Dismissed by many. Worshipped by many. You may think I am talking about Jesus but I’m not. I’m talking about the Bible. One of the great challenges facing Christianity today is what to do with the Bible. People are doing with the Bible what people are doing with everything these days, going to extremes. On the one extreme people say the Bible is just all made up and is absolutely irrelevant. It ends up being dismissed as being of any use to know anything. On the other extreme people insinuate, or say, that the Bible came straight to us from the mouth of God. It is absolutely relevant, every word of it.
Is it possible we can become more interested in knowing the Bible, than knowing God? Is it possible our reverence for the Bible ends up being a kind of worship of it? It is held up, especially in our Baptist circles, as being the sole authority for faith and life. What that often ends up meaning, however, is that someone’s, or some group’s, interpretation is the sole authority.
Is there a better way that will not take us to the extremes of dismissing the Bible on the one hand, or worshipping it on the other? Yes there is and Luke helps us find it as he begins his account of the life of Jesus:
Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.Luke 1:1-4 (NLT)
Notice what Luke did not say; “God told me to write this and told me the very words to write.” Rather, Luke tells us that he was doing the work of a historian, an investigation into what happened. Luke did what historians do, he went to the earliest sources of information he could find, namely the eyewitness accounts from those who saw and participated in what happened.
This speaks to us about the nature of Scripture. Luke, and the rest of the Bible, is not simply a “God told me to say this” kind of a thing, but rather is a human response to events that occurred. Therefore we can take the Bible seriously as recording for us people’s honest wrestling with, responding to, and getting excited about, God. There is a human element to the Bible. We want to take Luke’s writing seriously as an ancient attempt to capture the facts about a key person in history, namely Jesus.
Does this mean that God was not involved, that somehow there is nothing special about the Bible? In 2nd Timothy we read,
You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.2 Timothy 3:15-17 (NLT)
Here Paul was speaking specifically of the writings that make up what we call the Old Testament, but the same can be said of those that make up the New. The writings are “inspired,” or as some translations put it “God-breathed.” That is not the same as “God written.” They are described as “useful.” Many Baptists today would have chosen a much stronger word than that if they were Paul.
I think it was Peter Enns who appealed to the incarnation of God in Jesus as a model for understanding how the Bible works. Jesus was fully human, but also fully divine. So too with the writings that make up the Bible, they can be fully human, yet also be set apart from all other writings because God has been involved somehow.
If God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, then we can speak of God so loving the world that he ensured we could know about that. As I like to think of it, the writings that make up the Bible were penned by people, but God’s fingerprints are all over the final product. We can take it seriously as a window into spiritual truths, the Good News that Jesus is king, and that we can trust God with everything including our future. But that does not mean we give it a divine status that should only belong to God.
We do not say “the Bible is fully human” and therefore is useless to us as a source of truth. Neither do we say “the Bible is fully divine,” and therefore wise thinking and research is useless to us in discerning the truth it contains. These writings are what God has provided for us through human hands and minds, human hands which were handling history and theology the way people did then and there, human minds which were thinking in ways appropriate to their time and place. Therefore, wisdom, insight, and discernment is important for reading.
Since the Bible has a human element to it, we need a wise reading of Scripture. paying attention to how ancient people thought, and wrote, paying attention to genre, paying attention also to how “being Biblical” may not be wise. People have been hurt, or have hurt others, through trying to “be Biblical.” We could never really “be Biblical” as long as Canadian laws are in place. In reading the laws of the Old Testament, I’d rather stick with Canadian law anyway. I rather think you would too. Our goal as Christians is not to be “Biblical”, but to know and be like Christ. The Bible is useful in helping us do that.
In his opening lines Luke provides a challenge for non-Christians who would dismiss the Bible. Rather than simply dismiss the writing of Luke and the other writers of the Bible as being irrelevant, one could give thought to taking the writings seriously as works written by real people who had a real reason to write. Perhaps Luke wrote what he wrote, and, along with many others, believed what he believed, because these events really did happen. Perhaps God really was up to something remarkable in Jesus.
Luke also provides a challenge for Christians whose reverence for the Bible borders on worship. Take the writings seriously as works written by real people, worthy of all wisdom and discernment in reading and understanding.
Dismissed by some, worshipped by others. From Luke we learn to do neither, but to take the Bible seriously, as written by people, but with God’s fingerprints all over it.