The Bible – The Word of God – Three Views: Part 6

This is part six of “The Bible – The Word of God.” Today we will be looking at some of the strengths and weaknesses of these three positions. By doing this hopefully we will be able to articulate a dogmatic account of Scripture that all orthodox Christian traditions will be able to affirm.


Critical Observations

Naturally there are quite a few strengths that each of these positions display. For instance Law’s position is strong in that it refuses to minimize the fact that through the Scriptures a genuine encounter can occur between a reader and God or Transcendence. Barth’s position is strong in the fact that he avoids the bibliolatry that is so enticing to many Christians. Instead of making the book the focus of the Christian’s attention, for Barth the book is a witness to the one whom the Christian should be focusing her attention on, namely Jesus Christ the Word of God. Finally Wolterstorff’s position is strong in that it rightly recognizes that the religions of the book, whether it be Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, cannot simply discard the claim that God somehow speaks through the book. He refuses to take the easy way out of the metaphysical issues raised by the claim that God speaks instead he takes on this issue head on an gives a plausible account as to what it means to say that God speaks.

Yet these three positions are not without their own faults. For instance Law’s position is weak in that it places too much of an emphasis on the reader’s role in the discussion of inspiration. For Law inspiration occurs when the reader experiences Transcendence, but what would happen if no readers ever experienced Transcendence through ciphers? Does that mean that the Bible would not be inspired? Surely we cannot ground the inspiration of scripture in how human beings react to the text. Inspiration must be grounded in God himself. Barth’s position also suffers from several drawbacks. One such drawback is that if we reduce scripture to simply being a witness to Jesus Christ then we run the risk of not being able to differentiate between scripture as a witness to Christ and other media as witnesses to Christ. For instance what is the difference between Scripture witnessing to Christ and a sermon witnessing to Christ? One might say that the difference is that Scripture bears direct witness to Christ but sermons bear witness to Christ as mediated through Scripture. But this ignores the fact that Christians can have a direct encounter with Christ. So if a Christian bears witness to that direct encounter with Christ or the Spirit of Christ then it seems as though bearing witness to this encounter is not mediated and should be on par with the witness we have in scripture, but surely this cannot be so. Finally Wolterstorff’s position also has its weaknesses, however I believe that Wolterstorff presents the strongest account of what it means for the Bible to be the Word of God. Although he admits that his model needs to be supplemented by some doctrine of inspiration[1] Wolterstorff’s greatest weakness is that he does not present a doctrine of inspiration. His position would have been strengthened if he would have included some possibilities as to what inspiration would look like under this model or if he would have explained why God would decide to appropriate certain rather others.

[1] Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections On the Claim That God Speaks, 187.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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