The Advent season is just behind us. I, for one, had spent a great deal of time contemplating the Word of God made flesh in the person of Jesus. Yes, the Christian teaching really is that the God’s eternal Word became a baby who lay in a manger. But is confessing that Jesus is the Word a contradiction to the traditional belief that the written Scriptures are God’s Word?
I recently stumbled across an Advent Facebook post by a popular author/pastor. “God’s final Word is not a leather bound Bible, but a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. “* I read this pithy statement and thought to myself something was a little off. After all, an error is often not in the affirmation but in the denial.
The infant Jesus is affirmed to be the eternal Word of God in human flesh – the great logos mysteriously wrapped in human nature. So far so good. This is one of the most amazing – and scandalous – truths of Christian orthodoxy. It is proclaimed repeatedly and unambiguously in the New Testament – God has spoken in the person of his (human) Son. It is especially relevant during Advent and Christmas to ponder this. How appropriate then is the line from one of the finest Christmas hymns: Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing! The Baby Jesus is God’s Word, enfleshed and made vulnerable, touchable, knowable in swaddling clothes.
But the problem is not in the affirmation but in the denial, remember? And the statement in question seems to pit our leather bound Bibles against this Baby Jesus. That certainly is the rhetorical thrust. It seems to me then we are being placed in a position of making a false choice. In Christian belief, avoidance of false choices is necessary to accurately acknowledge all the dimensions of Christian belief. After all, we’re asked to believe in a Christ both human and divine, and a God both one and three. Is it not too much to ask then to assert that both Baby Jesus and the Old and New Testaments are both rightly called God’s Word?
If the incarnate Word is pitted (falsely) against the written Word than one of the two has got to fall a little in our esteem of it. And when you’re pitting Jesus against something it does not do to find yourself on the side against Jesus. And so our assertion that the Bible is God’s Word slips a little. But should it? Do we really have to have a match-up between Jesus the Word and the God-breathed Word?
The best view of the Bible is the one which affirms that if the Bible says it, God has said it. This does not mean to say that all interpretations ought to be woodenly literalistic and that there aren’t difficulties. Still, we are to have the same confidence that St Augustine had in regards to the Scriptures: Faith will falter if the authority of holy scripture is shaken… (On Christian Doctrine). But Augustine didn’t come up with that all on his lonesome, who did he learn it from?
He learned it from Jesus Himself, who loved Himself some Holy Scripture. Jesus did not have the completed Old and New Testaments bound in leather – that much is evident. But whenever He quoted Scripture (the Old Testament), He spoke of it as though it were exactly what God had said. Should we have less regard for the Bible than the human Word did? The rhetorical gains we make by such a statement are not worth the undermining of the status of the Bible. This is true even if we add a qualifier like the word ‘final’.
Nothing is worse than an ‘or’ when there should be an ‘and’. The Word of God, is it the Baby Jesus or the Old and New Testaments? Why make that match-up? Better is the affirmation: The Word of God, it is the Baby Jesus and the Old and New Testaments. Of course, they are God’s Word in different senses but that is exactly the point. They are both worthy of the affirmation and we need not minimize either. This is why during Advent and at Christmas we can boldly sing of the Word of the Father, now appearing in flesh. And it is also why when we hear the Bible read we can confidently respond “Thanks Be To God!” to the traditional call “This is God’s Word”.
Baby Jesus vs The Holy Bible. Would I really want to pit one against the other?
I’m deciding that there is really no choice but to avoid this false choice. In this “Word of God” match-up, I’m not placing a bet.
* the man in question is not especially important. I’m not terribly familiar with his ministry but a few quick glances tell me that we’d agree on a lot and also disagree on some important stuff. This post isn’t a critique on his character or wider teaching which I know precious little about. I always try to assume the best about people and I’ll just imagine this brother Z is a perfectly nice guy with a certain amount of unhelpful teaching.