Monday, March 23, 2009

Verbal Inspiration (2)

The next scheduled stop for our little exploration of the notion of verbal inspiration comes in the New Testament, and specifically the gospel of John. There are many places we could have stopped of on our way through the Old Testament, and there would have been interesting sights to see. But for now, suffice it to say the OT follows the pattern established by Deuteronomy 4 pretty closely, such that when the question arises - "what is God like? and what does he want?" - the only necessary response is "he has told you, O man".

Which is just a way of saying that the concrete revelation of God and his will at Sinai is normative for the whole of the Old Testament.

John's gospel is very interested in revelation, and undertakes to ask and answer afresh the question of how we come to know about God. Hence programmatic statements like "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known" (1:18). The answer to the question is that we know God through his incarnate Son. This point is hammered home throughout the gospel account through Jesus' claims to unique knowledge of heaven (3:11-13), unique knowledge of the Father (8:55) and most stunningly unique and comprehensive revelation of the Father (8:19 amongst many others).

Perhaps the most astonishing statement in this regard is found in Jesus' last discussion with his disciples on the night he was betrayed. Ponder John 14:7 - "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him". The ensuing conversation with Philip makes Jesus' point abundantly clear: if you want to see God, you must look at me, and what is more you must not look elsewhere (as Philip wants to).

The NT presents with a similarly concrete revelation of God, which sums up and supercedes everything in the OT. (I won't try to defend the latter clause here and now - maybe some other time). Just as OT Israel couldn't be imaginitive about God, the disciples of Jesus cannot go groping around their own thoughts or the world around them to find the divine. They need revelation, and revelation stands right in front of them in Jesus - in a very solid, fleshly form.

To be continued...


  1. hi dan. interested to see where this ends up. You would enjoy this series

    a few thoughts spring to mind:

    - john's jesus starts in genesis. do you think genesis is bound up with sinai? (interesting also that John finds not only the word but the breath from the OT are actually eternal persons)
    - 2:23-25 are huge aren't they: "many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man."; jesus did not need man's testimony, neither about God nor man. wow.

    - why have you chosen the image of concrete? Do you mean to set "concrete" over and against "imaginative"? You don't mean to suggest God is boring, do you? ("we have contemplated his glory" [1:14]) - prayer itself is an intensely imaginative act in Eph 3. (imaginative is not necessarily imaginary)

    Or if you want to say it's fixed, it's also progressive...

  2. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for comments. I guess I picked the image of concrete fairly unreflectively, but now I do reflect on it I'm happy with it. The sorts of images I was looking for were: solid, heavy, not movable, with edges, real. Perhaps concrete also has overtones of dull, but no metaphor is perfect.

    I also don't want to deny the important role of imagination and creativity in many areas of life and spirituality. But I do want to say that imagination is dangerous and sinful when it is used to conceive of what God is like... In that arena I think imagination stands opposed to revelation...

    Vis a vis the progressive nature of revelation: yes, but my point is more that at any given stage there is a particular revelation of God to which his people must adhere.

    As for Genesis/Sinai linkage... Haven't massively considered it, but I will...