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Thursday, January 07, 2016

It’s Alive!

Sometimes you can learn as much by the way something is said as you can from the content of the message itself.

The incidental assumptions upon which the teaching of the apostles is based are often as fascinating and revealing as the assertions of truth themselves. Their absolute conviction with respect to the source, nature, reliability and accuracy of the word of God is the bedrock upon which every Christian doctrine rests.

If all the better-known verses concerning inspiration and the way God worked to produce his word through the prophets were torn from our Bibles tomorrow — even if we lost 2 Timothy and everything written by Peter — we could still infer nearly everything we need to know about the sufficiency, finality and power of scripture from a few stray verses in Galatians 3.

Throwaway Lines

In that chapter there are three quick references to scripture that are not really critical to Paul’s main line of argument. They are so obvious to him (and presumably to his believing audience) that he doesn’t stop to explain or develop them, but carries right on with his discussion of the relative value of faith (as opposed to the works of the law) in the Holy Spirit’s transformation of the Christian and in his or her ongoing relationship with God.

And yet in themselves these are astounding declarations about the word of God.

Scripture’s Precognitive Powers

Take this, for example:
The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith …”
Now of course we know that what Paul is really conveying here is that God knew beforehand that he intended to justify the Gentiles by faith, but that’s not what he says, and Paul seems to choose words very carefully indeed. His way of expressing truth is not sloppy or merely poetic. And yet here he attributes foresight not to God but to scripture, as if the Old Testament itself is invested not only with sentience but with divine omniscience.

That’s a pretty high view of holy writ. Almost … God-like.

The Time-Travelling Tome

Did you know Abraham received an executive summary of the gospel long before it was ever preached?
“[The Scripture] … preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ ”
Imagine the challenge such a verse poses to the hyper-literalist: not only do we have scripture vocalizing, but doing so hundreds of years before it had been formally written down and circulated. We know how Abraham came to hear of the blessing of the nations because Genesis records it for us: God himself said it directly to him, and it was reiterated by an angel from heaven on Moriah. Yet here Paul attributes that action to scripture, almost seeming to suggest that the words we have before us in our Bibles today had some kind of pre-incarnate existence in God.

Sort of like the Lord Jesus himself.

Who Has the Keys?

Again in verse 22, Paul’s choice of words is intriguing:
“The Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
Since Paul has been talking about the difference between law and promise, it would be natural (and perhaps more understandable) to say, “The law imprisoned everything under sin” (or “locked up”, “shut up” or “concluded”, depending on your translation). And yet, apparently out of the blue, he attributes this function to scripture, which includes but is by no means limited to the law.

But the anthropomorphism is not random. It is not a casual substitution. Where law speaks only to the Jew or the Jewish proselyte, the scripture speaks to the world, as Paul has already made clear in verse 8. God is clearing the way for the blessing of the Gentiles.

But in expressing this, Paul again attributes to scripture that which can only be truly said of God himself.

Living and Active

What can we say about all this? Well, if the Bible’s claims about itself matter to us, it is clear that within its pages the attributes of God are over and over ascribed to the Word itself. It is impossible to imagine that either its writers or its believing audience saw it as a mere collection of human thoughts scratched or imprinted on dead trees or parchment. It is invested with the nature of God himself.

God did not just say it, have it written down for posterity and leave mankind to address it with our own limited intelligence. Instead, God continues to work through his word as we read it. When we engage with this book, we do not stand in judgment on it. Rather, it stands in judgment on us.

We might say with the writer to the Hebrews that it is “living and active … discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.

It’s alive, folks.

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