Friday, April 28, 2017

A functional doctrine of Scripture: the literary and living Word of God

Some jottings from Dr Garry Williams' talks at the 2017 Banner of Truth UK Minister's Conference:

In 1551, Bishop Hooper of Gloucester examined his clergy.

168 of 311 could not list the 10 commandments.

39 could not find the Lord’s Prayer.

34 did not know who the author of the Lord’s Prayer was!

Session 1: The Bible as the Literary Word of God

An encouragement to re-engage with the details of the text

The more seriously we take the Bible as the literary word of God, the more we will speak it as the living Word of God because the Bible is a literary word

Stott was once asked, “What do you feel when you’ve finished preaching?”

Stott replied, “Ashamed!”

The Bible not just like another ancient near Eastern text but a divine text

The origin and interpretation of the Bible are not merely naturalistic

A single divine author, an inherent unity, the meaning of which is only fully apparent in the light of the whole

Not simply seeking to know what the original human author meant but what God means

The human author sometimes unknown

The divine mind is revealed and expressed in the words of the text given in a context

Poythress – the same textual evidences will be there when weighing divine meaning. God of course understands the historical context even better than humans do. God takes all circumstances thoroughly into account because he is all wise

We must not get lost in the detail, always micro-focused. We must see the details as part of the big picture. The literary nature of the Bible includes its big structures and the tiny details.

The pressure to give people something concrete to go away with – a hurry to get to the application / summary / one thing

The temptation to hurry to Christ bypassing the detail of how this text proclaims him

Jn 21:25 – the Bible very selective – everything is there for a reason

The green grass, 153 fish

The Spirit does not record any trivialities

Details not just window dressing

Arguing from single little letters – My Lord – one yod of the Hebrew text

Jot and tittle inspiration (John Murray)

How the detail of the text makes a difference to how we hear it:

(1) The details of a text can locate the events in the text in the big context of Biblical theology / redemptive history / covenant theology

2 Samuel 11:2-5 – David saw Bathsheba was very good / beautiful and he took – like Eve who saw the good fruit and took it – a king in a land with a law to keep – David and Adam – a woman tempting him – his 2 sons come into conflict with one another and one goes into exile

David is both, like Adam, a unique king and Everyman, representative

David is not The King, the Last Adam

(2) The details often explain the nature of the events themselves

Genesis 11:1-9 – chiastic structure – repeated vocabulary: earth / language / bricks / one another etc. God’s action in the second half of the narrative mirrors their sin; God reacts to their sin, reverses it, undoes it. God’s action answers their sin – pay-back, return, retribution – sin as an attempt to invert the created order – sin makes a wrong claim about God, God answers it.

(3) The detail can show us something of the character of God himself

Genesis 11 shows us the justice of God – God answers sin point for point. He deals with it comprehensively and fittingly – gathering answered by scattering; they reach up and are cast down; They try to make a great name and God gives them a name, “Confused!”. An eye for an eye illustrated.

This should be exciting not crushing

It is a corporate endeavour – make use of the books!

It should keep our preaching from being dull. Not just a repetitive burden of preaching by numbers, wheeling out our system. Not formulaic, predictable, samey preaching. There is great variety in the text.

We need such a wonderful book to describe such a wonderful, infinitely rich and perfect God.

Session 2: The Bible as the Living Word of God

It is vital that the literary Word of God and the living Word of God are held together. Treating the Bible as the literary Word of God should not kill the sense of it as the living Word of God.

The sermon should not be a lecture. Pastors must do more than teach / explain the Bible. The pastor can never really grasp Galatians or have Exodus under his belt. A love for literature, even the Bible as literature, or the ability to speak about the Bible as literature, does not constitute a call to the ministry.

A facility with literature is helpful to the preacher but it is nowhere near enough.

When studying Corinthians, we must go back to Corinth. The words mean what the meant. And we must also go to all the other places in Scripture where this text takes us. 1 Cor 10:1-13 leads us back to Exodus 32 too. But all of this is still history – the Bible as literature. We cannot stop there. We go back to Corinth in order to return to the present. Our study must be ancient so as to be contemporary, but some never make it back to today. The dominance of the historical-critical method encourages us to leave the text in the past.

