So what is the Bible actually all about…

I think we must keep remembering that, aside from the technicalities one encounters in Bible translation and interpretation, God is able to give us an accurate understanding of Scripture to the ultimate end that we imitate Him by living lives that are characterized by the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ in a genuine way. Jesus provides a thorough background for these deeper spiritual realities in His life and teachings and most importantly in His death and resurrection. When a person gives up everything in service to God and humanity to the point where it costs him/her everything, it speaks with an ultimate sense of genuineness and authority. I have quoted this before, but I think that Jesus’ words in John 5:39-40 speak into this: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” This ‘spirit of the law’ runs as a powerful and common theme through all the conventional NT writings and can equally be discerned from those of the OT.

What Jesus is saying is that the ‘Bible’ is empty if it is approached purely from an academic perspective and that the real key to unlocking its power lies in knowing the God it points to. I do not hold to a trinitarian view of God and to the deity of Jesus because these realities have been proven academically, but because they appear consistently (in a way that could never have been engineered) in the total body of the Scriptures (when one takes them at face value), in a way that is integral to my experience (and that of so many many other genuine believers whose transformational living has impacted the world powerfully for the good) and therefore my, and our collective understanding of its presence there.

I realize full well, that anyone could argue what I’ve said above academically and philosophically, but our faith is not fundamentally of that substance, it is exactly what it claims to be: a faith in an infinite God who’s ways are above ours and who ultimately can never be known fully, except for the most part through Jesus and His Spirit.

What plausible alternative do we have to this understanding of life and the Scriptures? In my opinion, not much. I would far rather live a life of faith and submission to God where my brokenness and sin are effectively dealt with through repentance and forgiveness in mystical union with the infinite “I AM” (who Jesus Himself says he is too, though distinct from the Father) by virtue of His Spirit within me as the crown of His creation – which in this fallen and broken world leads me to the self-same sacrificial death of love for those around me who are lost in their own sinfulness and brokenness (real Gospel ministry!)– manifesting the fruits of the Spirit. I would rather have this be my reality than anything else that humanity has on offer – seriously.

I don’t believe for one minute that YAHWEH (“I AM”) or Jesus, or their Spirit need the Bible to prove their reality. In fact the Bible doesn’t do it anyway. The Bible simply assumes their reality and guides us accordingly, through existential narrative and the Spirit, into a restored existence with God. We need that restoration not because God made a mistake in creating us, but that we have taken the perfection of what He created us in and corrupted it by using that freedom for ourselves at the expense of the rest of humanity and the cosmos – the antithesis of genuine love. Restoration to YAHWEH is restoration to love and restoration to wholeness in a way that absolutely nothing else in all the world speaks to – no religion or spiritual or secular philosophy comes close to the kind of existential reality presented in the Gospel -the ‘good news’ of hope and restoration to YAHWEH through Jesus… and the Bible, no mater how, technically, it may be associated with the various complexities of translation and interpretation does no less justice to the spiritual reality it points to. No one who reads the Bible properly (at face value with a good contextual grounding) could really say that any of the mainline Christian translations (or even paraphrases, I’m convinced) ultimately detract from the fundamental spiritual truth of the Gospel.

Only a genuinely regenerated heart (i.e. one who is in union and communion with YAHWEH through His Spirit – which is available to everyone) can truly interpret the Scriptures. No academic attempt to ‘crystallize the teachings of the Bible’ will suffice, because the Bible is not ultimately about the right teaching or doctrine per se – and those who view it like this will be looking for those doctrines till the day they realize the truth or die-, it is about worship. It is all and only and always about worship – and the Bible, despite the technicalities, when revealed by God’s Spirit to the believer always inspires genuine worship. God is to be worshiped, not understood, He is YAHWEH, the Great “I AM” and He is who He is and allows us to be who we are in relationship with Him. When we live outside of that relationship, we are nothing more than limited, selfish, angry, depressed, addictive, controlling, abusive human beings (and unregenerate professing Christians are the worst!) who still carry within our hearts the image, the essence of YAHWEH, and who by His grace and through surrender to His will, are lovingly and powerfully and progressively restored by Him for our ultimate perfection and His ultimate glory and enjoyment – that is why He created us and everything else in the first place.

This is the essence of the Biblical narrative and it answers all of humanity’s issues more powerfully and thoroughly than anything else this sad world -full of beautiful and loved people who need help- has to offer. Whereas I don’t believe that the Bible is God’s only form of revelation to us, I don’t believe that any other form will contradict this foundational spiritual truth which the Scriptures have progressively preserved for thousands of years without the help of a single textual critic.

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4 Responses to So what is the Bible actually all about…

  1. I definitely agree with your opening paragraph, you do not need to understand the complexities of theology or doctrine to move from death to Life. The Bible is clear enough regarding our state of separation from God and our need for reunion. It is enough to realize that our lives are dead without God and that we need to seek Life in Him through repentance. The Bible is also equally clear – though you need to follow the story a little closer – that it is Jesus himself that provides the context for our reconnection with God through his life, death and resurrection. It is also clear that the Holy Spirit plays a vital role in the experience of reconciliation and relationship.

