Testing Scripture 2 (RJS)

Testing Scripture 2 (RJS) January 5, 2012

Scripture plays a foundational role in the Christian faith on both an individual level and a corporate level. In fact, the centrality of scripture to the Christian faith is hard to argue. It is a self-revelation of God, so Christians believe. The Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne has written a short book to describe his general approach to scripture:   Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible. The first two chapters of this book look at Scripture, that is the nature of scripture, and Development, the way the story and doctrines develop from Genesis through Revelation.

Dr. Polkinghorne is not an evangelical – and he certainly does not subscribe to the US evangelical view of biblical inerrancy. Neither, however, is he a (whisper it) liberal, denying incarnation and resurrection and rationalizing away the miracles. His views on scripture are outlined in the first chapter:

At the heart of the Christian faith lies the mysterious and exciting idea that the infinite and invisible God, beyond finite human powers to conceive adequately, has acted to make the divine nature known in the most fitting and accessible manner possible through the life of a first-century Jew in whom humanity and divinity were both truly present … The Word of God uttered to humanity is not a written text but a life lived, a painful and shameful death accepted, and divine faithfulness vindicated through the great act of Christ’s resurrection. Scripture contains the witness to the incarnate Word, but it is not the Word himself. Its testimony is that “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only Son, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14) (p. 2-3)

As a witness to Christ, scripture contains multiple layers – and a central task for the interpreter is to separate the lasting witness of God’s work in the world  from the incidental features of each passing age from Abraham or earlier, through Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul and John to select just a few. As Dr. Polkinghorne points out, and as Scot wrote a book exploring (The Blue Parakeet), no one can eliminate this task of interpretation and separation. The multi-layered view of scripture has been a common one in the New Testament era and through the early centuries of the church. The insistence of a single appropriate interpretation of any specific passage runs counter to history. The New Testament writers made use of the OT scriptures in ways that oppose the notion of a universal unique interpretation. The early church fathers looked at literal, moral, symbolic, and spiritual levels of scripture.

Is Dr.Polkinghorne right to emphasize the Word of God as Jesus?

Is scripture the Word of God or the witness to the Word of God?

Moving a little deeper into his interpretation of scripture Dr. Polkinghorne sees a development or an unfolding revelation of God in the pages of scripture. His answer to the question – how can the God who appears to command genocide and massacre be the same God who through Jesus commands us to love our enemies.

I believe that response to this dilemma demands the recognition that the record of revelation contained in Scripture is one of a developing understanding of the divine will and nature, continuously growing over time but never complete, and quite primitive in its earliest stages. (p. 12)

Dr. Polkinghorne sees this development in several specific examples.To give three:

The ruthless holy wars of the exodus and the conquest of Canaan, the wars of Saul and David give way to the understanding in Isaiah and the  Servant songs at the time of the exile, and this in turn gives way to their “fulfilment in Jesus, a crucified messiah rather than the hoped-for militant fighter against Roman occupying power.

There is also a development from the command “you shall have no other gods before [or, perhaps, ‘besides’] me” and a tacit acknowledgement in the pages of scripture that other God’s may exist to the uncompromising monotheism of Isaiah (or second Isaiah). In Isaiah and in the NT witness there is no divine reality at all except for Yahweh. (Is. 42:8, 43:10)

The second commandment speaks of God punishing children for the iniquity of the parents; in Joshua Achan and his whole family are stoned. By Ezekiel and Jeremiah we have “The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent for the iniquity of a child (Ezk 18:20)

Dr. Polkinghorne suggests that this developmental perspective on the nature of scripture and of God’s interaction and increasing revelation to his people can explain the apparent contradictions present in scripture.

Of course, all development did not end with the final page of the NT. Dr. Polkinghorne suggests that there is an ongoing need to wrestle with the both scripture and with God’s revelation and work.

Those who believe in the continuing work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) will not find this surprising. The role of development, within Scripture and after it, depends on the fact that revelational disclosure is primarily personal rather than propositional, living and not petrified. (p. 19)

I am sure that many will disagree with Dr. Polkinghorne’s positions on scripture and the developmental nature of revelation, both within the pages of scripture and in the ongoing development of the church. This is surely worth some discussion though.

