Tuesday 27 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.


Anonymous said...

Really interesting post, I've thoroughly enjoyed your series on the doctrine of scripture, very informative. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Still, how do we know of this election if not by the witness of the Church, which inspired by the Spirit, declares that it is so? Without witness of the community, there is no canon, no confirmation of the election of which you speak.

Eddie said...

And I think you still have the problem of when the shaping of the canon is finished. Did God really oust the Apochryphal writings? If so, has he abandoned the Catholic's and gone with the Protestant wing?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Ken: Really what you're asking for is certainty. "How do we know...?" I'm going to post on exactly this problem in the next couple of days!

Ben Myers said...

Hi Eddie: Well, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that there was any direct divine involvement in the shaping of the canon, i.e., in the ecclesial deliberations about canonicity. Rather, I was only using the term “canon” in its etymological sense, to indicate that the biblical witnesses remain the normative “guide” or “rule” for all successive Christian witness.

So I don’t think it’s a matter of God’s preference for one ecclesial canon over another. (And of course even the Protestant canon has borderline cases which are still problematic in some respects -- e.g. the catholic epistles.) In any event, the central evangelical witness of the Roman Catholic canon remains identical with the central witness of the Protestant canon, regardless of the problems of apocryphal and other borderline writings.

Anonymous said...

No Ben, I'm not asking for certainty because the Church canonizes by faith... there's no way to prove the inspiration of canonization. I'm asking for a recognition of the fact that God's revelation is given to the Church who receives it and affirms it. If the Church did not exist, neither would the Bible. This I think is as much a historical reality as it is a spiritual, theological one.

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