Wednesday, 28 September 2005

The Bible and the Word of God

In recent posts I have suggested that the “inspiration” of Scripture should be understood not as a static property of the biblical text, but as an event that takes place in and through the text. I described this event as an act in which God speaks or “breathes out” the gospel. This means that the Bible is unique because of what happens through it, because of something God does when the Bible’s message is communicated.

To describe this event quite simply: the Bible is the Word of God because God himself speaks through it, because through it God “breathes” the gospel. As Karl Barth put it, the Bible is God’s Word because it becomes his Word again and again.

The essential point in all this is that the Word of God is an event that happens. It is not a fixed text, not an object that we could master and possess. The Word of God is God himself speaking and acting; the Word of God is God himself encountering us here and now with a word of salvation. Because this Word happens through the Bible, because God himself elects to speak through this particular text, it is true to say that “the Bible is the Word of God.”

Several readers have thus raised an important question: what is the difference between the Bible and other forms of gospel-speaking? If the Bible is the Word of God “instrumentally” rather than “formally,” how can we claim for this particular text a normative status above all other Christian texts (e.g. sermons, theological treatises, or blogs)?

The answer, I think, is that the Bible has a normative status precisely because of God’s election. God has chosen the biblical writers and the biblical texts to be the primary witnesses to the history of his saving act. God has chosen to speak his own Word through the word of these witnesses. God has chosen to assume these witnesses, to take their human words up into his own saving history. God has chosen that these witnesses should be the rule and guide (κανων) for all subsequent speech about himself, so that these witnesses will in turn bring forth new witness, new speech, in each successive historical moment.

Through the Bible—and through the Bible alone—we learn what it means to speak the gospel. And in so far as, guided by the Bible, we do speak the gospel, the Word of God also takes place through our speaking. This is not a different or lesser Word from the Word that takes place in Scripture. It is the very same Word of God which takes place both in Scripture and in our own gospel-speaking. But it takes place in our contemporary speaking only to the extent that this speaking remains guided by the primary witnesses of the biblical canon.

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