Is there are development within scripture that leads to the revelation through Jesus?

How is this development expressed and how does it impact our understanding of the nature of scripture?

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  • Rick

    “Is scripture the Word of God or the witness to the Word of God?”

    It is not that black and white.

    It is the God inspired witness to the Word of God.

    The role of the third person of the Trinity cannot be left out.

  • MatthewS

    Similar to Rick, I think there is more to it. Vanhoozer, author of books such as “First Theology” and “Is There a Meaning in This Text?” gives some great discussion about speech-act theory and the relationship of God to his Word and words.

  • RJS


    I agree and Dr. Polkinghorne would agree as well – the role of the Holy Spirit can not be left out. The Holy Spirit plays a pivotal role in human understanding of the nature of God, the revelation of God.

    Where we might disagree is when and where the Holy Spirit was or is at work. Polkinghorne suggests that this is true past, present, and future. The Holy Spirit is at work in the unfolding human understanding of God and his work. This is not limited to the canon of scripture.

    A common evangelical view would have the primary role of the Spirit in the initial inspiration of the text, with a much smaller role perhaps only preparing our hearts to receive the word, today.

  • Susan N.

    “I believe that response to this dilemma demands the recognition that the record of revelation contained in Scripture is one of a developing understanding of the divine will and nature, continuously growing over time but never complete, and quite primitive in its earliest stages. (p. 12)”

    Yes, I think this is accurate. If I believed that everything written about God in the OT is a true and thorough depiction of His character, the only conclusion that I could reach is that God is indeed a moral monster.

    Granted, the picture of God gets a whole lot clearer for me in the NT account of Jesus. Even there, though, what of the hard sayings of Jesus, and the meaning of His death and resurrection? Some hotly-debated controversy still goes on.

    Here’s where I am, personally, with all of this right now… The Christian Church is still trying to sort out the correct interpretation of Scripture, and various factions disagree often. Which leads me to the conclusion that the Church has come a long way, but has in no way arrived in “rightly (perfectly) dividing the word of truth.”

    I think about the Rob Bell heaven/hell controversy last year. I don’t think the particular emphasis on heaven/hell by the Church has historically done a lot of good in developing a more “full-grown” understanding of God or His Word. Man, has Christianity gotten way distracted and sidetracked from “the main thing.” But that is our historical religious heritage, isn’t it? We’re caught in the flow to varying extents. I keep going back to the Bible, seeking deeper understanding, trusting that “the Word” is alive and active (Jesus the person, and the written history which reveals Him), and being willing to hold most of my beliefs (except those which are “the main thing”) *very* loosely because, chances are, next year or tomorrow even, I will learn something that will shake up the entire system. Been there, done that…live and in real-time on Jesus Creed blog!

    Jesus Christ is the non-negotiable for me. I’m following, but definitely feel at times that I’m the poster child for “Duh-sciple.” I guess I’m just foolish enough to keep tagging along and asking questions of the Teacher 🙂

    On a related note, reading N.T. Wright’s ‘Revelation for Everyone’ is a challenge for me. He writes very accessibly (alternate title ‘Revelation for Dummies’ would have worked but probably not appealed to a vast majority of the market). The seven churches and their “issues”…scary Jesus with a sword in His mouth…I just have a hard time wrapping my head around that imagery. I’m much better imagining a Jesus that lived and breathed and looked like us, human-like. I persevere with the book, knowing that I can (and probably) should learn something more about Revelation — a book that I have largely avoided, for reasons stated above. I’m doing well to keep my life on the straight and narrow here and now (thinking Sermon on the Mount issues).


  • I love the first quotation you have here regarding the nature of Scripture. The second one, though, is a familiar refrain that continues to leave me troubled. If we hold such a “progressive” view of revelation, then it opens the door to some serious problems, Marcionism included. If there is such a primitive view of God in the OT – the very scriptures Jesus claims as his own and claims to fulfill, btw – then not only is the violence suspect, but so is the act of God in forming a singular people to be his witness in the world. The “progressive revelation” view could easily consider that narrative “nationalistic” rather than redemptive. It’s a short step from that to supersessionism, and frankly, it’s a poor reading of the OT in the first place. As to the violence (committed by God, that is), God as creator has full authority, righteousness, and justice over life; his taking of life is not at all the same as ours, nor can our acts of taking life be compared in any way to his, lest we consider ourselves to have his authority.

