Christ is the Word of God, and so is the Bible

January 18, 2016

Here we go again… In November, I voiced agreement with Derek Rishmawy over against those who draw an overly sharp distinction between Christ the Word of God and the Bible as the Word of God. For example, popular pastor and blogger Brian Zahnd put it like this:

rishmawy

As I said back then,

Notice the false choice he sets up: one has to choose between Jesus or the Bible. As if we can know who Jesus is independently of scripture! 

Honestly: What can we know about God’s eternal plan of salvation, for which Christ’s death and resurrection is the climax, apart from scripture, whose authors were inspired by God to write what they wrote? Unless I’m badly mistaken, nothing at all!

Well, the issue has resurfaced in this guest post, “Is Jesus or the Bible the Word of God, and Does it Matter?” by Austin Fischer on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog. My short answer is, “It doesn’t matter very much, certainly not as much as ex-evangelicals like Zahnd and others think.”

No one has convinced me otherwise, certainly not the commenters on Fischer’s post—a post with which I mostly agree, by the way. Subtlety and nuance are not widely appreciated on Patheos blogs, unfortunately. First, someone named Max commented, “If there is a Jesus different from the one revealed in the NT, then he is a fictional character created in the person’s own mind, a creation to affirm whatever that person likes and condemn whatever that person dislikes.” I agreed, saying:

This first sentence is an excellent point: We know of no Jesus other than the one revealed in scripture. So the primary way to know the Word of God that is Jesus is to read the Word of God that is scripture. Therefore, I’m not sure the distinction is as important as many people believe.

Where I say “primary,” I’m tempted to say “only.” By saying “primary,” however, I recognize that we come to know Jesus not just through information from the pages of the text, but also through the Holy Spirit speaking through them.

Often, I suspect that progressives are referring to mysticism when they say that Jesus rather than scripture is the Word of God—as if they’ve come to know him apart from the Bible.

Someone named Terry jumped on this, saying:

Brent, so you just read Austin’s entire essay and have concluded that he’s out to lunch? It seems he made a very solid case for the distinction having merit, in spite of some who have overcooked it. Are you indicating that Austin is referencing mysticism and is a progressive *which seems to be polemical)? Is the Scripture, and the Holy Spirit via the Scripture really the only ways to “know the Word of God”?

I replied:

I don’t think you’ve read my comment very charitably, but this is a Patheos blog. Fighting comes with the territory, I guess.

I agree with Fischer! I would, however, make the connection between “knowing Jesus the Word” and “knowing Jesus through the Word.” (Indeed, I think I blogged about this issue a while back and made that point.) And no, I wasn’t implying that Fischer was endorsing mysticism, and he’s clearly not progressive. That sentence was a response to the general tendency, as Fischer points out, to denigrate scripture by appealing to Jesus (only) as the Word of God. I do think Christians who identify themselves as progressive (whether they take that pejoratively is up to them) often appeal to a Jesus of mystical experience rather than the one revealed in scripture. Is that controversial?

Finally, to your last question, I don’t know. I’m really not into mysticism, so I’m tempted to say “yes.” What would any of us learn about Jesus that is in addition to, or outside of, or inconsistent with the Jesus revealed in scripture?

Terry again:

Brent, my apologies if I misread your initial comment. I think the connection you want to make is a valid one, but the overall content of your comment, to me, read as general disagreement with Fischer. Wrongly perhaps, but I read fight in your comment.

I don’t think any of us would learn about Jesus in a way that is inconsistent with Jesus as revealed in Scripture; the church being the Body of Christ puts forth at least one option whereby we could learn of Jesus outside of Scripture; God’s people could learn of Jesus, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, outside of Scripture.

Me:

But would they learn something that they wouldn’t know from scripture itself? Would they learn something that they could then write down and say, “This knowledge is as authoritative and real and true as anything else found in the Bible”? If the answer is no, then—again—I don’t see how the distinction between the Word who is Jesus and the Word that is scripture is all that important.

And on it went. You can read the comments. It’s a very important distinction, everyone seemed to say. Only no one could tell me what practical difference it made in understanding who Jesus is. All I can figure is that these Christians are coming at the question from far more conservative or fundamentalist backgrounds than myself. I’m coming from the other side—as a former progressive Christian turned evangelical. That experience convinces me that attempts to draw sharp distinctions between Christ as the Word and the Bible as the Word come from an embarrassment about the Bible and are an attempt to denigrate it and undermine our trust in it.

