Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Nature and Purpose of Scripture

Scripture, as we have received it, has a particular nature and particular purposes. It is in fact a tool given to us to eventuate in some anticipated end. Regardless of our positions on textual criticism, on whether the Canon is the canon, the actual authorship of any particular writing, or the historicity of Scripture and its record as such, Scripture demands that it be taken seriously. To that end, I offer the following observations.

The nature of Scripture is what makes it much more than just another set of writings. Our belief that at least some aspect of its writing, development, and collation lies in the very person of God, requires that we consider what it says with considerably more weight than the writings of our favorite philosopher or devotional writer. If God has decided to speak to us, we need to listen.

However, Scripture also has a purpose. Perhaps the most famous self-explanatory passages is 2 Timothy 3.16. Or again, Paul’s statement that the purpose of various ministers is to build up the body (corporately and individually) into its fullness. Clearly Scripture is sufficient for Godly lives. Herein we find the ultimate purpose of Scripture, that we will become the images of God once again.

Scripture it seems has three purposes or aspects that are intended to issue in Timothy’s purpose. Scripture is revelation, it is a guide, and it is reminder. Scripture reveals the God of the Universe, the creator of everything. It tells us a few things about our God that we would do well to remember. That our God’s primary characteristic is love. We are also told that He is just, merciful, steadfast, patient, holy, giving, omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful, and spirit. We are told that after creating the world, God so loved it that He sent His Son to die in order to clear the way for Man’s return to God. Scripture also reveals a history of God’s relationship with Man. This history is not intended to be complete but is bounded by the three purposes we have identified. This history describes the characteristics of God as they exist in our world, it provides guidelines and illustrations of what God expects of people, and it serves as a reminder of God’s interaction with Man. While this revelation of God would be important if it was for its own sake, it isn’t. The purpose of God’s revelation is to show us who we are to be. We are made in His likeness and He expects we will remain so.

Scripture as guide has a specific purpose and that is to illustrate to us what kind of people God expects us to be. Couched sometimes in national language, sometimes in community phrases, and sometimes in individualistic words, the point remains the same: God made us for, and expects us to be, people like Him. Scripture is not primarily a text on nation building, Temple worship, church organization, or relationship development, although aspects of all those can be found in Scripture. They are there not for their own purpose, but to guide us in ordering our relationship with God and in shaping ourselves to be like Him.

Scripture as reminder is critical. We have Scripture in writing so that we can remind ourselves of its message. That message is embodied in the revelatory and guide aspects of Scripture, and is essentially simple and uncomplicated. Our God, as powerful as He may be, has demonstrated Himself faithful and gracious time and time again. He seeks to bless others, and expects us to become like Him. We fail to do so at our peril.

Scripture then has an overriding purpose characterized in three ways. It provides us everything we need to live lives that embody our God. This is the ultimate goal of Scripture. To achieve that goal, Scripture serves as a revelation of our God, a guide that provides us insights into what being Godlike might look like in our world, and a reminder of who our God is, His interaction in the world including His mercy, steadfastness, and wrath. Scripture then is a tool and has no end in itself. Knowing Scripture is only profitable if we become it. The mark of a mature Christian is not one who can quote Scripture or who can intone well in an assembly, but rather one who embodies and who can explain our God.

Scripture is a tool. A divine tool, but a tool just the same. It does not exist for itself but rather to guide us back to where we were made to be – in the presence of our God, living lives that reflect His goodness. If we elevate Scripture to a place that ignores its purpose, that makes the tool our end, we do violence to it and are endanger of alienating ourselves from our God.

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