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Reading the Bible Frequently and Thoroughly

I love it when someone famous says all the things I like to hear about Bible study. One thing I regularly say to Sunday School classes or to groups I’m invited to teach is that if they were looking for a five minute a day method, they invited the wrong person. It takes more than that to become acquainted with that.

I found this video by N. T. Wright via RJS on The Jesus Creed. It’s excellent:


Some of my notes include the lines:

Read it frequently and thoroughly …

We have cut the Bible down to size (referring to our methods of looking at short passages and dissecting them)

Listen in order to be swept along … (using listening to a symphony as an analogy to reading the Bible)

Until we wrestle with scripture like that we’re not honoring it.

The additional comments in the post regarding the doctrine of scripture to “… hold loosely to our particular theological commitments and our doctrine of scripture.” I would probably be more likely to say to loosen our doctrine of scripture, than to hold our doctrine loosely, though both options head in the right direction.

In my book When People Speak for God, I put it this way (pp. 13-15):

Typically, Christians have found proof texts in scriptures that make comments about inspiration. “All scripture is inspired (or God-breathed) . . .” (2 Timothy 3:16). “No prophecy of the scripture came by human will . . .” (2 Peter 1:21). These texts are not only used to prove the inspiration of scriptures, ignoring the circularity of using a Bible verse to prove that the Bible is inspired, but they also provide the foundation for an  understanding of how inspiration worked. I most commonly hear 2 Timothy 3:16 quoted in this connection. I ask someone what inspiration means. “All scripture is  God-breathed,” comes back the answer. “God-breathed” is supposed to be obvious, but somehow the passage doesn’t enlighten us as to what God breathes and how. Another answer, that prophets speak as they are carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), doesn’t really answer the question either.

The process of inspiration is important not only in terms of how we understand God to behave in connection with people, but also in telling us what we would expect to result. For example, those who believe that God dictates the precise words that a prophet or other inspired writer puts on paper must in turn believe that those words, and not just the message they express, are important, and that they must always be the best words for the  purpose. On the other hand, someone who believes that people receive impressions from God and then express them in human words will place a greater emphasis on the human side of the equation. The message is important, and it may be illuminated by knowing the person who speaks along with his or her cultural background and spiritual experience.

As the author of Hebrews expressed it:

1In  old times God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets in many portions and in different ways. 2In these last days, however, he has spoken to us through a Son, one whom he has made heir of everything, and through whom also he created the universe.  3This Son is the brightness of his glory and the exact representation of his real essence. He sustains everything by his powerful word. He performed a cleansing from sins and sat down at the right hand of majesty in the {spiritual/heavenly} heights. — Hebrews 1:1-3

God’s message came at different times and in different ways, a process that the author of Hebrews states culminated in God’s message coming through a person, Jesus. In Hebrews 4:12 he continues by calling the Word “alive and active” again referring to the Word of God as portrayed in Jesus. Those who place a heavy emphasis on the words, rather than the message, should give serious consideration to the view of revelation expressed in the book of Hebrews. According to this one scriptural author, whom most scholars leave unidentified, inspiration doesn’t always work the same way.

I would suggest that instead of looking for statements about how inspiration works in the scriptures, we should look at the scriptures themselves. There is no good reason to assume that those who experienced inspiration would also feel it necessary to define it. In fact, when we look at the scriptures we see no real effort to provide us with a theory of inspiration. There were simply people who claimed that they had a message from God, and they expressed it with some force under their various circumstances.

Reading the Bible as a whole, or reading whole books (Wright suggests the Gospel of John, which should only take a couple of hours), will help you see inspiration in action. Then perhaps, rather than deciding on a theory of inspiration and trying to make the Bible fit, you can see how the Bible was inspired, i.e. inspiration in action, and form from that your understanding of inspiration.

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  1. Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I think the bottom line with respect to the inspiration of Scripture is that, when Paul asserts it, he is claiming God as the ultimate source of the biblical text. I’ve put together a little introductory video summarizing my views here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHZ0YYC5k_E.

    Thanks also for the N.T. Wright video. I don’t agree with him in several areas, but as I browsed through his remarks here (I didn’t have time to view it entirely) I found them quite helpful.

    This is definitely a blog I’m going to bookmark!

    1. Very well produced video. I think I might get into some discussion with you on certain details, though your approach to understanding looks very sound to me. Glad you stopped by!

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