A long time ago I heard an after-dinner joke that went something like this: God’s application for a research grant from the Medical Research Council has been turned down, because although He’d been credited with a major piece of work a long time ago, He’d not done anything really significant since.
A geeky joke, sure, and to be fair it was in an after-dinner speech to a group of fellow research scientists. And no, it wasn’t me that told the joke! 🙂 But I hope it serves as a lead-in to my writing today.
Many Christians today have a strange contradiction in their belief systems. On the one hand, they believe that God can, and certainly does, speak to them in everyday life. At the same time, however, they believe that the Bible is the be-all and end-all of God’s revelation and cannot be added to nor subtracted from. It’s now closed to all further contributions, as it were. In other words, God did something great several thousand years ago, wrote a book about it, and that’s it. But, they say, still God speaks to us…. So, new ideas and new revelations are therefore somehow forbidden as well as sometimes being encouraged. This appears to be the stance of what you might call ‘conservative’ Christians (no relation to the British political party).
Well, let me say that the Word is not closed; God has not finished speaking, and Holy Spirit (being God) must trump our interpretations of Scripture. Always. Although most believers would state categorically that any latter-day revelation from God must comply with the Bible, some of us would say that actually because of the way the Bible has been written, translated and interpreted, surely Holy Spirit must have the final say in what He means in certain passages.
Although there are statements in the Psalms and other places that the ‘Word of the Lord endures forever’ and similar, we need to remember that the Word is in fact Jesus Christ, and the entire function of the Bible is to point us to Him. John 5:39-40 says this:
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life”.
Jesus is the One that is unchanging, not the Bible. For this reason, Christian conservatives would not be justified in using such Scriptures to indicate that the Bible is unchangeable – and in any case this would be a circular argument. Many would also point to the end of Revelation (Rev 22:18) where it says that there are various penalties and plagues that will be put on anyone who ‘adds’ to ‘this book’; conversely if anyone ‘takes away’ from ‘this book’, it’s even worse: he gets to have his name erased from the Book of Life.
Eeeek! However, it needs to be said that that particular scripture refers to the Book of Revelation, not the collection of books called the Bible. When it was written, it wasn’t even part of the Bible, which didn’t even exist then. (And even so, Revelation is written in what’s called ‘apocalyptic’ language that should be interpreted only with a great deal of care!)
Anyway, the point is that God still speaks today; His Word is dynamic, living and active, not stale, dead and static (Heb 4:12). God is still doing new things, and indeed every time God speaks individually to a believer, He is always speaking something new to that person. Much of what God says to me and my fellow Men of Honour (my Church group) is indeed new stuff – not contradictory to the guidelines of Scripture, of course, but still it’s new stuff.
So God is constantly adding, day by day, more things to the canon of the ‘Word of God’ – because He speaks it to us. How can it be any other way, when the believer is in a real, living and dynamic relationship with God? Do we really expect Him to keep on trotting out Bible verses willy-nilly? Of course not! In my relationship with my wife, I do not simply continue repeating the things I wrote to her in our courting love-letters; that would be plain silly 🙂
So then almost by definition, the Bible is not the closed Word of God. Jesus is the Word become Flesh. And in relationship with Him, He can say whatever He likes to believers whether or not the conservatives agree with Him!
For another take on this interesting and freeing subject, check out Susan Cottrell’s blog post here. [Edit: Also I have expanded on this subject in in this blog entry]