How does God work in the world and communicate with humanity? In this episode, Tim and Jon explore God’s relationship with his creation and the relationship between the Bible’s divine and human origins. They also discuss how God uses human words to communicate his divine word.
If the primary way that God is at work in the world through his Spirit is through people, then it makes all the sense in the world that God’s word would be communicated through a human word. And the human words are not incidental to it, they’re actually the way that the divine word is communicated.
In part one (0:00-16:30), Tim and Jon begin discussion of seven axioms (or attributes) that define the paradigm we use for reading the Bible: the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus.
The first axiom, which is foundational to the others, is that the Bible is both human and divine.
This statement is not debated among followers of Jesus, but it is underdeveloped. The contributions of the Bible’s human authors are often downplayed in favor of elevating the Bible as God’s divine word.
Scholarly criticism of the Bible’s divine authority is based on textual variants among biblical manuscripts. In response, many western Christian traditions choose to emphasize the divine nature and origins of the Bible at the expense of its human nature, origins, and history.
But pitting the Bible’s divine and human authors against one another creates a false dichotomy, which comes from a way of thinking of God’s relationship to humanity as dualistic. It’s as if God is separated from his creation, reaching out to us across a great divide, rather than being present in and among his creation. From this perspective, God’s intervention in human history is seen as rare and devoid of human involvement. In effect, if humans are involved, then something must not be truly divine. This line of thinking poses a problem for our understanding of the Bible’s authorship.
In part two (16:30-31:30), Tim explains why he thinks the tendency to downplay the Bible’s human authorship is rooted in a deficient understanding of God’s involvement in creation through the person of the Spirit of God.
We are introduced to the Spirit of God (Hebrew: Ruach Elohim) in the opening pages of the Bible. The Spirit of God brings shape and order to creation as God speaks in Genesis 1. Only in the creation narrative does God work in the world separately from humans, presumably because he has yet to create them.
After humans are created, God’s work in the world by his Spirit is almost always through human agency. After the creation narrative, we see the Spirit’s empowerment of humans again and again––Joseph’s interpretation of dreams, Bezalel’s design of the tabernacle, Moses’ leadership of Israel, the victories accomplished by the judges and David, the visions of the prophets, all the way up to the empowerment of the Messiah and the supernatural abilities of the disciples at Pentecost. When the Spirit works in the world, the visible nature of his work is the actions of humans.
Because of this, it should be no surprise that the words of the human authors of Scripture are more than just part of how God communicates––they are the way God’s divine word is communicated. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul calls the Scriptures (his Greek Old Testament scrolls) theopneustos, “God-spirited.” Paul saw God’s meaning and the human authors’ meaning in Scripture to be one and the same.
Thinking of God’s work in the world this way helps us understand both how God could become human in Jesus Christ and how humans are functionally God’s image-bearers. Moreover, it explains why it is so necessary to be familiar with the history and culture of the biblical authors. Only by understanding these human authors can we fully understand what God has spoken to us in the Bible.
Under-emphasis of the Bible’s human authorship has, at times, resulted in crises of faith for people who begin to explore textual criticism and variants between different manuscripts. New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman is a famous example of someone whose exploration of the Bible’s humanness resulted in a rejection of the Bible as God’s divine word.
In part three (31:30-end), Tim and Jon explore the uniquely divine nature of the Bible.
The biblical authors saw themselves as writing words that carried God’s divine authority. The Hebrew Bible, for instance, is a report written by a minority of people within Israel itself––the prophets and scribes––speaking directly on behalf of Yahweh. Jesus certainly saw the Hebrew Bible as divine and authoritative, and he saw himself as its fulfillment. The writings of the New Testament authors are divinely inspired reflections on the divine revelation of God through Jesus.
The Bible’s divine and authoritative nature does not need to be at odds with its humanity. When we read these divine-human words, we encounter another mind through the words and experiences of humans like us––the mind of God, who sees reality and humanity far differently than we would, left to our own devices.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz, Dan Gummel, and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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