Thursday, December 10, 2009

11 Theses On What Can and Cannot Be Said About Scripture

1. The Bible does not know the existence of the Bible; that is, no part of the book in our hands, Old and New Testaments, knows the book in our hands, Old and New Testaments. Therefore, any and all claims about Scripture are suprabiblical, even if subordinately substantiated by biblical texts.

2. The biblical canon is not given by the canonical books themselves, and therefore what Scripture calls "the scriptures" is not self-evident and may include extra-canonical works.

3. Canonical authority cannot rest on personal authorship, for the claims of Mosaic authorship of Torah, Davidic authorship of the Psalms, and Pauline authorship of the Pastorals are rightly contested in modern scholarship.

4. The canon was formed over centuries of development, argument, discussion, and (dis)agreement, and its formation was in the hands of a developing ecclesial context that is often denigrated today. Yet there is no possibility of dismissing the latter (out of hand) without dismissing the former (out of hand) as well.

5. That the bound collection of writings called "the Bible" by modern Christians might be synonymously referred to (absolutely, unequivocally, self-evidently) as the "Word of God" by those same Christians would undoubtedly be a surprise to the original authors, editors, compilers, and audiences of the biblical writings. The logos of God is, according to John 1, that one who is and is with God from all eternity, but in time became flesh as Jesus of Nazareth; and the dabar yhwh of the Old Testament is a particular event of God's happening upon a person in time. Neither is (a/this) collection of written works.

6. If, then, the canon of Scripture found its final form through human ecclesial decision, the Bible is itself a product of Christian tradition.

7. That the writing, editing, collecting, preserving, and unifying of the biblical canon are grounded in the providential acting of the triune God is a theological dictum -- that is, an aspect of Christian faith -- and not a given, much less given in the texts themselves.

8. That the formation and authority of the canon are neither given foundations from which all else may be derived nor established by the texts themselves is not a negative or unhelpful observation: in fact, it is both faithful to the character of the gospel and appropriate to the context of the time after Christendom. Never should we have taken for granted that or what the Bible is.

9. The very human, very messy, very public forming and finalizing of the biblical canon is energizing in its faithfulness to the gospel for two reasons. The first is its absolute solidarity with the biblical God's resolute relentlessness in using imperfect means for divine purposes. Just like calling a polygamous patriarch, anointing a murderous shepherd, sending forth a zealous Pharisee, gathering together an idolatrous people, and assuming corruptible human flesh, the God revealed through weakness reveals also through non-self-validating texts not untainted by human hands.

10. The other reason for celebration of Scripture's messiness is God's promise to lead his people by the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Christians have rightly grounded the authority of Scripture in the inspiration of the Spirit, but the reverse is no less true: in the context of the believing community we must trust that God's Spirit also led the church to gather together the right texts in the right way, for all times and all places, as the inaugurating standard for God's people embodied in whatever context, as those stories and letters and laws through which the same Spirit will breathe life anew into each generation of the people of God.

11. Thus, to repeat: Christian Scripture is a matter of trust in the faithfulness and self-revealing love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Any claims to the contrary, either to ground it more foundationally or to establish it more "biblically," move beyond faith and lose credibility in the logic of the gospel.


  1. Excellent post Brad. You point out well the freedom and faithfulness that such a posture towards the Bible embodies. Many thanks!

  2. Yes, I concur. This is very good indeed.

  3. Brad,
    You make a wonderful case for Spirit led interpretation of Biblical text. The difficulty I see is in enlightening those that hold on to their beliefs that the Bible is literally the word of God.

    Many Christians need to believe the Bible as factual and God given text. Their faith is too weak to accept any other view.

    This is but one point of tension where the practice of theology and the practicality of shepparding a Church requires thoughtful and loving guidance by Clergy.

  4. @Brad: Outta curiosity, have you read Fundamentalism and the Word of God by Packer? Thoughts if so?

  5. To my point read the Post "Whom Are We Training"

  6. How can you reconcile the fact that the Bible is formed as a tradition in which we have faith, but that many Christian traditions that we once held sacred or God-given have come and fallen away?

    Examples include slavery, women as inferior to men, the entire human priesthood and all its sacraments, praying to saints, etc. (to Protestants)... the list goes on.

    If the Bible was formed out of tradition and we must have faith in its truth to guide us to knowing Christ more fully, then what does that say about our faith in other traditions that have died?