I’ve recently been in conversations over many different theological and interpretive issues pertaining to the Bible. In discussing my interpretations with family, friends, students, and readers of my blog, the nature and authority of the Scriptures are always brought up.
While I’ve actually been asked several times, “Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word?”, it’s usually just insinuated in their response to being challenged on the way they’ve always read or been taught the Scriptures.
I think this happens for one or more reasons: (1) the Scriptures are rightfully regarded as authoritative among Christians; (2) I’m challenging their interpretation which they mistake for disbelief in the Bible; (3) they simply do not understand my position; (4) they are entirely closed off to learning and they prefer to shut the conversation down by underhandedly claiming I don’t believe the Bible. This is also done by claiming the Holy Spirit guided their interpretation. So, of course they must be correct, making me wrong.
Therefore, in light of these recent conversations, and because it’s long overdue, I will briefly lay out my view of Christ and the Scriptures.
The Bible (Old & New Testaments) is the inspired, infallible word of God (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). I believe that the Scriptures are trustworthy in conveying God’s progressive revelation through the history of Israel, culminating in the life of Jesus of Nazareth—who is the exact representation of God in the fullness of divine, incarnational revelation (Matt 16:16, 21:33-40; Jn 1:1-14, 5:39, 8:58, 10:33, 14:9; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:3).
Inspiration testifies to the Spirit’s activity in the lives of the prophets and apostles who penned what in time became celebrated as sacred Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21). The testimony handed down to us in the text is reliable in its transmission, and it is trustworthy in what it intends to communicate to the ancient and modern reader about God in Christ.
I believe that saying the Bible is “inspired” (God-breathed) refers to the Spirit-revealed truth in the original, ancient context and literary genres.
It does not mean that all of the Bible should be read literally, or that your or my own interpretation is the one that’s inspired.
Therefore, interpretation requires a responsible handling of the biblical text, “rightly dividing” it in Christian community. This should be done in a spirit of grace and humility. As the church, we must recognize the difference between the inspired Scriptures and our interpretations.
I believe Scripture should be read using a Christocentric hermeneutic (interpretation). This means that Christ is not only the center of the salvific story told in the Scriptures, but that all Hebrew perceptions of God in the OT should be understood in light of Christ, the final self-revelation of God.
To affirm that the OT is inspired isn’t to say that the Hebrews saw God in his fullness, or that all portions of Scripture are equally authoritative (e.g. Canaanite genocide, imprecatory psalms, nationalism, levitical laws, etc.).
All Scripture is subordinate to Christ. He is the reality of the OT shadows (Col 2:17). Jesus sorts out all misconceptions of God in the OT.
As Greg Boyd stated in my 3-part interview with him last year…
“The cross reveals what God is truly like and thus what God has always been like.”
Wherever OT portraits of Yahweh do not look like Christ, I see God making significant concessions, taking the sins of Israel upon himself, and accommodating himself to their limited vision and partial revelation.
I think this fresh understanding of inspiration is found in a true Christocentric or “cruciformed” interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.
And I think this should be embraced by all Christians who affirm that Jesus is the full and final revelation of God. But instead there seems to be a bewildering confusion on this that actually makes what I’ve stated above sound dangerous, even heretical to some folks.
“Reading Scripture through a christological and theographical lens is more radical a move than we might think at first blush. In our observation, it’s rarely practiced today—even among those who claim to uphold the centrality of Christ. It’s one thing to profess to read the Scripture christologically or to agree with in principle. But it’s quite another to actually practice it.” Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Jesus: A Theography, pg. xviii
How does it happen that so many in the church have failed to accept Jesus as central and supreme over the OT portraits of God?
I’m convinced that it has a great deal to do with how many Christians have learned to compartmentalize the life and teachings of Jesus, and reduced the Gospel to a “sinners prayer” salvation.
For some people, Jesus mostly said what he did for the next life, and lived the way he did to get crucified for our sins. Therefore, the incarnation as a way of setting the record straight about what God is like is lost in the midst of proof-texts and meshing the Old and New Testaments together.
It seems to have begun around the 4th century when Constantine merged the church and state. Christians began picking up the sword and justifying it in the name of the OT. Slowly but surely the church learned to ignore the negative contrast of God in the OT seen through the lens of Christ.