How big is the hermeneutical gap? Is there a gulf between the text in the past and the church today?

John Webster, The Domain of the Word, attacks the idea that the text is primarily alien and from the past. It does not somehow manage to speak to the present despite itself. Scripture is primarily the living oracles of God speaking today.

Heb 3:7 – “Therefore as the Holy Spirit says…”

But there are wrong ways of saying the Bible is the Word of God today:

A wrong liberal way: the community conveys authority on the text by the way the community uses it – a projectionist account of biblical authority.

Karl Barth – the Bible becomes the Word of God when (in existential crisis) God uses it to speak into a person’s life – God makes the Bible his Word in the moment. It has no abiding, permanent character as the Word of God, his living voice

Who are the primary addressees of Scripture? Chronologically the first recipients (e.g. the Corinthian church) but in the plan and purposes of God, the Bible is intended primarily for the church in all ages

1 Cor 10:6 – even the events the texts speak of happened for us, for the church


When we read 1 Corinthians we are not eavesdropping on God’s Word to the ancient Corinthian church

Reading the Bible is not like reading your parents’ love letters!

 The Living Lord of the Church, the Risen Lord Jesus, speaks the Scriptures, the Living Word of God to his church today

Rev 1:16-18

We can say that preaching is the Word of God since Scripture is the written living Word of God. In preaching Jesus speaks because the Bible is the Word of God

Acts 26:23 – he would proclaim light to the Gentiles

Ephesians 2:17 – he came and preached peace – when did Jesus go to Ephesus?

Romans 10:14 – Jesus must speak by his Spirit if people are to believe

6 wonderful and challenging consequences of the Bible as the living Word of God:

(1) The wonderful genius, power and providence of God that this diverse and particular set of texts perfectly and sufficiently meets the needs of the whole church throughout the ages

(2) The living word of the risen Jesus is present to all times

Hugh Martin, Abiding Presence – are the gospels biographies? No, they are not the memoirs

We have not the record of the past but the presence of a risen Saviour. The gulf of time between the Jesus of the gospels and us is annihilated. The element of time is got rid of and cast out. Jesus is with us and we are with him in all the permanent efficaciousness of his work.

When is Scripture the Word of God? Not trapped in past nor only in the present but always on the lips of Jesus. Every day is today.

Bavinck: Scripture is the on-going rapport between heaven and earth, God and his children. Divine inspiration is a permanent attribute of Scripture. It is God-breathing. The Bible is inspired.

Jesus still says the things he said. The promises of God stand today with his power.

Great feats of hermeneutical gymnastics are not needed!

(3) The risen Jesus is present to us now in all the fullness of who he is.

Hugh Martin: Jesus is present to us in all the accounts in the gospels

And also as the serpent crusher of Genesis 3

He is present in all the aspects of who he is to all his people. He calls repent and believe. He reassures son, your sins are forgiven. He challenges, take up your cross and follow me. He promises I am with you always.

The Bible is all Christ’s living Word.

Gal 3:1 – the preaching of the cross publicly placards the crucified Christ before the eyes of the believer

The variegated splendour of Christ!

(4) Where Jesus is, Satan will also be

(5) We should preach the living Word of God in a way which fits its character

Exegesis is not enough. Do not get lost / stuck in Corinth.

Speak it boldly as a word of God for us today. Speak to his hearers. Not just reflecting together on what it might mean or how it might apply. In the name of the living Lord Jesus, I say to you, “Repent and believe!”.

Do not try to tame the Lion and keep it in the cage to be scrutinised.

(6) Do our church gatherings reflect the nature of the Bible as God speaking? Our gatherings are truly momentous occasions. It is like gathering around Sinai – more momentous than that! The Lord’s Day should be the most dramatic day of the week.

The serious, solemn character of the Word of God

Are our gatherings exciting?!

Michael Horton, A better way – on the Sunday gathering – a sense that something important and dramatic is happening as we gather before God

Are our meetings dull and cold and unfriendly, rather dead and unexciting? Very super controlled / reserved? Joy?! Vibrancy

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