    It is the Jesus of the gospels that reminds us that we are disconnected from God; Jesus that encourages us to repent and follow God; and Jesus that ultimately provides the means by which we can receive forgiveness from God and regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

    My problem is that even with all of that established I still run into theological concerns when it comes to the issues you begin dealing with in your second paragraph. It seems to me, after reviewing the literature against Trinitarianism, that many of those “face value” encounters with the Trinity in the total body of scripture can easily be explained as post-apostolic interpretations that have now become the established “looking glass” through which we view the scriptures.

    I understand fully that your entire experience of God has been shaped through the paradigm that the Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God (as has mine). Whenever we have experienced God we have automatically carried with that experience an understanding that the God we are experiencing is the very same Jesus and the very same Holy Spirit and the very same Father described in the Bible. However, it seems to me that this is a rational category that we carry over into our spiritual experience.

    We have never seen any of the members of the Trinity, though we all claim that we have experienced God to varying degrees. We explain these encounters with God through the language of Trinity because that is the language we have been provided with to explain our experiences. The experience may not necessarily be Trinitarian but since this is our language, this is the way we explain it. A parallel expression of this can be drawn from the spiritual experiences of people of other religions. These people may be encountering the same God as us but go on to describe those encounters in the language they have been given – be it Hindu, Buddhist or Islamic (I would argue that from an inclusivist position rather than a pluralist one).

    With that in mind, if it were shown that Jesus and the Spirit are not Yahweh – but rather the human (or angelic?) Agent (Jesus) and Power (Spirit) of Yahweh. And that our experience of God has been our experience of the One God and Father Yahweh alone – would this change our experiences of God or simply reshape our rational apprehension of those experiences and the language we use to describe it?

    I completely agree with you that our faith is not fundamentally of the substance of philosophy or the academy. But that is exactly what it became under the tutelage of (2nd) 3rd and 4th century Greek theologians (and on through the centuries). The reformers were willing to question so much that was heaped onto Christianity by the Roman Catholic establishment but failed to question whether their conclusions on the Godhead were correct – conclusions that were first and foremost philosophical.

    It can be argued that the Trinity is a philosophical construct based on Platonic Hellenistic philosophy. It is true that this philosophy used the biblical texts to support its’ conclusions, but it is impossible (at least so it currently seems to me) to show that the biblical texts themselves fully express the Trinitarian theological constructs developed around the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Councils.

    I agree with you that “we have faith in an infinite God whose ways are above ours and who ultimately can never be known fully, except for the most part through Jesus and His Spirit.” But does that make Jesus and the Spirit equal or the same as Yahweh. This is exactly the problem that the early church encountered after the death of the apostles and they used Greek philosophy to answer in the affirmative.

    As to alternatives to the Roman Catholic philosophical constructs there are many – but they require us to reevaluate our preconceived ideas about what the scriptures are actually saying and how easy it is for translators to favor Trinitarian interpretations when translating the Greek into English. The “I AM” statement of Jesus is a clear example. For a simple explanation of the translation and interpretive issues involved in John 8 please see this article.

    One can clearly see from this short article that it is very easy to overlook issues in our bibles based on the translation choices of biblical exegetes. We seldom consider the Greek and are usually incapable of accurately assessing the complexities of translation even if we do consult the relevant lexicons and concordances.

    Both Jesus (in John 8) and the man born blind (in John 9) use the Greek ἐγὼ εἰμι (Ego eimi) but one is translated as “I Am” (creating allusions to the I AM of Deuteronomy) and the other is simply translated correctly as “I am he” (i.e. the one who is being referred to in the context being discussed). ἐγὼ εἰμι is used multiple times in the New Testament but never to indicate that the speaker is claiming to the God.

    It therefore seems to me to be a biased choice that adopts this translation in John 8:58. Jesus was simply identifying himself as the prophesied messiah, known to God even before Abraham was born. The translators have chosen to interpret the two passages differently because they chose to believe that it is an allusion to Jesus being Yahweh even though the text itself only has Jesus identifying himself as the person under discussion throughout John 8 (i.e. the Messiah – I am he).

    So to wrap up, I concur that the Bible doesn’t prove or try to prove the reality of God, Jesus or the Spirit. I think it provides a reference point, a revelation so that when we encounter God we can reflect on the words of scripture and give voice to our experience. The revelation itself may even (and often is) the vehicle God uses to initiate the experience. But how we interpret the revelation gives us the language in which we will describe our encounters with God. As to the rest of your affirmations regarding what it means to be brought into restored existence with God, I wholeheartedly agree.

    I’ll end with a personal note on this whole issue and part of the reason it is so pressing for me. I love talking to Joshua about God. Already at the age of 5 we can lie next to each other while I’m tucking him into bed and talk about the complexities of the believing in something we cannot see with our eyes or touch with our hands and to whom we reverentially bow and give praise for all the blessings in our lives.

    There are three realities that keep coming up when we discuss God; these are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I’m very clear and thoroughly convinced that the Father is God. I’m also clear on Jesus’ humanity, virgin birth, sinless life, sacrifice for sin through death on the cross, resurrection and ascension – but is Jesus God??? Equally I’m convinced that faith in God the Father and His Messiah Jesus provide access to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which results in regeneration, sanctification and union with God – but is the Holy Spirit a separate person who is also God??? Not sure what to tell him!

