the Word

If I am being honest then I am wrestling with what I think about  the Bible and phrases like ‘The Word of God’.

I just don’t know if I have the same conviction that the Bible is the fully authoritative Word of God that many  believers in the reformed, evangelical, Presbyterian church I am most familiar with seem to have.

Or to put it another way, I am just not  sure why Jesus is called ‘the Word’ in John’s Gospel while we also call the Bible ‘The Word of God’. Is Jesus the ultimate Word of God or is the Bible?  Or when a minister is preaching the Word what does that mean? What do courses like ‘Handling the Word’ mean? Is it more important to know how to ‘handle’ Jesus or the Bible? Are they the same thing?

The first time I remember wondering about this sort of thing was at a youth work conference about 10yrs ago called ‘The Bible Centred Youth Worker’.
There was and still is something about that title that rankled with me because it seemed to be focusing on the wrong thing. In my mind it seemed to make much more sense for it to be called ‘The Christ Centred Youth Worker’ or something like that because it was all about Jesus.
Was the ultimate purpose of  a church youth worker to be ‘centred’ on Christ or on the Bible? Was my goal to get young people excited about the Bible or Jesus?

I got thinking about it a few weeks ago when picking up a book called ‘Discovering Biblical Equality’ in a 2nd hand book shop in Cork. I was excited to read it but something about the first line in the preface put me off:-

‘Discovering Biblical Equality is the result of a collaborative effort of evangelical scholars united here by two convictions: that the Bible is the fully inspired and authoritative Word of God..’

I am just not sure that I am on the same page when it comes to what I believe about the Bible.
Is Jesus the fully inspired and authoritative Word of God or is it the Bible? A hymn I’ve sung many times says:-

‘You’re the Word of God the Father, since before the world began’.

Is the Bible the same as Jesus? Could we sing that hymn about the Bible? It’s the interchangeability of the phrase that confuses me.

I was wondering again last night while flicking through a  PCI ‘What is a church member?’ leaflet. According to it:-

‘ Believers trust Jesus Christ with their lives. This involves believing truths about him and having a personal relationship with him. The Bible, which Christians believe is God’s Word…’

Well that is just it, I am not sure that I believe that The Bible is God’s Word – so does that mean that I’m not a Christian? I believe that Jesus is the Word but I’m not sure that I have to believe that the Bible is God’s Word to be a Christian.  Do I have to confess the Bible is Lord to be a Christian?
There seems to be a reverence and respect for the physical book of the Bible that goes above Christ. It seems to be more important to understand scripture than Jesus. There is that bit where Jesus tells the Jewish leaders:-

’39 You study[c] the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

 

Another thing that I often wonder about is that verse that always got wheeled out in discussions about the Bible from Paul’s letter to Timothy:-
‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

The way that I see that verse is that Paul can only have been talking about the Old Testament as ‘all scripture’ as the 66 book of the bible didn’t exist.  So why was it always quoted at me as if Paul was referring the 66 books of the Bible? Should we not have heard a lot more sermons and talks on the Prophets for example if all scripture was God – breathed and Paul can only have been talking about the Old Testament?

 

 
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questioning the Bible and stuff

OK, here is the scenario. We have a bunch of ordinary men following Jesus, men like Peter who doesn’t exactly cover himself in glory in the Gospel accounts but are still men of faith.
Then years down the line they are the leaders of the church, men who write letters that are more than letters but scripture and God’s Word. The memory of Peter the bumbler seems long gone when we read 1 or 2 Peter, almost as if a different man has been writing the book.

There is an authority in his words that is used as the measuring tool against which Christians 2000 years later still measure their lives by.

But there is something in this all that doesn’t measure up.

Yes, Peter was older and wiser and far more importantly he had witnessed the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He had changed. Who wouldn’t?

