More good stuff from Daniel Kirk, who asks the radical question that no one seems to directly address: What is the Bible?
In the past I’ve offered some thoughts for my kids: Some Random, Half-Baked Propositions on Scripture
Chaplain Mike of InternetMonk provided this helpful summary of his understanding of scripture.
Today, I would like to present, for your consideration and discussion, a ten-point summary of my perspective on Scripture (at this point in my understanding).
• The Bible is from God. It is one of the means by which God has made himself known to human beings. The various books of the Bible were composed and edited and put together under the mysterious method of “inspiration,” by which God worked mostly through normal human processes to communicate his message.
• The Bible is incarnational. That is, it comes to us in fully human form, taking the words of people written in their own times, from within their own cultures, according to the genres and literary conventions common to their day, and within the confines of their own limited perspectives, to communicate God’s message.
• The Bible involves a complex conversation of faith over time. The Bible contains multiple voices, a diversity of narrative and theological perspectives, and a development of thought over time. For example, Joshua and Judges present two sides of the conquest of Canaan. Ecclesiastes and Job protest the wisdom tradition represented by a book like Proverbs, which even in its own pages presents several points of view. The “history” of Chronicles presents a different scenario of the same events than we see in the books of Kings. This diversity is only a problem if we expect the Bible to be something it is not—a timeless and perfectly consistent, always harmonizable record that is precise in every detail according to modern standards of accuracy.
• The Bible came to us through the community of faith. Recognizing that there were human processes involved in the final editing and canonization of the Bible also highlights how God used people to bring the Bible as a final product to the world. The Hebrew Bible was put together mostly during and after the Babylonian exile. The church took nearly four centuries to complete the canonization process for the New Testament. Our understanding of the nature, authority, and message of Scripture must take these human processes into account as well.
• The Bible is the church’s primary authority (Prima Scriptura). The fact that the church functioned for the first four centuries of its life without a complete Bible means that it cannot have sole authority apart from the church, the Holy Spirit, and the apostolic traditions (the “rule of faith”). For Protestants, at the very least this means we must make a fresh commitment to learning church history, the creeds, and the early Church Fathers for a fuller understanding and practice of the faith.
• The Bible is true. “True” is a better way of describing the Bible than “inerrant” or “infallible” or any such words that grow out of modern categories. After all, what is an “inerrant” poem? An “infallible” story? The Bible is true because it tells the truth about God, the state of the world, human life and death, sin and salvation, wisdom and foolishness. But most of all because it tells the truth about the Truth himself and leads its readers to him.
• The Bible is God’s story. Any individual passage or part of the Bible should be read and interpreted in the light of its big picture, its overall pattern and message. The final form of the Bible tells a “Christotelic” story. From “in the beginning” to “in the end of days” the story constantly develops and moves forward to its culmination in Christ and the new creation. This story must always determine our emphases when interpreting its message.
• The Bible’s central focus is Jesus. The apostles testify that Jesus taught them to see that the purpose of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings is to point to him and his good news, which restores God’s blessing to all creation. The New Testament, of course, tells Jesus’ story and accounts of the apostolic community that experienced and spread his good news. The Bible is not God’s final word, but is rather a primary witness to Jesus, God’s final Word.
• The Bible does not contain every detail of God’s will for his people’s lives. In the Bible, God gives adequate instructions to guide his people to practice lives of love for God and neighbor. On the other hand, God expects that many implications of the Gospel will be worked out only over the course of time, in and through (and despite!) his people, until the consummation of the age. The Bible is not a “handbook” for living, with detailed instructions for every aspect of life. The Bible is not “sufficient” to answer all of life’s questions. It was not designed to do that, and we risk becoming pharisaical if we try to maintain that opinion.
• The Bible doesn’t need me or anyone else to defend it. Christians do not need to prove that the Bible is a perfect book, free from “error” (as we define it today) in every way in order to have a secure faith or to present a case for Christ to the world. We need a credible, reliable witness that is self-attesting in its divine truthfulness, beauty, and power. This we have in the Bible.
I think this is exactly right- though in the second point I might change ‘to communicate God’s message’ to ‘to accomplish God’s purpose’ Like our own discourse, God not only asserts by speaking- he acts; and the purpose behind the words of the text might be other than what is communicated by the words. For example: ‘Is there salt?’ isn’t really a question. It is a request.