  • Rick

    I agree with Brad #5 on the concerns here. I think revelation is found in Christ, and God’s pointed revealing of Him (Scripture). What we experience now, through the on-going work of the Holy Spirit, is more “illumination”, rather than “revelation”.

    This (the idea of “progressive”) brings to mind something C. Michael Patton once wrote, regarding orthodoxy, but it could apply here as well:

    “…progressive orthodoxy seeks the consensus of the Church throughout time for the core essential theological issues, finding most of these in the early church expressed in the ecumenical councils. But it also believes that our understanding of these issues can and may mature both through articulation and added perspective. This “maturing” does not amount to any essential change, but only progressive development as theological issues are brought to the table of church history through controversy and exegetical discovery.”

  • While agreed there is no one interpretation-for-all-time, neither should we ignore the initial author-reader relationship. Without a “reverence” for the author’s intended message to an intended audience we will lose our bearings. The multi-level approach of some Fathers was a mistake, totally unhooked from honoring the original author-reader relationship.

    Helpful to me is a more organic idea of DNA. The Scripture’s are our DNA as the people of God, Israel and the Church. The DNA forms us in the power of the Spirit. We then have to live out that DNA in our time, in our culture.

    But we do that NOT by monkeying with the DNA, but by taking it seriously. The “development” is not in the DNA. The development is in doing Biblical theology-in-culture.

  • Amos Paul

    I think you’ll un-surprised to hear me say, OF COURSE, the Word is Jesus. The Word was God and the Word IS God.

    Moreover, I think we do ourselves an incredible disservice when we utilize Scripture without even giving a nod to either the Jewish nor Christian roots to how and why it was utilized in the past–such as in its formation. For example, when Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden light–he was speaking a Jewish rabbi. To BE a Jewish rabbi, one must have had one’s *own* ‘yoke’, or, teaching upon the Law. Because the Jewish religion did not generally see the Law as merely simple instruction. They saw the Torah as dynamically *witnessing* to the ineffable truth of God.

    And, I should hope that we all know that the canonization of Scripture for Christians was only seen as possible because the church saw (sees) the Holy Spirit as a dynamically active part of the community ‘guiding us into all truth’. The Catholic church, for example, would exemplify this by Holy Tradition and dogma, or, the lense by which they insist Scripture must be seen or else we do not see God at all.

    I’m neither Jew nor Catholic, but fully accept and advocate that Scripture is a multi-contextual, multi-cultural, and challengingly complicated set of ancient documents that all speak of and bear witness to God in different ways. It is just text. What matters is not the text but the God it points to. If we point too strongly at simply the text, then we miss the God beyond it.

    John 5:39, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”

  • Susan N.

    John 5:39, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”

    Right-O, Amos Paul (#8)!

    When I go to the Scriptures, I am asking, “Who are You, God? And, help me to get acquainted with this Person of Jesus Christ.”

    In a discussion of ‘The Faith Club’ book with my wonderful, wonderful small group last night, this prayer was quoted in the chapter, ‘A Day of Atonement’ (p.226):

    “Teach us O God,
    To see that when we link ourselves to You, and strive to do Your will,
    Our lives acquire eternal meaning and value.
    And sustain in us the hope, for we dare not ask for more,
    That the human spirit, created in Your image, is,
    like you, eternal…”

    It isn’t our “right” beliefs that save us. Thank God for that, because I doubt any one of us is 100% right in our understanding of God, even as He revealed Himself through Jesus and the Scriptures! Lord, have mercy, and be gracious to us, poor sinners all…

    Must run — duty calls.

  • Rick

    Amos #8-

    “It is just text. What matters is not the text but the God it points to.”

    That is exactly why the text does matter.

  • Amos Paul


    I grant Scripture’s primacy for doctrinal purposes–but do you deny that all of Creation, the Church, and our own souls do not testify and point to God as well?

  • Rick

    Amos #11-


    But Scripture is more than just a doctrine database. The Holy Spirit uses it to mature us in the faith.

  • Karl

    I have heard it said that scripture is the Word of God, written. And Jesus is the Word of God, incarnate.

