Read Along with Pastor Matt–Simply Christian “The Bible”

Posted: January 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

In chapters 13 and 14 of Simply Christian, Bishop N.T. Wright finally addresses the Bible.  How does he view Scripture?

First of all, let’s get it out of the way, the Bible contains a lot of weird stuff.  Theologian Karl Barth referred to reading Scripture as entering into “the strange world of the Bible.”

Wright put it this way, “It’s a big book, full of big stories with big characters.  They have big ideas (not least about themselves) and make big mistakes. It’s about God and greed and grace; about life, lust, laughter, and loneliness.  It’s about birth, beginnings and betrayal; about siblings, squabbles, and sex; about power and prayer and prison and passion…and that’s only Genesis.”

Wright only touches on the following but I think it is important to any discussion of Scripture: First, the Bible took shape over thousands of years and was written in three ancient languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek).  None of these languages can be translated word-for-word into English, which is one of the reasons there are so many translations!

Second, chapters and verses were not added to the Bible until roughly 1500 years after the last few books were written.  Third, most Israelites and early Christians were illiterate, so most of the books were written to read aloud for all to hear.  In fact, most were also meant to be read in one sitting! Fourth, both the Old and New Testaments presuppose that teachers will help others to understand their content and, finally, none of the writers of Scripture wrote their part to be a science text!

Now back to Bishop Wright…The Bible itself claims to be “inspired” (see 2 Tim. 3:16) but what does that mean? Liberals have taken this to mean that the writers were inspired in the sense an artist is an inspired by love or beauty or pain.  Conservatives have taken it to mean that the writers of Scripture were nothing more than secretaries taking down the very words of God whispered in their ears. 

Is there a third option?

The Bishop asks, what if the Bible, like the Temple, like Jesus and his loyal followers is a place where heaven and earth overlap and interlock? It is important to remember that Scripture does not just claim it is “God breathed” but that it has a specific purpose. 2 Timothy 3:16 reads, “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.”

Wright states, “In other words, the Bible isn’t there simply to be an accurate reference point for people who want to look things up and be sure they’ve got them right.  It is there to equip God’s people to carry forward his purposes of new covenant and new creation.  It is there to enable people to work for justice, to sustain their spirituality as they they do so, to create and enhance relationships at every level, and to produce that new creation which will have about it something of the beauty of God himself.  The Bible isn’t like an accurate description of how a car is made.  It’s more like the mechanic who helps you fix it, the garage attendant who refuels it, and the guide who tells you how to get where you’re going.  And where you’re going is to make God’s new creation happen in his world, not simply to find your own way unscathed through the old creation.”

Christians not only claim that the Bible is inspired but that it is also authoritative, but what might that mean? Perhaps, Scripture is an authoritative instrument of God because it is the foundational word for the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ by which God will rescue His “good” but corrupted creation.  Perhaps, as Wright puts it “the authority of the Bible is the authority of a love story in which we are invited to take part.”  It is the story we are called to live out every day.

If we view Scripture as our story to live out then maybe, just maybe we can stop spending so much time and energy fighting over what individual passages pulled out of context mean and get to work living out the redemptive story of God’s great rescue plan for His beloved creation.

Next week, we will look at Wright’s view of the church.

Until then, grace and peace.

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