Monday, February 27, 2012

Title Rescinded: Word of God

Bill James described the outrage baseball stats fans would express when historical statistics were recomputed.  For example, a tight examination of the data credits Ty Cobb with fewer hits than was once thought.  How could you take hits away from Ty Cobb! Yet they weren't "taken away."  He hit what he hit and we try to count as accurately as possible.  If he didn't get those hits they shouldn't be in his totals.  Yet folks didn't see it that way.  They saw the Number of Hits as some previously-established truth that they knew, and these modern statisticians were trying to discredit Cobb, and maybe all of the great players of early baseball, by taking them away.

We see the same thinking in election recounts, that candidate A has had votes taken away (stolen!) while candidate B has been given more votes. Admittedly, in politics chicanery is possible, so votes might be given or stolen, but they aren't necessarily so just because the totals change.

The world map we learned in school is always secretly the Real Map, with countries created and lost after seen as somewhat artificial.  I suspect this drives our overall feeling that Arabs own everything east of Athens, and messing with that goes against nature.  Israel is barely noticeable in that regard, so why are they intruding there?  Except to the people who looked at the Bible maps while they were supposed to be listening to the sermon who see Israel as a real place, always has been, and don't find it being there all that strange.  Yes, there are also Persians and slight rejiggering of boundaries over the years, but essentially, kids who paid attention but not obsessive attention in school just look at that whole section and think "Arabs."  Africa makes no sense to us at all these days.  What the hell have they done with Rhodesia, anyway? Belarus, Uzbekistan - those are part of the USSR.  These current governments are rather experimental.  Which is why we don't get too shook when Russia tries to take them back.

CS Lewis noted that when Protestants tried to describe what they felt was the proper attitude toward Mary that Catholics would react resentfully, not trusting that the discussion was honest.  Instead, they would hear that Prots were trying to insult Mary in some way, take  from her an honor that she already had and deserved.  One was seen as not merely a critic, but something of a cad, taking something from a good woman in that way.

The Scripture reserves the title Word of God for Jesus. It does not describe itself with that phrase.  Yet pointing this out, evangelicals respond as if you are speaking ill of the Bible, diminishing it in some way, even dishonoring it.  They sometimes feel obliged to defend the use of Word = Bible as something of a loyalty.  With the scriptures under attack and disregarded so much in modern times, why would you want to encourage that?  Well, because I am concerned first with what the scriptures themselves say, not what men have decided to say about them in the last 200 or 500 years.  But that doesn't get heard.  What gets heard is that you are saying something bad about the Bible.

It came up in adult Sunday School yesterday.  The leader is an intelligent, informed man who desires to be an honest broker.  Not a close-minded or radical fundamentalist believer he.  But in contemplating the lack of explicit connection between Jesus = Word and Bible = Word, he concluded that the relationship was so intimate and profound that it didn't even need saying.  There was some agreement with him on this.  Certainly, the term "word," and its plain meaning in European languages leads us to think that way.  But that's not a language universal; and we have long experience with individual terms have both a common and a technical meaning anyway, so it shouldn't be such an obstacle.

I find that boggling. The Bible says very nice things about itself where it self-references at all, and encourages people to read, study, contemplate, understand, and practice what they find within.  It just doesn't name itself Word of God (not even in II Timothy).  That seems a stretch originating in the idea of the language of the Bible as Magic Words, an idea that parallels the invention of the printing press and the idea of spellcasting as a form of alchemy and science.  It is not accidental, then, that the group of Christians most convinced about lurking Satanism and the power of the occult are those who call the Bible "Word of God."

I don't think you can accuse Luther of not taking the Bible seriously.  Yet he said the scriptures are the manger which carry the Word of God, not The Word itself.  He was pretty emphatic about it.

I suspect if I had grown up with that formulation I might be more attached to it, and more suspicious of anyone like me who came in and tried to steal that title away from the scriptures.


Dubbahdee said...

I think it's kind of a transitive property thing. If a=b and b=c then a=c.

cf Hebrews 1. In times past God spoke in many ways through the prophets. But NOW he has spoken to us through Jesus.

God speaks (give us his Word) through the prophets (writings of Moses onward). Now he speaks through his WORD, Jesus. Both are his Word.

The specific "word" isn't used, the term used of Jesus in John 1 is LOGOS, which carries SO much more weight then our idea of what a word is that it is almost not a good translation. It's one of those translations that would need a paragraph to translate if you really wanted to unpack it.

So the idea of Bible as Word of God doesn't seem out of line to me. Not any more than "Trinity" does.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, AVI has not studied theology.

Clarity said...

Here are some references that may change the way you feel about this.

Luke 24:44-45, "Now He said to them, 'These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures."

2 Tim. 3:16-17, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

karrde said...

Heck, I grew up in such a tradition. I found myself quietly questioning whether the title Word of God properly applied to the entire Scriptures, or to Jesus himself.

This may be blamed on C.S. Lewis. He was capable of discussing Scripture as Literature, while not losing any respect for Scripture as inspired and authoritative.

This may have also been tied into my realization that every branch of Christianity has a Tradition Of The Church. This Tradition is de facto on an equal footing with Scripture, even if it is only an interpretative framework.

During my childhood, my parents led the family in Bible readings on a regular basis. We started in Genesis, and moved onwards.

I learned along the way that certain portions of Scripture had historical flavor, other portions had a historical-events-wrapped-up-in-a-morality-play character. Other books were full of songs, prophecies, and other inspirational material.

All of Scripture is powerful and valuable for the believer. But is it the Word Of God, or words of men inspired by God's acts in history?

Or is the answer somewhere in between?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Hey anonymous, thanks for the insightful explanation there. Care to elaborate?

DD and clarity - yes I knew those passages But it still isn't tight enough for an "=," to my reading. Logos, which Dave rightly notes is a very large concept in John anyway, is not the root used in any of these passages. I don't see any reason to set that up as the only standard for equivalence, but neither do I automatically disregard that distinction as immaterial. Equal signs in scripture should be a very high bar to reach. If it is a dotted line that we overstep a bit by treating as solid, I don't think that is a great problem. My worry is that the way is quietly blocked, but we are incautious. Words and spoken are large claims, but I don't know if they are gigantic enough for this.