The Word Became Flesh

It's exciting to start a new teaching series for the new year!  "Lost in Translation(s)" will be an overview of what the Bible is and how we can be confident that we're reading it faithfully and accurately.

What's amazing is how complicated communication can be.  This week, I told a couple of humorous stories about getting confused by different language and culture in Ireland.  So if we can be perplexed in a relatively familiar context, how much more perplexed will we be when we’re much more distant in language, culture, geography, history, and of course time?

This is what we encounter every time we read the Bible.  

Actually, “distance” is also a good metaphor for our spiritual relationship to God because of our sinful nature.  But even though man and woman try to hide from God, like Adam and Eve in the garden, God continues to call out to us, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:8-9).  We might even say that the Bible is the saga of God drawing near to us.   So we are called to delight in God’s teaching, and meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:1-3), because it is one of the key ways God draws near to us, just as God did in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  

The apostle John called Jesus the Word of God made flesh.  Does the Bible reveal God in a similar way, with a dual divine-human nature?  Well, yes and no. We call the Bible the “Word of God” and also Jesus the “Word of God.”  Both reveal God to us within this world.  But they’re not exactly the same.  First, let’s look at two ways these two “Words of God” are not the same.

1)  The Bible is not God.  By contrast, we believe, according to scripture and the work of the early Church, that Jesus is God.  The Nicene Creed says that Jesus is “God from God, Light from light, true God from true God, begotten not [created], of the same [substance] as the Father.”  Jesus even said, “I and the Father are one.”  And Peter reacts to Jesus in exactly the same way Abraham, Job, and Isaiah reacted only in the presence of God (Lk. 5:8).  This is why we worship Jesus.  But we do not worship the Bible.
2)  The Bible is not alive.  It doesn’t adapt to its environment on its own; it doesn’t do anything on its own, it has no self agency.  Jesus by contrast was and is alive and does things. Jesus forgave sin, healed the sick, welcomed the outcast, and in his resurrection Jesus is enthroned with the Father and mediates on our behalf.  The Bible doesn’t do any of these things. So when we refer to the Bible as the Word of God, and John calls Jesus the Word of God, these are two ways they are NOT alike: Jesus is God and Jesus is alive while the Bible is neither of those.  

But I wouldn’t refer to John’s prologue today if it had nothing to do with helping us understanding the dual nature of the Bible, because we do believe the Bible is the Word of God. We say it every week!  So let’s look at two ways that the Word of God in the Bible IS like the Word of God made flesh.

1)  The Bible reveals God to us in a familiar format.  Just like Jesus did.  Jesus was a person, and we’re familiar with people.  The Bible is a collection of writings, and we’re familiar with writing.  Jesus spoke a language which people understood. The Bible was written in languages which people understood, and can be translated into languages which people understand.  Jesus ate and drank and worked and slept; we understand that. The Bible is full of poems and puns, stories and commands; we understand those.   While there are a handful of times in history when God revealed himself in an unfamiliar (supernatural) way (and they’re attested in scripture and in people’s personal testimonies), the overwhelming majority of the time, God’s method is the familiar and natural.  And the Bible reveals God to us in a familiar format.

2)  The Bible is historically particular but eternally relevant.   The “historically particular” nature of the Bible is frankly unavoidable.  Some of it is trivial, like currency (denarius) or units of measure (cubits), or just people’s names, like Mishmah and Dorcas!  And some of it is important, like what family looked like, or warfare or the justice system. In the same way, Jesus was historically particular too.  His parables were about things like Samaria, or kings, or mustard seeds.  He used particular language like “Talitha cumi.” And he assumed his listeners had particular historical-cultural knowledge.  What does he mean when he calls Herod a “fox”? Or when he talks about the “abomination of desolation,” or when he calls himself as the “Son of Man”?  We might not understand, but his first-century Jewish audience certainly would have. So the Bible and Jesus are both historically particular.  
But what about their eternal relevance? Many people who actively follow Jesus will tell of times when the Bible was surprisingly relevant in their present-day lives.  One of mine is from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, ch. 4 v. 2. Historically, Paul wrote from prison in the year 66 and gave Timothy a command.  But I read it on March 10, 1999 in a hotel in New Jersey.  And I had no doubt then and have no doubt today that it was the Holy Spirit’s direct command to me.  Eternally relevant.   In the same way, Jesus is eternally relevant.  The author of Hebrews gives this example. Listen for the interplay of time: “by the power of the ETERNAL Spirit, Christ offered himself to God (in the PAST) as a perfect sacrifice for our sins (NOW)...so that all who are called (NOW & FUTURE) can receive the eternal inheritance … For Christ died (THEN) to set them free (NOW)…”  Jesus lived under the particularities of Roman rule, the high priest, and public executions. But Jesus lived for an eternal purposes of forgiveness, reconciliation, freedom from sin and death, and of course to share his eternal inheritance.

In sum -- The Word of God revealed as Jesus Christ is both divine and human, and while there are key differences, we have confidence that God draws near to us, revealing himself in the very divine and very human Bible. In the Bible, God reveals himself in ways that are familiar to us; In the Bible, God reveals himself in particular history, but with eternal relevance.

For reflection:
- Have you ever read something in the Bible that seemed like it was written just for you?  If so, tell that story to someone this week.
- Have you ever read something in the Bible that seemed utterly strange?  What was it?
- Have you ever read something strange and then learned about it, so that you could glean its relevance in spite of its historical particularity?
- What questions do you have about the nature of the Bible as we start this series?

2 Comments


Kathy Wilson - January 13th, 2020 at 4:47pm

Thanks, Mike! I know you've been talking about the blog, but now I will refer to it more often.

Kathy

Mike - January 19th, 2020 at 8:47pm

Great to hear from you, Kathy! If you find the blog helpful, please share it!