Shuck and Jive

Friday, July 27, 2007

Is the Bible the Word of God?

It is Conversations with Bob! What is the Bible? That is our task. Join us!

Hi Bob,

Great start! Thanks for the links to helpful books. Another book to add to the collection is Walter Brueggemann's Introduction to the Old Testament: the Canon and Christian Imagination. I am reading it as I prepare my study guide for our congregation to read the Bible cover to cover in 2008.

In regards to the kingdom of God, it is both present and future. Thanks. In a nice post on the kingdom of God, Mystical Seeker, quotes Thomas Sheehan:
The uniqueness of Jesus' message lay in his conviction that in some way the future kingdom had already dawned and that the celebration could begin. The Baptist before him had preached an impending final judgment, but Jesus went him twice better: not judgment, but a gift, in fact the gift of God himself; and not just the impending right here and now. God had already started to reign among men and women.
On to the Bible. Points of agreement:

1) The Word is Jesus. The Bible is a witness to Jesus. Yes.
2) That the phrase comes from prophetic oracles, sounds good.
3) The Bible is not about predicting future events. Yup.
4) We need to understand what the writers and editors meant to say in their original context. Yes.
5) You didn't mention it in this post. We talked about it earlier. I think you would agree that the Bible is not Word of God because it is accurate historically or scientifically. It is not on either score.

Here is a point for further discussion. You wrote:

My real concern is the attempt by some to divide the Bible into those parts that are truly from God and those parts that are a reflection of the culture or the opinions of the writers or editors. I think we need to hear the whole Bible as the Word of God, work as hard as we can to understand what the writers and editors meant to say in their original context, and then try to apply it to our world today.

This is where it gets tricky. Aric, in a previous comment echoed my concern. He wrote:
Personally I don't think we should ever apply the terminology "Word of God" to scripture. Properly this appelation belongs only to Jesus. Applying it to scripture confuses the issue and gets people to start doing all sorts of horrible idolatrous things like imputing the attributes of God to the Bible. Scripture is not infallible. Scripture is not holy. Scripture is not divine. It teaches us about a God who is all of these things, but it does not have these characteristics itself.
I like Walter Brueggemann's three-fold designation of Scripture. It is...

1) "imaginative remembering." It is not reportage of events but the community's retelling of its story, with imagination and creativity imagining a world where YHWH promises, acts, and remains hidden in his presence.

2) "deeply permeated by ideology." The storytellers were real people in their own time, where to quote Brueggemann, "they worried about, yearned for, and protected social advantage and property." (p. 10) The text is open to critique.

3) "inspiration." Somehow God's own presence has breathed through these texts.

These three things are always in play with each other. That is why the church and synagogue is always interpreting and re-interpreting. The Bible itself is not even. I think calling it all Word of God can make us think that all texts are on a par. This allows us to put halos around bad texts and ignore important ones. Now, how do we determine what are bad texts from good? This requires ongoing interpretation. There never will be one final answer. Because Jesus is the living Word, this Word continues to speak to us through the witness of the tradition of scripture by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is no final interpretation of any text. We always hear anew. It is our task to distinguish ideology from revelation not only within the text but within ourselves. So, only in a very nuanced way, can I say the Bible is Word of God. Because the phrase has been so misused, I wonder if it is helpful any longer.

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