I threw away a book yesterday. It didn’t say anything important about science. It didn’t tell me exactly what to eat for lunch. Some of what it said, I didn’t want to do. The book had zero facts about history, or archaeology, or politics, or the life cycle of starfish. The author never mentioned Abraham Lincoln, which I assume means they don’t even know who he was. It didn’t tell me how to file my taxes or stitch up a bad cut. So, I figured the book was useless and nothing in it was worth knowing.
Unfortunately, what I threw away was a cookbook, and now I’m not sure how long to bake this chicken.
That’s silly, of course, but it brings up an important point. The cookbook was written for a purpose. It only contains what the author thought would fit that purpose. There’s no reason for a cookbook to even mention politics or the mating habits of starfish. But before we start criticizing a book, let alone ignoring it, we ought to know the purpose for which it was written.
In exactly the same way, and for the same reason, we need to understand the purpose of the Bible before we start complaining about what it does or does not say. Otherwise, we’re missing the point.
What we call “the Bible” is a collection of 66 separate books, written by different authors across many centuries. Each book has different aspects of wisdom to impart, however, as a single collection of Scripture, it was inspired by God for a reason. That reason is summed up in a sentence written by the apostle Paul:
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." —2 Timothy 3:15-17
Notice what’s NOT listed in that statement. Paul does not say, “God wrote the Bible so we’d know the difference between protons and neutrons.” It does NOT say, “The Bible is useful for solving calculus equations.” Nor does Paul say it was God-breathed “to tell us everything we ever want to know, forever, all the time, exactly.”
In short, the Bible has a specific purpose: to tell humanity precisely what we DO need to know in order to be reconciled to God and how to properly follow His will. Any information that is not included is not useful for that specific purpose.
The Bible was written with a purpose that needs to be kept in mind when reading it. Those 66 individual books contain different styles and are written with their own themes. Some include poetry, or symbolism, or exaggeration. Some are extremely literal. Some are boringly, tediously specific (here’s looking at you, Numbers). But all are meant to be read with a common understanding: there’s something here God intends me to learn, about Him.
That means context matters. We need to look at other verses, other chapters, and other books to get the full picture of God’s message. The Bible was never meant to be seen as a collection of 31,096 fortune-cookie tidbits. Nor is meant as a choose-your-own-adventure book where you get to pick and choose what you want to do or listen to and ignore the rest. All of it matters, but all of it must be read, understood, and applied as intended by the author.
Every book is written for a purpose, and the Bible is no different in that way. Information not included in Scripture—like statements about science, politics, or cooking—are not part of the purpose of the Bible. Those facts are not “missing” or “wrong.” They’re just not included, because they don’t need to be. Scripture must be read carefully and in context to be understood. But remember, the Bible only tells us what we MUST know, according to its purpose, which is telling human beings how to be reconciled with our Creator.
Jeff is a staff writer with Got Questions Ministries and used to be a mechanical engineer. When he's not accidentally setting things on fire in his workshop, or petting strange dogs, he loves helping people better understand God’s Word and how it applies to our lives. Jeff's calling is to untangle the "big picture" of Christian faith, making it easier to understand.