Part 5

Submitting to the Bible

Too Soft on Scripture

Too Hard for the Living Word

Some Simple Rules for Handling Scripture

I know, I know, I am wrong. Whatever I say I’ll get it wrong!

Submission is a hot potato among Christians today. Society sees submission as failing. "Cursed are the submissive, for they shall be walked over!" Yet the Bible demands submission, however socially unacceptable. Most of us however, will claim that the attitudes of our culture are not the issue. The issue is gender wars.

So, I am bound to get it wrong because ours is the contentious question of whether women must submit to men. On this issue Christians hold strong views and will seldom listen to others. Many claim that their views are supported by the Bible, or even that their views alone reflect biblical teaching. Evidently as evangelical Christians we must submit (there's that word again!) to the Bible as authority on this question, as on others. And that's the real problem. We do not agree on how to decide what the Bible teaches. Among us there are many views of the nature of the Bible, as word of God.

Too Soft on Scripture

Some, good Christians, do not even believe that the Bible *is* the word of God. They claim that the Bible "bears witness" to the word. Jesus alone, they say, *is* the word.

This will not do!

We know Jesus through only two channels: the Bible and the Spirit. If the Bible is not God's word, then the true word, Jesus, is only accessible through the Spirit. But if the Bible is not the word of God then, what check or control have we over anyone's claim to spiritual understanding? Without the Bible Jesus can be claimed by anyone.

Too Hard for the Living Word

Others, paradoxically, take too firm a hold on the notion of the Bible as word of God. In their desire to affirm this, they deny that the Bible is expressed in human words. For them the Bible is uniquely, only, and perfectly God's word, wholly divine. Each fragment, verse or sentence, is the word of God and expresses exactly and completely his will on the matter it addresses. Those who hold this view of the Bible can happily debate, and they make powerful use of the Spirit's sword. Beating each other over the head with Bible verses.

Such use of the Bible will not do either!

What are we to make of two passages which contradict each other? In Mt 13:30 Jesus declares: "Whoever is not with me is against me" yet in Mark 9:40 the Master says "Whoever is not against us is for us."

This example, of course, is simple. Notice the text around the text, what the linguists call the COtext. In this case the cotext tells us about the circumstances that surround the words - the context. Jesus is not speaking to the same situation in each case. What the linguists call pragmatics influences how we understand. That is to say, circumstances affect meaning. In other words, even the word of God comes enfleshed in human context. This is true of Jesus' words and of all the words of the Bible. The word of God only comes to us in human words. God condescends to speak to us at our level. (It is perhaps as well, for if he did not, we should understand nothing!)

Most of us, are sensible people. We recognise this need to study not just the words in which the Word is presented, but also the context which enfolds those words. At least when a passage poses problems, we recognise it. But, when we see no difficulty in a Bible verse, we forget this truth about the incarnation of the Word. We "slip back" into using a sentence or two to beat our opponents into submission.

Whether you, or I, think it simple and obvious the issue of submission is evidently contentious. So, before we even start to discuss it we need to agree some "ground rules".

Some Simple Rules for Handling Scripture

With these four principles, next time we can examine "submission".


This article is part of the "Electric Angels" collection

It is the fifth of a series about Men & Women, Sex & God

Next time: Submission

© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2002

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