These are some additional thoughts I’ve had on the subject Joanne and I have been discussing, although, in this post, I’m not specifically addressing any one of her responses. Just like in real life conversations there are rabbit trails, so in the spirit of making this more like an in-person conversation here’s my rabbit trail. With that in mind, lets dive in.
Both of us agree that God is immutable, that is, God does not and cannot change. So when reading Scripture one might be a little bit confused. With so much theological and moral diversity within the pages of Scripture, it seems our options are limited. Brian Zahnd in his book “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God,” uses an analogy that I think is very relevant to this conversation.
He first asks the question, “Did God Tell Abraham to kill his son?” The person answers yes, but God didn’t intend Abraham to actually kill his son, but it was only a test. (Totally sounds like something the Joker would do) He then asks a second question, “Did God command Joshua, King Saul, and the Israelite’s to kill children as part of ethnic cleansing of Canaan?” The person gives a hesitant yes.
Then he asks the third question, “Does God change?”
Brian answers this question saying, “A cornerstone of Christian Theology has always been immutable.”
So if God doesn’t change and in the past, he has commanded the killing of whole nations let alone children then whats to say he won’t do it again?
So he presents us with three options:”
- “We can question the morality of God. Perhaps God is, at times, monstrous.”
- “We can question the immutability of God. Maybe God does change over time.”
- “We can question how we read Scripture. Could it be that we need to learn to read the Bible in a different way?”
Honestly, I think these are our only legitimate options. And based off what I know about limited human beings and my studies of the Bible, I think we’re on the safest ground to question our notions about what Scripture is. To quote Brian, “The Old Testament is the inspired telling of the story of Israel coming to know their God. It’s a process. God doesn’t evolve, but Israel’s understanding of God obviously does.” But this isn’t a problem because…, “The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is. Jesus is the only perfect theology. Perfect theology is not a system of theology; perfect theology is a person. Perfect Theology is not found in abstract thought; perfect theology is found in the Incarnation. Perfect theology is not a book; perfect theology is the life that Jesus lived. What the Bible does infallibly and inerrantly is point us to Jesus, just like John the Baptist did.”
So this brings us back to the question of what Inspiration is. Or is the Bible the Word of God. Can’t Jesus be the Word (John 1) and the Bible be the Word(2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:19-21)? 2 Timothy actually doesn’t equate the Bible with the Word of God, it calls it Inspired. We assume that they are the same thing, but it doesn’t actually say that, we read that into the text. 2 Peter was written in the early 2nd century, which I don’t think means it’s any less Scripture (because the Church decides what Scripture is). However, many who hold to a particular fundamentalist/Evangelical understanding believe that for something to be Scripture it has to have been written by an Apostle because that was the job of the Apostles, to write Scripture. Besides not being anywhere in the New Testament, my point about this passage is that it’s a later document. Enough time has passed for a different understanding of Inspiration to have developed. The New Testament, like the Old Testament, has theological diversity and possibly has different understandings of Inspiration. And plus, one may possibly interpret that the prophetic word being discussed is the aforementioned event of the Transfiguration of Christ.
When God speaks, there is but one Word spoken, Jesus Christ, The Logos, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. There are not many words as if God’s act of communication could be divided, but as God is one so is His Word. It is through this one Word that all communication takes place. When God speaks it is Christ, the Word Himself, through the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. Now this Word is of course always interpreted. Just as the four gospels provide us four perspectives of this Word, so always are we interpreting this Word given to us.
The authors of scripture are not exempt from this inescapable aspect of being human. Unless we are willing to say that God can and does coerce and control people. For the human authors to have written more than merely an interpretation, God would have had to override their humanness, their finitude. And God could only do this if he was controlling the authors to some extent albeit oh so little. Now, of course, some may not see a problem with this, but indeed it has huge implications for the problem of evil. If God can control things (like preventing evil) but chooses not to, then God is morally culpable for the evil allowed by God even though God could have prevented it. I hold to a position called Essential Kenosis that says God cannot control or coerce, but necessarily gives freedom to creatures. For a more thorough exploration of this theology see “God Can’t” and “the Uncontrolling Love of God.”
Suffice it to say we are on safe ground to say that the human authors of Scripture are just as limited and finite as us and could not escape the human act of interpreting all things including their encounters with God.
With a twist of irony, even the New Testament authors state that we have but one mediator between God and humankind, Christ. This accords with what George Fox has said, “Christ has come to teach His people Himself.“ If trusting the Bible is the right question, it would seem that scripture serves as either a second mediator or altogether a replacement of Christ’s position of mediation.
If as I have argued, it is always Christ Himself, as the Word of God, delivered to us from God the Father through the activity of the Holy Spirit in whom we meet and experience God’s communication, then there is no need to Trust the Bible.
One may ask does it have to be an either or? In some cases, and I think this one, yes it does have to be an either or. Isn’t that dualistic? Non-Dualism says we don’t choose between opposing options or either or’s. It can be both. The great lie of Dualism is that if Non-Dualism is correct then Dualism is completely always wrong. Which is ironically Dualistic. Non-Dualism doesn’t exclude Dualism, it includes it. And sometimes you can’t have it both ways. I think this is such a case. I ironically think the author of Hebrews is right in this instance, we have one Mediator.