Once upon a time, while I was training for ministry, I had a conversation that I have never forgotten with a student, whose tradition was far more evangelical than my own. I found myself apologising that, coming from a liberal catholic background, I feared that my relationship with the Bible was nothing like a robust as his – but, bless him, he was having none of it.
You pray the office daily, don’t you
AND you have sung in church and chapel choirs all your life
Add to that your background in English Literature and 7ou have probably spent far longer immersed in Scripture than I have – it’s just that you live in that immersion, instead of sitting down to engage consciously in Bible study.
Rather to my own surprise, I had to admit that he was right. Whereas some English literature degree courses now include an introductory Bible familiarisation programme, to ensure that students aren’t completely oblivious to the influences that shaped much of the writing they will study, even the atheists among my contemporaries had at least a working knowledge of Scripture, though they would never have claimed a special status for those texts. We lived in a world where we had, as Paul reminds Timothy, “known the sacred writings that ARE ABLE to instruct you for salvation”…
Whether they do or not surely depends on how you use these texts.
If they are treated as just another body of historic writing, important in its day but not really relevant, - then that is how it will remain. It is only, as Paul points out, when we combine knowledge of Scripture with faith in Christ Jesus that the words awaken to their full life and power.
I wonder how you respond to the famous declaration “All scripture is inspired by God”
It is, when you pause to think about it, slightly ironic that many use this phrase, itself surely subject to the same process of exigesis as the rest of the Biblical text, as a proof positive of that text’s surpassing value. An internal system of self-validation may not, after all, seem to be entirely conclusive – yet there is no doubt that this book that reads us can change lives.
But, I would say, it’s not the power of the words alone, however great their impact. This IS a body of words, collected over many centuries, an account of the great love story of God and God’s people – and it does not exist in isolation, to be valued for itself alone. Rather, the significance comes as we ask my favourite “So what! “ question once more.
All Scripture is inspired by God SO THAT everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
Scripture helps us to understand how to be the people whom God calls us to be and, on this feast of Matthew the apostle, we give thanks that God chooses to tell his story through many different voices, and many different lives - Jews and Gentiles, Kings and scholars, tax collectors and sinners. Even, by God’s grace, through you and me.