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On Scripture


When we approach the Scriptures we have a lot to consider. Obviously this topic intersects directly with worldview and epistemology, how we view the world, and how we know things. Often it is given an entire book, and is still not finished. Let us not be surprised then at just how large it is. Lets set some boundary markers.

Plainly, humans are responsible for carrying out God’s wishes. They are responsible for writing down and communicating what God wants communicated. God is not acting alone inside his creation. Rather, it is clearly evident that he prefers to act with us. The ‘Scriptures’ is the New Testament reference for the Hebrew Bible. In the first century, there is no Hebrew Canon. Texts like Tobit, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Enoch are known by many. The attestation of ‘truth’ to the Hebrew Scriptures lays on the truthfulness of God’s prophets, Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, and so on. These men heard God speak, “Thus YHWH says”, therefore the Scriptures contain, but are not the ‘word of God’.

Extending all this one level outward gets us a good deal further. The Scriptures are plainly a product of both man and God. Man’s individual and unique literary voices are stamped throughout the Scriptures. As is God’s story and plan for the world. This product of God working with man is called “inspired”. Sometimes God gives visions, like to Isaiah and Daniel. Sometimes God appears in a burning mountain, like Noah. Sometimes John the Baptist dunks people in water, re-enacting Israel’s fundamental and most basic story. And Sometimes, God twists the story, working with Jesus through going to the cross.

God’s story is seen from many different angles by the people in God’s drama. Sometimes people see it from God’s angle, sometimes not. But all texts are useful. The shoe-horning of the idea of a canon onto the ancient world is anachronism. Studying all the diverse texts we have available help us draw the picture of life and belief at that time. These are all competing stories, just like the Essenes and people at Qumran fought against the Saducees, and the Pharisees against them both. Each of these groups is telling the story of Israel and what God is doing slightly differently. Once we study these things we find that Jesus is harmonious with some aspects, and dissonant with others. The issue of who Jesus is and what he is saying is not cookie-cutter simple. He crosses some lines and blurs others. That is what makes him Jesus.

So when we see Jesus and his people declaring the Gospel, and working with God in the world (through the holy spirit), we see God inspiring men, and we see God’s very words as the words coming out of mens’ mouths. It is no coincidence that many times in the gospels ‘the word of God’ is linked directly with the Gospel. Out of Jesus’ proclamation of hope and the Gospel comes disciples. And out of their evangelization comes the early Church, and the texts of the New Testament.

Again, as I stated before, God is inspiring these people of the Church to go out, to stay in, to give freely, and to write – each is inspired, each God led. To create a Christian worldview, or to live a life as a Christian, these documents are authoritative. They record the seeds of the early Christian movement as found in Jesus. They record the acts of Jesus, and they record the acts of God around Jesus, which includes the early Church.

To turn to these documents themselves proves incredibly interesting. Seeing as we are two millenia and half a world away we have to do some serious work to understand the context in which all of these actions are done. If we fail to do so, we fail to understand exactly what God had done there. This notion of context also has serious repurcusions to understanding literature and rhetoric itself. We have to realize the different kinds of literature present in our texts, and the use of rhetoric within them. Even scholars recognize we’ve done a poor job at this at times (specifically understanding the means and aims of “proof-texting” in the ancient world). What we have in the case of the gospels is a sort of theological history (not a history of theologies, or religions, nor a theological telling of history) but a theologized historical account. Each of the gospel writers focus on what they want to say. They come from different angles, and with different focuses. If we want to do them justice we will each understand them as they desired to be understood. For example, if you went up to Franz Kafka as told him that his story Metamorphosis was an interesting account of treating insects as humans he might very well laugh at you. That was not his intention in writing that story, and to treat it as such is to do disrespect to his work. Or perhaps, if you told the meaning of the story of “Humpty Dumpty” to a 15th century Englishmen they might very well laugh at you. Since that story is about the downfall of their King Richard III in its original context. We’ve taken it as a nursery rhyme and appropriated it very different didactic uses. So, to understand the gospels, we must understand them as the author intends us to understand them.

Again, this leaves us with plenty of work to do. As many know, there are discrepancies and mis-matches, “errors” (if you will), in the Scriptures. I don’t mean to break anyone’s faith at all. Most of the so-called “errors” that many people bring up to challenge the Scriptures aren’t worth waving a stick at. There is still every reason to see the Scriptures as authoritative and inspired. This thing called being a Christian is just not that simple. If you think you’ve got all the answers, try again. I know I sure don’t.

One Response to “On Scripture”

  1. on 24 Dec 2008 at 9:40 amJohnO

    Sorry for being late with the post, I was terribly sick with the stomach flu on Monday.


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