Yesterday’s Gospel reading, read right throughout the world, had Jesus say: “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).
I think this is a text that describes a healthy approach to the scriptures. The scriptures are a means – one of the means, a powerful means, to growth into union with God through Jesus.
I have argued against the view that tradition is solely the history of reflection on the scriptures. The scriptures were written within the tradition, expressing the tradition, and recognised within the tradition.
There needs to be some further reflection on this. Certainly, the scriptures have authority and are inspired – it is not the church, or tradition, giving authority to documents that only got that authority because of this “giving”. The church/tradition recognises and acknowledges the authority/inspiration that these documents have.
Within the tradition, within the life of the church, the scriptures, then, play a particular role in the building up of the household of the church. I have stressed previously, we need a hammer to build a house – a hammer is necessary. But a hammer alone is not sufficient. Somehow those of us who say a hammer alone cannot build the house are seen by hammer-aloners as denigrating the hammer!
Outside the life of the church, outside the tradition, we cannot even determine what is in the scriptures and what is not. Note, for example, Martin Luther’s denigration of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. Luther had famously added “alone” into Rom 3:28 (“allein durch den Glauben”). This, now, stood in conflict with James 2:24 “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (“nicht durch den Glauben allein”). Hence, these four books became part of Luther’s Antilegomena – texts of disputed value. 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John increased Luther’s Antilegomena to seven of the 27 New Testament books.
I conclude this post positively by quoting from Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (in fact I recommend reading that whole document):
Like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her [members], the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).
This site provides a number of encouragements to hearing God speaking to us through the scriptures – as individuals and as communities. There are resources for Lectio Divina, introductions to readings in services, disciplines of daily reading, and reflections on particular passages. The search box in the top right of the site is always a great place to start.
- The Bible – necessary but not sufficient
- listening to the Bible in church
- What is the Bible?
- “Sola Scriptura” Meaningless
- Bible alone – sola scriptura