“That old Book”

“That old book”

‘s take on the keys of faith is simply an intense look at the central role of the Bible for those who claim to be believers in Christ. Where the Bible’s unique claim is not accepted, there is also no basis for anything that can be called Christian life. Often I find myself prompted to ask, “If we don’t believe what the Bible says about itself, why do we believe anything else it says?”

The fact that, more than 2,000 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we still in one sense or another have the collection of texts collectively known as the Bible ( which simply means “the books)” as the basis for the great diversity of different churches and denominations, reasonably means that the question about how the Bible is understood to be of great importance. Add to that the fact that it is the most purchased and read book in the world. That  surely is significant. There is neither any book so heavily criticised. It is available in the majority of all the world’s languages and its place as the central foundation of all learning and all life is quite secure. But only quite. In the time since it became what it is today, it has had to endure a long series of questionings, distortions, misinterpretations and ignominy.

Bibliolatry is as bad as any idolatry

It has as often suffered from being the object of idolatry as from being relegated to the antiques shelf as a memento of ancient days. From sky-high worship of the book itself to an existence in almost total oblivion, it has had to endure a series of different attitudes from those who call themselves or are called by others “people of the book” or “readers”. From the attitude that “in the Bible we can find one or two words from God” to “The whole Bible is God’s word” there are countless variations on the theme of how important it is. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll ask you a question, a question you can answer for yourself before you read on.

In what sense is the Bible Truth?

Among ten readers, there are probably as many different answers. It is more than usual for someone to say “Yes, for me it is…” This means that what is true for me does not have to be true for you . On such a basis we cannot hope for an agreed consensus. “Everyone can believe as they want.” “The important thing is that they believe in Jesus.” But what is the content of the word Jesus?

So the question arises, what did and does Jesus think of the scriptures? What place does He think they have, and how must we approach the scriptures who claim to believe in Jesus in any sense? Surely what was good enough for the Master ought to be a guiding light for us too? It has probably not escaped you that it has been said about Jesus himself that he himself is the Word in one sense or another. Then the Word should have a pretty good grasp of what the words (scriptures) are and how they should be approached. Now remember that His constant confrontation with “The Scribes” for three years was precisely with people who had an insanely high view of the Bible, noting that they still knew nothing about the writings of the New Covenant. The gospel was clearly taught for many, many years starting with only the Old Testament scriptures.

“ You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life. It is they who testify about me,but you do not want to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning.  All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.

Searching the scriptures was aimed at understanding eternal life. From the text you hoped to be led to that whereof the text speaks.
Thus He who declares himself in the scriptures to be “the resurrection and the life” believes that the scriptures reliably testify to eternal life as an offer and as a possibility.
These writings have a central theme. “They testify about me!” The primary goal of Bible study is to get to know Him. It can be read from a large number of other premises, but the Word itself pushes them all out of the way and says plainly: they testify of me! Expressed in another way, we would say that the Bible’s key to interpretation is Jesus himself. At least he said so himself. Shouldn’t that adjust the way we read? If Jesus himself says that the testimony of the scriptures is a testimony of Him, then can one separate faith in Him from the study of the scriptures?

Then comes the killing blow: “But you don’t want to come to me to get the life you searched for in the scriptures.” Note: it is not knowledge of the scriptures that gives life. It is not Bible knowledge in itself that leads to conversion and rebirth. It is the encounter with Christ himself that brings it about! But everything we know about how this happens we wouldn’t know without reading what the scriptures say. Separating the living eternal word from the written word cannot be done without losing access to the life that the Word came to give. The words are written because God’s Word is spoken straight into the world so that the written word about Him would always lead people through the words to the Word!

Back to my question then. How is the Bible True? And what is that truth about?
Is that the truth about how to knit a Norwegian Sweater? Is that the truth about thermonuclear laws of nature? Is that the truth about how to make an Aijvar Relish? Or is it a good basis for urban planning in Grindavik, Iceland when a lava stream works its way up from below the earth’s interior? What is Truth anyway? The scriptures addresses the issue fair and square.

” Jesus said to him: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.If you have come to know me, you shall also come to know my Father. Now you know him and have seen him.”
Truth, then, is not a collection of statements that can either be proven to be true or false. The truth is that Jesus himself is the Truth about God the Father! No one has the slightest access to the Father who does not get it by knowing the Son. He is also the absolute Truth about how man was created and for what he can and must be created anew. He is the truth about both God and man. This consent about his status is also given by the one who handed him over to death on the cross.
” Pilate said: “So you are a king?” Jesus answered: “You yourself say that I am king. Therefore I was born and therefore I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”Pilate said to him : ” What is truth ?”

“People ask for proof, scientific proof that God exists. Does the fish need to prove the ocean he swims in? Does the bread contain the baker? Does the breathing need scientific evidence that he breathes air?”
“For in Him we live and breathe and exist!” Acts 17:28
If man could comprehend God, god would be no greater than man’s comprehension.

