Tuesday 16 June 2009

John Stott on the Bible 2

John R.W. Stott, You Can Trust the Bible: Our Foundation for Belief and Obedience (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991, first published in the UK by IVP in 1982 with the title The Bible: Book for Today).

See here for an introduction to the book.

In chapter 1 – ‘God and the Bible’ – Stott takes his cue from Isaiah 55:8-11…

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the LORD.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’

… from which he draws three lessons:

• The reasonableness of revelation
• The way of revelation
• The purpose of revelation

The reasonableness of revelation
Men and women will not discover God by their own unaided intellect (‘My ways… your ways’, etc.). Given the difficulty even of reading the mind of others, let alone God’s thoughts, ‘it is only reasonable to say… that unless God takes the initiative to disclose what is is His mind, we shall never be able to find out’ (14).

The way of revelation
God has revealed himself to us in the way we reveal ourselves to others – by works and words, the things we do and say. God is seen in his works (e.g., Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:19-20), his revelation in nature, but especially through his words, ‘the main model used in the Bible to illustrate God’s self-revelation’ (16).

With a sideways nod to 2 Timothy 3:16, Stott writes that Scripture is ‘God’s Word, issuing from God’s mouth’ (17).

Stott notes here that ‘God’s Word… was closely related to His activity’, which entails that we should not make a sharp distinction between ‘personal’ revelation and ‘propositional’ revelation. God’s words interpreted his deeds, as ‘He raised up the prophets to explain what He was doing to Israel, and He raised up the apostles to explain what He was doing through Christ’ (18).

In addition, ‘God’s Word had come to us through human words’ (19). God spoke through prophets and through apostles. Inspiration was not a mechanical process, but ‘a personal process, in which the human authors were usually in full possession of their faculties’ (19) and used their distinctive literary styles.

Such ‘double authorship’ is affirmed in the Bible itself, where the law is sometimes ‘the law of Moses’ and sometimes ‘the law of the Lord’, and where God speaks through the prophets. Although it is not an exact analogy, since Jesus is a person not a book, ‘as in the incarnate Word (Christ), so in the written Word (the Bible) the divine and human elements combine and do not contradict one another’ (20).

‘On the one hand, the Bible is the Word of God. God spoke, deciding Himself what He intended to say, yet not in such a way as to distort the personality of the human authors. On the other hand, the Bible is the word of men. Men spoke, using their faculties freely, yet not in such a way as to distort the truth of the divine message’ (20).

The Bible’s double authorship affects the way we read it: because it is the words of human beings, we study it as we would every other book, using normal methods of investigation; because it is the Word of God, we study it ‘like no other book’ (21).

The purpose of revelation
Why did God speak? To instruct us ‘for salvation’ (2 Timothy 3:15). Just as the rain and snow accomplish a purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11), so ‘God’s Word, issuing from His mouth and disclosing His mind, does not return to Him empty’ (21). It bears fruit, saving people and changing them into the likeness of Christ (salvation is in the context – Isaiah 55:7, 12).

Stott concludes with a call to humility – acknowledging the limitations of the human mind and our sinfulness, and sitting under God’s Word, ‘eager to hear it, grasp it, apply it, and obey it in the practicalities of daily living’ (23).

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