Communicating God: Doctrine of Scripture 1
Who speaks in Scripture? I was teaching on the doctrine of Scripture recently and was struck again by the fluidity with which the Bible itself addresses this question. There is no question to my mind that the Bible is comfortable describing itself as ‘the word of God’. This is derived from the use that God makes of these particular sanctified words for his divinely effective communicative acts (2 Tim 3:15-17). But isn’t Jesus the Word of God? (John 1:1-18). What is the relation of the words of Scripture and Jesus Christ, the Word in flesh? What is the role of the Spirit? (Mk 12:36; Acts 4:25; Heb 3:7; 1 Peter 1:10,11
Over a series of posts I’m hoping to take a look at how the word/speaking of God is described in Hebrews. We’ll start with the first couple of verses:
Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. (Hebrews 1:1–2 HCSB)
It seems to me that the point of this passage is to emphasise the contrast in the mediation of God’s word/speaking (by a Son, rather than by the prophets) as opposed to contrasting the content of God’s word/speaking. Just as God previously exercised his communicative agency through the communicative acts of the prophets (acts of speaking and dramatising which are then transmitted and textually canonised: all of which are significant and are part of the communicative act), so he now speaks to us by his Son. The incredible set of Christological statements that follow stress the contrast in nature between these mediators, but interestingly, they don’t necessarily imply a different manner of communication. The words spoken to us by the Son aren’t necessarily different in form from those spoken by the prophets. What is emphasised is the thoroughly different person of the mediator and thus the more serious nature of failing to pay attention to the word he speaks on God’s behalf. Verse 2b-4 traces the superiority of the Son in a narrative from creation to redemption. At the centre is the claim that the Son doesn’t merely act within God’s overarching communicative agency to speak God’s word: he exactly expresses God’s nature. His being is the personal communication of God. He is the expression/representation of God’s nature/being (χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ). As such he exercises the communicative agency of God directly: he sustains all things by his powerful word. The implications of this are drawn forcefully in the opening verses of Chapter 2: We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard (Hebrews 2:1 HCSB)
But notice that the hearers/readers of Hebrews aren’t assumed to have heard/seen/interacted with Jesus directly.
…how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will.” (Hebrews 2:3–4 HCSB)
The form of the word of God to which they must pay careful attention is not materially different to that which the Fathers heard/read from the prophets. And the content of the word of God, while further revealed through the Son, is not categorically different from the words spoken by the prophets either. The liberal use of scripture in the following chapters testify to this. It is the person of the mediator who has changed. Or more correctly, the God who speaks has been revealed to be also personally identical to, yet distinguishable from, the person through whom he speaks. This, of course, does not leave the communicative act unchanged as a totality, i.e., in it’s definitiveness; it’s clarity; it’s authority; it’s effectiveness. But, at least in these verses, the author of Hebrews does not appear to consider that the communicative act of God through the Son (speaking, dramatising, transmission and textual canonisation) is formally different to those which God had previously employed.
Ok, stay tuned… the next bit is slightly more crazy: God talking to God in Scripture.
Update: I’ve edited this post a little for clarity. Also, Chris Swann has posted an interesting set of questions flowing out of the same passage: how it’s possible for Jesus to make God known with a depth, reality and clarity never before attained (and not since transcended). How it’s possible for him to draw us into a certain kind of relationship with this God. Check it out.