HOLY WORDS--HOLY WRIT • The discussion of the ‘Word of God’ too often limits itself to either the text or the person • This overlooks that before the text and before the Incarnation there was already the Word of God spoken, and the oral word continued to be called Word of God • This is not surprising since the Bible arose in predominantly oral cultures
HOLY WORDS—HOLY WRIT • In an oral culture the spoken word was surpreme and seen as a living thing, especially in its prophetic form • Both the ANE cultures and the Greco-Roman world believed in prophetic pronouncements from a divine source • Jews and Christians were no different in this belief– as monotheists they called it ‘the Word of God’
HOLY WORDS—HOLY WRIT • It was a fundamental belief of monotheistic Jews and Christians in Biblical times that an Almighty God could indeed speak the divine word accurately and adequately through human vessels– whether they were prophets, priests, or kings, or ordinary people (see my Jesus the Seer – Hendrickson Press) • To deny the reality of this phenomenon was to deny that true prophecy was possible
HOLY WORDS—HOLY WRIT • Jews reasoned that if God could speak all of creation into existence (Gen. 1) that God was perfectly capable of truthfully revealing his word and will through human agents and oracles • It is then not surprising that we find the equation already in the Hebrew Scriptures that what Torah says, God says (Ps. 119)
HOLY WORDS– HOLY WRIT • Thus the idea of Holy Writ was not a new one in NT times, much less an idea that the church dreamed up after NT times • In fact we see it clearly, applied to the OT in 2 Tim.3.16– “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” • Notice the stress on God ‘ex-spiring’ breathing out these words.
HOLY WORDS—HOLY WRIT • While 2 Tim. 3.16 enunciates a theology of Holy Writ, this is not a new innovation, nor a specifically Christian one. • Notice that it is given in a context where there is a strong belief that oral proclamation is also Word of God • 1 Thess. 2.13– ‘when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of humans, but as it actually is– the Word of God’
HOLY WORDS—HOLY WRIT • Notice Luke’s penchant for speaking of the fact that ‘the Word of God grew/spread/increased’ – Acts 6.7; 12.24 • The idea is of a living Word which can grow or spread or increase • To sum up, the concept Word of God was applied to oral communication, and written communication from God, before it was applied to a person– Jesus.
HOLY WORDS– HOLY WRIT • It appears clear that in the NT period there were already two developments that went beyond the idea of Holy Word (oral) or Holy Writ (Hebrew Scriptures) • The first of these was the treating of Christian documents as also Holy Writ. 2 Pet. 3.16 speaks of Paul’s letters as containing some things that the unstable distort– ‘as they do the other Scriptures’
HOLY WORDS– HOLY WRIT • This move, treating Paul’s letters as one form of sacred text, is not surprising, since the NT movement was initiated and carried on by prophetic figures– Jesus, Peter, Paul and others, people who were inspired to speak God’s Word, and the inscripturation of it was simply the natural further step to preserve the God-whispered words. • Oracles spoke verbatim God’s words, being God’s mouthpieces—1 Cor. 14.36-37
HOLY WORDS– HOLY WRIT • The final and in some ways most intriguing step in this process was the identification of God’s Word with the pre-incarnate Son of God, who took on flesh– John 1– ‘The Word became flesh’ • What was previously predicated of Wisdom (Prov. 3,8; Wis. Of Sol.) and of Torah (Sirach), is here predicated of an historical person– Jesus, or in Rev. 19.13 of the returning exalted Christ
HOLY WORDS—HOLY WRIT • CONCLUSIONS: A clear and multifaceted Word of God theology already existed in Biblical times. It was not later imposed on a series of texts which were not thought to convey God’s message. • This theology involved oral proclamation, texts, and a person—Jesus. • Texts like Ps. 119 and 2 Tim. 3.16 show it was believed that what Scripture said, God said, and it was trustworthy and true.