Rishmawy’s response to the original post was best of all. It included these words:

I’ve got little to disagree with in terms of the general points about semantic distinctions, the Image/image, etc. Indeed, part of my original post made the argument that we call the Bible the Word of God precisely because it’s a Trinitarian one, uttered by the Father, about the Son, through inspiration of the Spirit. Viewed this way, we can see that it is God’s word in terms of its origin, content, and agency. And that’s, I think, one of my points of pushback. The derivative nature of the Bible as the word comes in terms of the content. As the testimony about the Word Incarnate, we see that its secondary and derivative. That said, it’s also had through the direct, but humanly mediated activity of the Triune God. As Divine self-testimony, then, there is a sense in which it’s not derivative and secondary. It is properly God’s speech and is to be treated as such. Especially since the Scriptures as the word of God are the only way that we know anything about Jesus as the Word of God.

10 Responses to “Christ is the Word of God, and so is the Bible”

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    Pretty cerebral stuff. Is your point that Jesus is the perfect embodiment of Scripture, both that written before and after his death? And that Jesus clarifies and magnifies the perfect application of Scripture? And that the Spirit aids us in understanding all of it? If so, then I agree totally.

    • brentwhite Says:

      That’s at least close to my point, although I don’t think the issue is complicated. Jesus is the Word of God because John calls him that. Among other things, that implies that God has communicated himself perfectly through Jesus. And what has he communicated? What the Word of God that is scripture tells us. We have no other access to who Jesus is, what he did, what it all means than what is communicated in scripture. I believe in the Bible’s infallibility, which among other things means that the Bible tells us everything we need to know about Christ and does so without leading us astray on any point.

      In my estimation, we err in playing off Christ the Word against the Word that is scripture. Because it assumes that there’s something to be learned about Christ outside of the Bible. If that’s the case, why can’t anyone tell me what that is? Yet for some reason they say at its terribly important. Why?

      And let’s face facts: progressives often do this because they think Jesus (formulated outside of the Bible) would arrive at different conclusions regarding, for instance, sexual ethics, or God’s wrath, or final judgment from the rest of the Bible (not to mention Jesus in the gospels).

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    John 7:15-17 may also help:

    And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?”
    Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.
    If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    I agree that those who make a “big deal” about the “distinction” are misguided. Of course there is a “distinction”–revelation through a “person” (the “God/man”) versus revelation through “words”–but that distinction does not demonstrate that there is something “incomplete” about Scripture in its revelation ABOUT that God/man, Christ, that needs to be otherwise “filled in” for us. Whether that is supposed to be by Church dogma, ex cathedra pronouncements, or mystical experiences. I think the Holy Spirit does sometimes “guide us” in certain respects other than specifically or exclusively through the words of Scripture, but I don’t think He is going to give us any “different picture” of Christ other than what Scripture reveals about Him, nor do I think He will give us “doctrinal” revelations which are “supplemental” to what Scripture itself gives us, about Christ or otherwise. Is that pretty consistent with your position?

  4. veritasvincit Says:

    Is there any basis for referring to Jesus as the Word of God other than John? If so, the meaning of Logos is much different than the meaning of “word.”

    We have many problems here, not least of which is the degree to which most of our minds have been darkened by the nominalism that permeates protestant circles. If one lives in a world where words have no meaning, then to identify Jesus with the symbol that has no referrent other than “what it means to me” has got to be blasphemy, or idolatry, or the sin against the Holy Ghost, or probably even worse.

    The second problem in setting Jesus over against the Word is the Abelardian silliness about “Jesus shows us what God is like . . .” or “Jesus came to show us how much God loves us . . ” totally disconnected from Trinity, the Incarnation, and the reality of the Christ Event.

    I’m not capable of entering into this discussion, except to say that for me, Jesus is everything the scriptures say about Him and much more.

    Jim Lung

    • brentwhite Says:

      Not sure I follow completely, but I agree in the sense that these Jesus-is-the-only-Word revisionists are making a few verses in John bear a lot of weight.


  5. The Logos that was with God and who was God is Jesus. “Logos” as I understand it has more to do with the creative principle and power of God’s word that preceded everything: And God said: LIGHT, BE and light was.

    God’s Word is the authoritative revelation of God, his nature and person in the Scriptures, Hebrew and Greek. Jesus reveals God because He is the Image. We are created in that Image. Any claim to knowledge of or relationship with Jesus can only be based upon that which is revealed about the nature of God and the person and work of Jesus Christ in the Word of God in the Hebrew Scriptures and Greek NT.

    • Grant Essex Says:

      As with all discussions of the Trinity, one must allow for the “mystery” of God. The following is one example:

      Trinitarian theologian Frank Stagg writes:

      As the Logos, Jesus Christ is God in self-revelation (Light) and redemption (Life). He is God to the extent that he can be present to man and knowable to man. The Logos is God,[Jn 1:1] … Yet the Logos is in some sense distinguishable from God, for “the Logos was with God”.[Jn 1:1] God and the Logos are not two beings, and yet they are also not simply identical. … The Logos is God active in creation, revelation, and redemption.


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