Will the real Word of God please stand up?

As I continue to read & write on Cyril of Alexandria, I have been reading through other Patristic works with Ben Blackwell and friends (including our own Jessica Parks and Michelle Mikeska).  Thus, I recently re-read Athanasius’ On the Incarnation and was struck by the following sentiments regarding the relationship between the divine Word of God and the body of Jesus:

For he [the Word of God] was not enclosed in the body, nor was he in the body but not elsewhere.  Nor while he moved that [body] was the universe left void of his activity and providence.  But, what is most marvelous, being the Word, he was not contained by anyone, but rather himself contained everything.  And, as being in all creation, he is in essence outside everything but inside everything by his own power, arranging everything, and unfolding his own providence in everything to all things, and giving life to each thing and to all things together, containing the universe and not being contained, but being wholly, in every respect, in his own Father alone.  So also, being in the human body, and himself giving it life, he properly gives life to the universe also, and was both in everything and outside all.  And being made known from the body through the works, he was not unseen even from the working of the universe. … The Word of God in the human being was not bound to the body, bur rather was himself wielding it, so that he was both in it and in everything, and was outside everything, and at rest in the Father alone.  And the most wonderful thing was that he both sojourned as a human being, and as the Word begot life in everything, and as the Son was with the Father.[1]

Athanasius is here suggesting that the Word of God continued his intra-Trinitarian cosmic roles even after he “became flesh.”  Is this simply a necessary paradox of the mystery of God and the Incarnation?  Or is this a poor understanding of the kenosis inherently involved in the Incarnation?  Is there more to the Word of God than what we see in Jesus?  Is there a Word of God to be found behind Jesus?

When we see Jesus getting tired in John 4, should we also understand that at the same moment the Word of God was continuing to uphold all things by his power *outside* of the body? (Maybe that is why he was so tired?)

One way to ask the question:

Was the Word of God still omnipresent post-Incarnation?
What are the implications of saying “yes” or “no”?

[1] Behr, John, (On the Incarnation. Yonkers, N.Y.: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 85-87.

Doctrine of Scripture and Interpretation

The doctrine of scripture fascinates me. Not as a study of doctrine, but as a study of hermeneutics. In other words, how does what I believe about scripture influence the way I interpret scripture?

First of all, I do not think that we can set aside our ideas about scripture when we sit down to read scripture. The search for an objective reading, a reading that happens separate from our preconceptions, is more illusion than allusive. Furthermore, our preconceptions are not just the confluence of social, economical, and physical factors, they include what we believe about what we are reading:

  • Whether or not you believe scripture is a source of truth (big or little ‘T’) matters;
  • Whether or not you believe scripture holds authority, and if so what kind, matters;
  • Whether or not you believe scripture is inspired, and if so in what way, matters;
  • Whether or not you believe scripture has a divinely inspired purpose, and if so what is it, matters;
  • Whether or not you believer that there is a connection between what the text meant and what it means matters.
  • What is scripture’s relationship to the church, civil authority, culture, relationships, morality, if any?

Secondly, failing to recognize our answers to these and other questions about scripture leads to bad hermeneutics. Bad in the sense they can become muddled or ad hoc, not that they always lead to bad or wrong readings.

Therefore, as I have thought about how I answer these questions, three central concepts have arisen: divinely inspired, uniquely edifying, and truth that transforms.

  1. Divinely Inspired – The divine inspiration of scripture can be a hot button issue for some today, but historically that is not really the case. The divine inspiration of scripture was the common, if not universal, conviction of the Christian Church’s forefathers.[1] Furthermore, figures from throughout the church’s history, such as Origen, Augustin, and Aquinas, considered this matter of such importance they evaluated this particular subject extensively in their respective works on scripture.[2] Thus, while I do not adopt a particular theory of inspiration (at least not with any degree of certainty) I firmly stand with Christian tradition in affirming that scripture is inspired by the Spirit of God.
  2. Uniquely Edifying – God designed scripture with a specific purpose, namely to reveal the wisdom necessary for salvation. At a fundamental level, this means God reveals Himself in scripture to lead humanity toward union with its author. In this way, scripture is not primarily a spiritual memoir that we read to find mystical utterances hoping to gain inner peace, nor is it primarily a textbook that we read hoping to gain elusive knowledge.  Rather, it is God’s self-revelation we digest, even participate in, so that it can nourish our souls and form us into the community it would have us to be.
  3. Truth that Transforms – Scripture contains Truth (I believe in “T” Truth), but truth does not concern only the mind. Rather, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Rom 12:7). Accordingly, Augustine thought scripture taught us not only what to believe, but what to hope for and what to love. In fact, he wrote, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand at all.”[3] Additionally, Richard Hays writes, “No reading of Scripture can be legitimate if it fails to shape the readers into a community that embodies the love of God as shown forth in Christ.” [4]  Churches, therefore, need to be communities faithfully embodying the text for our world. Our places of worship, through our study and interpretation of scripture, must mold us into living witnesses to the transformative power of scripture.

For you, what are the central concepts for understanding the nature of scripture? And how does your understanding of scripture influence the way you interpret scripture?

[1] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 60-64.

[2] Origen, First Principles; Augustine, On Christian Doctrine; and Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica.

[3] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 1.36.40.

[4] Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, 191.