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Hermeneutical issues– How much of the OT applies to Christians, since we are under the new covenant not the old ones? • Hermeneutical move 1– all that is not specifically abrogated in the NT still applies • Hermeneutical move 2—only that which is reaffirmed in the NT are Christians obligated to keep or follow
THE WORD AND THE WORK • An understanding of covenantal theology and church historical usage leads to the conclusion that the second hermeneutical move was deemed to be the correct one. • This conclusion arose because texts like the Sermon on the Mount or Paul’s letter to the Galatians assumed that the followers of Jesus were in an eschatological situation and no longer bound to the Mosaic Law
THE WORD AND THE WORK • HERMENEUTICAL ISSUES—It needs to be stressed that claims about the Word of God applied in antiquity, as today, directly to the original text in its original languages– not to some specific translation in whatever language. • Every translation is already an interpretation, unavoidably so. • This is why original language study of God’s Word is essential to good preaching.
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Nevertheless, in a derivative sense, a careful and accurate translation while not infallible or inerrant can certainly adequately convey the Word of God, and as such be called the Word of God in this derivative sense • A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever one wants it to mean. The Word should always be studied and preached based on a knowledge of the various contexts
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Careful contextual study of the Word is the best hedge against anachronism, or reading into the text things that are not there • It is also the best protection against asking the wrong sorts of questions of the Bible. For example, the Bible says nothing about whether we should fly in planes or not, or elect Presidents or not. All too often misunderstandings come from misreadings and false presuppositions.
THE WORD AND THE WORK • At a minimum an openness to the concept of miracle, including the concept of revelation from God is necessary is one is going to deal with the Bible fairly and on its own terms • There is also always the temptation to whittle off the hard edges of the texts we find offensive– this is a mistake. Those texts will tell us some uncomfortable things we need to know about ourselves and God.
THE WORD AND THE WORK • The dictum of J. Bengel was a good one– ‘apply the whole of the text to yourself; apply the whole of yourself to the text’ In this context one can deal with problem passages and problematic ideas. In this fashion one avoids assuming a posture of standing as an authority over the text and assuming one’s own judgment should have the last word and be the arbiter of truth.
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Rather God’s Word should have the first and last word, in one’s dialogue with Scripture. The Reformers including the Anglican ones did not come up with the slogan ‘sola Scriptura’ for nothing. • The authority of tradition, reason, or experience should not be allowed to trump the authority of Scripture. Otherwise it ceases to be canon– the measuring rod of truth.
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Rules of thumb– if the Bible is indeed a perspicuous though not exhaustive expression of God’s truth and will, then one must beware of those who say ‘the Spirit (or experience or reason) is now saying to the church….’ when the content of those remarks clearly contradicts Scripture. This is a recipe for moral relativism and anarchy in the Church. Experiences can be genuine and at the same time false and deceptive.
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Careful contextual exegesis in dialogue with commentaries and other resources is the first step in a clear proclamation of the Word of God in the Bible. • Like it or not, ministers are called to be the resident experts in the Bible in their parish, since they are the primary exponents and expositors of the Word.
THE WORD AND THE WORK • There is a leading of the Spirit into all truth of course, but what that leading entails is Christological in character. As the Gospel of John suggests– the Parakletos is one who calls to mind the teaching and example of Jesus. The Parakletos is Christ’s agent and does not speak on his own authority.
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Tips for interpretation– NT books should be interpreted according to their ancient genre (biography, historical monograph, letters, sermons, apocalypse) • Ancient writers were not nearly so concerned about chronological precision as we are • There are both figurative and literal types of material in the Bible
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Tips for Interpretation– apocalyptic prophecy is perhaps the most complex material in the NT. One should never start the study of the NT with this material • Parables in early Judaism are a form of wisdom literature that involves extended metaphor or analogy, but can have allegorical elements. Riddle, proverb, aphorism, parable, allegory all fall under the heading mashal/parabolos
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Errors are to be defined within the parameters of assessing what the author was trying to do– for example if the author was trying to give a general description of an event, not a precise one, he should not be faulted for imprecision • Accurate reports of lies, mistakes, literary fictions, jokes, dramatic hyperbole likewise do not fall into the category of errors
THE WORD AND THE WORK • Paraphrastic or midrashic use of the OT was common in early Judaism and does not constitute a misquotation of the Scripture. Again one has to ask what the author is attempting to do and how he is using the text. • Mistranslations by modern translators do not constitute ancient errors (e.g. Heb. 12.1-2 or Phil 2.4).