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.


Anonymous said...

I can't help thinking there's a false dichotomy here between "miraculous origin" and "unique message"... why can't its authority come from both of these?

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Because there is no such thing.

The present canonical Bibles of the various traditions calling themselves Church and Christian, are different.

Different in content, different in standing and different in application.

The different traditions even vary over the interpretation of canonic, pseudo-canonic, pseudo-epigraph and apocryph...

The canonisation itself is mid to late 16th century, the Holy Scriptures (always in the plural) having been assorted and assembled and discarded variously over 1500 years.

And although all the Scriptures acknowledged today, were know around the year 400 many more were acknowledged that we nowadays would not consider, and this went on well into the mid 16th century.

Chris Tilling said...

Goran, while you are generally, I think, correct, your post perhaps ignores the importance of the synods of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397 and 419). And lets not forget Cyprian's 250 list. You are probably overemphasising discontinuity where the church has maintained a rough degree of continuity.

Chris Tilling said...

Ben, a question. I wonder how we determine the content of the gospel that throws such light on the rest of scripture. What is the criteria? And is it not possible that understanding the role of much in the OT throws light on what we understand as gospel (cf. the Exodus, justice of God, creation themes etc.). Thus, it is perhaps not simply that we locate inspiration in the message of the gospel, but also in the scriptures that shaped the dynamic and purpose of that gospel. And is this not necessary? Without some kind of grasp of the creation wide gospel call, perhaps most thoroughly gleaned from Gen and second Isaiah, we could read Paul's 'the righteousness of God is now revealed' in individualistic or purely forensic categories'. So perhaps scriptural authority is not merely the message, but the message and mission of the gospel to the world, something that scripture (understood primarily as a narrative) builds up to? These are not my conclusions as much as thinking aloud!

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