When this happens Jesus can be used as the cheerleader for the “Christian” state, and any other agenda that needs “biblical” justification. This method of using the OT to support anti-Christ agendas is still practiced today.
So, not only does this ignore the conflict, but in disregarding that Christ stands above the OT portraits of God, a person is short-changing, even diminishing, the cosmic importance of the incarnation.
That’s no small matter.
In other words, this implies that there is something about God that Christ doesn’t reveal to us. This seems to me to be the real threat to the inspiration of progressive revelation summed up in Christ, God in the flesh.
You may remember that Marcion (c.85-c.160AD) was excommunicated as a heretic because the way in which he dealt with the OT. Marcion went so far to say that the god of the OT was not the Father of Jesus, but a lesser deity.
While I grant that Marcion was a gnostic heretic, and wrong for the way he handled the Scriptures, he was right to acknowledge the conflicting portraits of God in the OT with Christ in the Gospels.
Therefore, I’m convinced that the Old and New Testaments cannot be fully reconciled without using a radical Christocentric hermeneutic.
The Word Made Flesh
The highest view of the Scriptures is not the one that seeks to make an idol of the Bible (biblicism), but the one that allows the biblical text to exalt Christ as the living Word over all creation. The Word became flesh, not ink.
“God’s truest, highest, most important, most authoritative, and most compelling self-revelation is the God/Man Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ—and not the Bible—who is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). It was in Jesus Christ that “God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19).” Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, pg. 117.
I believe it’s important to let the Scripture be Scripture, and let Christ be Christ. That is to say that we should view the Scripture as a sign-post and a pointer to the eternal Word of God, Messiah Jesus (John 5:39). He is the true Word of God, living and active (John 1:1-14; Heb 4:12). He is not bound by the written text or dependent upon any view of inspiration.
It is because Christ is revealed in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation that I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. And this reminds me, and I hope you as well, that our confession and obedience to Jesus as the Word is the true arbiter of faithfulness. There is nothing else.
As the apostle Paul has written, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil 3:8).
May we be found in Christ and get all of our life from him, not from our differences of opinion on theology, our varying interpretations, or our nuanced views of biblical inspiration.
For it is Christ above all things, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3).
D.D. Flowers, 2013.
- The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith
- Scripture & the Authority of God by N.T. Wright
- The Text of the New Testament: It’s Transmission, Corruption, & Restoration by Bruce Metzger
- The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce
- The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It) by Thom Stark
- The Old Testament Roots of Non-Violence by Philip E. Friesen
- God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, & Racist? by David Lamb
- The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy by Eric Seibert
- Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, & Applying the Bible by J. Scott Duvall & J. Daniel Hays
- Jesus: A Theography by Frank Viola & Leonard Sweet
February 11th, 2013 at 12:17 am
Thanks for the sharing of these thoughts. I agree, Jesus walking this earth was bigger than anyone’s interpretation of who He is, HE was, He is, He is to come. Thanks David. Loved it.
February 11th, 2013 at 1:17 am
Wow! I get to be the first to say, Well said, David. Thanks!
February 11th, 2013 at 7:36 am
Thank you for an excellent summary of the nature and purpose of Scripture. Your four reasons for why people challenge your understanding are both concise and comprehensive. I have experienced much the same response in my own walk with our Lord.
I would add but one short comment, and I feel sure you would agree. We “gain Christ” by being conformed to His image. If we are not being transformed from glory to glory by His grace and His word, we are living in vain. The ultimate purpose of the appearance of the living and written word – is to transform our lives – not fill our heads.
May you continue to inspire us to be faithful image bearers!
February 11th, 2013 at 8:00 am
Thank you, Chris! I agree. While we’re not called to “fill our heads” detached from a love affair with Christ, we are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and love him with it. Thanks for reading, bro.
February 11th, 2013 at 8:47 am
Amen! I have been married to my wife for 37 years, and continue to increase in my understanding of her. Clearly their is a ditch on each side of the road – emotion without understanding and understanding without passion.
