Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does 'the Word of God' = 'the Word of God'?

Lately on Jesus Creed, blogger RJS has been doing a series somewhat in response to Al Mohler's talk titled 'Why does the universe look so old?' at the recent Ligonier conference. In a post today, RJS made a very interesting statement that wasn't the main point of her argument, but I believe needs the attention of further discussion. I quote it below:
On the issue of authority I find it helpful to remain focused on Christ as the foundation of our faith. Scripture is a lamp; it provides reliable illumination, but is not the foundation. This change of focus helps me wrestle with the issues because it emphasizes an understanding where other information, tested against the whole, will shape our interpretation of scripture - but will not weaken the foundation of our faith. How we understand scripture as revelation inspired by God changes in subtle but important ways.
Traditionally Christianity has affirmed both that the second member of the Trinity is the word of God and that Scripture is the word of God. My guess is that RJS is working under the assumption that we mean something different when we make each of those affirmations (hence why Jesus but not Scripture is the foundation of her faith), even though they have the same predicate. I often find that in Evangelicalism that we haven't thought much about the fact that we use the same predicate in each sentence.

What do we mean when we say that Scripture is the word of God? Do we mean the same thing when we say that Jesus is the word of God? Should we (a) equate Scripture with the second member of the Trinity? Does (b) Scripture become the second member of the Trinity through proclamation and the work of the Holy Spirit in the recipient? Or (c) do we mean something less than either of those? Are there other options? I believe that the answer to these questions have huge hermeneutical significance and that we need to wrestle long and hard with them.

I have to confess that the more and more I think about it, the harder and more complex this question becomes. I think that we can come up with an reductio ad absurdum argument against position (a), that you'd have to worship the Bible if you hold position (a). But in practice, I think some people (perhaps even many, especially within the reformed tradition, of which I consider myself a part) are pretty close to doing just that, so maybe the reductio doesn't hold. But even if it does hold, do we want to go all the way to say that Scripture is not the very word of God, that it's a record of God's words in the past (c)? That seems to eliminate the 'livingness' of Scripture. So I guess I fall into position (b) by default, but I'm not convinced that it's the right place to end up.

Probably much of my confusion is based in a lack of clear understanding of what it means that Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, is the word of God. I think if I grasped that one better I could answer the other questions better. Besides Barth (whose influence is probably palpable in this post) who else has tackled this question? I'm sure many have, I'm just not sure where to start.

What are your thoughts? I'm especially interested in hearing from you if you disagree with me, because healthy, respectful debate is crucial if advancement in knowledge is to take place.

3 comments:

  1. Well.. it's even more complicated than that. If "The Word" and the "The Word of God" always refer to Jesus, then we might need to re-examine how we read some verses in scripture. Take:
    Heb 4:12-13
    For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
    What if we should read it:
    For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, He penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; He judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
    I'm not saying that's correct, but it's interesting


    Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/07/houston-heres-the-situation-rj.html#preview#ixzz0tbMvOfkF

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  2. Interested readers should look at the comments at: http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/07/houston-heres-the-situation-rj_comments.html from about 76 on for how the above comment came about and responses to it.

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  3. Scot McKnight corrected the error in my previous comment. And I'm grateful for that. :)

    Though to my defense, I did say, "I'm not saying that's correct."

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