Recently I was reading “Scripture and the Life of God” by David Watson. It’s a short survey on some key questions surrounding the use of the Bible today. It’s especially helpful in emphasizing the way in which Scripture is given for the purpose of transformation and not merely information.
One of the discussions that Dr. Watson brings to the surface relates to the messiness of the mode by which we receive the Scriptures. He highlights the humanity of the writers and even quotes C.S. Lewis, who for this reason, even labels the human authors of the Bible “an untidy and leaky vehicle.” Dr. Watson presents some helpful direction on how to handle this Scriptural collision of human agents and divine inspiration and even highlights some ways in which this could be viewed as a gift rather than a conundrum.
It was this final line of thinking that led me to reflect more deeply on this particular issue with Scripture. I found myself admiring the scheme through which we have received the Bible in a way I never had before.
In this brief post I won’t make any attempt to deal with the difficulties created by the variety of authors in the Bible. I am not going to tackle any sort of complex questions of canon or how we know the Bible to be divinely inspired. For a moment I just want to pause and reflect a little more devotionally on this question…
What if it is not merely that God transmitted his truth in spite of the imperfect human agents who would write down the words that make up this complex and diverse book? What if God in his grand wisdom is actually teaching us something, not just through the words contained in the Scriptures, but by the very way they have been passed to us?
Perhaps this will not be a novel thought to many, but to me it was an idea upon which I had never reflected. Of course, I have long assumed that God in his perfection chose to present the Bible to us in a way that flows from his perfect will. Who am I to question the way that the Lord gives us his truth? But I am not sure I had ever considered the particular message associated with God’s chosen Scriptural method.
God is God. Certainly he could have written his truth into the side of a mountain with lightning, or lowered tablets from heaven, or spoken audibly for a group of chosen scribes. God did not. To give us his inspired Word God chose a ragtag group of messy humans and pulled together a collection of sixty-six books, from various literary genres, across hundreds of years. Why?
Could it be that the transmission of what has become our Christian canon is actually a beautiful look into the core message that it communicates? Might God be communicating the central message of the Bible even through the way we receive it?
Here’s my proposal. I believe that the Bible itself and how we received it by diverse human authors gives us an intrinsic look into the reality of the incarnation. The Bible which reveals the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is in fact a type of that core Gospel message. It’s the convergence of humanity and divinity. It’s the word of God shown through human flesh; the inspired and revealed truth of God, yet with full humanity on display.
There are other religious texts in our world that make the claim of directly coming from the divine, as though some divine power simply dropped truth from on high, perhaps through a single special messenger or some other method. And yet in those examples one could argue that we actually see more human brokenness shine through than we do in the collective whole of the Bible, as eclectic and varied as it may be.
In the nativity, the life of Jesus and even on the cross we see incredible paradox. The God of all the universe, the one for whom and by whom all things were made (Col. 1:16), humbly yields to the form of man. The author of life becomes obedient to death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). The miracle of the incarnation is the collision of the human and the divine. God willingly laid down his divine rights and privileges, leaving the splendor of heaven, in order to to draw near to us.
The mode through which we receive the Scripture gives us another glimpse into that same truth that it’s pages reveal. It’s just like the paradox of the incarnation to find divine truth at the hands of such human authors. Would it not be just like God to embed the very Gospel message, that the Word became flesh, even in the way scripture is assembled and transmitted?
The very way we received the Scriptures says something powerful of God’s divine humility. It points us again to the Savior of the world who shows up as its servant, not only in the message it proclaims by the method through which it comes. The Bible demonstrates not less power due to the blatantly human authors who write it’s pages, but I would argue it reveals even more power and grandeur for a God who proves himself able to transmit his timeless truth through such a humble and unlikely conduit.
Just as Jesus was a shock to those who received him, not coming in the power or prestige many had hoped or anticipated, so the Scriptures surprise us at first. They come not by way of a giant hand from the clouds writing each word with obvious divine action. Rather the Holy Scriptures find their way to us perfectly inspired, but through imperfect vessels. Just as Jesus is the Messiah many would least expect, so the Bible is the holy book you might never predict. And yet the Living Word, revealed perfectly through the Bible, has been exactly what God intended even if not what we would have expected.
Through the very mode we receive it, the Scripture proclaims the message of Emmanuel, God with us. Even in the messy way we received the book we say holds all things necessary for salvation God is revealing his Good News that the divine has come to us. The words of Scripture reveal the Word who became flesh, both in their contents and the way we received them. As I reflected on this truth recently it only left me more in awe of God’s love for his people and his desire for us to receive the Gospel. What a beautiful (and surprising) God we serve!