    That used to satisfy my and there is still a certain appeal to it for the part of me that wants to hold on to a greater degree of certainty with regard to how I should read and think about the Bible. But more and more I’m coming to a view that is closer to Polkinghorne’s – that Jesus the Son of God and second person of the trinity is The Word of God, and the Bible is our divinely inspired but humanly written and influenced witness to the Word.

  • TJJ

    What would we know about Jesus apart from the OT and NT?

    Seriously, list what we would know apart from scripture. I think one can know enough to be a theist from natural revelation. But one could know almost nothing about Jesus, apart from the fact that maybe, maybe, such a man existed.

    Scripture is revelation from God. The whats and the hows and nature of it can be debated. But the fact that Scripture is a collection of literary works, full of words, makes it entirely appropriate and accurate to say Scripture is word/revelation/communication from God. And to say Scritpture is the Word of God in the sense it is the written special revelation from God.

    Scripture is called the word from God, or word of God, in both OT and NT. The same scripture that also tells us Jesus is the Word of God, an otherwise unknowable thing apart from scripture.

    It cannot be said better than Psalm 119. Though Hebrews 1:1-2 says it well also.

  • RJS


    With respect to the New Testament, doesn’t it seem more accurate to say that the text is the recorded reflections and remembrances of those who knew and interacted with Jesus and participated in the work of the Spirit in the establishment of the church?

    Yes it is inspired revelation of a sort – but it isn’t a dictated propositional treatise, it is remembrance and story and reflection attached to specific people and places. This we wrestle with, learn from, and grow through constantly. I don’t agree with Polkinghorne across the board, but I think he is largely right about the nature of the text that has been preserved for us through the work of the Spirit in the church.

  • DRT

    TJJ#14 writes “What would we know about Jesus apart from the OT and NT?”

    Well, if you are a protestant who does not allow EO or RCC tradition, or icons, or songs to communicate it, then not a whole lot.

    Clearly, the bible is not god and it is not to be worshiped. I have an innate problem with the statement “word of god” since this provokes bibliolatry. Some of that could be seen in the accusation folks have made against NT Wright in that he is making a fifth gospel.

    I, like Dr. Polkinghorne, prefer to look at scripture as a window into or witness of the word of god.

    Brad Anderson#5 is apparently afraid of a slippery slope into Marcionism and supersessionism. I don’t buy into avoiding subjects that are not harmful because they could lead to ones someone perceives as harmful. That seems to be an irrational argument since I could easily argue that it would then be wrong to put your faith in the god of the bible because it could lead you to put your faith in another god. Slippery slopes make no sense to me.

    Susan N.#9 “It isn’t our “right” beliefs that save us.” – This is interesting. I have been thinking about how many try to find god in things being orderly, non-chaotic, well controlled, and that is partly why they can’t accept evolution and such. Those same folks tend to have a rather high view of scriptural inerrancy since that fits in with their view of a perfect god with perfect order. Unfortunately, my god allows freedom to make mistakes, uses imperfect means to her end, and has a rather strange sense of humor at times. My God does not require a perfect scripture.

  • Rick

    DRT #16-

    “I don’t buy into avoiding subjects that are not harmful because they could lead to ones someone perceives as harmful…Slippery slopes make no sense to me.”

    But you also said, “I have an innate problem with the statement “word of god” since this provokes bibliolatry.”

    Are you not then doing the same thing (slippery slope)?

  • Amos Paul


    Christianity is a call to have actual relationship with an actual God. Name, our King and Savior Jesus Christ. While the Gospels and other Scripture certainly help point us towards Him–are we not called to rely on him directly? Is this not the Christian life?

    I know Jesus. I may not know him half as well as I should (or could). And will likely keep needing to get to know Him ever more as the age rolls on. But the fact of the matter is, I know my Lord. He is the light of this whole Creation. We have relationship.

  • Rick

    Amos #18-

    “While the Gospels and other Scripture certainly help point us towards Him–are we not called to rely on him directly? Is this not the Christian life?”

    Is that not what we are doing when we approach Scripture, since He inspired it?

