Ok, welcome back to the Book of Hebrews. We’re mid-way through an exploration of the question, ‘who speaks in Scripture’ focussing on the various, fluid ways that the author of Hebrews attributes the divine voice. We started by looking at the opening sentences which focus on the contrast between God’s speech through the prophets and his speech by a Son. You can check it out here.
I think most of us are pretty familiar with the idea that God speaks by Jesus, and we rely upon this claim in developing a doctrine of Scripture: that God speaks (communicates) by Jesus, therefore the words/acts/life of Jesus are the communicative act of God. Jesus then re-authorises the Old Testament, and commissions the New Testament. This leaves us clear about the fact that when Jesus speaks, God speaks, but manages to leave us fuzzy about who’s speaking in the rest of scripture when Jesus isn’t on the scene, i.e., the non-red-letter bits. Sure, the black words come with divine authority. They are divinely sanctified, truthful testimony to Christ. But whose words are they…?
You might think it’s pretty clear when you’re reading one of the classic ‘writing’ prophet, like Isaiah. Take this beautiful passage from Isaiah 1:
“Come, let us discuss this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18–20 HCSB)
Most modern English translations helpfully even put God’s speech into inverted commas, so you can work out which bits belong to him. But this simplicity is deceptive: even in this relatively obvious section, the reference to ‘the mouth of the LORD’ could very probably be taken as an oblique reference to Isaiah the prophet who is acting as Yahweh’s spokesperson. If you followed this argument, you’d have a double attribution of these words: both to Yahweh, and to the spokesperson of Yahweh.
But it’s much, much more complicated than this…
If you took a little more time to zoom out and read the rest of Isaiah 1, you’d quickly realise that it’s very difficult to distinguish the moments when Yahweh is clearly speaking, from the moments when Isaiah is providing commentary or response upon the words he has spoken from Yahweh. In chapter 2:5-11 you find a remarkable passage in which Isaiah alternates between addressing God in prayer and addressing the people.
And it’s not just Isaiah who behaves like this, I’m studying through Micah at the moment with students and one of the most frequent questions I ask them is, ‘who is speaking here?’ Micah is clearly a voice responding, echoing, wailing alongside the words of God (cccasionally he reports the words of others, particularly when they tell him to shut up: Micah 2:6 ). Can God be speaking when Micah is speaking to God? Or to himself? Or just shivering in response to the judgement he has finished proclaiming?
Ok, I got completely off topic here and didn’t even manage to get to Hebrews… have to leave it for next time.