I look forward to knowing you better – growing in both love and understanding – I suspect we are birds of a feather 🙂
In Him whom we live and move and have our being,
February 11th, 2013 at 8:02 am
Pretty much mirrors my views as well David and I get similar responses from others at times as what you describe.
February 11th, 2013 at 8:02 am
Excellent post, David.
February 11th, 2013 at 8:40 am
Great thoughts. I often have to catch myself from confining Christ to scripture as if He is bound by a book. It’s an idol when not used to point to Him. We aren’t going to have a bible study when He comes again. He is! That’s all we will need. We will fully see. Great post David. You make me contemplate. Be blessed
February 11th, 2013 at 10:11 pm
Thanks for sharing, Chuck!
February 11th, 2013 at 8:57 am
I might be one of those to disagree on certain nuances of your stance here. However, I applaud you upholding the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures. The Bible is under such attack in our day. Differences in interpretation will occur between honest believers. However, these are opportunities to learn and exercise grace. While I can readily see when others “get it wrong,” I seldom see my shortcomings. May God grant me the humility to allow for differences and the boldness to stand for the truth of His Word.
February 11th, 2013 at 10:09 pm
Thanks, Sean. I’m grateful to have you keeping up with all of my posts, even when you disagree from time to time. 😉
February 12th, 2013 at 7:26 am
I view our disagreements as “in-house debates.” Nothing over which to separate. And certainly our agreements are much more important, with the central importance of Jesus to history and our lives.
February 12th, 2013 at 7:56 am
February 11th, 2013 at 9:09 am
Thanks, David, for these thoughts! The God of nature and life is so much more alive than the God of ink and paper!
February 11th, 2013 at 9:41 am
Great Post David! Thanks for sharing.
February 11th, 2013 at 1:40 pm
You can twist His words, yet the Word is a straight path.
February 12th, 2013 at 8:56 am
Thanks for speaking with such clarity. I, too, hold to a Christocentric hermeneutic. It has been with this interpretation (though at times I may miss the mark) that I have experienced the most transformational growth in all the years I’ve known Christ as Lord and Savior.
I especially appreciate your encouragement for us to rightly divide the biblical text in Christian community with grace and humility, as well as the recognition of our interpretation being different from the inspiration of Scripture.
When, as a community, we are able to see Christ throughout the Scripture and express His life to one another grace, humility, and mutual love toward one another permeate the community. It is a beautiful thing to behold and experience.
Thanks again for sharing with such clarity brother.
February 12th, 2013 at 10:45 pm
‘In the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God and the Bible was God’.
That doesn’t sound quite right.
The finite contains the infinite. The Lord uses earthen vessels. The Bible is the Word of God, but the Word is also in preaching and teaching about Christ.
We don’t next perfect, inerrant words…to have an infallible Word.
February 13th, 2013 at 12:10 am
Great article and I agree completely! I have recently run into this type of resistance, especially to the Christocentric hermeneutic. Specifically, the resistance is to a non-violent view of Jesus or at the least a Jesus who is not against war. Are any of the books you listed give a good exegetical defense for the non-violent view of Jesus? I have read Yoder’s Politics of Jesus but was wondering if you knew of anything else that could help me.
February 27th, 2013 at 11:44 pm
Hey John, sorry for the delay. I must have mistakenly overlooked your comment.
I would check out “Myth of a Christian Nation” by Greg Boyd and “Mere Discipleship” by Lee Camp. They both unpack the Jesus of the Gospels and his non-violent teachings.
February 16th, 2013 at 5:50 pm
“The Word became flesh, not ink.”
I love this line. I had a professor that would always point out when someone said “word of God” when referring to the Bible. He would explain how the Bible is not the Word of God, but the “words of God” that speak about the Word of God. One little “s” makes a big difference. I wonder how we got so confused about that?
February 27th, 2013 at 11:45 pm
Great way of distinguishing the two. I like it.
March 14th, 2013 at 2:28 pm
Lots of good points here. I agree that Christ is the focus of the entire Bible; so many Old Testament portions point to Him directly or indirectly. Also, when we come to the written word of God we also come to the living Word of God. The Jews held the written word but turned away from the living Word, as He told them in John 5:39-40.