  • Dana Ames

    Side note to Susan N. ~

    It might be interesting to you, as it still is to me, that, while accepting Revelation as canonical scripture and so profitable for reading on one’s own, the Eastern Orthodox church does not use any of Revelation in its worship (which is where doctrine is expressed). It does not rely on Revelation to establish any point of doctrine, except the last few chapters as support of Jesus’ return in glory, but again, this is not found in any of the texts used in the services. There is too much unclear metaphor in Rev., and long ago the fathers decided that since it’s so unclear it should not be used for any doctrinal basis.


  • Amos Paul


    You seem to want to limit relationship to reading Scripture. Scripture itself seems to encourage believers to do eslewise. So this seems quite arbitrary to me.

  • Rick

    Amos #21-

    I certainly don’t want to limit it. Far from it. However, you seem to want to separate relationship from reading Scripture.

  • Susan N.

    Here is a question that I have puzzled over, which relates to this discussion. How do we “know” Christ, where is He revealed? The Bible, church, through those who reflect His light? All of the above?

    Going to Rob Bell’s provocative marketing hook, “Gandhi’s in hell?” (And putting all questions of eternal destination aside) — looking at Gandhi’s expression of faith combined with the “evidence” of the way he lived his life, I seriously question the arrogant presumption that he did not “know” Christ or follow Christ “good” enough, simply because he didn’t officially sign up for membership/align with the Christian church. Maybe Gandhi knew what was more true, and lived in obedience to Christ’s teachings better than many self-professing Christians?

    I think, too, of my half-sister’s father. Reuniting with my half-sister, after a 14-year estrangement, and witnessing the selfless love that her dad has shown and continues to show her and his three grand-children, struck me with a sense of reverence…of treading on holy ground. My step-father has had very little education, and next to no religious education. He is, as far as I know, uninformed of Christ’s life and teachings, and the Gospel message. Based on what I *know* of Christ in the core of my being, the resemblance in my step-father was unmistakeable. Quite honestly, I was too humbled and ashamed to condescend to explain to him what he should be believing. (I am a repeat, abject failure as an evangelist, that I fully admit.)

    In moments like that of “seeing” Christ in my step-father, my instinct is to take off my shoes (hallowed ground) and get low in spirit to receive the instruction that God is prepared to reveal in such unlikely messengers. Really, all I could say to my step-father was, “I regard you so highly, and thank you for loving and caring for my sister and niece and nephews so well.”

    Do people see me, and every once in a while, get a glimpse of that Christ? Am I living and breathing and being a good news of some kind to somebody? I sure *hope* so, or my life is a worthless waste of time and space!

  • Susan N.

    Thanks, Dana (#20). You are an angel of peace, as always. I read the text of Revelation and think, “Is it just me? How weird, and disturbing… I must not have what it takes (faith- or intelligence-wise), because I don’t ‘get it.'” Wouldn’t be the first time!

  • David Himes

    This is a very interesting discussion and warrants attention. I like the comment about scripture being an “inspired witness to the Word of God.”

    A few points worth noting … and I have not settled, in my own mind, what these fully mean:

    1. in the NT, every use of the word “scripture” is a reference to the OT. Granted, Paul at one point, says we should give Peter’s writings the same weight as scripture (but even in this passage “scripture” refers to the OT.

    2. the phrase “word of God” cannot be a reference to the NT, because, obviously, the NT did not exist at the time.

    3. since we’re reading a translation of the original, the best we can claim is that we have a “witness” to the Word of God. We often don’t even agree on what the correct translation is.

    4. in Hebrews 10:15-18, the writer reports the Spirit will write this new covenant in our hearts (not on paper or in stone). That makes me wonder if our view of the written text is correct, since it seems from the Text we hold so dear that the covenant in our hearts may be more important than words on paper.

  • Susan N.

    David (#25) – in re: to your point 4.

    Yes, I am inclined to think that what we read in Scripture, or the “witness” to the Word of God, may do more to *affirm* the illumination that God in His grace reveals to us in the core of our being.

    Not all in the biblical witness makes sense. The big question becomes, is that due to some essential truth getting lost in the translation, human error in interpretation, or a combination of both?

  • DRT

    Rick#17, I don’t think I am doing the same thing and that is why I was careful in my word choice. I chose to say “provokes” instead of “leads to” since I think it is more direct than a slippery slope. Am I just kidding myself?