  2. Hello Jacques, I am officially banning you from writing theses on my blog! 🙂

    I don’t have time right now to give you a full response, but I’d like to say that it is important to note that, as opposed to the other usages of ἐγὼ εἰμι in the Gospels, every time Jesus used the term, the Jews picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy. Having read the gospel accounts thoroughly, you cannot deny this unique and distinct constancy. So, in other words, whenever Jesus asserted his Messiahship, the Jews took this for him equally asserting his deity – and, most importantly, Jesus never denies or corrects their assertions. Further, you cannot read John 14-17 without developing a distinct sense of the deity (qualitative equality with the Father) of Jesus (this is without even taking the synoptic texts into consideration even). The prophetic writings of the Old Testament speak clearly to the very real relationship between deity and Messiahship – and the NT therefore applies both equally to Jesus. The Apostolic writings of the New Testament are unequivocal in their assertions of the deity of Jesus – since these are the writings of the apostles, they stand as conclusive in themselves regardless of post-apostolic interpretation – unless of course you are saying that the NT is nothing more than a carefully designed pseudo-mythological basis for a massive and progressive post-apostolic conspiracy. There are many who believe this about the Bible as a whole – many of whom base their beliefs on what they hear or read rather than upon what they establish empirically for themselves.

    Spiritually and theologically speaking, the deity of Jesus represents the foundation of the atonement and, as a result, God’s greater covenant plan of redemption – the reality of which runs constantly, cumulatively and progressively through the Bible from beginning to end.

    If one rejects the deity of Jesus, as it is quite clearly and collectively presented in the Bible, one necessarily rejects the Bible itself – this is true of any theological reality therein presented, and especially those theological realities pertaining to the core dynamics of biblical Christianity.

    In my mind, Jacques, it is the exclusivity of Biblical Christianity that distinguishes it from anything else. The moment you ‘relativize’ this, you lose that distinction. The moment you lose that distinction, you no longer have any basis for truth – other than the kind of truth that Romans 2:14-15 speaks of. In fact Jacques, my sense is that if you go and study Romans 1:18 – 3:31 as the ‘bigger (redemptive) picture’ within which the deity of Jesus plays its pivotal role, you will understand from a spiritual (and theological) sense, why, if we reject the deity of Jesus, we might as well not be ‘Christian’ at all. If Jesus is not God, then all roads do ultimately lead to ‘God’ and a submission to the atonement (including the facing up to, confession of and repentance from sin) is no longer necessary for salvation. In fact it raises the question of whether or not human beings need saving from anything at all; because if they do, by what means are they saved. This is the position of secularism – that humanity is not in need of any salvation, simply of further evolution (to iron out the genetic creases) – in other words, humanity is its own saviour. Anyone with any sense of reality cannot agree with this given the evidence to the contrary all around us. The biblical explanation, for me, is still the most comprehensive and if you take the biblical approach seriously, you cannot deny its fundamental emphasis on the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus (atonement) and his deity – and the trinity for that matter.

    My sense Jacques, is that there comes a time when each and every single one of us must reckon with the total reality laid down by the Bible and come to one of two convictions – that we either accept it and submit to it entirely as the Spirit applies it to our hearts and lives, or we reject it and look to something else for the answers to our deepest questions. The critical issue is that if we reject the Bible’s collective revelation of God and it does prove to be true, we have EVERYTHING to lose. If it isn’t true… if it’s one giant colossal conspiracy cooked up by the ‘genetically superior’ among us including their ‘henchmen’ (the great Christian thinkers throughout history through whom Christianity has been ‘crafted’) then if we can’t ‘evolve fast enough’ we will simply cease to exist or, as is becoming the widely held view, our genetic, and, ultimately, our sub-molecular materials will simply be recycled into newer, better states of consciousness… then we really have NOTHING to lose. The point is for each of us, that if we screw up on this because we prefer living life on our own terms and to the ultimate end of our own ‘survival’ (ignoring or denying the evidence (on so many levels) that the Bible appeals to)… if we screw it up, we will have no excuse, because the Bible says we have had the “requirements of the law” written on our hearts and ultimately “what may be known about God has been made clear to us” – “for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Later Paul concludes: “… so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” Rom. 3:19

    Ok, I’ve been a bit all over the place with this response, but for me the bottom line Jacques is that one either believes the claims and the consistent covenant teaching of the Bible (including its anthropology) or one doesn’t. One either accepts it as the ultimate standard for revelation about reality or one doesn’t, there is no middle ground. If one does accept it, one can’t deny the deity of the members of the triune Godhead, because it is clearly discernible (on multiple levels of consideration) in the Scriptures. If one doesn’t accept it, one must take a secular stance and be content with never really knowing anything ‘absolute’ (remaining ever vulnerable to the vicissitudes of secular philosophy) until one dies and takes the gamble that the God of the Bible is not waiting for one ‘on the other side’.

  3. Pingback: More Reflections on Christology « Jacob's Struggle

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