Yes there was something profound that happened but did  Peter the bumbler still exist after all that or did he become (for want of a better description) ‘super-spiritual‘?
I expect that as Peter got older and older he did become more and more like Jesus, but did he become so like Jesus that the impulsive, ‘speak-before-you-think’ type of guy completely disappear?

The impression I’ve gathered over the years are that there are two Peter’s.  The  ‘get behind me Satan’ fisherman Peter of the Gospels and the eloquent church leader Peter.

I guess this is all coming from thinking about the character of any Christian leader I’ve encountered.
They are far from perfect men(like us all!),
they all have deep character flaws even if they’ve been Christian’s for decades. Of course those character flaws might be less pronounced than when they started following but still, they persist (like us all!). There are human and sinful and it’s to be expected. Nobody is perfect.

Yet they are also adopted into the family of God like Peter and Paul, the same Holy Spirit who was in Paul is also in their lives and the life of any Christian you know.

So should we expect the leaders of a church to be any less holy than the Apostles?
Should we expect the Apostles to be any more Holy than our church leaders or Christians we know?

Or as I should have put this at the start and saved out wading through all that, where the Apostles special?

Of course they where in a way because they witnessed Jesus and all that happened back 2000years ago which I certainly didn’t.
In the regard they are special.

And yet they were also men like me.

The reason I’m struggling with this is (once again) reading church history.

There is so much in the way that we do church that isn’t in the Bible but has been the work of early church leaders or from tradition and what has ‘worked’.

To pick one example ‘The Holy Trinity’ isn’t mentioned in the Bible.
To pick another the way that a church might be organised with bishops and archbishops being more powerful(?) than those priests or vicars below them doesn’t really seem to be in the Bible.

Or to pick another the books that made it into the New Testament where not decided by someone in the Bible, but by early church leaders centuries afterwards.

I find this lack of acknowledgement of the early church leaders and their reasons for closing the canon of scripture or for saying ‘Yes, the book is divinely inspired and should be in while this one isn’t‘ a bit disturbing or dishonest, or maybe false?
I’m not trying to go all da Vinci code with conspiracy theories either, just that it doesn’t seem to me to be as simple as some pastor saying that everything you need to know about life is in the Bible as it’s divinely inspired by God. That’s not to say that isn’t true either, just that history is important as well. Especially history that makes a decision as fundamental as the formation of the Bible.

Bruce Shelly writes in his book ‘Church History in Plain Language’
‘To this day we find it almost impossible to think of the Christian faith without the Bible. It is the foundation of Christianity’s evangelism, its teaching, its worship, and its morality. When we look over Christian history, we find few – if any – decisions more basic than those made during the first three centuries surrounding the formation of the Bible….We need to ask, then, how did we get the Bible?’

And that’s the whole problem there. Never once was it deemed important to question the Bible in my evangelical, Christian bubble.
In fact it was the opposite. You should never question the Bible, the Bible and Scripture should question you.
Much of my Christian bubble has been based on this premise that the Bible is God’s Word and that it’s our supreme measuring rod. You don’t question it, you obey it. Often it was a rod to beat down rebellion or to beat down those who might be homosexual or Roman Catholic or a woman in ministry.

Yet here is the thing just to say it again.
There is a history of the Bible that is vitally important yet is never mentioned or deemed important of mention. As Bruce Shelley writes
‘When we look over Christian history, we find few – if any – decisions more basic than those made during the first three centuries surrounding the formation of the Bible

The formation of the Bible isn’t deemed to be important even though few decisions have been as important to our entire faith. The decision of what should go into the canon came from church leaders who I know absolutely nothing about, as if what they did wasn’t really that important.

I’m not sure why this is disturbing me so much. I guess that it might have something to do with having to trust leaders I know nothing about, who if they are anything like the men and women I know will make bad calls even though Godly and expect that they made a decision that had immense importance (When we look over Christian history, we find few – if any – decisions more basic than those made during the first three centuries surrounding the formation of the Bible.) and that it was completely spot on and Holy.