  • Rick

    David #25-

    Not to get off track on this, but there are biblical references that indicate the apostolic writings are Scripture, and there is the fact that the early church (both during and post-apostolic) recognized them as such.

    Likewise, the early church, and Christians today, acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s involvement.

    Also, just because their are translation differences, the focus on the life, death, and resurrection Christ, and the overall good news (Scot’s King Jesus Gospel), is sufficiently clear.

    Finally, regarding the covenant in our hearts, there is no doubt that the faith is about God working in our lives and the overall church.

    But notice that you referenced Hebrews to get a deeper appreciation of the work of God. That is a good example of how God continues to use Scripture to help us go deeper in the faith and strengthen our focus on Him.

  • Rick

    DRT #27-

    I don’t doubt some go down that path. But I know plenty who fully understand the difference and avoid going down that path. Their reliance on Scripture is not for Scripture’s sake, but rather for the Author (or the One who inspired it) behind it.

  • DRT

    Susan N#23, what you are saying is what Wendy McCaig says about her experiences http://wendymccaig.com/.

    Wendy comes to this blog now and then. She says the she actually met Jesus and found Jesus in the people she was working with. When she talks about it you can tell the depth of the experience.

    BTW, I may be getting her a bit wrong, but her view is that it should not take you a lifetime of biblical study to get the message of Jesus that we need to go out there and take care of folks. And when she did she truly found Jesus. She found him in, primarily from what I remember her saying, in others.

  • Susan N.

    DRT (#16) – all I can say, my friend, in response to the seeming correlation you noted between belief in scriptural inerrancy and perfect order, certainty/clarity, and control, is this:

    If we take the circumstances of the Incarnation and life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (as recorded in the written witness, of course) as any indication of God’s chosen methods for revealing Himself and operating in the world, I think the evidence is pretty good that He isn’t afraid to get “messy.”

    I love that about God! It gives me great hope 🙂

  • David P Himes

    Rick, #28
    The only biblical reference that suggests NT writings are scripture is 2 Peter 3:16, where Peter writes to suggests Pauls “letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

    I recognize the early Christians treated many of the various writings as scriptures, but at best all of that is an incomplete set of facts.

    I don’t claim to have answers, but many Christians fail to acknowledge the reasonableness of these questions.

    And the power of the Word of God is not from reliability of the written Text (and I’m not disputing it’s reliability), but from the reliability of the message about Jesus.

    See Comment 30 … that is an example of the power I’m referring to.

  • Susan N.

    DRT (#16) – addendum to my #31 — So why should scripture or the written “witness” be so neat and tidy and perfect?

    I still believe that God, being present with us in Christ *and* through the counsel of the indwelling Holy Spirit, can reveal truth to us in Scripture, even as “messy” as it obviously IS.

    What I don’t believe is that the Bible is the *only* way that God can reveal Himself to us. I have a hunch that He is much too resourceful and creative to limit Himself to that… I can’t prove anything. I can only testify to my own experiences, imperfect as they are (that is, both the experiences and the articulation of the testimony).

    Wendy McCaig — I think I have read her blog at some point in the past. She sounds like someone I would admire and whose story I would gravitate toward reading 🙂


  • TJJ

    Agree scripture is not dictated revelation. It does indeed come through the filter and agency of real people in real times and places, etc.

    But is it “inspired revelation of a sort”? Of what sort?

    Who wrote John chapter 1. What authority or claim of truth does that chapter about Jesus have? How did any author know anything about the who, what, where of Jesus “from the beginning”? Where/how did someone have such knowledge? whay is it in any sense realiable as truth claims?

    I ask, what things does anyone “know” about Jesus that is not in the scripture, or that was not first revealed in scripture?

    Polkinghorne writes”

    At the heart of the Christian faith lies the mysterious and exciting idea that the infinite and invisible God, beyond finite human powers to conceive adequately, has acted to make the divine nature known in the most fitting and accessible manner possible through the life of a first-century Jew in whom humanity and divinity were both truly present … The Word of God uttered to humanity is not a written text but a life lived, a painful and shameful death accepted, and divine faithfulness vindicated through the great act of Christ’s resurrection.

