Monday, April 16, 2018

Inspired, Revealed, Authoritative

We throw these words around about the Bible in the church. Do we understand them?

Inspiration is a many-splendored thing. God inspired the original creation of the books of the Bible for their first audiences. This was a mystical cooperation of the author's personality and understanding with the moving of the Holy Spirit. It was not mere dictation, for the styles of the different writers are unique and their thought balances out by way of differing emphases in tension with each other.

The Spirit continued to speak as New Testament authors read the Scriptures of what we call the Old Testament. They did not always read those words literally. They often heard the Spirit breathe through those words in new ways. There was new revelation from the Spirit. When 1 Timothy 3:16 says all Scripture is God-breathed, we should keep in mind that many of these breathings were spiritual readings of the Old Testament rather than the kind of contextual reading we teach in our Bible study classes today.

The Spirit continues to breathe today. Have you ever heard God say something to you while reading the Bible? It may not have had much of anything to do with what the passage originally meant, but you were sure it was God speaking to you. Now you can be wrong, but the Spirit can blow wherever or whenever or whatever he wants, always of course in keeping with God's character.

God reveals stuff. God revealed things to the original audiences of the Bible. In order for them to understand it, God revealed those truths in categories they could understand--their categories. You might say God "incarnates" revelation. The revelation takes on the flesh of the people to whom he is revealing himself.

If you have spent any time in a different culture, you know that our contemporary categories often are a little different from other places. In that sense, there are real dangers to the "what you see is what you get" approach to biblical revelation.

First, if you don't take the different context into account, you will inevitably apply stuff to today that was actually a matter of ancient paradigms. That makes God look stupid because you are saying God's point of view is that of someone from the ancient near east or the ancient Mediterranean world. Even within the pages of the Bible we find different paradigms on topics like the soul.

Secondly, you may find yourself doing evil. There are those who argued against doing away with slavery because Paul did not tell masters to free their slaves and 1 Peter told slaves to endure injustice from their masters. When God wanted to move the world further toward the kingdom, many Christians resisted. So today, many Christians resist God's movement on issues like women in ministry because they cannot discern the context of biblical statements.

The authority of Scripture is the authority of God. The Scriptures are the medium of that authority. Jesus and the New Testament repeatedly indicate what the content of that authority is--love God and love neighbor as yourself. All the commands of God fall under one of these two headings. There is nothing that stands outside them or in contradiction to them. They are absolutes.

Again, there are those that try to add or subtract from this authority in subtle ways. There are traditions that try to add commands from the Jewish Law that the New Testament clearly says are not binding for Gentile Christians (cf. Rom. 14). Then there are those that would subtly oppress others in Jesus' name by trying to apply various verses in ways that embody hatefulness towards others.

When Jesus gives fulfilled interpretations of the Old Testament in Matthew 5, there is clearly a filtering effect. Commands like those not to kill and not to commit adultery go deeper to intent. This filter ends up tightening God's expectations with regard to divorce. Startlingly, Jesus indicates that God made accommodations to human hardheartedness in the Old Testament Law.

But some commandments also fall away. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is not for individuals to practice. Keeping oaths becomes irrelevant in the face of being a truth-teller. In short, the authority of Scripture is an authority of the whole of Scripture. Individual commands and individual verses must be heard in the light of all of Scripture.

No comments: