The words below are offered to stir some thinking about the Bible, especially about its role in your life and that of believers in Christ as a whole. This page is about Scripture as God's message to us. Take up this challenge: think prayerfully about the use of each of these terms.
Are they useful, and in what ways?
What does this term mean for how I read the Scriptures?
How does the word go too far, or not far enough?
How does the way I think of the bible message get in the way of the message itself?
Am I seeing it as rules to follow, or as signposts on a journey?
There's a place for words that confine and words that broaden - what does this word do?
Is it theological gibberish?
Who has said such things before, and what did it lead them to do?
If you find out what you really think of the Bible, it can lay the groundwork for how you learn Jesus through it. Or you might find you have some lessons to learn about where you're starting from. The Spirit is inviting you into the Scriptures. Take the challenge! Spread the Word!
Word [ Old English word, < assumed Germanic wurdam ] The general definition is that of a small section of talk or writing that carries a specific meaning or message. In a religious context, 'word' means what God speaks; it bears the creative power of God. God spoke, and the universe, light, earth, and life were created. God spoke loudest, clearest, and most transcendently by coming among us as Christ Jesus, being executed and being arisen from death. So, in that sense, Jesus is God's Word (John 1) - God is communicating to us the divine character, purpose, and method by way of living it, as Jesus. Jesus is how God is. Most people who use the term 'Word' are usually talking about the Bible, which is the central witness to Christ. Without that witness, we don't know about Christ. Thus, the Bible is said to be "The Word of God". Some notes about that:
It's God's Word for you, but it is more of a we-Word than an I-Word. It works as God's Word by telling us not just about Jesus, but about His Father, about the course of faith history Jesus said He was fulfilling, and by showing its immediate consequence, the beginnings of the Church. We are a part of all that, through baptism.
Many Christians today are shaping some form of a three-fold description of what is meant by 'Word', in order to try to do justice to how the Bible itself uses the term. Some mainline-renewal Protestants speak of God's communication as written (literally what 'Scripture' means), spoken (preached, taught, borne in witness), and tangible (Christ as God-with-us, in service, and in sacraments/sacramental acts). ELCA Lutherans, in their church constitution, speak of the Word of God as being Jesus himself, the proclamation of the message (as Law and as Gospel), and the Scriptures. Also, the music, arts, and prayers of Christian believers are tied into the Bible, by being the interpreted 'preached' Word in a different form.
It is often said that God's Word is not the Bible itself, but the Bible carries or bears the Word. Martin Luther, Karl Barth and C.S. Lewis, among others, have written about this. What these authors mean is that the Bible's words themselves are not the Words of God, not even when taken together. The Bible is God's Word solely because God the Holy Spirit chooses to definitively speak to us through it, to lead us to Jesus Christ and to learn what it means to follow Him. Trouble is, many scholars and seminarians find it very hard to resist the idea of trying to separate out what is and isn't "the Word". They miss the point: God is messaging us through all of the Bible, even in its errors, even where we may be horrified by it, even at moments when the human author had intentions other than God's. It is you, along with the other believers of your time and place, who have the task of figuring out what God is saying to you and for your times. You have to be a Jacob and wrestle with the Word without dismissing it.
The bigger issue is, why are so many people not listening to any word God says in the Word?
Other terms in this same word-field of meaning include :
communication (the act of conveying or exchanging information, through whatever means)
message (the substance of a communication; the gist or core meaning of what is communicated)
report (an account, presented in detail)
When Eugene Peterson called his Bible paraphrase "The Message", he was trying to catch some part of the dynamism of what the Spirit is saying through the Scriptures.
I can't really speak a fresh message to myself. It would be drawn from what's already there and already at least partially acknowledged by me. A message comes to me from the outside, from somewhere and someone other than me. And I can know the message and learn it only as it is communicated to me. God the Holy Spirit is someone Other than me. When the Spirit speaks through Scripture, it's someone Other than me, communicating to me. It is not a self-conversation, nor is it from others who are in the same dilemma as me. It is an encounter with God, meant to change me. The gospel, as God's message of restoration, is sent for all, not just me, not primarily me. So my response to this communication can't be just about me. The message of the Bible a call on me and on all believers to give the love and grace to others that God has given to us.
What is the Gospel?
the Gospel [ < OE gōdspel (beneficial report) < Greek evaggelion (good news, good report)] It's a term in the same word-field as 'word' and 'report', and even Yinglish 'shpiel', and is related to the word "angel". The core message of the Bible. In Christian thought, the main reference is to John 3:16: for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. But that's not the whole good news. The good news is God-with-us, Jesus Himself - His life, teachings, death, and most pointedly, His return to be among the living. He is the One who causes our reconciliation with God, who makes us just before God. His own resurrection risen indeed shows the power behind the purpose. Jesus himself made the promise that we too shall arise to live in God's new world. The New Testament gospels tell the gospel story, not in lockstep but in unity. There are many other things in Scripture, great and wonderful, but they all exist to further this reconciliation, by God's grace through faith. To understand why Jesus was so important, understand the history of Israel, as found in the Old Testament; we call Jesus "the Christ", which means the Messiah who fulfilled the purpose of that story. God's telling us the very best of news. If all you hear out of a writer or preacher is bad news and damnation, they're lying to you. Because the gospel's news is good - you're free from all that!
There are many things that are not the gospel which are central to the faith. For instance, "Love the Lord your God..., and love your neighbor as yourself". Notice that this is about what you are called to do. The gospel itself is about what God did, and is still doing.
The Bible Has Human Authors
human authors: Christians believe the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit worked through human authors, poets, prophets, editors, collectors, and such. Because the Spirit inspires, the Scriptures will tell you all the truth you need to follow God. Because the authors are humans, they use culturally-conditioned ways of expressing things, signs of the writers' own character and vision, and different styles and use of words. The Bible's humanness is part of its usefulness and appeal over thousands of years. Whether it's Jeremiah's sense of terror all around, or Nehemiah's first-hand report of the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls, or the Psalmists' anger and fear, or Paul describing his relationship with the other apostles, the personal, human part of writing the Bible helps draw you in. You recognize it, from your own human experience. Human authors write the words, in part because it is meant to inspire humans to trust and to take action. When the Scriptures show God at work, it's usually through humans. God even chose to become a human for us, as Jesus. (That's why this analogy is called 'incarnational'; God's work in the Bible follows the Jesus pattern.) The Spirit inspires each of us and reveals to us what Christ was here for. Then others see Christ in action through us. God uses material people all along the way from beginning to end, and the Spirit is at every step.
The human authors of Christian Scripture are part of what makes it so different from the scriptures of other religions. For instance, most Muslims treat the Quran as being primarily written by God in heaven in Arabic and then given over to Mohammed who transcribed it, instead of being written through inspired people. He is seen as the Messenger, not the author. Even so, Muslims have an extensive interpretative tradition. To Mormons, the Book of Mormon was 'discovered' by Joseph Smith, but at least in their case someone was reportedly inspired to translate it.
What 'Human Authors' Does Not Mean
More and more, some people are branding what the Bible says as "man-made rules", which they can then simply ignore -- or worse, they can see it as something from which they need to free themselves. Well, yes, it was written by human authors, but that doesn't make it evil or stupid. The Gospel writers were not out to put anyone in chains, or make anyone obey a set of rules or an organization. Especially, not an organization that didn't exist in anything like its current form until three generations later. Nor are they lying to you about God. They were simply sharing with everyone about what had set their nation, and themselves (and us) free. When you dismiss their message, you drive away the most important news we've ever been given.
"The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not 'the Word of God' in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message."
---- C.S. Lewis, *Reflection On the Psalms*
narrative : [Lat. narrāre (to tell a story), originally from some form of assumed Indo-European *gnō- (to know)]. In a 'narrative method' of looking at Scripture, the context, roots, and importance of the Bible is found in its story line. All parts of the story find their meaning within the course of this narrative. The method isn't without its problems. For one: the story is much greater than the sum of its parts, but you can't really know the story without grasping its parts, especially when the story develops from real life. Each passage must have its full due, even when it seems to go against the flow, even if it does go against the flow (it may show us a paradox paradoxically). Even so, 'narrative' approaches focus on what's most important in the Scriptures: the story line. For a Christian, the 'story line' of God's work among human beings is the good news of Jesus Christ and through Him, the reconciliation of all that exists with its Maker. The rest of it may be good to know, helpful, and even God's blessing for you, but it is this story line that gives us the 'why' for the Bible and each passage in it.
What's Meant by Original Autographs of the Bible?
Autographs : The original written parchments/slabs/papyri used by the Biblical authors when first authoring the Biblical books. This is supposedly the 'most purely inspired' -- and thus most 'infallible by humans?' -- form of the Biblical books. These are long since all gone, and were probably all gone within several generations of being written. (Notice how silent the early church's writers are about their existence.) Thus, reference to them in defending the authority of a text is an act of fiction. What we have now is all we are likely to ever have: a set of written works whose oldest existing copies are at least several generations of copying from being original. It is these copies, with all their occasional scribal errors, expansions, and such that are translated into the written materials through which the Spirit speaks today. If we found 'autographs', that would be wonderful, but we haven't and probably won't. The Spirit works through our copies, and thus our copyists' errors. back to word list
The Bible as Perspicuous (or Clear)
perspicuous. [ < Latin
per- (through) + specere (to look, view); related
to Eng. "perspective" (orig., 'place from which to see').] Definition: Clearly and directly communicated or presented; lucid, readily understood.
To say the Bible is 'perspicuous' means that no specialized training is needed to grasp what it's telling you. This is not a license to be ignorant. You still need to take the time and effort to think it through. There's no one required method for that. (True, there are some mysteries, but these confound even the wisest.) The unschooled and the retarded often show a solid grasp of its main thrusts. That's because the Holy Spiritwants us to know such things. The Spirit is the one who reveals it to us, the one Who makes it clear, and enables us to see by way of it. The Spirit can work through an awareness, a happening, a life experience, a method of study, or anything else to make clear to us what is being revealed through the Bible. Idiots and geniuses alike can be fools and jerks about Scriptural matters, but they and everyone in between have what it takes to grasp the core message get the gist. That is what's meant by 'perspicuous' - not that you will understand but that you are capable of understanding. The clarity of Scripture is not something that applies to each passage standing by itself -- some of those are quite unclear. Its perspicuity is not a matter of the words, the writers, the preachers, or the language, but of the purposes of the Holy Writ and the Spirit who clearly communicates through it. And we do not see the full, clear glory of God when we read the Bible. God hides just enough to give us room to probe, wonder, ask, and try out what is found there, so we can more fully draw it into ourselves.
Making Ourselves Perfectly Clear
At this point, it should be clear that the term 'perspicuous' is itself not perspicuous to most people, since they've never heard of the term. Thus, you should use another word for perspicuous (and the noun 'perspicuity'), for clarity's sake. Other words in this same word-field of meaning include :
clear (without cloak, cloud, haze, or disguise; distinctly visible) and clarity (the quality of being clear)
transparent (fully revealing, without hiding or blocking out; showing through)
lucid (easily-understood; intelligible without exerting a lot of effort)
understandable (able to be thoroughly known)
readily-grasped or comprehendable (able to be known in a way that can be put to use)
What's Meant By 'Synoptic'?
Synoptic : Greek, "of one eye". The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called Synoptic because they are similar works to each other, for the most part covering the same events and using most of the same oral and written sources, making a fairly unified view of Jesus. The Gospel of John, however, is deliberately very different in the order of events, which events are described, and the point of view taken about the life and ministry of Jesus. Therefore John is a Gospel, but not Synoptic. In recent times, Scripture scholars have re-discovered the fact that each Synoptic Gospel has its own very special slant. Though they're not anywhere near as different as John's Gospel is, the Synoptics are each different works with their own vision to share. Yet the Synoptics stand together.
Window and Verbal Icon: These are terms spun from Eastern Orthodox ideas. The Orthodox treat certain pictures, paintings, and other visual art of Biblical people and events, especially of Jesus and Mary, as windows from which to see Jesus and the Kingdom of God. The Bible is, in this view, the earthly icon of God's love and God's intent for the created world. More precisely, through it we can discover who God-with-us, Jesus, really is. Just as we can envision spiritual matters by meditating on a visual icon, so also the Spirit uses the Bible as the window through which the Spirit reveals Christ to us. The Bible ranks above visual icons, because it is the source of what is depicted in them.
Another term in this same field of meaning is 'window', a place to look through to see outside or beyond, while being inside a wall of shelter. The word was originally poetic -- a "wind-eye". In a lighter vein, a related word is 'peephole'. back to bible-descriptive word list