Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Thursday, August 04, 2005

word of god

I cringe when I hear Christians refer to the Bible as the word of God. Fundamentalists use the phrase to mean that God is the true author of the Bible; the writers were just his instruments. The Bible, they say, is a perfect reflection of God's will. Anything that is not in the Bible is not God's will.

That view, it seems to me, borders on idolatry. It elevates the Bible to a status it was never intended to have. The Bible becomes the ultimate standard. God is diminished to what we can find in those pages.

I can't believe in such a limited God. Besides, doesn't the Bible itself (in the Gospel of John) refer to Christ as the Word of God? Applying that title to the Bible would seem to make it a substitute for Christ.

So I cringe when I hear Christians refer to the Bible as the Word of God.

Until now. Recently I found an old book in the church library, Exploring the Bible with Children by Dorothy Jean Furnish. It's really meant as a guide for Sunday School teachers, but I thought it might have suggestions I could use in teaching my son when he gets old enough.

When I got to chapter two, though, I found the statement, "Christians have given general consent to a description of the Bible, calling it the 'Word of God.'" I was ready to cringe. But Dr. Furnish went on to describe six different ways Christians might understand the phrase "Word of God", and five of them didn't bother me.

Here's a short summary of the six approaches:

  1. Written and Uninterpreted: The Bible is the words of God, faithfully recorded by the writers

  2. Interpretation of God's Word: The Bible is the writers' understanding of what God was saying to them

  3. Bible as Sourcebook: The Bible gives us answers to our problems, and can be used as a guide for our conduct

  4. History of God's People: The Bible shows us how God has made himself known through history

  5. Witness to Divine-Human Encounter: God speaks to us through the stories of the Bible

  6. Bible as an Event: God confronts us through the Bible stories and expects a response from us

Approach #1 is the one that causes me to cringe. To equate God with the words of the Bible and only those words seems to place limits on God. But the God I know, the God I speak with regularly, is bigger than that.

My own understanding of the Bible is similar to #4 and #5, a little closer to #5 than to #4, but both of them seem compatible with my understanding. And though I don't fully agree with #2, #3, or #6, I can see where people might understand it in these ways, and can respect them for that. I think God speaks to us in the ways in which we can hear, and if that means different people get different messages from the same Scriptures, it only shows God's ingenuity in reaching out to us.

So maybe now I can stop cringing when I hear someone call the Bible "the word of God." I'm not ready to use the phrase myself, but I'll try to be more open when others say it. They might not mean what I think they mean.


At 8/05/2005 2:03 AM, Blogger Timothy said...

I can understand how you think that alot of christians worship the Bible more than God. Sometimes it seems like their whole life revolves around the Bible, and it takes the place of God by becoming the deity with ultimate authority over the individual.

At 8/05/2005 4:29 AM, Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

Here in the Bible Belt, it is very difficult to avoid what I consider untoward worship of the Bible. I basically break it down into two points.

1. The Bible is a book, just that. Not Magic, not an Idol, not a Totem. The version produced by men in a country called England in the year 1611 is no more perfect or important than the recent proclamation of Matthew in the Sena language of tribal people in Mozambique.

2. JESUS CHRIST is the Word of God, the Revelation of God to us, the book (bible) is simply a record of how God has acted in human lives and how He calls us to understand His love as exemplified by His Son, Jesus. It was written and preserved by flawed men struggling to transmit what they believed was God's Spirit speaking to us. My trust and faith is in Jesus, not in this book that transmits His record to me.


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