I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.
I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.
You can find the previous posts here.
3. (How) Is the Bible the Word of God?
The Bible is the Word of God in that scripture- when proclaimed rightly and received faithfully- is the reliable testimony to the one Word of God, Jesus Christ who is the logic of God made flesh.
So when Christians use the term ‘the Word of God’ they’re actually referring to multiple forms whose authority and ‘infallibility’ varies by degrees.
Imagine, for instance, the image of three concentric circles.
At the center, in the inner, centermost circle, is the Logos, the eternal Word of God that was made flesh in Jesus Christ.
Christ is the only capital ‘W’ word of God in which Christians believe and after which Christians conform their lives.
Next in the trio is the testimony to the Word of God given to us by Israel, the prophets and the Church. This testimony to the Word of God is the word we call scripture.
In the final, outermost, circle is the word of God as its proclaimed and interpreted in the worship and ministry of the Church to which Christians will often reply: ‘This is the word of the God for the people of God/Thanks be to God.’
The only true, literal, infallible, eternal Word of God then is Jesus Christ, the Logos of God.
The bible is the word of God in that it points us to the one Word of God, Jesus Christ.
Our reading and preaching of scripture is- or perhaps more apt, becomes– the word of God for us only when it faithfully proclaims and embodies the one Word of God, Jesus Christ.
“Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” – John 20.30-31
4. Should We Interpret the Bible Literally?
The form of the scripture text should determine how you interpret scripture.
If the scripture text is poetic, then you should it interpret it poetically. Metaphorically.
If the scripture text is exhortative, then you better go and do whatever it says. Whatever is the best modern-day equivalent of what it says.
If the scripture text is parabolic, then you should scratch your head and look for the scandal of the Gospel. Or whatever would be likewise scandalous in our day.
If the scripture text is fabulous, then you should dig for the deeper meaning, the text’s artist seeks to show rather than simply tell. e.g., Garden of Eden.
But when Christians refer to the bible as the word of God, don’t forget that while Christianity is indeed a revealed religion, the revelation of the Word of God is a mediated revelation.
Our access to the Logos comes to us only by way of scripture and the Church. Scripture therefore is not revelation. The pages and printed words in your bible are not, in and of themselves, the Word of God. They are our testimony to God’s Word as its been disclosed to Israel and the Church. Because of that testimony, scripture is authoritative for us and it is sufficient for communicating all we need to know of and follow this God.
At the same time, one’s testimony is never identical with the person of whom one testifies. Scripture’s testimony can only partially and provisionally capture the mystery of the eternal Word.
None of this threatening should be threatening, however, because the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is a mediated revelation.
Testimony can be imperfect without jeopardizing the perfection of the One to whom scripture testifies.
In other words, the bible does not (always) need to be interpreted literally because we do not believe in the bible; we believe in the One to whom the bible testifies. We worship Jesus Christ not the bible.
And, it should be pointed out, Jesus himself did not interpret scripture literally:
I say “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals
and fall like any prince” (Psalm 82 vv. 6-7)