Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Hebrews 1, Evangelicals and Bibliolatry

I remember one of the first times I realised that I was in a slightly different place theologically to some of the people around me who were generally regarded as "sound".

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
Hebrews 1:1-4, NIV

As far as I can see, this passage makes it obvious that God's perfect revelation of himself is in Jesus ("the Son"). God reveals himself better through Jesus than he does through the apostles and prophets. Jesus is God's perfect self-revelation.

Of course, I think that the Bible is perfect too, but it is necessarily limited because it is a book, and Jesus is a person. Jesus can therefore reveal God better than the Bible does. The Bible is, as books go, perfect, and helps us to know God, but it helps us to know God primarily by pointing us to Jesus. The Bible is about Jesus, all of it, but it is not Jesus. The Bible is not God's perfect self-revelation, but it is God's perfect pointer to his perfect self-revelation.

I think studying the Bible is really really important, because it's the best way to get to know Jesus, along with doing what Jesus tells you to do through the Bible.

Some people think that evangelicalism is about saying that the Bible is God's perfect revelation to the point where Jesus gets pushed out a bit. Some evangelicals think that's what evangelicalism is too. I remember one good friend who, when I asked him about Hebrews 1:1-4, tried arguing that Jesus in some sense was the Bible. (I think that's blasphemous - it's certainly leaning towards bibliolatry - worshipping a book.) Jesus speaks by his Holy Spirit through the Bible, but they are distinct.

Since then, I've got to know a lot more evangelicals, and I've realised that the bibliolatry thing is mostly restricted to some, but by no means all, conservatives. But it's still annoying, and painful for me when I see it.

Here's cartoon about it.


Simon said...

One of the drivers behind this problem, as far as I see it, is interpretation of the "word of God" passages. The Bible is not the word of God - Jesus is the word of God, as any good reader of John 1 knows. When you read logos theou passages as referring to Jesus, rather than referring to a book which won't be compiled for another two hundred years, it suddenly makes a lot more sense.

It's a classic mistake. That said, there's an equally classic mistake on the other side of the ecclasial spectrum, that of valuing a subjective experience of the Holy Spirit over and above Scripture.

As with all things, balance.

John said...

From that post you linked to, I think I ought to say that I had the opportunity to ask Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe's, about what he thought about revelation.

He impressed me by saying that God's supreme revelation is in Jesus and the Bible just points to him.

Of course, in the OT, "word of God" usually refers to the Scriptures. Arguably it does in Ephesians 6 as well...

John said...

In the OT, "Word of God" = Scriptures / bits of the Scripture / verbal propositional revelation from God

John said...

I think you've just made the opposite mistake, Simon. I'll post on it soon.

Simon said...

Ooh, now I'm intrigued, because I assumed that the "word of God" passages used logos. Bad assumption - Ephesians 6 uses rhema. Luke 4, the parable of the sower, does use logos, and I've heard it said (even in a sermon last Sunday!) that Jesus was referring to himself as the seed.

But anyhow, if the opposite mistake is to say "it's all about the person of Jesus", then that's a mistake I'm very happy to make.

DFH said...

Beware of false dichotomies. What objective knowledge of Jesus Christ can anyone have now except through the Scriptures? Cornelius van Til got it right when he referred to Jesus as the "self-attesting Christ of Scripture". Anything beyond this is always in danger of becoming "another Jesus".

John said...

Absolutely right, and a point I was arguing over lunch today. But the Scriptures are not an end in themselves, and they are not God.

Knowledge of the Scriptures is not the same as personal knowledge of Jesus, though the verbal content of the latter is attained through the former.

John said...

Oh, and I deal with the question of the meaning of the phrase "word of God" here.