Today we wrap up the series: “The Bible – The Word of God.” Having looked at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the three positions we will be able to articulate a dogmatic account of Scripture that all orthodox Christian traditions will be able to affirm.
“The Word of God” Revisited
We have seen that all of these positions have their own strengths and weaknesses. Law’s and Barth’s positions advocate for understanding that the Bible is the word of God in an objective sense. However, Wolterstorff argues that we should understand that the claim that the Bible is the word of God in a subjective sense. So considering the strengths and weaknesses of these positions how should we understand the claim that the Bible is the word of God? If we look at the grammar of this phrase once again, we might find an answer to this question. In addition to the subjective and objective genitive there is another genitive in which a head noun expresses a verbal idea, namely the plenary genitive. The plenary genitive is a combination of both the objective and subjective genitive. This genitive expresses the functions of the subjective and objective genitive. Thus if we understand the phrase “the Bible is the word of God” as a plenary genitive then we would understand this phrase as saying that the Bible is the word about God and it is the word from God. Understanding this phrase as a plenary genitive allows us to take the insights of Law and Barth, namely that the Bible is a means to encounter Transcendence and that the Bible bears witness to the Word. But it also allows us to glean from the insights of Wolterstorff, namely that God actually speaks to us in the Bible. This view is also in line with Scripture as well as the important confessions of the Church which make the claim that somehow God is the author of Scripture and that we can encounter God when we read scripture. If we believe that we should understand this phrase as a plenary genitive rather than merely a subjective genitive or objective genitive then we can join John Webster in making the dogmatic claim that, in the Bible we have “the self-presentation of the triune God, the free work of sovereign mercy in which God wills, establishes, and perfects saving fellowship with himself in which humankind comes to know, love, and fear him above all things.” In other words, in the Bible we have words from God about God that draw us back towards God.