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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Honest Advent: The Bible Never Claims to be the Word of God

Image shows a silhouette of a stable and manger, with the text "The Word Became Flesh." Image source.
Today and tomorrow's Advent readings are both from John 1, so I'm combining them. John 1:1-9:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
I really love this passage. The Word became flesh. (That bit comes later, in verse 14 actually.) "The Word" is Jesus (or at least, that's the only interpretation I've ever heard, but it doesn't necessarily say so explicitly- I'd be interested to know if there are Christians who believe "the Word" is something else), he is God's wisdom and God's light born into a real human person who lived among us. God with us. That's amazing.

Also, for the "through him all things were made" part, I take that to mean that Jesus is alive in so many things in this world. Jesus is everywhere, all around us. Jesus lives in us and in all the good things we experience. And yeah, I said I was doing "Honest Advent" because I don't believe in those big, abstract, feel-good spiritual ideas that don't necessarily make real-world sense- but this one I really do believe. God with us, God in everything good. I believe in incarnation. I do not believe in a God who actively does things in the world, but I believe in a God who is always with us, who sees everything and cares about everyone, and feels all the feelings at the same time we feel them. God is with us, and God is empathy.

But here's something that's a bit weird: Why does it say about John the Baptist "he himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light"? I believe God lives in everyone- yes, including John the Baptist. As it says here, "through him all things were made" and "that life was the light of men." So, in my view, is there really a distinction to make between a person- created in God's image, having God living inside- and the abstract idea of God's "light"? Yes, I definitely believe Jesus was unique- Jesus actually IS God, whereas the rest of us just have God living in us. But still. It's not like people are a completely separate thing from "the light."

I'm just saying, it feels a little weird to say so specifically that John the Baptist was NOT "the light." Maybe this is countering some widespread misconception that was floating around in that culture back then.

Here's the big takeaway from this passage though: Jesus is the word of God. The bible never says that the bible is the word of God.

Yeah. Think about that for a minute.

When modern Christians use the phrase "the word of God," they're always referring to the bible. But that's completely unbiblical. When the bible uses the phrase "the word of God" or "God's word", it is never referring to the bible. It may be referring to a specific quote from the bible- as in passages that are like "the word of the Lord came to so-and-so" and then the next quoted bit is "the word of the Lord." But the idea that "the word of God" means "the bible as we know it today" is just absurd. (And if I had a lot more spare time, it would be really interesting to take a concordance and find every single time the bible mentions "the word of God" and try to come up with a definition.)

As an aside, can we talk about 2 Timothy 3:16? "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." Christians quote this verse as if it's saying "the entirety of the bible as we know it today is God-breathed", and if you spend one second thinking about it, you'll realize that's totally NOT what it's saying. What would the term "Scripture" have meant to the writer and original audience? It DEFINITELY COULD NOT have meant "the collection of 66 books that we now call 'the bible.'" Even if we know nothing about the history of how the bible was put together, logically we can say that the closest thing that the writer could have possibly meant is our modern bibles minus the book of 2 Timothy.

My guess is that the use of the word "scripture" there in 2 Timothy refers to the Pentateuch. But we can let the bible scholars answer that question.

And seriously, if you think about it, it's impossible that there could be a verse in the bible claiming something about the entirety of the bible. Because the writers didn't know what books would end up in the final version of the bible. Yeah, if you find a verse that's like "and all the other books that end up getting included with this one I am writing and printed as one whole big book, yeah all those books, even though I don't know which ones they are, they are TOTALLY God-breathed" then come talk to me.

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lololol yesterday I could see the disqus box but today I can't. Readers, let me know if you're having troubles too.

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