Just like an immense number of other people, Pilate did not believe in any absolute truth.
Not even when he stood face to face with him who claimed to be that very Truth. (As long as truth is seen as an abstract and theoretical object it will evade us.) The next day he brought out him who in himself was the answer to the question what truth is and proclaimed before the assembled mob “Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, and Pilate said to them: “Behold the man!” There was never a truer man than this, the last Adam. And the testimony of the scriptures is that the Christian life has a definite target and purpose. ” The world does not know us, because it has not come to know him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. But we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for then we shall see him as he is.” 1 Joh 3:2-3

Thus the truth is not something but someone. All other truth is to be found in the creation which by him has been made and formed into what it is and which is preserved by him as it is until the day when “the elements shall dissolve as by fire.” (2 Pet 3:10f).
The Bible is therefore Truth in the sense that it bears verbal witness to the Truth.  The words about something are never that of which they speak. Taken as truth they lead to the Truth that is not merely credible but id directly leading to what they signify. The immeasureable tragedy is that a person may have total knowledge of the Bible without ever having been confronted with the Truth about which The Bible bears witness!  Through the words we are invited to go through to that of which they speak.

No one who reads the Bible does so without feeling some resistance to the fact that it is not very well organized, is not arranged according to academic rules, that it does not clearly and distinctly gather all the essentials (whatever they are) in one place but spreads things out in 66 books bit by bit, which nudges us to bring order to what can be perceived as “messy”. The result of all such organizational itching is what we call “Theology”. We feel the need to turn the texts into “sound doctrine”. People’s words about the Word become doctrines and statements about the Word with interpretations added and careful selection done to make the point. This rarely happens without some extra biblical scheme of thought to which the words of scripture are aligned. It is another great tragedy that people can become academic theologians without ever having met the Word unto eternal life. Seen this way theology is only the truth about the truth about the Truth. Thrice removed from the Truth!

Because of the previous three Truths, we  build those psychosocial communities that we call congregations. They build more or less consciously on the theology that their founders and forefathers in the faith held to be true. The life that the congregation displays out in the open cannot be expected to be solely theological because people have a number of other needs in addition to “sound doctrine”. But the normative truth of a predetermined theology shapes the congregation in a certain way. And if you visit that kind of congregation, regardless of where you are on earth, you soon recognize the distinct and familiar signs.. Birds with the same plumage gather in similar flocks. But here is the next possible tragedy. One can be a member of a congregation throughout one’s life without a living relationship to Him whose body the congregation is. Congregational life is only the truth about the truth about the truth about the Truth. Four times removed from the Truth.

But is it true to the Truth?

The written word has a much more definitive understanding of its function and mission.
” Jesus said to him: “You therefore believe that you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Many other signs which are not recorded in this book did Jesus before his disciples. But these have been written down so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through faith you may have life in his name.” (Joh 20:29-30)

And the apostles directly joined force with their Lord by exclaiming: “ Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.”(Romans 10:17)  Separate the Word from the words and you lose sight of both.

Now then, are you better placed to tell what the role of the Bible is in the believer’s life? It cannot have escaped you who read this far that the Word, the living Lord Jesus cannot be separated from the written words. Namely, they are written to lead the believer without the slightest doubt to the One on whom faith rests entirely, is dependent on and has its beginning and its consummation in Him in whom we believe.

It is a mystery to me that people in our time can claim to love Jesus without ever opening the Bible which beyond doubt testifies to Him in all the writings from Moses to John’s Revelation. It is also baffling that so much Bible reading seems to be pure boredom and never brings rapture or devotion to Him about whom it is concerned. Some hints towards an explanation is given my Luke.

Luke tells us of a memorable Bible conversation between Jesus himself and some discouraged and crestfallen disciples on their way home to Emmaus. Their fellow traveller had inquired about their stay in Jerusalem and heard their version of the central events. When he is fully aware of the inadequacy of their understanding of the Bible, he speaks up. Then he said to them: “How slow you are in mind and heart to believe all that the prophets have said! Must not the Messiah suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” And he began with Moses and all the prophets, and explained to them what was written about him in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27) In our time most of the Bible of which He spoke is left unopened. Silenced by neglect.

” And when he reclined at table with them, he took bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us when he spoke to us on the way, when he opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-31)
For the believer in Christ, the Bible is without comparison the most important single document any person will ever get to lay their hands on. (More important than birth and death certificates even.) Namely, it speaks of the only lasting truth that leads to a life in Truth. Without it, we know nothing at all worth knowing concerning eternity. Without this and that Spirit who inspired every word of it, nothing could be accomplished leading to burning hearts and lives in His service. Where the Bible is not known, all the sins it testifies against are repeated. Where the Bible is not found, the vision of the prophet is missing which prevents the people from becoming unbridled.

A closed Bible always also means that the ears are closed to God’s voice. If the Bible is dusty, it soon becomes apparent that we are only dust and returning to dust, with no hope of resurrection. For that hope of eternal life has a guide to it. God’s written word. Received as such, believed as truthful witness to the truth.

Where the Bible is closed, the Spirit is also silenced and the heart remains dumb and blind. With hearing ears, they still don’t hear a whisper.

Teddy Donobauer January 18, 2024

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