    Good. Great. But how does he, or anyone else, know any of that about Jesus, if not from scripture? If that written revelation is the only way we know any of that, how is that revelation of the written word not also the word of God at least, if not also The Word of God or a component of The Word of God?

  • DRT #16, Rick #17 is right. You are using a double standard there. I’m not afraid of a slippery slope (having argued exactly your point on that to others), but like you appear to, I recognize that we can easily be doing something we don’t intend to do if we’re not careful. The Marcionism point was a minor one anyway. I’m much more concerned about dispensing too easily with the Yahweh of the OT and the importance of Israel for the church.

  • David P Himes

    TJJ #34
    I’m not seeking to replace the Text we have with this comment, but consider this:

    First, the Text itself suggests that people can look at the world and see the evidence of God, and seek to do the things the Text teaches us to do … without any revelation.

    Second, if we did not have the written Text at all … only oral tradition … we would still like have heard all the stories of Jesus. Because we would have told them to each other and learned them by heart so that we could tell our children about them.

    Given how much we argue about scripture, it’s difficult to conclude we’re dealing with the Text in the manner God hoped we would. And it’s worth noting how little the Text reports about how God wants us to deal with scripture.

  • Ramsay Harik

    Isn’t the more obvious conclusion that God’s people, as they matured from primitive warring tribe to more-or-less stable cosmopolitan nation, THEMSELVES developed in their understanding–and therefore depiction–of God? But that’s not really the point I’d like to make here. As a new subscriber to your blog, I’m impressed by what I see thus far. But as a liberal Catholic, I would caution against the tendency to make sweeping assertions about liberals’ dismissal of basic Christian doctrine. While it is true that many liberals do indeed dismiss incarnation and resurrection, resulting I would argue in a rather hollow faith, many of us in the progressive, prophetic vein of Catholicism are deeply committed to the fundamental mysteries. Ask Sr. Joan Chittister, the Berrigans, or Fr. Roy Bourgeois, liberal troublemakers all, if they have a place for the incarnation and resurrection in their theology, and they’d look at you as if you are crazy. Without the deposit of faith they would not be what they are.

  • Amos Paul

    @ 22 Rick,

    That’s not a logical implication. Saying that relationship with God is and only is reading Scripture is limiting the relationship when, conversely, one can know God via Scripture, personal experience, intellectual reason, and what have you. Indeed, as many have attested herein–Scripture itself seems to indicate that God can and *should* be known throughout all of Creation. A book is much smaller than Creation.

  • Steph

    I don’t have a problem with the presence of a “primitive view of God,” to borrow Brad’s words in #5, in the OT … parts of it, rather. I just want to know that, at key times, some few individuals did in fact encounter Him and give us a reasonably fair account of it, i.e., as best they could. And then Christ showed us, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. In the OT, we had aspects of God being revealed at certain high points. And then the person would say, you are God my provider, you are God who rescues, etc. A tiny revelation. In Christ, we have full revelation. And he really upsets our expectations of who God is and what He does and what He’s like. Before Christ, we saw imperfectly. After Christ, we still see imperfectly, through a glass, darkly, but we can always go back and ask, “Well, what was Jesus like? That’s how God is.”
    So, I may have gone way down a slippery slope. I do see a lot of “human creation” in the text that I used to not see, but (mixing metaphors), I don’t consider myself to have stepped out of the boat. When I no longer have confidence that the record we have came as a result of human beings encountering the one true God, then I must jump ship (to continue the metaphor) and see the trajectory in the OT and NT as simply a manifestation of human moral development. That’s simply not something you slide into. That’s an agonizing flinging of yourself from one spot into another.

  • Steph

    At #35, since the Jews gave us the gift not only of monotheism but of an active and engaged, compassionate, forgiving, redeeming, and holy God, and since we have a Jewish messiah, Lord of all, one would have to do a fair bit of re-creation of the text of one’s own to dispense with the OT or Israel, through whom God revealed himself and through whom He blesses all. And that’s regardless of how one evaluates the text that we have, as a believer.

  • Steph, I don’t disagree on the point of recreating the text, but I wrote that because I’ve seen just that problem in academic theology (of which I’m a part).

  • Rick

    Amos #38-

    I never said, nor implied “only”. However, it is an element.

  • Rick

    Let me clariy #42,

    Scripture is an element.