Over the last several posts we have been considering approaches to interpret scripture that take seriously the nature of the text we have, the information from historical and scientific research, and the inspiration of scripture. This is, in my opinion, one of the most significant challenges facing evangelical Christianity today.
Kent Sparks in God’s Word in Human Words (GWHW) suggests that the concept of accommodation – that is God’s accommodation to human finite understanding and perspective – can help us understand the nature of Scripture.
In Blue Parakeet Scot presents an approach to scripture that involves reading the text as story – God’s story of his interaction with his creation. But the story is told in different days in different ways and we learn by allowing each human author to speak with his own voice. We need not harmonize the different views.
In his short and very readable book Inspiration and Incarnation
(no footnotes!) Peter Enns presents yet another powerful approach to understanding the Scripture that we have as the Word of God. He suggests the use of an incarnational model or parallel. As Christ is fully human and fully divine – so also scripture is fully human and fully divine. And Enns invites his reader to consider an important question:
How does scripture’s full humanity and full divinity affect what we should expect from Scripture?
Enns suggests that many Christians make a mistake similar to Docetism (the ancient heresy that Christ only seemed to be human) in their understanding of Scripture. Scripture only seems to be human:
it comes from God, and the marks of its humanity are only apparent, to be explained away. … But the human marks of the Bible are everywhere, thoroughly integrated into the nature of Scripture itself. Ignoring these marks or explaining them away takes at least as much energy as listening to them and learning from them.
The human dimension of Scripture is, therefore, part of what makes Scripture Scripture. (p.18).
God revealed himself to us and thus “incarnates” himself in the inspiration of scripture.
When God reveals himself, he always does so to people, which means that he must speak and act in ways that they will understand. People are time bound, and so God adopts that characteristic if he wishes to reveal himself. We can put this even a bit more strongly:
It is essential to the very nature of revelation that the Bible is not unique to its environment. The human dimension of Scripture is essential to its being Scripture.
That the Bible bears an unmistakable human stamp does not lead to the necessary conclusion that it is merely the words of humans rather than the word of God. To those who hold such a position the question might be asked, “How else would you have expected God to speak? In ways wholly disconnected to the ancient world? Who would have understood him?”
And to those who fear the human stamp as somehow dirtying the Bible marring its divine quality, I say, “If you wouldn’t say that about Jesus (and you shouldn’t), don’t think that way about the Bible. Both Christ and his word are human through and through.” (pp. 20-21)
The major portion of Enns’s book deals with some of the problems of scripture that lead to a need to rethink our evangelical paradigm for viewing the Bible as the word of God. In three chapters he deals with the old testament and ancient near eastern literature, the old testament and its theological diversity, and the old testament and its interpretation in the new testament. The human features revealed in this survey do not sully the word – they are not “sin” – they are aspects of God’s condescension, accommodation, and even more significantly his incarnation.
In his wrap up chapter The Big Picture Enns suggests that we view the Bible as a path rather than a foundation.
Biblical interpretation is … a path we walk rather than a fortress we defend. … I am saying that the primary purpose of Scripture is for the church to eat and drink its contents in order to understand better who God is, what he has done, and what it means to be his people, redeemed in the crucified and risen Son. (p. 170)
Yes – we may make mistakes as we eat, drink, and interpret scripture. We may at times over estimate the human element, take a wrong turn, a detour – we continue the journey not in the confidence of our own footing, but in our faith in God who is the rock and who placed us on this journey. We are in relationship with God because he chooses to be in relationship with us and relationship is a journey. God chooses to be in relationship with us through his word in scripture, through his incarnation in his son Jesus, and through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. God alone is the rock on which we stand.
I said that our view of scripture should be of a light to reveal God (see here). Enns suggests models of incarnation and journey. Sparks suggests accommodation as the dominant paradigm. Scot incorporates some of these as well in his view of scripture as wiki stories where God’s story is told in different ways in different days and we learn
by allowing each human author to speak with his own voice.
What makes the most sense to you as we wrestle with how to understand the Bible we have as the written Word of God?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.