: An Introduction (through Crossway) which is not the most funtastic title in the world, but does tell you exactly what the book is about. 

I’ll just say upfront that I think this most recent work from Mark is a really excellent little book that is accessible, illuminating and stretching in all the best ways. I’d warmly recommend it to any general Christian reader who wants to build their understanding of what the Bible really is, and their confidence in its truth and clarity and power. 

My conversation with Mark ranged across a number of topics, but basically centred around the main themes of his book. For a range of reasons (mainly the timing of the interview), we haven’t been able to provide a full transcript. Instead we’ve snipped out some juicy quotes from Mark—to enjoy the whole thing, just click on the player above. 

Your brother


Some quotes from Mark Thompson on: 

Who this book is for

Well, it's a book that's designed for people who love the Bible and use the Bible but haven't really thought much about what the Bible is. And they've learned of Jesus from the Bible, but have yet to actually think about the relationship between Jesus and the Bible more carefully. 

This is important because people are always seeking to undermine our confidence in the Bible, and that's been Satan’s strategy since the garden. It's increasingly being heard in the new atheists or people who are denying that we need to pay any attention to the Bible. I've heard Christian leaders in this country say about how we've now moved on from what the Bible writers have said. 

When you have that kind of thing being said, having some confidence about what this is that I've got in my hands and why I should still pay attention to it seems to be an important thing. So it's not really a book for non-Christians. It's a book for Christians, old or new- for those who are still trying to work out what they think about the Bible, and those who want to be encouraged again about what they think about the Bible.

Why the book starts with Jesus

My own experience is coming up against people who say that they're Christian, and they follow Jesus, but they don't really think much about the Bible. And they've separated out Jesus in the Bible. I've read many books about the Bible, where Jesus almost seems to be tangential. He's on the periphery. It's as if the Bible operates in its own little world, and Jesus operates in his. And so people can say, “I'm a Christian, I follow Jesus, but I don't follow the Bible.” 

I wanted to say, “No, the reason I take the Bible seriously–the reason I engage with it the way I do and spend time studying the word–is because I'm following Jesus, I am a disciple of Jesus. Jesus treated the Old Testament this way and he commissioned the New Testament, and so I want to treat the Bible the way Jesus did.

The crucified and risen Jesus is also at the center of the teaching of Scripture itself. So if Jesus is going to be honored as the one in that central place, then he needs to be central in your doctrine of Scripture. And so one of the things I very much wanted to do in the book was to make sure that at every point, we anchored what we were saying about the Bible in Jesus’ own life and words—because Jesus has a remarkable amount to say about the Scriptures, the Old Testament, the word of God. And once you look at that, and realize he didn't just come against that backdrop, he interacted with it, and called us to pay attention to it, then it became obvious to me that it was the way to plan out this book—from Jesus to every aspect of what the Bible is.

The transition from ‘God speaking’ to a written Bible

The transition from spoken word to written words is critically important. And it is God who makes that transition himself. It's God who causes his word to be written at Mount Sinai—he gives Moses the two tablets, he calls on Moses to write the things that he's been saying, in the book of the law. And when Joshua was taking over from Moses, there's a fascinating verse (in Joshua 1) where God promises: don't worry, I'll be with you wherever you are, and make sure you pay attention to this book of the law. And so God being with him is not an alternative to paying attention to the book of the law. The God who is going to be with him encourages him to do that. And to observe it; it’ll keep your path straight.

I remember once visiting somebody with a group of students from Moore College, who said to us all, “I didn't invite you to come; you guys have got the word, but we've got God's presence with us.” And it's passages like Joshua 1 that say that's really an odd bifurcation. That's a separation that the Bible itself doesn't make. God is present as his Word is read, and we're hearing God addressing us as we read the Bible. So we can’t separate God's presence from God's Word.

The inspiration of the words of Scripture

When the Bible itself uses the language of inspiration, it doesn't speak about the inspiration of the writers. And it doesn't speak about the inspiration of their thoughts. The thing that is inspired is the final product. All scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:15). So whatever means God uses–and he uses a variety of means such as Luke's compiling all the information you can get from a variety of people, or John's recalling what he saw when he walked with Jesus–at the end, what is produced is exactly what God wants us to have. So It's not just some sort of ethereal meaning behind the text. It's not one step away from the text. It's all scripture that is inspired. 

When I was a student at Moore College, I remember my Old Testament lecturer Bill Dumbrell saying, “Unless you have verbal inspiration, you can't do biblical theology.” And what he meant by that was the form of the words is important–how you see connections between different parts of the Old Testament and the New Testament, based on the kind of language that is being used. We can't do that if the words and the language are incidental or accidental; as if what is inspired is something else behind or beyond the words. 

