Friday, July 09, 2021

Reading Scripture

How are we to read the Bible or parts of it?  This is certainly a big question, and a basic one. The canonical scriptures are , it is often said, a library, and the books it is comprised of have  a varied, interesting  character. At one level sometimes hear of people who set out recipes drawn from the Bible, or develop an interest in its archaeology, or in its flora and fauna; some of its place in ancient history and culture, and especially perhaps, its setting in the culture of the middle east, Roman and Greek and so on, Babylonian and Phoenician and Egyptian, and so on.  How do all these fit into it?

Some, coming nearer, spend their talents and skills in efforts to prove or display its reliability, in an effort to provide an apology for its trustworthiness. Churches arrange evening in which they commend the Christian faith by explaining it, ‘Christianity Explained’. And coming even nearer, the Bible is read, or parts of it are, and sources of the ancient religious concepts  that are found within the covers of a Bible. Maybe some familiarities are found what the Bible contains and modern religious ideas, or perhaps its difference and uniqueness.

 All these enterprises, and others that we have not included in our list, are  to one degree or another, fascinating and learned as they are or can be. Part of the contribution to the religious quest of humanity.

 But all these ‘approaches’ to Scripture, and more we could add, neglects the basic fact that Scripture invites us to understand it as the word of God. Not only to understand it but to be engaged as that word. In fact  to engage and be engaged to its own estimate of itself. This is a way of saying that the Bible has a spiritual engagement of men and women, who have sprits that can engage with it, if our spirits are imbued by the work of God the Holy Spirit within them. And Scripture offers its content  to the deepest part of humankind. 

Early on in his Institutes, Calvin says


Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture, that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive  it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe wither on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured – as much so as if we beheld the divine image impressed on it – that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God.  We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which we rest our judgment, but we subject our intellect and judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate….we  find  a divine energy living and breathing in it -  an energy by which we are drawn and animated to obey it, willingly indeed, and knowingly, but more vividly than could  be done by human will or knowledge…..(Institutes  Bk I.  ch.7. S.5.)


JohJohn. Owen -


The The Reason of Faith; or, an Answer unto that Inquiry, ‘Wherefore we Believe the Scripture  to be the Word of God?’ (1677) Works,  ed. Goold, IV


Hereby we re taught of God, so as, finding, the glory and majesty of God  in the word, our hearts do , by an ineffable power, assent under the truth without any hesitation. And this work of the Spirit carrieth its own evidence in itself, producing an assurance  above all human judgment, and such as stands in no need of no farther arguments or testimonies. This faith rests on and is resolved into, (p.43)


J.I. J.I. Packer-


The evangelical certainty of the trustworthiness and authority is of exactly the same word , and rests on exactly the same basis, as the Church’s certainty of the Trinity, or the incarnation, or any other catholic doctrine. God has declared it; Scripture embodies it; the Spirit exhibits it to believers; and they humbly receive it, as they are bound to do .(‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God p.124)


Two or three words sum this up – certainty, immediacy, and energy. For Calvin it is as if the reader takes in the air of Scripture, of prophets and apostles, and especially  of the incarnate Son of God, by the energy of the Holy Spirit, by which the truth of scripture is known with certainty. This engagement involves not only our intellects, our minds, but out affections, our spirits. 

‘No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’ ‘(John 6.65) we have we seen his glory, glory as of as only of the Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’; (Jn. 1.14  see also 16--18);  ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father (Jn 6. 65): Lord ‘to whom shall we go? Thou have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy  One of God  (Jn. 6.66-9)’

 This passage in John is rich in detail.  The disciples have certainty, assurance, that Christ is the Word of God. They  did not have this because they have had information about Jesus’s circumstances, but as recognising that he their leader was the Holy One of God. They ‘have come to him’ (Jesus reminds them that one of them is a devil, Judas Iscariot. (6.70-1) And so their  coming to Jesus as the Messiah  was granted him by the Father, disclosed by the Father. Judas fell short because he was not given by this grace, even though he was one of the Twelve chosen by Jesus Judas, blind,  a devil.

 What is needed to be a Christian is to  be hearers of Jesus (in the case of this we have looked at in John 6). He is unique, the very Saviour of men and women the world over, and in every era in accordance with his Great Commission given to the eleven after the death and resurrection of Christ remove any doubts the may have.

 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. `Go, therefore and make disciples  of all nations,  baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them  to observe al that  I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always , to the end of the age’ (Matt 28.19) 

Let us give John Owen the last word,

 The principal divine effect of the word of God is in the conversion of the souls of sinners unto God.  The greatness and glory  of  it…all those who are acquainted with it, as It is declared in ‘The Scripture, and have any experience of it and have any experience of it in their own hearts, do constantly give as an instance of the exceeding greatness of the power of  God(…..Now of this great and glorious effect of the word is only the instrumental cause, whereby the  divine power operates and is expressive of itself : for we are ‘born again’, born of God, not of corruptible seed  but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever 9I Pet .1.23), for of his own will doth God beget us  with the  word of truth’, (James 1.18))…..Therein, in an especial manner, is the divine authority of the word evidenced, by the divine power and efficacy  given unto it by the Holy Ghost. The work which  is effected by it,  in the regeneration, conversion, and sanctification of the souls of believers, doth evidence infallibly unto their  consciences, that it is not the word of man, but of God. (Owen, Works, IV.94-5)