Wednesday, 14 September 2005

The core of the Bible

I have been suggesting in the last few posts that the uniqueness of the Bible should be understood materially rather than formally. The Bible is not unique because the text itself has a miraculous origin. Rather it is unique because it says something unique, it has a unique message. In other words, the Bible is unique because of the gospel.

If we approach the Bible in this way, we can affirm that the biblical texts have a kerygmatic or evangelical “core.” Some things in the Bible are more central than others. Some parts of the Bible are more significant than others.

If we were to approach the Bible via the seventeenth-century doctrine of inspiration, then a priori it would be impossible to identify a biblical centre. If our starting-point was a notion of the word-for-word inspiration of the biblical texts, then we would have no criterion for saying that 1 Corinthians 15 is more central than Jude, or that the Fourth Gospel is more significant than Ruth. Thus the notion that the Bible is formally unique actually tends to reduce everything in the Bible to a single level, so that we are left with no internal criterion by which to interpret the Bible as a whole.

On the other hand, because the Bible has an evangelical core, because the whole Bible is centred on the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can agree with R. P. C. Hanson that the biblical canon is “a circle of light, with dazzling brightness at the centre and twilight at the edges.” This is by no means a disparagement of the “edges” of the canon. Rather, it is simply a recognition of the meaning and purpose of the canon as a whole. It is a recognition that the whole canon finds its meaning, its raison d’être, in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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