Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Word, Uncontained

“It’s got to be in here somewhere ...”
This YouTuber, blasting away in ALL CAPS, wants us to know that “THE BIBLE CANNOT BE THE WORD OF GOD.”

Oh, he calls himself a Christian, make no mistake. But he insists the Bible is “the words of men that have recorded some words of God sometimes”. So much so that the caps come out again:

“Our focus and our trust must be in Jesus, WE MUST BE LED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD.”

Being led by the Holy Spirit with our focus on and trust in Jesus seems a pretty good deal to me. It’s his understanding of what that means that’s the problem.

In the context of his five minute discourse, it becomes clear that what this means to the speaker is that each individual Christian must read the Bible and pick out the bits that he feels the Holy Spirit is telling him are authoritative, assigning the rest to the category “mere words of man”.

Our Bearded YouTuber Is Not Alone

This is not a viewpoint unique to our lone wolf YouTube uploader. Eric English, one of the “emerging voices” from the Emergent Village feels the same way, and expresses it more coherently. For Mr. English:
“The Bible is not the WORD OF GOD … The WORD OF GOD is a moment that a human being encounters … When we assert that the bible is the WORD OF GOD we are diminishing what it means to possess the WORD OF GOD.”
As with our YouTube friend, Mr. English prioritizes the idea of being led of the Holy Spirit, to the extent that human subjectivity becomes the standard by which any statement in the Bible is to be assessed.

But this view that scripture merely contains the word of God is not remotely the position that the Bible takes concerning itself.

The Teaching of Scripture About Authority

Saying that the Bible “contains” God’s word is a hopelessly inadequate means of assessing that about which Christ himself said “cannot be broken” and out of which “not an iota, not a dot, will pass” until all is accomplished.

If the Lord would not see an “iota” or a “dot” removed from scripture, what does he think of those who would excise words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and perhaps entire books solely on the basis of their own reaction to them?

The New Testament is not merely a place where the authority of all scripture as the word of God is explicitly taught. It is also riddled with many passing attestations that every word in the Old Testament was understood by the early Christians to be God himself speaking, not merely men speaking on his behalf or on their own initiative.

If the authority of God for the very wording of the Old Testament is a delusion, it is a delusion embraced equally not only by every New Testament author but by their Jewish audience, who, while often opposed to what was being taught, never once questioned the fact that both Christ and the apostles used Old Testament scripture as the definitive answer to every question. In fact, they would have paid no attention at all to their interpretations if they did not.

To me, the little phrases that seem to occur at random in the New Testament are as telling, or more telling, than Paul’s and Peter’s explicit statements about the authority of God’s word simply because they are so natural, unlabored and utterly unselfconscious.

The Position of the New Testament Writers

They start early, in Matthew, from the Lord himself:
“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
But in its original context this is not a quote from YHWH at all; it is an editorial comment made by the human writer of Genesis. Yet the Lord simply appropriates it without further elaboration. His audience knew what he meant.

Luke quotes Peter taking the same thing for granted in the early chapters of Acts:
“… the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas …”
David may have given voice to it, Peter says, but it was the Holy Spirit speaking. The gathered disciples acknowledge this truth when they pray together:
Sovereign Lord, whothrough the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit …”
Paul assumes the same thing when speaking in Pisidian Antioch:
“… he [God] has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore he [God] says also in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ ”
The first instance is Isaiah and the second is David, but the apostle simply assumes that it is God who has spoken, without feeling the need for explanation or further comment.

Finally, the writer to the Hebrews assumes the same authority:
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts …’ ”
It’s the Holy Spirit who “says”, though the original quote is from an unnamed psalmist.

The assumption of the absolute authority of scripture as the word of God is the same no matter which New Testament writer is doing it, and no matter which Old Testament writer is being quoted. And the word “scripture”, with all the authority implicit in its use, applies equally to the New Testament writings themselves, as Peter teaches.

‘Containing’ the Word of God

God’s word is not “contained” in some larger document, leaving us with the daunting task of sussing out for ourselves the difference between divine truth and human opinion. All scripture is inspired of God, period. The writers of the Bible did not believe it merely “contained” the word of God, and they said as much. They taught it plainly, and they took it absolutely for granted even when it wasn’t their subject. You can believe them or you can reject their testimony; the prerogative is entirely yours.

To imagine one man’s personal assessment of the authority of any Bible passage is the litmus test for eternal truth — based, as it inevitably must be, solely on the twitching of his synapses and his subjective analysis as to whether or not he is currently being led by the Holy Spirit — is not just silly and risibly vain.

It’s just plain intellectually incoherent.

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