On the Bible: A contemplation
When I observe the Bible more circumspectly I see a book that is written by so many several men, from so many different ages and places. The many literary forms and genres are not failed to be demonstrated too. Some tell of narrations, some are singers, they write poetic and lyrical prose full of angst of emotions, some recite and give precise accounts of rules and regulations, some are proverbs and tenets of wisdom and some are letters. These many several genres of writing spring from several authors whose personalities enter into and are fully reflected by their writing. The uniqueness of each individual character is evident and is never even slightly deprived. Quite plainly this book, which I know I believe not merely a book, hails the capacity of mankind in its richness and complexities. They come forth abundantly into play. The multiplicity of authors, their literary tastes, their passions, the long span of writing that runs across over a thousand years of time, suggest one thing: an employment/exercise of human authors.
By my belief I too see the Bible as written by God—it claims to be the Word of God Himself, that “…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:20-21) All Scripture was breathed out by God Himself; in the manner very unlike the way Bach’s musical pieces or Shakespeare’s plays were inspired. The idea of Bible inspiration here is not more of ambiguity, instead rather much more remarkable. The word “inspired” literally means “out-breathed” (from the mouth of God). The Bible is ultimately of divine authorship. God is the Author.
Subsequently I expected a special way of understanding ought to be of a requirement to understand the Bible since it is a divine word. Yet afterward I too recognized that even this expectation is illogical and faulty in itself. If such a one is God, he must be one who is able to speak in absolutely unambiguous fashion and makes himself understood with irresistible efficacy. A divine word logically would not call for further probing into or inquiring or determining hidden meaning. A word uttered by God Himself would have to be conveyed in perfect clarity and comprehensiveness. A divine book, thus it would seem, will not need to be interpreted. Yet the Bible is suggested to be written by men as well. It needs interpretations precisely because there are human writers involved, and human language is obviously limited in conveying meaning.
In sight of the instability, fickleness and unfaithfulness of man, I am never able to grasp the truth that humans are in fact incorporated in the writing of the Word of God. Man is not and never an ideal writer. Personally, I am well-aware that I am not and will never have perfect consciousness of myself.
Therefore I may in some cases have intentions that I may not be conscious of when I write. In other cases, I may write something that I do not intend. I may also have different intentions at different point in time when I write a piece of writing. Sometimes I may choose to be ambiguous. Also, every time I write something I bring my own background and history, and I am always prejudiced with the set of presuppositions that I bring to the experience, and more. I cannot be something of tabula rasa. If I could accomplish such a feat, I would eliminate along with everything else my capacity to be.
Now, if there are several persons like me come together, it will result in multiple layers of experience—of identities, cultures, psychologies, ethnicities, and many other biographical and personal attributes. As this collection of layers of experience of a particular time and space moves through time and space in history, it is continually being perceived and understood in a new way variously.
I think–for those reasons—it is fitting enough for someone to insist on the probable disjointed nature; it is fitting to believe more in potentially fractures/gaps of understanding realities, clashes, interruptions, and breaks. I know that it is exactly the indeterminacy and absurdity that modern work of literary hails as its aesthetic triumphs. Modern people seem to forget to mind that it is in fact much easier to prove a work full of contradictions than to prove one is of coherence and no errant; thus what they boast is mere baseless vanity. Coherence is by definition precisely an area in which most text would fail and is problematic. In view of these, it seems a fallacy to try to decipher and understand the meaning of a work—that all that is left to do is to disentangle and take a work apart.
As I read the Bible, I can never be a solitary reader. The picture of being solitary is perhaps deeply ingrained in me; and I realized it is absurd. When my understanding is observed and shared with others, it becomes coherent in the sense that it is being more rooted in a common memory and sustained by a stream of agreed paradigm. However it is also true that this means none other than a communal solipsism, which is something that can be known and verified only by and in a particular group of people. This salvages my idea of solitary (subjectivity) and relativism—but only a bit.
So I feel that the exposure to human experience proves to be dizzying and depressing to me. One is met with inescapably and inherently problems of human: unwittingly everyone is perfectly imprecise and without much choice one is ambiguous and biased. But then the idea of inspiration of God in the Bible jolts me. The writers of the Bible themselves view the Scripture that they write as words of God, not from their own minds. Apostle Paul himself declared that the very words he wrote are the very “oracles of God” Himself (Rom3:1-3). The many several books across time and places accord with one central theme and this thread is woven through every single book from the beginning to the end. In it there is a single perspective that is of God. Irreconcilable inconsistency or discrepancy is not to be found in them. The Bible is a book not corrupted by inconsistencies of the nature of human beings; because God is the ultimate author. His eternity oversees the limits and the boundaries of geography and time, and is perfect and unchanging and not contradictory in His will. The consciousness of God superintends the intentions that a human writer might not be aware of. This should give me hope and confidence. However, my confidence should not be on objective consistency but on convictional presence of the Holy Spirit which tells me that the Bible is the Word of God.
It is true that His authority alone assures that there is one truth, fixed and definite despite of the innumerable standards of human beings. And it is the appeal of His presence alone that guarantees that I know the truth and am transformed by it. His providence and control over the world is what I should rely on to obtain insights on truth—better everyday. Among the people of God, it is the same God—in all His authority, His presence, His control—that leads every individual and takes precedence over all human thoughts to be corresponding to His thought, to the truth.
In view of man’s perversion and lostness, I must remember it is only in Christ that I find God’s total authority, control, and presence—that only through the effect of Christ’s work alone, my searching for truth is approved by a divine authority. Only through the effect of Christ’s work alone, can the presence of God be a blessed intimacy. Only through Christ does man subjectively cease to have the sinful impulses to replace God’s authority with its counterfeits, to throw over the bonds of God’s control, and to hide from God’s presence.
It is hard really to perceive that every act of rejection of objectivity, every act of empiricist pragmatism, every act of subjective emotivism is in fact, sin. It is even harder to see my own thoughts and impressions as sinful. Autonomous self-consciousness and sophistication in thoughts and impressions that go astray actually centre around in the character of sin. My being and all its activities stand in need of redemption.
When I read Shakespeare’s The Tempest or the tenets by the Brownings or other literary masterpieces, I may derive lessons of virtues from them. But as I decide on this, the lessons derived still suit my worldviews and values. To be sure, these works may definitely challenge my values too, so I must also treat that challenge as simply a challenge from another human being who is as fallible as me. With regards to the Bible, it is completely different. Precisely because it is divine–and for no other reason than that, I must allow it to challenge myself—to reform and to destroy even my most cherished assumptions and values. I must allow them to be redeemed.
The translation of this article is published in Pillar No. 54, January 2008.
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- February 22, 2008 / 04:57