Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Inspiration of Scripture - And Our Response

The Inspiration of Scripture - And Our Response

In some churches, at the end of the reading of the passage of Scripture in the worship service, the Bible reader concludes with “This is the Word of the Lord”, and the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God!” I like that. I like that very much. It is a recognition by both reader and congregation of what has just been happening: we have been listening to the Word of God read to us.

The foundation of our faith in God is the teaching of Scripture. Thus such a recognition by the worshipers in the service, that we have been listening to the Word of God, is beneficial for us all.

There are so many ways in which our full confidence in the Scriptures can be called into question these days - sometimes overtly, and sometimes much more subtly. Have you noticed the spate of “red letter Bibles” churned out by respectable publishers? Bibles with the words of Jesus printed in red type: an apparently innocuous device that highlights and immediately enables us to identify what Jesus himself has said.

But to what purpose? we might ask. For convenience, and ease of use, we are told. But how would this help us? we ask. So that we can distinguish what Jesus said from bare narrative and from what other people said. And why might we want to do that? we may enquire. And at this point we can generally go around in circles.

But red letter Bibles are indeed produced so that we can readily distinguish the words of Jesus. Which leads us to register in our minds a difference between the two: the words in red and the words in black, and then (the next step, so easily taken) to see a distinction between the two. “These are the very words of Jesus (and these are just the words of somebody else)” - and that concept of “just” slips in, and next we will be likely to find ourselves regarding the “words of Jesus” differently from the rest of Scripture (for are they not highlighted in red?). The stage beyond that is imperceptively easy to reach: the words of Jesus are more important, more inspired, more authoritative, than the rest.

We are thus insidiously being brought to the acceptance of the idea of two levels of inspiration in the Scripture: the words of Jesus, and everything else.

So, Christians can end up thinking, “This is the teaching of Jesus”, and therefore accepting it as authoritative; and “This is just the opinion of Paul (or some other writer)”, and therefore it is able, in varying degrees, to be treated just the same as anybody else’s opinion, and disregarded or disagreed with if we so choose.

Of course people can come to this kind of attitude without needing the assistance of a red letter Bible, but it certainly helps.

And making this distinction between the words of Jesus and the rest can result in undercutting the authority of the rest of Scripture by featuring the words of Jesus in red as “special” and being somehow different from all the rest. You preach on 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God ...” but your listeners have already qualified and interpreted this as “Yes, but the teaching of Jesus is different from the rest, isn’t it?” because their red letter Bible is saying that to them loud and clear every time they open it.

If we recognize that the apostles and prophets - and all the writers of Scripture - spoke and wrote as the Holy Spirit guided and inspired them (Ephesians 3:4-5; 2 Peter 1:20-21), we need to act so as to underline and reinforce that truth. Not undercut it and call it into question with the use of a printed Bible that shrieks on every page “There’s the red bit and the black bit, and they’re different, as you can plainly see.”

Paul clearly says (2:13) that he and his fellow servants of God impart the truths of God in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit. The things that Paul writes are the commandment of the Lord (14:37). Which is true also of every one of the other authors whom the Spirit used in the writing of the Scriptures. Let us accept the full authority with which they write and not relegate their writings, de facto, to being some “type 2” subordinate kind of Scripture.

Recognizing these things does not in any way call into question the individuality of each biblical author. It does not imply some wrong-headed mechanistic “typewriter” idea of the Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture, as if the “authors” were no more than “transcribers” of words dictated to them from heaven. Not at all: the Holy Spirit used the individual writers just as they were. That is why we can see difference between books written by different authors - differences of vocabulary and phraseology, of structure and ways of writing, of interests and emphases. And it can indeed be profitable to look at all these things and examine (for instance) “Pauline theology” compared with “Johannine theology”, and so on.

But after we have fully recognized these things, we are to recognize also that “men spoke from God” in what they wrote, as “they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), and that what they produced was exactly what God wanted said and conveyed his truth with complete accuracy.

Thus we can endorse what Cyril of Alexandria said early in the Christian era (Kovacs xvi), “The entire Scripture is one book and was spoken by the one Holy Spirit”.

Ultimately, this is what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 2:13.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)



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