Teaching God’s Word to students is a great privilege, one that comes with the responsibility to communicate the vital truth that God continues to speak through the Scriptures.
The Bible has never been a “once and done” book. It wasn’t only written for a time-bound group of people. God spoke when the Scriptures were penned, but He continues to speak today through those same Scriptures. A look into the book of Hebrews gives us some clarity about what this means.
The author of Hebrews uses both the past and present tenses to indicate the historical and contemporary voice of God. He says, “In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways” (Hebrews 1:1, NIV). Here, he uses the past tense of the verb “to speak” to describe how God communicated in Old Testament times.
However, in a subsequent passage, he uses the present tense when quoting from Psalm 95, which refers to Moses and the wilderness wanderings described in Numbers 14. The psalmist David had warned his generation against a sin committed by the Israelites hundreds of years earlier. Here, the author of Hebrews warns his generation against the same sin by referencing both Numbers and Psalms, using the present tense: “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness’” (Hebrews 3:7–8, NIV).
“The Holy Spirit says” refers to the present—the present being whenever someone reads those words. By using the present tense in verse 7, the author implies that when God speaks in Scripture, His message is timeless.
Several verses later, the author again quotes the word “today” from Psalm 95 to further emphasize that any time a person reads the Scriptures, it’s “today.” “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV).
The author of Hebrews is attributing both past and present significance to the words of God. He uses the present tense throughout his book to describe God continually speaking (Hebrews 1:6, 7; 3:7; 5:6; 8:5, 8; 10:5, NIV). He emphasizes that God speaks today in the Bible just as He spoke long ago when the words were being written down.
Living in New Testament times, the author quotes Old Testament words as relevant to his current time. In the same way, we should understand that the timeless truths of the whole Bible are relevant to us in our current time.
Think about this miraculous reality of God speaking to us, using the same Scriptures to speak to 21st-century believers that he used to speak to his people thousands of years ago! That should make us stop and take notice. It should help us understand more about how God communicates (through His Word), when He communicates (the same Word through the ages), and why He communicates (He loves us and invites us to learn about Him and follow His ways).
Our only reasonable response is a desire to serve, love, and obey Him, and only God’s Word can help us do that.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV). His Word is inexplicably powerful, and it is also perpetual.
The same words that God spoke to Moses, He spoke as a warning in David’s time. The same words that strengthened and comforted believers in the early church can strengthen and comfort us today. They are God’s words. Listen to them “today.”
Dr. William Krewson is a professor in Cairn’s School of Divinity and author of Jerome and the Jews: Innovative Supersessionism (Wipf and Stock, 2017). He can be reached by emailing email@example.com.