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Thursday, July 21, 2011

What The Bible Isn’t

Today, random thoughts on the nature of the Christian Scriptures.

* * *

Please read this:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Now please read this:

“All Scripture is handwritten by God in 17th century English, and it is the Word of God just as Jesus is the Word of God, inerrant and unsurpassed for anything from mathematics, to recipes, to hidden messages revealed through code breaking: That the man of God may have handy quotations with which to browbeat his enemies.” (absolutely not 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

* * *

I have known people who quote the first set of lines above, all the while believing they are quoting the second set when they say the words of the first.  Some of these people (not all, not all) frighten me with their fury when discussing “Biblical inerrancy” – much the way some Muslims (not all, not all) frighten me with their willingness to break into riots, burn buildings, and trample one another upon learning that half a world away, some hick preacher has disrespected a paper copy of the Qur’an.

* * *

If, while reading this, you are already feeling defensive and argumentative and ready to pounce … you might be one of those people.

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This line from a Baptist preacher made me sit up and soul-search a couple weeks ago: “Why are Fundamentalists always pointing to the Bible rather than to Jesus when they talk about their faith?”  The insight in that question stunned me into realizing how many people I know who raise the Bible above Jesus when asked to discuss their faith.  They even argue about some kind of equivalency between Jesus as the Word of God, and the Bible as the word of God.  It borders on book worship, in some cases.

* * *

Many Christians are fond of saying, with much force: “The church is not the building!  It’s the people!”

How many would look at me with stunned disbelief if I declared, with as much force: “The Word is not the book!  It’s the Savior!”

At least some would be sure I was on the verge of speaking heresy.

* * *

A friend, a brother in Christ, asked me last week if I took the Bible literally.  Actually, the question was, “Don’t you take the Bible literally?!?!?!” Naturally, I don’t know how many question marks and exclamation points were in the question, but from the force of the inquiry, I’m guessing three each.

I answered, “I believe the Lord aroused the writers of Scripture, and what’s in there is really useful.  I mean, I find the Bible really beneficial for shaping what I believe, and if I mess up, there’s bound to be insights in Scripture that show me what I did wrong.  It’s the book God uses to help me do what’s right.”

What followed was a lot of sputtering and stammering from my friend.  “Useful?  The Bible’s just useful?  It helps you do good works, good works?  It’s really beneficial, that’s all?!?!?!”

Yes, the tone was all punctuation-marky again.  Perhaps what I said is causing a lot of punctuation in your brain right now, too.  But everything I said above is exactly what Paul said to Timothy about Scripture.  All Scripture is profitable.  All Scripture is useful.  All Scripture is a tool.

I cherish Scripture.  But I am in a relationship with the true Word of God, my Beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am not in a relationship with Bibles.  I am not summoned to the wedding feast of the KJV.  He will not kiss me with the kiss of his New International Version.

* * *

Here’s what Paul says about the Scriptures in 2 Timothy 3:

(1) They can make you wise about salvation through faith in Jesus.
(2) They’re given by inspiration of God.
(3) They’re useful for doctrine.
(4) They’re useful for reproof and correction.
(5) They’re useful for instruction in righteousness.
(6) They help a man of God become complete (which is what “perfect”  means).
(7) They furnish (supply, equip, tool) us for doing good works.

* * *

Random aside: A relatively new Christian once said to me that he knew the Bible was one hundred percent inerrant in all aspects of reality.  Those were his words – in all aspects of reality.

“Even the book of Nahum?” I asked.

“Absolutely!” he said.

“What’s the book of Nahum about?” I asked.

It took him a while to answer.  “I haven’t read that yet.”

In the interest of peace, I let it rest.  What I did not type back to him was this: “If your faith in the Bible isn’t based on the Bible – and it can’t be, since you obviously haven’t finished reading it yet – then where did that faith come from?  Who told you that was how to think about the Scriptures?”

* * *

All Scripture is inspired by God.  Theopneustoskai, a beautiful word that combines the elements of pneuma, wind and breath and spirit, all in a single morpheme; and Theos, God.  The breath of the Infinite.  Whispers from the Almighty.  A conversation with the One I love, He who loved me first.

I’ve watched apologists pour hours of time into “proving” the Bible is “true” through tricks of rhetoric, amateurish plodding through bad science, and retrofitted “prophecies” forced to match today’s headlines.  I am sad for such men.  I picture them going home to their wives, being told they are loved, and responding, “Yes, for I have proof that you love me, dear, evidenced by a 98.7% house-dusting accuracy rate, evidential strata of bathroom towel stackage, irreducibly complex flavors in your cooking, and other items I can detail for you from an explanation of Proverbs 31.  Sit and listen as I expound.”

Such men know the Scriptures.  I pray they know the Author.

Let me go out on a limb here: No one was ever brought into faith in Christ via cool data and meticulous apologetics.  No one.  Not even those who claim they were.  They were brought into faith through the calling of the Beloved, bought through His blood, and set on a path of righteousness through a very intimate infilling of the Holy Spirit.  Spirit.  Pneuma.  Breath.  Breathed into.

Everyone who “believes in” the Bible came to that conclusion only after they were called by the whisper of the Beloved.

* * *

Let me end with a really, really controversial statement.  Only my friends read this blog (I think), so I’m sure one or two will want to sit down with me to discuss this next observation.  Some may even yell at me.  Others will show me Scriptures about what the “word of God” is.

Here goes: Who told us that it is proper to refer to the written Bible as “The word of God”?

I propose this: that the term “word of God,” when it appears in the Bible, almost never refers to the written, completed Bible.  So when Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God is pure,” it is not referring to the bound and printed book we now use as part of our faith.  In the Scriptures, “the word of God” is a term used of Jesus.  It’s used of the message of Jesus’ salvation.  It’s used of Jesus’  teaching on hillsides, and the breathing in of the Spirit when God moved among the prophets long before Jesus’ time.

When a Christian reads the term “word of God” in Scripture, it is incorrect – dare I say heretical? idolatrous? – to mentally insert the term “Bible” in its place.

My Beloved is the Word of God.  He is a two-edged sword, the very sword of the Spirit, and His Word is the Gospel itself, the good news that God has crafted a radical way, an extravagant way, to win back a world.

And that is the Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Marana Tha,


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