We may not often think of the word essence in relation to the Bible, but the Word of God does have a particular essence. If we want to grow in Christ, it’s critical for us to know what that essence is.
What does essence mean?
The dictionary defines essence as the indispensable quality of something, the most important ingredient or crucial element of that thing. Something’s essence tells us what it is at the most fundamental level. This is important because what something is determines how we handle it. Thus, knowing the essence of the Bible determines how we handle the Bible.
An example with food
Consider an orange. When we look at an orange, we see its round shape, its orange color, and its smooth texture. All these observations are correct, but if we don’t know the essence of the orange, we might use it for something besides its intended purpose. We might play with it because it looks like a ball, or we might use it as a lovely, orange decoration. But we won’t enjoy the essence of the orange!
However, when we know what the essence of the orange is—its nourishing fruit and juice—we treat it much differently. We no longer want to play with it or put it on a shelf. We want to eat it, or juice it, to enjoy its essence. That’s how we get the full benefit of the orange.
An example with the Bible
What is the Word of God? When we look at its “surface,” what do we see? We may see a compilation of interesting stories, a book of good morals and high ethics, a manual for religious practices, or a reference for doctrinal teaching. But when we handle the Bible as a book of stories or a manual, we don’t get the full benefit from it.
All these things are found in the Bible, but they aren’t what the Bible is. To get the benefit God intended from His Word, we need to see the essence, the crucial element, of the Bible.
What is the essence of the Bible?
The answer is found in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed.”
This verse doesn’t say that all Scripture is God-mandated or even God-given. It says that all Scripture is God-breathed. The first part of note 2 on God-breathed in the New Testament Recovery Version elaborates:
“This indicates that the Scripture, the word of God, is the breathing out of God. God’s speaking is God’s breathing out. Hence, His word is Spirit (John 6:63), or breath. Thus, the Scripture is the embodiment of God as the Spirit. The Spirit is therefore the very essence, the substance, of the Scripture.”
Breath and Spirit are the same word in the original languages of the Bible. By saying that all Scripture is God-breathed, the apostle Paul indicates that the essence of the Bible is the Spirit.
Breath, as we know, is necessary for our physical life. Similarly, the Scripture being God-breathed has to do with our spiritual life. John 6:63 says,
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
It’s not the black and white letters of the Bible that give life; it’s the Spirit, the essence in those words, who gives life. When we know this, we’ll come to the Bible not simply to learn something new, but to touch the life-giving essence, the Spirit, in the Word.
Life and what gives life
Just like with the orange, we can become distracted by the “surface” of the Bible. When this happens, we’re likely to mishandle the Bible, and we miss the life contained in the Word of God.
Yet God desires that we have His life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). So the most important thing for us to get from the Bible, more important than any doctrines, teachings, or stories, is life. God’s breath, God’s Spirit, gives life. Good teachings can’t give us life. Ethics can’t give us life. Only the Spirit can give us life, and this Spirit is the essence of the Bible.
If we see that the Spirit is the essence of the Bible, we’ll change our approach. We’ll come to the Spirit in God’s Word, and the Spirit will give us life. This life will refresh us, enliven us, feed us, and cause us to grow in Christ. This is the key to our spiritual growth.