Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A False Dichotomy

Ever heard this one? "We believe in the Spirit and the Word!"

It's a bit of a blast from the past, I'll admit, but it's still around, if not in slogan form, and people still think this way so I thought I'd have a go at it.

What is implied by a statement like this is that there is a need to strike a balance between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. And it sounds nice, doesn't it. Such a pretty double alliteration -- H. S. and H. S. -- so it must be true. But let's rethink this. The Holy Spirit is God, yes? and the Holy Scriptures are what? the Bible. So what we have here is God balanced against a collection of writings. And yes, we try to cook the accounts a bit by claiming the perfection and inerrancy of the book, but still can we really ever claim that there is something lacking in God such that he needs a book to balance him?

And yet we do need a balance. We need a balance between one man's perception of what the Spirit is saying and another's. But that is not God vs. a book. That is the church reaching consensus as described by the phrase, "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." And the written record is part of that process, but not as the balancing agent...

Also just for fun (!) I did a quick search in my Bible study software to find out if we are really right in constantly applying the phrase "word of God" to the bible. Just wanted to find out how it's actually used by Bible writers. So I searched for "Word of God" or "Word of the Lord" and came up with 299 references and tried to identify how to define the phrase by close context.

233 times (mostly O.T.) it refers to a present prophetic message/commandment or the experience of receiving such a message by the prophet.
38 times (obviously N.T.) it refers to Jesus' teaching and/or the Gospel as taught by early church missionaries.
10 times it refers to Law or existing commandment. One of these usages is by Jesus himself.
14 times the definition is not obvious from near context. This is mostly in Psalms. The psalmist praises the word of God and you are expected to already know what he's talking about.
3 times it's used to describe the process of creation i.e. God created by the "Word of the Lord."
1 time it is Jesus himself.

At any rate, this, I think, is at odds with the current use of the "word of God" as synonymous with "the Bible," Which gives the false dichotomy implied by our opening catchphrase a final uppercut and leaves it down for the count. 1 2 3...