Thursday, December 01, 2005

What *Is* the Bible, Anyways?

Fellow tipster Jim at the Tavern asks some very good questions about the Bible.

What saves? What sanctifies? Is it the paper? The binding? The leather cover? The words on the page? The page numbers? The cross references? The running commentary by Saint Scofield? Further, is it the whole BIble that saves me, or just particular verses? Are some verses more salvific than others? Are people who memorize more scripture than me more sanctified? Is there a minimal subset of the Bible needed to save people? Is that why we print and hand out the Gospel of John? Can you be saved by the RSV? The NIV? The Jerusalem Bible? The KJV? Do we have to be able to read the original languages?

Someone will come back with, "we're talking about the content of the Bible, not the physical book." But then, I ask, where is the content? what is the content? What are we talking about? The ideas that the bible conveyed in the Bible certainly are ideas about how salvation and sanctification are accomplished, but are we saved by the ideas? It seems to me that runs up against the problem of mental competence; we're back to being saved by subscribing to a set of principles, rather than being saved by (Christ).

Making such propositional statements about something that's understood by faith is problematic. It seems more than a little silly to me, and I suspect it might be the source of grave errors.


Blogger pgepps said...

What is it about Christ that saves me? Is it the fingernails, or the robes, or the flogging? Is it the fig tree that bore no fruit, or the hemoglobin count in the blood He shed? Is it the roots of the tree the cross was cut from, or the Roman axe that did the cutting? Is it the brightness of the light that shone when He rose? Is it the mere *fact* that He rose from the dead? Is it some divine list of names from before Creation?

Yet, "Whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be saved."

You can do the same for the Church, for the existence of God, etc. That is, once you assume that the existence of difference *precludes* rather than revealing in obscurity, and obscuring in revelation, the presence of God, then God can be deferred endlessly.

Yet God is present when Scripture is read, as all Christians have always and everywhere affirmed. Denying that presence has certain entailments that are unacceptable to the faithful. Confessing that presence, likewise, has entailments enforced upon it by infidels or false professors.

I think the bugbear of "propositional statements" is here used as a talisman or totem, a "get-out-of-jail-free" against the unavoidable implication of *any* confession in a system of oppositions, beginning with "credo" and "nego."

Though, perhaps, I would prefer to use the plurals, were my Latin better.


5:08 AM  
Blogger burttd said...

I don't think Jim or I would ever deny the presence of God in the reading of His word. The problem, I think, lies in the abuse of such a privilege. When the focus drifts away from hearing the voice of God into collating the propositions of Scripture into a system, and using that system as the measure of true faith and salvation, the true purpose of Scripture is lost. I think what we're trying to get at here is exactly what you said - God's presence. The *personal* and *unquantifiable* side of the Church's interaction with God's Word, that goes beyond the parsing of the words. You can't have God's presence without the reading of Scripture, but you *can* have interaction with Scripture WITHOUT God's presence. The book you hold is NOT a physical incarnation of Christ.

Does that help?

6:38 AM  
Blogger pgepps said...

I'm going to reverse your opposition. You can have God's presence without the reading of the Scripture (though that presence may well be in judgment, and in revelation will surely point *through* Scripture). You can't have interaction with Scripture without God's presence (though that presence may well be in judgment, and Scripture will never be the starting or ending of revelation).

I don't disagree with the argument against Bibliolatry.

I do think that argument is so usually and tendentiously overstated as to rather give me sympathy with those who err the other way. But err they do.

The Bible is not God. But when we read it, we *unfailingly* interact with God in a way which *unfailingly* achieves what He intended the *exact words* written by His writers to achieve.

Failing to recognize that we interact with Him when we read, we read our own judgment--and here the parallel between Word and Sacrament (failing to discern the Lord's body, many are sick, weak, and dead)--does, I think, hold.


7:39 AM  
Blogger burttd said...

I should have clarified. I meant this discussion to be in the context of corporate worship. Classicial liturgy in the Protestant tradition has always closely linked the Word and the Sacraments.

What you said about Scripture either hardening or softening us whenever we read it echoes closely what one of my seminary profs said in class once. I agree.

"when we read it, we *unfailingly* interact with God in a way which *unfailingly* achieves what He intended the *exact words* written by His writers to achieve."

As Dorothy Sayers once wrote, "It's safe enough to recognize the finger of God in any event. It's harder to be sure which way He's pointing."

I've got classwork today. I'll pick back up on this series tomorrow.

7:02 AM  
Blogger ambiance-five said...

John 5:39  Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

Pretty much what the Lord stated in the above..

5:10 PM  

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