Being wiser than God

I'm also writing the book in order to say to people that you can have confidence that the Word, being God's Word, is the thing that God uses to prosecute his purposes to transform people. So when you preach, where's your confidence going to be placed? In your skill as a preacher, or your insightful analysis of contemporary culture? Or is the word where your confidence is based? 

On the other side, we can’t tamper with God’s word or sideline it or say that we’ve “moved beyond” it (as an Australian bishop recently said). If we move beyond what the Bible writers had to say on how to live as God's people, and say we know more than they do, that we are wiser than the Scripture—well, the real thing we're saying is that we’re wiser than the one who gave us this Scripture. And if God is not ignorant and he's not deceitful and he's an effective communicator, then I think we actually have every cause to be confident that this word is relevant now. And we want to swing onto it, rather than sideline it.

On the attributes of Scripture

What I want to communicate is that what you say about the Bible always has implications for your understanding of God. So if the Bible is not clear, then does that mean that God is not able to make it clear or did not want to make it clear? Is he trying to deceive us or confuse us? There are all sorts of implications for what you think about God. If God is a loving father, who cares for his people, and he's bringing all things to a completion which he has planned for us and is wonderful beyond imagining, then we can be confident that he is a good communicator, and we ought to trust that he is able to tell us what he wants us to know. 

When we get to truthfulness, if we say that the Bible is not truthful, that it just fudges on the facts or makes mistakes or is ignorant, then what are we saying about God? We're actually saying something about ourselves as well, that our canons of truthfulness are the absolute canons of truthfulness, the categories that we use to define things are the only categories that are right. But what are we saying about God when we question the truthfulness of Scripture? Is he deceitful? Is he ignorant? Is he just clumsy? If those are the things that we believe about God, then that has implications for how we view the Bible. The movement is in both directions. What you say about the Bible has implications on your understanding about God, and what you believe about God has implications for what you say about his word.

The clarity and simplicity of Scripture

TP: If the Bible is supposed to be so clear, why do Christians constantly struggle to understand it, and disagree about its meaning? 

MT: Well, Scripture is not the only component in that equation. We've got Scripture and us, and maybe the problem is with us and not with Scripture. So when it comes to differences of opinion about the Bible, that doesn't mean that the Bible is ambiguous, or doesn't mean that the Bible is unclear. What it does mean is that we bring our own baggage to the Bible as we read it. And I have cultural blind spots and other things that I need people to challenge. It's one of the great things of engaging with people from different cultures, as you read the Bible together, you can suddenly discover, “Hang on, my way of reading this is more being driven by my cultural predispositions rather than by what's actually being said on the page.”

So I like the question that Paul asks in Romans 4, which I bring to the students at colleges. “What does the Scripture say?” Look down at the text and say: really, does it say what you think it says or want it to say? So I think that disagreement has got more to do with us and what we bring to the text. Often the confusion comes from us. We don't have the same knowledge of the languages that obviously the writers did; we have our own limited understanding and cultural situation and historical situation. I don't know all the history of the period in which Jesus walked on earth, as well as those who were living it. So there are differences there that might be issues, and they are overcome as we grow together in understanding the Bible. 

In the end, one of the important principles that come out of the Reformation is the idea that the Bible is its own interpreter. And what that means in practice is: the more you read the Bible, the more you'll understand the Bible.

TP: The Bible itself recognizes that there are parts that are harder to understand. Isn’t there a verse in 2 Peter 3 about that … 

MT: Yes, there are those things that Paul writes that are “difficult to understand”, and then Peter goes on to say, “which the wicked twist to their own disadvantage”. So obviously, it's possible to show that people are twisting it. So it's not impossible to understand, but it's difficult to understand. 

And clarity is not the same as simplicity. Some things are deeply profound, and they’re intricate, and they take careful thought and sustained thinking. And some things are much easier to understand. The whole of the Bible isn't impenetrable. The whole of the Bible isn't introductory, either. The writer to the Hebrews talks about the advanced things about Melchizedek that he should be able to teach about at this point, but his readers are not yet at the stage where they can understand those things. There are different levels of complexity. I think it was Augustine or Gregory the Great who said that the Bible is like a river, shallow enough for a child to play in, deep enough for an elephant to swim in. There's enough there to challenge the greatest minds. There's enough there to comfort the simplest heart.


Here are the publication details of Mark’s book: 

The Doctrine of Scripture: An Introduction, by Mark D. Thompson,
(Short studies in systematic theology series), Crossway, 2022.

Two Ways News
Two Ways News
Gospel thinking for today, with Tony Payne and Phillip Jensen.
Listen on
Substack App
RSS Feed
Appears in episode