Beauty of the Word image

Beauty of the Word

Do you ever find the Bible hard work?

Probably we’re meant to. It is full of comfort and light and life, but it is also full of challenge, culturally alien references, and hard sayings. Almost every time I read a passage of scripture there is something that I have to wrestle with, and submit to once again. But it is not only the content of the Bible that can make reading it demanding work; stylistically it can also be a challenge.

As a young teenager I was already experiencing the rub of this. I started reading in Genesis 1 when I was 13, and got to Revelation 22 by the time I was 15 – a cover to cover approach that I would never advise to a first time Bible reader now. There was plenty to stumble and trip over along the way, but I remember one frustration being that much of the Bible just didn’t seem very well written. As literature, it didn’t always stack up well against other books I was reading.

Many cover to cover readings of the Bible later I have a greater appreciation for the different biblical genres, the challenges of translation, the cultural context of the narrative, and so on. But there are still times I wish Scripture was written differently.

So this, from Kevin Vanhoozer’s essay in Allen & Swain’s Christian Dogmatics has really helped me:

That Scripture is made up of human language and literature no more disqualifies it from being a vehicle for God’s Word than does Jesus’s humanity: both are servant forms. Jesus is God’s corporeal discourse (the Word incarnate); Scripture is God’s canonical discourse (the Word inscribed). We should not impose our concept of perfection on Scripture but rather acknowledge that God in his wisdom chose to employ just these forms of human discourse to present Christ and administer his covenant.

Why have I never seen it this way before? Jesus was perfect, but in his flesh appeared ordinary, with ‘no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.’ Had Jesus been physically superhuman, it would have been a denial of what the incarnation meant to achieve. Similarly, a Bible written to always win every prize for literature would have been a denial of what Scripture is for. Jesus stands supreme over all men and the Bible over all books, but not by normal human concepts of perfection. God in his wisdom became incarnate in the body of a first century mid-eastern peasant, and God in his wisdom speaks to us through the pages of Scripture.

There is beauty here for sure.


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