Word of God: Person and Book

August 8, 2014 — 4 Comments

Old Book. Selective focusWhile reading Timothy Ward’s book on Scripture I came across a paragraph which is a helpful distillation and counter to the popular pitting of the person vs. the book.

Ward begins by quoting John Barton.

The biblical scholar John Barton puts it this way.

it is not primarily the Bible that is the Word of God, but Jesus Christ. I do not think one could find a single Christian who would dissent from this proposition, for to do so would plainly be to commit what is sometimes called bibliolatry: the elevation of the Bible above Christ himself….Christians are not those who believe in the Bible, but those who believe in Christ.

Michael Gungor recently posted something similar on his blog.

If you asked any Christian before the birth of the modern era and the Enlightenment, “what is the foundation of Christianity?”, they would say “Jesus Christ.”  If you asked many Christians that same question today in the post-Enlightenment world, they would respond, “the Bible.”

Why is this?

But the nature of the thinking is reductionist by nature.  It takes things apart, dissects them and reduces them to little certainties. And the reason for this is that the God that we see in the Bible and the God of Jesus Christ is not something that can be dissected in a laboratory or examined under a microscope.  God cannot be contained by reductionist, scientific thought.

This kind of argument sounds persuasive. Indeed it can seem impossible, at first, to disagree with this quotation from Barton and Gungor. Christians certainly are in relationship with a Person, not a paper-and-ink book. Our devotion should be to a living Lord, not to words printed on a page. And Gungor is right, Jesus cannot be contained by scientific thought.

Of course many Christian, looking again at Barton’s and Gungor’s words, would soon realize he is forcing a false dichotomy on us. We do not have to choose between ‘believing in the Bible’ and ‘believing in Christ.’

As Christians we can do both.

Ward goes onto give a few propositions about the nature of the relationship between God and Scripture. He argues that the words of the BIble are a significant aspect of God’s action in the world. To say that God spoke is to say that God did something (see Gen 1:3; Ps 29:5,8). And God also has invested himself in his words. Whatever you do with God’s words (obey or disobey) you do directly to God.

Although Gungor attributes the emphasis on the Bible as the expense of the person to Enlightenment thinking I think the argument can go the other way. Separating the two is in fact a result of the Enlightenment.

I have only be partially following this Gungor debacle, and from his posts it seems like his heart is in the right place. I would rather not stamp out someone who falls on the other side of some debates than I, especially if we will be enjoying eternity together.

However, having said that, I think the division he set up is unhelpful and misleading.


Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

4 responses to Word of God: Person and Book

  1. Hi Patrick,
    Thanks for the article. I tend to fall on the side of the phrase in the bible, ” the Word of God” as referring to the person of Jesus. As you know, Jesus is life. John 5:39 says that eternal life cannot be found in the Scriptures, but they simply point to the person who is eternal life. That being said, I do believe that the words written in the bible by men are certainly inspired by God. Rick

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